The Sin of Silence

Ezekiel 3:17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.

18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

20 Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.

Dear Covenant Youth,

Although this passage concerns the calling of the watchman or the minister of God’s flock, it is not contrary to the principles of God’s Word that I apply this Word of God to your lives, for all of God’s people are called to be “watchmen” over the lives of our brethren or to be our brother’s keepers (Gen. 4:9), and even to admonish them if we see that he is overtaken in a fault (Gal. 5:1-2).

Whenever I come across this passage of God’s Word, it never fails to bring a chill to my spine, and I am sure you will have the same reaction. This is perhaps one of the most serious, frightening, awesome word of God in the whole of Scripture. This text together with the title of the article has to do with our awesome responsibility in the sight of God.

What is it about this text that causes one to sit up and pay attention to the message? It is this: we are responsible for the blood of our brethren if we do not bring the Word of God to warn them when we know they are walking in sin.

God does not allow us any excuse for not bringing a word of warning from His Word to them. Perhaps, we say in our hearts, “oh, they ought to know – no need for me to remind them”, or “I don’t wish to rock the boat and cause my brethren to dislike me”. This Word of God does not allow us to be delinquent in our duty.

There is not a more straightforward and direct word of God than this text. What does this text teach me? First, it is our solemn responsibility to warn those who belong to the instituted church of God who sin against Him. In it, there are both the wicked and the righteous – who have departed from the way of God and live a wicked life outwardly. Then, there are those who seem to be righteous but have been overtaken in sin. Both of these groups belong to the household of God. To both groups, we must warn them of their sins and waywardness. Then, it is a fearful thing that God in sovereignty places a stumbling block in the lives of the wicked. Such a stumbling block causes one to fall and sin. It is the result of God’s judgment upon the person who has hardened his heart and refuses to turn from his sins.

Whatever is the situation, our calling is to warn him of his sins, and if he repents from his sins, we have not only saved a sinning soul from death but also our own soul. But, second, if we do turn a blind eye to his sin and fail to warn him of his sin, then when he dies in his impenitence, we are responsible for his sin, simply because we have failed in our duty to warn of his sin. Third, if we warn him of his sin, and he ignores the warning, then our soul is saved but the one who refuses to listen to our admonition will be damned.

Now, practically, what are the sins of our brethren? Let me name a few: not keeping the Lord’s Day holy, failure to attend to the chief means of grace in the preaching of God’s Word and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, living a double life, worldliness, materialism, spiritual adultery and others. It is important that our brethren turn from their sins because they will incur God’s hottest wrath and displeasure. God will not wink His eye at sin and let the sinner go. Our motivation to warn them is the love of our brethren and our desire for their eternal good and blessings to come upon them. Their good that we seek is greater than their displeasure and anger that we may experience from them as a result of pointing out their sin. Ultimately, our greatest motivation is to please God, to conform to His law, and to see to it that His creatures abide by His Word and reflect His glory.

The positive teaching means that in our lives we are always testifying about God – His honour, name, good pleasure, sovereignty, and will. However, whenever we see God robbed of His glory, we cannot be silent but must speak up. This is the reason why silence is sin when sin is committed, especially when we have witnessed it. If we could prevent sin being committed, we will by warning against it. But most of the time, we cannot not prevent it and are witnesses of the sin. Then, our calling is to call the sinning brethren to repent and turn from his wicked ways.

But, we must never admonish our brother is a haughty way, as if we are higher and know better. We could be the ones who have been overtaken in our faults. Thus, we come in the spirit of humility, realising that we could have fallen in the same sins. Furthermore, the timing of that admonition is also very important. We must pray that God give us the grace, wisdom and the humility to confront our brother with love.

Dear Father in heaven, forgive me for being silent when I ought to speak – to speak of your goodness, beauty, grace, and love. Forgive me of the fear of men – what they think of me but not concerned what thou wouldst think of me. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus, who died for my sins on the cross. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by: Paul Goh | Issue 42

Dare to Stand: Reproach and Reward – Moses’ Choice

Hebrews 11:24-26 Moses’ Choice

A Choice!

Choose. A man must choose. A man does choose. When the Reformed faith condemns the Arminian error that the natural man has a free will by which he is able to choose or to reject Jesus, the Reformed faith does not deny that man chooses. It does not even deny that man chooses about Jesus. God made man a rational, moral creature. As a rational, moral creature man has a will. With his will he chooses. With his will man chooses not only in things natural, but also in things spiritual. In those spiritual things the choice that man must make is stark: heaven or hell, life or death, God or sin, Christ or Satan, obedience or disobedience. The consequences of the choice are eternal. Man must choose. God demands in the gospel that man choose. Man will choose. God will judge man for his choice.

The terrible truth about the natural man is that when confronted with that choice he always chooses wrongly.

With his will he chooses sin, death, hell, Satan, and disobedience, and he chooses against God, Christ, heaven, and salvation. Choose. Man must choose. Man does choose. Man always chooses the evil.

