Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Right Direction of Pursuit

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 4:11-17 on 26 March 2006

This passage teaches us on matters we ought to be satisfied and on what matters we ought to be dissatisfied. If not taken care of properly, we will behave wrongly. This makes the difference between contentment and self-satisfaction. Contentment is being satisfied with the right things while self-satisfaction is being satisfied with the wrong things. In material things, we ought to be contented. In spiritual things, we ought to be dissatisfied and always earnestly seeking like the deer pants for the water. Yet we often use this kind of thirst to go after material things.

We ought to have this infinite striving attitude to accomplish the standard God has set for us. The concept of perfection inside of us results in endless search for something more. This is the mark of humanity that reflects the truth that God's image is stamped upon us. Hence we can recognize the imperfection inside of us and will desire for perfection. If we lose this sense, even in our honorable status we are just like animals that are about to die. (Psalms 49:20)

Yet, we often do not realize our potential hence we excuse our laziness and forgive ourselves too easily. If we do not set high demand for ourselves, we will not progress. The past 40 years we see a lot of progress in all aspects of society, only the church is not showing much progress. The progress in the church is only in quantity, but not in essence, not in Christian ethics, not in fervency of evangelism, not in social concerns, and not in faithfulness to the Truth of God. We are too happy and satisfied with ourselves. Businessmen are very sensitive to the velocity of their progress but pastors, leaders, preachers and Christians are not as sensitive to the pace the Holy Spirit wants to lead them. If we do not catch up with the speed, we are already left behind.

In our pursuit of the Truth, we cannot judge others. When people fall, if we think we are standing and we are happy that this makes us look better, we have a very bad attitude. We should realize that we are one Body. If a co-worker is weak, the whole team is affected. How then should we treat our co-workers? We know there is Law. We know that disobedience to the Law is sin. But the Law is not meant for us to judge one another. When we see our brother falls, we need to realize that the summary of the Law is love. That means we correct with the hope that the person will repent and not do it again.

What we need today are not smart people, but great people. Smart people are very sensitive and able to spot errors very quickly. They are good but it is not enough. We need great people who not only tell what is wrong but are also able to correct our mistakes and build us up. There are plenty of smart people but very few great people.

James says that the One who passed the Law can judge us and can also save us. The God who gave us the Law also sent His Son Jesus Christ to fulfill the Law on our behalf. We need to understand this so that we have the right attitude towards God's commandment.

Verse 13 talks about another side of arrogance and humility. Arrogance here is expressed in our trust in our own strength and worldly wisdom while seeking the things of the world. It seeks the wrong things and does not rely on God at all. Our life is like a mist that disappears fast. We should not use our plan to take over God's eternal will. When we seek after the things of the world and we trust in our own wisdom, we will look down on the poor and on eternal things. Wealth can trap us in spiritual arrogance which we might not realize.

Humility on the other hand, takes care of righteousness, not profit. It seeks after the Truth endlessly and it says, “If God wills,…”. This means we submit our life to the control, command and guidance of God's will. When we learn to live before God, we have a true sense of existence.

The book of Ephesians reminds us 3 things about life on earth: no hope, no God and no heaven. This is a very sad state, yet these are the things sinners boast about. All such boasting is evil. We are in the constraint of time, yet we live as though time is in our control. We will be judged by the Law, yet we use the Law to judge and manipulate others. We will have to give an account to God one day, yet we live as though we will never see God. In our sin of arrogance, we lose all our reason.

The last verse says those who know the good they ought to do but do not do, sin. How is this connected to the earlier verses? The earlier verses say that breaking the law is sin. Now the chapter concludes with the highest standard that we sin not only in breaking the law, but in missing the mark. This standard is only found in Christianity. This is the concept of sin that surpasses all religions, all culture, all politics and all laws.

The last verse is connected closely to the theme in the book of James, that is, faith without works is dead. James emphasizes on our works and deeds as the proof to our faith. The difference in this verse is that it is not talking about the relationship between faith and works, but between knowing and doing.

The Scriptures speak many times on definition of sins. Stiff-neckedness is sin. Arrogance is sin. Whatever that is not of faith is sin. Breaking the law is sin. And finally, knowing good and not doing it, is sin. Under the demand of this verse, nobody can stand before God. This is the climax of Christian ethics, as it is not enough that we are passive in not breaking the law, but it requires us to be active in doing the good we know.

Yet we often escape our responsibility. We excuse ourselves because of our weaknesses. We excuse ourselves from helping others because of our own problems. But despite that, the more we know, the greater is our responsibility. After hearing this message, we have greater responsibility than those who have not heard this message. We need to learn to exist responsibly before God as a response to the grace He has given to us.


At 2:06 AM, Blogger Adi said...

Rev. Tong mentioned about having double standard: using a strict standard to judge others, while using a loose standard to judge oneself. God hates double standard.

Rev. Tong also quoted a pastor who writes that you are not entitled to correct someone, before you cry for him. Love is a qualification for judgement.

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Yuly said...

If the more we know, the more we will be judged, wouldnt that be terrifying for those who want to learn more? Because we are weak & sinful & we know we will be unable to fulfill what we will be learning (the spirit is willing, the body is weak).

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi Yuli,

I think we do not need to fear that way.

Firstly, privileges/graces always come with responsibilities. When we are kids, a lot of stuffs are controlled & directed, but we have less responsibilities. When we grow up, we are given more freedom, but that also means more responsibilities. But should we be afraid & not wanting to grow up then? :)

Secondly, God's Word is not just passive information, but it comes with transforming power to His chosen ones. So it is possible to live a life pleasing to Him, granted we can never be perfect. But the concept of Christian perfection is not to reach a state of perfection in this life (we know it's impossible), rather it's the attitude of endless pursuit for the Truth. We can rest in God's grace while pursuing with this attitude.

So we should seek to know more because God commands us to. We are also prevented from pride when being reminded that knowing more doesn't mean we can boast, rather it means more accountability. So in overall, everything is in harmony.


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