02 Feb 2020
The early church sacrificed for the needs of one another. Their giving was radical and transformational. Today, if we are to follow in their footsteps, we need to learn to 1. Look Back to the Forgiveness in Christ - The generosity of the early church was not due to the constant exhortation to give, but the powerful preaching of the gospel - resulting in a culture of radical self-giving. It is the warm love of God in Jesus Christ poured out into our hearts that can melt our cold selfishness away, and result in a generosity that honours God. 2. Look Around at the Family of Christ - We have a greater responsibility to the church because church members are not strangers, but brothers and sister in Christ. Our worship of God is seen in the way we treat people, especially the brethren in the faith. So let us learn to lay down our lives for the brothers, and love in deed and truth, by seeing how the gospel has united us in one body and one family. 3. Look Forward to the Future with Christ - Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. One of the reasons is that God promises to reward those who give to the poor. It is when we have faith that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him that we can give in a radical way. God is not unfaithful to forget your labour of love for His people. Check out this sermon to find out more about growing in love and sacrifice!
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As was what we have been looking at for the past few weeks, we are looking at this series on “Vision 2020”. It means to see clearly where the Lord will, or should, lead us in the days ahead.
I believe that the goal of this church is not to have a certain kind of structure or building. The goal of this church is not to meet some statistical number, in terms of church attendance. But the goal, I believe, of God and His Word is that His people will become a certain kind of people.
So in our vision, in where we are foreseeing or where we are praying and labouring towards, we want to be like a certain people. You say, “What kind of people?” We want to be like the people in the book of Acts. You say, “What's the book of Acts?” The book of Acts is the fifth book of the New Testament, and it describes the early church, after Jesus died and rose again.
They were a phenomenal church! And so, we want to be like the Acts church for today. So the vision of Gospel Light is very simple - we just want to be a certain kind of people: an Acts Church for Today.
What's so amazing about the Acts church, the people recorded for us in the New Testament? Well, there are many remarkable things but seven, that we will highlight here.
Number one, they were a church that was centred on the Saviour. Churches today, might be focused on buildings, or their Pastor, or their denomination. But the early church was all about Jesus.
I love that, and I hope Gospel Light will continue to focus not on the Pastor, the building, our people even that, but we will focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of the church.
Number two, they were a church who were filled with the Spirit.
That means, as we have learned, some three weeks ago, a people who were surrendered to the Spirit, who were empowered by the Spirit. They were not serving in their own abilities because they knew that was inadequate. But they were to serve, they were to preach, they were to move forward, they were to minister in the power God's Spirit provides.
Number three, they were a people who were rooted in the Scriptures. They were a people who prioritized the teaching and preaching of the Bible.
They were a people who make decisions, not based on personal preferences or biases, but on the Bible. They were a people who were hungry to learn and to do the Bible. So they were a people rooted in the Scriptures.
And then last week, we learned, the Acts church was a people faithful in supplication. The word “supplication” means prayer. They were faithful in prayer.
“Why don't you just say, ‘Faithful in prayer?’” Because prayer starts with a “P” and not “S”. We have to find all the “S” here.
So number one - they were a church? Centred on the Saviour, “S”. They were a church filled, with the? Spirit, “S”. They were a church rooted in the? Scripture, “S”. They were a church faithful in? Supplication. Okay, very good, so that's why it's “S”, alright.
Now today, we are going to the fifth of the seven, and it is this - they were a church that was genuine in sacrifice.
Now, everyone could be very happy when we talk about the Saviour, the Spirit, the Scripture, Supplication. Quite cool. Oh, but this – “Whoa! You want me to sacrifice? That sounds painful! That sounds difficult! Don't ask me to do it!”
But that's what the early church in the book of Acts did. They were very generous, and they were genuine in sacrifice. They gave to those who were in need.
Now, if you're new with us, I want to say, I want to acknowledge, that there are many people who do not like to go to church, and they do not like Christians, they do not like Christianity because they have an impression that the Pastors are always trying to squeeze money out of people.
I want to say that we don't preach these things regularly at all. It is not our standard thing as many of you, who have been with us for some time, you would know. So that's not the purpose, but I understand that might be the pre-conceived notion.
Story is told of a circus, that has arrived in town. And there was a show, a particular demonstration of a strong man. He got onto stage and he took a lemon. He squeezed the lemon with his bare fist, hands. He squeezed it so hard that a lot of lemon juice just dripped down. And it looks so dry, he shook it off, and it was such a dry piece of fruit in his hand.
