Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Philip Project Cambridge

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Jonah 4: Day 4

Jonah 4: Day 3

Jonah 4: Day 2

Jonah 4: Day 1

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Ruth 2: Day 7

Ruth 2: Day 6

Ruth 2: Day 5

Ruth 2: Day 4

Ruth 2: Day 3

Ruth 2: Day 2

Ruth 2: Day 1

Monday, 1 July 2019

The most international church in Cambridge

Which is the most culturally, racially and ethnically-diverse church in Cambridge?

I suggest you, the answer is: The Chinese Church.

Yes, I agree that there are other churches with larger numbers of internationals - with larger programmes for internationals - in this very international city. The Chinese Church, by comparison, seems almost mono-cultural. Everyone here is Chinese.

And, yes, other churches do a better job at welcoming internationals to Cambridge, even training internationals who live in Cambridge, whereas the Chinese Church tends to focus on, well, Chinese people.

Still, yes, others have done more to adapt to internationals - through food, though bible studies in Chinese and Korean, through English language classes.

The Chinese Church doesn’t do this well. We remain very much Chinese in our thinking and doing as a church. We don’t even serve coffee on Sundays. Just tea. Chinese tea.

If this is true, how can the Chinese Church be the most culturally, racially, ethnically-diverse church in Cambridge?

For two very sensible, very scriptural reasons.

1. The Chinese Church is a church

Number one, the Chinese Church is a church - not a programme, not a strategy set up to reach Chinese or be relevant to Chinese people - but a church, like any church, borne through the gospel and redeemed through the blood of Christ.

Back when none of the present international outreach initiatives existed, when it was not “cool” to reach internationals, and, dare I say, not “worthwhile” reaching out to so few internationals here in Cambridge, the Chinese Church began as a bible study in someone’s home. We attended her funeral last weekend. There it began and there it grew: In Aunty A’s living room.

What makes it diverse is the fact that it began here in Cambridge. Not in China.

International ministry today is essentially the majority reaching the minority. That is not true, of course. There are many more Chinese in China than there are British in the UK. The statistics tell us there are many more Christians in China than there are here in the UK. But until I said that, most of us didn’t think that. We think international ministry is about us, the majority reaching them, the minority.

Back then, though, we were the minority.

That small bible study of Chinese Christians in Aunty A’s? It reached out to cooks, to labourers and to immigrants. Someone reminded me today there wasn’t a single white-collar professional until the early 90’s. And we didn’t start out as believers either. Outreach happened. Bible study happened. Discipleship happened. The minority reached out to the minority with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And my point is this: We are still the minority. The Chinese Church will never be a mainstream church like the Anglicans or Baptists. I’m not talking about numbers. Even if we somehow miraculously quadrupled in size overnight, any Chinese person will tell you (as any international will tell you): We will always be the outsider.

We will always be seen as a minority here in Cambridge.

And that’s a good thing. Because, isn’t it ultimately the goal for any international ministry worth its salt to prepare internationals to reach internationals? That’s how the Chinese Church began. That’s how the New Testament church began - with God reaching the outsider with the gospel of Jesus Christ, what the Apostle Paul calls the “mystery” of the gospel in Ephesians Chapter 3.

Meaning: There is something quite marvellous about that reflection of gospel diversity seen simply in the fact that there is a Chinese Church here in Cambridge. And that brings me to the second reason: The Chinese Church is not (very) Chinese.

2. The Chinese Church is not (very) Chinese

I was reminded of this today at a barbeque for the English-speaking congregation at the Chinese Church. It might surprise you to know there is one. I know some people think there shouldn’t be, that it’s unnecessary, that we’re not very good at it, that it would be better if they went to an English-speaking church. The people who say this might have a point.

Except, of course, all of them who were there today happened to be kids of parents who go to the Chinese Church, who have been coming to this same church all their lives.

You see, when a local church starts an international ministry, they are thinking: students or wives of PhD students. They might even be thinking: Future missionary or bishop of Singapore. As for the parents at the barbeque today - all they were thinking was: I want my son to know Jesus. I want my daughter to not hate coming to church.

They are not thinking strategically. They are thinking sacrificially. I am invested.

It’s not just the English congregation either. I remember at the turn of the century when large numbers of Mandarin speakers flooded the church, how quick the church was in appointing a Mandarin-speaking (lead) pastor, to start bible study groups in Mandarin, to even start a Mandarin congregation overnight. The equivalent today would be for an English-speaking church to switch its main Sunday service to Welsh. For me, this response from the Chinese Church leaders was one steeped in much graciousness, not to mention, godly wisdom. It was not easy but it was the right move.

