Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Sense of Value

“And, truly, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:9

The importance of this passage comes to us in this last verse. This woman has done something of such significance that it would be permanently attached to the preaching of the Gospel in memory of her. There is no other passage in which a particular action of a person is specifically said by the Lord to be included as part of the preaching of the Gospel. Yet, in all my life as a Christian, I do not recall any clear message being expounded on this passage. I wonder whether it be not a symptom of the problem of the spiritual life of the Church today.

I don’t want to go into too many technicalities on this particular passage. Mark tells us that the feast took place in the house of Simon the leper. He was no longer suffering from leprosy, otherwise no one would meet in his house. Now Simon invited the Lord Jesus to this meal, as well as others, including Lazarus and his sister Martha (John 12:1-8 tells us), and of course, all of the Lord’s disciples. It was held in Bethany, which is just across the valley from Jerusalem, around the Mount of Olives.

Mary Receives Reproach for Her Act of Devotion

Now, we know from John (12:1-8) that this woman is Mary, the sister of Lazarus. During the meal, Mary produced an alabaster jar of very valuable ointment. It is given as being worth 300 days’ or ten months’ pay of the average working man. Having produced this jar, she broke it, literally smashed it. The word is a strong word for “break”. It is a word for “crush”, or “smash”, expressing a certain determination, without hesitation. She poured out the ointment upon Jesus’ head and feet. Now, when she had done this, it brought forth not applause, but indignation and reproach from the guests and, sad to say, from the disciples as well. We see from John 12 that Judas Iscariot, the traitor, was the one who led the choir of reproach among the disciples. But the Lord Jesus spoke out on her behalf and said that she has done something beautiful, something excellent, something very significant, and that she had prepared His body for the burial.

One thing about this passage disturbs me. It disturbs me because from time to time, I feel an echo. I find myself almost agreeing that what Mary did was a waste.

What is Our Sense of Value?

This is our third study and meditation on spiritual direction. In talking about spiritual direction, nothing is so important as understanding spiritual values, which govern those directions. That is to say, whatever is valuable to you is what you will direct your life to. Right? If money, status, social standing or prestige is important to you, then clearly you will direct your life to these goals. But on the other hand, if spiritual things are of value to you, then you will direct your life to spiritual goals. So the question is: what are your values?

Now, anything you do not regard as valuable, you tend to treat lightly or to reject. On the other hand, things you do value, but which you do not regard as being properly used, you will consider as being wasted. Your definition of waste depends on what is your definition of value. They regarded the ointment as wasted. To them, giving this ointment to Jesus, pouring it all out on His head and feet was a waste and, therefore, unnecessary. It would have been better to give it to the poor. Is that what you think? Is it necessary? Why not modestly pour a little bit on Jesus? See how much I love Him? Why smash this beautiful jar and pour it all out? It is excessive. We must be reasonable.

How Much is the Gospel worth to us?

I found myself tending to agree. Do you not? It, however, reveals something to me about my sense of values. I don’t wonder that this passage is not preached today when the Gospel is preached. You see, a whole set of spiritual values is embodied in this action of Mary’s. How much the Gospel is worth to you depends on your sense of values. It may be worth a bit. It may be useful on the social level. In Liverpool, we had to have a bus to pick up children for Sunday School because the parents were happy to send their children away to learn some good manners, but they themselves did not want to become Christians. They valued the Gospel only on a social level.

What is your concept of the Gospel? Do you go to Church because there are nice people who will stand by you when you get into a jam? I wonder what is our sense of values. Why do people serve the Lord? Is it always because of a spiritual reason? I often suspect there are less than spiritual reasons for serving the Lord. No wonder, a preacher can’t preach this passage without feeling the sword of the Word of God stabbing right into himself and exposing him.

Our Gratitude to the Lord

When we read this passage, we immediately ask ourselves, “What is our sense of values?” Why did Mary do this? Well, Mary’s life had obviously been utterly transformed by her contact with the Lord Jesus. She was once in the grip of sin, and is now freed. Her life which was once in darkness so that she knew not where she was going, now had spiritual direction. Her life was touched by the fragrance of Jesus. So clearly, it was out of a deep sense of unspeakable gratitude that she poured out this extremely expensive ointment. To her, it was no waste, no sacrifice. Such was her profound sense of burning thankfulness and gratitude. Now, unless you can feel this kind of gratitude, of course, you can’t understand what Mary was doing. Clearly, you cannot have this sense of gratitude unless you also experience what Mary experienced.

Has Jesus at any time touch your life in such a way that you can feel this kind of thankfulness? Or do you approach Jesus with the ‘chained door’ policy, allowing your life to open to Him only as much as the chain allows. This is limited Christianity.

The Lord says in v. 6 that she did a beautiful thing. The Greek word translated ‘beautiful’ does mean ‘beautiful’ when referring to outward appearance. But when referring to quality, we don’t translate it as ‘beautiful”. Here the reference is clearly to the quality of the action. So the word would be better translated as ‘excellent, precious or useful’. All this is expressed in her act of devotion. It is praiseworthy insofar as it expresses a profound gratitude. I don’t see this kind of gratitude among Christians. It shows you the level of your spiritual life. If you really believe, as you say you believe, that Jesus died for you in such a way as to redeem you from eternal destruction and give you eternal life, and that you are set free from the bondage of sin, where is your gratitude for this? No wonder the world does not believe our confession.

Our Spiritual Direction - Carnal or Spiritual

Do you know what eternal life is? Can you grasp the value of this incredible gift? We don’t perceive and therefore spiritual reality is non-reality to us. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:18

“While we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Paul has grasped the spiritual value of those things. If you don’t have any sense of spiritual values, then you have no spiritual direction. There are only two possible directions in your life. It is either spiritual or it is carnal. There is no third alternative. Carnal means you are living for the world and for the enjoyment of your flesh, which is going to pass away.

How is it possible that we come to a belief in which the things which are not seen are in fact the real things? How can we arrive at this? It is only possible through the death of Christ. It is that contact with His life and His death which does something in us - it transforms us. Spiritual things now become a reality. As you go on, they will become the only significant reality.

Preparation for Jesus’ Burial

Moved by gratitude, Mary did something of great spiritual significance. It does not mean that she herself understood the full spiritual significance of what she did. The value of an action does not depend upon your understanding its full significance. So long as it is done with a totality of devotion. The prophets themselves did not necessarily understand the full significance of what they prophesied. But that does not diminish the value of their prophecy.

Mary did an excellent thing, something praiseworthy. The Lord says that she had prepared His body for the burial. It is unlikely that she herself knew that she was preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Jesus rose from the dead before they could embalm His body. In those days, the practice was that when a person died, ointment was poured all over him to help preserve the body. But as you know in the circumstances of Jesus’ death, He was taken down from the cross immediately before sundown. After the sundown was the Sabbath, during which no one was permitted to do any work. On the first day of the week, they came to anoint His body, but He had already risen. Therefore, Mary’s anointing was the only one that He was ever to get.

The name ‘Christ’ (‘Christ’ in Greek; ‘Messiah’ in Hebrew) means someone who is anointed. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed. Jesus, by being called the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, indicates that He is prophet, priest and king. However, Jesus was never anointed until this incident. Anointing was normally carried out either by a prophet or priest. Mary was neither prophet nor priest. Yet at this moment, she became both a prophetess and a priestess, in her act of devotion, doing something of the greatest spiritual significance.

Act of Total Commitment

In the Bible, the body is spoken of as a vessel (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:20,21). The breaking of a vessel symbolizes death, particularly in the breaking and the pouring out of its contents (Philippians 2:17). Therefore the breaking of this alabaster jar and the pouring out of its contents symbolizes the death and self-giving. This was exactly what the Lord Jesus was about to do, being a sacrifice for our salvation. Mary acted out a parable of Jesus’ death in that incident. Jesus gave Himself totally to us, and in turn we give ourselves for Him. Therefore the breaking of the jar and the pouring out of its contents is a picture of total commitment. Yet for this action of total commitment to Jesus, she is reproached by God’s people - the Jews, including the Lord’s disciples. It shows that even the Church can have a doubtful sense of spiritual values and therefore the spiritual direction of the Church could very quickly be in trouble as Church history tells us. Jesus poured Himself in total commitment for our salvation. Is it too much to pour out the ointment for Him?

A Vietnamese brother gave up his studies at Cambridge University when the Lord made it clear to him that he was to leave Cambridge. You know who criticized him? The Christians, saying that it was excessive and unnecessary. “What a waste!” He said to me, “I can’t understand why the things of this world are so important to Christians. They profess to have spiritual values, yet when it comes to the test, they show their hypocrisy.” What is your sense of values? I beg of you to search your heart truthfully.

Let’s close briefly with five points, as we analyze the matter a little more closely.


This kind of total commitment that does not see anything too valuable to give to Jesus is so rare in the Church. We talk about total commitment but our commitment is very much less than total. Therefore our spiritual direction is going to be very uncertain.


Though we speak about total commitment, yet when put to the test in relation to something we love, our commitment becomes much less than total. The things we are prepared to give are not valuable to us. We’re willing to give up our time provided it is our spare tine. Reading the Bible is not giving something to Jesus, but it is for our own benefit. The same applies to prayer. Are our prayers not mostly for ourselves? We have given almost nothing to Jesus, perhaps just a few drops of ointment.

Is it possible to be excessive in devotion, in what we give to Jesus? We may give misguidedly by giving what He doesn’t want. For example, some people beat themselves until blood runs or starve themselves when fasting. Fasting is good for self-discipline, but do not think we have given to Him anything. The Lord does not take pleasure in seeing us beaten or starved. So sometimes our devotion may be misguided.

But can we talk about “total” and yet have excess? What is an excess of a total? That is a contradiction in terms Again, we reveal our hypocrisy and our lack of a sense of spiritual values.


