Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I no longer call you servants... Instead I have called you friends (John 15:12-17)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 12 August 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 15:12-17

John 15:12 says “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” We mentioned this in John 13:35. This is a new command: you are to love one another. This command to love one another does not appear in the Old Testament. But there are examples – not in the Biblical verses, but in the traditional writings of Jewish history.

Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) This is the first of the three marks of recognising a Christian in the whole Bible. What are the marks? Is it by wearing a huge crucifix on your breast? Or to walk around carrying a huge Bible? Some churches have the idea of a sacred robe. I once saw a Singaporean pastor walking around on the street in his pastor's robe as if to tell Singaporeans that there is Christianity in Singapore. Other than a few pastors who will do that in the street, Christians don't dare to do that.

The Bible has not told us to represent Christianity with a uniform. But the Bible gives us three marks of the Christian. The first mark is to love one another: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). The second mark is to bear much fruit: “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8) The third mark is to boldly bear testimony for Jesus Christ or boldy preach the gospel: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).

When we do these things, not only will you bear witness to the Lord, Jesus Christ said: “My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11b) Thanks be to God.

From this principle, I have an important slogan. Love cannot be kept until it is shared. Love cannot be perfect until it is given. When you share your life, you will obtain perfection in your life. When you share your joy, your love will be complete. Jesus said if you love one another, “my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Jesus then separated servants from friends. “I no longer call you servants... Instead I have called you friends.” (John 15:15) Do you have servants? Do you have friends? If you have both, is being your servant the same as being your friend? What is a servant's status? What about a friend's? What's your relationship to your servant, and to your friend? A servant will work in your home not because he loves you but because he wants your money. Your relationship is based on the salary. If you don't pay him, he is not obliged to serve you. If he gets more salary, he will serve you better. The relationship between the servant and the master is only in the category of money and payment. Not so between friends. You can't consider anybody you know as friends. As you know people better, you figure out their character. You will pick people you can trust and speak to, as your friends. If the relationship between master and servant is built on money, the relationship between friends is based on trust and character. Our character and the way we trust each other will enable us to select certain people as friends. Friends have the same status. You could be 50 years old but have a 20 year old friend. You can be a big boss befriending a child. Sometimes you have the same hobbies or think in the same way, or both of you like the same things or are academically equivalent. And so, differences in age, gender and salary scale are not a problem.

An example of friends who are so different is when God considers man as his friend. There is a qualitative difference between God and man. Let God be God, let man be man. There's no reason to equalise the created man with the Creator God. But the Bible says that God will befriend us. No other faith has this concept. Not in Islam, Egyptian faith, Buddhism or Hinduism. For God is the one who decides whether you live or die and who rewards you or punish you. He has the power to kill you, curse you or bless you. He wouldn't be your friend. But the Bible considered Abraham a friend of God. (James 2:23) The first time I saw this I was astonished. How can a human being be a friend of God? When speaking to a friend, sometimes you whisper. Sometimes you tell him a secret. Your friends are the ones you can say everything to. What kind of friendship did God have with Abraham? God revealed the secrets in His heart to Abraham. This intimacy comes about only from friendship. Some people have mouths but no ears. Whatever you tell him, he will tell others without remembering anything. Friends need to have ears without a mouth. He hears a lot from you, but he will keep a secret. He won't expose the details. He will hide what you share with him and not go around to gossip about it to others, and won't do things that hurt your feelings. In the Old Testament, only one person was called a friend of God. At the most intimate moment, what did God say to him? God said: “Shall I hide from my Abraham what I am about to do?” God opened up his heart to Abraham and God wanted Abraham to do the same. This is an equal friendship. Was the phrase “God's friend” used on Moses? Although Moses met God face to face, God never said Moses was his friend. What about David, Elijah, Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah? No. Abraham was unique in the Old Testament as God's friend.

But strangely, in the New Testament times, Jesus Christ suddenly said: “I no longer call you servants... I have called you friends.” Status-wise, we are servants of God. But relationally, Jesus calls us his friends. This is a sudden and great privilege. It was not just given to John or Peter, but to every single disciple. And so from one person, Abraham, we have 11 disciples. Why 11? Judas was not worthy and was segregated from them. What was Jesus's last word to Judas when he was still among the disciples? Jesus gave him some bread and said to him: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” It means that Judas' betrayal of Jesus was not part of God's plan. Jesus did not pick Judas so that he himself can be betrayed. It was what Judas wanted to do himself. That's why Jesus said: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Some people always think Judas is the victim and that he was picked so that he could betray Jesus Christ. When people misinterpret the Bible, God has already manifested their ignorance with a couple of verses. The Bible is able to refute them by a couple of verses. We can't blaspheme against God any way we want. Some people say: God picked Judas so that he can betray Jesus. Without Judas, Jesus would not be betrayed. If Jesus was not betrayed, then he would never die to save us. Some people say we have to appreciate Judas so that we are saved. They say thank Jesus and thank Judas for betraying Jesus. It's a huge mistake. Why must Jesus be betrayed by a person in order for there to be salvation? If there is any good from Judas' betrayal of Jesus, then if Jesus did not come from heaven to earth, whom would Judas betray? There is no good in betraying Jesus. It only reminds us that you and I always betray the Lord. Judas betrayed Jesus because he was fearful and loved money. Do you deny the Lord when you are fearful? Do you say things that sin against God because of money? We are not definitely better than Peter or Judas. We cannot thank Judas for betraying Jesus. It's because of sins of betrayal and denial that Jesus came. He does not owe us anything and has no need for him to come.