I suspect that same shift is happening with the increase of second-generation Chinese Christians born in Chinese Churches around the UK. We sometimes forget that God’s means of raising believers is not simply through the conversion of non-believers, as important as that is, but biblically-speaking, through the raising of godly children by God-fearing, God-honouring parents (Malachi 2:15, 1 Corinthians 7:14). That’s the main way the church has grown historically and biblically. Through Christian offspring.

In many ways, that’s harder than reaching the newcomer. When your son grows up speaking a different language from you. When your daughter grows up thinking of God in categories so differently from you. And in order to reach them with the gospel, you do everything you can to remove any and all obstacles to that same gospel. You preach to them in their heart language. You sit in the back row of the English Congregation for five years praying that maybe today, my son/daughter will give their lives to Christ.

One pastor said to me, “People tell me the Chinese Church is not diverse. Everyone is the same culture, same background. They are the same. There is no diversity. I tell them, I look at my congregation and see a young doctor sitting next to an eighty-year old grandma. I see a takeaway chef doing bible study with a PhD student. I think that is a lot more diverse than a roomful of people from all over the world who watch the same Netflix, eat the same food and go to the same school.” Ouch.

Ultimately, what I’m getting at is: The reason Chinese people go to the Chinese Church has very little to do with the fact that they’re Chinese. I’m one of them. I don’t speak Chinese (yet I lead a bible study in Mandarin). It’s wonderful. It reminds me that apart from Christ, the only thing we have in common is our sin. It’s not our Chineseness, our education, the colour of your skin and my skin. The biggest common denominator between you and me is our sin and just condemnation under God. If, that is, we are not in Christ.

But if we are in Him, those differences - your Chineseness and my lack of Mandarin, your love for cheesecake and my lactose-intolerance - only serve to amplify the abundance of His grace and love and mercy through Jesus Christ, your Lord and my Lord.

So my question to you is: Where are you going to see this?

This gospel-focussed, grace-filled diversity that exists amongst God’s people redeemed by the blood of his only Son? This all-out investment in one another that costs us everything for the good and salvation of the outsider, even if that outsider happens to be an insider: your own son/daughter/mother/father/sibling?

I see it here in this church - the Chinese Church. I really do.

And I pray you see it in yours.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Esther 3-4: Part 1

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Esther 3-4: Day 7

Esther 3-4: Day 6

Esther 3-4: Day 5

Esther 3-4: Day 4

Esther 3-4: Day 3

Esther 3-4: Day 2

Esther 3-4: Day 1

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Acts 27: Sunday

Acts 27: Day 7

Acts 27: Day 6

Acts 27: Day 5

Acts 27: Day 4

Acts 27: Day 3

Acts 27: Day 2

Acts 27: Day 1

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Acts 28: Day 7

Acts 28: Day 6

Acts 28: Day 5

Acts 28: Day 4

Acts 28: Day 3

Acts 28: Day 2

Acts 28: Day 1

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Turning the world upside down (Acts 17:1-15)

A new year means a new start. A new change. Exercise more, eat more vegetables, that sort of thing. But some people are serious about their habits. Some people have seriously weird habits.

Take Mark Zuckerberg, who is big on new year’s resolutions. In 2009, he resolved to wear a tie every day. In 2011, he resolved to only eat animals he had personally killed.

Or Bill Gates. Bill Gates at business meetings likes to sit on a rocking chair. Apparently, when Bill is excited about an idea, he starts rocking that chair.

Steve Jobs ate carrots for weeks until his skin turned orange. Jack Ma eats instant noodles every day for the last 18 years.

Why do I mention this? Because everyone is looking for that secret recipe to success. Everyone wants that one thing to make them smarter, happier and fitter. But new year’s resolutions remind us just how hard it is and how long it takes to change even one thing. To change even one habit.

Why? Because changing habits means changing ourselves - our likes, our dislikes. It is one thing to change your circumstance, it is another to change your character - your wants and desires.

Three things we are looking at in today’s passage from Acts Chapter 17. Three habits. A good habit, a bad habit and a weird habit. Come with me to Acts Chapter 17.

A good habit

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
Acts 17:1-4

We begin with a good habit and the question is: What makes a good habit good? Going to church - a lot of you are expecting me to say that. And yes, verse 2 says Paul went into the synagogue but that’s not what I mean.

What makes a good habit good is consistency. You know it is good and you keep doing it because it is good. You don’t give up.

Verse 2: Paul goes to the synagogue and he keeps doing this for three Sabbath days. He keeps reasoning from the Scriptures, he keeps preaching from the Old Testament.

