My dear People of God,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest who is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (see Hebrews 7:26).
We Christians are called to imitate Christ. That is why I am asking myself and you all who are my fellow Christians to work for righteousness and not just for popularity. In fact Jesus Christ himself told us not to occupy ourselves with seeking for food and clothing but to seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all other things will be added to us (see Matthew 6:25-34). Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ, the righteous Son of God gave as one of the Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6) and also: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).
This teaching of Jesus Christ has to do with the demands of his authentic followers, Christians who are sincere in every way and in every sense. It goes against the general attitude of normal human beings who go for the things of this world as Jesus Christ was tempted by the Devil to do.
I think it may help us to understand the situation by looking at the temptation of Jesus by the Devil and its implications for us Christians. The story of the temptation is given in full in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and mentioned in the Gospel of Mark (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-14 and Mark 1:13). The Devil wanted Jesus who was hungry after fasting for forty days and forty nights to use his power to turn stones into bread. A hungry human being would do it if he was capable as Jesus knew that he was, but Jesus did not do it because he was aware that the Devil wanted him to focus on material pleasure, eating and drinking and other things that entice human beings. He replied to the Devil, " It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4telling the Devil that man does not live by bread alone, but with every word from God. With this Jesus Christ showed the priority of the word of God over all things even over food! Worldly pleasure of any type should not be allowed to compete with the demands of the word of God. Food, drinks, sex and any other sources of worldly pleasure should not lead Christians into sin. St. John called this the disordered desire or concupiscence of the flesh (see 1 John 2:15). My sisters and brothers, avoid inordinate pleasures - illicit immoral sexual and sensual gratification, drunkenness and orgies (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
The second temptation was about what St. John called the "concupiscence of the eye" (1John 2:15). This is really worldly popularity - things that pour out praises and adulations. The Devil wanted Jesus to jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple in order to show off his power and attract people. Indeed, the Devil quoted the word of God: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:9-11; see Psalm 90:11-12). Take note: The Devil quoted the Scripture! Jesus countered with the Scripture: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). These days many people quote the Bible any how shouting "My Bible says!" It is not everybody who quotes the Bible who understands the Bible. Some just quote the text without taking cognizance of the context and the literary genre as well as the faith implication of the words. The Bible is best understood within the context of the Church. Often many of those who say, “My Bible says" are people who are on their own and are not ready to listen to the Church. They use the Bible in a way to gain popularity,
Similarly, many who call themselves Christians advertise themselves claiming to work miracles, to speak in tongues, to be prophets and visionaries with the ulterior motives of attracting people and winning lots of followers. Pursuit of Popularity is their PP, their primary purpose. They use the Scriptures exploitatively to win not souls for God but people who will sow plenty of seeds. The world is full of such people today. Jesus Christ warned about false Christ’s and false or fake prophets who perform wonders to deceive even the elect (see Matthew 24:25-25).
That does not mean that there are not people who are sincere in their use of the Scriptures and in what are called charisms. There are some sincere people with gifts from the Holy Spirit (charisms). The genuine ones use the gifts with humility and orderliness, for the common good and for the building up of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 14:12, 40). But some people who claim to be anointed by the Holy Spirit do not follow the way of Jesus Christ in their way of doing things. Some of them follow the way of commercial, social and political advertisers and entertainers. They are promoters of Biblewood, Miraclewood, Prophecywood in the manner of Hollywood and Nollywood! Their religious activities are geared towards entertainment, publicity, popularity and commercial interest. They can attract and they do in fact attract numerous followers but the words of Jesus Christ are there: You shall not tempt the Lord our God by engaging in pride of life which is the third worldly desire, pride of possession (see 1 John 2:15). Christians, beware! Jesus teaches that not all who shout "Lord, Lord" and claim to perform miracles, cast out demons, prophesy and do all the abracadaba in the name of Jesus will enter the kingdom of God (see Matthew 7:21-23).
