Friday, October 21, 2016

Luke 18:9-14 The Humble is Sin-Conscious

KEY TEXT: Luke 18:13-14 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

KEY THOT: Jesus told this parable about the Pharisee and the tax-collector because there were some religious people (like the scribes and Pharisees) who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt” (v.9). The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the “other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector” (v.11). The Pharisees were well-respected religious class in Jewish society. In contrast, the tax-collectors were despised by ordinary Jews because they were seen as traitors who collaborated with the Roman rulers to exploit the Jewish people. The Pharisee sees only his own strengths (tithing and fasting) while he despises those he considers  morally inferior to himself; in fact, he has only contempt, not compassion, for them. His contempt for such people exposes the true condition of his heart.

One sure test if we are self-righteous is how we treat people we consider the social and religious “under-class” in our society—the foreign nationals like the HDB cleaners, domestic helpers & those working in F&B outlets; the local “heart-landers” comprising the elderly, the less-educated and the lower income groups; the social outcasts like the street-walkers, drug-addicts, and ex-offenders, including our office tea-ladies, cleaners and drivers. This self-righteous attitude may also extend to other believers from other churches we consider theologically “unsound”. Is our heart filled with compassion for them or contempt when we speak about them? That is the litmus test of whether we are self-righteous. 

On the other hand, the mark of humility as exhibited by the tax-collector is one of self-awareness of one's own sin: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Unlike the Pharisee who is proud because he focuses on his own self-made “righteousness”, the tax-collector dares not even look up but beating his breast because he is conscious of his own sin before God. It is not that the Pharisee is without sin. Rather, he is not sin-conscious like the tax-collector. He is oblivious of his own sinful attitudes (like pride and contempt) and sinful motivations (like seeking peer’s approval by his religious performance rather than God’s approval). In contrast, the tax-collector is self-aware he is a sinner before God and therefore cries out to God for mercy rather than for favour and blessing. He doesn’t think he deserves anything good from God. And this sin-consciousness should deepen as we walk closer to God, not diminish. Paul considers himself the chief of sinners when he was about eighty years old: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul does not say, “of whom I was the chief” but rather “of whom I am the chief”. He remains “sin-conscious” till the end of his days, so long as he still lives in the sinful flesh. In fact, the more holy one becomes in Christ, the more sin-conscious one gets -- just as the more light we receive from God, the more areas of darkness in our souls gets exposed by the light: "For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light" (Ephesians 5:12-14). 

The prophet Jeremiah describes the human heart as “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” and that the Lord “search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Let us not become self-deceived like the Pharisee by focusing on righteousness received by our outward religious duties. Instead, let us become self-aware by recognizing that our heart remains deceitful and desperately sick—that only by walking in the light of God's Word and by His Spirit that the darkness in our souls is exposed by His light daily. 

Sin-consciousness makes us more grace-conscious. The more we know of God, the more we know that of ourselves, we cannot achieve anything. Jesus' words remain true: "for apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Father, have mercy on us sinners! Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2 Timothy 4:6-8 Finishing the Race

KEY TEXT: 2 Timothy 4:6‭-‬8 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

KEY THOT: Finishing a race is what counts, not the starting. No athlete is rewarded for starting the race, only for finishing it. God's reward of the "crown of righteousness"  is reserved for those who finish the race, not those who started it: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing" (vv. 7‭-‬8).

Sadly, Paul himself has personally come across many who have dropped out of the race for various reasons: "At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!" (v.‬16). In 1 Tim 1:19, Paul warns Timothy to "wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience" because "by rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith" (1 Timothy 1:19).

The Christian race is a marathon and we must be self-disciplined and focused so we can finish the race and not fall out of the race. While we will need God's grace to run the race to the finish, we nevertheless have a choice whether to continue in the race or to drop out of the race completely. The key to staying in the race is obeying the Spirit: "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16),. We walk by the Spirit by choosing to align our life with  the desires of the Spirit while rejecting the desires of the sinful flesh.
Like divorce, desertion from the Lord never happens suddenly. It is a consequence of daily yielding to the flesh little by little while ignoring the Spirit's conviction in our heart. May we confess our sins daily once we are convicted of our sin by the Spirit so we may be cleansed from all unrighteousness. Let us not.allow sin to harden our hearts so as to shut our ears to the voice of the Spirit.

Father help us finish the race well by contnually abiding with Christ. Develop in us the discipline of godliness that we may not yield to the desires of our flesh. Amen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Psalm 84:1-7 Finding Strength in God's Presence

KEY TEXT: Psalms 84:1-4 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!

KEY THOT: The psalmist speaks of a longing for the presence of God. He considers it a privilege and a pleasure to be in God’s temple, which is the “dwelling place” of the Lord of hosts. In the New Testament, the temple of God is no longer a physical structure, but the temple is made of living stones: "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:4-5). So the church is not the physical building we meet in every Sunday, but is instead the people of God wherever they are gathered.  In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul speaks of the church as “citizens”, “saints” and “members of the household of God” who are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” And he went on to say that “in him you are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” 

So, in the NT,  the dwelling place of God is not the physical building we call “church” where we gather once a week. The dwelling place of God is the people of God wherever they may happen to assemble—in the homes as a small group, in the church building as a congregation or even in workplaces, prisons and community halls where believers come together to worship the Lord. In fact, the word "church" in Greek is ekklesia, a common word used in NT times meaning "assembly" or just a town-hall gathering. It's not a reference to any physical building. (The idea of the church as a physical building came three centuries later when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion in the fourth century.)  The presence of God is found wherever God’s people gather in his name: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20). Paul and Silas were in prison when they decided to have a praise and prayer meeting. They became God's dwelling place and God’s glory descended upon that place and shook up the whole prison, breaking the bond of every prisoner inside there (Acts 16:25-26).

That is why it is so exciting to be in God’s presence. Not only are our spiritual longing and hunger satisfied by God’s Spirit, but we also experience his power to set us free from all spiritual and physical bonds holding us as prisoners. In God’s presence, we find freedom and experience renewed strength and rest as the joy of the Lord fills our hearts again: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11). Wherever the true church gathers, there we will find the dwelling place of God. There we will experience God's presence and power.

Thank You Father that You have made us worshipers because You have made us Your dwelling place. May our praise to You be filled with joy as our hearts and flesh cry out to You our Living God! Amen.