Verse 3: He tells them, “This Jesus is the Messiah.” Now the fact that it only says this once means Paul keeps saying this again and again. Jesus is the Christ. He doesn’t talk about one thing this week then another thing next week. It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

And verse 4: Some of the Jews were persuaded, meaning, they became Christians. But notice, it wasn’t just the Jews who became Christians. God-fearing Greeks and prominent women, too (Cantonese: Tai tai). It’s like preaching in the Chinese Church and yes, some Chinese people become Christians but actually most of the new converts are English, BBC or Indian. The synagogue was Jewish but here were Greeks. The synagogue was primarily for men but here were women coming to Christ.

Meaning, what? Paul did the same thing wherever, whenever, to whoever. He told them about Jesus. He told them to give their lives to this Jesus who died for our sins, who rose for our justification.

Now verse 2 begins, “as was his custom,” and if you look through the entire bible, the entire New Testament, that phrase - “as was his custom” - occurs only two times - here in Acts and in Luke Chapter 4 verse 16, talking about Jesus.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read.
Luke 4:16

Both written by Luke. Both talking about the synagogue. Both talking about the bible. I don’t think that’s an accident. Paul is doing exactly what Jesus did in his ministry - explaining, proving and preaching the bible to people who knew their bibles.

If nothing else, Luke who wrote the gospel and Acts is saying to us: Don’t give up. Keep reading the bible especially as God’s people.

Why? Because even though we know something is good, if we keep doing it long enough, we will feel tempted to give up. You see, what makes a good habit good is consistency. You keep doing it. It’s faithfulness. You don’t give up.

A bad habit

Well, that’s a good habit. Next, we look at a bad one. Verse 5.

But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the market-place, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.
Acts 17:5

What makes a bad habit bad? Forming a mob, rioting, trouble-making - according to verse 5.

But no, that’s not what I mean. A bad habit is something you know is bad but you keep doing it anyway. Your parents tell you it’s bad. Your friends tell you it’s bad. But you keep doing it anyway. Look down to verse 13.

But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.
Acts 17:13

They do it all over again in a different place, in a different church. But the same people cause the same trouble all over again. What do you call that? An addiction.

We think of addiction and we think of smoking and drinking and spending too much time on the Internet, that sort of thing. And because of that, we think: I’m not so bad. I’m not causing trouble like these Jews.

But, you see, verse 5 looks at the sin under the sin. Why were they causing all this trouble? Because, verse 5 tells us, they were jealous. The symptom was rioting, trouble-making but the disease was jealousy.

If you think about it, that’s crazy. Verse 5 doesn’t say they hated Paul or his teaching. Instead, they were jealous, meaning part of them loved it. Part of them said, “I wish I was like Paul. I wish that could preach like Paul and win lots of people to Jesus like Paul.” And that’s crazy.

Except it’s not. Sin is wanting something from God without God. Wanting to be God instead of God. And when I don’t get what I want, I get depressed, jealous, angry, anxious but that’s not sin in itself, those are just the symptoms. Those are just on the surface. The problem is in my heart. I want to be God instead of letting God be God.

The point is: I can try to change my habit but only God can change my heart.

The most serious sins in our lives, I’m guessing, you know you shouldn’t do it, you know it’s bad but you just can’t help it. You keep doing it again and again.

You can try to change your habit. Only God can change your heart.

A weird habit

So far we have seen a good habit - looking at Paul. A bad habit - looking at the Jews. Finally, we see a weird habit, this time looking at the crowd in verse 5.

They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they put Jason and the others on bail and let them go.
Acts 17:5-9

The crowds are just people who are there minding their business, doing their shopping, but what happens? Suddenly they become a mob, or as we would say today, suddenly things became viral.

Verse 5: They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. The word there is actually “demos” (people) where we get the word democracy. This is the will of the people.

Verse 6: The city officials get involved. “These men who have caused trouble all over the world (literally: turned the world upside down) have now come here.” Meaning: We don’t want this sort of people in Cambridge. We don’t need this kind of religion in Cambridge.

Verse 7: They appeal to nationalism. “They are defying Caesar’s decrees saying there is another king called Jesus.” If you love Caesar, you must hate Jesus. If you love democracy, you can’t love Jesus.

Verse 8: It works. “The crowds and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.” The enemy of my enemy is my friend. These guys are smart and their plan works.

Now, why is this weird? Because no one is really thinking about what they’re doing. Everyone else is doing it so it must be right. Everyone else likes this Instagram post so I must like it as well. It’s weird because it shouldn’t work except it does - here in Thessalonica, there in Berea, perhaps even here in Cambridge where a whole of smart people think a lot of stupid things.

