Monday, 14 September 2015

Tell me how proud you are, Sifu

Tai Lung was out for revenge. He had been locked up for twenty years. But it wasn’t the incarceration that drove him to madness. It was his master. Sifu.

I caught the last half-hour or so of Kung Fu Panda last weekend. That’s right. Kung Fu Panda. This was a cartoon meant for kids. And yet, with all the Jack Black jokes, with all the furry creatures doing kung fu, even with Jackie Chan voicing Monkey, this one scene stood out as unmistakably real - with its raw emotion, pathos and a darkness that seemed almost spiritual in nature.

* As Tai Lung beats his ageing master to a pulp, he lashes out at him in anger.

“I rotted in jail for twenty years because of your weakness.”

“Obeying your master isn't weakness!” Sifu replies.

“You knew I was the Dragon Warrior. You always knew. But, when Ugway said otherwise what did you do? What did you do?”


“You were not meant to be the Dragon Warrior,” says Sifu. “That was not my fault!”

Sifu’s denial sends Tai Lung into a rage. “Not your fault? Who filled my head with dreams? Who drove me to train until my bones cracked?”

“Who denied me my destiny?” Tai Lung pins his master to the ground.

All I ever did, I did to make you proud! Tell me how proud you are, Sifu! Tell me! Tell me!”

His final blow sends Sifu flying across the room, landing in a heap at the foot of the stairs.

Tired, solemn and sad, Sifu replies, “I have always been proud of you. From the first moment, I've been proud of you. And it was my pride, that blinded me.”

“I loved you too much to see what you were becoming. What I was turning you into.”

“I'm sorry.”

With Tai Lung, it is obvious what the ill-effects of pride are - self-delusion, self-justification, self-importance. We tend to associate pride with the strong, the boastful and the arrogant.

But you see, Sifu confesses, that he, too, was blinded by that same illness called pride.

Though Sifu sincerely loved his pupil, Sifu’s pride kept him from admonishing him, from disciplining him and most importantly, from teaching him lessons of humility at an early age.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute… We have become, and are still, like the scum of the earth.”

But then he tells them the reason for addressing them in this way. “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (1 Corinthians 4:10, 13, 14)

The wrong term for this is tough love. That’s not what this is. This is humble love. The only way to expose and deal with pride, without ourselves becoming proud and self-deluded, is with humility. “When reviled; we bless; when persecuted, we endure.” (1 Corinthians 4:12)

And there are times in life, when the only effective way to address the wise of this world, is for ourselves, to become fools.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Another unicorn

Me: What can we pray for you?
Kid: I want to pray for... a unicorn.

Me: Oka-ay. So you love animals. That's good(!) Are you sure we can't pray for anything else?
Kid: No, I want a unicorn.

Me: How about this: We'll pray for your unicorn ... if you tell me one more thing I can ask God for you.
Kid: OK!

Me: If you could ask God for one more thing, what would it be?
Kid: Another unicorn!

(Unfortunately, a true story.)

Here I am, here I am

You see then that the thing in which God’s goodness shines forth most to us, is that by the preaching of the gospel to us we have, as it were, a token that he has pitied us, loves us, calls us and allures us to him. But when the doctrine preached to us is received by us with heart and affection, that is yet a further and more special token by which we perceive that God intends to be our Father and has adopted us to be his children. 

Not without reason, then, St. Paul says in this passage that we are blessed by God even according to his election of us beforehand. For it is not that we have come to him; it is not that we have sought him. But the saying of the prophet Isaiah [65:1] must be fulfilled in every respect, namely, that God shows himself to such as did not seek him, and that such as were far off see him near at hand, and he says to them, ‘Here I am, here I am. Although you have despised me, yet I vouchsafe to come to you because I have a care of your salvation’.

John Calvin (1509-1564), from his sermon on Ephesians 1:3-4

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Lowliness (Ephesians 4:1-2)

What situations in life come to mind when you think of the word ‘humble’?

I think of a high school student ten year older than all his classmates, having dropped out of school once before, but now doing his utmost best to graduate, to save up enough money to get a flat so that he can get married to his girlfriend.

