Thursday, September 29, 2016

Luke 17:5-10 We don't need Additional Faith but Absolute Obedience

Luke 17:7-10 "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

KEY THOT: When the disciples ask Jesus to “increase our faith” (v.5), Jesus’ reply is that they don't need more faith. A faith like the mustard seed is enough to move mulberry tree and mountains. The disciples think that their issue is lack of faith, but Jesus says that lack of faith is not the issue. The real issue is lack of obedience because ultimately it is not us who move moutains but God himself. As long as we are obedient to his command, he will back us up with his power. So we need to put our trust not in our faith but in God’s power. And the only way to achieve that is to adopt a bond-servant attitude of absolute obedience to God's command. The real challenge for all of us is not having more faith but learning to obey God as a true bond-servant. Jesus then went on to describe what the bond-servant attitude is like in verses 7-10.

Jesus uses the Greek word doulos to describe the bond-servant. Unlike hired servants who are paid by the hours, bond-servants are bought and sold as slaves and have no rights and no fixed "working hours". Because he is a slave, he expects no special treatment from his master: he does whatever is commanded and does not expect to eat with his master or rest after coming back from the field. He expects no consideration for his welfare, no appreciation for his work and no "time-off" to rest and have some "me-time". He expects to work until the master has eaten and is full and has no more work for him to do. After that, he may eat or rest. At the end of all this hard overtime work without appreciation and thanks from his master, he is to simply say, “We are unworthy servants (doulos); we have only done what was our duty” (v.10). Bond-servants who are working hard and overtime without rest have not doing anything great--they are just fulfilling their duty as bond-servants. 

Similarly, if we have a bond-servant attitude, we have no time to indulge in self-pity because no one appreciates our work or thank us for it. We act in obedience to our Master because that is what bond-servants are expected to do. But when we are slack or slow in our obedience, we are in fact irresponsible. We are forsaking our duty and no amount of faith can compensate for lack of obedience. So the issue for all disciples of Jesus isn't the lack of faith but lack of obedience. What we need is not additional faith but absolute obedience. Obedience is in fact faith in motion. In a paradoxical way, it is only when we obey that we receive faith from God to move mulberry trees and mountains. We cannot wait for more faith before we obey, for the Spirit is "given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32).

Father thank You that we don’t need additional faith to do Your work, but absolute obedience. Help us adopt a bond-servant attitude towards You and Your work. Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2 Timothy 1:1-14 Fire up God’s Gift

KEY TEXT: 2 Timothy 1:6-7 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (NIV: self-discipline).

KEY THOT: Just as water is God’s chosen means of grace to cleanse us from our sins and put to death our old self, so God has chosen to use the laying on of hands as a means to impart spiritual gifts to believers. Some teach that this practice refers only to the ordination of elders or pastors of the church. However, the biblical evidence seems to suggest it is a common practice for many situations than ordination. In the OT, priests lay their hands on the heads of animal sacrifices and confess Israel's sins over the animals to transfer the guilt to the animals before they are sacrificed. There is therefore a sense of spiritual impartation or transfer through this act of laying on of hands in the OT. In the NT, the laying on of hands is often associated with impartation of spiritual gifts: “they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:18), “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). Paul seems to imply this act when he writes to the church in Rome: "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you" (Rom. 1:11).

And this practice of laying on of hands is not limited to the apostles or elders, since Jesus’ commission in Mark 16:17 suggests that all believers will do it: "these signs will accompany those who believe… they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." In other words, all believers are commanded to lay their hands on the sick to impart the grace of healing to the sick. Furthermore, there is a specific example in Acts 9:17-18 when a disciple Ananias was called to pray for Paul to be filled with the Spirit by laying his hands on him: “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit’." 

And in Hebrews 6:1-2, the “laying on of hands” was considered an “elementary teachings about Christ”, together with repentance, faith and baptisms (John and Jesus' baptism), resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (NIV). In churches, we teach repentance, faith, baptisms, resurrection and eternal judgment, but we often skip the “laying on of hands” because it is associated with the charismatic branch of Christianity whose doctrines we cannot fully endorse. But God’s Word tells us categorically that it is foundational because it is one of the "elementary teachings about Christ”--both in our teaching and our practice. To ignore it is to remove a foundational stone in our Christian life and ministry.

