“He is not here; He has risen, just as He said! Come, see the place where He lay.” (Matthew 28:6 BSB)
Easter – Poem by Edmund Spenser
MOST glorious Lord of Lyfe! that, on this day,
Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin;
And, having harrowd hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, deare Lord, with joy begin;
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest dye,
Being with Thy deare blood clene washt from sin,
May live for ever in felicity!
And that Thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love Thee for the same againe;
And for Thy sake, that all lyke deare didst buy,
With love may one another entertayne!
So let us love, deare Love, lyke as we ought,
–Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (Romans 14:19-20 NIV).
Under Mosaic law, a person appointed to a leadership role was expected to live a life of unquestioned integrity. Jethro advised Moses, “But you should select from all the people, able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating bribes. Place them over the people as commanders…” (Exodus 18:21 HCSB). Kings were specifically commanded “not [to] multiply horses for himself… nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17 NASB). Solomon, who ignored these strictures, and ‘refused himself no pleasure’ wrecked his life, his kingdom, and his relationship with God. As for the ministers, the Levites and priests, they were to own no land in Israel except pasture lands for their flocks, “for the Lord was their inheritance”. In the NT, the qualifications of the elder are listed – “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3 NIV).
The reason for these qualifications is clear – money can corrupt even the best intentioned among us. There is a measure of safety in moderation, and danger in excess. The need for moderation is greater for a ministers than others, and an unavoidable hazard of being in ministry is the intense scrutiny one is inevitably subjected to – both within the church and outside. While occasional extravagance is not necessarily sinful, it might be foolish and lead to the integrity or the judgment of the minister being questioned, and result in unwelcome gossip about his private affairs, which can be distressing for himself and his family.
Paul was equally clear about the use and misuse of the freedom we have in Christ. “I have the right to do anything,” you say, but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”, but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). “All things are lawful, but not all things edify [or are constructive, profitable, beneficial, helpful or useful]” (1 Corinthians 10:23). To achieve a proper balance, a Christian minister, ought to apply certain common sense rules in his handling of money.
First of all, every elder ought to remember that he is called by God to be an example of righteous living to others. Paul wrote, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”. What would he rather model for his flock – the example of a life of self-denial or a life of unrestrained self-indulgence? Which of these would win Christ’s approval? In writing these things, I do not mean to suggest that it is wrong for a minister to own a comfortable house or drive a nice car, only that his choices should be underpinned by a heightened sense of social responsibility, and be in line with biblical guidelines.
Second, an elder ought to ask himself the following questions. Is his lifestyle creating a distance between himself and the flock of God whom he is called to serve? Will the poorer parishioners in his congregation feel out of place and awkward in his home? Could he be setting himself apart from the general populace much like the princely popes of the past. Is his church truly open to all sections of society, or has it become the sort of place where only people of a certain social group feel welcome?
Third, he needs to consider the public perception of his lifestyle, because we are taught to “avoid every appearance of evil”. Over generations, societies have formed definite ideas about the way ministers ought to live. The church vicar typically enjoyed a respectable position in society and a modest level of prosperity – similar to that enjoyed by a schoolteacher, a university lecturer or perhaps a doctor (in the days when ‘millionaire’ doctors were a rarity), and the expectation was that he would be a model of dignity, sobriety and restraint. Nobody objects to a businessman living a highflying lifestyle, but people are rightly outraged when holders of public office or ministers of religion use their positions for personal enrichment. The media often exposes the lavish lifestyles of some tele-preachers, which even to worldly eyes seem incompatible with the idea of public service and in stark contrast to the lifestyle that Jesus and His apostles lived.
Fourth, the more mature ones in the church have a duty to safeguard the faith of their weaker brothers and not become stumbling blocks. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1-2 ESV). When a Christian leader is perceived as using the gospel for personal gain, the church is subjected to public scorn, and the faith of some believers may be shaken. Many prosperity preachers say that “there is no reason to apologise for being blessed”, but if your lifestyle affects another man’s conscience then is it not better to live a simpler life and avoid offence. “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15 NIV).
Fifth, a minister needs to guard his own heart. For example, if he serves in a church that primarily caters to a wealthier congregation, would he feel short-changed if he were called to move away, and serve a much poorer one? Is he growing too attached to his wealth? Are money and social position becoming too important for him. In other words, has his wealth grown on him like calloused skin restricting his freedom to minister?
In conclusion, greater levels of wisdom, humility, self-control and social consciousness are necessary to avoid the misuses – and pitfalls – that follow the possession of great wealth. Many Christians have used their money to support the preaching of the gospel, and to alleviate human suffering; while others have brought the gospel into disrepute by their pursuit of pleasure. The wise stewardship of one’s money is a vital part of Christian life, and ought to be taken seriously.