Amazing choice!

Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Moses chose opposite of the natural man. Moses’ choice is the choice of faith. Moses’ choice is the choice that faith always makes otherwise that professed faith is no faith at all.

A choice is picking one among alternatives. If a man chooses a piece of property, then that choice was made between alternatives. If there is no alternative, there is no choice. In the choice the mind prefers one alternative over another. At its deepest level a choice is a matter of love. What a man loves he chooses. That preference involves the evaluation of the alternatives and the judgment that for some reason the one is preferable. What the mind prefers the will chooses.

There were alternatives for Moses. Moses saw the one alternative in the home of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. This had not always been his lot. She drew him from the water where Amram and Jochebed had laid him in his ark among the reeds. Perhaps making fun of the deadly decree of her wicked father, she gave him his name, Moses, one drawn from the water. She adopted him. He became her son. She was his mother. Pharaoh was his grand-father. The whole court and the entire nation knew that.

The son of Pharaoh’s daughter came to years and became great in Egypt. He enjoyed all the advantages of his well- connected position. If not heir to the throne of Egypt he was at least brought up as one. He was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt and had access to all the opportunities for worldly pleasure, advancement, and success that Egypt provided.

But he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. With that refusal he also renounced all the pleasures and treasures of Egypt. He went out of her house. He renounced his family, his upbringing, his home, his present course of life, and his future in Egypt. He sealed his decision by killing an Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard this he sought to kill him.

Rather, he chose to suffer affliction with the people of God. Moses’ choice was the choice of God, Christ, obedience, and salvation. Do not misunderstand that. Moses chose God and Christ and salvation by choosing to be with God’s people. Moses was acquainted with them. His mother had him for a few years. No doubt she taught him about the people of God. A kingdom of God, where God dwells and where He bestows His grace, a kingdom of riches, life, salvation, and blessing. To be with those people is to be with God for God dwells with them. To be with God is salvation. To live apart from God is was death. No doubt he saw them—on his inspections of the kingdom, resplendent in his princely accoutrements, enjoying the wealth and privilege of Egypt—an enslaved, beaten, despised, and afflicted people of God.

Stark choice!

To be with Egypt was to have pleasure and success now, but to be without God. Friendship with the world is enmity against God. To be with the people of God was to have God, but affliction. One could not remain with Egypt and have God. One could not join the people of God and avoid affliction. Moses chose to be with the people of God and to suffer affliction with them rather than to enjoy the pleasures of Egypt.

Believing choice!

The unbelieving, natural man makes a choice too. With his mind he weighs the alternatives and judges one better than the other. With his will he chooses what his mind prefers. But his mind is dark and his will in bondage because of sin.   With his darkened mind he evaluates: church or the world, pleasures or affliction. By the measure and the thinking of the sinful mind the world and pleasure weighs very heavy, and the people of God and affliction are esteemed very lightly. With his mind he loves sin. With his will bound under the power of sin he chooses what his mind prefers: Egypt, pleasure, and death. The natural man cannot, he will not, and he cannot will to make Moses’ choice.

Not the Arminians’ proud choice. Do not confuse Moses’ choice with theirs. See how different Moses’ choice is. The Arminian choice is a choice to believe. Moses’ choice was a choice of faith. He had the faith already and by it he chose.

That faith was God’s gift to him in fulfilment of His promise to be the God of Abraham and to his seed. That faith was union with Christ. That faith was the certain knowledge of all that God promised as true and the assurance that it was for Moses. God gave him the power to believe and the act of believing also. By that faith alone he was justified and saved apart from his choice. In that choice his faith was revealed as true faith.

By that faith he made his choice because by faith he considered and judged the relative worth of the alternatives. By faith he could make that choice because of what faith did in him. Faith illuminated his mind so that he saw clearly and evaluated properly. Faith renewed his will so that he chose what the illuminated mind preferred. By faith he became a spiritual man who judged all things spiritually. At its most profound level it was a change of love. He loved God, Christ, and his people. Faith chooses what faith loves—Christ—just as the natural man chooses what he loves—the world and sin.

In his choice by faith he considered this: He esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt and he considered the pleasures of Egypt sin.

All the treasures Egypt that he could have staying aloof from the people of God, he judged as the pleasures of sin. When he saw Egypt, he saw sin. Egypt was representative of the world of sin and darkness as that world is under the power of Satan, as it wars against God, exists under the curse of God, and will be destroyed by God. He rejected Egypt and its sin when he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

By faith he chose the people of God because he reckoned their sufferings the reproach of Christ. The reproach of Christ is the reproach that Christ suffered when He came into the world. He was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. They tried to kill Him as a baby. They tempted Him or flattered Him to trap Him in His words. They tried to push Him over a cliff. They tried to stone Him. They came out against Him with swords and staves. They forsook Him and fled. They bound Him. They tried Him. They condemned Him. They put a crown of thrones on His head and a sceptre in His hand, and they beat Him with His sceptre and cut Him with His crown. They took His clothes. They nailed Him to the tree. Still they burned in enmity against Him and the whole mob mocked and ridiculed His shame. With an insatiable hatred they spoke evil of the dead, called Him a deceiver, and posted a guard at His tomb.