Spiritual things become confused when our sense of values is confused. It is strange how the disciples should criticize Mary for excess when they themselves have given up their own profession to follow Jesus. If they were so concerned about the poor, why did they not stay in fishing and donate their fish to the poor? It shows them to be utterly illogical unless their motive for following Jesus was impure. Those who study the Gospels are ready to concede that the motives might have been less than pure at first, at least in the case of some of the disciples. In the case of Judas, it was always impure, right to the end.


We speak of Jesus as Lord, yet in practice we lord it over others by our criticism. Mary gave what was hers, her private possession, and had every right to do what she did. Yet, they thought they had the right to criticize. What right do I have to criticize you for what you do with what is yours? If a person decides to give up his profession, why do I criticize him? It is his life. Do we have the right to criticize? But it makes us feel uncomfortable when we see somebody breaking their alabaster jar. It makes us feel that we may have to break our own alabaster jar. We don’t want to break it, so we defend ourselves by saying that the action is unworthy and not desirable of imitation. We say that it is excessive and unnecessary. These are the ways in which we defend ourselves.


Often, we cover up our real reason with a spiritual-sounding reason. John 12 tells us that Judas criticized Mary, not because he was actually concerned about the poor, but that he loved money. He justified himself by making it sound as though he was concerned about the poor. Time and again, we justify ourselves with a spiritual-sounding reason, when in fact that is not really our reason. Thus we become caught in the most dangerous mess of self-deceit. When you decide not to serve the Lord, it is your business, and nobody has the right to criticize you. But do not give it spiritual-sounding reason to cover it up. Just honestly admit you are not able to express this kind of devotion or that you are not ready. Do not say, for example, “I was going to serve the Lord but the Lord doesn’t want me to do this.” I have yet to come across anything like this in the Bible. God may send you to serve in a different place or in a different way. Yet, I have not yet heard of God rejecting someone when he comes to Him with a sincere commitment to serve Him. Be honest to say that our spiritual devotion is not adequate.

Every time we read this passage, does the feeling of waste come back? Let us ask ourselves: What is my sense of spiritual values? What is my commitment? What is my spiritual direction?

A sermon on “Spiritual Direction” by Pastor Eric H. H. Chang. This message was delivered at Chinese Gospel Church in Montreal, PQ, Canada, on January10, 1982.

This I Command You, to Love One Another

Today we continue our exposition on spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is the direction in which the Lord Jesus Himself walked. As the apostle Paul says, “For if we (Christians) live, we live for the Lord. and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14: 8) “For the Lord” means for the very same purpose and goal for which He died for us. That direction is to lay down our lives - to wholly give ourselves for the salvation of mankind. But this embraces a large area. Lest we be left with some wonderful ideal beyond our reach, let us consider how this commitment can be put into practice. How does this teaching translate into everyday life? In many ways, we shall see that John 15:9-17 is truly a precious passage for it summarizes the points which will help us set our sights on the goal.

The Standard of Love

The commandment to love one another in John l5:l2 is quite familiar to most of us. Often there is the temptation to end this verse there. At this level, we could still get by by claiming that in some manner we do truly love the brethren. Now the Lord does not end the verse there. The Lord does not leave us in doubt how we are to love one another. We are to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We are to love in the same way as Christ loved. This is the Lord’s standard of love. This same love in action emerges in 1 John 3:l6,

“By this we know love that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

The Lord Jesus calls this His commandment. A commandment by its very nature is not optional. Either we determine to walk the way He walked or we shall not be His disciples. The kind of love the Lord demands is none other than the kind of love He is giving to us. So we see the Lord sets forth clearly both the standard and the necessity of love in the life of the disciple.

Love and Joy

What example of love does the Lord give us? In v. 13, we read,

“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Let us try to catch a picture of the Church the Lord Jesus builds with His redemptive life and His blood. Capture the vision of the Church when we all obey this commandment. To date, we must frankly confess that we have not obeyed this command. I have failed as I freely confess to you. In our selfishness, we have often not been willing to have this total love. Consequently we have not lived victoriously and have often lost the joy connected with this command in v. 11.

As we begin to live in this full self-giving, there will appear a joy that we never knew before. The moment we become defensive and shut ourselves in, the joy goes. Have we not all had some experience of this? If only once, we tried giving ourselves away, not afraid to be hurt, we would experience something of the vision of the Church the Lord had in mind: a Church in which each lives for the other and all live for God.

The Requirement of Love

What is the Lord’s requirement in our love? What the Lord requires is that those who commit themselves totally to Him must also commit themselves totally to one another. Total commitment is not merely to God, as we may have thought. Much to our shock and fear, Christ requires our total commitment to love one another as well.

(In the main), we are more prepared to commit ourselves totally to God because we trust Him. He is wise. He is good. Even in His severity, God is merciful. But we don’t trust people.

This command to commit ourselves totally to our brothers and sisters is often more than we can handle. We don’t trust their judgement and wisdom. Even sometimes we have questioned their genuineness. Always there is the haunting suspicion that if we open ourselves to one another, we may get hurt. The commandment to commit ourselves totally to one another is therefore frightening. To attain to the total commitment to God seems already such an awesome task. To commit ourselves to one another - how shall we attain to this?

Love and Power in Prayer

I have, in other contexts, pointed out that the relation between Christian and Christian (is so close) to the picture of a husband to a wife. In all aspects, the commitment is total on the spiritual level. Among brothers and sisters, it is spiritual but nonetheless total to one another. Now this relationship is absolutely vital to our spiritual life and the spiritual power with which we function. To illustrate, the Lord draws attention to our power in prayer.

The Lord makes our power in prayer directly dependent upon our obedience to this command to love as He loved. Have we not all known people who have prayed and were annoyed, when God didn’t answer their every whim? What is our experience in prayer? Here the Lord demonstrates a condition for the answering of prayers - we must fulfill His requirement to love. V. 16 relates,

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.”

These words are the promises of the living God to give us whatever we ask. A person not totally committed to God and, much less committed to one another. need not quote this promise because the context of this promise is total commitment. Here lies the danger in quoting Scripture verses that draw our attention only to the promises of God. The very promise has an associated context. We may not claim one of these promises unless and until our life accords or conforms to the conditions set fur in the context.

Love and Experience of God

Now there is a glorious aspect in this passage. As our life and teaching manifest the teaching which accords with godliness, the Lord challenges us to take Him at His word. We may ask what we will and He will answer. The Lord does not hide Himself. He desires that we may experience Him as the living God. The Lord dares to make such a promise when we walk righteously before Him in our generation. I challenge you as well to experience evermore deeply the fellowship God desires to have with you as you walk in the light of His Word, the living Word.

The life of George Muller is a challenging testimony. Not once does the living God fail. In his autobiography, he details his many prayers for the orphans and their financial needs - he always obtained what he requested. He meticulously catalogued every prayer and answer. More than 50,000 prayers. More than 50,000 answers.. As he neared the end of his life, someone asked, “Were any of your prayers ever not answered?” He said, ‘There are two people I have prayed for and I have not got an answer yet.” After his death, inquiry was made and it was discovered his prayers had both been answered. Why? Here was a man totally committed to his God and totally committed to God’s people. This is the absolute confidence we can have in prayer. Despite my weaknesses and failings, the Lord has, in His graciousness, answered my prayers far beyond anything that I could expect or think.

Love and Salvation

Quite apart from the matter of prayer, the Lord taught me the importance of this total commitment as it relates to our salvation. This truth was revealed to me through my mother’s death. Let me relate it like this.

In 1977, I had just returned from a preaching tour in various places in Ontario. On my return, I was exhausted and there was yet before me a preaching engagement in the West a week hence. One morning my wife, Helen came in the room and just stood there in silence. She quietly handed me a telegram informing me of my mother’s death along with the message to come to Switzerland immediately. I couldn’t take it in. My last memory of her was that of a vigorous and happy lady. Had I not just received a letter from her a few days before?

When I went to my mother’s apartment, in this town in Switzerland, everything in her apartment was tidy and clean, reflecting my mother as she always was. The apartment looked as though she had just gone out for a walk. For several nights, I knelt before the Lord by the bedside and said, “Lord, I don’t understand this.” A light had gone out of my life. My heart felt like it had a great hole in it - one which was to remain for years.

I could not understand why there was this profound sense of loss because there was no deep natural affection for my mother. In my upbringing, I was closer to my father. Mother went to work, leaving me in the care of my nanny. My nanny bestowed every kindness upon me. She bore with me in all patience. In giving this account, one can see there was no natural grounds for affection for my mother. Perhaps it is the danger of some who marry young. Young mothers, in many cases, see their children as burdensome. All the more I was at a loss to account for this emptiness. Even in later years, she was deeply disappointed that I had gone to Bible college, feeling I was wasting my precious energies, rather than becoming the great man she hoped I would become in the world. Often my visits were accompanied by a coldness to the Gospel in those days.

Gradually the message of the Gospel reached into her life not through any preaching, but because my mother began to see the power of what God was doing in my life constantly. I determined a stubborn love: though there was no natural reason to love, I would love her with the love of Christ. One day she knelt beside me in prayer and received the Lord as King of her life. Wonderful [was] the moment when she yielded herself to Him. As she became totally committed, her whole attitude changed. She became a person I had not known before. A goodness, kindness and humility pervaded her life. Whereas before there was an impatience and intolerance when I came home, now there sprang forth a devotion and love. Mark well how the Lord changes a person. Thereafter I could never sleep so well as when I went home to see my mother. We gave ourselves totally to one another, having first mutually given ourselves to God. As we determine to walk close to God, our relationships will carry the fragrance of God in our lives. Why was there such a deep sense of loss when my mother died? In His goodness, the Lord showed me the reason I felt this loss so acutely: I had lost someone who was living out this very Scriptural principle we are expounding today - the totally committed person.

