MANIFESTING THE GRACE OF GOD IN A CORRUPT SOCIETY by Bishop Dr. J. Akin Atere

TALK DELIVERED AT THE 2013 BISHOPS’ WIVES RETREAT

OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL PROVINCE OF LAGOS, HELD ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17, 2013 BY THE RT. REVD. DR. J. AKIN ATERE 

MAIN TOPIC: THE GRACE OF GOD – 2 COR. 12:9

TOPIC: MANIFESTING THE GRACE OF GOD IN A CORRUPT SOCIETY

TEXT: 2 Peter 1:2-11

 

INTRODUCTION:

My understanding of this topic is simply asking for special ability from God to be able to live as Christian in a society that is hostile to Christian virtue and God’s will. It is my wish also to limit the said society to Nigeria, so as to make the lecture as practical as possible. It is therefore my delight to make Nigeria as our case study where corruption had put a good percentage of “Christians” away from the Church and from God. Yet the Bible says we are the  salt and light of the world Matt. 5:13-16 particularly verses  15 & 16 “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Paul also wrote to Timothy in his first letter 6:11& 12. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” Jesus mandate in Matt.28:19-20 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Christ Himself called  our attention to the conflict and corrupt society when he says “If the world hates you” know that it has hated me before John 15:18 and he added “if you are of the world the world would love its own but because you are not of the world, but I choose you out of the world therefore, the world hates you.” (John 15:19). In the next chapter, he said “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace, in the world you  have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33) shortly after this, He offered His famous prayer (priestly prayer) to the father “ I do not pray  that thou shouldest take them  out of the world …” John 17:15-19. The Christian mandate is clear in the above statements. We are sent into the world to bear witness to the truth of Christ. We are not to embrace the world but to enlighten it. We must live according to Christ, not according to the world. All the corrupt practices certainly will pose hindrances and limitations yet we are to accomplish the mandate of God. It certainly require the Grace of God.

Let’s see the level of corruption in the Nigeria society we are to operate. First, what is corruption?

WHAT IS CORRUPTION

Corruption can be defined as any behavior that goes against established rules, regulations and established procedure, it’s a behavior that breaks the law or aid and abets breaking the law. Such behavior usually confers undue or unmerited advantages on the perpetrators, it expresses the notion of a betrayal of trust. Corruption has various forms and dimension, it could be political, Bureaucratic, electoral, bribery, fraud, embezzlement, favourtism, nepotism, the number is endless. What is important is that, in whatever form it manifest, corruption pervert public interest and unlawfully elevate private gain and advantage.

We live in the society of examination malpractices in our educational institutions including universities; the taking of bribed and perversion of justice among the police, the judiciary and other organs of administering justice; and various heinous crimes against the state in  the business and industrial sectors of our economy, sometimes in  collusion with multinational companies such as over invoicing  of goods, foreign exchange swinging, hoarding and smuggling.

Government officials corruptly enrich themselves by converting Government money in their custody to their own use, force citizen to pay bribe to get whatever they want from Government or offices . Corrupt  practices have grown too big in Nigeria to the  extent that Transparency International awarded Nigeria the number 3 position as the most corrupt country in the world.

  • Police go on patrol at night and use their gun to extort money, they openly demand and collect bribes from suspects, at the police station, from commercial drivers. They hire out both their guns and uniform to armed robbers and sometimes engaged in Armed robbery. ‘Bail is free’ is usually boldly written on charger offices’ wall, yet bailed suspects must pay before they can leave. A criminal get freed for a price while innocent one who cannot afford to pay languished in cell  or prison.

It is no longer a tale that twenty-naira syndrome commonly associated with policemen in Nigeria have dented the image of the force in the age of the public. Recounting the number of innocent lives that have been lost through the bullets of trigger-happy policemen for refusal to bulge into corrupt practices, the security agencies in Nigeria is acclaimed to be most corrupt government establishment in recent time. Even military men that are supposed to be disciplined and upright have been inflicted by the disease of corruption.

  1. Custom men go on patrol only to collect bribes from smugglers and let them run down the economy.
  2. Revenue collections do not pay collected revenue to the Government.
  3. Elections are won through corrupt practices of vote buying, sponsorship of thugs.
  4. Government bans importation of foreign goods but many Government officials, their family and friend smuggle them into the country.
  5. Businessmen borrow money from banks without security. The Bank manager get part of the loan for themselves and the borrower never pay back.
  6. Law are made but never enforced because those who should enforce them use the opportunity to make money.
  7. Workers are not paid for months because their bosses illegally lodge money meant for workers salaries for months in banks for illegal interest for themselves.
  8. Some are above the laws; they are untouchable Godfathers of corrupt practices.

