No Longer After The Flesh – Part 2

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh…”

When it comes to boasting in the things of the flesh, we are pros. That is where the flesh is at. But God is so far removed from such things. In fact, the Bible says that God resides in the third heaven. Not the first, or second, but in the third heaven. So when the Apostle Paul came from visiting God in the third heaven, he had enough spiritual sense not to boast in the things of the flesh (as he thought he knew the flesh). He had enough sense not to say, “Oh, you know, I am so educated.” Or, “I was once a Pharisee!” Or, “I am a Roman citizen” (which was a tough spot for a Jew to gain in those days).

And yet, these are the things we boast of when we do not have the revelation of Christ in us. We hear preachers introducing themselves with the theological degrees they have attained in this world. But all such people are looking for there is worldly acclaim, nothing else. And it is so pitiful.

But, still, about Paul. Although he had the sense not to boast in his natural attainments, still he wanted to boast! He was looking for any way to boast. (The flesh is not an ordinary enemy!}

So now he looked for another way to boast. He decided it was okay to boast in the things he had seen in heaven. There appeared no harm there.

The long and short of it was Paul was tempted to boast. He says in 2 Cor. 12:7:

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations…”

He wanted to boast, although whatever he would have said was true and of God. He had gone to heaven and seen things which it is lawful for man to utter.

But God would not allow it. So He put a thorn in Paul’s flesh. God put that thorn there to the end that Paul might not boast in anything else other than that thorn. He told Paul, “You want to boast? Boast in that.”

When God truly loves someone, He will not allow him to boast in the things of the flesh. Instead, God will lead that man or woman to boast in the things of his or her weakness.

That is the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is

“Jesus Christ, and him crcufied” (1 Cor. 2:2)

I love that. I love that with all my heart. I want to be weak, that He may be strong in me.

Turning Point!

1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter…

 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

In verse 7 the Apostle Paul reveals that it was he who was “caught up to the third heaven… into paradise”. And he writes that it was he, while there, who “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

Paul was a man who was held in high esteem indeed by God. He was a man to whom God revealed His deepest secrets. In the natural order of things we would therefore expect that God would “uplift” His most trusted servant and send him about with angels on trumpets announcing his arrival in every city. Paul’s name and persona ought to have been growing with his every appearance.

But it did not work that way for Paul. On the contrary, instead of sending ministering angels, God sent to Paul a messenger of Satan – to buffet him! Paul called this his “thorn in the flesh”. In other words, God’s style of “blessing” Paul was to put a thorn in his flesh.

The next thing we see is that initially Paul was not happy about this thorn. He did not go about singing “Glory, hallelujah!” on account of this thorn. On the contrary, we read that Paul prayed to God thrice to have this thorn removed from his flesh. In practical terms, Paul was not happy about the situations that came into his life.

For a long time, I personally had no idea about what Paul went through here. I thought I knew, but one day God decided to show me that I did not know. I do not claim to have any association with Paul’s persecutions, but one day God put me through something similar, or close to what Paul went through. It was something I had never experienced before. It was so painful. It was all the more painful because it appeared unreasonably unjust. It was one of the hardest things I had ever experienced in my Christian life. And so, just like Paul once did, I “kicked against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

The last thing we notice in this scripture is the most important. Paul finally realized and accepted what God wanted to do with the thorn He had placed in his flesh. He realized that God wanted to humble him. Paul realized that God did not want him to serve Him in his own strength. This would have made him to boast. God wanted Paul to serve Him in His grace so that all glory and honor would return to God.

Paul finally accepted that and, once that had been settled in his heart, Paul was not content with passively accepting adverse situations in his life. He went further and welcomed them for he knew, just as God had told him, that it was these very situations that would break him and enable him to serve God in a manner that pleased Him – in God’s strength, not his own.

This acceptance by Paul was the turning point in Paul’s ministry and life. From that moment on, Paul became a truly spiritual man.

In the particular test that God gave me, I failed miserably. Yet, in hindsight, when I think about the ordeal, I have reason to smile. In the first place, it was wonderful that God would put His hand upon my life in such a manner. The textbook understanding in mainstream Pentecostalism is that God only has a soft hand which He gently wraps around us to comfort us in our distresses.

But God has two hands. With the other hand, He moulds and fashions us into the image He wants us to be in order for us to carry His purpose on earth. And the moulding is hard and painful.

