Here is an interesting enigma. Did God create the rose bush without thorns or add them after the sin of Adam and Eve? He said that the ground would produce thorns and thistles and that Adam would have burdensome toil to get food. (Gen 3:17-18) However, isn’t it so like our heavenly Father to still leave grace even in the midst of judgment and consequences? Thorns are hard and sharp and metaphorically represent irritation, trouble and discomfort. Whereas roses represent beauty and aroma which God in His grace left for mankind to enjoy. (I am still searching for something good to say about thistles.)
The Apostle Paul struggled mightily with his “thorn in the flesh,” and pleaded three times for the Lord to take it away from him. (2 Cor 12:7) Instead God answered, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” The scriptures are not totally clear on what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, but many scholars believe it was his eyes. (Col. 4:18P (Gal 6:11) He wrote the Galatians that “even thought my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.” (Gal. 4:13-14) I wonder if Paul thought often of the crown of thorns that Jesus was made to wear in addition to his many other tortures? (Jo 19:2, 5) (Mt 27:29) (Mk 15:17)
Jesus warned future disciples that we would also have trouble and persecution because of the word. (Mt 13:21) (Jo 16:33) However, we sometimes have our own “thorn in the flesh” outside of contending for the faith. (Jude 3) I had not even considered this until my recent thorn of skin cancer. Like Paul, I am grateful that the wonderful brethren here have continued to love and not scorn me because of my “unsightly” appearance. I pray that the Lord’s power will be made perfect through my weakness.
When Jesus said in John 17 that “they may be one as we are,” he was talking about the Apostles who would speak the message with one voice so that no divisions nor misunderstandings would arise. (v11) He desired that they have the same unity as that of the Godhead. (Jo 17: 24) ( Acts 5: 29-32) ( Acts 7: 55) ( Rom 15:30) ( I Cor 2:10-12) He knew that the apostles would not be of this world ( Jo 17:14) and would need protection ( v 11) the Word ( v14) truth ( v17) and sanctification ( v 19) to achieve this unity.
He further states that this oneness was to be for those who would believe the Apostle’s message. That meant believers down through the centuries and extending to us today. (v20) Jesus desires that we also have the unity that the Godhead has. (v21) Those who trust and obey his commands ( Acts 2:38) become part of His body the church which He established. ( Mt 16:16-18) ( Eph 1:22) ( Col 1:18) ( Acts 2: 42)
So, what happened? Does this unity still exist today? It can and it should, but it does seem that there is more division than unity. Some claim that Jesus empowered a one man rule of His church starting with Peter and then passed it on to another man by vote. However, Peter himself denied this idea to Cornelius. ( Acts 10: 25-26) Paul opposed Peter to his face. ( Gal 2:11) Peter had a wife. ( Mk 1:30) ( Lk 4:38) So then, perhaps Paul was chosen to be Christ’s Vicar on earth since Peter held him in such high esteem? ( Pe 3:15) Paul himself also rejects this idea. ( I Cor 1:10-13) ( I Cor 3: 4-9)
Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, commanded each congregation to appoint elders ( pastors, overseers, shepherds) to direct the affairs of His church. ( I Tim 5: 19) ( Titus 1:5) ( Heb 13: 17) The Shepherds are to “feed the flock” by loving example, not by lording it over them. ( I Pe 5:2) What builds unity? Appreciation, fellowship, worship, prayers, study and following the “one another verses in the New Testament. ( Rom 12:10) ( Rom 13:8) ( Eph 4: 32) ( I Cor 12: 25) ( Gal 5: 13) ( I Thes 4:18) These and many others will unite us whereas immaturity ( Heb 5:11-14) lukewarmness ( Rev 3: 14-17) pride ( 3 Jo 9-10) selfishness and rebellion ( I Cor 11: 17-22) and others will tear down unity. We are one only in Christ Jesus. ( Rom 8:1) ( Rom 6: 3-5)
Can you imagine rubbing shoulders with the creator of the universe? ( Col 1: 15-17) The crowds who jostled Jesus were doing exactly that but I doubt that even his apostles who had seen his miracles fully understood his divinity. Jesus is not a distant, silent or vindictive god like many cultures worshiped. He always keeps his spiritual antenna alert to those who need him and seek him. ( Acts 2:38) ( Acts 2:21) ( Ro 10:11) The gospel of Mark tells us that as a crowd pressed around Jesus he felt that power had gone out from him. He asked, “ Who touched me?” His disciples explained that it could have been nearly anyone in such a crowd. But Jesus knew and told the woman who had been suffering for 12 years from a bleeding illness that her faith had healed her. ( Mk 5: 24-34) Max Lucado puts it wonderfully. “Near enough to touch. Strong enough to trust.”
