Before Jesus, there had not been anyone having uttered the voice of God, except heard through Moses and the ancient prophets. The written prophetic material is pronounced as having come directly from God. The difference between God’s voice and ordinary voices is that God’s voice is permanent, while the voices of humanity are temporary. Wisdom lies in distinguishing between God’s voice and other voices from humanity or from demonic forces.
Jesus was the first human ever to live; whose communication directly represented God’s voice. However, after leaving the scene, Jesus ensured that His disciples would also represent God. The only difference between humans and Jesus is that Jesus came directly from God.
When humans speak, there would be some possibility of misrepresenting God. Hence, the first of the Ten Commandments requires having no other gods. Among humans, none can be trusted to represent God, entirely. Even the apostles that comprised the foundation of the Church had some misrepresentations.
For instance, in his endeavour to address immorality within the Corinthian Church, Paul had to highlight the distinction, after suggesting his opinion. This is important, as God’s word is immortal. “To the married, I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10 NIV). He later uttered what represented his opinion:
“To the rest, I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her” (1 Corinthians 7:12 NIV). God’s word does not allow any possibility of a divorce. Whereas, Paul’s opinion suggests that the unbeliever, if unwilling to stay with the believer may be divorced.
One can understand Paul’s viewpoint. Reasonable as that appears to be, it does not agree with the Lord. Humanly speaking, Paul’s utterance easily solves problems. However, in God, there is nothing impossible.
Humans tend to use justifications when compromising God’s authority. This is what has led to denominational groupings in Christianity. There can be no uniformity, as long as human opinions are allowed to prevail. Trusting oneself should be regarded as unacceptable. But trusting another person more than trusting oneself, is worse.
In the above example, Paul justified divorce, against Jesus’ word, although clarifying that it was his opinion. However, there are other examples where Paul suggested opinions, emphatically making them doctrine. Let us use the popularly accepted doctrine:
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:1-7 NIV).
Saying, “Here is a trustworthy saying” is scandalous, because it is his opinion, projected as if it is God’s truth. I would have forgiven him, had he not included, “Here is a trustworthy saying.” Nothing is trustworthy in this world, except coming from Jesus. I, however, would relent, though, only because he wasn’t there when Jesus said the following, to His disciples:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”(Matthew 23:8-12 NIV).
The method of selecting overseers or Bishops carries no basis in the Christian faith. The apostles came into the ministry, not through the standard that Paul alluded to. That includes Paul’s appointment. Jesus appointed him, on his way to carry out some murderous activities in Damascus. In which way could he then say his words were trustworthy?
The entire Christian community seems sold to this dummy. Appointing overseers or Bishops is viewed as important for any Christian organization. Highly respectable people use this as if supported by Jesus. The fact that Paul said his words were trustworthy, does not carry any weight, as long as not supported by Jesus’ words.
This does not mean that Paul must be regarded as having not been God’s servant. He was God’s apostle, but there was an aspect of human error in Him. He was different from Jesus. Christians who are loyal to Jesus, rather than humans can easily spot such differences.
Paul’s teachings, including those of other apostles, ought to be followed, only as those apostles followed Christ’s teachings. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV). What this implies is that Paul was not supposed to be followed, as long as saying things not said by Jesus. This is more common sense than doctrinal.
Christianity carries a wide spectrum of viewpoints, mixed with God’s word. Any person can be used by God today but used by another power the next day. It, therefore, requires evaluating every word, before deciding whether it comes from God or not. The background of the person is immaterial. The important thing is whether the person utters God’s word or not.
The wicked person can say Godly words, which means God can also speak through wicked people. There are Biblical examples where God, actually, communicated through pagan kings. He spoke through Pharaoh, whose accurate dream was interpreted by Joseph. God also spoke through King Nebuchadnezzar, whose accurate dream was interpreted by Daniel.
King Cyrus of Persia was instrumentally used by God to bring the Jewish remnants back to Jerusalem. These examples reveal that God cannot be limited by human reasoning. The fact that a person might appear extremely wicked does not limit God from using him.