He then said to the crowd, “I challenge any one of you, if you could squeeze one more drop of lemon juice from this lemon, I will give you a prize.” Of course, people went up to try. Little boys, children, women, men - strong men, hunky men. They all got up, they got an attempt at this lemon, but none of them could squeeze out one more drop because it was really, really dry.
Until one skinny, short, old scrawny man. He got up to stage and said, “Sir, I’d like to have a try.” “Sure, if you can.” He took that lemon, lifted it high up, and he squeezed. And amazingly, under the glistening sun, a drop of lemon juice emerged from that lemon and dripped down onto the floor.
The strong man was amazed. “I've travelled all over all over the world, and no one has been able to do this. Sir, what's your secret?”
“Oh, it's easy! I'm a Pastor and I've been doing it for 30 years of my life.” I hope that's not what you walk away with. “Wah, this Pastor squeeze money out of us again!”
No, I hope this is something that you would learn and see that you do, not because someone else told you to. But at the end of this sermon, you would say, “Because of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, I'm glad, I'm looking forward to, and I want to be genuine in sacrifice in meeting the needs of others.”
How do we learn about a people, or how to become a people genuine in sacrifice? Well, we say, we want to be like the Acts church. And so that's what we're going to learn from, we're going to learn from the church in the book of Acts. Two passages, two incidents for us to see. Very simple.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” [Acts 2:44] So the early church, when they gathered together - by the way, there was some three thousand people the day Peter preached, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the characteristic of them was that they were together, and they had all things in common. They shared!
It's not just share your salt and sugar, it's all things in common. They, the picture here is that there was no one who was lacking anything, because they were sharing and contributing to the needs of one another.
“They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” [Act 2:45] Now, it was a very needy period for these new believers of Jesus Christ, because they were actually turning away from their old religion. And you know that Israel and Judaism is so intertwined, that if you turn away from their old Judaistic religion, it will be like you are kicked out of their society.
So probably, many of them lost their jobs, lost their employment, lost the way to support themselves and there were needs. Therefore, there were others who had possessions, who could sell them, and shared, and contributed to the needs. This is one incident.
Another incident is found in Acts, chapter 4, just two chapters later. And the Bible says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” [Acts 4:32]
They didn't get all possessive. They didn't say, “Ha! This is mine! It's for me to keep! I know you're struggling. I know you're gonna die from hunger, but it's mine and I'm under no obligation to give it to you.” But they willingly shared in their needs.
And we read again, that it was not just giving of crumbs or leftovers, or what was easy, but they gave sacrificially in that, the owners of lands or houses sold their property and gave. [Acts 4:34-35] Now, that is phenomenal!
Some of you might think, “Well, I don't mind helping out President’s Star Charity. I don't mind giving a few dollars to the one who's selling tissue paper.” But that's not what it's talking about. This is real sacrificial giving, in that they're selling their house at Bukit Timah Road; they're selling their bungalow, sitting somewhere in Orchard. Someone has just sold a condo, and the proceeds are not kept.
And they did not sell it because they are making a profit. They're selling it because there are needs, not for themselves, but for others. This is not communism. Communism is where it's enforced. This is voluntary! They did it on their own.
For example, Barnabas, we are told, he “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money”. [Acts 4:36-37] He - there were a people who didn't sell, and that's perfectly fine. Nothing forced upon you. But there were plenty who were generous, and genuine in sacrifice.
So, that's the goal. The goal is to become a certain kind of people who are not just focused on Jesus, walking in the power of the Spirit, rooted in the Scriptures, faithful in prayer, but a people who will overflow in such amazing, generous love.
Wow! How do you get there? How? How? How can you and I, ordinary people, you say, who yes, we understand the Gospel, we believe Jesus, but how can you and I live, not just theoretically, but practically, practically, more and more in such a sacrificial and loving and generous way?
Well I’d just like to point out three things from this text, or from the people in the book of Acts.
1. Look Back
Number one, I want to encourage you, if you want to grow in genuine sacrifice for others, then you need to learn to look back.
You say, “Look back what? Look back, where?” I say, “Very simple.” We all here in 21st century, need to learn to look back to the love of God, in Jesus Christ, on the cross. We need to do that.
You see, the early church understood that. The early church, now just fifty days ago, fifty days before Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, fiftieth day, Jesus was crucified, we believe on the day of Passover.
And Peter, fifty days later, stood up and preached and said, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know” - let everyone in Israel know – “for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” [Acts 2:36]
The point is this - Peter is saying, “You know the Person you murdered on the cross? You know, Jesus? We all said, ‘He's a fake.’ You all say that He's a charlatan. But this Jesus rose from the dead the third day. So we now know, that He is not a fake! He's not a liar, but He is Lord, He is Christ. He is the promised Saviour and you crucified Him.”