However, it’s one thing to have received an impartation of spiritual gift through the laying on of hands; it is quite another to keep it “fired up”. So Paul has to remind Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). One way to do it is to exercise the gift already in us—whether the spiritual gift be teaching, evangelism, prophecy or healing. Another way to keep the fire burning is to add fuel to the fire. For believers, the fuel that keeps our fire burning is worship and the word. If we neglect worship (personal and corporate) and the meditation on God’s word, the fire will die down. On the other hand, the more we exercise our gift, the more “hungry” we become for worship and the word because the fire quickly consumes the spiritual fuel derived from our worship and word that is powering our passion. 

Therefore, the more we exercise, the bigger the flame. The bigger the flame, the more "hungry" we become for the fuel to keep the fire going. The converse happens too. The less we exercise, the smaller the flame gets. And the less hungry we become for worship and God's word.

But how do we know we are "fired up" for God? There are three indicator lights that are turned on when the engine is firing: “power and love and self-control (NIV: self-discipline)” (v.7). Instead of a “spirit of fear”, the believer who is fired up for God experiences spiritual power in his ministry, divine love for believers and non-believers alike and a self-discipline in his or her walk with God and ministry. When these indicator lights are dim, they tell us that our fire is dying.

So let’s not bury our gifts: let’s fan them into flame of revival by exercising them and by topping up our spiritual tanks daily through personal worship and the study of God’s word.

Father, stir up the spiritual gift within us and help us fan it into flame by Your Spirit we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Psalm 37:1-9 Don't just Raise Problems, Offer Solutions

KEY TEXT: Psalms 37:1-7 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!.. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.

The command “fret not” occurs 3 times in the first 8 verses of this psalm (v.1, 7, 8). One dictionary defines “fret” as to be “constantly or visibly anxious”. In the context of this psalm, the fretting is directed at the evil-doers who seem to be getting away with their evil deeds. Fretting is more than worrying—it is getting visibly frustrated and angry about evil-deeds of others. A fretting personality points out problems more than it offers solutions. The psalmist commands us not to fret because “it tends only to evil.” The evil spelled out by the psalmist includes anger and wrath (v.8). In other words, the fretting person has become part of the problem instead of part of the solution when he or she focuses on evil committed by others rather than on good they can do to resolve the problems. The antidote to fretting is “trust in the Lord and do good”. In other words, if we see evil, ask ourselves what good we can do to eliminate the evil. If we focus on doing good, we will be able to remove evil from our midst, and no longer need to fret over it. 

We can get rid of fretting by offering solutions instead of just raising problems. How do we do good? The psalmist offers a few solutions: 
  • befriend faithfulness” (v.3): This expression "befriend faithfulness" is variously translated as "enjoy safe pasture" (NIV), "maintain  your integrity" (NET), "cultivate faithfulness" (NASB), "feed on His faithfulness" (NKJV), and "enjoy security" (RSV). Essentially, it means to enjoy God's faithfulness towards us. He has given us all things to enjoy. Instead of focusing on what we don't have, we should thank God for his faithfulness in providing us with what we do have--and which is already overflowing and more than we need.
  • delight yourself in the Lord” (v.4): Beside being thankful for what God has done for us, we are called also to take delight in the Lord--in other words, enjoy Him for who He is. It's like delighting in our spouses or children. We don't need them to do anything because we love them. So, we are to delight in the Lord because we love him--or rather He first loved us. 
  • commit our way to the Lord” (v.5): If we do face a challenge in our family life, work life or social life, just commit it to him. Surrender our problems to him: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Then wait for his solutions and his wisdom to resolve the issue. Don't act or react immediately without first committing it to God. In very pressing situation, an arrow prayer like "Help Lord!" will do.
  • be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (v.7): However, if the problem is more protracted and requires more radical solution, then learn to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for His solutions to your problems. For Jesus has made this promise: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). Exchange your burden for his--it will be light and you will have rest in your soul, instead of anxiety and fretting.
When we are busy doing good, we will have no time to fret over the evils of others. And we become part of the solution, not part of the problem. Fretting doesn’t solve any problem but only aggravates it. But when we are proactive in countering evil by doing good, we transform our environment and change our attitude as well. We start seeing good in others and take delight in the Lord. And the bonus of all these positive actions is “he will give you the desires of your heart” (v.4). 

So, let’s stop fretting and start cracking—let’s ask ourselves how I can be a solution to the problem I’ve identified rather than raising it without at the same time offering solutions. Wisdom is not defined by our ability to criticize others but by our ability to offer solutions to help others solve their problems.

Father, grant us wisdom to solve problems, not just raise them. Help us forsake anger and wrath because of our fretting. In Jesus’ name. Amen.