by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung
Psalm 126 says, “We were like those who dreamed. The LORD has done great things for us.” The Lord had indeed done great things for us, we must give thanks to him from the bottom of our hearts. But true gratitude must be shown through our actions. How shall we thank Him with our deeds?
When it is a parent’s birthday, a thoughtful child would ask his parent, “What would you like me to give you?” Usually, the parent would reply, “The best gift you can give me is to be an obedient and good boy.”
Today is the Church’s 25th anniversary; if we ask the head of the Church, “Lord, what would you like?” I think the Lord will say: “Be my true disciples. That would be the best gift you can give me.” In the Great Commission, the Lord commanded, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The command `make disciples’ is the only verb in the Great Commission; `baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ are participles. So, we see that the greatest desire of the Lord is that we be his disciples. But who are true disciples of the Lord?
In the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus tells us thrice who the true disciples of the Lord are:
I. Those who abide by the Lord’s commands are His true disciples John 8:30-32
Jesus told the Jews who believed in him: “If you abide in My word, you are really my disciples.” Those who obey His word are those the Lord acknowledges as his true disciples.
Twenty-five years ago, the founders of our church named the church Christian Bible Church of the Philippines. Hence, we must be a church that knows the truth and abides by the truth. The church is already 25 years old, let me ask you: How much do we know of the truth? How much of the truth have we abided?
Let us take a mini-test today. Who among us has read through the whole Bible, please raise your hands. Who has read through the entire New Testament more than once, please raise your hands. Now, those who have not yet read it through, you must exert more effort. How can we comply with the word of God if we do not know it?
The Lord said, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The one who knows the truth and abides by the truth is the one who is truly free. They experience two kinds of freedom:
1. Freedom in Life – Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” A person who abides by the truth will have abundant life. Poverty is the opposite of abundance. Some people live in poverty, they are afraid of everything. They want to grab everything. In the end, they become so poor they only have money.
How can a person be poor if he has money, you ask. Well, they have nothing else apart from money, no joy, no peace, no love, no hope. Isn’t that a picture of abject poverty? The truth gives us freedom in life. We are no longer slaves to sin. Our lives become fully transformed. Before he came to know the Lord, a man used to beat his wife. The pastor called him and asked, “Why do you beat your wife?” He replied, “Pastor, when something is broken, isn’t it only right to fix it?” “Of course,” answered the pastor. “My wife is broken, so I need to fix her.” However, after he came to know the Lord, he became a changed man. At his baptismal, he testified, “Before, I treated my wife like an object, now I see her as my precious treasure.” His life had been transformed, thus, his perspective has changed too.
2. Freedom in Living – The Bible says, “Everything is permissible.” Our life is full of freedom, however, freedom does not mean indulgence. Everything is permissible but only within the bounds of truth. Sometimes people say there are too many prohibitions for Christians, as a result, many do not like to become a follower of Jesus. They say Christians aren’t allowed to play mahjong, drink alcohol, smoke. Some used to say that Christians aren’t allowed to watch movies, perm their hair…but actually, everything is permissible.
You ask, “Is that true, pastor? I can play mahjong, drink alcohol, smoke. That is the greatest news I have heard, thank you pastor.” But wait, I am not finished yet. Yes, Paul did say everything is permissible, however, there are four conditions we must observe, that is, what we choose to do must: a. Glorify God; b. Edify men; c. Be beneficial; and d. We must not be controlled by it.
For example, with regards to drinking alcohol, it is permissible but one must not be controlled by it. We may take alcohol, but we must not harm our body, we must not get into a brawl because of wine. In other words, we are free, we have freedom, because we have been set free from sin.
II. Those who Love One Another are True Disciples of the Lord John 13:34-35
Jesus said, “If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” Love is a mark of the Lord’s disciples. The Lord said, “You must love one another, just as I have loved you.” John 13:1-17, in washing the disciples’ feet, the Lord showed us how much He loves us.
The Lord showed us:
1. An Example of Humility – When referring to the feet, we often add the word “smelly”. Our feet smell. We use our feet for walking, our feet are filthy. It was a demonstration of ultimate humility when Jesus as a master washed his disciples’ feet. Pride is the greatest enemy which keeps us from loving one another, what is pride? Pride is looking down on others when you find you are better in some areas than they are. Each of us has areas where we are better than others, but humble people do not look down on others just because they are better.
The Church is already 25 years old, thus, we have all known each other for quite a long time now. We know who is weak in some area, and who is strong in certain areas. Whether we are able to love each other or not depends on our exercising humility, on not being proud and refusing to make comparisons. Love one another with a humble heart.
2. An Example of Forgiveness – This scripture passage tells us Jesus knew who would betray him. Will you wash the feet of him whom you know will betray you? And then, was Judas the only one unworthy of Jesus washing his feet, what about the other 11 disciples? Peter denied Jesus three times, the other ten deserted him when he was arrested. None of his 12 disciples faithfully remained by Jesus to the end.