The Bible tells us when they heard this, many of them were pierced in their hearts. They knew that they had committed cold-blooded murder of God's Son. But Peter went on to say in verse 38: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”. [Acts 2:38]
Peter is preaching to them the Good News. He's saying, “Yes, Jesus died. But do you know, amazingly, that's God's plan for the forgiveness of your sins - that He will be that sacrificial Lamb who will die and rise again, that you might be forgiven?”
Wow! That's mind blowing for the Jew.
Chinese people - many of you are Chinese like myself - Chinese people, often we like to worship because we think that when we worship some deity, we will strike Toto or win 4D [a form of lottery or betting]. We, we like material stuff. We like health, we like “ping an” [Mandarin expression for peace]. We like prosperity and a smooth life.
But for the Jew - oh, they realized, more fundamental than material stuff is the need for forgiveness. Every day, every year, the Jewish nation is reminded about the gravity of sin, because every day and every year, in the middle of this whole nation is the temple worship. People bring animals to be sacrificed. Blood needs to be spilt, because they are deeply reminded: “We are not right with God, and you must be forgiven.”
And so Peter is saying, “Jesus, whom you crucified, is like that fulfilment of the animal sacrifices. He is the One who will lay down His life, that you might be saved. So if you repent, if you turn, if you stop rebelling against God and His Son, and if you acknowledge, if you believe that He is the promised Saviour, you will receive forgiveness.”
And amazingly, on that one day of preaching, the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of the listeners and we are told, three thousand turned to Christ. And one of the first things we read about them is when they believed, “they… were together and had all things in common. And they were selling”. [Acts 2:44-45]
You know something? That generosity flowed, because they realized God's love for them in sending His Son to die for them.
Religion, many religions, say, “Give, because when you give enough, maybe your God will love you. And if you don't give enough, maybe your God won't love you, and you’ll end up in hell.” So, many religions teach about giving based on fear, fear that you might not be accepted.
But do you know the Gospel, the Bible actually teaches the opposite? You don't give out of fear. You give out of that understanding, God has so freely and unconditionally loved you, in giving you His Son. And in the early church, what's amazing is I don't read of them preaching about giving, as much as I hear about them preaching Jesus, the Gospel. And that's why they gave.
You know, in our church, we struggle sometimes financially, I'm not afraid to say that. We are a church that, I think, really live by faith, month to month at times. I remember, years ago, every week, Dr Muk, who is the chairman of our Church Committee, one of our elders, we will meet up, and the first thing or one of the first things, he will remind me is, “Jason, you know, we don't have enough funds?” I said, “Yes, I know.” “What are you going to do?” “I don't know, but let's pray.” So every week we start like that, and that's how we pull through.
And, and I still remember, there was the Punggol Building Project. A huge sum, of course is needed. And there are people who tell me, “Eh, you should preach more about giving. Preach about - you know, like that guy who squeezed the - you should preach about giving, preach about giving.”
And I totally understand the necessity of, sometimes, appropriately talking about giving, because the Bible does talk about giving. But I certainly don't want the whole Punggol Project, the two years to be all about giving.
So we do need to talk about giving, but I also understand. And I encourage the church and those who ask, I say, “The issue is not about the understanding of giving or not. We do need to, but I think a more fundamental issue is do we understand the Gospel?”
A more fundamental issue is do we understand the real motivation behind Biblical giving. It's not giving just because you're told to give. You give because you know how much God has given to you through His Son.
Carson said about chapter 4, he said, “The sharing described in verses 34-37 is a particular sign of this grace at work amongst them. But the remarkable point about this verse is the implication that it was the powerful preaching of the gospel that motivated the earliest Christians to such generosity, not specifically preaching about money or impassioned exhortations from leaders to share possessions! The gospel message about God's grace in Christ inspired a culture of self-giving in love.”
And when Gospeliters and when we don't give, let me tell you the problem is not in the pocket, is not in your wallets, the problem is our heart. We have not really grasped the message of the Gospel. We understand it here [Pastor points to the head], but it's not right here [Pastor points to the heart].
But when the Gospel is understood - when the Gospel is grasped, when we pray that God's Spirit will allow us to comprehend the height, the depth, the length, the breadth of the love of God - it's almost like pouring warm liquid into this cold, cold heart. It melts away that coldness. It melts away that selfishness, that there will be warmth, that will flow from our lives, through our hands, to the giving of those in need.
