Here on the streets of New York City, you can buy a Rolex watch for fifteen dollars. A salesman yells, "Get your Rolex here," and he flashes a shiny timepiece with the word "Rolex" on its face. As you examine the watch, everything about it looks like a Rolex. But, as every New Yorker knows, these watches aren't truly Rolexes. They're simply "knockoffs" - cheap copies of the original.
Thousands of visitors to New York City buy these Rolexes from street vendors and wear them back home. At first they're happy to show off their "expensive" watch. But they quickly learn not to let others examine it, because it only weighs about one-tenth of a genuine Rolex.
You can find other knockoffs of fancy items in New York as well. For example, at Saks Fifth Avenue you can pay $1,000 for a designer dress - or, you can buy a knockoff that looks just like the original on Orchard Street for $95. The knockoff dresses aren't made of the same material, but you can't tell that by their appearance.
There are also knockoffs of expensive purses, sunglasses and jewelry. In fact, many of the diamonds worn by wealthy society people are knockoffs. These rich New Yorkers are afraid if they wear their diamonds in public, the jewels could be grabbed and stolen. So instead they wear zircons, cheap imitations of the real things.
There seems to be a duplicate for just about everything today. But there is one thing that cannot be duplicated, and that is true spirituality. Nothing that is truly spiritual can be copied. The Lord recognizes the work of his own hands - and he won't accept a manmade duplication of any of his divine workings.
Every so often, certain Christians become convinced, "To be godly, we need to go back and adopt the customs and observances of the early church. That's the only way to truly honor God and possibly usher in a new Pentecost."
These people institute all the known programs of the apostolic church from the disciples' day. They install elders, deacons and bishops in the same way Paul did, and they adopt the apostles' dress codes and manners. Then they set in "divine order" the ordinances of baptism and communion precisely as the early church did. But if it's all just a copy, without the power of the Holy Spirit, it is dead religion.
Sadly, the only fruit this kind of endeavor reproduces is a deadly, manmade spirituality. Why? Because it's impossible for man to duplicate what is truly spiritual. That is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. He's constantly at work doing something new in his people. And there is no possible way for us to reproduce that work.
This is the big mistake of modern religion. We think if we merely impart knowledge of the scriptures and biblical principles to people, they'll become spiritual. We send converts to Bible school or seminary, where they're stuffed full of scripture, theology and ethics. We teach them to preach, baptize and administrate. We shape them into theologians, pastors and missionaries. But the fact remains - no person or institution has the power to produce spirituality in someone. Only the Holy Ghost does that.
Your church may have wonderful worship services, prayer meetings, home groups, Bible studies. But these things in themselves don't produce spirituality. In fact, you can become a serious prayer warrior or zealous witness for Christ, utterly changed in your thinking and behavior, and yet still not be spiritual. Unless the Holy Spirit does the work, you're helpless.
Many pastors of dying churches today make this mistake as well. They become convinced that if they can just import some kind of spiritual revival to their church, God's Spirit will return. So they're always on the lookout for any kind of spiritual movement that might throw them a lifeline. But they end up with a duplication that has no real anointing.
I attended this kind of "duplicate" church while on vacation a few years ago. The pastor stood in the pulpit trying to whip up the energy and excitement he'd experienced at a certain well-known revival. But the whole service was dead. He ended up with nothing more than a knockoff - a cheap copy of the original. And it wasn't working.
Churches are now splitting over these kinds of attempts at duplication. The poor congregations are confused and dying spiritually, because they're not being fed the pure word of God. I tell you, whatever is genuinely spiritual - whatever is truly of God - cannot be duplicated.
Very little of the work God's Spirit does in us can be seen. This is why truly spiritual people rarely look for outward evidence of his work. Paul says, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
In the context of this passage, Paul is speaking of sufferings and afflictions. He's saying, in essence, "No one knows all the things we face, except the Holy Spirit. And this is where true spirituality is manifested - in the crucible of suffering."
Not everyone who suffers, however, becomes spiritual. Many Christians who endure deep affliction end up bitter and hard, mad at God and the world. They're convinced the Lord gave up on them, and they blame him for turning them over to Satan's fierce paws.
But those who submit to the leading of God's Spirit - who face their afflictions confident that the Lord is producing something in them - emerge from their crucible with strong faith. And they testify that the Spirit taught them more during their suffering than when all was well in their lives.
I can testify to this from my own life. In all my years of walking with the Lord, I've rarely seen an increase in my spirituality during good times. Rather, any such increases usually took place as I endured hard places, agonies, testings - all of which the Holy Ghost allowed.
I know the same is true for most of the truly spiritual people I've known over the years. Their Christ-likeness was produced in them while they endured the furnace of affliction. That's where they got to know their Lord best.
At one point in his walk of faith, Paul said, "The Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me that bonds and afflictions await me" (see Acts 20:23). Indeed, throughout Paul's entire life, his afflictions never let up. They just kept coming, one after another.