I think of a young married couple intentionally choosing to work as cleaners to support themselves while training for ministry, partly so as not to burden the church, but mainly to learn dependance on God as they prepare to their hearts and minds for mission.

I think of a brother giving his testimony at baptism, confessing honestly his struggles with private sins. As he named them one by one, you could hear gasps coming from the congregation.

To be humbled is to be brought low. In status. In position of life. To be humbled is to be brought low in your own eyes and in the eyes of those around you.

It can be painful, as in the case of an illness stripping away your health, your youth, your looks. But most often, it is simply embarrassing. Losing your job can make you feel like you have lost your dignity, perhaps even, your whole identity.

And yet, Ephesians 4:2 says to us as Christians to be completely humble. More than a choice, it is a command. We must be completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love, Paul says.

If anyone, Paul knows what it means to be brought low in life. He begins in verse 1 with and introduction: “As a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Here is a pastor, who is, at the same time, a prisoner. Rather than be embarrassed about his current situation, Paul is all the more insistent because of his current situation: As a prisoner for the Lord. “It is because I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ that I am urging you to be completely humble.” In fact, nowhere in the whole letter does Paul say, “Remember how I planted your church? Remember how I personally trained up all the elders for two whole years?” We read that in Luke’s record in Acts 19 and 20. But not here. We assume that Paul is writing as their founding pastor, when again and again, Paul asserts that he is writing as Christ’s prisoner. He even says to them, I am in prison for your sakes. For your benefit. “For this reason, I Paul, a prisoner for the sake of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1, cf. 3:13)

In other words, his humility marks his authenticity.

Paul says, “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” He is not talking about scoring straight A’s in school, or being all that you can be. He is not talking about making full use of your gifts or realising your full potential in life. No, he is saying, “Be humble. Love one another.” You are not auditioning for X-Factor. God is not looking for the best and the brightest worthy to be in his kingdom. No, God is calling you to live a life marked by sacrifice, by servant-heartedness - but most importantly - by submission to Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Saviour.

Three components make up that command in verse 2: (a) Be completely humble and gentle; (b) Be patient; (c) Bear with one another in love.

1. Be completely humble and gentle

The first (“to be completely humble and gentle”) is not so much a command but the characterization of the command. The command, as we have seen, is found in verse 1 - “Live a life worthy of God’s calling” - but then, the characterisation of that command carries on into verse 2 with, “by being completely humble and gentle.”

Why is this important? Because God’s calling is more clearly seen through changed character than changed circumstance.

You see, we tend to think that God affirms his calling in our life by changing the circumstances of our lives. So when we get that promotion, we think it means that God really wants me to excel in this job. When our ministry grows, God must be blessing us as a church. Or conversely, when I get demoted, God must want me to leave my job. Or when attendance numbers drop, God must want me to switch to the more vibrant church down the road. You see this in the kinds of things we pray for when we ask God to “open doors” so as to reveal his will; to let us know which path to take in our decision-making according to his will.

But God’s calling is seen not in changed circumstance. Verse 2 tells us: It is seen in changed character. You live a life worthy of the calling your have received by being completely humble and completely gentle.

I am told that in the Old Testament, this combination of “humility and gentleness” occurs 250 times, standing in contrast to the “proud and arrogant” - a description not only of those who oppress the “lowly and poor” (ie. the humble and gentle) but also a description of those who set themselves up against God in disobedience and defiance against his commands.

The lowly and poor naturally turn to God. They instinctively ask for God’s help. And he responds by hearing their prayers and lifting them up (James 4:6, cf. Prov 3:34). The proud and arrogant, on the other hand, have no need for God. In fact, the reason why they are oppressive to the poor is because they are oblivious to God.

So for Jesus to say to his disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of God… Blessed are the meek (or gentle) for they will inherit the earth,” (Matthew 5:3 and 5) he is describing the character, not the circumstance, of God’s true people. One day, their circumstances will change. They will inherit the earth. They will receive all the blessings of the kingdom. But right now? You recognise them from their character. They are lowly. Meek. Gentle.