You see, it's always the Gospel. It's always a heart issue. It's always a Gospel issue.
In my devotional reading, I read about Mark 14, and I read about this lady, who spent one year's worth of perfume, spilled it and poured it all over the feet of Jesus, just to anoint His feet. And there are people around who say, “What a waste! One year's worth of salary, poured out just like that!”
But Jesus said, “The reason why she did it is because she understands - I'm going to die. I'm going to sacrifice.” [Mark 14:8-9] This lady knew far more about the love of God than a lot of people around Jesus at that time.
And you know, there are some who will say, “Ah, don't ask me to do too much for Christ. Oh, I don't mind coming to church. I don't mind putting some spare cash in the offering bags. I don't mind helping a little people here, a little bit.” But you will never give yourself, why? Because you never really understood. You never really got the love of God poured into your heart. That's what they did! That's what they grasped!
So when Paul wrote about giving to the church at Corinth, he said the reason, one of the reasons, one of the things he highlighted for the church at Corinth, in giving to the Macedonians, is, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. [2 Corinthians 8:9]
The basis of your giving is not because, “Oh, if I don't give, God doesn't love me.” No, no, no! The basis for your giving is because you know how much God already loves you. His grace, His lavish; unconditional favour of our Lord Jesus Christ, in that, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” [2 Corinthians 8:9]
This is not about becoming rich, in a sense of being a tycoon or a multimillionaire. But Christ emptied Himself of Heaven’s glories, born into this world to die on a cross, so that you may inherit eternal life, and that you may be destined for glory. Look at this love of God! Look at the sacrifice! And in the light of this Gospel - that's why you give.
So the early church was a church who understood that. It was fresh in their minds. It was unbelievable that the Son of God would suffer such a terrible death for the sins of men. And they said, “How could we not give? How could we not give?”
And today, we though, living some two thousand years after that, we need, similarly to look back.
If your heart is cold today, I say, “Let's pray.” I believe praying helps us understand the love of God.
Now, we all understand it intellectually in some way, but do you realize it requires power of the Holy Spirit to help us really get it? So go back and pray, “Lord, help me know Your love.” Not “Help me love You more” - that's important, but “Let me know Your love”.
Let's read the Bible and rehearse the love of God in Jesus Christ for us in the Scriptures. That's why we gather in communities, in, in care groups, in our discipleship groups. It's not just to meet one another, but it's to remind and to provoke one another to see the love of God in Jesus Christ.
We got to look back. This church will never - never, I say - be like the Acts church for today if we detach ourselves from the fundamental teachings of the love of God at the cross.
2. Look Around
Let me move on. I think a second powerful dynamic that enabled the people to give is because not only did they look back, I think they learned to look around. And we need to learn to look around.
What do you mean look around? Well, they saw the people around them in the right way. They saw that the people around them, who were maybe hungry and struggling in life, not as strangers, not as people who are disconnected from them, even though they may not know them, but they saw them as part of the same family. They saw fellow Christians and could say, “We are family.”
You see, Acts 2 tells us: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship”. [Acts 2:42] The word “fellowship” is the word “koinonia” in the Greek, which means to share together.
They share their life together. They did not just have ‘”fei- loh-ship” [colloquial expression for people who come together to enjoy good food], although they definitely had food, but they realized that it was more than food. It was a real sharing of life.
They realized that we are family. I may not know your name, but you know God and His Son, and we all call God, “Father”. That makes us brothers, that makes us family.
They believe that. They were together, they were united as one. [Acts 2:44] We are seeing that they are of “one heart and soul”. [Acts 4:32]
And with this Biblical perspective to the people around them, the Bible continues to exhort Christians to love one another. Because we are not strangers. We are the same family. We are the same body. We are the same flock. We are part of the same building. Those are the imageries the Bible gives us.
So John, for example, would say, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” [1 John 3:16-18] The scriptural demand, the scriptural teaching is not just that we come to church and attend a worship service, but the call of Christ is that we would be willing to sacrifice for brothers, we're willing to lay down our lives.
Now again, I hope you see the Gospel here. The reason why you will do that is because we know love. “You mean my love for God?” No, no, not so much that. But it begins here - His love for me, in that He sent His Son to lay down His life for me.
This is the Gospel, and the Gospel creates a new community, a new family. And if I understand it correctly, then I ought to lay down my life for my brother.
Now, this is serious stuff - laying down your life! But before you feel, “Aiyoh, I, I not that “jing jie” [Mandarin expression to refer to a level or realm of development or expertise]. I'm not that level yet lah, Pastor. Please, please. Very - I can't think of dying yet.”