You may wonder, "How could this be? The God we serve is almighty and victorious. He only has to speak a word, and all of our afflictions and sufferings could end in a moment. He could make it possible for us to ride through life triumphantly, with no troubles at all. So, why would our loving, caring God permit his people to suffer so?"
Paul responds, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). According to Paul, our afflictions and difficulties produce eternal values in us. He's saying, in essence, "The suffering we go through on this earth will probably last our whole lifetime. But that's only momentary compared to eternity. And right now, as we endure afflictions, God is producing in us a revelation of his glory that will last forever."
Like most Christians, I believe Paul was a spiritual giant. He had a great revelation of Christ, an incredibly strong faith, and abundant spiritual knowledge. So, how did Paul come by all this? Where did he gain such a wellspring of Christ's glory? It all came to him through manifold afflictions - suffering piled on top of suffering.
Time after time, Paul was thrashed and beaten, stoned by mad mobs, robbed by thieves, cast into prison. Three times God stood by while Paul was shipwrecked and cast into the roaring sea. He suffered hunger, cold, nakedness. And he was buffeted and frustrated by the devil himself. He wrote, "Wherefore we would have come unto you...but Satan hindered us" (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
Paul's list of sufferings goes on and on. And it all sounds unscriptural, wrong, even mean of God. But, in fact, if Paul hadn't suffered in these ways, we wouldn't have the same New Testament that we have today. There wouldn't be epistles as we know them. Why? Paul would have been a totally different man.
I recently read a shocking statement by a prosperity preacher. He said, "The apostle Paul suffered needlessly. If he had possessed the spiritual knowledge we have today, he would have been able to take dominion over the enemy."
No - never. David answers such deception with searing truth: "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Psalm 119:67, 71).
Paul understood that in everything he endured, the Holy Spirit was teaching him things he couldn't learn any other way. He wrote, "I Paul...now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake...to fulfill the word of God" (Colossians 1:23-25).
The apostle is saying here, "God is giving me something for you through this trial. He's revealing to me a truth that's been hidden throughout the ages. And that truth is Christ in you, the hope of glory. His power is working mightily in you" (see verse 29).
When Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, it wasn't because he'd heard revival was breaking out there. He wasn't a discouraged preacher looking for someone to impart something of God to him. No - he states clearly, "I went up...to Jerusalem...by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach" (Galatians 2:1-2). Paul went to Jerusalem to share a mystery that God wanted to reveal to his people.
This godly man had his own full, glorious revelation of Christ. He didn't learn the doctrines he preached by shutting himself in a study with books and commentaries. He wasn't some isolated philosopher who dreamed up theological truths, thinking, "Someday my works will be read and taught by future generations."
Let me tell you how and where Paul produced his epistles. He wrote them in dark, damp prison cells. He wrote them while wiping the blood from his back after being scourged. He wrote them after crawling from the sea, having survived another shipwreck.
Paul knew that all the truth and revelation he taught came from the battlefield of faith. And he rejoiced in his afflictions for the gospel's sake. He said, "Now I can preach with all authority to every sailor who's been through a shipwreck, to every prisoner who's been locked up with no hope, to everybody who has ever looked death in the face. God's Spirit is making me a tested veteran, so I can speak his truth to everyone who has ears to hear."
Let me ask you: who do you turn to for help in times of sorrow and affliction? Surely you don't go to some untested, theology-spouting talking head who has known only an easy road. No - you turn to a saint who has endured great hardships and has proven God faithful through them all.
Paul says of such saints, "In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults...as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:4-5, 9-10).
God hasn't turned you over to the paws of Satan. No - he's allowing your trial because the Holy Spirit is performing an unseen work in you. Christ's glory is being formed in you, for all eternity.
You'll never get true spirituality from someone or something else. If you're going to taste God's glory, it's going to have to come to you right where you are - in your present circumstances, pleasant or unpleasant. God isn't going to change your situation until he has accomplished his eternal purpose in you.
I believe one of the great secrets of Paul's spirituality was his readiness to accept whatever condition he was in without complaining. He writes, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11). "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound...to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (verse 12).
The Greek word for "content" here means "to ward off." Paul is saying, "I don't try to protect myself from my unpleasant circumstances. I don't beg God for relief from them. On the contrary, I embrace them. I know from my history with the Lord that he's doing something eternal in me."
Many of the frustrations we experience in life come from our discontentment with our circumstances. This is why much of our prayer life consists of begging God to change our painful condition: "Lord, get me out. I've been through enough. You said you wouldn't let me suffer more than I could bear."
But the word "bear," which Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10:13, implies that our condition isn't going to change. The point is for us to bear up under the situation. Why? God knows if he changes our condition, we'll end up destroyed. He allows us to suffer because he loves us.
