16 Feb Trials Point Us To The Paradoxical Christian Life
<2 Co 6:3-10; Ro 8:35-37>
Ever since the COVID-19 epidemic happened in our church, we have already been through more than one week of prayers. We have witnessed the greatness of God. He is not only the God who is in control of the epidemic, but He is also the God who is able to turn evil into good. In the midst of this, we receive God’s comfort through the intercession of the brethren from various churches. With the comfort we ourselves received from God, we can comfort those in any trouble <2 Co 1:4> (through our current livestream of “Daily Inspirations and Coronavirus Updates”. God’s ways are indeed wonderful; through this, He links up His churches to confront this epidemic and trial together, and encourages them. We indeed share the same fate with all churches as the body of Christ! Although at this moment, this epidemic seems like a crisis to the individual, family, church, even nation, perhaps it will be over in a few months, but it reflects the trials of our Christian life. In fact, this epidemic affects our economy, and causes our people to be in a panic. This is a natural human reaction. However, if we who know the loving and all-powerful God also continue to fear, and fear even more than non-believers, then does this reflect some problems with our faith? At this moment, some believers dare not go to church, some believers shun whoever they know that have come from infected clusters or the three affected churches. Is this not worse than non-believers? Some believers hold onto <Psalm 91> every day and proclaim, “pestilence and plague will not come near me, a thousand and ten thousand may fall at my side, but it will not come near me.” At this moment, is such proclamation in line with the Lord’s will? At this moment when a few churches in Singapore already had cases, are we still unclear about how to apply the Bible? Is this not as what <Numbers 25> says, “When Israel worshipped the Baal of Peor, and indulged in sexual immorality with Moabite women, plague came upon Israel. At that time, 24000 people died in the plague. And the plague against the Israelites was stopped only when Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw an Israelite man and Moabite woman, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach” <Numbers 25:7-8>. Are there believers like Phinehas today? Are there church leaders like him who have such righteous anger for the sake of God’s house? Although we all carry the Bible, as we test and approve in this real situation, we cannot use misuse God’s word, otherwise we cannot understand God’s heart, and also cannot turn defeat into victory in this adversity.
From today’s message, let us once again think about the teachings we Christians should receive today, and the kind of life we should be prepared to live. Especially in a first-world country like ours, our virus is in fact not in the flesh but in the spirit. Many believers who go to church are in fact living their days with a prosperity-seeking outlook; even when they encounter adversity, they are also completely influenced by the information they see and hear. What they yearn for is not the glory in heaven, but the peace and security on earth. They hope that as long as problems do not come upon them, then it is fine. But once problems come, many are only fearful, sorrowful and without hope. The worst is when they have the same reaction as people without God. From here we can see that this is a kind of one-dimensional faith; happy when things are good, worried when things are not good. Indeed, this is the problem of people in first-world nations, it is also the idol of believers living in first-world countries. However, the Bible clearly tells us that faith is not one-dimensional, but faith is paradoxical.
Today, we must understand what a paradoxical life in Christ means. When we are experiencing trials, the truth that God wants us to understand is as what Paul said, “we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything <2 Co 6:10>. We have to ask if our Christian faith is like this? When we suffer together with Christ, our flesh will naturally feel the pain. At that moment, perhaps we cannot see hope in our spirit nor in the realistic situation. However, if we know the promises of the Lord who loves us, and clearly set our minds on the eternal hope and live for the Great Commission, then we will experience the Holy Spirit’s unimaginable help and support. At that point, we will manifest a kind of joy and abundance which people of the world cannot comprehend. With that, people around us can be blessed through us and God can be glorified.
