29/11/2020 [Thematic Message 120] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Should We Have Hope in People? <Php 1:3-11>
We rarely see the Bible directly telling us messages to hope in people. On the contrary, the Bible often tells us that because people are fickle, we should not put our hope in man, but in the Lord. The only thing the Bible tells us more is to love others. Therefore, many Christians have unconsciously formed a mentality and perspective of “putting hope only in the Lord, but not being so optimistic about people”. Our heart always thinks, “Don't set hopes on a person or praise him too soon, lest he be proud or fall down the next moment.” Of course, this is also a kind of wisdom. However, in the truth that the Bible has given in relation to loving others, one of the great lessons is “hope”. When the Bible speaks of the truth about love, <1 Co 13:7> says, “it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” From this short sentence, the Lord seems to tell us not only to protect and persevere when facing the weaknesses of others, we also have to know how to trust and hope that others will change and anticipate that they will do better in the future. However, we are born in a sinful world and come into contact with sinful people every day. Therefore, our temperaments are relatively negative, so that we are more sensitive to people’s negative temperaments. As parents, we often see the weakness of our children. As shepherds, we also often see the weakness of the sheep, and over the many years of shepherding, we have also seen many brethren who caused us to be greatly disappointed. Therefore, we gradually forget to include “having hope in people” as a part of loving people. In fact, the power from “having hope in people” is so great that we should often be deliberate in our prayers to think about this in our hearts. In particular, when people sometimes disappoint us, do we still find reasons to hope in him? Or do we use his direct weakness as a standard for judging him? Perhaps some people continue to remain in their weakness, not because they are indeed so weak, but because they do not receive our intercession brought about by our hope. Of course, we are not saying that “having hope in people” means that we do not need to teach them. Hope, in fact, is to give people comfort in the heart and make them strong, but only teaching can make them understand God's will and grow. Therefore, hope itself cannot replace teaching. Hope is to comfort a person and open his heart to receive the teachings of God. Of course, we also see in the church today, many hope in people, but they do not teach people using God's words such that they know God and His truth clearly. Therefore, we will see that some believers rely solely on each other’s comfort and hopes to sustain their faith, but in the end, they find themselves defeated. For example, some young leaders often say to the youths, “I believe you are blessed, and I hope that you can do better tomorrow.” But what is meant by a blessed life? What is a blessed living? How can we rely on the Lord to do better? If all these are not taught, then the hope we give to people is a form of empty words or expression. Then, from another perspective, the person whom others have hope in should also know how the Holy Spirit works in his heart through people’s anticipation. Sometimes, the person whom others have hope in may be affirmed for the time being, but at the same time, he will feel a kind of pressure. Perhaps the pressure is because he feels that there is a gap between the expectations of others and the current situation in his life. Well, that pressure is actually not bad; on the contrary, it is necessary. That is where the Holy Spirit convicts us to pursue or improve in that respect. Maybe we already have the potential in our life, but we have not produced the fruit that fits that life. Then, human expectations will challenge and inspire us to progress. Therefore, after a shepherd hopes in the congregant, he will at the same time also gives everyone the necessary teaching and challenges. Only in this way can each life be stimulated to bear more fruit, and give glory to God.
1. Start not with hopes in man, but in God
1）Main barriers for not having hope in man
Some people feel that what they always hope for are often not fulfilled. Examples: They have hopes in their children but they do not progress. They have hopes in cell group members but they leave one by one. Thus, they think that it is better not to have hope, so that they will not be disappointed. In fact, this is a kind of coping mechanism of mankind, so that they will not be too disappointed. It sounds right, but think about it, if we live a life where there is completely no hope in men or good outcomes, this is just like living a life which is powerless, helpless, and joyless. Man needs love, faith, and hope. A parent can have power to continue teaching his disobedient child because he hopes he can be mature and sensible one day. A pastor can have the power to teach and shepherd everyone because he hopes that the church members who are currently tender and young spiritually can one day become a vessel fit for God’s use. Only by having hope in people, can our prayers for them persist, and be greatly effective. Although the church of Philippi was still inadequate, just as in <Php 4:2>, although two female co-workers were not very united, Paul still rejoiced because of the entire church of Philippi. However, if that anticipation eventually makes us disappointed, then what can we say? If so, that disappointment will bring us to a more realistic stage, cause us to view people and things more accurately, or make us put in more efforts in teaching and shepherding people. However, we must not lose hope in people just because of fear of disappointments. We should learn how to mutually edify each other through the power of anticipation.