Worrisome is that corruption in most cases start from home. Most parents initiate their children, when a child cries unnecessarily, a parent may buy biscuit or make some fantastic promises. Such  children grew  up corrupt because they were trained with bribery. Some come home to discuss their business, which includes corrupt practices in the presence of their children who then see it as normal ways of doing things. Some parents even bribe teachers or principals to obtain admission for their children.

Some schools, for a fee par final year students, arrange to assist them write their exams. Such student then pass out with credit and distinctions for which they did not work for. From then on bribe their ways through life. Most parents will even give bribes to officials to secure employment for their children.

We are in the world where only petty thieves are remanded in prison custody without trial for years while those who steal millions of  Government money are turbaned or rewarded with chieftaincy title.

What about the  retired workers; The pension they receive is too small and yet they are  not paid for months because the operators illegally put the  money into a fixed deposit account to yield interest. This is why  workers engage in corruption in order to have enough money when they  retire.

If you are a contractor, unless you agree to pay half of the contract value or in case it will involve a clerk “drop something” that will be built into the  total sum of the contract, failure of which you loose the contract.

Most worrisome is that the fact that the concept of checks and balances which regulates separation of power in our democratic contraption, appears to be absent. In fact, there appears to be a conglomeration  of forces by the three arms of  government. That is why the legislature has consistently failed to check the excess of the executive. Inspite of the glaring abuse of power by that arm of  Government, and the  judiciary seems prepared to stand  logic on its head in judicial pronouncement, just to please the executive.

Like a plague, corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society and has caused untold hardship to the common man who seems to bear the wrath of his “rotten” environment alone. Unfortunately, they formed the majority of our members. Corruption pervades all levels of government and even transcends to include more informal setting as the family, peer group and religious places of worship – the Church in particular.

The former boss of the Economic and Financial crimes commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu estimated that Nigeria lost $380 billion to corruption between independence in 1960 and the end of military rule in 1999. Some Western diplomats estimated that Nigeria lost a minimum average of $4billion to $8billion per year to corruption over the eight years of the Obasanjo administration. A sterling revelation that will indeed pull the nation to a standstill. It has been confirmed even by the international world that between 50 and 90 million Nigerians live on less than one US Dollar or N124 per day despite the $223 billion earned by government during the 8 year Obasanjo administration.

In the political arena, the acquisition of wealth through corrupt practices has metamorphosed into an acceptance way of life for most political office holders nowadays as a short route to becoming rich. Politics is now considered as an investment, which matures on the assumption of office, instead of a chance to serve humanity. Consequently, people tend to be lazy in the approach to works not directly related with the political realm; thereby resulting in decline in productivity and output of a nation.

Corrupt government officials prefer to shift expenditure to areas where they can easily collect bribes. In such instance, the educational sector in which the church has been championing is neglected. The youths who are supposed to form the crust of our future development are forced to receive education under harsh and unpleasant condition. It is now a case of “man-know-man”. Supply of educational materials, which are often below standard. Favourtism and nepotism now strive in the admission policy, instead of merit and hardwork. Our Universities have turned into a big business venture where “marks” are freely traded like in the floor of the stock exchange market. There is now massive increase in illiteracy level of the country and the turning out of “unbaked” graduates yearly.

Brethren, no matter how good or carefully planned a policy of action designed by government may appear, corruption is a sure way to kill its motive. As some people put it “every Nigerian is a potential criminal and has some element of corrupt tendencies. It has destroyed many genuine attempts at nation building; it stalls all the processes of socio-economic engineering as well as stops all wealth creation, poverty alleviation, employment generation and developments strategies. Corruption has brought this country to her kneels. Those who claim to be fighting it are themselves very corrupt and it has started breeding inefficiency, soaring government deficits, deters foreign investment, leads to economic contraction and collapse and now encourages rebellion and social upheaval.

Bello-Imam (2004) outlined the negative consequences of corruption to include

  1. Retardation of Economic Growth: corruption lowers investment and retards economic growth.
  2. Misallocation of Talent: Where rent seeking proves more lucrative than productive work, talent will be misallocated. People will be lured to rent seeking rather than productive work.
  • Limitation of Aid Flows where corruption is rampant, donor agencies are unwilling to put their money.
  1. Loss to Tax revenue: revenue is lost through tax evasion or claiming exemptions.
  2. Adverse Budgetary Consequences: When corruption is rampant budgeted amount will not deliver the required services.
  3. Negative impact on Quality of Infrastructure and Public Services: When public contract are procured through a corrupt system, it results in lower quality of infrastructure and public service.
  • Negative Composition of Government Expenditure: Corruption often tempts government officials to choose government projects less on the basis of public officials to choose government projects less on the basis of public welfare than on the opportunity they provide for extorting bribes.