I am sure the Apostle Paul had no argument against carrying God’s revelation in his heart. None of us would. It is an exalted position to be so entrusted by God. Paul admits that it was something that would have brought pride into his heart. But in our lack of spiritual understanding we fail to realize the price we have to pay in order to carry the secrets of God.

We cannot serve God as we should until a messenger of Satan has been sent to deal with our flesh. It is incredible how, in Pentecostalism, we have learned to elevate men to impossible heights while here we see God beating Paul to a pulp! But Paul was there for God’s purposes, not his.

[Below: The Moshi Town bus stand, with Mt. Kilimanjaro looming in the background]



God is the Potter

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7

The Apostle Paul was just like you and me, you see. He was tempted to boast of the many revelations that the Lord had given to him. I believe that given half a chance, Paul would have struck up a band. The interesting thing is that it is not Paul who saw the danger, but God Himself! Probably Paul thought he was a humble servant of God (like we all do), but God knew otherwise. He therefore arranged to have a full barrage of pride-stopping armor stacked against Paul – just to make sure the man stuck to the job description given to him.

Considering that Paul was not a robot, the fact that he willingly accepted to be put under the crusher says something about his character.

Not many of us want that, you know. To be honest, even I have a problem when push comes to shove in matters touching on the flesh. But again, it is not like Paul wanted what God put him through. But he was willing. He was willing to let God have His way in his life. That made all the difference. In the end he says, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” verse 9

There is a price to pay if we want to have the life of Christ in us. We cannot serve God on our own terms. He alone is God, and He dictates the terms, praise His holy Name. (Someone said that if God told us to climb a mountain in order to be accounted righteous, then all believers would have to climb mountains, from the 10-year old boy to the 80-year old granny!)

God knows the hidden pride, arrogance, lusts, the raw evil and every other sin dwelling within us. (Despite the fact that we are saved, and probably we are even pastors, prophets, etc., unfortunately we have all these enemies of the soul ranged against us.) God therefore brings situations in our lives specifically designed to deal with that sin. Most of the time it doesn’t appear like a sin, so we wonder why God is being so hard on us. But He saw exactly what would become of Paul – or, rather, what Paul would become – without a deterrent, so He intervened.

The Bible says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:  who can know it?  I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” – Jeremiah 17:9,10

Let us allow God to put His hand upon our lives – not in “blessing” us (which we would so much more prefer), but in working us the way a potter works clay, so that His grace may rest upon our lives, and that we may impart that grace to a needy world.

The fruits of Paul’s labors according to God’s will are evident to this day. What can be said of our lives?

I am nothing – Pt.2

I have an admission to make. I am a proud man. In fact, I am wonderfully astounded by the pride I sometimes see in me. There are times it will come at me from center-left and take me completely by surprise, to leave me wondering whether I am the same man who has been saved all these 20 years! With this in mind, I can begin to understand why the Apostle Paul would desire to “die daily”. No doubt he saw how desperately the flesh tried to have its way in his life. God joined the fray by giving him a thorn in the flesh, which He would not remove. In that manner, the man of God was shackled and kept humble. He joyfully called himself a “prisoner of Jesus Christ”. As a consequence, Paul was able to have much grace, because God gives grace to the humble.

I am sure that if God had not allowed that thorn to continue jabbing at Paul, he would have been tempted to boast – in the flesh! As a man, he had undergone too many wonderful spiritual experiences, and these certainly would have given him a sense of bloated self-importance if his pride was not dealt with. Paul went to the third heaven, remember? No man can undergo such an experience and not live to boast about it, unless the Cross is at work in his life.

Recently, a brother told me that the articles I was posting on my blog were too long. I knew what he was saying was true. It is certainly not an act of love to take your audience on long-winded discourses just because you want to write like Shakespeare.

I was not offended at my brother’s rebuke; in fact, I promised myself I would begin writing shorter articles. But once I got down to write, I just couldn’t find any way to reduce the length of those articles. So I continued posting book-length articles.

Then it hit me (God sure is merciful!). I realized that, unbeknown to me, my pride had been at work all the time! It was there, quietly but firmly wanting and prodding me to get my point across at whatever cost. And, of course, since it was me, there was no other way to do it other than writing long-winded articles.