Jesus’ antenna is attuned to the pleas and silent prayers of the weak, the forgotten and the abused. He is never oblivious, unconcerned nor too busy for a pure-hearted searcher. He promises rest for the weary and burdened. ( Mt 11: 28-29) As his disciples we also need to have an active antenna ready to read and react to the hurt of a hurting world. One of the ways we do that is by following the Spirit-inspired command given by the Apostle Peter. “…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”( 1 Pe 3:15)
It seems that God gave many animals a type of early warning system when danger is imminent. Surely he gives his people a spiritual antenna to detect imminent needs of brethren and seekers.
I recently had an experience in the secular world that very much reminded me of a Biblical concept. As I was leaving a business on 120th street a man approached me and said, “I’ve asked lots of people for money for bus fare and all I’ve gotten is two quarters, could you spare two dollars? I asked him some questions but he would not look me in the eye at all during our whole conversation. I supposed he was shy or embarrassed, but later learned he used this tactic with all strangers. However, even though I suspected he was deceitful, I gave him the two dollars with the advise that he look people in the eye.
Shortly after Moses told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” “…We will obey.” ( Ex 24: 3, 7) Most of the people were probably sincere but nevertheless, soon after we see some of them making and bowing down to a golden calf. The Lord said they were, “a stiff necked people.” ( Ex 32: 7-9) We might say they also were shifty-eyed and fickle. Fickle means not constant or loyal in opinion or behavior.
This attitude continued throughout the Old and New Testament and exists even today. During the time of the Judges, Gideon’s town and his family worshiped Baal and Asherah. ( Jud 6: 27) In Jeremiah’s day in the towns of Judah and in Jerusalem people were burning incense and pouring out drink offerings to the Queen of heaven. ( Jer 7: 17-18) ( Jer 44: 17-25) God said they, “ did not return to me with all her heart but only in pretense.” ( Jer 3: 9-10)
In the first church of Christ Ananias and Sapphire lied and used deceit in their giving. ( Acts 5:4) Christians today need to constantly be on guard against this type of deceit in our worship so that we will not become fickle, shifty, evasive or crafty. God will not tolerate any deceit or pretense in our worship of Him.
Charles Caudill, the President of World Christian Broadcasting Corporation, writes about the ten years and twelve million dollar effort to get Madagascar World Voice on the air. On March 27th, 2016 they began broadcasting the gospel to the other half of the world not already reached by KNLS in Alaska. They are now sharing Christ in many languages including Arabic. He tells of the obstacles overcome such as: coup d’etats, cyclones, government interferences, vandalism and manufacturing delays. To remain on task that long, let alone being cheerful, must have required an amazing trust in God.
Many scriptures use the term cheerful and its synonym joyful as a goal for a pleasant, delighted, happy, jubilant, wholehearted and glad walk for Christians. ( Pr 15:13) ( Pr 15:30) ( Pr 17: 22) ( 2 Ch 7:10) ( Hab 3: 18) ( Rom 12:12) ( 1 Thes 5: 16) Brother Caudill advises that when we get discouraged thinking God is not doing what we want nor what we are praying for, think about what he is doing and uses Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist as an example. He was healing lepers, the blind, the deaf, raising the dead and preaching the gospel to the poor. ( Mt 11: 4-6)
A cheerful attitude will produce “ a continual feast,” “ a happy face,” “joy to the heart,” and “ good medicine.” In addition, “God loves a cheerful giver.” ( 2 Co 9:7) Although that verse was targeting monetary giving, I believe it would apply to any effort we make
in advancing Christ’s Kingdom. ( Phil 4:13) ( Mk 12:30) ( Lk 10:27) ( Col 3: 23) It is not too hard to be joyful and cheerful during periods of success and good health. However, to remain cheerful on the outside and the inside requires strength which the Holy Spirit gives freely. ( Eph 3:16)