Another lesson dawned on me. How precious is someone who loves us not merely on some physical level, which passes away - but is spiritually committed in total love. Such is the beauty in the community of God’s people. Each individual’s love not only does not lose his quality in the group but is simply irreplaceable. Your contribution to the life of another brother or sister is indispensable. The loss will be felt. Through this painful experience, I learned this amazing lesson and began to grasp the vital importance of fulfilling the Lord’s teaching in the Church.

Love’s Commitment in God’s Family

I wonder, can we grasp what is the strength that comes from the assurance that you are loved with a total love? I began to realize that my commitment must be not only to my mother but to every single person who is my brother and sister. Has not our Lord said in Matthew 12:50,

“For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother, and sister and mother.”

To commit ourselves to everyone is rather difficult but I must commit myself to every brother and sister whom I know does the will of my Father. To such a person, one is absolutely committed. So today I would make my commitment to you as well. To those who strive to carry out the Father’s will, I want to make the same specific commitment I made to my mother: So long as I have something to eat, you will have something to eat. So long as I have a place (to live in); you will have a place (to live in). My commitment to you is unconditional, as the Lord requires - so that together as a Church, we may have the fullness of commitment the Lord died to accomplish.

Our direction is to be like Him and that the Church of God be a community like Himself. The wheat that falls into the ground and dies brings forth wheat, like unto itself. How my full heart yearns for the day when the Church of Christ is once again His glorious Church, holy and blameless, when the world can look at the Church and say, “Hey, I see the love of God. Here is total commitment.” Truly it shall be as the Lord has said on the matter of discipleship:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35)

So I shall stand, not only for you, but with you to the limit of my ability. Now my capacities may be limited but my Father’s are unlimited. Remember His words, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” This is exactly what we shall prove. There is no problem too big for our Father. In this line, we will aim to build a Church that shows the life and quality the Lord seeks of His people.

Love and Service

In v. 10 Jesus says,

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide (live) in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide (live) in His love.”

Preface this verse, with the fact that on the one hand, He commands us and on the other hand, He serves us. Thus He says in Matthew 20:28,

“Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

What we learn from this mutual commitment is a deep respect. In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples feet, emphasizing this point. Some are entrusted with leadership. Some follow. Let me stress on this one thing however, that in the Church of Christ, leadership is not a status but a function. That is to say, the leader is not a grade higher than you, he simply has a different function from you. The leader must respect those who are led. Anyone who does not understand this has no place in the Church of Christ. I profoundly respect you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us put aside the worldly concept of status or position. It has no place in God’s house. The leader is the servant, as we all are, for Christ’s sake.

Love and Openness

Where there is this commitment to one another, there is joy. Joy means enjoyment. The Christian must never be ashamed of enjoyment - particularly the enjoyment of one’s brothers and sisters. If the fellowship does not bring joy, our commitment is very much in doubt. Our commitment is in trouble. Often our relationships are “chained door” relationships. We conduct ourselves behind a chained door, slightly open for fear of being hurt or exposed. The chain defines the limit. We are always watchful and guarded. Always defensive. Therefore we cannot relax with one another. After all, we may even be criticized or rebuked.

Contrast this to the full commitment to love one another. We are not afraid of our brothers and sisters. If you are committed to me, you should tell me my faults. In fact, I beg of you, to tell me my faults. I ask not for nice words. Any fault of mine could prove spiritually fatal to me. If there is something bad, please tell me. If there is nothing, what do I have to defend? What is there to fear? Why are we so touchy? I don’t have to put the chain on. Just come in. Let us learn to value our brothers and sisters so that together we can grow in the body of Christ.

Love and Friendship

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant-does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friend, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:1)

If the Master hides nothing from us, why do we hide anything from one another? Friendship is trust and openness. Let us learn to relax with one another. Friendship is the most profound relationship any two people can have. When friendship goes out of a marriage, it is dead. It becomes just a legal union, where we are stuck with someone we can’t live with. Rather, marriage is to be friendship at its highest level. Our partner is our best friend. Endeavor to build this relation with one another, to enjoy one another. Friendship is built on mutual trust. In this verse, Christ has set the standard for every relationship. When friendship goes out of life, what remains? If there is friendship, it matters not what age we are. there will never be a generation gap.

Let us therefore be a Church where this openness and trust prevails. In so doing, the glory of God will be revealed in our midst. His power will be manifest in our prayer. We shall see glorious things as our direction of life accords with the Lord’s.

A sermon on “Spiritual Direction” by Pastor Eric H. H. Chang. This message was delivered at Chinese Gospel Church in Montreal, PQ, Canada, on January 3, 1982.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Invincible Christian Life

    2 Cor 12:9“My power is made perfect in weakness”

Let’s turn together to a very important passage of the Word of God in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10.

“There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Take note of every word. If you look carefully, you can see that without exaggeration this passage is of the greatest importance.

When have you ever felt that your weakness is something to boast about? When have you ever thought that problems, difficulties, hardship and persecutions are things to rejoice about?

What kind of Christianity?

We live in an era of Christianity which teaches that God is blessing you when there are no difficulties, when everything goes smoothly. But Paul spoke of difficulties, hardships and all kinds of shame poured upon him as something to rejoice and boast about. This kind of Christianity can be described as an invincible, undefeatable Christianity. This kind of Christianity is indeed hard to come by these days.

The kind of messages we hear today in North America and elsewhere is that if you have hardships and difficulties, that is not of God. If you are poor, that is not God’s will. If you have any sickness, that is also not God’s will. Every sickness has to be healed. Every poverty has to be taken away. If you are poor, it is because you do not have faith. If you have faith, you can ask for a Cadillac, or Mercedes. If you don’t get a Cadillac, you don’t have faith. This is the kind of Christianity that is preached around the world.

With this kind of Christianity, you wonder whether or not you are reading the same Bible as the Apostle Paul. If he was listening to all this, he would wonder if anybody had understood anything that he had written.

Are you living a victorious Christian life?

Today, I want to deal with something very important - the very essence and nature of Christianity. What is a victorious Christian life? Are you living it? What is the secret of power? Do you have spiritual power in your life? What is true spirituality? If I asked you to define it, do you know what spirituality is? Those are important questions. Without spiritual power, we cannot live the Christian life.

Whenever I am weak, then am I strong

I would like to draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 12:10, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Notice every one of these words. Obviously there are two parts to the sentence. The last part is: “I am strong”. Are you strong? Do you feel strong? In this past week, do you find you have the power to cope with all the problems you had to face? When we look at the sentence, we really want to emphasise the second part, don’t we? “I am strong” -that is the part that appeals to us.

You can think of parallel passages that the Apostle Paul used, such as Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ.” Ah, that is wonderful Christian life - “I can do anything”. Paul had the capacity to endure every hardship. You can throw anything at him and he can still remain strong. He is that kind of a Christian. What about you and me? We hit a little problem and we go down. The sorry part is that life is so full of problems. As a result, we find ourselves going down most of the time. When do we come up? Perhaps when we come to church. So for six days we go down, and on the seventh day, we manage to collect a little bit of strength to go up. But at this rate, we would go on an endless deficit. I fear that the next time when I come here to preach (I don’t know when that may be), I won’t see you any more, because the deficit has resulted in spiritual bankruptcy.

What were the things that Paul boasted about?

But Paul’s capacity to endure was amazing. Just read that long list in 2 Corinthians 11:22-30. Do you notice the things Paul saw as worth boasting about? This is indeed a mighty man. You take a look at that list. Which of these can you endure? He was shipwrecked three times and was dunked in the cold Mediterranean water. Would you like to try that? Maybe Paul was a good swimmer, so when the boat went down, it was no problem. But since you don’t know how to swim, perhaps the Lord would not test me in this way?

If you were a missionary serving the lord, a full-time worker preaching the gospel, surely you would think the lord would pave the way for you. But what did He do? He allowed your boat to go down. You may protest: “But lord, excuse me, that is not the way to treat your servant. The point is not whether I can swim or not, but to dunk your servant in the water unceremonially is surely not the way to treat your servant. Lord, if You do this once to me, I can still excuse You. But three times? This is unacceptable. I had enough trouble the first time, but three times I cannot take. Not only was my Bible wet and ruined, but all my preaching notes disappeared and I couldn’t remember what I was going to preach.”

I wonder if your Christian faith is strong enough to handle this. I don’t think your faith will be able to, if your Christianity is the kind that God would never allow even one bad thing to happen to you. “Here I am His servant, ready to go out and preach the word, message of the coming Kingdom of God. Surely the lord will pave the way for me, right?” And what happens? The elevator would not move, and you suffered the indignity of trying to get it to move for you and it would not. So you ran downstairs and found that you had missed the bus. Surely this is no way to treat the servant of the lord.

You have a few problems and you say, “Lord, why do you treat me like this?” That’s why I said that you need to understand the essence of Christianity. You may have been brought up in the kind of Christianity that as long as you walk in the centre of His will, everything would be smooth. He may not pave your road with roses, but at least not with too many thorns.

When Paul wrote those things in 2 Corinthians 11, what was his purpose? Did he write to grumble against the lord? He wrote these things to prove to the Corinthians that he was a true servant of God (v 23). That is the connection between the first part and the second part of the passage in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul was saying: “Are they servants of the lord? I am more. What is the evidence? My boat sank.” Isn’t that amazing? Their boats didn’t sink and therefore they were not true servants of the lord. Is that the reasoning? Am I joking? You read it and see if you can find another connection.

Learn to walk with the lord

In walking with the lord, I often experience amazing things. I do quite a lot of reading, almost every day without fail. Most of the books I read are of a theological nature. But even in what I read, it is amazing how the lord leads me. I do not just grab a book and read it. I say, “Lord, what would you like me to read next?” These are not devotional books but theological books which deal with the exegesis of the Bible.