Well, let's break it down into more concrete terms. It's not like you are called to going to take a gunshot today for another person, but practically it might look like this.
“If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in Him?” [1 John 3:16-18] If you really understand the Gospel, how can you see a brother hungry and cold and starving, and you not do anything. Doesn't make sense.
Laying down your life doesn't mean you get shot by the gun. Laying down your life means you sacrifice to meet someone's needs today.
And just as many of you in church are concerned – “Oh, we are getting too intellectual. Oh, we are just studying the Bible.” Nope, this is not. You need to know truth, but also you need to do truth.
So John says, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3:16-18] Actually do it! The call of the Gospel calls for deeds, works. Not to get ourselves saved, but works that will bring glory to God.
It was Thomas Watson who says: “Faith deals with invisibles, but God hates that love which is invisible.” There is no real love without deeds. For God so loved the world that He talked about it? No! For God so loved the world that He? Gave His only Son. That's love. It's not invisible. It is clear.
I'm thankful that in this church, we have seen God's people love, and give, and serve, and provide for others. Do you remember this gentleman? No, he's not someone from Hollywood. He is Josh, Joshua Carter. Remember?
Several years ago, he was a missionary in Indonesia. He did not come from this church, but he served together with the people in this church. And Josh, while he was serving, was stricken with a weird disease called “Guillain-Barré” syndrome. Now, whenever you have a funny name, you know it's a serious disease. Guillain-Barré syndrome - what in the world is that?
Well, it's a neuromuscular problem as some of you will recall. His nerves failed to work and his muscles were paralyzed. The danger of Guillain-Barré syndrome is not that you just can't move your limbs. That's okay, people can still take care of you. But if the disease progresses to a severe stage, even your breathing muscles are paralyzed. You're, you can't breathe and you will die, out of suffocation.
So when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré, plans were made for him to fly back to Singapore, where we could give him good medical care. And now, he's a foreigner and this is Singapore. Foreigners in Singapore having health care - no joke! It was a high expense.
But the amazing thing is, even though majority of you may not even know Josh, many of you gave sacrificially and his bill racked up to a six-digit sum, but God's people gave. I think it's because you understand, we are family, even though you may not know his, his background a lot.
You, you gave to his needs. Many of you took turns to stay with him in the hospital before his wife could arrive to tend to his needs as well. And when he recovered a few months later, you took him to family. You welcomed him, you loved his family and I saw love in action. I saw that you recognize something divine.
He does not look like you. He's an “Ang Mo” [colloquial expression for a person of Caucasian descent], you're Chinese. But it doesn't matter! Because of the blood of Jesus, because of faith, we believe that we are one family in Christ, and you laid down your life as it were, for him.
The Bible tells us, “Contribute to the needs of the saints”. [Romans 12:13] Strong phrase, actually. The word “contribute” might seem like you stay somewhere, and you give to someone far away. But no, the word “contribute” is the word - what? “Koinonia”. Huh, interesting! In other words, fellowship, or share in the needs of the saints.
So it is not just a detached giving, but it's stepping into the shoes, being under the skin of the person who is in need, and sharing. Wow.
Why do you do it? Why do you do it? Let me tell you why.
Romans 12:13 comes after Romans 12:1, right? Which says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present yourselves a living sacrifice to God”. In other words, the reason why you would serve one another is because you have first given yourself to God. You have presented yourself a sacrifice to God and therefore you're not really sacrificing to him or to them alone, but you're first seeing that I am now given and poured out to God.
And the reason why you see yourself as a sacrifice to God is because of Romans chapters 1 to 11. He has first given His Son for you!
In other words, the Gospel, when it's properly received into the human heart, invokes Biblical, grateful, grace motivated worship. And this worship is seen in the way we treat one another. It's amazing when you read the Bible.
We often think that worship is about singing. Oh, let's come and worship God – sing. Most of you don't even sing, that's the problem. And, and so we think that worship is about singing to God.
It is, when it's properly understood. Yes, it involves that. But do you know, that if you read about worship based on Paul's understanding of the Gospel in Romans, the vast majority of exhortations, in Romans 12 to 16 is not what happens in a church service, but it's how you treat people.
Beginning in the church, how you meet the needs of people in the church. And in how you treat people who attack you, who are your enemies. And then it deals with how you should relate to the government. And it relates to those who may have troubled conscience.
You see, worship, living sacrifice is not a highfalutin, weird mystical experience. It's very, very practical. And it involves sharing in the needs of your saints. And you'll do that because you realize what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. And you give your life to Him because of His love.
