Monday, January 23, 2006

The Control of the Tongue

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 3:3-12 on 22 January 2006

The tongue is the channel to express our thinking as it systematically expresses meaning of what is in our heart. True meaning can only be found in the Truth of God, His Revelation. Only when we have His Revelation in our heart, would our heart have the right foundation and direction. The abundance of our heart is expressed by our tongue.

Humans are afraid of natural catastrophes but these disasters are external and harm us externally. James says that we can and have tamed a lot of things but we cannot tame the tongue. Yet, the tongue is more frightening than wild animals, why aren't we afraid? It destroys us not externally, but inwardly, and it is very difficult to control.

If no man can tame the tongue then who can tame it? The strength cannot come from man, but only from God. When we do the wrong thing, it is the result of hearing and receiving the wrong thing into our spirit. When we destroy people, it is by saying the wrong thing into their spirit. So wrong input damages our spirituality and wrong output harms others' spirituality. A lot of things happen because people are not careful in the control of their tongue. They spread what they should not, and do not speak up to rebuke the wrong or to defend the right thing when they should. As a result, what is wrong keeps spreading while what is right is not preserved.

Words spoken out cannot be retrieved, therefore we need to make a covenant with our tongue to speak only words that are in accordance with the Truth, constructive to the faith, glorifying God and helping others. In this way, we will live as a witness to the Truth, where from us people find comfort in their sufferings, hope in adversity. The greatest wealth we can have is to possess the Truth. If the Truth is absorbed into our hearts, we have abundant life within us and hence it will become possible for us to become channels of Life.

The issue is not whether we can speak. Our ability to speak is God's grace. The issue is what meaning can we express with this gift of tongue? Many people express their pride over the grace God has given to them but not the responsibility that comes with those gifts.

The tongue is a powerful tool, yet we keep using such an amazing gift to speak things that are not important. We should reflect how many words we have spoken in our life and how much of our speech each day is unnecessary or not glorifying to God? A businessman who is wise is one who knows how to use the least resources to gain the most return. We all know this common principle in business so we are very intelligent on material things but are so very dumb in spiritual things that matter so much more.

There is so much power in words but we never invest in training our tongue to speak with control. There are so many thoughts that go through our mind every day, but we never learn to manage the kind of input that comes in and is allowed to stay. In million of things said, how many of our words are the result of our relationship with the Truth?

May we never boast in the grace given to us, but tremble in fear for our responsibility because they will become the measure of our accountability before God. How much have we boasted of the things we receive – our beauty, talents, health, wealth, etc.? Do we not tremble for the fact that when more is given, more will be demanded? God has not given us all these things to boost our ego, but requires that we use them as tools to glorify Him and minister to others.

The Bible says that the pure in heart shall see God. When our heart is pure, we will see God's presence with our eyes and we will be confident of our every word and every move. The Danish philosopher Kiekergaard said that purity of heart is to will ONE thing. And that one thing is to please God. When a person wills this one thing, his words will be pure and clean. The purity of heart is related directly to single-mindedness. A person with divided heart will often be confused and fall.

There are three things that will ALWAYS cause a person to make mistakes, and they are in fact the reasons why people fall in their lives:

1. No matter what you do, if you think of money first you will definitely make mistakes and fall.
2. No matter what you do, if you seek your own interests first you will definitely make mistakes and fall.
3. No matter what you do, if you aim to please men first you will definitely make mistakes and fall.

All great servants of God are those that have been released from all these bondages. They are not serving money, themselves or others therefore they are able to please God. When our motive is focused on pleasing God, like that windscreen that has wiped clean the car window to see clearly, we CAN see God.

Only when we hear God's Word, can we speak words constructive to the spirit. A selfish person will speak words to benefit himself. A hateful person will speaks with full of hatred. A person who says good things at one time and speaks bad things at another time is not a reliable person. We should not be like the world that uses words as an instrument of manipulation.