When Moses saw their affliction he saw Christ’s reproach. He saw Christ there among the people of God. That is why he joined. There is no other and can be no other reason to join a church than the truth—which is Christ—is there. Because Christ was there their affliction was Christ’s reproach. The Old Testament church had Him in promise and so shared His reproach. Christ left behind some of His reproach for the New Testament church too.

Believing Israel’s affliction to be the reproach of Christ, Moses valued that reproach greater treasure than any treasure of Egypt, indeed eternal riches. There is nothing more precious to God than the suffering of His son.

Clear Choice!

Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward. He saw clearly the rich reward that God gives Christ’s reproach. Not blind faith. Faith sees. Faith chooses differently because faith sees differently. The natural man can only see with the physical eyes, or worse still, with spiritual eyes of unbelief, blind with hatred toward God. The eyes of faith are able to see unseen and eternal things. It is like having two pieces of land. One is obviously lush and good to make a man rich now. The other is barren but full of gold beneath its surface. Whether you are able to perceive what lies beneath the surface will affect your choice. Faith chooses differently because it sees differently.

When Christ came and suffered His reproach, He earned and merited an eternal reward for the people of God in their affliction. Moses saw that reward.

He saw Egypt’s reward too. He saw clearly that Egypt’s pleasure was only for a season. They had their reward in the form of eternity in hell.

The affliction of the people of God has its reward: suffering now for an eternity of joy and pleasure forevermore at God’s right hand.

The reproach of Christ brings its own reward. The believer’s suffering does not earn that reward. Neither does his choice merit that reward. Jesus Christ earned the reward through His suffering on the cross. God appointed the reward to His elect for all eternity. The sufferings of the child of God for which the reward is given are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.

If a man will stand aloof from the people of God for the sake of his life, his comfort, his education, his business, family, name, standing, or reputation, then he will lose everything in the world that is to come. In that choice, his professed faith is also revealed to be no faith at all. He gains his life in this world, only to lose his soul in the next.

If a man chooses to be with the people of God, he chooses Christ and His reproach, and he will have an eternal reward. His choice is the clear choice of faith. By that faith he is saved now and in eternity. That is always faith’s choice: affliction with the people of God, rather than the pleasures of sin for a season. Choose. A man must choose. A man will choose. His choice will have its reward now and eternally.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 42

Honouring God in our Vocational Choices

Have you been to a career fair before?

If you have, you would be familiar with the many booths and attractive selling points that companies boast of, like a large pay package, opportunities for overseas travel and working in new environment. A vocation is one’s main occupation and in a rapidly progressive society like Singapore, there is pressure on students to decide what their interests are. The most concrete choice would possibly be whether they would prefer to be in a “science stream” or “arts stream”. There are also options of pursuing education in less conventional routes like homeschooling, Lasalle College of the Arts, and the Singapore Sports School which provide differing career paths.

The issue we discuss today is this: as Christians, what are we to do with our lives? How will we know if we are meant for one job or another?

In Japan, there is a concept of Ikigai which states that the purpose of one’s living is an intersection between what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs. Others would say that you can simply “follow your heart” when it comes to these decisions. While these models seem to break down large concepts simply, they do not mention God.

We must never forget that the sovereign God is the Giver of our abilities and the Sustainer of our lives. He creates us fearfully and wonderfully (Ps. 139:14) and forms our brain, heart, limbs and sets in motion our bodily functions so that our intellect, our motor function are all determined by Him. Has not the Potter power over the clay? This is to God’s glory and to His child’s comfort, that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:21-23). Since He has prepared His people for glory and eternal life, He will surely provide for us in this life which is but a short sojourn!

The Bible says the following about work:

  1. We should work hard. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,

do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecc. 9:10).

In this life, the ability and opportunity to work are God-given and we should be thankful for them. God works by giving us personalities and interests, flaws and strengths that make us able or unable to work at each time in our lives. While we hem and haw about having to go to work while other matters of life trouble us, we must always give thanks for the ability to use our lives and gifts to serve others and treasure the opportunity to do so for it can be swiftly taken away from us.

  1. We should seek first the kingdom of God.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

 

What   are   “these   things”   that   will be added? They are food, drink and clothing, the daily necessities of life. Proverbs   30:8-9   records   a   special prayer, a request to “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” As a child of God, we trust that God will provide for our daily necessities, and acknowledge that the other pursuits of life are not essential. These other pursuits including wealth and status are instead ‘vanity’ as Ecclesiastes 5:10 reads: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” Help us realise that God’s provision and anointing is sufficient for our cup to run over.