The thoughts contained in this post approach the ‘question of whether it is right for a minister to live in a mansion’, from the standpoint of prudence and common sense. Only God can truly judge a man’s heart, but we are too often – perhaps unfairly – judged on appearances. In so far as appearances have the power to promote or impede the spread of the gospel, Christians should be careful not to become a stumbling block to others.
Father, teach us to be wise in the use of our money. Help us keep our hearts free of the love of money, and avoid every appearance of evil. May we bring honour to your name even in the way we handle money.
“And He said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 BSB)
“Is it right for a minister to live in a mansion?” Recently I read an article about an American pastor who was criticised for building a multimillion-dollar mansion for himself. There is an anecdotal tale about Pope Innocent II who was showing Thomas Aquinas the riches of his treasury and jokingly remarked, “You see, the Church is no longer in that age in which she said, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” “True, holy father,” replied Aquinas; “neither can she any longer say to the lame, ‘Rise up and walk.’”
Both stories illustrate how money and Christian witness are intricately linked, and it is therefore vital to gain a scriptural perspective on the use of money. All of us need money to manage our day to day affairs, and most of us feel we could do with a bit more than we now have. Few find it easy to be neutral or detached on the issue of money. Different Christian groups have stood at opposites ends of the spectrum in their approach to wealth and this has added to the confusion among believers, many of whom may sincerely wish to honour God with their money. Older puritan groups have tended to view money as a source of unmitigated evil, while modern prosperity preachers see it as a sure sign of God’s blessing.
On the topic of wealth, the scripture gives us broad guidelines on which to base our decisions, and considerable freedom to decide on the specifics regarding its stewardship. The concept of ‘stewardship’ is important because God is the Giver of every good gift and everything we have in this world, whether inherited wealth, talents or the ability to earn money, come from Him. With great freedom comes great responsibility. We have no right to treat our ‘own’ wealth or position as though these were all part of an unquestioned personal fiefdom; rather we must bear in mind that we are merely overseers and foremen, tasked by God with the proper management of His estate, and will one day be called to give an account to the rightful Master.
The eye of the needle: There is no sin in being rich – the followers of God have included kings, rulers, landowners and wealthy businessman as well as people of more modest means like fishermen and the ‘Carpenter’. God is concerned primarily with the purity of our hearts. Many who choose poverty and austerity can grow self-righteous, hard hearted and hypercritical of fellow Christians who take a different view. Paul was clear that a sacrificial lifestyle is pointless if the underlying motive is anything but love.
Yet Jesus warned his disciples, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24 ESV). The rich young ruler desired to follow Christ but turned back when called to give up his wealth. While it is true that the poor may put their security in their purses rather than in the promises of God, the rich often find it harder to wean themselves from the desire for more wealth. The key message here is that it is easy for anyone, but especially the rich, to become overly attached to money; and while all of us should guard against the love of money, the rich probably have to make a greater effort in this direction.
Desire for riches: Money also opens up unique possibilities for both good and evil. The love of money, and not money itself, is the root of all evil. This distinction is important. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 ESV). The media gives us daily glimpses into the lives of wealthy celebrities, and their tragedies are a warning to us all. Money does not bring happiness, nor does it appease the craving for more. The lust for money is a treacherous bait to entrap souls – it moves so quickly from being a servant to becoming the undisputed master of our lives. So Jesus warns us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19 ESV). As Christians, we must pray specifically for the grace not to fall into this temptation, otherwise we could find ourselves on a very dangerous path.
The acquisition of wealth: Being ‘blessed’ with money is not necessarily a sign of God’s approval, yet it is often the fruit of hard work, thrift and industry, which God approves of. “There is profit in all hard work… “(Proverbs 14:23 HCSB). Wealth gained through hard work and honest means is blessed. Anyone who resorts to dishonest or corrupt means to acquire money, rejects His authority over their lives. “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapour and a deadly snare” (Proverbs 21:6 NIV)) and “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labour increases it” (Proverbs 13:11 NASB). Those who seek to get rich quickly or through fraudulent means find themselves ensnared in many ways – on the wrong side of the law, in debt, and robbed of all peace of mind – as they live their lives outside the blessing of God.
The handling of wealth: God promised Israel His protection over the inheritance He had granted them – “It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deuteronomy 11:12). The watchful eyes of God are over our possessions when we acknowledge His lordship over our wealth and substance. Israel was commanded to 1. Bring their tithes and offerings to the house of the Lord, 2. Be generous to the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the alien, 3. Not to covet their neighbour’s possessions, 4. Not to steal or acquire money by wrongful means and 5. Cancel all outstanding debts owed to them in the year of the jubilee. By doing these things, they acknowledged God’s authority, and enjoyed His blessing and protection over their wealth.