Let me illustrate. Consider the pandemic divorce rate among Christians. One survey says the divorce rate is higher among evangelicals than in the secular world. I believe this is all due to human discontent. As frustrations mount in a marriage, each spouse erects walls. And if one mate doesn't want to seek God for grace and contentment through the trial, the marriage has no chance of being healed.
Many Christians reason, "I can't handle this anymore. Surely there's somebody somewhere who would understand me, show compassion to me, and love me for who I am. Doesn't God want that for me?" I tell you, those thoughts come straight from the enemy. They are Satan's ploy to convince you your marriage is already over.
Dear wife, do you believe you'd be better off separated from your husband? Do you allow yourself to think God may have another man for you, someone who would be more caring and would meet your deepest needs?
Husband, are you convinced your situation at home is hopeless? Has all the arguing and bickering finally made you consider leaving? Do you say to yourself, "I've had enough. Anything is better than this"?
I say to every married person reading this - you'll never be truly spiritual if you pack up and run. God is allowing your trial for a reason. He hasn't changed your circumstance because he wants to change you.
Our part in every trial is to trust God for all the power and resources we need to find contentment in the midst of our suffering. Please don't misunderstand me - being "content" in our trials doesn't mean we enjoy them. It simply means we no longer try to protect ourselves from them. We're content to stay put and endure whatever is handed to us, because we know our Lord is conforming us to the image of his son.
Your current situation may become hell on earth, draining you of every tear. But if you're faithful to remain in it - if you honor God's word, believing him for endurance - he'll change you dramatically into a truly spiritual person.
Not long ago, someone told me that one of America's most talented former football stars accepted Jesus. I had a hard time believing this, because I'd heard this man was on the verge of a divorce. He'd been separated from his wife because of his wild night-life and constant womanizing. I thought, "This man will probably end up like so many other 'converted' athletes. He'll make money by giving his testimony, but he'll keep living a double life."
Just after that, however, a friend told me this football player wasn't testifying at all. Instead, he was getting Christian counseling. He wanted his marriage to be restored, and he was pursuing his wife again, taking her on dates and showering her with love. He had said, "I've got nothing to preach about until I prove that Jesus in me is real. And if his presence is real, he'll work his healing power in my marriage."
This convinced me of that man's salvation. The Holy Spirit had shown him what was most important. He was a star athlete and could have had any of his lusts fulfilled at any time. But instead, he wanted his wife back, marital problems and all.
To endure means "to carry through despite hardships; to suffer patiently without giving up." In short, it means to hold on or hold out. But this word means little to the present generation. Many Americans today are quitters - Christians included. They quit on their spouses, their families and their God.
Peter addresses this subject by saying, "This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully" (1 Peter 2:19). Then he adds, "What glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (verses 19-23).
Likewise, the apostle Paul commands, "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3). Finally, the Lord himself gives us this promise: "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13).
I ask you - what is your hardship? Is your marriage in turmoil? Is your job in crisis? Do you have a conflict with a relative, a landlord, a friend who has betrayed you?
I used to think young people didn't face a lot of suffering. Whenever I heard a young man talking about his trials, I thought, "What's he got to complain about? He still has his hair, his teeth, his eyesight. He doesn't wake up every morning with arthritic joints, unable to get out of bed. He's doing okay, and he doesn't even know it."
Perhaps young people don't suffer the way older ones do. But they suffer just as much in their own way. I see a great amount of suffering among people in their thirties. Many bear the pain of feeling inadequate, useless, unaccomplished. Some don't know what to do with the rest of lives. They're lonely, fearful, lacking direction - and their pain just goes on and on.
Hear me well, beloved - that is life. It's going to continue to be hard for each of us, all the way home to Jesus' arms. The only thing that will change for us as we grow older is that we'll get a new set of trials. Our suffering will no longer consist of loneliness and inadequacy, but rather of physical pain, ulcers, loss of faculties. And we'll face the pain as well as the joy of raising children and grandchildren.
Yet we are to take hope. You see, just as Paul's suffering never let up, neither did his revelation, his maturity, his deep faith, his settled peace. He said, "If I'm going to be a spiritual man - if I really want to please my Lord - then I can't fight my circumstances. I'm going to hold on and never quit. Nothing on this earth can give me what I get from God's Spirit every day in my trial. He's making me a spiritual man."
Paul's life "breathed" with the Spirit of Christ. And so it is with every truly spiritual person. The Holy Ghost pours forth out of that servant's inner being the heavenly breezes of God. This person isn't downcast; he doesn't murmur or complain about his lot. He may be going through the trial of his life, but he's still smiling - because he knows God is at work in him, revealing his eternal glory.
Dear saint, as you suffer wrongfully, turn the other cheek and let the abuse come. You can have contentment in any circumstance, because you have Jesus' promise: "He who endures to the end will be saved."