It’s really great to be back here at FCC. It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to share the Word with you from this pulpit and for those of you who I may not yet have had the opportunity to meet, my name is Gary, one of the council members of FCC and I am currently based and working in Hong Kong. I minister at BMCF in Hong Kong and at GSMCC in KL and don’t get back to FCC as often as I would like to, although Simon doesn’t think so because he claims to see me far too often. Well Simon, I miss you too! And I really miss everyone here – it’s much harder than I had expected it to be being away from family, friends and my church.
In just a month’s time, we are going to be celebrating FCC’s ninth birthday. We are actually older than nine but we have chosen October to celebrate. Having been a part of the life of several other churches, I want to thank God for God’s faithfulness in raising up and sustaining this body. God has truly worked a miracle in the lives of so many people that make up this church and today, as we get ready for our ninth birthday, as we prepare to move into the next chapter of this church as we prepare to buy our own place, as we work on what it means to be a member of this church and how leadership is raised and nurtured, I would to use the opportunity today to share a message on the kind of community that God wants to create in and through this church.
Let’s take a moment and pray and open our hearts to God this morning and ask that God would speak to us individually and as a church today.
Dear Lord speak to each one of us now, in the way we need to hear. Give us open hearts to know Your heart each one of us and I pray that we will have a greater revelation of You – that the living Word will come alive in our hearts today and enable us to see You clearly, and follow You boldly. We pray that we will be completely wide open to Your work in our lives today. I pray that you will use me today and at the end of our time together, we can all say, surely the presence of the Lord was in this place. In Jesus name we pray, amen.
Today we will be working through this passage in James, beginning in chapter 3:18 until chapter 4:9. And I would like to ask Darryl to read us the word today.
Jas 3:18; 4:1-9
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
When Christians today gather in churches, I have realized that everything that can go wrong sooner or later does go wrong. Churches have lately been in the news, and it’s always for the wrong reasons instead of being proclaimers of good news, love, justice and hope to all. Rev. Yap also highlighted in an email a couple of months ago very the same thing that unfortunately many church surveys today tell us – that in this age we live in, fewer people actually identify themselves as Christians than a generation before, or they may identify themselves as Christians, but don’t want to have anything to do with the church. Why is that? Because looking in, they see lack of relevance and missional effectiveness to the world and all the strife and the problems within the church has and conclude that there is really nothing different there for them compared to what the world is offering.
If we look at the entire arc of the narrative of scripture, God has a very different plan for the church. God has called the church to be a sign that God is present and at work. The church is to be a foretaste or preview of the age that is to come of God’s Kingdom. An instrument for restoration of God’s shalom peace to break in the Kingdom of God into every area of life.
So as we prepare ourselves for the next chapter of life ahead, one area that we need really need to pay attention to as we approach celebrating nine years of seeing God at work here among the LGBT community in Singapore, is our own community life.
And that’s what the Book of James is. It is a very practical book that addresses church life. It was written by one of the early church’s pastors, James, to address the people on the kind of community they are called to build as people of God. And today, it is key that we learn these lessons for our own community.
Today we are going to be looking at this passage of scripture in James 4 where the subject of community is in the foreground. We are going to look at 3 things –
Firstly, the importance of community among us as believers of Christ and the kind of community we are called to build. Why is it important and what does it look like?
Secondly, the main barriers to becoming that community. Why is stopping us from becoming and enjoying the community we are supposed to be.
And finally, how we are going to get through these barriers and get our breakthrough to be able to move towards becoming that community.
Very straightforward. Three point sermon. Are you ready?
Firstly I want to give credit where credit is due. In preparing for this sermon, I was very encouraged by the teaching on the understanding and development of Christian community by Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and will be incorporating his work into this message.
Let us start by reading Jas 3:18 again.
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
In the Greek, every word has what is known as a range of interpretation, or what they call a “lexical” range. In other words, a word can mean different things in different contexts.
So here we see a very important word we encounter often in scripture which is “righteousness”. Simply put, “righteousness” means “you have been put right”. Sometimes it means you have been put right with God. Sometimes it means you have been put right with yourself. Sometimes it talks about right relationships with one another. Which means to live justly, with integrity, with love.
Here in James, it actually carries all these meanings – the full lexical range. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. Putting yourself right with yourself, with God and with one another.