This brings us to the third temptation by which the Devil wanted Jesus Christ to acquire all power and glory (see Luke 4:6-7), all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (see Matthew 4:8-9). Jesus Christ would have acquired all possessions and all the kingdoms of the world easily if he had done what the Devil wanted: "All these will I give you, if falling down you adore me" (Matthew 4:9; Luke 4:7). Very easy and simple! Just bow down and adore the Devil and Jesus would not have gone through all the suffering, insults, flogging, crowning with thorns, and crucifixion! He would have won the whole world and all in the world but for the Devil! Jesus preferred to go through the pains and challenges of righteousness rather than grab the luxury and possessions of corruption which is fundamentally from abandoning God to worship the Devil with its attractions and pomp. And Jesus told the Devil. "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'" (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8). A big lesson for all Christians!
Christianity is not about pomp and pageantry. Christianity is not directed to financial and economic aggrandisement which rules the lives of some people who claim to be Christians. Such people are ready to do anything to acquire wealth, luxury and power. You may not believe it: some who claim to be men or women of God, pastors, overseers and powerful men or women of God go to priests of false gods to get power to move mountains! They acquire charms and other obnoxious objects with which they promote their popular "Christian" prayer, healing and miracle centres. Some go to India to get powers to perform magic and sorcery "in Jesus' name" and build mountains of miracles! Moses and Aaron performed miracles by the power of God but Pharaoh got his magicians and sorcerers to do the same thing (see Exodus 7:8-12, 14-22). Is it a surprise? The beast representing the Devil performed great signs and wonders and with that seduced many people (see Revelation 13:13-14). A sincere Christian must be very cautious. Miracle-working is not only by the Holy Spirit. The Devil can also work "miracles", signs and wonders, using people who claim to be Christians. That is why St. Paul gave the warning: "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). The fact is clear: some people who claim to be working with the power of the Holy Spirit and in "Jesus' mighty name" are fake and are exploiting the Holy Spirit and Jesus for their own interest and for popularity and what St. Paul calls "filthy lucre's sake" (see Titus 1:11).
Popularity is fine. However, popularity that does not come from uprightness is vain. It is vanity of vanities. Most people seek for popularity, not just for popularity itself but as a way of acquiring wealth. Wealth is not evil in itself. But to win popularity and acquire wealth through falsehood and deception is definitely evil. It is not only in political and commercial situations do we encounter corruption. We are sadly aware of the extent and depth of financial corruption in our society. Bribery, financial mismanagement, embezzlement of funds and stealing both in the private and public sectors are the order of the day in our society. Financial corruption is equally active in religion and that is why St. Paul gave the warning: "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10). Some people use religion to make money for themselves as St. Paul pointed out. Some people are of corrupt mind, "who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). And that is precisely what is causing many so-called Christians to make themselves pastors, men and women of God mighty men and women of God, overseers and ministers. Many of them create ways of popularity to attract people who will sow huge seeds, pay tithes to them and make freewill offerings. They are succeeding in their main objective!
My sisters and brothers, I call your attention to the deceptive moves by some famous and popular ministers of religion, moves that deceive even the elect in the Catholic Church, the Church that remains faithful to the apostolic foundation, the Church founded on Simon Peter by Jesus Christ. Following St. Paul, I urge you as people genuinely dedicated to God to avoid being manipulated by people who use falsehood and desire for material gains "in the mighty name of Jesus" to mislead and deceive genuine Christians. Rather "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:11-12).
May God help all of us to be able to remain faithful to our Catholic faith and do all possible to hold on to the kingdom of God and its righteousness. As St. Paul advised Timothy, I sincerely advise you, People of God: "guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge [and I add, miracles, visions, prophecy and signs and wonders], which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith" (1 Timothy 6:20-21). Remain steadfast in our Catholic faith and in righteousness in everything! "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness... so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness" (Romans 6:18, 19). My dear People of God, "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen" (2 Peter 3:18).
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Bishop of Nnewi