“Seek to show hospitality”. [Romans 12:13] Whoa, sounds easy - open a hotel. No, no, no, that's not what it means. The word “hospitality” means a love for strangers. You may not know him, but you are keen, eager to love the stranger, to meet his needs.
And I'm afraid the English word doesn't bring out the strength and force of the meaning of the word “seek”. Actually, in the Greek there, the word “seek” means to pursue. And it is translated sometimes to “persecute”.
You know, what's persecute? If someone is angry with you and wants to kill you; no matter where you run, he's chasing after you. The idea here is - show such vigour and energy in loving strangers.
Why? Because he's nice to show love to? No, he may be very irritating, but that doesn't matter. I do that because I am a living sacrifice. And I'm a living sacrifice, because of the mercies of God. He gave His Son for me.
And when you understand the Gospel, and when you understand that the people around you are family, it changes the way you look at money, sex, power.
This is a picture of fats. You say, “What in the world? Why you suddenly talk about fats?” Because I want to share some fats with you. No, no. Fats - we, in our modern culture we don't like fats, right? In China, ancient China, sometimes fats good you know; some of the beauties are fat ones, you know? So, but in our day and age, we tend to say, “Don't want to be fat.”
But actually fats are, are good. If you don't have fats you will die very easily, you know. When you exercise, half way no energy. Sorry, battery flat - pom! No reserves, your, your, this one [Pastor points to the tummy] is your power bank. God has given you a super power bank, you can carry everywhere. How good is that!
So fats are actually blessings, not a bad thing. Too much, no good lah! Some okay lah. Don't carry too many power banks - one or two can already!
But sometimes the fat cells, the lipocytes can become naughty. They don't listen. They do their own things. They grow by themselves. They do what they like. They disregard their neighbours, and so what happens is that the lipocytes can become ugly. And, and, look like this. By the way, this is the back of the head ah. In case you're wondering, what in the world is this? This is the back of someone's head and there's a lump there. And the lump is formed by lipocytes that have gone wrong. And we call this a tumour, we call this - a lipoma.
A lipoma is a collection of fat cells that have turned naughty. Don't listen to the head. Don't listen to the body. Just do its own thing and therefore it becomes ugly and big. Now, it doesn't quite disturb anyone, except it's ugly.
But sometimes, the lipocytes get even worse, they become even more rebellious. They totally “bo chap” [colloquial expression used to describe someone who cannot be bothered, or disregards others] who is around them. They totally don't care. They just invade. They just attack. They just destroy. They become cancerous, and they turn out to be lipo-sarcoma.
So – “Eh, why you suddenly talk about fats? Your sermon talk about giving, then you talk about fats.” Well, the, the point is this - in the church, there are wonderful people who are like lipocytes. When they see someone in need, they release their “yew” [Mandarin expression for oil]. They release their oil. They release their energy. They give. They provide. They give. They provide. They, they ensure that everyone is A-okay.
But some Christians are like lipomas, they don't care about others. They just want to feed themselves. They just want to grow bigger. They become lipomas – ugly, like don't know what, but, but that's what they are.
And then there are some Christians who totally disregard what the Lord wants and destroys the body of Christ. They slander. They back-bite. They are bitter and unforgiving. They attack fellow Christians, and they are lipo-sarcomas.
And the difference between the three is the way I think they look at their neighbour; how they see one another. And so my friends, if we are to grow in the grace of giving, generous heart, then you need to see number one: correctly, and clearly, and vividly, the love of God in Jesus Christ by looking back. Number two: you need to see biblically and accurately the people around you, that we are one family.
3. Look Forward
Okay, so look back, look around. Then where else to look? All smart people here. Alright. I never say, “Look down, ah.” Okay, well, the third place to look is to look forward, to look ahead.
So the point is this: we look back at the forgiveness. We look around at our family, and we look forward to the future, the future with Christ.
Now, the point I think is derived from Matthew - or Acts, chapter 20 when Paul said - you see, it's all about Acts, right? And their understanding and philosophy. In Acts 20, Paul said, “In all things, I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” [Acts 20:35]
So the key verse – “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
First of all, Paul said this is spoken by Jesus. But actually, for those who have read the Bible, you'll never read these words in the Gospels, meaning Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the records of the lives of Jesus, life of Jesus. You don't see that there.
“Wah, it's a fake!” No, not necessarily. Remember John tells us that not everything Jesus did is recorded, because if it is recorded, the Bible won't be so thin. You know, it'll be longer, and I'm sure many of you say, “’Heng ah’ [colloquial expression used to express relief], never write. At least now my Bible reading for one year is more attainable.”