James says that this like a harvest. And for a harvest to happen, you need seed. And the seed here is peacemaking. Peacemaking is not about making robots who think alike and behave alike; it is about making a harmonious community. Verse 18 says that God will not be able to bring about change in your life and my life without us being involved in creating a harmonious community.
In Singapore today, we have become one of the most individualistic societies in the world. We also live in an age never ever seen before that culture, technology, connectivity, migration patterns are all making us more and more individualistic. It is pounded into us by our environment – you are who you determine yourself to be, choose to be, seek to be.
But scripture tells us that it is not true – we are a product of our family, culture and our primary community. In Chinese we having a saying – 近朱者赤，近墨者黑.
Social scientists have found that our beliefs are more a product of relationships than of rationality. We are more likely to have our beliefs shaped if they are shared by people that you like and who like you. Our beliefs are a product of our relationships and not just our thinking.
We come to church and many of us would say that our lives have gotten better through the worship, the teaching, the support we get, and we thankful to God for this church. But when we look at some of our lives, we don’t really see much real changes. They are still the same person, same struggles, same attitudes, same character. We come in here and may feel better about ourselves, because we learn about God’s loves for us. But we are pretty much living the same way we did before we came into the church. Our priorities haven’t changed, our attitudes and characters have not been shaped by the gospel.
The Bible tells us in Rom 12:10 to “honour one another”. Gal 5:13 says, “serve one another”. In 1 Pet 4:9, we are called to “offer hospitality to one another”; in other passages of scripture to “encourage one another”, “accept one another”, “bear with one another”, “admonish and confront one another”, “warn one another”, “teach one another”, “stop being fake with one another” (Rom 12:9), “share your possessions with one another”, “submit to the needs of one another”. This is how the Bible teaches us we are to “love one another” – the first commandment, and the theme of our Church Retreat next month.
You know what, you can’t really do that very well here. If this Sunday Service is the main way you experience FCC, you are really not in a community or a fellowship, you are really in a crowd. You can have a deep, personal encounter with the living God; you may even help out to make elements of this service happen and then not really change because you have not given yourself over to community.
When Jesus was ministering on earth, there was always a crowd following Him. The crowd wanted provision, healing, assurance, protection, blessing. Nothing wrong with that. But the ones that experienced the transformation were the smaller group of twelve who committed to community with Jesus and with one another.
The disciples were the ones who experienced the transformation because it is in community that we get better. Because real life is about meeting and relating. And we will become like our primary social community – the people you eat with and play with, converse with and counsel with.
Therefore, there is no supernatural character change without deep involvement in community.
There is also another side to this. Let’s read again Jas 4:1-4.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Here we see that James is upset with the fights going on in the church. So there are two ways to fail – one is to not seek community. The other way to fail is to get into community and end up fighting, and quarreling and life is full of strife. Either way, we are not developing strong Christian community.
In fact if you look at the result in verse 4, you will see here that doing it the world’s way, fighting for what we want in community, was considered by James as “friendship to the world” and hatred towards God.
Friendship to the world was fighting. Hatred towards God was fighting. Why is that?
For us to understand this, I want to read from John 17:20-23, the words of Jesus:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Verse 20 says, “that they may be brought to complete unity (or oneness) and then the world will know they sent me.” So how many here think they are a committed disciple of Christ? What do you think are the way to measure this? Jesus here is saying, that the number one argument, tool, measurement for evangelism to show the world who Jesus is, is not in our programming, or sophistication of our theology, but in the beauty and depth of our love for each other.
What does it look like in our church? What does it look like in the way the church globally is represented? If we fail to build strong Christian community either by indifference or by fighting, James says it is hating God. We trample on the main thing that God has given us to show the world who He is! And James says, it is the complete opposite of loving God – it’s hatred towards God.
So community is so important both practically for our transformation and missionally for the church.
So what keeps community from actually forming? James shares with us two causes in James 4.
Verse 2 says “you want something but you don’t get it”. The word “want” here is the word in Greek “hedone” where we get the root word in English for “hedonism”. You want to please yourself. Your comfort, your convenience, your control is more important than anybody else’s. You want to do it your way. Your needs, your concerns are more important than the people around you.
That’s all it takes. When we say “I’d like to place my comfort, my control, my convenience ahead of people around me,” we have a breakdown in community. Where we get this right or wrong is in ordinary, everyday life, a hundred times a day. It’s where we catch this or lose this.