I have been reading a book for the last two weeks, and last night I was reaching the end of this book. When I turned over the page, I could hardly believe my eyes. The heading of that section was exactly what I am preaching today: the evidence of the qualifications of Paul’s apostleship. It referred to the same passage that I have here in my notes which was written more than five weeks ago. Isn’t this incredible? The author is saying exactly the same thing as I am saying now.

Evidence of Apostleship

Paul mentioned these hardships, the beatings and stonings as evidence of the genuineness of his apostleship. That is the amazing thing. In that passage, he did not refer to his vision on the Damascus road. Writing to the Corinthians, he laid his claim to be a true apostle, in contrast to those others who claimed themselves to be true apostles, by indicating that they should know that he was a true apostle precisely because of the stonings, the beatings, the shipwreck that he had endured for the gospel.

When Paul went out to preach, he didn’t expect God to so soothe the hearts of the people that they would not stone him nor beat him. Sometimes, it is remarkable that I hear people say or I read in magazines that the evidence of the Lord’s goodness to them is that they went there and the hearts of the people were all prepared. They had a wonderful reception. Even if there was some hostility in the beginning, the hearts of the hearers were changed as soon as they were there. Receptivity on the part of the hearers is certainly sometimes evidence of God’s work in man’s heart. But have we come to understand the fact that fierce opposition to a message is often the surest evidence that the Holy Spirit is working powerfully in the hearers’ hearts to convict them of sin and the need to turn to the lord to be saved (e.g. in Acts 7)?

Poor Apostle Paul was stoned, while another time he was left for dead. He was stoned so badly that he was bleeding all over. He was knocked unconscious in one heap on the ground so that they thought he was dead. If you had looked at the face of the Apostle with all that he had endured, you would have seen scars all over his face. And these very scars Paul referred to as “the marks of the death of Jesus in my body” (2 Corinthians 4:10). No, Paul did not always get a warm reception.

And how many times was he beaten? Each time when Paul got beaten, it was with a whip, thirty-nine strokes on his back. Each time the whip came down, it would take a bit off the skin. When it came down, four or five slashes came down at the same time. He was given forty strokes minus one - as an act of mercy prescribed by the Jewish law. Can you endure one such beating, not to mention five? What did the Apostle’s back look like? Was this good reception?

But you may think that surely when the Holy Spirit worked through Paul, the power of his word would convict the hearers and they would just fall on the ground and repent. Well, when Stephen in Acts 7 preached the Word with power, he was stoned to death. Why didn’t God protect this precious servant of His, but instead let him be stoned to death?

Do you dare to go out to preach the Gospel? Don’t think that God is going to pave the way for you. He will not as a rule. Perhaps occasionally, but only rarely, will He pave the way, as you can see in Scripture.

Understand the Nature of Christian Life

Unless you understand the nature of the Christian life, you will not survive. But not only did Paul not complain about these things, he even boasted about it and rejoiced in his suffering. He was mighty. He must be a spiritual Superman to endure all this.

So you may say to me, “I get your point. Don’t rub it in. I get it now. To be a Christian we need the capacity to endure. But the Apostle Paul was Superman and I am no Superman. I can’t cope with this. So let the Superman go ahead and endure all this.”

Well, do you want to be Superman?

Was Paul Superman?

Was Paul Superman? We read that in Romans 8:37 that God always makes us to be more than conquerors. That is the “dream” picture of the Christian life - “more than conquerors”. But for many of us, we would be satisfied to be conquerors, never mind the “more”. We can’t experience what is the “more”. We have enough trouble experiencing victory.

In boxing, sometimes you have fights where the two boxers are bashing one another blue and black, while the judges are having a hard time deciding which one wins on points. But then there are fights when there is a clear knock-out winner, with the loser lying flat on the canvas. This knock-out winner is the example of “more than conquerors”.

So when Paul spoke of “more than conquerors”, he did not mean that you manage to win just by points, but win with a surplus of power still in hand. So Paul seemed to be speaking of some Superman Christianity, was he not? But most Christians find that that is not their experience.

What happens when you don’t experience that surplus of power? You become discouraged and you may even become frustrated. With that comes something very dangerous, a sense of guilt. You begin to ask questions like, “Am I regenerate? I read in the Bible that we are more than conquerors, but I am not. Why?” Is that your experience?

Then you look around at the other brothers and sisters. Am I the only one taking a beating? You soon discover that they too are no better off. They are also black and blue. Obviously, they are not Supermen either. So you look around, are there any Super-people around? What about your church pastors and leaders? But even they seem to have a small weakness here and there. Do Supermen make mistakes too? They may be a little better, but they surely are not Supermen.

Are We Fighting a Losing War?

Now you have a problem. You begin to become disillusioned. You begin to become cynical. When this gets worse, you begin to feel a sense of hopelessness. You may conclude that the Christian life cannot be lived. Not even those heroes you look up to, those leaders in the church, are that perfect. This sense of hopelessness begins to grab hold of you, making your Christian life go from weakness to weakness. You cannot win. No one else, not even the leaders, can win. We are fighting a losing war.

What is the way out? I see so many Christians becoming more and more negative. Everything they look at is not hopeful. They are on the edge of collapse. But when you read the letters of the Apostle Paul, did he think like that? The reason he didn’t think like that was because he did not think like you and me. Paul was truly invincible but he was not Superman.

Where does this Superman Idea come from?

I will later explain what I mean in this last statement. But first we must look at this idea of “Superman”, and understand the nature of true spirituality. We must try to understand where this erroneous idea of “Superman” comes from, because if you start with the idea of Superman, you are going to miss the point, and make a serious mistake.

This idea came from a German philosopher called Friedrich Nietzsche. This man was an anti-Christian philosopher. Although his father was a pastor, he turned against everything that was Christian. It is not uncommon for people who come from Christian homes to turn against Christianity because of the kind of Christianity they see at home. Nietzsche was a very clever man but he somehow was obsessed with the idea of fighting against God. Of the many books he wrote, one was called “Anti-Christ”, in which he claimed himself to be the Anti-Christ. He turned against God because God was presented to him in the wrong way. But having turned against God, he was left with nothing to live for. He had lost all meaning in life. To reject the Gospel is to reject any basis of hope. Nothing is eternal, everything is transient. Nietzsche became insane at the age of 45 and died 11 years later, in the year 1900.

Superman - Glorification of Man Himself

As a result, Nietzsche developed the idea of Superman. His idea was that man could develop into Superman, at least some men can. To him, hope was the development of man to the highest level of achievement. Man could save himself by his self-development. Some of us can develop into a super race. Of course, this was the idea of the super race that the Nazis took up.

Even though the end of the World War II saw the end of the Nazi dream of a super race, it was taken up by some cartoonist. Man still wants to learn to somehow trust in himself. But who can we trust?

Recently I heard on the news about a man in China who virtually worshipped Mao Tse-tung. He collected every kind of portrait of Mao Tse-tung: in little booklets, badges, or statues. His aim was to collect 25,000 of these. In his room there is a great big portrait of Mao Tse-tung. Everyday he burned incense in front of Mao’s portrait. Why did he do that? Mao Tse-tung was for him a Superman.

Since no living man fits the picture of Superman, the cartoonist could still imagine one: this handsome man with his wavy hair, V-shaped body with bulging muscles, the tight fitting blue gown draped around his back helping him to fly in the air. This is the kind of stuff we do only in our dreams. Have you flown in your dreams? Surely we have flown in our dreams. If you can’t be Superman in everyday life, at least in your dream you can.

Now you understand why we cannot use the idea of “Superman” in the Christian life. It is the glorification of man. It is the glorification of human power that completely leaves God out. In the cartoon, Superman can stop and turn around rockets. What does that mean? That means that man can solve his own problems and does not need God. All you need is for man to develop to a higher level and he can do anything. This idea is nothing new. We can see this in Genesis, where we see mighty beings called sons of God. We also read about man’s achievement as in the building of the tower of Babel. Man is going to build his way into heaven. He is going to take his seat on the throne of God.

Man’s achievement is very considerable. He can fire rockets, and he wants to reach out all the way to the heavens. But I was reading about a report of a new bigger telescope in Hawaii to enable man now to look even further into the universe. The more man knows about the universe, the more we know how humble and small man is. Our greatest achievement in rockets does not go very far in terms of the vastness of the universe.

Fallacy of Becoming Spiritual Supermen

So this whole notion of the glorification of human achievement is what Superman is all about. To apply the idea of Superman to the Christian life is to completely miss the point. Sadly, this kind of thinking still persists in the church. We still see this idea of self-improvement with the intention of achieving this spiritual Superman status. We have been indoctrinated by the present educational system to believe in the idea of continuing self-improvement.

Why do we study so hard? Self-improvement. You study so that we can go from one level of schooling to another, from one degree to another. We learn to improve our memory and our concentration. We can even get pills for “brain power”. With all this effort, we are going to improve ourselves.

When we come to church, don’t we do the same thing? Why do you study your Bible? You say, “I want to know the will of God.” Knowing the will of God is usually only some small part of reason. The real reason though is to improve your grasp of Scripture, is it not? Isn’t it wonderful that when somebody asks a question in the Bible study, you open the passage to them and you are able to open their eyes. People look at you, admiring your profound understanding of Scripture. Of course, you would not say that you do it to impress people. You would say you want to know the will of God. But since you know the will of God so well, why can’t you live victoriously?

What about prayer? Surely, that should be very spiritual. But it may not be that spiritual. We can pray in such a way like “transcendental meditation”. We can concentrate our thoughts and improve our minds. It can help us to focus our mental capacity. It is good to have ten minutes of quiet concentration for the mind as well as for the soul. We are sold on the idea of self-improvement. If you have some subtle reasons for self-improvement in studying the Bible and praying, you still miss the point and you will not progress spiritually in the Christian life.