CHRISTIAN DUTIES IN THE WORLD

With all the enormity and worrisome level of the corrupt world (Nigeria), with its attended danger and limitations. The word of God still stand. In Peter’s greetings to the churches in Asia Minor: “grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2) Here he says that his desire for them is that grace and peace may grow. They had already experience God’s grace by means of their Salvation. As a result they experienced peace (Shalom) of God because they have been justified. Peter prays that the more they grow in the knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, the more they will realize the depth of His grace and peace.

Peter goes on to further encourage the Christians who were struggling with their faith in a corrupt world system, they were being harassed by false teachers and mockers, he went on to tell them  about what was available to them to help them overcome. In verse 3(a) seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness – This is the key verse to the letter. When we asked Jesus to become our Lord and Saviour, the invisible but ever present Lord took up residence in our hearts. He then generously granted from that moment in the past right up to the present, everything necessary to live life on this earth. His divine power became available to us to encourage, surround, protect and lead us regardless of the immediate circumstances. As he sat down in his prison cell, Peter could look back over the last 30 years of his life and recall how Christ’s divine grace & power granted to him the ability to live as God wanted life to be lived. Some of us have failed to look at life from God’s point of view, looking at circumstances from materialistic perspective, we are caught up in a very small world, a world which according to 1 John is passing away. What you need according to peter “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness”.

The story of Peter’s healing the lame man is recorded in Acts 4. When asked by the Sahendrin “By what power and in whose name did you heals this man? The Apostle relied, “I healed him in the name of Jesus”. The Council’s reaction is given in Acts 4:13 “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” For Peter, Jesus was the source of the “divine power that granted everything pertaining to life and godliness.”       The power of God is available to you in the troubled world in which he wants you to make visible the Lord who dwells in your heart. Not only does God gives us power/grace for everything that pertaining to life , he also gives godliness. Godliness is thinking God’s thought, reflecting His holy character, repeating after Jesus “My will is to do the will  of my father” manifesting godliness in a corrupt world. If the love of Jesus is in your heart, naturally, you will want to give that love to others. Do not be afraid to love until it hurts; this is true godliness, granted as grace and gift from God. Our Lord’s divine power is available to us because of his gracious divine call.  The Jews and gentiles had come to the true knowledge of Jesus the Messiah as they listened to the good news preached by His apostles, prophets and pastors/teachers. Therefore, desire to remain faithful to Christ in corrupt world, we must rely on Christ divine power.

RELY ON CHRIST DIVINE NATURE

2 Peter 1:34 “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”

By His own glory and excellence, the person of Christ attracts men and women. His power enables them to respond, and then he continues to grant generously moment by moment… his precious and magnificent promises”. What are some of these promises? – the promise of life, this is  spoken of in the apostle Paul’s Sermon at Antioch: “He says from the offspring of the man (David), according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus” (Acts 13:23). Again, following the resurrection from the dead, our Lord said to His disciples “I am sending forth the promise of my father upon you” Here He is speaking against the mockers who denied the second coming of Jesus. Peter in this letter says “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance 2 Pet.3:19. In 3:13 the Apostle says “But according to his promise we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” The “precious and magnificent promises’ are that God sent His son to be our Saviour  of our divine power, when we place our faith on Him our sins are forgiven.

Truly we are living in a corrupt society, and it will remain so because ever since the fall, “…men did not honour God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools (Rom.1:21-22). But thanks be to God, that is   not the end of the  story, for in Ephesians we are told “God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which  beloved us, even  when we were dead in our trespasses and  sins, made us alive together with  Christ (Eph.2:4) By Grace,  Christians are saved from sin, saved from the  wrath of God, saved from the corruption that is in the world, saved from the kingdom of darkness saved out of empty and wasted lives.  To be saved means that we become children of God, and the natural process for a child of God is to be filled with the desire to grow spiritually.  Here we  are talking about Christians that are spiritually mature and how do we become spiritually mature? This is well spelt out in 2 Peter 1:5-11, Peter gives us two encouraging words to help us first he says in verses 5-9 “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;  And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.”

Peter who was writing from Rome where he is being held as prisoner to the second generation Christians in Asia Minor with the temptations they were facing from within their own communities that were gradually turning them to become unfaithful to their calling.  Here, Peter has in mind two kinds of Christians.  First, those who were growing spiritually in the true knowledge of Christ (whose lives, as a result, are useful and fruitful).  Secondly, Christians who were stumbling, fruitless and short sighted due to temptations by society and false teachers around them.  To these Christians, Peter issues this imperative “Now for this very reason, applying all diligence, it shows that faithfulness is still possible because according to Peter, as ‘Born again’ believers they had become partakers of Christ’s divine nature and this were channels of His divine power which was available to them to enable them grow spiritually in the midst of a corrupt society.