There’s a theologian George McDonald who said that the one principle of Hell is this: “I am my own”. Others have since added to this but the essence is that there are essentially two ways to live life. We can either operate out of a foundation of – “my life for yours”, or “I am my own – my life for me.” And every day, we have a hundred opportunities every day to operate on “my life for yours”, or “my life for me.”
A simple to understand this is for example, no child has received life except for the laying down of the mother’s life in bearing and nourishing him or her, to care for, nurture and provide for the child. For many of us, we are here because our parents for about eighteen plus years kissed their lives goodbye, kissed their convenience, and certainly kissed their money goodbye. They laid down their life. They exchanged their life for ours.
And this laying down of life always entails a death. A death of my two hours in order to care for you. The death to my privilege and rights when I don’t retaliate when someone is attacking me. But the “my life for yours” is the only way where any sort of life is possible. And to embrace it is to live but to refuse it, is to spiritually die and spread death. There it is – heaven or hell, lurking every day in your office, your living room, your online life.
A hundred times a day, when we see a difficult person coming towards me, on the basis of “my life for me”, I am fake or quarrelsome with the person or I try to avoid the person. On the basis of my life for yours, I honour, serve, accept, encourage, offer hospitality, teach, warn, admonish and be real with that person.
When you volunteer, when you give your precious time, when you are on a team and you don’t insist your way, these are little deaths, and yet in the dying of self, they lead to a resurrection of community. And in the Kingdom of God, death to individual needs lead to a resurrection of community. And a community is formed when continually, we use our gifts, talents, abilities, resources, sacrificing our comfort, convenience, privilege to meet someone’s need ahead of our own.
The breakdown of community is simply – we want to please ourselves. And what is the cause of this want? What’s the root of this? It’s “pride”! And James says in verse 6 that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
So what is the solution? It’s right there isn’t it – the solution is to humble ourselves.
There is 18th century theologian called Jonathan Edwards, who wrote a book called “Thoughts on Revival”. And in it he made the observation that for the periods of church revivals in history where the church grows, people’s lives are changed and communities are transformed, they would end because fighting broke out within the church. It was fights, struggles, warfare and controversy that killed the revival. The thing that kills spiritual communities more than anything else is spiritual pride.
So what’s spiritual pride? How do we know if we are really operating out of a place of spiritual pride or humility? Maybe you say, “I am not really fighting with anybody in the church right now.”
Well I have collected an inventory of six common behaviours that kill Christian community as a result of pride – or “my life for me”, instead of humility – or “my life for you”. As we go through this list, I’d like us to each do a little inventory of how we are doing okay?
||PRIDE – “MY LIFE FOR ME”
||HUMILITY – “MY LIFE FOR YOU”
||More aware of other’s faults.
||More aware of own faults.
||Speak of other’s faults with contempt and disdain.
||When it is necessary to speak of other’s faults, it is done with grief and mercy to heal.
||Separate from people you criticize or who criticize you.
||Stick with people through difficult relationships.
||Dogmatic and sure about every point of belief.
||Flexible, discerning, reflexive about every point of belief.
||Loves to confront or refuses to confront.
||Confronts when necessary.
||Unhappy, self-pity, feeling sorry for oneself, feels deserving of a good life.
||No self-pity, feels deserving of nothing but for the grace of God.
1. When we are operating from a place of spirtual pride, we are more aware of the faults of others than our own. Spiritually humble people are more aware of their own faults than others.
2. We are prideful when we have contempt and disdain when we speak of the faults of others; we are humble when we do speak of other’s faults, we do it with grief and mercy to heal.
3. We are prideful when it leads us to separate from people we criticize or criticize us; conversely we are humble when we stick with people through difficult relationships and don’t give up on them.
4. Prideful people are dogmatic and sure about every point of belief. Everything is major. Do you fight with people because you can’t stand to be contradicted? Spiritual humble people are flexible, discerning and reflexive about points of belief. Reflexive simply means, to stop and consider is it possible that the other person is correct and I am wrong?
5. We are prideful when we either love to confront, or we refuse to confront at all because we are afraid of how we would look; we are humble when we confront others when it is necessary.
6. Spiritually prideful people are often unhappy and feeling sorry for himself or herself. They are filled with self-pity coz’ they are so sure of how life ought to go, and sure they deserve a good life. Spiritually humble people recognize that they deserve to be cast off but only by God’s grace am they are living – no self-pity.