What situation in life is God using right now to teach that to you those valuable lessons of humility? What circumstance might God put you in for you to be able to say, “This is good for my humility”?

An African brother shared with me how surprised he was to see so many rich and educated people in church. “All these Cambridge students and professors are here worshipping on a Sunday! Back home, it’s only the poor who come to church, not the rich.” I said to him, “You have now spent four years in Cambridge. When you go home, will your friends see someone who is four year’s smarter smarter than before, four year’s richer than before and four year’s more successful than before?

Or will they see someone four year’s more humble, four year’s more loving and four year’s more servant-hearted than before?”

Every circumstance in life will lead us either one of these directions - towards greater pride and arrogance; or towards deeper humility and self-forgetfulness. Towards arrogance or gentleness. It’s not that God can’t use blessing and wealth to teach us these lessons. The church that my African marvelled at was truly blessed and is truly faithful with their blessing. Yet it is not for nothing that Jesus warns us, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:16-30) God knows our hearts. He knows that we often learn the lessons of humility when we find ourselves in humble circumstances.

The combination of the words “humble and gentle” are helpful in pointing us towards God and one another. They establish how we are to relate to God and to one another.

Before God, we are humbled because of our sin. That’s a good thing, actually - to have our eyes open to our own wretchedness, forcing us to lower ourselves to where we truly are in relation to a holy God who hates sin and who stands in judgement over our sin. We have rejected him again and again as God. We ignore him as if he did not exist. James says to Christians - and I must stress this, he is writing to fellow believers and not non-believers when he says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) He continues, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:9) And why does James want believers to come to a point of such deep anguish of sorrow and repentance? The answer is: Humility. Humility before gracious God. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10)

This leads to the second element of gentleness, that is, in relating to other people’s sins. The old English word, “meekness”, makes you think of someone like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons; essentially a pushover (always being taken advantaged of by his neighbour, Homer). But meekness or gentleness, in this context, is relational. That is, you are being gentle with someone in dealing with their sin.

The best person to learn meekness/gentleness from is Jesus. He says, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Adding, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Why? “For I am gentle and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:28-29) We go to Jesus burdened with our worries - burdened with our guilt and shame and sin. Why? Because he takes our sin upon himself. But also, notice verse 29, because he is gentle and lowly in heart. Meaning, he is tender in dealing with us in our weakness. You hear those words and doesn’t something in you go, “Yes, there’s no other place I’d rather be than with you, Jesus.”

And that’s the way need to deal with others when they are struggling with guilt and shame. Do they see in you someone they can trust to love them and not condemn them?

A student was giving his first sermon and asked me for advice on how best to prepare. He was surprised when I said to him, “Be gentle.” He knew his bible (and I knew that he knew his bible). But I wanted to impress upon him the importance of loving his brothers and sisters to whom he was addressing God’s word in the bible. Especially in dealing with sin (he was preaching on Romans), we want to be all the more clear to whomever we are speaking, that they are not alone in their fight with sin nor in their struggles with temptation nor in their guilt and shame. We want to “restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1); to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and in so doing, “fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:3). (Read on the following verses and see how Paul naturally progresses to deal with pride and arrogance). It is remarkable how Paul counsels Timothy in the pastorals to be kind, not quarrelsome and to instruct gently as the Lord’s servant (2 Timothy 2:24, 25). Pastors, are you gentle in dealing with the sins of your congregation?

With God, we rightfully humble ourselves before him. Jesus did. On the cross, he humbled himself to the point of death, submitting himself to the will of his Father. Humility means lowering yourself under another’s authority. We are saying to God, “You have every claim over every part of my life.” And in due time he will lift us up - as he did with Jesus, raising him and exalting him to his right hand - so he will with us. If will but humble ourselves before him now.

With one another, we lower ourselves for the sake of our weaker brothers. That is how I would define gentleness, or meekness: You are willingly and sacrificially lowering yourself to make yourself accessible/available to their situation in life, so that you can help them to bear their burdens. We do this naturally with kids, don’t we? You talk to a six-year-old by bending down and speaking directly to them with words that are simple yet loving. Paul says, we need to do this with one another.

