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禧年堂的担子 The Jubilee Load

Sermon passage: (Galatians 6:1-10) Spoken on: July 18, 2021
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Galatians

Tags: Galatians 加拉太书

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。

Title: The Jubilee Load
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Date: 18th July 2021

Today’s passage is linked to the previous passage, Galatians 5: 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. It is about the relationships within a Christian community, and how we should handle our conflicts and differences. So today, when we talk about how to restore those who are “caught in a sin”, note that the phrase “might refer to a sin that was not premeditated, one committed, perhaps, in the passion of the moment before the opportunity to reflect. It was thus inadvertent and unintentional on the part of one who on the whole is devoted to the new life in Christ.” [1] So we are particularly referring to sinning against one another in Christ, minor moral failures due to oversight or ignorance, or sins committed in the heat of the moment. Such unintended cases are actually very common in church because we interact with each other socially and in ministry with our own personality and biases. Sometimes we clash over theological arguments, sometimes over different ways of doing things, sometimes over misunderstandings about one another. Sometimes, to win an argument, to push through an agenda, or simply to defend oneself, we might sin against a fellow brother or sister in words and deeds. I am ashamed to say that I have said hurtful things I have regretted; I have broken relationships that I cannot repair.

This was why in 2013, when we had our first Shepherd Summit, our gathering of all co-workers involved in the ministry of leading others spiritually, we agreed upon 6 common shepherd values: Courage to Challenge, Openness, Life as a Witness, Time-commitment, Vision and Burden sharing, and Teamwork (COWTiVaTe). These values enable us to work together despite our differences. As shepherds, we shouldn’t be fighting alone, nor could we afford to do so. The vision of Jubilee Church is “To be a Spirit-Filled Worshipping Community that Attracts, Witnesses, Equips, and Blesses with God’s love”. This vision and burden of the church can only be shared and carried if everybody is committed to it. As Paul said in today’s passage, “2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The law of Christ is stated earlier in Galatians 5: 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, when we share and carry each other’s burdens, it shows that we truly love one another.

Eight years have passed, and these 6 shepherd values still remain very relevant till this day. In my reflection, I wondered if we have lived up to our vision of being a Spirit-filled worshipping community. Throughout these years, we have stayed united as one body, and every year we have pushed for new initiatives whether in evangelism or in our teaching curriculum. These would not have been possible if we were not working together to enable the spiritual gifts of everyone to flourish. I know of many churches constantly embroiled in squabbles and I count us blessed in comparison. However, I also cannot deny there had been church members and leaders who had left us on bad terms, some in disappointment, some in anger. There were also some who had fallen in sin or strayed away due to worldly desires. They were accountable for their own decisions, but as the senior pastor, I also felt responsible for the broken relationships. We are only as strong as our weakest links, and I need the commitment of everyone to watch out for these weaknesses, whether it is someone struggling with sin, or any current broken relationships that are not pleasing to God. I cannot do this alone. None of us can. But if we each do the good before us, the Spirit of God can fill this entire family.

Today, I wish to use the words of Paul to offer three pieces of advice on how we should deal with our broken relationships. Every broken relationship is the outcome of sin. The first thing to make clear is that sin is ultimately a personal responsibility. As Paul stated, “5 for each one should carry their own load. 7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” This means that God will be fair in his judgment as each man is personally accountable for their own deeds. It is very easy and convenient to blame others for our broken relationships. I have heard of people who blame their parents for who they are, or blame others for not challenging them or correcting them from their own sinful deeds. Nonetheless, nobody can blame others for their own sins. As God said to Cain in Genesis 4: “7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” This means that we have the free will to overcome sin. 1 Corinthians 10: 13 God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. So I need to be clear about the first point on personal responsibility. We can, and we should be taking charge of our own burden to reject sin.

Personal accountability is really about taking the responsibility to resolve your own sinful situations of conflict that you might encounter within the Christian community. So what should you do? Paul’s second advice is that we do such restoration with a spirit of gentleness or meekness. This is the same word used in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. It implies that this restoration must be done through the Holy Spirit. And just like Galatians 5:19-20, the opposite is to resolve the conflict or inadvertent morality issues with acts of the flesh, which include “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions”, all of which are the polar opposites of gentleness and meekness. Therefore, gentleness and meekness are about your intentions and attitudes towards the restoration, not about the methods. [2] If the intention is self-serving, either to show how right you are, or to put down the other person, or to gain more influence for your party in church politics, than Paul warned that “8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction.” But if the intention is to serve the other person in conflict with you, so that the broken relationship can be restored, then Paul encouraged that “8whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

How do we know if our intentions are self-serving or not? Paul’s third advice was: 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. This requires honest elf-examination. How do you reconcile with someone in conflict without falling into the temptation of self-righteousness? It is very counter-intuitive because if you think someone is wrong, you obviously think you are right. This is my personal recommendation, something that I do whenever I try to guard against self-righteousness, which is a dangerous temptation when you have been in senior leadership position for a while. I go back into the principle of burden sharing, which means that the burden of broken relationships and conflict is not my personal responsibility to judge or to purge, but something to be shared and carried together. I would approach the person I hope to reconcile with or the persons who need reconciliation. I would share my observations of the sinful situation, it might be a broken relationship between us, it might be about conflicting working styles. It would not be directly aimed at any person in particular, as if I were right and the person was wrong, but there is a sinful situation in the eyes of God, and that sinful situation is a burden that we both must share. We must deal with it as one in order to restore the unity of the body of Christ into something that is worthy of God. My personal experience is that when it is presented as something that we can both work on together, when neither of us need to be defensive or self-righteous, since we both need to rely on the grace of God for restoration, then the outcome is generally more in line with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

To be frank, having participated in such restoration work over the years of my pastoral ministry, it is much harder to bring back a fallen church member than to ignore, or simply to condemn and throw stones like everybody else. This is why Paul encouraged us not to give up, not to be weary, and to do good as long as you are given the opportunity. I also want to stress the point about opportunity. Each of us are connected to one another in a unique way. Some will only respond to person A, some will only listen to person B. Some of us have precious opportunities to do good and bring restoration to particular individuals that perhaps nobody else can do. The extra mile may be tough, but it is also a divine grace to extend God’s love beyond the current reach of the community.

There’s a verse I’m not commented on so far: 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. It is related to the principle of sharing the financial and ministry burdens of the church pastors. My witness to this is that the pastors are well taken care of by the church. Ministry-wise, church members also typically respond positively when I approach them for help, contributing their time and expertise. The church leadership will be unfolding more vision-sharing in the second half of the year, and I hope our united vision and burden sharing will help Jubilee grow stronger in the years to come.

[1] Keener, NCBC, p 267
[2] It matters even more than being theological right or wrong when Paul talks about the strong and the weak in Romans 14.