Oh, how I thank God for the Cross. With open arms I welcome the Cross into my life. Now I can write shorter articles. I realize with great joy the freedom that comes when I am not trying to make my point. If God has any point He wants made through my posts, He will make it known. He does not need me. I am nothing. It is an unfathomable privilege from Him to even have someone read one word that I have written.

Oh, how I desire to identify and lose myself in the words of the Apostle Paul, “I am nothing”! How could I ever think that I were anything?! Let me be reviled as a fool, even for writing this article. I truly wish I will become one – for Christ’s sake. I do not want anybody’s acclamations – all I want is to be a living sacrifice for Him.

The Pearl.

The Bible tells the story of Jacob, and how he wrestled with an angel of God throughout the night.

“And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him” Gen. 32:25

Jacob had been running from the Lord all these years, but here he comes face to face with God, and he has to make a decision: he can continue running, or he can allow God to touch his life and change him.

I believe something must have made Jacob to stop and make the decision he made that night. Jacob was tired of running, all right. But more than that, something profound happened to him that night. I believe that deep down in his spirit Jacob received a new understanding from the Lord; a new revelation. He must have seen something that made him want to receive a new blessing from God.

In the materialistic age we live one might well wonder why Jacob, who was so rich materially, would want another blessing from the Lord…!

But, perhaps, it was a different blessing that he now desired, born out of this new understanding that he had from God. A blessing not of material things, but a blessing, probably, of character, a spiritual blessing. Suddenly, most likely, Jacob saw in his spirit far into the future, and the blessing that Jesus would bring into the world through His death on the Cross. And, all of a sudden, Jacob”s priorities were turned upside down. Now it was not Rachel or Joseph who mattered most to him. Nor was it his vast wealth. Now he wanted to get hold of that far, far away blessing – distant indeed, but exceedingly rich. It did not matter to him that he would die long before that blessing would materialize. Somehow, he knew, he would inherit it one day, and it was worth waiting for. It was an eternal treasure – and immeasurably, incomparably bright and clear and true.

It was a spiritual blessing that Jacob saw, and he wanted it infinitely more than all his earthly possessions.

And he was willing to pay the price that he realized he needed to pay in the spirit. I am sure that at that particular time he did not see anything good in the flesh. He did not see cars or houses or the good things that we have today. Rather, I believe he saw the sufferings of Christ. And he was ready to identify with them. He was willing to pay the ultimate  price – he told the angel, “Name your price, but I am not letting you go till you bless me!” He wanted that vision more than anything else in his life.

What God did in order to change Jacob’s character was to dislocate his thigh – probably so he would not have the strength to run again.

The true gospel of Jesus Christ puts us ‘out of joint’. It breaks our strength. It breaks our pride. We grovel and scramble on our knees to get at that spiritual treasure, for only that brokenness can bring the reality of that treasure into our lives. All our pride, our reliance is gone. After Jacob’s thigh was put ‘out of joint’ he had no more pride left in him. Probably he had a certain way of walking before, but he would no longer walk that way. Henceforth he would walk with a limp, for the Bible says his sinew “shrank”.

Humbling, indeed.

In the new covenant we are no longer going to wrestle with an angel, but through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross we understand how we, too, will need to identify our lives with His suffering and death in order to partake of that same blessing that Jacob partook of. That treasure is the life of Christ in us.

The Apostle Paul, more than any other man, received that revelation – and also knew that brokenness in his flesh. I believe he also, just like Jacob, wanted to do some running. He says that he prayed three times to God to remove the thorn in his flesh. But God told him, “My grace is sufficient, for my strength is perfected in your weakness.

If Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord the whole night; and if Paul prayed three times for God to intervene on his behalf, then we can be sure that it is not an easy journey to becoming spiritual men and women. But this is the road we have been called to take, and we must gladly persevere in it.

Paul says: “Most gladly therefore will I glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor. 12:9

That is not an easy road to take, by any standards. But the reward is priceless. In fact, to put a better perspective to it, the reward is not something that can be explained in human terms; it is too profoundly rich for that. It can only be understood in our spirits.

It all depends, however, on whether we have seen that priceless pearl in our spirit, and are willing to pay the price. The price, as we said, is dying with Christ.

What a challenge to us today, that Jacob, so far down the line in time, could see the very thing that we live with, walk with and sleep with today… What is that thing? Oh! I bet you and I hardly know it well enough… if we knew it we would not be the men and women we are today…

May the Lord reveal it to us like He revealed it to Jacob!