Be completely humble and gentle.

2. Be patient

The second component to verse 2 is the call to be patient. Essentially, Paul is telling us, quite frankly, that loving your brothers and sisters in Christ is a hard process. It takes time. It will test your patience. (In Cantonese, we would say, “Teng Chui”)

I met a couple of graduate students working on PhD’s in theology, an effort that will occupy four years of their lives in painstaking study of the bible and ancient manuscripts. I asked them if they would be willing to exchange those four years of study with four years of ministry, but to just one individual. You don’t get a degree at the end of it. There would be no impact in journals and publications. And no one would see all the work you’ve done. Yet all your time and effort would be invested in that one person.

The blood drained from their faces.

But isn’t that what we are called to do with our spouses? With our children? To devote, much, much more than four years to these individuals, to love and care for them. And the joy and satisfaction of having done far surpasses any high-impact paper you could produce at the end of academic stint, even in a place like Cambridge.

And that is what Paul calls all of us to do here, in saying, “Be patient.” Literally, it reads “with patience,” again, another characterization trait expanding upon the original command to live a life worthy of God’s calling.

It will take time.

Quantity time - and not just quality time - is what is needed for any relationship to grow and flourish. Older bible translations use the word “long-suffering”. Not the most flattering description of Christian relationships, but a helpful one. Long-suffering.

Because, by practical implication, it is saying that we should stay in relationship with our Christian brother or sister precisely when it gets on our nerves. The most loving thing you can do to help strengthen and stabilize your church community is simply to spend time with them; to commit to stay with them. This is true of pastors: Your congregation is not a stepping stone to another bigger, more vibrant, more challenging ministry. But just in case I am being too critical of leaders, I think that this is all the more true for us as church members, especially if you have been here longer than the leadership in your church. Do your years and experience in church reflect a greater generosity in spirit? Are you slower to speak and quick to listen (and forgive)? Or are you that cranky old guy who sits at the back of council meetings who keeps saying, “Back in my day…”?

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have receive, Paul says, by being patient. After all, God is patient in dealing with our sinfulness. How many times have we been stubborn in resisting his will? How many times have we been slow in coming to repentance? Yet he continues to work in us, by his Spirit, that fruit of salvation seen in our repentance confession of sin, as well as, in our own patience and tolerance with others.

3. Bear with one another in love

Finally, the last component is love. We bear with one another out of love for one another.

This is not description of love you expect from two newlyweds, who might say, “Oh, how cute he is!” Or, “She’s the most amazing, beautiful woman I know. I love her to bits!” Rather, this is more like what Britain’s oldest married couple, Ralph and Phyllis Tarrant, did say when they put their long-lasting relationship down to “getting on with each other, exercise, avoiding cigarettes and a tot of whisky each night.”

Love bears with one another’s quirkiness, insecurities, annoyances and such. More accurately, love bears with one another’s sinfulness. You are loving the unlovely.

Bearing with one another in love is unnatural. It means God is calling you to love the very people you don’t naturally get along with; with people you don’t have “chemistry” with. Otherwise, it would be meaningless for Paul to command us to “bear” with them. To be patient with them. To humble ourselves and be gentle with them. Everything inside of us might want to scream at them, avoid them, criticise them and condemn them. I suggest to you, if anyone in your church or bible study comes to mind at this point, those are the very people God is calling you to love.

“By this all people will know you are my disciples,” Jesus says, “If you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Love is more than affection. It is visible action that makes the world sit up and go, “These guys are weird. They must be Christians.” Jesus loved his enemies. Jesus died for sinners. “Just as I have loved, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

Love is not affection. Love is action. It is one thing to post on your Facebook page how much your love your wife, your kids, your bible study group, your church gatherings or your pastor. But understand this: the world will see it as publicity - as yet another marketing stunt - on how “lovely” your wife, your kids, your bible study, your church and pastor is, not how “loving” they truly are.

Love is action, by which I’m not referring to flowers or gifts or grand gestures. No, if we are to love as Jesus did, loving someone means first and foremost, forgiving someone. It means sacrificing our good for that someone. It means patience. It means humility. It means bearing with one another in love. So rare and unnatural is such love, that for Christians, it is to be what marks us out in this world as Christians. Our love for one another.

Conclusion: In-built opportunities for humility

I was at a talk this afternoon by a well-known speaker and pastor. His last point touched on humility - specifically, the importance of cultivating humility amongst church leaders. The question from the floor was: How do we do this? And how did this well-known speaker and pastor guard his own heart from pride and arrogance?

He said (and I paraphrase), “The pastors who are here will know that there many in-built opportunities for humility that come with the job. Being a pastor is not glamorous.” I think he said that because many who turned up today thought that it was. Perhaps few aspired to be as famous (or perhaps, the more acceptable term is “faithful” or “effective”) as this pastor. But according to him, God has built into his church and his communities, opportunities for us to humble ourselves and to naturally guard ourselves from pride.

In other words, your bible study group is there to keep your pride in check. Your church community is God’s appointed training ground for you grow in holiness, in humility and in submission. It isn’t glamourous. People will test your patience. Loving your brothers will take up considerable time. When you face one of those moments that test your patience, when you hear those trying words from a brother or sister that seem to cut you down a few notches, keep reminding yourselves, “This is good for my humility. This is good for my humility.”

Why? Because it will be worth it. Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. God is calling you to be partners with him in an eternal investment secured by Jesus on the cross: his church. It will be worth it to see the lives of those you love grow in holiness and submission to Jesus. But actually, it’s even bigger than that.

Imagine God using your life to display the worth of his Son. But that is precisely what God calls us to do! To live a life worthy of the gospel; worthy of the salvation we have received in Jesus Christ our Lord. How? By being completely humble and gentle. By our patience with one another. Through our bearing with one another in love.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Sunday, 23 August 2015

United in the Son (Ephesians 3:1-13)

[ This talk was a difficult one. Not simply because it was much longer than the first and the children wanted to join in (which was wonderful!) But mainly because it dealt with suffering. The bible teaches us that our unity or “togetherness” is costly. It cost God the death of his Son on the cross. But it is also costly in terms of our own willingness to suffer for the gospel. ]

A mother was scooping ice-cream for her two sons on a hot summer’s day. As she was doing this, her two young boys were fighting over who would get the first scoop of ice-cream. “I want the first scoop.” “No, I want the first scoop,” The mother, who was a Christian, saw the opportunity for a moral lesson and said to her two sons, “Boys, I think that if Jesus were here, he would say, ‘I want my brother to have the first scoop of ice-cream.’” The older brother turned to the younger and said, “OK, you can be Jesus.”

All of us as Christians want to be more like Jesus. But most of us want other people to be more like Jesus.

Good morning. It is our second day of camp and today we are thinking about being “United in the Son”. Last night, I asked you to think about the question: Do I know God as my Heavenly Papa? Am I united to God as my Father?

Today, the question is: Am I living my life for Jesus? Do I want to be more and more like Jesus?

Today’s passage (Ephesians 3:1-13) is longer than yesterday’s, so before we begin, I want to pray for God’s help to understand his Word.

Heavenly Papa,
Please teach us to hear, to understand and to obey
everything you are saying to us today
We want to be more and more like your Son, Jesus Christ
We pray this in his name,

Ephesians 3, reading from verse 1:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:1-6

Three points from this passage:
  1. We must be united in Jesus (as one body)
  2. We must be united for Jesus (as one church)
  3. We must be united with Jesus (in his suffering)

In Jesus, for Jesus and with Jesus. Very hard to translate in Mandarin! [Note: At the camp, I used the points (1) One body; (2) One church and (3) One another]

United in Jesus

Look again at verse 6, but this time, pay attention to the word “together”.

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:6

And the question is this: How does Jesus bring us together as one body? Verse 6 talks about two different groups of people - the Jews and the Gentiles. They speak different languages, they eat different kinds of foods. It is like the Mandarin and Cantonese congregations; or the English and Chinese ministries; or the Sunday School children sitting in front and the Poh-poh’s sitting behind. How do you bring all these different people together as one family?

Some people will say: Don’t even try! Just separate everyone and let them do their own thing. I grew up in Malaysia where I was the only Chinese student in an all-Malay school. When they had Islamic lessons, they would separate me to another room (to study moral education). And some religions teach that. You must separate yourself from the world, otherwise you will be contaminated. In some places in Malaysia (long ago, not so much now), you would go to the cinema and the boys would sit on one side and the girls would sit on the other (and lights would be on!).

Or the kids who were born in the UK, don’t you feel different sometimes from the other kids, especially in terms of size? A friend of mine who was Chinese growing up in sports-mad Australia used to tell me he could only play sports with a net to separate him from the other kids (like badminton or tennis). No contact sports like rugby or football, otherwise he would be crushed by his schoolmates.

We separate ourselves based on our size, our race, our likes and dislikes, why? So that we can still be together… but each doing our own thing. That’s one strategy.

The other strategy is to compromise. Unite all the different groups based on what everyone likes. You know, find something everyone loves and that becomes our focus and our mission. Problem is, it never works! Just look at this morning. We had Pei Tan Chok (Congee porridge with century egg). Half the church went, “Wow, this is so luxurious - century egg!” The other (younger) half went, “Yuck, I’m not eating that!” Every mother knows this, “You can’t please everyone all the time.” Not at the dinner table, especially. You can try to bring everyone to Letton Hall and lock them up for three days to three months and say to everyone, “Be united!” But the truth is: the longer you lock people up together, the more they might want to kill one another! “Why did you clog up the shower?” “Why do we have to eat pigs feet?”

God does not unite us together the way the world does - through separation or compromise. He united us to one another by first, uniting us to himself. Paul calls this the “mystery of the gospel,” in verse 6. If you look back to Ephesians 3, Paul keeps talking about this “mystery”, over and over again, meaning this is something that no one could ever figure out; this a problem that no one has ever been able to solve. In that sense, it’s a mystery, yes; but a better word than “mystery” is the word “secret”.

You see, the reason why no one could understand what God was doing was not because it was so difficult to understand (it was!) but because God was keeping his plan a secret. In verse 5, he says, “this mystery was not made known to people in other generations”. It’s like a chef cooking a special meal in the kitchen. You can smell the aroma and you say, “Wow, what’s he making?” But the doors are locked. Then suddenly, the doors burst open and the chef goes, “Tadaaa! Here is my secret dish!”

Verse 6 is God going “Tadaa!” revealing his mystery, and verse 6 says that the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel; they are members together of one body. What that’s saying is: Jesus died for Gentiles to bring Gentiles to God. And Jesus died for Jews to bring Jews to God.

Paul is saying to us: Look at the person next to you. Jesus died for him. That’s why he is here and that’s why you are here. Do you know that? Jesus Christ came to die for sinners… sinners like you. Sinners like me. That’s what we have in common. You and I rejected God. You and I deserve to be judged under God’s anger. But Jesus came to die on the cross to take your punishment, to take my punishment, to take the Poh-poh’s punishment, to take the Sunday School kids punishment all on himself, so that we can have equal access to his Father. Don’t let anyone say to you, “You are second class.” Or, “You are second-generation, so you are lower class.” In Jesus Christ, we are equally sinful and we are equally saved.

But how does that bring us together? When you become a Christian, if you are a kid, you are still a kid. If you don’t like Pei tan chok, you still won’t like Pei tan chok. If you are Chinese, you are still Chinese. How does Jesus bring us together as one body in Christ?

By bringing us closer and closer to God. That’s the secret. We come closer and closer together by coming closer and closer to God. Think of a triangle. The top point of the triangle God and the two bottom points are you and me. As Jesus brings us closer and closer to God, he brings us closer and closer to one another.

That’s true of husbands and wives. As you learn to love Christ more, you will learn to love one another more. That’s true of parents and children. As parents, you learn to put Jesus first in your lives, your children will learn to put Jesus first in their lives; and Jesus will bring you closer to one another.

It is true of friends when you have a big argument with your good buddy. In such situations, I don’t just say to one person, “Why are you so angry with your brother/sister?” I always make it a point to ask, “Is there something inside you that is angry with God as well.” And I focus on that relationship with God first. Why? Because often times, when the bigger problem is identified, the smaller problem isn’t so big. When we realise how Jesus solves our biggest problem, how Jesus forgives us our sin, how Jesus sacrificed himself for our sin; then knowing God’s forgiveness in Christ helps me to forgive my brother easier (than waiting for my brother to make it up to me).

Together. That’s the word that keeps repeating in verse 6 (It’s actually just a preposition ‘su’ in the Greek; ie. together-heirs; together-body; together-sharers. Note: I didn’t mention this at the talk). God brings us together as one body by first bring us together to himself in Christ. A lot of people don’t know that. It’s still a mystery to them. They try and try to use food or jokes or money to create unity, even in the church. But they are trying to solve the smaller problem between you and me. Jesus solves the bigger problem between us and God. He dies on the cross so that we can be here at the camp, learning more about God and learning more about loving one another.

United for Jesus

Secondly, we must be united for Jesus. That’s a strange motivation for unity: To be united, not for our sakes or for our good, but for Jesus’ benefit. Why? Because, according the next few verses, our unity makes Jesus look good.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 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 that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 3:7-11

Notice that last verse where God’s intention was that now, “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known,” or as I would put it, “showed off”. God is putting the church on display, like a painting.

When I was five-years old, my kindergarten teacher took a picture I drew and put it on the wall in my class. I was five-years old but I can still remember that day. It was a picture of a chicken (a bit like the one I drew here, except I used crayon). My friends used to say, “What’s that? Is it a bird? Is it a duck?” And I would say, “It’s a CHICKEN!” I was so proud of my masterpiece.

Paul is saying: God took a masterpiece that his Son painted and put it up for the universe to see. That masterpiece was … CCCC! It was the church. If you look again at verse 10, the “manifold wisdom” of God can be translated the “multicoloured wisdom” of God. It’s talking about the different races, tribes and people groups that God has gathered together in the church.

God says to all the universe, “Look at what my Son has done! Look at the church!”

Friends, do you realise that right now, the whole universe is looking at you? The “rulers and authorities of the heavenly realms” are staring down at the kids, the parents, at us here in Letton Hall, because God is saying to them, “Look! Look at these guys! Isn’t it amazing?” Do you think your church is amazing? God does. Because Jesus Christ paid for each one of you with his blood.

Who are these “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”? Some say they are angels in heaven. But Ephesians Chapter 6 tells us, quite clearly, that these are demonic forces opposed to God. Ephesians 6:12 reads, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Meaning: Right now, the devil is looking at you going, “What? God sent his Son to die on the cross… for that guy? For that loser? He gave up his son for that sinner?”

And Paul writes, “See the manifold wisdom of God… accomplished in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Friends, our unity as a church makes Jesus’ sacrifice look good. It says to the universe: His death was worth it. God is proud of a his Son’s achievement on the cross because it resulted in people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation coming together to worship him. Verse 12: “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

I know that we have a smaller number this year at the camp, and next year, we will want more of our friends to join us. But I wonder: Who will you ask? Or: What kind of person does God want to be part of his church?

If we understand that God’s wisdom is “multi-coloured”; if we understand that Jesus’ body has many different members; then, friends, doesn’t it make sense that we people we should try hardest to reach may not necessarily be the ones who are most like us (ie. Chinese, black hair, glasses, who likes Pei Tan Chok) but those who might be most unlike us? Would be strange for the Chinese Church to one day have non-Chinese worshippers? Of course not! Should we ever say to a non-Chinese person visiting us: “Maybe you should try StAG down the road?” I hope not! If anything we should be even more welcoming and even more intentional about reaching non-Chinese people for the gospel!

Why? Because it’s not our uniformity that makes Jesus look good. It’s our unity. Our unity of different races and language groups. It’s our unity in the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The biggest motivation to love one another as the Mandarin, the English, the Cantonese groups here in CCCC is not so we can get along. No, our biggest motivation if the glory of Jesus Christ. It says to the universe: His love binds us together as one church. His death unites us as one church.