If you are here and you are not a Christian, can I just ask: What are you? What do you actually think everything you’ve just heard the last 13 minutes, the last 13 years of your life. Whether you agree or disagree, how much is your opinion, your opinion. Not just something you watched on Youtube? What do words like truth, falsehood; right and wrong; heaven and hell mean to you?

Look with me to verse 11.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17:11

Is it true? Whatever Paul said to these guys in Berea about Jesus dying on the cross and rising on the third day, they received it with eagerness, yes, but they also asked themselves, “Is it true?” And because of that, the bible calls them noble. I would just call them mature. They are thinking like grown-ups. They are thinking for themselves.

If nothing else, that is what I hope happens here every week at the Chinese Church, that as we keep up the habit of opening the Scriptures, as we are honest with one another about our sinfulness - none of us perfect, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God - that each one of us will simple walk out of the door each week asking this question, “Is it true?”

And that as we look for the answers as the Bereans did, examining the Scriptures, we might say with conviction together with Paul, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you really is the Christ.”

Changing the world

The title of this sermon is “Turning the world upside down” and I get that from verse 6 - “These men who have turned the whole world upside down have now come here,” an accusation made against Paul and his friends.

If you think about your life for a moment, what would it take for you to change the world, to make a huge impact on society? How could you live your life in such a way that you could turn the world upside down?

If you arrange the three habits we looked at not side-by-side but from top to bottom - the good, bad and weird - what you get is a pyramid. At the bottom is the crowd. Everyone is doing it, everyone is into it. In the middle would be the Jews - these few influential men pressing the right buttons triggering a riot, starting a movement. And right on top, you have Paul - one guy from from city to city telling people about Jesus. It’s a pyramid. Or think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

And if you asked that question: What do I need to do to change the world? Almost everyone thinks the way to do that is to be like the crowd. Go viral. Get as many people as possible excited about your cause. That’s success. That’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You get as many people as possible liking, tweeting and posting and you change the world.

Or some people would be like the Jews. Knowing the right buttons to press. Making alliances and compromises. The ends justify the means.

But very few would do what Paul did. One guy going from city to city, opening the bible, saying, “This Jesus is the Christ.” It’s so inefficient. You have reason with people, explain stuff again and again. If you asked anyone in Thessalonica and Berea what they thought of Paul, they’d say, “Loser.” Getting kicked out of the synagogue. Getting kicked out of the city. Again and again. Getting your friends into trouble. Again and again.

Yet in God’s wisdom, it’s people like Paul who change the world. Even his critics agree. After all, it was the Jews who describe Paul and his friends as turning the world upside down with their teaching and preaching.

And the question is: Which kind of person are you going to be?

If you are like Paul, someone who is in ministry, the lesson is clear: Don’t give up. Keep preaching Christ. Keep preaching the bible. It will be lonely. You will face opposition. Keep going and keep speaking out for Christ.

If you are Christian, the lesson is clear: Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. You look at people like Jason who was dragged out to the courts. The brothers who had to arrange for Paul to escape again and again. It is tempting to think, “I didn’t sign up for this.” But remember what Paul said of the Christ: The Messiah must suffer and must rise from the dead. We follow a Messiah who himself was rejected, who himself suffered, who himself told us to count the cost, pick up our cross and carry it daily.

You do that and maybe, just maybe, God will one day use you to turn this world upside down for Christ.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Man vs Food (Acts 11:1-18)

I was seventeen and it was the last day of a summer school I was doing in Malaysia and as I got back to my seat in class I found a card on my desk. It was from a girl and it said something like, Dear Calvin, Great knowing you. Stay in touch.

I was seventeen - remember - and I thought, It’s now or never. So I walked up to the girl in front of everyone in class holding the card to my chest and I said, “Thank you for the card.”

And I said, “I just want you to know that I really, really, really…” - and it was around about the third “really” that I noticed, Hey, that guy has the same card as me. And, That girl over there has a card, too. (I later learned that she had given a card to every student in class)

“... really, really, erm, thank you for this card,” and ran back to my desk. Smooth.

If you can imagine the embarrassment, the surprise, the foolishness of being in such a situation, then maybe you understand the impact of what Peter says in verse 17 of Acts Chapter 11 - God gave them the same gift as he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ - it is the impact of learning that God loves people who are very different from us. That God gave his Son to die for other people and not just for us.

For Peter, that impact resulted in a series of confrontations - a series of conflicts - with man, with food and with God - our three points from our passage today from Acts Chapter 11.
(1) Man vs Man. (2) Man vs Food. And (3) Man vs God.