As a lady myself I feel compelled to add that Titus 2 gives instruction that older women should teach younger women to be sober, to love their husbands and children, to be discreet, chaste, and keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Although women in the workplace do not fall within the scope of this article, these words are clear regarding the occupation of married child-bearing women. From my mother’s example, serving at home as a full-time mother definitely keeps one very occupied!

What can we do to prepare now?

Other than much prayer for God to lead and make one’s path clear, let me offer a few simple ways for preparation:

  1. Find out about the vocation. “Every purpose is established by counsel:

and with good advice make war” (Pro. 20:18).

Speak to older Christians who have been in the vocation previously, who can identify the struggles that Christians may have in the field and also continue to mentor you should you embark on the similar path. Proverbs 20:18 says that every purpose is established by counsel, and the wise Old Testament kings did likewise before heading to war. Try out the job if you can too! It may seem like a completely different experience compared to what you see from a third person’s point of view.

  1. Understand that every job has its difficulties.

Just as we have difficulties in our family life, our physical health and even our spiritual life, each vocation will have days of utter weariness. As difficult as it may be, and perhaps after a period of rest, we must continue to be thankful for our jobs, for God has given them to us. A clear situation to watch out for would be a job that clearly conflicts with the life of a Christian, one which contradicts the teachings of the Bible. Then, it may be wise to seek counsel and leave the job.

  1. Get prepared for changes in your life.

Prepare thy work without,and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house” (Pro. 24:27).

Unlike school, work will not end just after lunch and there is usually more hierarchy in the workplace. Organise your time with room for church activities, exercise and your own interests. When you start the job, give yourself time to adjust to a different environment (e.g. standing all day long, a new route to get to work) and people with different belief systems and working styles.

What is the blessedness of honouring God in our lives?

Honouring God through our lives will allow us to savour all the promises in His word. He will add “all these things” unto us and we will be pleased to live out His will as “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”

Written by: Julia Koh | Issue 41

What About The World?

We return once again to friends. Last time, we considered where to look for our friends and settled that the church, the congregation, is the place to find true friends.

Now, however, we must backtrack to the first article. In that first article, when we said that believers are our true friends, we said also that unbelievers can never be our true friends.

If that is true, this question comes: how should we interact with unbelievers?

If they are not our friends, do we treat them in a friendly manner? May we talk to them casually? Eat with them? Play sports with them? Go out with them? How do we answer all these questions?

Scripture gives us the answer. And that answer is a command.

The command of Scripture for our lives with unbelievers is to be a living witness to our unbelieving neighbours.

What does a witness do?

A witness, having known and seen that something is true, tells others what is true.

As witnesses, we know what is true from the Bible, and, so, tell others what the Bible says. We tell others who God is. We tell others what God requires of us: love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We tell others how we are able to follow God’s requirement: Jesus Christ covering our sins from God’s sight and cleansing us from our corrupt natures so that we have a new beginning of obedience.

Christ Himself calls us to be witnesses in Matthew 5:14-16. In that passage, Christ calls us witnesses the light of the world. Christ calls us the light; but He does not mean that we have any light in ourselves. Rather, the light we have comes from God’s Word, because that Word is a lamp unto our feet—yes, a light unto our path (Ps. 119:105). Therefore, when we tell others what God’s Word says, we are being the light of the world.

As witnesses, we know and are sure what God writes in the Scripture is true. Therefore, we tell others what the Scripture says.

What we have said so far, however, does not fully answer our question of how we are to live with unbelievers. We are to be witnesses to them; but how do we go about telling others what is true, as the Bible says?

You may think, “Telling means speaking; so I can be a witness by speaking to others about the Word of God”. You are right; but you do not have to speak to witness. There is more than one way to tell others what our God says in His Word.

We can tell others what our God says by our personal lives. Take something as simple as praying before your meals among your unbelieving classmates/ colleagues. When you pray, you are telling them that God has given you the food on the table. Because He has given you that food, you pray to thank Him for it.

Other actions such as going to church on Sundays, putting in effort in your studies, not swearing or cursing, not listening to ungodly music, and not spending hours upon hours playing video games tell them what God says is important (worship of Him), what is wrong in His opinion (swearing/ cursing, ungodly entertainment), and what He says can become an idol (video games).

There is also the action of coming and preparing for youth group activities on Saturdays. When we make sure that our afternoons are spent among our fellow saints, we are telling our unbelieving neighbours that our greatest delight is in studying God’s Word with the church.

There is, for us boys, in the heat of a game of soccer, the action of forgiving an opponent that has committed a foul against us instead of bearing a grudge. When we forgive, we are telling everyone in the game that forgiving others, not holding a grudge, is what God calls us to do wherever we are.