So how are we doing?
The Word tells us to humble yourself and I hope you begin to see that what the world calls humility today is not what the Bible calls humility. What we see as humility in the world’s terms is shyness and a lack of self-assertion. When we think of a humble person, we think of someone who is shy, reserved, not very assertive. But that’s not what we see at all here.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
We live in a time when many people don’t believe the devil. But whether you believe a physical being like the devil or not, we all recognize that there are powerful evil forces (or what the Bible calls principalities) that operate in the world today. That is the evil that causes injustice, oppression, discrimination, poverty, brokenness, racism, wars.
So here James is saying – be humble, and don’t be afraid of evil or the powers that perpetrate the evil, take them on, face them down, resist them. James here is saying, “I don’t want you to be afraid of anything.” That doesn’t seem to go along with being humble doesn’t it? Yes actually it does!
If you watched the Prince of Egypt, you will remember the famous scene where Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “let my people go!” We all remember that scene right? But let me put into its proper social historical context. Moses went in front of the biggest, most powerful leader in the ancient world and said to him: “I want you to give up your entire free labour force which has been the cornerstone of your economic and military superiority right now without compensation, unconditionally and immediately, please.” Can you imagine saying that to a modern day dictator like Kim Jong Un or Adolf Hilter? And the Old Testament says that Moses was the humblest person on the face of the earth.
The principle is – Moses was not courageous and bold in spite of being humble. He was courageous and bold because he was humble. You know why? Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself less. It is focusing less on yourself because you are confident of your own value and worth and that God is taking care of your circumstances in life.
So what about the opposite, “cowardice”? Cowardice is looking at yourself and focusing on yourself. Courage is forgetting about yourself because you know that God is taking care of things. And you are courageous.
Why is a humble person able to forgive and be gracious when someone attacks them? Because to them they don’t really care what you think of them! They know who they are. They know God’s value of them. They know their worth. Therefore if you vilify them, they can handle it.
Humility, kindness, deference, forgiveness is a lack of self-concentration. It is not a lack of confidence. It comes from a place where you have incredible confidence. A proud person is always feeling snubbed, always feeling offended, is always feeling like they are not getting their rights, is always worrying. That’s pride. That’s why proud people are not courageous, not forgiving, and have meltdowns over how people are treating them or what people think of them.
So how do we get there? How do we become humble? The rest of James 4 gives us two thoughts. They are two basic but enormous things and summarize a lot of what is going on in the Bible. We can develop humility to the degree we know and understand these two things.
The first thing is the enormity of God’s love for you. We read in James 4:4 where it says “You adulterous people”. But actually the literal translation is actually you “adulteresses”. James is speaking to a church – male and female. But he is calling them all deliberately, “adulteresses”, the female name. Why would he address a body of male and female people as female? James here is tapping into one of the great truths of God’s love – God doesn’t just love us in the way a shepherd who loves a sheep, not just the way a Father loves his child, but God loves us the way a husband loves a wife. The church, us, we are the bride of Christ and when we sin, it is spiritual adultery! And this is what then verse 5 means when it says God is jealous and envies for us. When we use those words in a human context, it is usually negative and associated with cruelty and pride. But with God, it is God who longs for the love of God’s people the way a husband longs for the love of his wife. It’s amazing how daring that it is. God longs for our love, but that’s not all.
The second thing to understand how to develop humility is in the upside-down, counter-cultural principle the kingdom of God operates under. In verse 6 it reads, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Over and over, the Bible tells us that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. The first will be last; the last will be first. He who finds his life will lose it, he who loses his life for the sake of God and for the sake of others will find it. The kingdom principle is this – if you lay down your life for God, if you follow Jesus no matter what, if you say I don’t care what it costs me, if you die to your own power and own control, if you say “my life for yours” and lay down your life for other people a hundred times a day, you will get your life back forever, safe and sound, you will have life and life abundantly, you will have peace that surpasses all understanding, and you will be following in Jesus’ Christ own example.
But if you try to hold to your power, your safety, your possessions, if you say I don’t want to serve other people, I want them to serve me. My life for me. You will not grow, and collectively, this church will not be a witness of Christ in the world and you will find yourself more and more estranged from the very source of life – God’s love. You want to have true power? Then give your power away and serve.