2）Paul first placed the foundation of hope on the good work which God has begun in the heart of man
Indeed, man is weak, and also fickle. The Bible does not deny this, but emphasize this instead. Thus, we cannot merely just put our hopes on man, such as hope that certain people will have certain great accomplishments. If that is the case, our hopes are only by sight, such as valuing people’s current outstanding performance, but not rested on the foundation of God’s promises. Then, on whom will God’s promises be fulfilled? We will know by observing whether there is God’s good work in a person’s heart. Some people’s hearts can be bought over by money, some can be won by human praises or certain temporal benefits, but some can be redeemed only by the heavy price of Christ’s gospel. After such people hear the gospel, although they seem to receive it silently, they follow and serve the Lord for years without change. In the process of following and serving the Lord, the more difficulties they go through, the more they rely on the Lord, draw closer to Him, thus proving that knowing Christ is of surpassing worth <Php 3:8>. On such people, we will surely see how the Lord carry His good work on to completion <Php 1:6>.
2. Translate our hope in the Lord to our hope for man
1）How to accurately discern the Lord’s good work in a person’s heart?
(1) What he advances is the gospel – The church of Philippi was not only a church which believed in the gospel, but also one which advanced the gospel. Today, many people flood to the church, but we must ask what is it they truly want to advance. Some people’s zeal is not to advance the gospel but to advance themselves or what they want to do. Although some preachers are serving the Lord, if listen carefully to them, they are preaching human principles, ethics, good works, philanthropism, success, or all kinds of methodologies, etc, but not the gospel of Christ and Him crucified. When man advances something, those who love that thing will be attracted. If we advance money, those who want to get rich will surely come. If we advance morals, those who are strong in ethical views will surely be attracted. But if we purely advance the gospel, then those who only love Christ will come. What man’s eyes look at, what his ears hear, what his mouth speaks, and what his heart is attracted to, these are what he advances.
(2) Time as proof – The proof of the Philippian brethren advancing the gospel was not only limited to what happened over one or two years. Paul clearly said, “from the first day until now...” <Php 1:5>. Since the birth of the church of Philippi till Paul wrote the book of Philippians around AD 62, it had been about ten years. Actually, a person’s faith and obedience to the gospel must be proven over time. Time can expose a person’s true motives, and prove whether his life is built on the rock or the sand <Mt 7:24-27>. Sometimes, in a person’s decade, he went through career building, marriage, child-rearing, all kinds of trials of life, then we can really see what is it that he truly values and advances in his life.
(3) Do not change because of people – The Philippian brethren did not waver because of Paul’s situation. Whether Paul was in chains or defending and confirming the gospel among them, the church of Philippi shared in God’s grace with Paul <Php 1:7>. Today, many believers put their faith in the ultimate fate of the evangelist, and use that to conclude if the gospel he preaches is real or not. Some people see that certain pastors or preachers have health, success and wealth, and think that whatever they preach is right. Some people see that their own pastor is full of sicknesses and pain, or his family encounters bad things, and thus deem that the gospel he preaches is problematic. This is enough to prove that such people never knew the gospel, nor have they read the Bible carefully.