So not everything is written for us but it is clear, it is well accepted, it is well known, Jesus did say that - “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The question is: why is it more blessed to give than to receive? During Chinese New Year, you want to get Ang Pow or give Ang Pow [colloquial expression for a red packet containing money that is given by elders and married couples]? You see, all the young people, all – “get, get, get”, one lah. The, the human heart is: “Aiyoh, more better what!”
Eh, but Jesus said, “More blessed to give”, leh! Why ah? Well, for, for a few reasons.
Number one, there's a joy in giving. It feels good to be able to give. It feels good to be able to help people with your giving. It's nice. It's, it's satisfying.
Another reason is perhaps, it's satisfying to realize that what I'm doing is like what Jesus is doing. He, He gave Himself. It's joyous that I can follow in His footsteps. So that's blessed!
But it is also true that it is blessed, more blessed to give because you believe, that you never give in vain. You believe that whilst, as much as your giving is going to bless someone and bring glory to God, it is something that God will reward.
Nothing wrong with the motivation of reward, especially in the context of understanding the Gospel. So Jesus did say in Matthew 6: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” [Matthew 6:3]
Great principle. I want to encourage all brothers here, sisters in Christ, when you give, don't take your cheque and “Eh, Pastor. Nah, nah, Pastor.” I mean, you can lah, but I'm saying, “Why you want to do that?” Because it robs you of a greater reward.
Give it in such a way, your “tor qiu mm chai zhor qiu” [colloquial expression for one’s left hand not knowing what their right hand is doing]. Okay, I don't know how to say it, okay – your, your, your right hand don't know your left hand, you don't know which hand. “Eh? Did I actually give? Oh yah, I gave. It's okay, nobody else knows.” That's the best.
Why? You believe that: “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” [Matthew 6:4] So God does reward those who give alms to the poor, to the needy.
Matthew, chapter 25 says the same thing: “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom”. [Matthew 25:35-36] Why? Because “you gave… you gave… you gave… you gave… you gave.” [Matthew 25:34-36]
That's how you are marked out to be God's people. You really understand God's love. You really see the family. You trust that God is going to provide you eternal life. You give, and therefore, it is not surprising that these are the people who will be part of the Kingdom. They understand.
And Jesus explained why is it so important that the way we treat one another is the way we worship. Because: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:40]
Now, I don't see Jesus in my life. I've never seen Him in person. One day I will, but I have not. How can I worship someone I can't see? But in a sense, I see! I see in you and him and in one another. And the way I treat you is the way that should reflect the way I honour my Saviour.
That's why it's so important to meet the needs of one another. So these are those who will be inheriting, inheriting the Kingdom of heaven.
So when you believe in this reward that God gives, then you could say with Alexander Maclaren, for example - What I kept for myself, eventually I lose it. But what I gave, I keep it. That's the reward, that's the joy. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” [Acts 20:35]
And this is so real to the Apostle Paul that it affected the way he lived. This is not mere theory. It's not a sermon that he preached and rehearsed only. But this is something that deeply impacted his life because he says, “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak”. [Acts 20:35]
Now Paul, as a preacher of God's Word, understood that he actually could be provided by the people he preached to. There's a Biblical principle - You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox. But he chose to work. “Ah, Paul felt that the people there did not give him enough money, lah.” No, no, no, no. He chose to work not so that he could have a better meal, or a nicer hotel stay. But he worked hard, so that he can help the weak, help the sick, help the poor, help the infirm who cannot work, to provide for themselves. [Matthew 20:35]
The reason why Paul worked, is not so that he will be rich, but that he could give. He was not working to raise his standard of living, but he was working to raise his standard of giving.
And that's why he gave this similar exhortation in Ephesians: “Let the thief no longer steal”. [Ephesians 4:28] If you were a thief, welcome to church. Amazing, right? That's what church is, right? Church is not made out of great people, we are all rotten people.
So there were thieves in the Ephesus church. But now that you know Jesus, now that you are saved from your sin, now that you turn and follow Jesus, then don't steal anymore. Okay, we get that.
But not only that - go and work. Don’t steal, but labour – “doing honest work with [your] own hands”. [Ephesians 4:28] You say, “That's great! Every religion might teach you that.” But that's not all. He goes on to say - you work, “so that [you] may have something to share with anyone in need.” [Ephesians 4:28]
This is a radical transformation effected by the Gospel, you see. This is not just someone who steal and say, “Don't steal.” It is from someone who stole, to someone who now work hard, so that he could give. He's not working to be the CEO. He's not working so that he might be famous. He's not working so that he might be comfortable. He's working because the Gospel motivates him in such a way, he wants to share God's love, and he gives to those in need.