For you girls, when outward appearances are becoming more important to you; but, at the same time, if your unbelieving female peers think that looking beautiful means showing more flesh through skimpy skirts/dresses and bare-back tops, you make sure you buy dresses and skirts of decent length and tops that cover what ought to be covered. When you do so, you are telling your peers that beauty is not showing off what is on the outside, but a meek and quiet spirit that God thinks highly of (cf. 1 Pet. 3:4).

The point is very simple: We witness by what we do in our lives.

But also, this too: we can tell others what our God says by our response to their lives.

Much of what our unbelieving neighbours do are forbidden by the Word of God. To go back to our examples   above,   holding   grudges and dressing immodestly are rather common in the callings God has placed us in. And I am sure you can think of more things that are a “no-go” in God’s eyes.

Our only response to those things must be a firm “NO.” But how do we tell our unbelieving neighbours this firm “No”?

There is always a verbal response— “This is wrong. I cannot accept this”. But we can also respond in other ways. A frown of frustration when you hear cursing   and   swearing;   leaving   the group when gossip starts; remaining silent when others laugh at dirty jokes and scandals—these are some ways to respond to ungodly behaviour.

We are lights in this world, witnesses to our unbelieving classmates and colleagues. Witnessing does not just mean speaking about God and His Word; it means doing what His Word commands, in order to tell others what is the Truth. The question about your witness is: “Do my actions tell my unbelieving classmates (or colleagues) what God’s Word says?”

To witness by our lives and by our response to ungodliness is not easy. It takes wisdom to know the right way to witness at the moment, especially when it comes to responding to ungodliness. Oftentimes, either we end up giving a neutral response to the sin before us; or we get so used to seeing that sin that we do not even respond the right way. We do not need a lot of effort to remember the last time we have failed to be witnesses.

But this is where we go back to friends—our true friends in the church.

Think: if you struggle to be a witness of your faith, your friends that share that same faith with you would have their fair share of struggles. They would know your struggles, and they would know what encouragement God’s Word has for us. They would point you to that Word and strengthen you to be the witness God calls us to be.

Yes, to spend our time and strength in the church is, in itself, a witness to unbelievers. But also, you will only find strength to be a witness when you forge your ties with the church. In the church, among believers, you will find encouragement and exhortation to be a witness in this world.

That shows how important and valuable true friendships are. But, more on that next time, DV.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 41

Dare to Stand: Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

The text in Matthew 5:13-16 is a common one. We have all heard and know that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world. We are so because we are Christians. Christians are spiritually distinct from the rest of world, like salt is to blandness, and light in darkness. This distinction is glaringly clear and evident: no one can miss it upon sight. But what does it actually mean to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Let us meditate upon these for a moment humbly and prayerfully.

Whom Jesus is addressing

In the text, the possessive pronouns, “ye” and “your” are used. The word usage indicates an address to those mentioned in verse 3 to 9 of the chapter. “Ye” and “you” refer to those who are “poor in spirit”, “mourn” over their sins in godly sorrow, “meek”, “hunger and thirst after righteousness”, “merciful”, “pure in heart”, “peacemakers”. These characteristics describe a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. These characterise God’s disciples, you and me. God is telling us in this text, “ye are the salt of the earth” and “ye are the light of the world”. This is our identity in this world. God does not tell us to go become something which we were not, but that we are salt and light. Our identity is already fixed. So what does it mean to be the salt of the earth and light of the world?

Identity as salt of the earth

Firstly, we are illustrated as “salt of the earth”. The reference to salt here is not salt in its preserving function. It does not mean that we as salt ought to preserve the earth and hinder the world’s corruption, making it a better place. We know that the kingdom of God is a heavenly kingdom and we do not seek to revive or redeem the corrupt world that Jesus will destroy when He comes again. That is not our calling from God and what the text here means. The reference to the function of salt in this verse is salt that is used for seasoning, salt that is savoury and intensifies the flavours of a dish which

bring delight to the palette. We are this delight in the earth. To whom? To God. God takes delight in the earth because of us. The Lord takes pleasure in the activities of the earth such as economics, conflicts and globalisation because God’s people are in the earth. God’s people are what makes the earth delightful to the Lord. That is because through God’s people, all the activities of the earth have meaning and value, for they serve God’s glory. He delights when the vegetables grow for they are used to feed His people, giving energy and health to them to serve Him. He is glad when there is development in technology and the internet such that He may gather His people from various walks of life. The opposite is true too that when the end times come to pass and all His children have been gathered, the earth will be destroyed for there is no use for it anymore and He will bring all of His people to live with Him in heaven. He will not keep a sinful creation in vain like the world in Noah’s days or the city of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Identity as light of the world

The second picture used to describe our identity is “light of the world”. Jesus uses the picture in verse 14 to illustrate what that means. “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” As we imagine a night scene, looking down from the airplane as it is nearing a city, all the city lights will be lit and seen, juxtaposed by the darkness of the night. This is a similar picture Jesus uses. The city lights will be seen and not be missed in the night.