United with Jesus

Finally, we must be united with Jesus. I get this from verse 13. We must be united with Jesus in his suffering.

I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
Ephesians 3:13

Paul is writing from prison. Imagine Pastor Stanley being locked up in prison for telling people about Jesus. What would you do? Of course, the whole church will meet at the church centre and everyone would be praying for him, wouldn’t we? But imagine, as you were praying, the phone rings… and it’s Pastor Stanley. You say, “Pastor Stanley, we are all praying for you to be released! This is such a horrible thing, we feel so sorry for you!”

But Stanley replies, “No… no. This is not a bad thing. This is actually a good thing.”

How can that be? But isn’t that what Paul says? “Don’t be discouraged.” Why? “Because … my sufferings… are your glory.” Paul doesn’t ask for prayer to be released. In fact, if you look to the end of the letter, he asks for prayer to keep on preaching the gospel.

You see, Paul understands that his suffering is a gift from God. Elsewhere, in Philippians, he writes:

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 1:29-30

“God has given you two gifts,” Paul says. “To believe in Christ - that’s the first gift. But also… to suffer for Christ.” We don’t want this second gift. We say to God, “No, thanks. I just want the first gift.”

But both are from God. And both bring us closer to Jesus Christ. “I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Philippians 3:10) Paul wants us to have the right perspective about suffering when it happens here in the church. When we suffer for Christ; when we are willing to suffer for the gospel; that is actually a good thing and a godly thing for us to do as a church. Preaching the gospel in Cambridge is going to cost us. Doing ministry in CCCC is going to be difficult and possibly, dangerous. But when we suffer for Jesus, we suffer with Jesus. “I want to know the participation (or some versions have: the fellowship) of his sufferings.”

Our suffering does not save us. Only Jesus’ sacrifice can pay for our sins. But our suffering is God’s gift to share in Jesus’ glory on the cross.

That’s a scary thing to hear, I know. Right now, the parents and Sunday School teachers are freaking out, I know. What if your son or daughter says, “I want to be a missionary in Africa!” Will you say, “Haiya! Dangerous lah! Just be a professional and give money to the church.” We say that out of love and concern. We don’t want our kids to waste their lives.

But Paul is telling us very clearly, as a prisoner behind bars, “this is for your glory.” He’s saying, “Don’t be embarrassed for me.” He’s saying, “Rejoice with me.” He might even be saying, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel.”


It’s a hard message isn’t it? Being united in Jesus means three things.

We must be united as one body in Jesus; remembering that a body has many members; so a church has many different parts. Jesus’ death unites all the different parts together so that we function as one, so that we are equal as one.

We must be united as one church for Jesus. God wants the universe to look at CCCC and see his manifold wisdom. Look at that guy! Look at the girl! Look at those kids! What brings them together? Pei Tan Chok! No, nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ can unite us as one church. Our unity makes his sacrifice look good!

Finally, and this is the hardest lesson: We must be united with Jesus in his suffering. I don’t need to tell you that we have to go through some difficult times as a church. Some of you know that from experience.

But the amazing thing is this: Our suffering is not punishment but glory. We know this from experience, too. God uses suffering to change us to be more and more like Jesus - in his humility, in his submission, in his sacrifice. That’s true of personal suffering - cancer, depression, death. But it is also true of the church’s suffering. When a church group gets kicked out of its premises. When a pastor gets thrown in jail for preaching the gospel. When Christians get killed for simply continuing to trust in Jesus Christ. These are sad things but not necessarily bad things. God is able to bring good out of bad. God is able to bring glory out of our suffering.

It won’t surprise you to know that the word “witness” can also mean dying for Christ. It comes from the word “martur” where we get the English word, “martyr.” And our theme for this weekend has been “United to Witness.” I didn’t choose this theme, but I think, it is a good theme for us to have as the Chinese Church. We want to be united in witnessing to Christ. And we want to be united in suffering for Christ.

For it has been granted to you, on behalf of Christ, not only believe on him. But also, to suffer for him. Let’s pray.