Man vs Man

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Acts 11:1-3

Peter gets into trouble. The moment he gets back to Jerusalem, the moment he steps back into church on Sunday, he sees everyone holding up a sign that says, “Intervention.” Some of them are angry. You idiot! Most of them are disappointed. How could you do this to us?

What did Peter do? He went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them. That is the accusation of verse 3 by circumcised men, which some take to be a small radical group and that’s possible. But verse 1 reminds us there was a wider audience - “the apostles and believers throughout Judea” - who were concerned, who were confused by Peter’s actions.

You see, Peter broke the rules. He broke the Old Testament food laws - no eating unclean foods; no eating with unclean people, meaning, unbelievers - not unlike a Jewish person today eating food that is not Kosher or a Muslim eating food that is not Halal. But it was worse for Peter because Peter was their leader. Peter was Apostle Number One.

The amazing thing is Peter does not pull rank. He does not push back and say, “How dare you question my authority?” Why? Because Peter understands it is a good thing to be held accountable, especially, being held accountable to God’s word and that’s what they were doing. And what he does in response to that is bring them back to God’s word, notice that. Verse 4, “Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened.” That is a mark of a godly leader - someone who submits himself to God’s word and someone who calls us to do the same.

Man vs Food

“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’”
Acts 11:6-7

If you’ve been to Korean BBQ or Chinese Hot pot BBQ, the great thing about that is you get to cook your food before eating your food and it is a lot like that here in Peter’s vision, except, Peter is told to kill his food before eating his food - four footed-animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds - basically, every kind of meat there is, kinda like a Zoo-Buffet-BBQ type restaurant.

And Peter gets that this is a test. So he says in verse 8, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” God was testing him with this vision and Peter thinks he nailed it. All my life I have been preparing for this test: I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. He expects God to say, “100% A++, Peter. Well done!”

But that’s not what God says.

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.”
Acts 11:9-10

EEEEEHHH! Wrong answer!

What is more, this happened three times (meaning, either just the last bit happened happened three times - “This is clean! This is clean! This is clean!” - or that the vision happened three times and Peter denied God three times, “Surely not, surely not, surely not!” - three times!) How confusing this must have been for Peter. He thought he knew the answer, he was so confident he was right. But God reminds him three times not call something wrong that God has made right, not to call something impure that God has made holy.

What does this mean? All foods are clean? If that was all that happened that day, sure - God is saying it’s OK to eat char siu pao and chilli crab. But right then, something else happened, something else that made Peter think this was more than just a vision about food.

“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’”
Acts 11:11-14

The word “house” occurs four times in four verses. They arrived at the “house” where Peter is staying. Peter goes with them into the “house” of this man (Cornelius, from Chapter 10) who talks about how an angel appears in his “house” and how Peter is meant to bring a message that will save him and his “house”.

What was the significance of entering this non-Jewish, non-Christian, non-Kosher man’s house? It was the crossing of boundaries. It meant entering the space, the lives of people you previously shunned, you previously avoided and you previously discriminated against. Up to gate? Yes. Up to the door? Maybe. But to enter into this uncircumcised man’s house was to have fellowship with him. To yum cha with him. To make friends with him. Remember the accusation of verse 2, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

And all this happens immediately after the vision. (Verse 11: “Right then.”) Meaning, there is a connection between what God was saying there and what God is saying here. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” - not referring to unclean foods but unclean people. Verse 12, “The Spirit told me to have no hesitation,” literally, “no discrimination about going with them.”
Friends, what does discrimination mean? Holding back the gospel. Holding back Jesus from people who are not like us and not one of us.

And it is not enough to say, “Come to the Chinese Church. We do not discriminate against anyone.” It is not enough to say that because what was Peter commanded to do? Go to this man’s house. Bring the gospel to him - not bring him here to our church, our community - but to enter into his. It is crossing boundaries and crossing cultures.

The vision of the food and animals left Peter confused but even after he understood the significance of the vision I think Peter was still confused. How could God do this? What does this mean? In the end, Peter did not let his confusion get in the way of his obedience. Notice, everything God says to Peter is a command. Get up. Kill and eat. Go with them. Preach to them. It is a good thing to seek clarification from God’s word but never to use it as an excuse for disobedience (or delayed obedience). God gives us enough clarification to obey him fully and wholeheartedly in his word. And in the end that’s what we see in Peter - his obedience and submission to God’s commands.

Man vs God

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
Acts 11:15-17

So Peter is there in the house. The man tells him he is supposed to tell them the gospel so that’s what Peter is doing at this point - telling them about Jesus - his life, his death, his resurrection (Acts 10:39-43) - when suddenly the Holy Spirit comes on them in a powerful way.

And it is important to see that this happens for his benefit not just theirs. I mean, it was wonderful for God to bless the new believers in this special way, but notice how Peter internalises everything he sees. “Then I remembered...” verse 16. “Who was I to think…” verse 17. God was teaching Peter something significant about what he was doing through these new believers - they have received the same salvation, the same Lord, the same Holy Spirit as Peter the his friends did at Pentecost. And the only condition was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, verse 17, “we who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

For Peter, this is especially convicting to his soul. “Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” What does that mean? It means that up to that point, up to that moment when it finally dawned on Peter’s consciousness that God wanted to save these non-Jewish, non-Kosher Gentiles into his kingdom, Peter was, in fact, opposing God. And that’s an awesome thought. “Surely not, Lord,” he said back in verse 8. Peter was so sure of himself back then, thinking he was right and, by implication, that God was wrong. But step by step, God reminds Peter that God is God. Step by step, God reminds Peter that this was his plan all along. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus said in Acts 1, verse 8, “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The gospel is for everyone. You don’t get that, you don’t get the gospel.

Amazingly still, Peter’s testimony convicts everyone else in the room.

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 11:18

Notice, Peter never says to them, “You need to change. You guys are wrong. You need to repent.” They instinctively do this on their own. Why?

Two possible reasons. One, Peter’s conviction becomes their own. Remember, Peter is their pastor and there is something very powerful about a pastor standing up in front of his people and saying, “I messed up,” standing up in front of the whole church and saying, “I was wrong.” It reminds us of our sinfulness. It reminds us of God’s grace. Peter was just like them, denying God’s word, denying God’s grace, denying God’s plan for the Gentiles. We see this here in his testimony and actually we this all throughout the gospels. Peter was guy who said the wrong thing, did the wrong thing again and again and again but was restored by Jesus by his grace again and again and again. And his heartfelt, genuine repentance and submission to God’s word made it possible for everyone else to do the same.

So that’s one reason but I think there is another: They finally understood God’s love. It might be a strange thing to say but in God’s sovereign wisdom we understand God’s love better and clearer when we see it operating in the lives of others and not just our own.

“God gave them the same gift as he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter was talking about the Gentiles. People who never had the Old Testament. Unclean people. Sinful people. Here in Cambridge, think of someone uneducated. Here in the Chinese Church, think of someone disrespectful of their elders. Here in a civilised nation like the UK, think of a corrupt cruel despot. Now imagine God saving them. Imagine God pouring out his Spirit on them. Imagine God giving his Son to die for them.

That’s the impact of the encounter that Peter had seeing the Holy Spirit poured on these uncircumcised, uncivilised, unclean, impure Gentiles. If God can love them, boy oh boy, do you realise that is what it means for God to love me?

Friends, it is one of the reasons why International Ministry is such a precious gift God has given us here in Cambridge. It is not a convenience - “How convenient it is we don’t have to get on a plane to some far off country to preach the gospel?” or “How convenient it is they can go back to their countries and we don’t need to send anyone?” It is not convenience but conviction. When you see someone so different from you get it, you get it. When you hear someone so unlike you praise God, you start praising God. When you embrace someone you used to shun and avoid and discriminate but now you call them “brother” and “sister”, you begin to realise: That is how God embraces me in Jesus Christ - as loved, as accepted and as his own.

Such a truth will cause conflict. If that happens, we go back to the word of God and submit ourselves to it. Such a truth will cause confusion. If that happens, we must never be disobedient. God always gives us enough to know what it means to obey.

But such a truth will ultimately result in praise.

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

And I pray that will be true for us.

No thank you (Philippians 4:10-20)

As Asians, we are not great at saying thank you.

Think of Christmas. Someone gives you a gift and what goes through your mind? Haiya, next year, I must give a gift also. That is, our way of saying thank you is payback. You take me out for coffee, I buy you a latte. That sort of thing.

The book of Philippians is a thank you letter from the Apostle Paul to these Christians, to this church in Philippi, who send him money while he is under house-arrest in Rome. But it is only here in Chapter 4 that we find out it is a thank you letter.

The thing is: Not once does Paul say thank you. And not once does Paul say they have given him money (though they have and probably lots of it). Instead, Paul frames his thanks, and indeed, the whole letter, in terms of the gospel. You are partners with me, Paul says, in the gospel. And Paul frames their gift as an act of worship, pleasing and accepting before God (verse 18).

Why? Because Paul wants us to understand the difference between needs-based giving and grace-based giving. Needs-based giving that is prompted by needs, by our compassion in response to a sad situation, to a cry for help, is good. It is generous and good. But it is different to grace-based giving, which is the kind of giving we see here in Philippians. How so? In three ways: Contentment, partnership and worship.