 

The description of the city upon the hill further depicts that the city will be identified. And this is us. We will be seen to be glaringly different in the sinful world. We will be recognised as different. Thus we are the light and we shine.

In verse 15, Jesus uses the illustration of the use of a candle to light up a room. The candle is to be put on a candlestick so that the flame will light up a room and not be left to be hidden under a basket. That is not how a candle is to be used. Similarly, God made us as light in the world to shine.

The meaning of the word “light” here refers to the spiritual life and light over against the wicked and sinful world. It is the comparison of light and darkness as in Ephesians 5:8 – “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light”. Darkness is referred to as the world in its corruption, sin, and vileness. It literally means life without God. Life that displeases God and life that God hates. Whereas light is referred to the exact opposite which is spiritual perfection, virtue and goodness. It means life with and of God. We are characterised as light of the world, the ones with spiritual life and goodness among the world which is sinful and corrupt. Thus, we light up in this wicked world and shine as spiritually distinct, alive and not dead.

How we may be distinctly salt and light

But how may we be savoury as salt and shine as light? What do we have to do? Earlier we looked at Jesus’ address to the citizens of the kingdom of heaven as salt and light. Salt and light are our identity. But it is not because of what we are in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. God made us to be salt and light in this world in Jesus Christ. Through Him we are savoury, through Him we are shining. Apart from Him we are bland and dark like the world, distasteful and insignificant to the Lord. Jesus makes us savoury and shining as He has made us a new creation. He changed our heart and now we seek to obey Him. The world is like unsavoury salt to the Lord, displeasing and thrown away by the Lord. The world is darkness, sinful and vile. But in Jesus Christ and in His covering, we are pleasing before the Lord and we use all that we are and own to serve Him. We confess Him and do good works. In Jesus we are salt and retain our savour, and shine. Therefore, we can say that we are distinctly salt and light in Jesus Christ.

But is there then nothing we have to do? No, we have a calling to remain savoury and shine brightly. In our identity as salt and light it means that we are different from the world. The world is not pleasing to God and does everything against God’s law. However, as salt and light, we are not like the world.

As salt of the earth, we are called to remain savoury, not to lose the savour. This means to be a continual delight to God on this earth. We use and devote all that we are and possess to the glory of our God. We obey His commandment to love Him and our neighbours. We confess His truths and ways and submit ourselves to Him. The negative is also true that we flee from sin that can spoil our saltiness, making us distasteful to the Lord. The text warns us that if the savoury component of salt is lost it is useless and unprofitable. It will be thrown away for it is worthless. Thus we are called to live as salt, being pleasant in the sight of our God.

As light of the world, we are called to shine. We are to shine wherever we are stationed in this world. In our home, in church, in school, in the workplace, wherever our neighbours are and wherever God leads us to. The calling to shine does not only confine us in the sphere of the spiritual only, in the church and our family, but the whole world, wherever God places us in. We light up in this wicked world and shine as spiritually distinct, lively people.

We shine in the world by a good confession and a godly walk. We confess Christ with our mouths – His power, His grace, His salvation, His truth! Whenever we make a good confession of our Lord, our light shines brightly. We shine also by our life. We show that we are children of light by our lifestyle and actions. We are filled with good works. We are meek, peacemakers, merciful, and more by our actions. When we do so, our light shines brightly for all to see. But one thing to note is that our confession and actions go hand in hand. When we make a good confession that we love God and seek to walk in His ways but our manner of life is as the ungodly, seeking to please our flesh, our light does not shine. Our life has destroyed the good confession. Most of the time we fail in this aspect. It is easy to confess to love God and our neighbours. But when someone sins against us, we immediately bear a grudge against him and do not seek to forgive him in our pride. Or as parents or grandparents when we instruct our children, it is natural to confess that God’s path is the way to go but in our living we walk contrary to that. Let us not overlook the fact that our light shines by the way we live too. Let us walk in integrity and sincerity, that our light may shine ever so brightly in this world.

 

Fruit

In our identity and walking as salt and light, we will be distinguishably different from the world. We do not think, act, or speak the way the world does and others can see that too. Is that a good thing though? Should we try to fit in as much as possible?

No, it is good and necessary that we remain savoury and shine. We dare to stand as different in the world, and to stand out. Not because we are motivated to be different from others to serve our pride. But that others may glorify God in heaven too. This is sobering. Through our conversation of life, so God will be glorified. God is pleased to use us to bring His people to Himself and glorify Himself! In our natural state of sin, men do not glorify God. Instead, men blaspheme and ridicule God. However, here we see that men’s cursing of God can be turned to blessing when others see our good works. In our devotion to God, in the words we speak and the manner of life we live, God is glorified and God can use us to gather His people. That is a privilege, and that is a calling too. God’s glory is at stake here, so we must be savoury as salt and shine as light. God forgive us when we fail, and may God help us in this high calling. To Him be all honour, praise and glory.