When we look today at our own lives today, I wonder how many of us would recognize the evil and sin and brokenness within ourselves. But when we repent – which simply means to stop, recognize that we are following our own selfish motives instead of following Christ, and go the other way by recognizing, knowing, believing and receiving God’s unconditional acceptance and love for each one of us in sacrifice of the one who has no sin for us. To the degree we understand this, and have a revelation of this love, is to the degree that we can step into our call to be co-heirs with Christ. That is the beginning of true humility that comes out of your incredible inner confidence of your worth to God. It is the beginning of which you can have courage, to be able to willingly serve others and focus on the needs of others instead of yourself. And that creates community with the people around you and builds the church.
I’d like to share with you my own story. I grew up in a Christian family. When I was young, I had a very dogmatic relationship with the church and God. It was a relationship of fear and not of love. I was good when I needed something from God, I went to church to please God. But my heart was far from God. In my twenties, I came back to God when I gave up trying to run my own life. I was on a path to destruction. I had a bad relationship with myself – low self-esteem. I was gambling, drinking, chain smoking, coveting, lied frequently and had a horrible relationship with my parents. Then I was in a service like this when I had a revelation of Christ’s love for me. So I got convicted and started going to church but didn’t see much change in my life because I went mainly to get knowledge and for the teaching. I was still operating on the principle of “my life for me”. But I know our God is greater – God doesn’t give up and God didn’t give up on me and I watched how God brought me into a greater revelation of who I am in Christ and God’s love for me and I began seeking after God’s presence. So I contributed to the worship team because I knew I could experience God’s tangible presence each time I worship so that’s where I would serve. Still my life for me, but beginning the change. However, I never wanted to get involved in the lives of other Christians. They were always having this holier than thou attitude, wanted to control my life and so I never allowed myself to enter into authentic, relational community. God forbid they knew I was gay! But God brought me to FCC where I started relating to others authentically, and through the process of understanding my call and serving others, I started seeing changes in the way I viewed myself and related to others. I know that in this message, not just preaching to you but to myself as well. God continues to work in my life and will continue to work in my life and your life until we become the kind of community that God has called us to be. And through it we will experience the promises and favour of God, and the continued revival of this church. This church that Christ has called as the hope of the world – Jesus’ hands and the feet. The sign and foretaste of the life to come.
In FCC, one of the problems we have is a revolving door. We have a high turnover rate – people come and people go. Some involuntarily because of work or they return to their countries. Others leave because of conflicts, discrimination, lack of care, or a space for them. I had people like Nathan, Peter, Kenneth, Norman, Alphonsus, Grapevines, the original founders on my heart when preparing this message. Have we been so focused on work and performance by our standards that we have forgotten what is important to the one who we say we worship?
Being part of a church or a community is not easy. I have wanted to leave many times, but each time I prayed about leaving and going somewhere else, the answer is no. Then I understand why. Coz’ wherever I go, the one constant that follows me, is me. And you will bring all the same issues into the new community where you need to work it out again or leave and start again.
As a church, when we collectively operate from the foundation of “my life for you”, it will change the focus and the reason of why we do what we do. For example let’s say you are in the worship team, are we here to minister to people or to sing our favourite songs? Are we here out of obligation or out of care and concern for the people in our community and what they are going through? If you are in other ministries, what about the areas that you serve in? If you have already given yourself to this community or ministry, how does “my life for you” change the way about you see your role in church and the role of the church collectively towards the community?
And today, if you haven’t not given yourself over the community, are you ready to make a decision to move from the crowd – “my life for me”. To community – “my life for you”? In Jesus Christ, we see “my life for yours” in the ultimate. We see the humbling, the greatest act of humility. God comes to earth in the form of Jesus Christ. He leaves His glory behind. In Rom 15:1, Paul says we should bear with one another and not please ourselves for Christ did not please Himself. That is perhaps the greatest understatement in the Bible! Jesus Christ came to earth, gave up His glory, gave up His power, and eventually gave up His life for you and for me. On the cross, Jesus Christ experienced hell – cosmic loneliness, so that now when we try to draw near to God imperfectly, when we try to humble ourselves imperfectly, when we try to serve other people imperfectly, when we try to resist the devil imperfectly, God will draw near to us because God has already laid down His life for you and I.
I pray that this truth will pound into your heart and head as you leave from here. Of your confidence in your worth before God and the confidence that He is working out everything in your life for your good. Of your own life and the things that God is going to do in you and through you in this community in the next nine years to come.