2）We should know how to intercede for people, and pay attention to the conviction the Holy Spirit gives our heart
<Php 1:3> I thank my God every time I remember you... <Php 1:4> In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy... <Php 1:8> I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus... No one can accurately judge another person, but when we pray for a long time for a group of people, we will feel the Lord’s heart for them. Perhaps the Lord is very pleased with them; or the Lord has mercy on them; or the Lord values them; or the Lord is not happy with them; or the Lord is grieved over them; or the Lord wants to renew them, etc. In fact, these are the grounded convictions we receive when we intercede for a person over time; those are not convictions received because people make our hearts comfortable or uncomfortable once or twice, or whether people make us happy or not. Perhaps, some people always like to give others friendly or comfortable vibes, but that may not represent the true state of their lives. In fact, it takes time to read a person’s inner heart and understand the state of his life. Thus, for a servant of God to preach and in his sermon, bring out comfort, encouragement, rebuke, etc, he must go through the convictions in his heart concerning that group of people. The more accurate this conviction is, the more the hearers will be renewed because of the word they heard. Paul showed us an important example, which is, the anticipation in his heart for the church of Philippi caused the Holy Spirit to greatly comfort them. Perhaps, sometimes we do not have hope for certain people not because there is no grace in their lives, but because we rarely intercede for them or ponder deeply about the state of their entire lives. Perhaps, we only judge them based on the recent vibes they gave us. Indeed, many divisions in the church appear because of such short-sighted judgments. In fact, there is not one person whom the Lord loves whom we cannot have anticipation. However, we must know how to get into contact with people, know one another, and intercede for each other, then we can truly have hope for each other. Hence, we must pray for brethren who will be ordained as elders and deacons next year, and as we intercede for them, let us receive a heart of anticipation for them.
3. Those whom we have hopes in are also those whom we have expectations of
1）Paul had hopes in the Philippians, but also challenged them
(1) Love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight – some people think that having too much knowledge will diminish love. Actually, the Bible does not say that. Instead the Bible tells us that love can grow through knowledge and insight. When we love a person, it is not naïve, ignorant love, but it is derived from our understanding of God, humans, sin, demons, world and all things. If we do not know the truth of the value of a single life and his surrounding environment, how can we truly love the person? We love others not because whether we are petty or not, or if the person makes us happy or not. Love abounds more when there is growth in knowledge and insight.
(2) Discern what is best, and so be pure and blameless – we are living in an era that is unable to discern. Why is that so? Because whether it is the world, or the Lord’s church, we are slowly not emphasizing God’s truth, but on what works. If we say believers should still gather in the pandemic, some churches may say that out of love for others, they will temporarily not meet. If we say we want to share the gospel, some churches will teach that you must speak wisely or preach indirectly, so that people will not be turned off; if we say we want to stand firm in our positions on abortion and LGBT, some churches cautioned that we might prevent them from coming to church, so we better just share the message of love. Just how much must we compromise? Do the believers today really have a belief that is set part? Why is it that there are so many people who are getting baptized these days in the church, only because Jesus is good and can protect them, but they do not know their own sin. Actually, this shows that the believers in the end times have gradually lost the pure and blameless heart, thus the gospel which is being preached is also diluted. Paul clearly taught that believers ought to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
(3) Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— what is the fruit of righteousness? That is, a believer who has the righteousness of Christ in his life, is constantly being driven by the righteousness of God, and desires to continue to submit to the Lord in all things. Because this fruit of righteousness is manifested in his new life and living, the people around him will be drawn to the Lord, to understand God’s salvation. If a person does not have the evidence of bearing the fruit of righteousness out of obedience to the Lord, he is like a branch that is not connected to the vine. He will either be pruned (sanctified and refined) or cut off and thrown into fire (abandoned).
2）We can have hope in each other, but ought to be challenged by each other as well.
If we do not challenge each other, we will become a church that does not have hope in each other. From every sermon that is preached in our church, everyone will know that the Lord is challenging us through His servant. Next year, if we are ordaining new elders and deacons, this will be a challenge to the whole church leadership, for them to know how to love the Lord with all their heart, mind and strength, and serve the church of the Lord. Especially, as the church grows, the congregation will surely have more need for church leaders and more expectations of them. The church leadership should also have expectations of the congregation. This is like how brothers and sisters need pastor to feed them spiritually, but pastor has to feed them the right spiritual food they need. However, our hopes and expectations come out of love, not from a heart of discord or blame. Only with such hopes, it can bring each of us healthy challenges, which lead to mutual edification.