You may have read a book on systematic theology by Baptist theologian Augustus Hopkins Strong. But his Christology has a huge error. He said that since Jesus Christ got entwined with humanity, he has a responsibility to bear sins for us. The translator wrote in the footnote that this is not Baptist faith, but Strong's own.

There is no demand on Jesus Christ to die for us. He is under no obligation to come to the world in the flesh. He does not owe us anything. He was willing. He loved us. He became man to die for us to defeat the devil. Let us have a clear mind and accurate logic to look at the Bible. Jesus Christ has taken on what we owe God. He does not need someone to betray him to succeed. If God did not owe us anything, why did he save us? Although he was not obligated, because of his great love, God sent his Son to die for us. We give thanks to God.

Jesus Christ says: “I no longer call you servants... Instead I have called you friends.” These 11 disciples have been elevated to be friends of God. Why does Chapter 15 tell us this? This was said after Judas had left, in Chapter 13. Jesus bent his knee and washed the feet of Judas. Our Lord was so humble, forgiving, patient and merciful. But he has never lost his status. He was not willing to consider Judas his friend. Are we servants of God? Of course. But Jesus said he would no longer call us servants. It's not for us to be arrogant, but for us to give thanks. Sometimes when we are humble, we forget to be thankful. When we say to another person: “You are articulate”, he replies: “Satan get behind me. Don't glorify me. Glorify God.” But I remind him: “I'm telling you that you are articulate so that you will be thankful to God.” Sometimes if we are overly humble, we forget to be thankful and fail to count the blessings of God. Thanks to God for giving me memory, consciousness, eloquence and lots of talents. These words of thanksgiving mean we are not praising ourselves. We are servants and students, but God is willing to call us his friends. This is huge grace.

We seldom say someone is a friend of God. We are servants. We've got to recognise that ourselves. But remember our Lord did not call us servants, but his friends. The thing that really confuses me is that God should honour us people.

Five hundred years ago, a great German professor visited a primary school. The teacher gathered the pupils to sit properly in the hall. When he entered, the teacher told the pupils to stand up and bow. But before the teacher could tell them to bow, the professor bowed first. The teacher felt guilty because the professor bowed first. So the teacher said to the profesor: “You shouldn't have. They should have bowed to you first.” The professor said: “I need to pay respect to the next generation for our generation will pass. I believe from this class, a great person will emerge.” He was a true leader. A great leader will not dominate the ministry and stay on the pulpit all the time. He wants to raise up people to continue the work. The professor believed one of them will become Germany's future leader. The teacher and students were embarrassed. In the end he was right. One of them was Martin Luther who changed the entire German culture. Don't look down on childen and the young. You are ignorant if you cannot identify the next leader. God will raise those who are able to identify such people and allow them to nurture the hidden talent.

When David went to Saul, he saw nothing except Goliath, a giant. Goliath was arrogant and blasphemed against God. People were afraid of him because he was a huge man with a loud voice. But David's first reaction was to say: “Who is this uncirumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26) His heart for God was revived. He was together with God in his hatred of evil. How dare Goliath blaspheme my God? He decided to fight Goliath. The Israelites thought the child was ignorant: How dare he fight the giant? Even Saul was selected as a king because he was taller than everyone else. David's brother was unhappy and asked why he was there. David knew that he had a responsibility from God. People brought him to Saul. Saul tried to be generous and gave David his armour. David was practical. The armour was very heavy. He took it off and said he did not need it. If God uses you, don't think you have to have great academic achievement or great experience. God will raise some people by giving them wisdom from above, and faith and anointing by the Holy Spirit. David said to Saul that he fought with lions and bears. Who is this Gentile? I can't let him blaspheme against my God. He just went out with a sling. The world will see this as too arrogant. But 2,500 years later, in Florence, Michelangelo sculpted David from a discarded piece of marble. It was the last moment before he threw the stone. There was no fear in him. The Government of Florence decided to put it in to the square of the City Hall to indicate that democracy and human rights are more powerful than the monarchy. David represented the poor and the people who are weaponless. Goliath represented the king and infinite military power. But a child beat him.

God is scuplting some people – they may be fishermen or poor people. But Jesus told them: “I no longer call you servants...but I have called you my friends.” The wisdom from God that ordinary people like Peter, James, John and Bartholomew has given us far surpasses any influence in the world by philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. Through these Galileans we have received so much more than the hypocritical experts of the law. Why do we run between Athens and Jerusalem? God has despised these two and raised up the Galileans to change the world.

Jesus said: “I no longer call you my servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you my friends, for everything that I learnt from my Father, I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) Only Christians among all of humanity understand the will of God. Only these people who are called friends of God can spread the gospel to the rest of the world. God said: “I no longer call you servants... I have called you friends.” I will make known my heart to you. Whoever knows what is in his heart, whoever is obedient to his commands, they will be friends of Jesus. What are his commands? Love one another. Preach the gospel to others. Many gospel rallies these days are not gospel rallies. They involve showy antics and show off about man. What is a gospel rally? It is where our Lord is with us, and we are anointed by the power of His death, blood and resurrection. It is God's voice that has the power to make sinners repent. It is when the Holy Spirit enables people to leave sin and return to God. Where are such gospel rallies?


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