In verse 12, James echoes the Lord Jesus' words that good fruits come from good tree and bad fruits come from bad tree. This brings us to a higher principle that the control of the tongue is not the issue of physical external restrain of the words we speak, but we need to transform our inner life. As our faith is, so is our life. As our relationship with God is, so is our relationship with men. If abundant life is within us, if true hope is in our life, we will light up the life of others. People will see new direction and gain new hope from us.

We need to solemnly ask ourselves what we speak, why we speak and how we speak, and what the relationship between our speech and our life is. Wisdom of living starts with the control of the tongue.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Relationship between the Word and the tongue

This is my personal summary of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong's preaching on James 3:1-6 on 15 January 2006.

Previously, James talked about the relationship between faith and deeds. Abraham was made righteous before the Law was passed so he was definitely not made righteous by obeying the Law, which was given to Moses 430 years later. He was made righteous by faith expressed through his obedience to God. This tells us how important faith is. Faith is a positive response towards God which is produced by a right response towards God's promises. Therefore, the idea of being justified by the works of the law is an erroneous understanding which came up later.

However, as sinners we still continue to reason from wrong angle even when presented the correct theology. Now we think that since we are justified by faith and our works are not meritorious, we conclude that works are not important. This is the side effect of the Fall of men, which is called sinners' logic, that always reasons negatively. Since we are saved by grace and this grace is given by the God who is eternal and therefore we are predestined from eternity, we say that there is no need to preach the gospel. This is how the right orthodox teaching gets attacked by fallacious logic of sinners. As the doctrine of justification by faith alone releases people from the bondage of the works of the law and the fear of hell fire, people begin to ignore the importance of deeds. So often times the church commit sin that even the unbelievers outside do not dare to commit. This is a very scary situation.

Hence it is extremely important for us to ground a right understanding of God's Word so that we don't fall into erroneous understanding. James gives an important balance by showing us that true faith produces true deeds. The deeds here are the fruits of faith, not the cause of justification. The great mystery here is that true faith consists in itself obedience. Hence the last verse in chapter 2 says that faith without deeds is dead.

In chapter 3, we see another twist as James suddenly mentioned that not many of us should desire to become teachers as we would be judged more severely. This is in line with what Paul said to Timothy to know clearly his calling. Francis Bacon said a very important phrase that should be put up in every library, “A little knowledge is great danger.” How true this is! When we began to know just a little, we have the tendency to become proud and eager to teach. But often times, this results in us teaching the wrong thing and block people from knowing the Truth. This is the greatest problem with the charismatic churches. They hardly know God's Word clearly but are already preaching and leading people, and as a result, the pass a lot of wrong knowledge to others. The more crowd they draw, the greater their offence because the more people they mislead and draw away from the Truth. As the crowd comes to them, they cannot give them the Truth because they do not have it, so they give other things like warm relationships and other excitement to replace the Truth.

The Bible says not to presume to be teachers as we will be judged more. If we are not teaching the Truth from the holy pulpit, we are leading people astray. Some people emphasize works and throw away faith. Some emphasize faith and throw away works. With all these messed up doctrines people are misled. If we hear the wrong preaching of the Word and gets our faith rooted based on biased teaching, our understanding becomes not comprehensive and we will begin to emphasize a lot of minor things at the expanse of the more basic major things. This might attract a lot of people but we are not giving correct teaching. If we notice the phenomena of church movements, many a times, they emphasize one or a few things only, instead of things in totality. It is hard to teach in overall principles, but very easy to just emphasize one or a few things in isolation. It is easy and unusual, so the crowd is drawn. But the result is that after so many years, people still do not understand the most basic doctrines, and still only know that few isolated things.

Chapter 3 of James talks lengthily about our tongue. This is absolutely necessary. The Scriptures' content is very amazing in its organic relationship. Paul talked 13 chapters about faith and James talks 1 chapter about the deeds resultant from faith. The Scriptures talk about Truth in many chapters, and finally we see one chapter in the book of James that talks about our tongue, on how we should use our tongue to express God's Truth.

Preaching the wrong things is a greater sin than saying the wrong words. If we say wrong words, we might harm others in this life. But if we preach the wrong things, we might harm others in eternity.

