Sunday, August 05, 2012

Obedience As a Sign of Love and the Promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:21-26)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 24 June 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 14:21-26

In Christianity, love is not indicated by gifts, but obedience. However often we replace this obedience by our labour, our actions, and things. But even among those in a relationship, gifts may not always be the marks of their love/relationship. If gifts were the marks of love, the richer a person is the easier it will be to love somebody and the poorer a person is, the harder it will be for him to love somebody, because he has less money to buy a gift for his loved one. This is not so in reality. In fact, the deeper a person's love is, the higher his/her demand for a love towards his heart and the less for gifts. In its true expression, according to the Bible, love is not just manifested by the mouth but also by honesty and actions. So when we say we love God, we cannot just say 'I love you', but we also need to prove it by our sincerity and actions.

Prophet Samuel also told us, '... to obey is better than sacrifice...' (1 Sam 15:22). God does not judge how much we love by the greatness of our sacrifice. We can even see this in our daily life, e.g. often a gift that we give someone is not suitable for the person. The psalmist also declared, 'What can i offer you as a gift? Everything on earth is Yours.' There are also references in the Bible that say God is 'sick of their sacrifice and hates their Sabbath.' One who truly loves God will obey commands, and conversely is also true. Jesus too repeated this many times, as we find these sayings again and again: 'If you truly love me, you will obey my commands.' and etc.

On the other hand, the Jews went far to the other extreme. Their religious leaders make everyone obey God's laws and regulations to the point of replacing God himself with them. We can see this example in the religious leaders criticising the disciples for not washing their hands before eating (This was originally a rule meant only for the priests but the religious leaders applied it to the ordinary Jews too). Jesus did not require this from the disciples. Jesus did not require people to sacrifice animals for Him either. Nor did he say that people must give so and so much offering in order to be his disciples. But what Jesus said was 'If you truly love me you will obey my commands.' So the depth of our love towards God is truly measured by our obedience to Him.

Note that immediately before this Jesus Christ said that he would not leave the disciples as orphans (v 18) and in a while more the world would not see him anymore, but the disciples would see him. This means 2 things:
1. Those who belong to the world do not have the spiritual eyes to see his existence and eternal dwelling in the heart.
2. After he died he would resurrect, but people of the world would not witness it so they would not be able to see him. Because he lives, Christians also would live. Wherever Christians are, he will be. Christians will share in his abundance and enjoy his presence. Together we die in his death and together we live in his resurrection and rule the world until eternity. This state of being 'together' is a privilege, his presence, and our glory. All these are for us to be like him, to enjoy Him, and to receive whatever He has.

This is the manifestation of what Jesus meant when he said the Father and him would dwell in a person. What a great love that is. About this Jesus said '... until that day' (The day the Holy Spirit came). After the promise of Holy Spirit Jesus will no longer be physically together with us Christians. However with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, this signifies that love is not separation. Love is being together, and how we abide in Him is by obedience, just like Jesus says, 'He who loves me will have my commands within them.'

Judas (not Iscariot) at this point then asked him why Jesus would show himself to them only and not to others. Note John 17:9 says, 'I am praying for them (disciples) not for the world.' This means 2 things:
1. Only those who belong to Jesus will enjoy his prayer for them.
2. Jesus will only pray for those who belong to him.

Jesus would reveal himself only to the elect. Here we see the difference between acquaintance and close friends. Jesus also says that he does not treat us as servants but friends (John 15). Those who love him, are like close friends, will obey him. We can already see this in ourselves - those we are closer with, we share and talk more.

There are 2 types of people in the church today: One group is those who see things that God have shared with them /understands things of God, their hearts are well-satisfied by Him. Another group is those who did not see/taste anything. The former is like a deer panting after water. Hence our response to God should be to thirst after God's word like a deer. Deer is one of the fastest animal on earth. It likes to jump, so it gets thirsty very easily. Once it feels thirsty, it will urgently thirst for water. Towards this kind of person, God is surely more than willing to go near him. Do we thirst God like a deer?

When Judas asked this question, Jesus' answer to him in verse 23 sounded very strange, but it is in line with what Jesus said earlier in verse 21. Those who love Jesus are those who will obey God's commands, and those who obey God's commands are those who God loves. It is the group of people who are truly obedient to God who would be closer to God. On the other hand, those who don't love Jesus, will not obey his command. The Jews claimed that their father was God, via Abraham. But Jesus said, if it were so, they would have believed in Jesus. But the fact was, they did not love Jesus (who came from the Father). Therefore their father could not be Abraham, who loved God and obeyed Him. And so they could not be the sons of God.

In verse 25 'these things' refer to the things that Jesus has spoken about himself:
1. Which in themselves come from the Father but the Jews do not believe,
2. Of which Jesus said that if they don't believe they should at least believe in Jesus' works (John 14:11, John 10:37), and
3. Of which Jesus said that those who don't believe in him, he will not judge but on the last day the Word that he spoke will judge those who don't believe (John 12:47) (Note: This is the responsiblity that comes from hearing).

In verse 26 Jesus then promised the Helper i.e. the Holy Spirit would come in Jesus' name to teach and to remind believers about 'these things.' There are 2 meanings here:

1. If you hear God's Word and obey, the Holy Spirit will continue to remind you his Word (i.e. follow up with you).
Sometimes after we have heard great truths in the Bible, God will bring ourselves to be awakened, our mind to realise those truths in our lives. For example, when the Psalmist saw the sky and the earth, he realised that they were very great and spoke witness of God (Psalm 19:1).

In practice, this work of reminding does not work only a few days, but also extend to even the whole life of a person. Once, Rev Tong visited a sick elderly woman in a hospital. Rev Tong, not knowing her life story, offered to pray for her. Before he prayed, he first sang a hymn that just came to his mind at that moment. But after he had finished singing, the woman began to cry uncontrollably. It turned out that this woman had once gone to a church in Xinghua (Fujian, China) when she was young. Shortly after a man married her and brought her to Indonesia, and she had no more chance to go to church and forgot about Jesus Christ for 36 years. Now her husband was gone/dead, and she was a widow alone again. But this song* was the song that she last heard when she last went to church 36 years before, and she heard it the first time she met a pastor again after 36 years! Rev Tong was very curious, he totally had no idea where she heard this song so he asked her where, and her answer was, it was at a Rev John Sung's rally in Xinghua. So we see that man's love is temporal, but God's love is eternal. At times, we may forget about the Lord, but God will not forget us, the Holy Spirit will remind us. The Holy Spirit will guide us, to do what God wants us to do.

2. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) came, not to destroy our reasoning but to revive it, so that those who were dead, would be alive. For our God is not a God of confusion and chaos, but of order. The Holy Spirit tells us to examine all 'these things'. The Holy Spirit will illuminate our hearts to be able to understand them, how God has ordered everything since creation. Apostle Paul tells us 'Do not be ignorant but understand the will of God.'

*The hymn:


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