The glory which is to be revealed through Christians in sufferings and trials
There are certainly two levels of sufferings and trials
Because God is good and loving, He will absolutely not abandon His people. Even if sufferings befall us, the Lord will give sufficient grace in the midst of it. Therefore, when Paul mentioned about his sufferings, he also at the same time described God’s grace that transcended all understanding, such as using “yet…yet” to describe how God’s grace was indeed greater than all his sufferings. Sometimes, when sufferings and trials come upon us, the mentality with which we face them is only one-dimensional. Perhaps we only say, “This is suffering that every believer will face, thus we have to endure…” or, “This is indeed the work of the devil.” But if we only say these, then where is God? Where is the promise of God turning woes into blessings? Indeed, God’s grace is all the more sufficient in trials, His power is made perfect in our weakness <2 Co 12:9>. This is also proven by the life testimony of Paul. (Testimony: In the past week, we witnessed God’s great grace – three of our sick brethren got better one by one; many brethren who had flu and fever found themselves tested negative for the coronavirus; many believers who used to misunderstand us or have prejudice against us came to comfort and encourage us, we also widely proclaimed the gospel through the media; most importantly, our faith grows stronger day after day, having experienced the sustaining power of the Lord’s grace). Therefore, we can also say, “We seemed to go through trials, yet we received help; we seemed to be shamed, yet are glorified.” This reflects the paradoxical life of us Christians.
Why does God give believers a paradoxical faith?
Paradoxical faith reveals the extremely honourable value of Christ. He is God’s Son, the Redeemer of us humans, as well as, the reward of us who believe in Him. There is no one treasure in this world which can be better than Him. Thus, when real sufferings and trials come upon us, such that we lose possessions, reputation, security, even our lives, is this Lord still the greatest treasure in our hearts? Is He still the One who conquers all? If so, we will experience the mystery of “seem to lose everything, yet possessing everything”. If our faith is one-dimensional, such that we only praise God when circumstances are good, and keep proclaiming that disasters will not come near us when the situation is dire, then how is Christ shown to be the greatest treasure in the hearts of believers? How can such faith bring out the truth that Christ triumphs over plagues, disasters and death?
What if our faith is not enough?
Perhaps some believers may say that it takes strong faith to be able to make such paradoxical proclamation like Paul. Or what if our faith is still immature? First, we must believe that the Lord promises to surely keep those who belong to Him <Jn 17:12>. God also promises that He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear <1 Co 10:13>. In this week, haven’t we seen the Lord’s protection on many of our brethren? A number of us had symptoms, but after being tested, none was found to be positive with the coronavirus. The Lord also knows that if we are infected with this virus, it will not do us or our families any good, thus He does not permit it. As for the three brethren who were infected with the coronavirus, we saw the Lord’s exceptional guidance on them. There is grace upon grace on them; because of this encounter, their own faith as well as the faith of their family members became stronger, even non-believing family members also witnessed the Lord’s grace in adversity, and called on the Lord together. Truthfully, God is protecting and fulfilling, more than what we ask or imagine. However, God’s protection should not give us excuse not to learn the truth properly, because faith in the word comes from hearing the word <Ro 10:17>. Thus, if we face trials, let us carefully study Paul’s proclamation in <2 Co 6:8-10>, such that we no longer pursue a one-dimensional Christian faith, but a paradoxical faith instead. With that, we can then pass on the spirit of Christ in the midst of trials.
Seek evidences of victory in trials
God already promised that we will be more than conquerors in trials
Many a times, people want to get out of problems quickly, or be quickly set free from sufferings, and deem these as evidences. In fact, we humans often wish to quickly find some physical and practical evidences, and consider them as evidences of victory. As a result, some believers fabricate evidences, claiming that they were already healed when their sickness was still not yet cured. Are we greater than God? Does God need us to add to His glory? In fact, God already promised in <Ro 8:37>, “In all these things (all these sufferings) we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Here it says “in all these things”, but it does not say “after all these things”, or “after these things take a turn for the better”, but that in all these things (in other words, “in the midst of sufferings and trials”), our Lord (together with us) is already more than conquerors! Thus, let us confirm this promise of victory. When we test and approve carefully, we will see that it is truly so!
But we have to know that there is immediate and delayed victories
The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” <Ps 110:1>. What it says here is to “wait for God to work.” Because every wait is the way to God’s victory. This is just like when the virus infected three of our church brethren, God led the whole church to pray together as a community, and let His word be spread through livestream every day. In this process, our brethren got better one by one. As a result of confirming in this way every day, we also impressed the promise of victory upon our hearts. Thus, we must know that the way to victory certainly involves a waiting process. Some victories seem relatively immediate (such as David triumphing over Goliath), which did not take very long; but some victories are very slow (such as David continuing to endure the harms inflicted by Saul). Why is it long? Because that is related to the healing of our spirits and relationships. Example: If our marriage is all along not good, there are deep-seated problems within. There are already many hurts and grievances between the two persons. At that point, God has to heal both parties. Or some people go from one church to another. In their view, they always think that others (the church) are at fault. However, after problems surface in their interpersonal relationships one after another, and when they reflect, they will then be healed gradually in the process. It is at this moment that their relationships with others will truly get better. Otherwise, no matter who they co-work with, there will be issues. In fact, only those loved by the Lord will be led by the Lord in this way to victory. This is also the path of victory which the Lord has carefully designed for them.