The Scriptures say that if we can control our tongue we can control our whole body. If we can manage our speech, we manage our entire life. The Chinese says that disasters and illness come from the mouth. We will be ill when we eat the wrong thing and if we speak the wrong things, we hurt people's spirit. To the Chinese, in order to avoid this, the solution is to speak as little as you can. This is the approach many people take, i.e. to solve the problem in a passive way.

However, we should learn to solve problem in an active way. We need to learn so that we can speak but make little mistakes in speech. A person's preaching should come as a result of their own battles with the Lord. A good preaching is one who can speak a lot but make little mistakes, think in depth but share in simplicity, see widely but preach specifically. A person who can do this has profound understanding and is a great man. We see a relationship between the level of understanding with the ability to simplify his expressions. That's why we see that Jesus preaches in simpler language than Paul. The reason is not because Paul has more academic background but Jesus is unlearned.

God has given us a mouth to speak so it is not the right approach to solve the problem of speech by just shutting up. The questions for us to ask are: What are we talking about? What is the purpose of our speech? What is the result of our sharing? How do we control ourselves so that we don't say what we should not say and we speak boldly when we should?

If we speak when we should be quiet, we waste our time. If we keep quiet when we should speak, we waste opportunities. This requires a lot of wisdom.

A very important question to think about is: what is abundant life? Abundant life does not consist in our riches and possessions, for they can be lost and obsolete. Things that can be obsolete are not of great value.

What is abundant life then? It is the TRUTH dwelling in you, the understanding of God's Word. We need to absorb the Word of God as much as possible and let it come alive in us. Our real worth is measured in how much the Truth of God we have living in our hearts.

So on one hand we need to store up as much as possible God's Word inside us, and on the other hand we need to offer up our body as instrument for righteousness, particularly our tongue, because the Scriptures say if we can bridle our tongue we can control our whole body.

When the Truth is in us abundantly, it will come out of our mouth abundantly, and we will be blessings to many.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is the Bible the Word of God?

This is the first summary I post in this blog that is not shared by Dr.Rev.Stephen Tong. This is my personal summary of Pastor Amin Tjung's sharing to the youth fellowship in GRIIS (Indonesian Reformed church in Singapore founded by Dr.Stephen Tong). It was an interactive discussion with questions and answers so I organized the points and put up my personal notes. Pastor Amin Tjung was once a student of Dr.Stephen Tong.

The Doctrine of the Scriptures

The first question is “what is the Bible?”

1. The Bible is God's own words literally.
This cannot be since there are literal words of animals, human beings, and even the devil.

2. The Bible's pre-history account is mythical
Obviously, we reject this.

3. The Bible is a record of witnesses testifying about God, not really God's Word, but when a person reads the Bible, God will make it come alive. This is Karl Barth's view.

Then it becomes purely subjective. What if it becomes alive in one part and not alive in another part? So some part becomes God's Word and another part remains human words? We reject this too.

4. The Bible is God's inspired Word in human language (the correct answer)

So who tells us the Bible is God's inspired Word in human language? The Bible itself! Where does it tell us? 2 Pet.1:20-21; 1 Tim.3:16

Yes it is written by human beings, but the Holy Spirit inspires and supervises the writing of the Scriptures such that every word written by the authors originally is from God.

My Personal Note:
Principally, the highest authority has to authorize itself. If it needs to be authorized by something else, it no longer is the highest authority, and something else has assumed a higher authority then. That is the reason why we cannot use human reason and explanation as the ultimate qualification to authenticate the Bible as the Word of God. They are limited and too small to authenticate such a huge claim. Therefore, the Word of God will authorize itself.

As John the Baptist says, “The one who comes from heaven is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (Jn.3:31)

It means that there is self-authorizing power of the highest authority and whatever that is of earth (our human reason, evidence, etc) is below this realm and is unable to authorize what comes from heaven. So I highly concur with Amin Tjung’s words that the Spirit of God convinces the believer that the Scripture is the Word of God. This is the epistemology (the study of knowledge, how we know what we know) stand of Cornelius Vantil, which is presupposition.

The next question is, there are so many books that claim to be Scriptures or holy books and revelation from God. So why is the Bible the Word of God? What about the rest? Is Al-Quran the Word of God?

There are not many revelatory religions/philosophies in the world. Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, for example, do not claim to be of God's revelation. This leaves us with 3 major revelatory religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Judaism only receives Old Testament. Islam receives partial Old Testament, partial New Testament, and Al-Quran. Christianity receives Old and New Testament. So who is guilty of adding and who is guilty of subtracting?

To answer this question, first of all, let us examine how and on what basis Al-Quran claims to be God's Word. Islam receives the 4 gospels and renounced the rest of NT as false Scriptures. Their claim of Al-Quran as revelatory is based on John 14:16 which says: “I will pray to the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”

This word “Comforter” is from the word Parakletos in Greek, which coincides with the name Mohamed. So according to Islam, Jesus prophesied Mohamed's coming as another promised comforter after Him, and Mohamed is the last prophet, not Jesus. Suppose it is true that the name Mohamed is indeed the same meaning as Parakletos, how do we answer this? Is he then the promised comforter?

Looking at the context of Jesus' saying, He promised the Comforter to the Apostles. But historically Mohamed only appeared many centuries after the death of the last apostle John. He also says that the Comforter will be with them forever, but Mohamed died as any other. Also, Jesus said the Comforter cannot be seen, as He is a Spirit.

Now we add more question before answer completely the previous ones. So even if the Bible is the Word of God, how do we know it is written properly and interpreted correctly? Can humans remember what Jesus really said, can they record wrongly, can they forget, can they understand wrongly?

It is true that as humans, things are subjective to our interpretation and perspective. In fact, many great philosophers do not write their books but the disciples wrote for them. Socrates never wrote but all his sayings are written by Plato. So are those really Socrates' words or Plato's own words or his interpretation of Socrates' words? What about Al-Quran? Is it recorded properly?

For all the religions that claim to be revelatory, if we are to examine them as strictly as we examine Christianity, they will all fall flat on their own ground. All these are debatable at their own ground, and with the process of history, it is impossible for us to trace everything back absolutely since all the authors are dead now.

But how does Christianity guarantee that the Scriptures are correctly written and correctly passed down and interpreted? We have a guarantee in John 14:26; John 16:12-13.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, would teach us all things, and would remind us of what He had said. So can the disciples forget? Yes. Did the disciple understand everything Jesus said when he first taught them? No. How do they know and remember and write down accordingly and correctly then? It's the Holy Spirit. Unlike all other religions/philosophies where preservation is questionable because the authors die, we have the Holy Spirit who is living and actively leading God's sheep. This is the guarantee.

Coming back to the previous questions, we can now look at the books of the Bible itself. How do we reach this consensus that Old Testament and New Testament is the Word of God, no more and no less?

The question of Old Testament is easily settled as Jesus Christ accepted the 39 books we hold today. That was in Septuagint during His time. The Old Testament went through a lot of copying and re-copying and we do not have the exact historical evidence to say that they are all preserved. But what did Jesus say? He accepted them as Scriptures that cannot be broken (John 10:35), Scriptures that would not pass away which He came to fulfill (Matt.5:18). Since He is our Lord, we accept what He accepts as authoritative.

For the Old Testament, there is a division between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees only accepted the Tanakh, i.e. Torah (5 books of Moses), while the Pharisees accepted the Torah, the Nevi'im (the Prophets), and Kh'tuvim (Writings). What is the principle for accepting Nevi'im and Kh'tubim then?

The Torah is commonly accepted by all the Jews, the Islam, the Christians as the Word of God. And in the Torah, in Deu.18:15-19 it revealed that the canon is not closed yet. There Moses said that the Lord God would raise another Prophet like him among their own brothers. So they are to be waiting for that Prophet.

Islam debated that Israel's brother is Ismael, so Mohamed, a descendent of Ishmael, is the promised prophet, not Jesus Christ. But looking more closely, Isaac and not Ishmael is the chosen seed promised to Abraham, and Israel is the descendent of Isaac. Moses is from the tribe of Levi and Jesus is from the tribe of Judah. Levi and Judah are brothers. Therefore Christ Jesus is the promised prophet like unto Moses, raised from among the brothers.

