In Derek Prince’s “The Spirit Filled Believer’s Handbook”, he classifies types of baptism recorded in the New Testament into four main ones. After mentioning John’s baptism, Christian/Jesus’s baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit all of which we know so well, he mentioned one other form – the baptism of suffering. Indeed, it seems quite clear that this baptism has taken a place of neglect in contemporary circles, and I’ll only seek to further throw some light on this topic.
Let us look at this baptism of suffering described by Jesus Christ. James and John, the sons of Zebedee had come to ask Jesus to set each one them on the left and right hand side of Christ’s throne in his glory. And this was Christ’s response to this request:
“‘You don’t know what you are asking’, Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cap I drink or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with? We can’, they answered. ‘Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.’”(Mk 10:38-40)
Note that Jesus Christ fully agreed with them when they said they could drink of the cup and be baptised with his baptism. In fact, he said plainly that “they will”. And this agrees perfectly with his own statement in Mt 10:24.
“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Mt 10:24-25)
The imperative of perseverance through suffering as a means by which God trains us up from being children of his to being his sons cannot be overstated. The purpose of grooming sons as heirs alongside the elder brother Jesus (Ro 8:29) is so important that God will take his children through every means to have that purpose established. As the late Theodore Austin-Sparks puts it, God always seeks to have his “men of stature”. This understanding of what I call the forgotten baptism was never lost on the disciples, and they continued to encourage and remind themselves in that direction.
“Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith: ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Ac 14:21b-22)
Note that they didn’t say “we will”, but “we must” go through many hardships. We will look at some of the traits of the lives of the early church and how their lives depicted their understanding of these teachings of Jesus Christ. This would help us get a picture of the kind and grade of suffering that they experienced, and whether we are not missing out on something in our contemporary days. Subsequent posts will delve into other traits, but we’ll look at three here.
Distinct Community Life
One of the traits that clearly marked out the NT church was its understanding of the fact that “they were in this world, but not of this world”. Paul admonished the Corinthian church to separate themselves from the unbelieving world.
“Do not be yoked together with the unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? … For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’. Therefore come out from them and be separate.” (2 Cor 6:14,16-17)
Of course this statement does not mean that we do not associate with the people of the world, because then “In that case, you would have to leave this world” (1 Cor 5:10). However separation from the world is required because among other things:
we are the temple of the living God and God seeks to move and dwell amongst us as stated above. Obviously a God who doesn’t tolerate wickedness will not have any unbeliever soiling his temple.
we are holy in Christ – “You were taught with regard to your former way of life … to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:20-22-24). Paul, the founder of the Ephesian church, reminded them that he taught them to put on what God had already prepared for them; His righteousness and holiness. Separation is not to achieve holiness, but rather because of holiness.
The evangelical theology of Reformists (i.e. most Protestant, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity) focuses on trying to change the world by applying the standards that the church lives by on worldly people, who by by nature have been“blinded by the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4) and will never succumb to it. Unless men have began living the life that Christ alone gives – a life in the Spirit – they are totally incapable of pleasing God (Ro 8:6-8). We continuously underestimate the fallen nature of unregenerate man, and it can be well attested to that efforts in this direction only yield quantity and not quality Christianity.
Just as God called the Isrealites to be his people and made stringent efforts to set them apart from the surrounding nations, so is the church. Note what God said about Israel and Baalam’s concurrence of it when he uttered his oracle concerning them:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:4-6)
“I see people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations” (Num 23:9)
Compare these to 2 Cor 6:14-17 already reproduced above and to the following:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pe 2:9-10)
The similarity between the OT and the NT cannot be overemphasized in this respect. Given these foundations, our duty to the world is to “call a people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Ro 1:5). Note the use again of the phrase “a people”? The church is supposed to be an alternative society that under the unction of the Holy Spirit lives by the law of the Lord, the law of love (Jn 13:34-35;Gal 6:2). Our purpose is not to change the world by making everyone a Christian, our purpose is to call out from the world and disciple those who are willing to live the life of Christ (Gal 2:20-21) and to show to the world by our conformity to the will of God, the supremacy of Christ and what God’s intent for Christ and those that follow Christ is in his coming kingdom is.
“His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10-11)
The church is a show-piece to the world of God’s wisdom, not the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is centered in Christ – not worldly power, riches or fame. If the church looks like the world, in what way is it a show-piece then? I’ve heard it said before that whiles the world is becoming churchier, the church is becoming worldlier. It is safe therefore to presume that we live in tragic times – yet God’s grace abounds nonetheless to them that will avail of it.
An Expectation of Trial and Suffering
“… And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Ro 5:2-4)
“We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.” (1 Thess 3:2-4)
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (2 Ti 1:8)
“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he want to please his commanding officer.” (2 Ti 2:3-4)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-3)
“For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Pe 2:19-20)
These passages were written to a very diverse audience of Christians scattered throughout Rome (in Ro); Thessalonica (in 1 Th); Timothy in Ephesus (in 2 Ti); Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syrian Antioch (in Jas); Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythnia (in 1 Pe). Yet there is a consistent reminder throughout all these – suffering is part of the package. Accept it and persevere in it, not with gloom, but with patience and even joy, knowing that it has a purpose.