The Bible says: “Jesus loved them to the end.” This wasn’t just any kind of love, it is forgiving love. If you were Jesus and you knew that Judas would betray you, that Peter would deny you thrice, that the other 10 would abandon you, would you still wash their feet? If I were Jesus, I would use very hot water to wash Judas’ feet, then, rub it hard with a towel, so that he may know what he will be up against if he betrays me. But we believe the Lord must have gently washed the feet that would betray him. This is called forgiveness.
There was a middle-aged woman who fell in love with another man and sought for a divorce from her husband. Her husband refused, and so she constantly fought him. In the end, her husband agreed, but with one condition, that is he wanted to meet her new boyfriend. So, the three met. During their meeting, the husband showed a respectful demeanour, shook hands with the other man, then made a request. He wanted his wife to step out for a while because he wanted to speak with the man alone. Although the wife hesitated at first, fearing they might fight, she finally agreed. Before long, the two men emerged, and the husband left.
The woman was curious, and asked the boyfriend, “What did he say to you?” Her boyfriend asked her, “Do you know your husband?” Of course, she replied, “He is stupid, he doesn’t understand a woman and her needs, it’s miserable being married to him.”
In response, the man said, “I realized you don’t know your husband at all, just like I completely don’t know you. Your husband didn’t tell me anything except two things: first, that you tend to be impatient and that your heart is weak. He asked me to be patient with you and to give way to you in all things, lest your blood pressure rises up. Second, he said you have a weak stomach and I must refrain from bringing you to places where they serve spicy food. After that he entrusted you to me. I realized I really don’t know you, I realized your husband knows you best. Go back to your husband.”
This husband showed forgiving love. We are the Lord’s disciples, do we forgive? We must not harbour hatred in our hearts. In these 25 years, it’s either we have hurt others, or others have hurt us; we are true disciples of the Lord when we are able to forgive one another.
III. Those who Bear Fruit are True Disciples of the Lord John 15:5-8
Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” The Bible tells us that the Lord’s disciples are fruit-bearers. Every tree bears its own fruit, a grape tree will naturally bear grapes, apple trees will bear apples. If we are the Lord’s disciples, then we will bear fruit for the Lord and glorify our heavenly Father. The Lord showed us three principles:
1. We must truly belong to the Lord: v.1 Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” V.5 “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Jesus is the vine, the true vine; we are the branches, true branches. This is an issue of the presence (existence) of life. We must truly belong to the Lord. There are all kinds of counterfeits in this world, there are fake bank notes (US dollars, HK dollars, Philippine peso), there are false pastors, false believers…etc. We must make sure that our faith is real. We must truly belong to the Lord, for if we do not have His life in us, we cannot bear His fruit no matter how hard we try.
2. We must be cleansed and purified: V.2 “ He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.” The Lord trims off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit and trims every branch that bears fruit. The difference is that the branch that bears fruit becomes even more fruitful after it is pruned. Filth exists in many areas of our life which causes us to be unfruitful. The Lord prunes or cleans us so that we become even more fruitful.
But how does the Lord prune us?
2a. Difficulties. Job is most well-known for his suffering. In one day, he lost everything – his wealth, his children, and his health. Only his wife was left, but later on his wife told him: “Curse God and die!” With such a wife, it would really be good to die! But Job said after his suffering, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you; when has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” Suffering is a medicine that matures us spiritually. When we encounter difficulties, we in fact become more persistent in prayer.
2b. Circumstances. Paul said, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Becoming Christians does not guarantee us a trouble-free life. We will still encounter various circumstances. These will keep us humble in times of abundance and uncomplaining in times of need. The Church is already 25 years old, we have also gone through various difficulties. The Lord used different circumstances to prune us. An American went to Taiwan to learn the Chinese language. He told his friends, “There is a famous person in Taiwan. His name is everywhere, he is called “Shi Jian Zhong”. His friends laughed so hard because “Shi Jian Zhong” is not a person’s name, it means “under construction”. Church, we are actually `under construction’ right now. The Lord uses circumstances to prune us.
2c. People. The Lord often uses other people to prune us, such as the person beside us or people we don’t exactly like. I dare not say they are bad people, but the Lord uses them to prune us. Who are they? It could be your parents, your children, your pastor (for me: it could be church members). God uses people to prune us. Joseph is a good example. God used his brothers, his boss (Potiphar), his coworkers (the cupbearer, his jail mate) to prune him, as a result, he became the prime minister of Egypt.
3. We must remain in the Lord. – In 15:1-8, the phrase “If you remain in me” appeared seven times. What does it mean to `remain in me’? It means that we must not depart from the Lord no matter what happens, no matter how much difficulties we encounter. For to leave the Lord is to leave the source of life, and without life, we cannot bear fruit. When we remain in the Lord, we will, according to Psalm 1:2, bear fruit in season.
What does it mean to bear fruit in season? The fruit of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. One cannot bear all nine of them at the same time, we bear fruit in season. When you see the need, you bear the fruit of love. When you see large amount of food that you are not supposed to eat, you bear the fruit of self-control. When you are criticized, you will bear the fruit of peace. When your husband is in a bad mood, you bear the fruit of gentleness. Bear fruit in season, to the Father’s glory, as the Lord said, “… showing yourselves to be my disciples.”