Written by: Noelene Wong | Issue 41

A Pilgrim’s Path: A Stranger in the World

A pilgrim is a person on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey, usually a long one, made to some sacred place for religious reasons.

Living in a multicultural society such as Singapore, there is a certain degree of exposure to various other religions. In particular, the Muslim’s religion of Islam and the Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca, is known as the Hajj. The Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the prophets and teachers of old. Pilgrims symbolically relive the experience of exile and atonement undergone by Adam and Eve after they were expelled from heaven, wandered the earth, met again and sought forgiveness in the valley of Mecca. They also retrace the footsteps of Abraham’s wife, Hagar, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa searching for water. Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. In summary, the Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca is a physical journey with the purpose of bringing about a deep spiritual transformation, one that will make him or her a better person. If such a change from within does not occur, then the Hajj would just be a physical and material exercise devoid of any spiritual significance.

A Christian’s pilgrimage is not a ‘once- in-a-lifetime’ journey to Mecca but instead, a ‘lifelong’ journey towards heaven. The Bible relates a pilgrim to a stranger on the earth (Heb. 11:13 and 1 Pet. 2:11). A pilgrim is therefore not just taking a break from his earthly endeavours but one whose citizenship is in heaven. Thus, this pilgrim is one that has no place on this earth. The pilgrim is merely passing through this earth, heading towards his final destination – heaven.

It is important to emphasise that this journey towards the “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”, is made by travelers eager to return home and not by tourists who are in a foreign land taking a holiday from their busy and hectic life. Pilgrims are also neither like expatriates who choose to settle in a foreign country due to career choices. Most ‘ex-pats’ are where they are because that is where they want to be, but a Christian sojourner has no desire to be where he is, except to serve God in the calling he is placed in.

Although the pilgrim is not of the world, he is in the world and he needs to live in the world. However, the pilgrim is a stranger in this world, a foreigner who has a different culture and a different language. The true Christian pilgrim is therefore always struggling with how he should live a life in a world that he is called to live in and yet not belong to it. How can a Christian pilgrim then be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and at the same time a stranger to the world? The answer to this seemingly paradoxical question is simply in the question itself.

A Christian pilgrim witnesses by living a ‘strange’ life. In Hebrews 11, the heroes of faith lived lives that were in contrast to the teachings of the world. Their attitude towards this earthly life and the things associated with this earthly life was represented by the tents they lived in. The tent-life demonstrated their contentment to live upon the surface of the earth. They had tents which did not have any lasting foundations. The tent-life allowed the sojourners not to be weighed down, to be able to move at a moment’s notice. It was not that Abraham could not afford to build a house for himself and his family. Genesis 13:2 tells us that “Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” But rather, Abraham knew that he was not called to hold onto earthly possessions of silver and gold. Imagine how hard it would be for us if we were to be the rich men of this world and live in rugged tents, denying ourselves earthly treasures when such treasures would come so easily. Indeed, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 10:25)

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13).

Another important point to note from this verse is that the pilgrims listed in Hebrews 11 “all died in faith”. The heroes of faith taught us by their examples that we are to be faithful in our various callings even though our lives are short and temporary and we are but passing through. A calling is simply the current vocation one is in. It can be a student, a parent, an employee or an employer, a husband or a wife. The way to be faithful in our earthly callings or in all that we do is found in Romans 12:1 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”. As Martin Luther once said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” In other words, being a faithful pilgrim means that we are to do our best in all that we do for the Lord, not just in the church, but in our pilgrim’s journey. To be a faithful pilgrim is to serve God faithfully in our earthly callings.

To remain faithful as pilgrims requires God’s grace. The path for a pilgrim is long and treacherous, filled with temptations which the devil sets about us to destroy the church and the people of God. Again, this is nothing new to the Christian pilgrim as the Bible has already forewarned us in 1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”; and in Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Therefore, it is necessary for a pilgrim to prepare for the journey ahead.

There are many ways in which God preserves the Christian pilgrim through this difficult journey. One of which is through means of fellow pilgrims to encourage each other on the path towards heaven. (Heb. 10:24-25 – “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”) What then is fellowship? The word fellowship   denotes   a   relationship that is dependent on more than one individual. It is an action word that involves doing something together and not just being together. The meaning of Christian fellowship goes further in that the basis for such fellowship is Christ. (1 Cor. 1:9 – “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”) Therefore, Christian fellowship is not just doing anything together, but doing God’s will together.