All the books of Nevi'im and Kh'tuvim (other books of OT other than the Torah) contain the sign of the Prophet so they are included in the canon. What about the New Testament?

Look at Malachi 4:5-6 – “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

So the canon is not closed. They are waiting for the prophet Elijah who will come before the Messiah.

So we turn to New Testament now. Matthew 11:12-14 and Luke 1:13-17 show clearly that John the Baptist is the one prophesied in the book of Malachi that would prepare the way before the Lord comes. In Acts 3:21-23, Peter quoted Deu.18:15-19 to remind Israel of the Prophet promised and expounded to them that He has come, and is Jesus Christ, whom they have crucified.

The books included in the New Testament have the sign of the Apostles, just as the books of the Old Testament has the sign of the prophets which point to the Prophet, Jesus Christ. New Testament is written for consolidation regarding the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah foreshadowed in the Old Covenant. But how do we know the canon has finally closed?

The Scriptures again has declared it closed in Rev.22:18-19.

Therefore, what we see is the Word of God that declares itself to be the Word of God, it points to itself and unites in itself, that is progressively revealed by God's own agenda, closed by God's own declaration and preserved by God's own power.

But how do we as human beings, know clearly since we can be wrong? The council which finalized the canon is done by human beings anyway. Can they decide wrongly?

The principle is not the Church deciding the Scriptures because in that sense, the Church would be of higher authority than the Scriptures. But the principle is this:

“I am a good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me” – John 10:11
So God's sheep is able to hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him. Sure we can be wrong, but as sinners that have been sanctified, we have to potential to be right. So although we can be wrong, it's not an inevitable situation. By God's will and guidance, we can know His will.

Personal Note:
All principles regarding the doctrine of the Scriptures are embedded in the Scriptures itself. So the Word of God is all- sufficient to convince, to convict, to comfort, to correct, to strengthen, to establish, to equip for faith and life. This is consistent with the principle that the Scriptures is of the highest authority, and so has to authorize itself and reveal to us whatever we need to know about its nature, its progressive revelation, its preservation, its interpretation. No human power can do this but the Scriptures alone.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Expository Preaching of James 2006

This is an announcement from STEMI regarding the expository preaching by Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong this year. I will continue to put up my notes on his preaching in this blog especially for those who would like to come but are not able to make it.

Please be informed that the Reformed Evangelical Expository Preaching will resume on the 8th Jan. 2006. Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong will continue to preach on the Book of James.

Date/Time : 8th Jan. 2006, 7.30 PM (and confirmed every Sunday till end of February for now)
Location : Newton Life Church, 200 Keng Lee Road,
Singapore 308410. (near Newton MRT)

Please come, and invite your friends to join us in listening to the exposition of the WORD of God.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Relationship between Faith and Works

This is my personal summary of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong's expository preaching on James 2:14-20 on 28th November 2005

Some people seem to have the right faith but do not have the right deeds. Some people seem to have the right deeds but they claim they have no faith. How many types of faith are there? How many types of deeds are there? Could the same term mean different things?

The Scriptures say that the letter kills but the spirit gives life. This is common to all arenas. Truth is greater than logic. Thought is greater than recording of thoughts. Music is greater than theory. And meaning is greater than language. How much then can words represent what we understand? We often find constrain of expressions to communicate what we mean. With this understanding, we can review the theology of James and Paul regarding faith and works and see that they do not contradict.

Many people replace faith with knowledge, and replace truth with confession. This is wrong. True religiosity goes far beyond the correct knowledge. Right doctrines are just a part of religion. We cannot take religious thoughts as the whole of religion. Because of this mistake, there are many hypocrites in the church. Many people can score very well in religious knowledge but have no faith at all.

To have reason, knowledge and confession but no spirit, to have agreement of doctrine in line with the culture of the age, is not the faith that Paul was talking about. Blaise Pascal said that no one would love God beyond his true knowledge of God. The word ‘know’ in Hebrews is connected with intimate knowledge of the Truth. It is a relationship with the Truth where we have a part with the Truth, which consists in both passive and active righteousness.