1. Contentment

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:10-13

“Thank you for that box of chocolates. I enjoyed it.” That’s what we expect from a thank you letter (or WhatsApp message). Not, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.”

But concern lies behind the gift of Philippians. Concern for a pastor in chains. Love for a brother who is suffering. And that says a lot about their relationship, their motivation for sending this gift to Paul so far away. They want him to know that they are with him. He is not alone.

And that is what Paul thanks them for - their concern. But at the same time, Paul goes out of the way to reassure them: I’m OK. Do you see that? Verse 11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” In response to their concern, Paul talks about his contentment. Question is, what does he mean? For most of us, I suspect, contentment means being OK with what we have. OK with the money in the bank. OK with leftovers in my fridge. OK with the relationships in my life. But notice, Paul talks about extreme situations - how to be brought low and how to abound. And he talks about the secret of contentment - facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Paul’s contentment seems independent of circumstance and he isn’t saying I’m OK with what I have, but rather, I will always have Christ. More than that, I will always live for Christ. That is the thinking the lies behind verse 13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

To put it another way: Paul is still a Christian. In any and every situation of life, Paul has learned what it means to be a Christian and to stay a Christian. To trust in Christ and to continue living for Christ. In plenty and in hunger. In abundance and in need. In any and every situation of life.
Now every single bible study group I’ve been in has focussed on the hunger and the want and the need. It is tough to be content when you are in need and probably that was the same concern the Philippians had for Paul. And there is that moment in every bible study everyone stares into the distance and you can tell they are imagining what it feels like to be in prison and what means to be content in that time of need.

If that happens, the way to snap them back to reality is to ask: Are you full or hungry right now? Are you in abundance or in need? (This works really well if they’ve just had dessert) And it is important to do that because Paul does that here in Philippians. Here he is, objectively in a position much, much needier than the Philippians, in chains for the gospel, telling them he has learned the secret of contentment in both plenty and want, abundance and need. Meaning, what? Meaning: You need to learn this, too. You need to realise that you who are living in abundance, in plenty, in fullness (of pudding); that you, too, need to learn what it means to be content in Christ. Not hankering for more. Not imagining what if I had more of this or that. But in the moment, trusting in the fullness of the grace of Christ to live completely for him and him alone.

Paul had to learn this himself. He says it twice. “I have learned…” (verse 11) and “I have learned…” (verse 12). Even the great Apostle Paul had to learn what it means to trust God when he had very, very little and when he had very, very much. And that is encouraging, isn’t it? Maybe you are in a tough situation in life and around you are surrounded by people who seem to have so much more than you. Learning to be content in such a difficult situation is hard, Paul is saying, but God taught him though that situation and God is doing the same with you.

And maybe you are doing well in life but you feel guilty telling your friends because they think you should be OK, you should have nothing to worry about, but the truth is: you are worried and you are anxious. Well, Paul says he knows that what that is like, too. Learn to be content. Learn to trust in Christ and Christ alone.

2. Partnership

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.
Philippians 4:14-16

Imagine a friend trying to persuade you to go into business with them and they say, “This is going to be great. If you invest your money, if we work together on this, we will change the world. It will grow. In five years, we will be driving Teslas and flying first class.” Every start-up works that way, every new partnership works that way.

Imagine another friend coming to you saying, “Come join me in suffering.” That’s Paul’s invitation in verse 14. “It was kind of you to share (or have partnership in) my trouble.” It is the same word he uses back in Chapter 3 talking about Jesus when he says, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share (or have partnership in) his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.

But you see, they did join him in this kind of partnership. “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” Right from the beginning when no one else thought it was a good idea, they said, We are with you, Paul. And all through his ministry, they never gave up, not once. “Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”

What do you call this? Faithfulness. Steadfastness. The bible calls this fellowship (the same word translated “sharing” in Philippians 3 and 4). Fellowship is not hanging out after church at Wetherspoons, it is not even meeting up once a week for a meal and bible study (as good as that is). It is partnership, not unlike business partnerships. You are invested in something. It costs you something. It has a goal. And what you are investing in, what you are working towards, what you are you partnering in is the gospel. That’s fellowship according to the bible.

Why is that important? It is costly. There is a reason people want fellowship to mean something other than the gospel. No one else wanted to partner with Paul, no one else wanted to have anything to do with Paul because it meant sharing in his trouble. Because it means sharing in Christ’s suffering. And that’s why we redefine the word to mean something else: chilling out, hanging out, getting to know one another over bubble tea. But for Paul and the Philippians it means sacrifice. It means togetherness. It means faithfulness even when no one else wants to be involved in this kind of partnership, in this kind of relationship.