Father, teach us how to be blameless in our handling of money. Grant us the grace to be free of all selfishness and covetousness. In Jesus’ name.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Growing up in the Syriac Orthodox church, I remember Psalms 91 and 121 and other prayers for protection being sung each evening.
“O Lord, You are the one true God, save us –
- From all evils and all wickedness, from all malice, and from thoughts of adultery, from all enemies, from deceitful companions, from temptations of the devil, and from the wickedness of men;
- From unclean passions, from unseemly lusts, from devilish thoughts, and from evil dreams; from all hidden snares, from idle words, from great treacheries, from revengeful utterances, and from all temptations of the world;
- From rods of rage, from sudden death, from anger, from hatred, from ligtnings and thunder-bolts, from plagues, and from hell fire;
- From hard-hearted and wicked deeds, from undying worms, from unquenchable fire, from the gnashing of teeth, from lamentations, from bitter occurances, from evil hours, and from tormenting powers, from famine, from fears, from sudden shocks, from all unbearable punishments;
- From Your words uttering ‘depart from me I know you not’, and from all that will separate us from You. Amen.”
Christians in past generations believed in the importance of daily prayers for protection from evil. As a young adult attending evangelical churches, I remember being taught the importance of praise, which ‘silenced the foe and the avenger’ (Psalm 8), but rarely about the need to implore God for protection. There was a popular acronym ‘ACTS’ – adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication – to help us remember the areas we ought to cover in prayer. I wondered why this was. I discovered that the prevailing belief in our evangelical circles was that as we praise God, we surround ourselves with divine protection.
Some also believed that we could expect God to protect us from all evil without making any specific request. He was duty bound as our heavenly Shepherd to deliver us from all harm, and therefore special prayers were unnecessary. This is a mistaken notion of what trusting God actually means. Asking God for something is hardly a sign of unbelief, quite the reverse. Yes, God is our Provider, Sustainer and Protector, but our prayers are crucial to His working out His purposes on the earth. As we make our requests, we connect ourselves to the divine realms where all power and blessing lie, and we publicly acknowledge before men, angels and demons, that our dependance is on God alone. When we do this the hand of God moves powerfully on our behalf, and shields us from danger, whether physical or spiritual.
Now the subject of prayer has always fascinated me, and as a young Christian I would often ask more mature believers about the ‘best ways’ to pray. As I reflected on the Lord’s Prayer, I observed that this model prayer which Jesus used to teach His disciples ‘how to pray’, contained 4 main topics – 1. praise and adoration, 2. prayers for the establishment of God’s will, His kingdom and authority, 3. confession and supplication, and finally 4. prayers for protection from hard testing and the devil.
Many modern evangelical groups pay little attention to the fourth aspect – “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” – and there is an unspoken tendency to view constant prayers for protection from the evil one as almost superstitious. Yet the emphasis Jesus placed on this aspect of our spiritual safety both in the Lord’s Prayer and in His prayer following the Last Supper – “Father, protect them from the evil one”, and “Protect them by the power of Your name” – shows us that we must do likewise. When we omit praying for our safety, we open ourselves to hard testing, innumerable temptations and excessive opposition from the enemy.
The benefits of praying each day to be shielded from the enemy of our souls, should never be underestimated. Those who never pray for protection and deliverance can find themselves trapped in the same current of temptations and testings as the unbelieving world, and with fewer resources to counter it than those who regularly and faithfully call upon God to save them from such troubles. Although ‘all who live godly lives’ will face opposition and trouble in this world, God’s desire is that, on the whole, we live peaceful and quiet lives in the midst of every storm, and experience His supernatural protection even in a swirl of spiritual assaults. Such protection is accessed when we specifically request God for it in our prayers.
Recently I found some prayers for protection on a Church of England website, and found the words deeply moving –
May the cross of the Son of God,
which is mightier than all the hosts of Satan,
and more glorious than all the hosts of heaven,
abide with me in my going out and my coming in.
By day and by night, at morning and at evening,
at all times and in all places may it protect and defend me.
From the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits,
from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil,
from all passions that beguile the soul and body:
may it guard, protect and deliver me.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5).
THE DANGER OF PRIDE
Pride is the opposite of humility, and the scripture warns us about its dangers. Pride excludes God, and instead relies on human strength and wisdom to achieve objectives or resolve problems. It gloats in its self-sufficiency – “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.'”(Psalm 10:4 ESV). The secular humanism and the moral relativism of our age are direct results of such prideful arrogance, which exalts human perspectives over the commandments of God. Even in so-called Christian nations, we find judges condemning the righteous, and treating their values with disdain (Psalm 31:18). Pride leads individuals, organisations and communities, along paths that seem practical, even humane to human eyes, but lead ultimately to disgrace (Proverbs 11:2), and destruction (Proverbs 16:18).