Among Christian organizations, there are those appearing as extremely off the mark, in terms of departure from God’s word. The Roman Catholic Church is criticized for not representing God’s truth. But one can learn many teachings of Jesus, through the Roman Catholic preachers.
An alert Christian always compares what is said, whether agreeable with God’s word or not. Belonging to a Church grouping that appears as committed to God’s word, doesn’t suggest infallibility. The partisan spirit often robes Christians of the truth. What the Bishop says is often wrongly adopted as truth, without question.
Many Christians assume Bishops are infallible. This is what is terribly wrong, with Christianity. Congregants may observe the departure, but leave the Bishop to figure it out without their input. Such people will answer to God, someday. Whoever God shows the truth, is responsible to alert his group.
What causes departure is not that God would have not provided the truth. God might have communicated to any of the group members. But, because of idolatry, people choose to keep quiet, fearing being labelled a renegade. It is easy to observe how this plays out in politics.
Party members enjoy hero-worshipping the President, possibly to attract favours. When ZANU PF took a wrong trajectory, it isn’t that party members were blind. Many could have challenged President Mugabe as early as 1980. Those people compromised their integrity and allowed bad decisions to pass.
Members of Parliament feared losing their seats. This has happened to some, like Simba Makoni, Killer Zivhu and a few others. However, a person with a clean heart cannot feel bad when victimized for doing what they consider to be right.
Being on the Lord’s side is what exposes a person to persecution, unnecessarily. That is where Christian champions are found. Christianity leaves no room for cowardice. It is better to die doing the right thing than dying doing wrong things, because of cowardice.
“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world, we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”(1 John 4:17-18 NIV).
Christianity is not free lunch, adopted for reasons of gaining comfort in this world. Popularity and human approval is not a sign of good Christian standing. True Christians do not succumb to intimidation when standing for the truth. But the same Christians are also willing to humbly change when proven wrong.
True Christians face two formidable challenges in this world. The first is stern opposition from traditional authoritarians. The second challenge is the unwillingness to change when proven wrong about what the person considers to be true. Amazingly, it is often the latter that has dogged Christianity, more than the former, from time immemorial.
While Christ’s teachings can be considered as not applicable, Christianity is useless, without applying Christ’s teachings. The workability of Jesus’ word is in applying every detail of Christ’s teachings. This is possible, when willing to consider everything, even from whichever background, as Paul suggested:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV).
It may be necessary to paraphrase Paul’s last suggestion, a little bit more, in the above passage: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice, as long as agreeable with our Lord. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV).
Paul can be commended for the sterling work he conducted under the most difficult conditions. He had been a deeply committed Pharisee. He was sent to preach to the Gentiles, who had no law at their disposal. To instil order, he got persuaded to make some wrong recommendations, whose basis was, unfortunately, not from the Lord.
The other apostles had their own share of problems, as well. The most prominent could be the failure to apply the principle of giving, as taught by Jesus, for instance. Jesus had taught them to obey everything that He had commanded them, such as follows:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”(Matthew 6:1-4 NIV).
The story of Ananias and his wife Sapphire carries a very sad reading (Acts 5:1ff). There are those, quick to condemn the couple, but without noticing the source of the problem. How possible could it have been for the couple to commit that sin, had giving been conducted according to Jesus’ teaching? The couple applied the sinful conduct, ignorantly wanting to impress, just as their peers had done so.
What Jesus pronounced in all His teachings, had been God’s word, the violation of which cannot be excusable. The most responsible people for such violations are those conferred with leadership, violating what Jesus taught in Matthew 23:8-12. However, it is also the responsibility of every Christian to behave like the Bereans.
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men”(Acts 17:11-12 NIV).
The Christians of Paul’s time can be forgiven, for relying too much on Paul’s teachings. They did not have the recorded messages of Jesus, which are now available to us. Current Christians have no excuse, whatsoever, as the four gospel Books are available for verification.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99