But that is what makes their relationship so special. You know, the friends who are really your friends are the friends who were friends when no one else wanted to be your friend. (You might want to read that last sentence again)

Isn’t that true? The ones who were with you since the beginning. Who stuck with you through the tough times. Who are with you still today. Yes, they helped Paul out of concern but Paul wants them to know, We are equal partners in this. You and I have the same goal, the same mindset - the gospel. You see, fellowship is not seeing thing eye-to-eye but working together side-by-side. Paul is preaching, travelling, planting churches. The Philippians are sending money, sending people, praying for the mission. They are not even in the same country, they haven’t seen each other for ages. What kind of fellowship group is this? Yet theirs is a fellowship that is true to Scripture because theirs is a fellowship that is true to the gospel.

If that is true, it might be worth thinking about our fellowship groups in church. How is the gospel at the centre of those relationships? How is suffering for the gospel (not simply suffering in general or praying for difficult circumstances) at the centre of our relationships with one another?

3. Worship

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Philippians 4:17-20

At this point, Paul has problem. Why do I say that? The Philippians have sent him money again and again, they are concerned for him again and again but what does Paul do? He says he is OK. He reminds them they are the most faithful bunch of all his friends. Now, either one of two things are going to happen. Either they are going to think: OK, Paul doesn’t really need my help any more so I shouldn’t be generous any more. Or they are going to think: OK, I’ve done enough. I’ve done my bit.

Whenever you watch one of those charity events on TV, there is always a segment when the presenter says, “Let’s get serious for a moment.” And the scene cuts to a village, to an impoverished child, to a real-life situation of need. Help us to help them. Your contribution will go a long way. Again, that is good, that is godly and it is generous to respond to such a real need.

But that is not Paul, is it? He goes out of his way to dispel any notion of needs-based giving. “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied.” I say that because need-based giving works here in church. We need to fix the toilets. You guys have so much talent, gifts, time, we could really use your help. It works. Using guilt, appealing to people’s generosity, highlighting real needs within our church and fellowship groups, well, it works. And I guess, there is a place for that (maybe not). But Paul doesn’t do that. What does he say instead?

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” He wants them to be generous for their own sakes. For their own benefit.

And it is interesting how he uses worship language to describe their gifts. “The gifts you sent (are) a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” One friend said, “They think they are giving Paul but Paul saying they are really giving to God.” And that’s right. Elsewhere, he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” Again, using worship language, Paul is saying his offering is just the cherry on top of their much larger, much more significant sacrifice before God.

What he is doing is opening their eyes. They think they sending a cheque to help a brother. (In Cantonese, we say, “Hou chamm, hou chamm ah!”) But Paul is saying to them, Do you realise how pleased God is with your generosity? One of the most uplifting, most encouraging thing you can do for a fellow Christian is simply to remind them how much God is pleased with their generous spirit because, friends, they probably don’t realise it themselves. Even Jesus says so in Matthew 25.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:35-40

They were surprised (When did we do this?) but Jesus says to them, What you did for them you did for me. And, you see, Paul wants them to see that. God is pleased with their giving. God loves their generous spirit, their grace-based giving that is so uncalculating that even they do not realise it but God sees and God is pleased with.

Now we have be careful sometimes when we ask people to “give back to God what God has given us,” because it is tempting to use this passage to justify that sort of thinking. It is our Asian tendency again, to pay back God as a way of saying thanks but I suggest to you, it is a poor way to be thanking God, perhaps, even, a selfish of thanking God. Why do I say that? Because of verse 19.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

Give to God and God will give back to you. It sounds a bit like that doesn’t it? And sadly, we can use that to motivate Christians to be generous. If you give twenty percent, God will give you back two hundred percent! After all, my God will supply every need of yours, it says so right there. Of course, what happens is we give our money, time, gifts generously but at the back our minds think, God, I’m holding you to that promise you made. I’m expecting that payback of two hundred percent!

Rather, Paul is speaking again of contentment, of a mindset that trusts God in any and every situation. I say that because Paul says “my God” will fill up all your needs. Paul is speaking of his own personal experience of being in need, still in prison, still in chains, still in exile, but still in Christ, still content, still faithfully preaching the gospel of Christ. That is what it means for Paul and that is what it means for us to have all our needs filled up according to the riches of Christ Jesus. This is grace-based contentment, grace-based fellowship. This is grace-based giving.

Or you could say, simply: This is Christian giving. Giving simply to please God. Giving knowing that he is God, knowing we have received grace, forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ.