by Mike Ratliff
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-16 ESV)
I have often written on this blog and elsewhere about the spiritual awakening that God took me through in 2004. I remember vividly, however, being very confused about some things as I went through that. Several years earlier, I had been deeply involved in several men’s studies at a former church that were built around the teachings of Henry Blackaby. I had been through once and led several times the study called “Experiencing God.” One thing that always puzzled me in that study was how cool it was and how “deep” it was in the beginning and then so wrapped up in spiritual or mystical disciplines toward the end because to progress past the initial seeking where God is working then get involved stage, which was always quite exciting for everyone, it got into those parts of self-discipline that most of the men simply shrugged off and didn’t come back. In any case, I used the context of those studies to evaluate or try to understand what God was doing in my life in August 2004. Things just did not jibe together as I thought they should.
I became frustrated with trying to understand what was going on by “listening” for God’s voice. I went through a stage about a month later in which I became very angry with myself for not praying and listening enough and that was why I couldn’t figure out what God was doing and what I should do. It was through writing two books about this that I was able to nail down into concrete thoughts what I “thought” God was doing and what He wanted me to do. However, I was very wrong. In the process of becoming connected to other Christians on the Internet who were all going through similar spiritual awakenings, I realized that I was most certainly not alone and most of the others were just as confused as I was. I pursued the teachings of Brother Lawrence for a while, but they were very nebulous and did not help me at all. Then I made friends with Ken Silva on the original Slice of Laodicea blog. It was as if God had directed my floundering little ship to a safe port in a raging hurricane.
I am convinced that it was no coincidence that at the same time that happened, God gave me the anchor point in my Spiritual growth from which I finally found the place from which all truth is based and from it He directs our paths and guides us only deeper into His Truth. That anchor point is Sola Scriptura. It was from that point on that the cleansing began in the shedding of all that mystical baggage in my understanding of this Christian Faith. You see, the mysticism and contemplative spiritualism (or whatever you want to call it) stuff is actually a hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is a filter through which the Bible is interpreted. Ken Silva’s latest post on this is a must read. After you read that post, I suggest that you prayerfully go here and see the contrast. As I watched that video and browsed that site, all of the floundering I went through in 2004 until God graciously brought me into the truth came back to my mind in great detail. I recognized that very same mindset from which God graciously rescued me. I also understood how vulnerable the Christian is who is sincerely seeking the spiritual place which God wants for them. If they do not become anchored in His Sovereignty and Sola Scriptura then they are incredibly open to deception.
My goodness, that CSM methodology stuff looks so cool and it is so seductive. It sounds so right. They use all the right words, but notice my brethren how the focus is not God’s glory in our obedience as we are sanctified in the fires of persecution, sickness, and other thorns in the flesh, but on becoming the “Me I want to be.” Paul talked about his own thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. As you read these passages below, notice the progression from spiritual awakening to a crisis in focus then to the fires of sanctification and their purpose. Here is vv1-4, which is God giving Paul visions and understanding.
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows– and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4 ESV)
The boasting Paul is talking about is a continuation of his defense against the false teachers who were tearing up the Corinthian church. Part of their attacks was to try to cast him in a bad light, making him out to be a false apostle while they were the true apostles. Paul’s spiritual awakening, his visions, et cetera were proof that these attacks were from the false while he was authentic. The Greek word Paul used here translated as “boasting” is καυχασθαι, means ‘to vaunt’ or ‘glory in.’ However, what an ‘experience’ he had there that was part of his Apostolic Credentials. Paul was wise enough, however, to know that καυχασθαι in this could tempt his own flesh to be proud.