Christian fellowship is first built up in the church where fellow pilgrims confess the same truth. This has to be the case because the church on earth is a picture of home to the pilgrim as he journeys to his true home in heaven. The life in the church is a small taste of what life in heaven would be like for the Christian pilgrim. The fellowship a pilgrim has with other pilgrims in the church serves to strengthen him as he makes his pilgrimage home. The analogy of a tourist comes to mind again. A Christian pilgrim is not like a tourist because tourists pays others to carry his luggage along the trip. For instance, on a hiking trip a tourist pays a porter to carry the load up the mountain. Pilgrims, on the other hand, share each other’s burdens along the difficult path. A better picture would be an illustration of fellow soldiers making a long march together. Not only do soldiers share one another’s load, but they also have to encourage each other throughout the entire journey, to push each other to press on and even carry an injured comrade if need be.

There is, however, an end to this earthly pilgrimage. The pilgrim will not have to wander forever in a strange land. By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, the pilgrim will enter into the “house with many mansions” that is prepared by Christ. This is the hope that a Christian pilgrim has that causes him to endure through this pilgrimage.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 – “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

Written by: Boaz Leong | Issue 40

Facebook and the Christian

What is facebook?

“Facebook is a social networking website. To flesh out this definition a bit more, it’s an online community—a place where people can meet and interact; swap photos, videos, and other information; and generally connect with friends, family, coworkers, fellow students, fellow hobbyists and enthusiasts, and numerous others in their social network. Facebook connects people within cities or regions, work or school, home or abroad, and so on. Built on an architecture of profile pages that allow individual users to share information about themselves and communicate with others, Facebook seeks to create an environment in which members log in regularly to keep track of what friends and colleagues are doing, share their own activities, interact about interests and hobbies, send messages, and join groups and networks—just to name a few things.”- Introduction to Facebook by Indometric

Facebook can be said to be the most powerful social networking tool in the world’s history. In no other website are lives made so public and information divulged so freely. It is most apt that in this post-modern era, where opinions define truth, a melting pot of ideas and expression has evolved. Facebook prides herself on the fact that there are currently “more than 500 million active users, 50% of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day and people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. (Facebook, Press Room, Statistics)”

Even one who has never used the internet in his life would have seen columns in Life! sections of The Straits Times on Sundays having caricatures of notorious celebrities put in Facebook format. Also, the media uses Facebook to obtain information about matters that organisations aim to keep in the dark. Even to the ungodly, Facebook is a vice when used unwisely. At least 5 people have been red after posting their complaints about their job on their Facebook statuses or on their friends’ Walls. It was also recently reported in The Straits Times (8 Oct 2010) that “Facebook and other social networking tools are being used by sex assailants in the Philippines to lure their victims, contributing to a rise in such crimes.”

“Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

Truly, much of Facebook can be described by “vanity and vexation of spirit”. There is little significance of the change in relationship status of a non-christian friend from “In a Relationship” to “It’s complicated”. There is even less significance of learning that your friend’s sister’s friend has uploaded a video of herself dancing. It would not harm me if I did not know that my cousin changed her profile picture. All these notifications that clutter my “News Feed” do not matter to me at all, but with Facebook, it has become possible, attractive and almost an obligation to indulge in these visual treats. Yet while we pry into the lives of our friends, our sinful nature in us causes us to subconsciously develop envy of the pleasures that our friends can afford, and we pride ourselves in the things we can afford and we are greedy for more.

“See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15,16)

In reference to the above quote from Facebook statistics, how many hours does one spend on Facebook in a week? In a day? Commenting of a friend’s photo takes approximately 10 seconds, and writing on a friend’s wall to wish him “Happy Birthday!” takes about the same time (multiplied by all the friends who have birthdays on that day). Moreover, Facebook must surely be credited for the most number of ridiculously trivial games around. Café World allows one to run a restaurant and cook up to 100 types of different foods and can recruit various friends to be assistants in the venture. Mafia Wars allows one to purchase weapons and fight various mafia gangs and to thieve from other gangs. All these games have incentives for one to return to them the next day – for instance, “food” at Café World turns rotten if one does not return to serve it on time. All these seemingly benign activities with not much consequence add up and result in wasted time in excess of hours! How much of this time could be spent in the study of God’s word? In ministering to the sick and those who are discouraged?

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Amidst all the temptations in Facebook, a Christian must exercise much discipline in abstaining from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. A Christian can and must use Facebook for purposes entirely different from that of the world. Organisation of events has certainly been expedited and Christian events can be publicised to old friends (whose email addresses, telephone numbers or addresses we have forgotten), overseas friends, and loved ones. We must see Facebook as our conversation in life and that our photos, updates and comments are part of our testimony. They should “minister grace” to others and not tempt them to sin. We must carefully choose our friends, that we might not be tempted by their walk in life as well. Lastly, we must examine ourselves: Are our motives for using Facebook truly for God’s glory? Or are they for our boastful pomp and show of the places we can afford to go, the things we can afford to buy and the many friends we have?

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)

In conclusion, I would summarise Facebook as being an amalgamation of all forms of social networking and communication into one portal. It is convenient, attractive and unbelievably addictive. Yet as Christians, we must use it wisely and not “be brought under the power” of Facebook.

Written by: Julia Ong | Issue 5