I was with my, I was in my sons’ - both my younger and older sons, they are in the same school, and they have this once a year Parent-Teacher Meeting. So it's a Christian school, mission school, and they were highlighting how parents wrongly motivate their children to study – PSLE, and so on. So they are very concerned, so they say, “Don't do this, ah!” They showed this picture. [A picture of a beggar.] “Don't, don't, don’t tell him if you don't study, you'll end up like him.”
This one, very familiar to Singaporeans, my mom, or my dad - grows, when I was growing up, always say, “Hey, you better study! You don't study become like the road sweeper.” When I say that to my kids, they say, “What's wrong!” Nothing wrong. But that's how we motivate people - “Don't end up like him.”
But you know, they said, “Don't, don’t, don’t say that.” But they show the next picture on the other side, “If you study well, you'll be able to build a better world for him.” Wah, I say, “This one, quite good lah, ah! Good value here!” This is more in line with Ephesians 4:28. It is more in line with Acts 20:35, and this is spot on.
So, if you want to be a generous person, not to show off, but because you believe that your worship to God. Look back what He has done for you. Look around and see with Biblical eyes, that even the irritating person beside you is your brother, your sister, koinonia with his needs. And then look forward, because what you do in secret will be rewarded one day.
I'm thankful for many brethren in this church, who do these things in secret. You take care of children when the parents are not available. You give to needs because you know that they can't work. You reach out to those who are mentally challenged - and we are having a lot more in our church nowadays. And you see it as a privilege to serve Jesus by serving the people around you. Praise God for your lives!
Recently, I just got a letter from Ang Mo Kio FSC - Family Service Centre. They are non-profit, they take care of their clients, they're supposed to help those in need and they wrote to us recently saying: “Thank you so much for Gospel Light's kindness and support to our clients! We just heard that one of our clients gave a raving review on Gospel Light Christian Church.”
This is exactly what they wrote: “The client was introduced to go to Gospel Light by his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist feels strongly for this client in reintegrating back into society after years of isolation. Despite being sceptical, the client gave it a shot” - came to church – “He was pleasantly surprised that the church members have been very supportive and accepting of him. He feels more included, empowered and fulfilled. So a big THANK YOU”.
Someone here made a difference to his life. And there'll be many, many, many unsung heroes. And one day, you'll hear the Master say, “Come, ye who are blessed, inherit the Kingdom of God because you get the Gospel. God's Gospel is powerfully worked into your heart, by His Holy Spirit.”
I hope I've done my job to share with you, but I know it's the Spirit who is going to work in our lives to pour God's love, warm liquid of love, into our cold hearts, that we might be a people who will be more genuine in sacrifice.
Let's bow for a word of prayer together.
The beauty of the Christian message is that, it never begins with us. Because if it begins with us, it will never be love. We are such self-absorbed and grabbing people, you see.
But the Christian message is about a God who is so selfless. A God who is so generous. A God who is so sacrificial. A God of all grace, that when we are yet sinners, He sent His Son to die for us.
If you're here today and you do not know Jesus, this is the message of the Bible, that God has given mankind a Saviour. He died for men. He rose again from the death. He is now ascended to the right hand of God. He is victorious over sin, death and hell, and He commands men everywhere to repent and to believe in Him.
And He promises, whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. You will receive forgiveness. You will receive sonship. You will receive eternal life.
And I pray that if you do not know Jesus as yet, today might be the day of your salvation, you will turn from your sin and believe in Jesus.
I speak today also to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Christianity is so comfortable today, isn't it? Because we have so much. But is that Christianity? Is that why God blessed you in your jobs? Is that why God gave you pay rise? Is this how you see the material things around you? Is this why we are put on this earth, to enjoy heaven here?
No! We are on a mission. A mission to display the Gospel, with our words and with our lives.
And maybe today, we can ask God to pour His love into our hearts, that we might see His love, we might see brothers, we might believe in the promise of the heavenly city that is to come, and live in such a counter cultural way, infused by the Gospel. And if we do that, I hope you'll get many more letters from Ang Mo Kio FSC. I hope we will see many people walk in and say, “I, I, I don't know, I just think that you guys are so loving, so sacrificial, and there must be God in you.” How wonderful that day would look like, genuine in sacrifice.
Father, bless each one here - some with salvation, some with repentance, some with obedience. But in all these things, may You have the honour and praise. Thank You again, it all begins with You and Your love for us. We worship You, thank You and pray all this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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