I believe that it is no coincidence that this was so important to the theology of the first century church. Many try to argue it away by saying that the world then was very hostile to Christianity, warranting the encouragement to perseverance. I find that explanation not satisfactory. Any church that determines to be true to the purpose of God in being the agent of transforming men and women into the sons and daughters of God to reign in His kingdom will be faced with persecution as a group and as individuals alike. Until we resurrect the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom and it’s attendant life, we will continue to sit in peace with the world. We will never rock the world’s boat. If you want to know the effect of that gospel, take the case of Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica in Ac 17:1-9. When the angry Thessalonian people couldn’t get the escaped Paul and could only lay hands on Jason, they accused him of one particular thing – “ and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Ac 17:7).
However, I find that another form of persecution of the true church is at hand in our times, albeit in a very subtle way. Wonder how? We live in a world where the phenomenon of humanism, the cardinal sin of man, has so infiltrated the ranks of Christianity and our foundations have proven to be very weak to respond to them. Today all sorts of pragmatism, self-help, motivational, how-to-experience-your-next-breakthrough teaching has entered and taken our pulpits which were already adrift by storm. These teachings have totally abandoned self-sacrifice as a result of love for Christ (Jn 13:34-35; 1 Jn 3:16) and replaced it with self-love. It has replaced humility as a result of Christ being our only glory (Phil 3:7-10) to self-pride. It has replaced the wisdom of God which is foolishness to the world (1 Co 1:20-25;2:1-2) with philosophy and management principles rehashed as the word of God. As a result, those who are truly searching for God are found in the minority, and have to endure the scorn or silent treatment of those walking the broader way. Ah, but Paul only had what Jesus said in mind when he reminded the Thessalonians that “You know quite well that we were destined for them”.
Self-Sacrifice in Meeting Physical Needs
The standard of discipleship was already defined by Christ before his death, and I believe there is no other measure that will suffice than Jn 13:34-35.
Jn 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Obviously, the love of Christ was not shown in words, but in action, even to the point of suffering and death on the cross. And the early church understood the depth of Christ’s love and the standard that he set for them. However this standard of love cannot be attained by our own fleshly effort, but again only if we live the life that Christ lives in us – walking according to the Spirit and dieing to the flesh and it’s desires (Eph 4:20-22). It is important to note that the love that Christ endeavours for us to show is not only in meeting physical needs, but also in spiritual ones. This section deals with the physical.
Focusing on meeting the physical needs of one another, one of the attitudes of the NT disciple was that everyone who was capable of working must find a job to sustain themselves and in addition, to also meet the needs of others less fortunate. Jesus said, “you will always have the poor among you … (Jn 12:8)”, and therefore it was imperative for the church to take an active attitude towards fighting poverty in the church. This attitude is reflected in Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonian and Ephesian disciples.
1 Thess 4:12 “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Eph 2:28 “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need.”
Such an active stance required a lot of sacrifice on the part of members, and especially the leadership of the early church towards making sure capable members were somehow employed and not sustained by the funds put together by the church. It is a well recorded fact that a large majority of the disciples in these times were the poor in society, and this responsibility was quite a huge burden in the church, enough to cause confusion and the subsequent creation of the office of deacons in Ac 6. Exemplified by the Apostle Paul as a tent maker (Ac 20:3), the epistles are replete with much advice about how the leaders themselves worked with their own sweat to sustain themselves and those who were with them in ministry.
Ac 20:34-35 “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’”
2 Thess 3:7-10 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat’”
In stark contrast, we have a lot of unemployed men and women today in the church, and our leaders are only busy claiming their pound of flesh off their already poor congregants. Others are also busy courting the rich of this world to come to their churches so they can give big donations, which end up sustaining their lives of luxury. As Paul states above here, it is not that such people do not have a right to be supported by their members, but the fact is that that is all that their minds are on, and as capable men and women as they also are, they’d rather be a part of the problem rather than contribute to the solution.
Someone made an observation that when you are totally dependent on your congregation for your daily bread, amongst other things there are two things that can happen:
They become slaves to you as you continue to demand your sustenance for doing your God given duty (1 Cor 9:15-16) or
you become a slave to them by preaching what suits their carnal pleasures so they will continuously be pleased with you and give to sustain you (2 Ti 4:3; Phil 3:17-19).
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot this side of the universe that confirms this observation.
In addition, voluntary giving towards the needs of the brethren was highly encouraged and practised, as seen by the sale of property in Ac 2 to meet the needs of the poor amongst the disciples, and also in the commendation of the Philippians (Phil 4:14-16) for their record of giving and the encouragement of the Corinthian church to do the same (2 Cor 8 & 9). I believe that an insistence on the purpose and importance of work also fed into this ability to give voluntarily.
Conclusion of Part 1
The character traits of the early disciples and their lives showed a dynamic and vibrant community of people who lived God’s purpose, not theirs. If we are to be judged as overcomers in this race, can we make it without an acknowledgement of suffering and the part that it plays in moulding our characters? Are we not in danger of being called “illegitimate” (Heb 12:7-8)?