On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. (2 Corinthians 12:5-6 ESV)
Here we have that point that many teachers of the Word and preachers fail, but Paul does not. The word Paul used here translated as “weaknesses,” ασθενειαις, is used in John 5:5 and Galatians 4:13 to mean weakness or sickness. The focus here with Paul is in his “weakness” in the sense of not being whole spiritually. He knows that His spiritual knowledge, maturity, and ability as an Apostle is from God. The work that is done in his ministry that brings God glory is God working in him despite these weaknesses. This is the mark of authenticity that those who were attacking him and his ministry totally lacked. They elevated their ministries and were drawing attention to themselves and what they were saying in their ‘miraculous visions’ while Paul was pointing everyone to God and His grace.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)
7και τη υπερβολη των αποκαλυψεων διο ινα μη υπεραιρωμαι εδοθη μοι σκολοψ τη σαρκι αγγελος σατανα ινα με κολαφιζη ινα μη υπεραιρωμαι 8υπερ τουτου τρις τον κυριον παρεκαλεσα ινα αποστη απ εμου 9και ειρηκεν μοι αρκει σοι η χαρις μου η γαρ δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται ηδιστα ουν μαλλον καυχησομαι εν ταις ασθενειαις ινα επισκηνωση επ εμε η δυναμις του χριστου 10διο ευδοκω εν ασθενειαις εν υβρεσιν εν αναγκαις εν διωγμοις και στενοχωριαις υπερ χριστου οταν γαρ ασθενω τοτε δυνατος ειμι (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 WHNU)
The word translated “conceited,” υπεραιρωμαι, is translated in the KJV as, “I should be exalted above measure.” It means, “to become haughty.” When we become focused on self in our walk and ministries this is always a great danger. Therefore, God allowed a αγγελος σατανα, a ‘messenger of Satan,’ to κολαφιζη, harass him. The word κολαφιζη means, “to knock about” or “rap with a fist.” Of what does this κολαφιζη consist? He calls it a σκολοψ τη σαρκι, a ‘thorn in the flesh,’ was εδοθη μοι, given to him. What does this mean? The words σκολοψ τη σαρκι is literally “a stake for the flesh.” Whether this was a physical disability or weakness or is referring to those demonized people who were attacking him and his ministry at Corinth we do not really know. However, in either case, we must understand that Paul understood that God was allowing Satan to attack him in a way that was distressing and put his weaknesses to the fore making him even more dependent upon God and His grace. Can we relate?
This caused Paul such anguish and distress that he pleaded three times for God to remove the σκολοψ τη σαρκι. Just as our Lord’s prayers at Gethsemane for the cup, if possible, to pass from Him (Mark 14:32-41) were given three times and denied, Paul’s is as well. However, God gave our Lord and Paul the grace to endure their ordeals. Our Lord told Paul, “is enough (αρκει) to you (σοι) the (η) grace (χαρις) of me (μου), the (η) for (γαρ) power (δυναμις) in (εν) weakness (ασθενεια) is complete (τελειται).” It is through our Lord’s χαρις that His disciples find in and through them δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται. Our Lord says that this grace, this χαρις, is αρκει for us. The verb αρκει is in present tense, which reveals the constant availability of this χαρις. God will not remove our thorns as long as they serve His purpose, but He will continue to supply us with the χαρις to endure it (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:29). Paul then exults, “Most gladly (ηδιστα) then (ουν) more (μαλλον) I will boast (καυχησομαι) in (εν) the (ταις) weaknesses (ασθενειαις) that (ινα) might abide (επισκηνωση) on (επ) me (εμε) the (η) power (δυναμις) of the (του) Christ (χριστου).” Do you see the principle my brethren? Is this something that tells us that God works in our lives in way that is all about us?
What was Paul willing to endure for the glory of God that the power of Christ by His grace might abide on him? Paul said, “Therefore (διο) I think well (ευδοκω) in (εν) weaknesses (ασθενειαις) in (εν) abuses (υβρεσιν) in (εν) hardships (αναγκαις) in (εν) persecutions (διωγμοις) and (και) anguish (στενοχωριαις) on behalf (υπερ) of Christ (χριστου) when (οταν) for (γαρ) I am weak (ασθενω) then (τοτε) power (δυνατος) I am (ειμι).” No matter how painful the things are that God allows in our lives to perfect our faith, keep us humble, and useful in the Kingdom, we can rejoice in the power of Christ that is revealed through us as we remain faithful and obedient. As we mature in Christ this way, we see clearly that it most certainly is not all about us, but is about God and His glory.
Soli Deo Gloria!