Passive righteousness means before God we are no longer sinners so we no longer receive His judgment. Active righteousness means God imputes the righteousness of Christ upon us so that we can now live righteously for Him. Therefore sinners are made righteous by faith and the righteous shall live by faith. God looks at our heart but men can only infer on our faith by looking at the exterior. Hence James was expressing the righteousness reflected before men when he was talking about justification by works.

During Renaissance, there were 3 great artists, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Angelo and Raphello. Michael Angelo's art piece was unique as he always painted the nude. He believed that human body expresses unlimited power of life. And he said one very important thing, "I am not painting how men look at you. I am painting how God looks at you." This is the unique contribution of Michael Angelo on how God would see His creatures, that though men look at us covered, God sees us as we are.

True deeds (external) are moved by faith (internal) and founded by faith. Faith is not separate from deeds. Therefore, how can we show our faith without deeds? People cannot see our faith but our deeds can be seen. The analogy is like a clock with internal mechanism to clock the time and external needles to show the time. The internal clock mechanism is like our faith while the needles are the expressions, which are like our deeds. So a new life would produce a new lifestyle.

So James put forth 3 very important arguments:

1. Faith without deeds is a dead faith
2. True faith is shown by true deeds
3. Even Satan has the right theology

There are different theologies about God. Atheism says God should not exist. Theism says God should exist. Pantheism says the entire cosmos is God (New Age Movement). Deism says God creates and then leaves the world to run on its own. Polytheism says there are many gods. Monotheism says there is only one true god.

Of all these theologies, monotheism is the highest theology. It is of supreme faith. Liberal theology believes that history progresses in theology from mysticism (Egypt) to monotheism (Moses) and holds that prophets are the highest evolution of theology. This is not biblical. After the Fall, we live in darkness and our knowledge of God comes from Revelation, not from our own evolution.

Abraham is the father of faith and is rightly the father of monotheism because he worshipped one God though he lived in the midst of a polytheistic nation. Before his time, the world was still monotheistic at large, but slowly degraded into polytheism.

During the time of Moses, polytheism was so rampant and the Israelites could not break the bondage of polytheism. They continued to face judgment and chastisement for many centuries for worshipping idols. Only after the exile to Babylon the Israelites finally became firm monotheists. Monotheism is the highest contribution of Jewish culture.

So we see that the Jews went through so much persecution and correction and judgment before their theology gets firmly established in monotheism. But before we see too highly that this is a great achievement, the Apostle James turned our attention to the fact that the devils are also monotheists and they tremble before God. So achieving such right theology puts us at the same 'faith' level as the devil. This ought to bring us to serious reflection of what Christian faith really means. It is definitely more than mere faith confession, mere belief and agreement in the right doctrines, of which the devils also agree.

The important question is, what is the meaning of God's existence to you? We can have 3 responses.

1. It has nothing to do with me. We simply don't care. This should not be a Christian attitude.

2. It is a threat to me. This is the devil's response. On one hand they believe rightly in God's existence, but on the other hand they shutter with fear because God's existence is a threat to them. The church often times is not even on par with the devil and has no fear of God at all. But this also should not be a Christian attitude. Kiekergaard says that whatever threatens you becomes your hatred. The greatest insult towards someone is to treat him as though he doesn't exist. So the devil hates God on one hand and teaches you to disbelieve him on the other hand.

3. He is my salvation. This is the correct response. God's existence means He has the power to judge me. My existence means I have the freedom to deny Him. But my existence is in the control of His existence. Since He has His grace and mercy, His existence should not become a threat to me, but is in fact my open way out, my salvation.

Kiekergaard is the father of existentialism. Many existentialists are divided into two camps of atheism or theism. Kiekergaard says, “to exist is to be one and alone before God.” This means our existence results in judgment and accountability. But God's existence should not become our threat because He grants grace and mercy. God's existence becomes our hope and our salvation. Therefore I should have faith in Him and glorify Him with my life. AMEN!