Pride will be judged, while grace is extended to the humble. In fact, God has fixed a day when He will thoroughly judge and eradicate all pride, which wrought the downfall of angels and men. “The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear” (Isaiah 2:12-18 NIV).
The fall of Babylon (Revelation 18) gives a vivid imagery of the spiritual prostitution which results from overweening pride, and its terrible final end. In contrast the rewards of humility are innumerable.
The Inheritance of the Humble
- Access into the Kingdom
- Outpouring of Grace
- Divine Protection
- Enduring Riches
- Honour and Victory
Access into the Kingdom: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4 BSB).
These verses capture the value God sets on humility. Without humility, one cannot enter God’s Kingdom because the first steps towards His house are repentance, remorse for sin, and self-abasement as we acknowledge that we, in our sinful state, deserve nothing but His wrath. Until we come to the point where we realise the futility of our best intentions and well meant works, and we cast our lot on the mercy of God and His redeeming work on the cross, the doors of heaven will not be opened to us. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we find that the prayers of the self-righteous pharisee were rejected, but the tax collector who humbled himself, and cried “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” was justified (Luke 18:9-14). God justifies the humble and repentant, and welcomes them into His Kingdom.
Outpouring of Grace: ‘But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”‘ (James 4:6 ESV). Few religions have stories similar to those in the Bible of wicked nations like Nineveh or evil kings like Nebuchadnezzar, Ahab or Manasseh, turning to the Lord in an attitude of humility and repentance, and being forgiven and even restored to their former greatness. So we have this utterly magnificent promise from our God – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).
Even when we sin and do things that displease God, His hands are open to us, if we return in an attitude of humility. Without humility it is impossible to be open about our sin and neediness, or to receive this promised abundance of grace. But grace, and more grace is apportioned to those will continually walk in the path of humility.
Divine Protection: God’s special care and protection surrounds the one who chooses the path of humility – “Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2 NIV). The humble are specially watched and protected by God on the Day of Judgment, when His wrath is revealed against all sin – “From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth” (Psalm 76:8-9 ESV) and “…seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV).
Jesus, when tempted by the devil, did not yield to sin, because He willingly acknowledged the authority of God over every area of His life and work. It takes humility to reject provisions, solutions, gifts or honour which are not authorised by scripture. From the beginning of our salvation until the end, humility is our safeguard against the deception and tactics of the enemy. On that Final Day, we will be spared the wrath and punishment that comes to those who reject His authority.
Enduring Riches: Like any wise human father, God wishes to bless His children not with vanities, but with true and enduring riches. He desires for us to be humble, for humility makes it possible for Him to open His storehouses and pour His showers of wisdom, mercy and blessing over our lives. “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise…” (Proverbs 21:20 NASB). The eyes of the humble are set not on the ‘treasure that decays’, and it is precisely for this reason that they are given authority and access to lasting treasures, both in the natural and spiritual realms. They will enjoy the fruits of wisdom and maturity in their lifetimes, build stable homes, and leaving a lasting inheritance for generations to come. “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honour and life” (Proverbs 22:4 ESV).
Joshua was a worthy successor of Moses and a true leader of the Israelites. His approach to the division of their common inheritance in the Promised Land speaks volumes. He refrained from coveting the best portion for himself. He supervised the land allocation with great integrity, putting himself last in the allotment of the land and taking only what his countrymen were willing to give him. God’s eternal favour and infinite riches are at the disposal of the humble, because He trusts them to steward everything with integrity (Proverbs 11:2), and for the benefit of all.
Honour and Victory: The Bible talks about the riches of our spiritual inheritance. Humility transforms character, and the result is great spiritual authority – “what you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven”. Rick Joyner, in his book ‘The Final Quest’ describes his vision of the spiritual realms. He saw people and angels walking about, and he noticed some who were dressed in coarse brown cloaks. They were greeted with special honour by the others, and it was explained to him that the cloak was humility, a virtue highly esteemed in heaven. Humility opens the way to honour and victory – “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 ESV), and, “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honour” (Proverbs 15:33 ESV).
“But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace” (Psalm 37:11 ESV). The final destiny of the humble and the proud are explained in the scripture. The principles of heaven are in direct contradiction to the principles of the earth, and in the end, the former will triumph. When the reign of Christ begins, we will see the true blossoming and flourishing of this divine law, but even now on earth, we often see that in the long term, sometimes over the span of several generations, the proud are humbled, and the lowly exalted. When Christ returns to reign, He will fully reward all those who gladly took their places among ‘the least’, and did not despise the ‘day of small beginnings’ or their lot of being servants to others; and they will indeed reign as kings and queens in the new earth (Revelations 5:10).
From ‘The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus’.
The Manners of the Christians
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.
They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.
They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
The Relation of Christians to the World
To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures.
The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.