Is Discipleship Training Program moving us to be Supermen?

You may say, what about discipleship training? Surely with all the different levels of discipleship training, you can progress spiritually and be able to live a victorious Christian life. When you have finished the basic level and you are still struggling to live victoriously, you would look forward to the next intermediate level of training as a solution. This program will really move you towards being Superman. True spirituality is now not that far away.

Does all this training really work though? Do you find you are living victoriously? Have you found that, after some training, suddenly you have some kind of Superman achievement in your life? The reality though is that you begin to realize that you are only half way to being Superman, and you need to be humble about it. Even so, once you are half way to becoming Superman, it is not so easy to be humble any more. But you still want to try. So we have a lot of good people in the church trying to understand how to be more humble. Their whole energy is expended in this struggle of being humble.

Yet you are frustrated. You may say: “After all these discipleship training sessions, when am I actually going to live victoriously? If the only way to succeed is to go on to the next level of training, I don’t know if I am ever going to get there. This Christian life is too difficult to live.”

Let me say this to you. If we go into all this discipleship training with the intention of becoming spiritually advanced in the sense of being a Superman, you have mistaken the whole thing. Even worse, these training sessions will become harmful to you. They are actually dangerous if you go in with the wrong motive. I worry about this a lot. The training is valuable, yet every valuable thing can be misused. That is where the danger is.

The Essence of Spirituality

So then, how do we go on from here? As we conclude, we have to understand the essence of what Paul is telling us. Unless we grasp that, we can never live victoriously. You must go back and think carefully on 2 Corinthians 12:10, “When I am weak, then I am strong”. Paul never claimed to be Superman. In fact, he was never Superman. The astonishing thing is that he went on in2 Corinthians 13:4 (“indeed He was crucified because of weakness”) to say that even Christ was not Superman. Another way to rephrase this is “Jesus was crucified as a weak person”. In the New Testament, Jesus was never presented as a Superman.

Through the whole of John’s Gospel, Jesus never functioned in His own power. When you do not function in your own power, it means that you yourself are nothing and only God is something in your life.

Unless you understand this, you don’t understand the Christian life at all. Never imagine that one day you can reach the level where you can function in the power of a Superman. Because when you reach that level, you don’t need God any more. But as long as you utterly depend on God, it means that you are always weak.

Do you see the danger of the Superman idea? You must grasp it clearly. You must not imagine that you can reach the stage where you have so much power that you can spiritually function on your own. You must never think of your Christian life as a battery which is being charged up by training sessions, Bible study, and prayer. You bring the level of charge higher and higher, so that after your time of prayer and Bible study you can go out and run a long time on that battery charge. Then you come back to God for a recharge only when you feel that charge going down. It does not work like this at all. There is no time in our life when we do not need to be living in our weakness and drawing our strength from Him moment from moment.

Different Kind of Christianity - Boasting in Weakness

What Paul was saying is: “when I am weak, only then can I be strong”. That means in order to be strong at any time, you have to be weak. That is something vital for you to understand. The two parts of this sentence can never be separated. If you feel weak, that is the time to thank God. This is what Paul was boasting about.

Do you feel pain in your body as I do? Paul spoke of a thorn in his flesh. Try pushing a thorn into your body and feel what it is like. It is a picture of a very sharp pain in the flesh. A lot of the scholars have been trying to figure out what it was. Nobody can say for sure. If you keep complaining to God as to why you have this pain in your body, you don’t understand the secret of the Christian life. It is precisely in that weakness that God’s power is going to be manifested in you. In that very passage, Paul boasted about this very thing: the pain. This is a completely different kind of Christianity.

When you have need, that is God’s opportunity to display His power both to you, and through you to others. You all know the story of Joni, this attractive athletic girl. She broke her neck, paralysed from the neck down. She was quite young and her whole life was going to be spent in a wheelchair. Why did God allow such a thing to happen? Yet through her life, countless people have been blessed. Why? Precisely because God’s power is manifested in her weakness.

How do We Face our own Problems?

Yet when you have some health problems, you feel so terrible. I often feel the pain in my back to be very weakening. Notice the word “weakening”. Every illness and every pain has a weakening effect on us. God, in order to make Paul more powerful, had to weaken him first with the pain of the thorn pressed into the flesh. Do you understand this principle? Maybe we are not yet at the level where God can put a thorn in our flesh. We can hardly cope with the small problems we face everyday. The quality of our Christian life will be seen in how we face our problems.

Do you remember the “Queen of the Dark Chambers”, how her eyes were so sensitive to the light that she had to live in the dark? What a tragedy! She had to live in the dark day in and day out. She was virtually living in the night. It was again through her weakness that God’s power was manifested and millions were blessed through her life.

Our Weakness - God’s Opportunity

Your weakness is God’s opportunity to show how extraordinary His power is in your life. This is the glory of Christianity. It is not that you have no problems but precisely in every problem, there is the power to overcome even a broken neck or paralysis. Where else is God’s power going to be manifested in our lives? Do you think God’s glory is manifested in me because I can drive a Mercedes around? I don’t need to be a Christian to drive a Mercedes. But I need to be a Christian to glorify God, to let His power to be manifested in me with a thorn in the flesh. I don’t need God’s power to live in a great big beautiful house. But I do need God’s power when for the sake of the Gospel I have nowhere to live at all.

How Blessed to be Weak

In my early Christian experience, I saw God’s power manifested in Brother Yang. He had the secret of the Apostle Paul in his Christian life. He accepted poverty because of preaching the Gospel. It was something he gloried in and rejoiced in. As I have shared before, we lived together for several months. What do you think I learned most from him? Not how to read the Bible, or how to pray for hours. But from the way he handled his problems and difficulties I learned what the glory of God was. Both of us had no money. Sometimes, we managed only one small fish between us. There was no money even to buy vegetables. We had enough money only to buy rice. I remembered his thanksgiving and praise to God for the tiny little fish. He was constantly being pursued by the police. This was in Shanghai. His joy in the Lord in the face of every problem was where I saw the glory of the Lord. Do you understand this secret?

Paul said that “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). Not “I was”, but “I am”. To be crucified is to be regarded as a criminal. It also means suffering and death. Crucifixion is a symbol of absolute weakness. It was this that Paul saw as the centre of his life. It was precisely there that he was in fellowship with Christ. Do you have this kind of experience with Christ?

In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), we can see that every one of the blessings has to do with weaknesses. “Blessed are the poor”: the poor are weak. “Blessed are the meek”: the meek are the weak ones. “Blessed are the persecuted”: they are persecuted because they have no defence. That was how the Lord opened His teaching. He was trying to impress on our slow and meagre understanding that the whole secret of the Christian life is that God is the God of the weak. His power is only manifested through weakness.

David was called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Was it because he was a Superman? Exactly the opposite. He was the one who deeply appreciated the fact that God loves and lives with the poor, the humble and the weak, and he wrote: “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit (contrite in spirit)” (Psalm 34:18). In fact the beatitude “Blessed are the meek” is based on David’s words in Psalm 37:11, “The meek shall inherit the land (or the earth)”.

You Are Sufficient so You do not Experience God

I have experienced in my own life the wonder of the Lord. You have seen that in my testimony. I have been experiencing so many expressions of God’s power in my life. But what worries me is that I seldom have the chance to hear others sharing similar experiences. I wonder why you don’t experience the wonder of God’s working. Is it because I am Superman and you are not? No, I am no Superman. I am nothing. That is exactly why God works in my life. It was because in my weakness and in my need God manifested Himself to me.

The problem is that you are much more “super” than I am. You don’t have the needs that I have and that is why you don’t experience God. That is why I am sorry for you. You are too well-to-do. I am not saying you are rich, but you have enough to live on, so you don’t have to experience God’s provision.

t was in Shanghai that I had nothing to eat. God created a wonder for me. He was not going to let me starve. If He was going to let me starve, I would accept that too. But He was not going to let me starve. I had that amazing miracle where He multiplied the food for me. I shared that in my testimony.

Is God Real to You?

That is why I say that you are unfortunate because you are too well-to-do. Also you are too healthy. You have passports and citizenships such that God does not have to help you out. Look at your life and ask yourself: where is my poverty and need? Blessed are the poor. They are weak and God will intervene. If your only need is psychological, all you need is some mental comfort. If that’s all you need, you can just glue your eyes to the TV and that will solve all your problems. If you have psychological problems, you look for psychological solutions. You simply do not know whether God is real or not. When I tell you what I have experienced, you may say that maybe I am a bit exceptional. You might even go so far to say that I have perhaps exaggerated. It is hard to believe these things if you have not experienced them yourself. If anything, I tend to underplay the story. When you are actually in it, it is much more exciting than telling the stories. Can you imagine the feeling when you look into the pot expecting the food to be gone only to find that the food is still there? Can you imagine the feeling when you take the food out of the pot and then find that the amount of food in it is still the same as before? It is amazing when you experience it yourself.

Do you want to experience Paul’s kind of invincible Christian life? Do you want to have his kind of spiritual power to live your Christian life? Is our God real to you?

Blessed are the poor and the weak because God will reveal Himself to them. Are you prepared to be poor and weak so as to experience Paul’s kind of invincibility?

Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang, delivered at Hong Kong Church, Central Branch.

To Live is Christ

2 Corinthians 12:9 “My power is made perfect in weakness”

By strategy, I presume that we are asking “how” we should live this life which is Christ. Before we can get to the subject of “how” to live this life, we have to understand first of all the life which we are to live. But that is where my problem begins, because in order to analyze “to live is Christ”, I may need to present analysis that is more suitable for the level of full-time training instead of a camp message such as this one. So I’ve been pondering how to simplify this. But simplifying the material may mean that I have to beat around the bush and not addressing what this theme is really about. Let me try to present this as simply as possible.

Why are we talking about nothingness?

I shall start by talking about “nothing”. In order to understand this theme, we have to understand something about “nothing”. I am not trying to be philosophical. To deal with this theme, I am going to concentrate on the meaning of “nothing” in the New Testament.

Why do we have to discuss this under the subject of “nothing”? Since our camp theme comes from Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”, we need to understand the clause “to die is gain” if we want to understand what it means “to live is Christ”. These two clauses are like two sides of the same coin. If “to die is gain” means nothing to you, then obviously the theme of this camp “To live is Christ” will also mean nothing to you.

To die is gain

“To die is gain” - does it mean anything to you now? How can “to die” be gain? When you die, you lose everything. Since when does dying mean gaining for anyone? To die is to be reduced literally to nothing. If you cease to exist, you are nothing. You are reduced to zero. If you are a manager of a company, when you die, are you still a manager of the company? Of course not. Your place in the company is gone. You are finished. If you are about to take an exam and you die, does it mean that you pass your exam? Of course not! You don’t have to be a genius to see that. If you die, you don’t make it to the exam, therefore you don’t pass. If you are going to get married and you die, marriage is annulled. Everything is cancelled. If you are about to inherit a great fortune and you die, you won’t get a cent. You are simply wiped off the will. You are gone.

To die is gain? What are we talking about? To die is to be nothing. As far as this world is concerned, you are finished. Gone. Death is to wipe the board clean as far as you are concerned. Where once there was your name, whether as director or executive, whatever you are, when you die, your name is taken off. Your name is gone. If you are on a list of candidates, when you die, your name is removed. If you are about to inherit something, your list is taken off the will. To die is to reduce to nothing. How can death be gain?

This certainly is a paradox. If we don’t understand this paradox, how are we to understand “to live is Christ”? In this verse, we have two parts in the same sentence: “to live is Christ” and “to die is gain”. If one part is not true, then the other part is not true. This is a matter of elementary logic. If the part of “to die is gain” is not true, then that part of “to live is Christ” is also not true.


Let’s see the biblical significance of becoming nothing. You have all seen a zero. Imagine a circle here and I am going to ask you: what does the circle stand for? A circle stands for zero. But, as a symbol, could it have another meaning?

The symbol of a circle. In a wedding, the new couple normally give to each other as pledge the wedding rings. A ring is a circle. What does this mean? Does it mean that you pledge in marriage to give the other person nothing? The vow should say: I hereby give you a ring which symbolizes in this wedding that I give you nothing. Now that is a new idea! You have it there in gold that you testify to give nothing to each other. You promise never to give anything. Is that the meaning of the ring? Maybe in real life it comes to that, that you give each other nothing except for headaches.

What does the wedding ring signify? It is the symbol of perfection, of perfect love. A circle, which has no beginning and no end, is supposed to symbolize perfection, that with total commitment, you withhold nothing from the other person.

Therefore we have a remarkable duality where the circle symbolizes “nothing”, and on the other hand, it also symbolizes perfection. Isn’t it amazing? That very well sums up what we have here in scriptural teaching.

The 7 points of “nothing” which is also perfection


We find this statement “I am nothing” in 2 Corinthians 12:11, “I have become a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the super apostles, even though I am nothing.” Here, “nothing” occurs twice. I am nothing and yet I am not in anything behind the most eminent apostles. Here we find this important statement - “I am nothing.”

In Galatians 6:3, the apostles says: “If anyone thinks he is something when in fact he is nothing, he himself is deceived.” He does not understand that he is nothing when he thinks he is something.

In 1 Corinthians 13:2, “... and if I have not love, I am nothing.” The reverse side of that statement means that only love makes us anything in the sight of God. You are not something in God’s sight because you can speak in tongues, or you can prophesy, or you know all spiritual mysteries. None of these things make you anything in the sight of God. The only thing that counts for anything in God’s sight is love. If you are controlled by love, God’s love, then you are something. If that is not a factor in your life, as far as God is concerned, you are nothing.

Bear this in mind when we talk about Philippians 1:21. There are two ways of understanding the two types of nothingness in the New Testament. There is “nothing” in the positive sense. There is also “nothing” in the negative sense. That means, there is a good sense and a bad sense of nothingness.

The good sense is when Paul says that he recognizes that he is nothing. Without that recognition, you will spiritually be nothing. To put it another way, you only understand that you become something in God’s sight when you are ready to become nothing. How to understand? That is the principle of reversal or the principle of di-polarity. I won’t expound these terms right now.

“Nothing” and our salvation

Before I go on, I need to go on a bit further to expound what all this has to do with salvation. Many of you have been brought up in the form of Christianity that you are saved by believing in Jesus, without being told more clearly what believing in Jesus means. If somebody asks you: “Did Jesus die for you?” You say, “yes.” “Do you believe Jesus loves you?” “Yes, of course. If He died for me, He loves me.” “So you believe in Jesus, right?” “Yes.” “You are saved, hallelujah.” Well, that was quick. It only took a few seconds to get saved.

Now, when it comes to the question of discipleship, we run into a further problem. What is the standard of the teaching of the churches today? Where does discipleship fit into this? Why does the Bible say you have to become a disciple before you are saved? “If any man does not take up his cross and follow me, he cannot be my disciple.” Can you be saved without being a disciple? If the answer to that question is “yes”, then what happens to the previous statement that you are saved by believing in Jesus? If the answer to that question is “no”, then the same question arises - what happens to the previous statement of believing in Jesus that we are saved?

To be saved, you have to become a disciple and take up your cross to follow him.

You are now in a logical jam. If you want to play a game with a pastor, ask him that question. “How are we saved?” He will say: “You have to believe in Jesus.” “What does it mean to believe in Jesus?” “You have to believe that Jesus died for you.” “Yes, yes I do, so can I get baptized now?” “Oh yes, yes.” “Before I get baptized, I have yet one question.” “What’s that?” “My question is: why did Jesus say that, in order to be saved, I have to take up my cross in order to follow him?” “Ah, well, it’s good to take up the cross and follow him.” “What’s good about taking up the cross? Does it have anything to do with salvation?” “I have to read up a bit more about this.” “You just told me that I have to believe and get baptized now.” “True.” “What about this discipleship business?” “Well, maybe there are two levels of Christianity.” “Really, two levels? Tell me more.” “First, you believe in Jesus and you get saved, and then you become a disciple.” “Why do I want to do that?” “You want to go to a higher class of Christianity.” “Pastor, excuse me, suppose I don’t want to go to a higher class.” “Well, you don’t have to go to the higher class.” “Well if I don’t go to a higher class, then I can’t be a disciple.” “Well, don’t be a disciple.” “But excuse me, I see in Acts that all true believers are called disciples.” “Oh yes, that’s true.” “So do I or do I not have to be a disciple to be saved?” “Well, no, you don’t need to become a disciple to get baptized.” “So I am going to become a disciple who is not a disciple, right?” “I guess so.” “But why in the book of Acts are the Christians called disciples?” “I’ve got to think a little bit more about this.” “Well, think fast because I want to be saved.”

Here I am giving you an imaginary conversation to show that the conventional church would not have an answer to this question. If we come to this subject “to live with Christ”, then we are in trouble.

Here we are talking about a Christianity that is so radical that we can’t fit it in anywhere, not even into discipleship teaching. People don’t even know what to do with this teaching. It is mind-boggling.

The question here is that Paul says he is nothing. In order for what? In order that Jesus be everything. What does “for me to live is Christ” mean? It means that I am nothing and Christ is everything. For me, “to live” means nothing unless it means Christ. Is that what it means? Can you tell me any other meaning than this? In strict exegesis in expounding scripture, this sentence “to live is Christ” means nothing unless it means that Christ becomes everything to me, so that for me to live is Christ and I am nothing.

“Wow! This is awful teaching. How about a bit of Him and a bit of me? Let’s be reasonable. Does it mean that when I become a Christian, I am out?” The answer to that, my friend, is yes. Do you still want to get baptized? Think on it carefully. If there is anything wrong in my exegesis, please show me.

“To live is Christ” means that Christ is everything in my life. Life is Christ. Nothing else is life. “For me to live” means, by definition of equation, “is Christ”. When we say that life is Christ, we mean that life equals Christ and Christ equals life. It goes back and forth under the equation sign. It is simple logical equation. That means that I am nothing if life equals Christ. Are you following me? Is it difficult to understand?

You take this teaching and go back to our Pastor that I was talking to you about a moment ago, and if discipleship teaching gives him a headache, then wait until you talk to him about this. I can almost guarantee you that he doesn’t understand what this sentence means. If you don’t believe me, ask him. “Pastor, I have been reading Philippians1, and I don’t understand what it means. Would you be so kind to enlighten me a little bit about this - “to live is Christ”? What does this verse mean?” You are going to give him a headache. I am not saying this by insult because it is simply the honest truth. Given the kind of teaching that is being taught, there is no way to understand this verse.

What is Paul saying here? Is he saying that Philippians 1:21 is applicable to every Christian, to you and to me? Hopefully not. If it does, I am in trouble. I do not know how to live this verse. If it does not apply to you and to me, why is it in the New Testament anyway? Why not just mark it off. Maybe it is for super Christians. I just want to settle for discipleship and I am already a step ahead of many Christians. Don’t ask me for more. In discipleship, I can have my own definition. I can define “for me to live” as a bit of me and a bit of Christ. With this kind of formula, I can settle. Maybe 70% me and 30% Christ. If you don’t like this, 50% me and 50% Christ. This is partnership.

Exactly how does this thing fit into the Christian life?

Paul is a very radical Christian. He is even an extremist. “I am nothing and Christ is everything.”

This is not practical in everyday Christian living. Let’s be practical. Can we settle for 50-50, since we already talk about discipleship? How do you tie this with another statement: “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Are these sentences mutually exclusive or are we to define one by the other? If so, which defines which?

You say this is getting very complicated. I am already trying to keep it as simple as possible. What do I mean by one statement defining another? My question is simply this: can we use the sentence in Acts 16:31 to define Philippians 1:21, or is it the converse? If we use Philippians 1:21to define Acts 16:31, then “to believe in the Lord Jesus” means exactly this - “to live is Christ”.

You cannot say “I believe in Jesus” unless you can also say “for me to live is Christ”. The definition of “believe” means “to live is Christ”. That is the definition of “believe”. That is what I mean by taking this verse to define the other.

What about if it is the other way around? Can we get a more comfortable result? Unfortunately the answer is no. You try to use the other sentence to define this one. Let’s see if there is any way to water down this statement “to live is Christ”. How do we do it? Look at it carefully to see if there is any way to bring it down to ordinary believing. Whichever way you do, if you link these two verses together, the result is always the same. It has to go for the higher. The higher cannot go to the lower. It is absolutely essential for us to grasp the principle, because it is our salvation that we are talking about.

If you think that being saved is simply to believe that Jesus died for you and it turns out that that definition is inadequate, then your salvation is gone. You are basing your hope for salvation on the wrong foundation. You have allowed that foundation to be diluted to suit your definition and you are getting into a very dangerous self-deception.

As the Apostle says, if you think yourself to be something, namely that you think yourself to be saved and you are not, then you are very pitiful indeed. How many people today in the churches think that they are saved and they are not? You know from their lives they are not. You know from their speech they are not. You know from the way they do things, they are not. Yet for some mysterious reason, they think they are. They think themselves to be something, namely belonging to Christ, and they don’t belong to Him. On that day, as in Matthew 7, “I will say to them to depart from me, I don’t know who you are.” “I’ve been calling you Lord all this time; you know me.” “No, I don’t know you.” They thought they were something.

Let us continue to think about this more carefully as we proceed. What if our definition of salvation is wrong? We hear this constant teaching in the churches that salvation is to simply “believe and be saved”, when the definition of “believe” has been defined not by the New Testament, not by Philippians 1:21, but by themselves as simply believing that Jesus died for you. Does this not sound familiar to you? What if this definition is totally wrong, I ask you again? Your salvation depends on it. You answer the question yourself. I am not going to tell you how to answer it. I just ask you to look at the scriptures.

Are you convinced by the answer that there are two levels of Christians? One is the basic low class Christian, a Christian that travels in economy class, or “hard seat” as we call it in China. You still get there but you sit on a hard seat. It is a bit uncomfortable but you will still get there in the end. The ordinary believer is simply the “hard seat” class. The other one is the one that goes for discipleship and he goes for soft seat. Does that solve our problem? Of course not. There are no two classes of Christians in the Bible. I cannot find any. If you can find two different classes of Christians, please show me where it is. I must have missed something in the Bible. There are weak Christians and carnal Christians, but they are never approved of: they are rebuked.

As I pointed out, Paul always describes a true believer as a saint. He does not know of a second-class Christian. I am afraid that we have invented that kind of a Christian ourselves. When you ask the churches, they will say that there are higher-class Christians. But let me ask you that original question: “If I can get from Hong Kong to Beijing on hard-seat class, why should I bother with soft-seat class? Is it because it is more comfortable?” If that analogy is to be used, it will be ridiculous in terms of the New Testament, because everybody knows that the New Testament indicates that the discipleship class of Christians endure a much harder life. Of course that is the only kind of Christians that the New Testament knows. If we turn the analogy around and say that you can get to Beijing in two classes, one is the hard-seat class (discipleship), and the other is soft-seat class (an easy believer), who wants to go on the hard-seat class and pay more? You must be a nut case to go on this kind of class.

Do you understand what I am saying? The churches cannot follow the teaching of the New Testament. It cannot swallow Philippians 1:21. It shows at least the courage of the brothers and sisters in this church to face this particular theme in this camp. Whether you have the determination to see it through will still need to be seen.


The true disciple has nothing. The untrue disciple has everything he wants. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 6:10, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet (spiritually speaking) possessing everything.” Now this is a paradox with important dipolar truth. When you have spiritually everything, then you can say that you are truly rich. But you don’t have everything unless you also have nothing. Do you understand that? Paul says he is literally poor and yet always making other people rich. How can you be poor and yet making others rich? It is spiritual riches that you have to give. The rich people are spiritually very very poor. They have nothing to give. But, for the true disciple, what has he done? He sees himself as possessing nothing. He is simply a steward of everything he has. He does not see himself as owning anything. Like the disciples in Acts, they did not consider their own possessions as their own. They are simply stewards of what they have. It is only people with this mentality who are true disciples. It is people like that who are spiritually rich.

We see in scripture the negative and the positive sides. There is the negative side in Revelation 3:17 which is so typical of the spiritual condition of today. “Because you say I am rich and has become wealthy and has need of nothing, and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, blind, naked.” They thought they need nothing. In fact, they have nothing. That is the tragedy of the whole situation. There are Christians who have nothing, spiritually speaking. There are Christians who have everything. It will take only a few minutes to find out what kind of a Christian you are talking to. You talk to one kind of Christians and you see the riches of their lives, the dynamics of their lives. You know their lives are full. They might not have much money in their pockets. It is not because they could not have it. It is because they turn their backs on those things. It is not because they could not have it but they see themselves merely as stewards of whatever they have. They don’t consider themselves of owning it. It is simply all at God’s disposal. When the Lord says to use it for that purpose, it is gone. And yet, though we have nothing, they have spiritual riches and make many people rich.

Does your life enrich anybody or does it make other people poor? When you share a household with other people, does your presence make other people poor, make others tired, take the joy away from other people, irritate them, and wear others out; or does your presence in that household enrich other people? You know how to answer that question. From that, you know whether this camp theme means anything to you or not. For somebody who lives in such a way that Christ is his life, that person is always enriching others. After being with that kind of person, you go away feeling enriched. You feel you got so much. But there are other people that you spend a little time with them and you feel so tired. They drain you. Often I see that the coworkers and the leaders in the church are so tired. There must be so many spiritually poor in the church who are draining them. The leaders are so worn out. Where are the people who are “to live is Christ”? You know yourself. Are you the kind of person who enriches others or do you wear them out?


Yes, I do nothing. What does that mean? To understand that, we can turn to John 8:28, “then Jesus (the model for our lives) said to them: when you lift up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he [the Messiah], and that I do nothing of myself but as my Father taught me, I speak these things.” I do nothing, certainly nothing of myself. That is exceedingly important. That is the fundamental operational principle of the person for whom to live is Christ.

Who then is the operational principle in our lives? Who was the operational principle in Jesus’ life? The Father. I do nothing of myself.

The controlling dynamic of our lives is Christ. That is what it means. “For me to live is Christ” means that Christ directs your life in every detail.

That does not mean you become a robot. You cannot be a robot because you consciously, by your own choice, ask Him to direct you. In other words, looking for direction is in itself an act of your will. It never becomes automatic. Do you do that? Do you ask the Lord what you should do, or do you simply do what you want and make your own decisions?

Being a Christian at this level in the New Testament is basic Christianity. It is to live a life directed by the Lord Himself. That gives you freedom. That is the source of your power. He is your life because He directs the way you think, the way you do things, and what it is that you do.

Can you honestly say that “I do nothing of my own”? Maybe you can say that “I do nothing right”. In the household, you step on everybody’s toes, and you offend everybody in the household. Indeed you didn’t do anything right. Try to imagine the life of a Christian who lives on this principle of doing nothing of his own. Some Christians do nothing at all because, if they do something, they do the wrong thing. They really get on people’s nerves because they keep doing the wrong thing. Look at the people who share a house with you. Isn’t it incredible that their capacity of doing the wrong things is quite overwhelming? You want to say, “Please, I beg of you, please do nothing. This way, at least, you will not get in everybody’s ways. You will not be burning the rice, or breaking the furniture. You will not be dropping the dishes. Would you be so kind and do nothing? At least in this way, you don’t commit any sins.” At least, at that level, we can learn to do nothing.

Of course, being a disciple means a bit more than to do nothing in that sense. I personally will be very satisfied if some Christians would just do nothing. There will then be so much peace. Everytime they open the mouth, they do the wrong thing. It is incredible. Maybe we ourselves have done the share of the same thing. Imagine how much peace there will be in a marriage if both parts will just shut up. At least you can’t quarrel if both of you shut up. The moment their mouths open, they quarrel. Sometimes it is a blessing to be dumb. You don’t see two dumb people quarrelling. Just wonderful.

But the Lord wants us to take one step further and that is where our problems begin. “I do nothing except what the Father tells me to do.” That is too high power, right? Yet that is basic Christian life. That is what it means to believe in Jesus, to believe that He can direct you. To say that I believe in Jesus who died for me is to say that I believe in an event that took place 2,000 years ago. Does He still do something today? Yes, He does. He directs my life every moment of every day. Do you dare to say that? Let me tell you, your Jesus is really alive. Some people believe in a dead Jesus who passed away 2,000 years ago. He was supposed to have risen and gone to heaven and He had not been doing anything either.

If we do nothing, then He does everything. If He does everything, then He is my life. That is what Philippians 1:21means. I hope that after this session, nobody will say that I have not expounded on this verse in detail. If you can’t live it, don’t blame me.

“I do nothing”. In John 5:30, Jesus said, “I can of myself do nothing.” There it is again. It does not mean that He is not able to do it. He has chosen not to do it. The “can do nothing” is of the will, of His choice. “I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is righteous because I do not do my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.”

To do nothing here is defined very precisely as doing nothing of one’s own will.

Very clearly, it is the Father’s will that He does. So we go on in this way into John 5:19, “then Jesus answered and said to them: the Son can do nothing of Himself but what He sees the Father do, for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. That is what it means to live is God. God is my life and He defines my life. I want to do nothing but His will. Can you say this honestly? Is that the kind of Christian life you live, or do you hope to be saved by some superficial pledge of believing that Jesus died for you? That kind of Christianity does not exist in the New Testament.

Is this too radical for you? If Jesus is my life, then this is the way I live. Otherwise, Jesus is not my life. And if He is not my life, then tell me how I am going to be saved. We are talking about life, and life is salvation and salvation is life. This is the only kind of salvation, the only kind of life, that I can see in New Testament. The church today has dared in its arrogance and self-deception to water down this New Testament teaching. This is the New Testament teaching.


I know nothing - this is going from one “nothing” to another! The Christian life is to know nothing. Wonderful, isn’t it? 1 Corinthians 2:2 is the guiding principle of Paul’s life, the secret by which he lived. What does he know? Let him answer the question himself in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “for I determine not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

Paul goes on to say that he has learned the philosophy of this world. Paul was a very learned man, so learned that when he was placed under trial, the judge said to him: “Paul, you are mad because of your great learning. You know too much. You are simply too learned and your learning has made you mad.” Paul says that he is not mad. He knows very clearly what he is talking about. Why did they think he was mad?

Look at this. For him, ever since he came to the Lord, the only thing mattered to him was Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That part about “Jesus Christ” we can still handle, but a “crucified Christ”, a dead man? What is this? He is really mad. Paul goes on to say that the crucified Christ is the power of God to salvation. What? A crucified Christ? What is he talking about?

I won’t go into detail on that now. Suffice it to say that the man who lives according to the principle of “to live is Christ” is also determined to know nothing. That does not mean that you abandon your secular knowledge, such that if you are trained in computers, you would suddenly not understand computers any more. What it means is that that kind of knowledge no longer determines your living. Before that, that was everything. You were proud of your skill and your knowledge. You considered yourself to be something. Now your functional principle is none of this.

For you, the functional principle of your life (that which determines your knowledge and everything else) is Jesus Christ as the centre.

This Jesus Christ is not seen primarily as King of the universe. He is that but that is not the point in the New Testament. It is Jesus Christ, lowly and meek. That is what Jesus crucified means. How lowly and how meek? Remember we are talking about Philippians 1:21. What did He do? he humbled himself. He was born in a manger. That is not the lowest He went. He went a lot lower than that. he died a death as a criminal on the cross. That’s how low he went. It is this Jesus, not the King of kings with a crown on his head that we are talking about.

That is amazingly not the centre of Paul’s knowledge. What is? The one with no crowns on his head except the crown of thorns. Can you understand this? It is taking you to deep things. It is easy to glory in a lord who reigns over the universe. That is not the lord he was glorying in. He gloried in a man who got crucified on earth. He gloried in a man who humbled himself to a slave. Notice what happens when this kind of thinking dominates your thoughts. You become a Christian of a different quality. It is not the kind of “power Christian”, not the “glory Christian” that boasts about Jesus as King of kings (though He is that too), but the kind of Christian who boasts in a man who made Himself lower than a slave.

This kind of thinking determines the entire thought process of Paul’s mind. It is a kind of quality, a kind of humility, a kind of graciousness, a kind of lowliness in the person’s life that is indefinable. I am still trying to learn that.

I meditate everyday on the cross of Christ. I am not meditating on Jesus as King of kings because that is easy to understand. What is so hard for me to understand is Jesus as the one who was lower than a slave, who washed his disciples feet, and went on to die for all his disciples and for all of us who have become his disciples, and who forever will walk about in heaven with nail prints in his hands, scars on his brow, and the stab wound in his heart. It is this Jesus that I am trying to understand. I am very slow of understanding but I am trying. And Paul says that that is the Jesus he wants to know. To know him is to understand all mystery, and he does not want to know everything else.


When all the foregoing points are true, then the fifth point is that I fear nothing. Now the strength of the spiritual man begins to appear. I fear nothing. This is a striking thing. Here again, I have too many references. There are many verses on “fear not”. Philippians 1:28, “and in nothing be terrified by your adversaries.” A man who functions in this way is a fearless man. In my teenage days, do you know what name I chose for my baseball team? It was called “Dreadnought”. I was very interested in military science and there was a famous battleship called the “Dreadnought” which is said to be unsinkable. So in Chinese, our team was called “----“.

The true Christian is afraid of nothing for one simple reason, because the only person he fears is God. In Luke 8:24, when the Lord Jesus was in the storm and the ship was sinking, did you see any fear in Him? He was sound asleep, fearless. There you see the quality of fearing nothing. John Wesley was so impressed by a bunch of Christians on the boat going to North America. At that time, like so many of us, he was an unregenerate Christian, and he saw these Christians (who were called pietists by the Germans) who had such trust in the lord Jesus that they had no fear. Belief was taken to a level where fear was written off. Is that your belief in Jesus? Or does your exam make you anxious? Or does your health make you anxious? Or does your marriage make your anxious? Everything makes you anxious. You are a frightened anxious Christian.

If you live like that, you don’t know what it means to be a Christian. “To live is Christ” means you have no fear, because He lives in you. The responsibility is on Him.

I can speak of this from my own experience. I lived for nearly three years in China in a state of abject poverty. I lost everything with the coming of the Communists. Not a cent left. Everyday, I had to trust the Lord for my needs. I would get up in the morning and have not the faintest idea of where I would get the next meal. Imagine that. I was penniless and lived three years like that.

If you had to rise this morning without a cent in your pocket, with no lunch nor dinner ahead of you for the next coming weeks and months, what would your condition be? Would you be relaxed and full of peace and joy? Only if Christ is your life. I would get up in the morning and say: “Lord, here is your child. I am hungry with nothing to eat and I also don’t have money to buy lunch. I am not fearful. I know that somehow you are going to provide for my need today.” Did He ever fail? Never. Why do I preach the gospel with conviction? Because I know that the God who fed those millions of people in the wilderness with manna from heaven is the same God who fed me everyday and saw to it that I didn’t starve to death. That is how practical my God is. If someone were to ask me, “Does God feed you when you are hungry?” Sure, He can. Can it be that the God who created heaven and earth cannot make enough food to feed you? No fear. I can expound on this for a long time but my time is going fast.


I lack nothing. Whether physical or spiritual, the person who lives in Christ has everything. Having nothing yet possessing all things. He lacks nothing. 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “that you may lack nothing.” Live in such a way that you lack nothing. This lacking of nothing can be the Lord’s provision directly, or, if circumstances permit, you can also work with your own hands (as the apostle Paul did) and earn what you need. Notice I said that the lord provided my every need in China because there was no other way for me to obtain any income. But later on when there was an opportunity for me to earn my income, I was not so spoiled and dependent on the lord and say, “You can provide me with food, so I don’t have to work any more.” No, I went out to work. When I first took up the pastorate in Liverpool, the church was so small that they could not support me. I said to them that it was alright with me, I would go out to work. So I went out to teach. I taught from Monday to Friday and I worked in the church from Saturday to Sunday. Very unscriptural. I worked 7 days a week without any rest days. After six months, the lord in his kindness caused the church to grow in sufficient numbers that they were able to give me the same amount I was receiving through teaching.

Whether the Lord provides directly or through our own working, more importantly, we lack nothing on the spiritual level. How is your condition spiritually? Do you feel the emptiness inside? Do you feel that every day you seem to be lacking something in your life but you don’t know what that lacking is? The answer is quite simple. What you lack is precisely this camp theme. You have not yet implemented the spiritual truth that Christ is your life. As long as Christ is not your life, believe me, you can try as hard as you like to fill the emptiness in your life, it will never work. You will always be haunted by that nagging emptiness. But after today’s message, don’t ever say you don’t know how to fill the emptiness. I have told you what the scriptural teaching is. There is no easy way. There is no cheap way. But there is a wonderful way. Christ will fill your life overflowing and you will lack nothing at all.


Because you lack nothing, you should also withhold nothing. You have so much to give that you don’t have to withhold anything. Have you ever met the kind of Christian who seems to have limitless resources? They always have something to give. They are so rich that they don’t have to withhold anything. They don’t have to be stingy.

Acts 20:20, “and now I have kept back nothing that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly from house to house.” Have you kept back anything from the lord? Have you in fact anything to give to the Lord or to each other? Is yours a life of richness? Is yours a life of power? When the apostle Paul says to the Ephesian church in Acts 20, he kept back nothing, what is the quality of this man through whom God shook the world? What kind of Christian life do you want to live?


In closing, I want to ask you: “What kind of Christian life do you want to live? Do you want to be an ordinary, average Christian, who is not so good but also not so bad? Or do you want to make your life count in this generation through whom God can work, through whom God can shake not only Singapore but the world? God is looking for that kind of person. I wonder how many Christians live by this teaching that we have here: “for me to live is Christ”.

Paul was so abundant that he said it is a joy for him to be spent for others. That was the mentality with which he wrote 2 Corinthians 12:15, “I would be glad to give you everything, to be spent for you.” In Romans 9:3, Paul is willing to withhold nothing to the extent of his salvation. Many people say they will give you everything except their salvation. Paul says that not even his salvation is precious to him, if, in his being lost, others can be saved. Romans 9:3 often brings tears to my eyes: where Paul says that if, through his being lost, his people would be saved, he would gladly give up his salvation for their eternal welfare. What is Paul saying? Paul is saying that he is willing to go to hell if the Jewish people can go to heaven. How many of you dare to say here that you are willing to go to hell if the people in Singapore can go to heaven? How many of you dare to say you are willing to go to hell if the people in China can hear the gospel and be saved? Where can God find such a man? All this is part of the meaning of “to live is Christ”. It is not some kind of super Christianity. That is simply part of the definition of what it means to live is Christ.

Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang, delivered on December 1992, at Singapore Christian Disciples Church, Camp 1992