CHRISTIAN VIRTUES

Peter lists seven virtues, (not on exhaustive) helpful for their particular situation. Each of these virtues builds on the other, so that they could readily recall them (The Apostle Paul used a similar  device when he listed the nine fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians). The Apostle encourages this spiritual community to build these seven virtue on the foundation of their faith in the resurrected Son of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul makes reference to both Spiritual maturity and the equipping of the saints for the work of service “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:13-15). This is a process from the starting point, your level of growth and your class is important, it determine the quantity of grace allotted.

Peter says “In your faith supply moral excellence.” Here, the apostle encourages us to make a choice to become spiritually mature in different aspects of our lives. Ask God To show you your weaknesses and grow to overcome them, Peter is asking you to “supply moral excellence in a morally decadent society. At the time peter was writing this letter, the Emperor Nero, a  murderer and a sexual pervert, was sitting on the throne. His government lacked integrity. The judicial system was undermined by bribery. Murder, thievery, kidnapping and dishonesty were a way of life in the society. Cultism and mystery religions abounded. Thousands  of male and female prostitutes filled the Temples. Despite all these decadence, Peter encourages these Christians to choose to allow the Holy Spirit to make the indwelling Christ visible in the midst of this cesspit. Paul says to the Philippians to meditate and practice whatever is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise. The things you have learnt and receive and heard and seen in Jesus, practice these things and God of peace shall be with you. This is the grace we are talking about, that must be exhibited by us in the midst of all the corrupt challenges spitting on our face in Nigeria.

“…and in your moral excellence, knowledge” Peter is not talking about ‘mere’ facts, but the choice by the power of the Holy Spirit to gain personal knowledge of the reality of the person of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and how they are related to the circumstance of your life and the society. Investigate spiritual truth. Whatever you see or experience has its own spiritual undertone. You must ask for the grace of knowledge. Add practical knowledge to whatever you already know so that you can balance in your walk in a Godly fashion. Seek revelation, seek the God who has revealed himself in His Son Jesus not the sentimental feelings, seek and know the truth about life, about the  said corruption. The grace of knowledge and wisdom is a master key to make impact. Listen to Paul in his letter to the Colossians 1:9-12 “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;  Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light”

Peter continues “… and in your knowledge, self control.” We acquire self control when we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to enable us to take a grip on ourselves, when He is allowed to control our passion an emotions. Put under the Blood of Jesus your moods, seek for control. Seek the cause of the mood. Look around whenever it comes to you. Think it through and how it is affecting others viewing you. How many of us can control our anger, what about our attitude to food? How do you control  your mood when you feel disappointed, grieved, insulted, persecuted, cheated, etc? The grace to be self-controlled and surrendering to the Holy Spirit will do the magic.

“… and in your self control, perseverance,” the apostle is talking about patiently enduring trials, testing and hardships, realizing that God is in control and that everything is to His glory. Endurance is the  God-given ability to trust him in the midst of suffering as he observe Jesus “while being reviled, he did not revile in return, while suffering, he utter no threat, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Pet.2:23-24)

“… and your perseverance, godliness” Peter has already said, His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Godliness is the God-given ability to reflect the character of Jesus in the corrupt society. We are to be holy, set apart to do the will of the Father, living rightly before God and men. The opposite of which Peter describe in 2 Peter 2:14-15. Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls; an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children, which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of  Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”

“…and in your godliness, brotherly love’” Peter is not referring to a duty here, rather, he is speaking of the God-given (grace) ability to meet brothers and sisters from every nation, tribe and culture and freedom to express spiritual kindness toward them. The apostle had earlier encouraged his readers “since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again” (1 Peter 1:22 ) The Holy Spirit enables us to express brotherly kindness to one another and to fellowship together because we belong to the same family, a spiritual body.

“… and your brotherly kindness love,” this is one and the highest level of grace, a God-given ability to express sacrificial love toward the world, the society and our spiritual family (the body of Christ) 1 John 3:16-18 gives us a very clear definition of the kind of love “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” The Spirit of God who is Love is freely given to us in order to reproduce in us the same quality.

CONCLUSION

If these qualities are your, as you walk by faith you will be growing in your Spirit. You have already become partakers of the divine nature, so all of these Graces and more reside in you. The more you choose to allow Christ to be Lord of every area of your life the more the grace will increase and overflow. As a result, your lives will become useful and fruitful. God is relying on us Nigerian Christians to turn the Nation from corruption. The Church is the last hope of the world. God has given us all necessary Grace to effect a change if we are courageous enough to use all the abilities put in us. As long as we continue to join the multitude to do evil, the hope of change may still be too far.