Yet, without proper teaching and persistent shepherding, it is difficult for people to receive such healing
First, the human nature is proud, thus humans are not willing to be corrected. Second, another common depraved nature of humans is to take shortcuts. They always yearn for the situation to get better quickly, such as career quickly succeeds, church quickly grows in numbers, sickness quickly gets healed, relationship quickly restored, etc. Hence, they only want results without the process, fulfilment without submission, victory without perseverance. Think about it, is this possible? Therefore, the process of victory which the Lord prepares for holy people is surely to use His word to deal with the human nature of saints, such that they can be taught, rebuked, corrected, and trained in righteousness <2 Ti 3:16>. Besides this, God’s word also instructs us to shepherd one another, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone <1 Th 5:14>. Only through this blessed process, can saints be healed, and experience the victory that comes from the Lord.
Christ gives the Church a new perspective on victory!
Paul left the church a most beautiful testimony of victory
Paul himself was a martyr, so what testimony did he have? Think about it, were the epistles written by Paul, or the testimonies he left behind in vain? Not only were they not futile, but they also became the biblical epistles read by people in these 2000 years. Thus, we should not just view victory at the physical level. True victory is not about us earning big money, or having health, youth and beauty, nor is it about not getting infected with the novel coronavirus, etc, but true victory is about how our conditions or experiences can be used by the Lord for His glory. This is like the hymn we sang earlier, which was written by Fanny Crosby. She was born blind, but her spiritual eyes were brighter than many others, such that she could compose so many beautiful hymns. When we became the first church in Singapore to have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, we also at the same time became an example in managing this epidemic. In fact, we must know that no matter what we encounter, God can use them all. If God is willing to use those conditions or encounters to glorify His name, then it means that we are victorious together with the Lord! But from the opposite point of view, even if we possess wealth, success, beauty, health, etc, on earth, if God does not use these for the gospel, then those conditions may stumble others instead.
The church should also learn to bear witness in season and out of season under different circumstances and conditions
On the other hand, we must know that regardless of the size of the church, we are all churches loved by God. Thus, we should all obey the Great Commission that God has given the church, spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. The Lord said, “go and make disciples of all nations…” Today, the church only calls people to “come” to hear the gospel, but not “go” to spread the gospel. “Go” itself is proactive, not passive. No matter what the church encounters, we cannot stop meetings nor can we stop spreading the gospel. Some people ask when our church started the Internet and livestreaming ministries. Actually, if we recall, since 2009, we have recorded our messages, uploaded them online, and blessed the brethren in China through them. Back then, our church only had 35 members. Later on, in 2015, we started livestreaming videos, so that one brother studying in Australia could worship real-time together with us. We started one ministry because of a seemingly small factor, but today it is greatly used by the Lord. Therefore, we really cannot look down on the Lord’s word, nor can we look down on the grace we show one of the little ones. Although humans may forget, the Lord will remember. Whoever the Lord wants to use, no one can despise.
Finally, it is not just our victory, but our collective victory with the churches of the Lord
This novel coronavirus has spread widely in China, and infected various countries (outside of China, the country with the highest number of confirmed cases so far is Singapore). From a spiritual angle, perhaps China and Singapore will greatly be blessed through this. Indeed, wherever there is suffering, believers there will rely on the Lord, and the gospel will start to spread from there. If this epidemic first comes to the church, then the church has to rise up to bear witness for the Lord, and reflect whether the gospel faith that it has been preaching is in line with the Bible. In this way, the whole country and society will also see the power and wisdom God has given the church, and that all these come through the cross of Christ. Finally, let us continue to pray for the three affected churches, those infected believers as well as church leaders. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective!