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12. Perfection: Be Merciful Like Your Father

Chapter 12

Perfection: Be Merciful Like Your Father

Perfection Required

The ultimate goal of regeneration and renewal is perfection, which is to be like Christ. It is lamentable that Christ-like­ness—the direction of the life of the new man in Christ—is almost totally ignored in the churches today even though it is a vital concept in Scripture. This is unacceptable be­cause the Lord Jesus didn’t teach perfection as some desirable ideal for us to contemplate, he requires it: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt.5.48)

In Matthew chapter 5, the whole section leading up to verse 48 (and culminating in this verse with the word “there­fore”) is instructional, but it also has an imperative character. This is already seen from verse 21 onwards, where Jesus cites Old Testament commands and then gives their application on the spiritual level for this present time—a practical application relevant to our daily lives —which he expects all his disciples to implement. The culmin­ating “therefore” in verse 48 also describes the content and nature of the perfection he expects of us. Perfection is expected of every Christian, not just “higher level” Christians.

How do I fulfill the requirements of perfection? If I don’t understand what is perfection, how can I know where to start? In a previous chapter we described perfection in terms of holiness. But few Christians today understand what holiness is. We may try to define “holy” as “set apart for God,” but again few people understand what this means. We may also try to describe holiness in terms of total commitment, but that might not be clear to some people. It is helpful to meditate more deeply on the whole section of Matthew 5.21-48 and to let the Spirit of God illuminate our hearts regarding the “spirit” (as opposed to the “letter”, 2Cor.3.6) of the perfection he calls us to. In this chapter, however, we will look at perfection in Matthew 5.48 from the point of view of the parallel verse given in the Gospel of Luke.

Eight Important points for understanding and implementing the life-transforming teaching concerning mercy in Scripture

(1) Perfection as Mercy: Be Merciful as Your Father is Merciful

Jesus in his wisdom has provided us with another parallel definition, or description, of what perfection is: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Though on the surface its meaning seems clear enough, the depth of this statement is not easy to fathom. Let us, guided by the Spirit, search out its spiritual riches. We read from verse 32 to get the context:

32 And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount.

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

The concluding statement, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” is the one we need to consider here. From the fact that this statement stands as a parallel to the words in Matthew, it is evident that “merciful” and “perfect” are to be understood as being synonymous, or as defining or describing each other.

Perfection may be an abstract concept to us, but if Jesus tells us to be merciful, the whole picture becomes concrete. “Merciful” is a word that most of us understand. It is a word that comes alive, especially when it finds expression in action. Most people are familiar with the term “acts of mercy”.

Of course it is not as simple as that. When we study the Biblical mean­ing of mercy, we will soon see that it is something beyond human strength and ability. Left to our human endeavors alone—without regeneration and renewal—we can never attain to the kind of mercy to which Jesus calls us. That is why we are studying regenera­tion and renewal, without which we could never attain to mercifulness in the Biblical sense. I may give a dollar to a hungry beggar, and that is undeniably an act of mercy. But it is beyond our human capacity to show mercy as a consistent quality of life, and from a spiritual motive. Anyone who has ever tried to be merciful consistently will know this from personal experience.

(2) What is Mercifulness?

Let us look at the Biblical concept of mercy. I emphasize “Biblical” because we tend to define a term according to our own understand­ing of it and not according to the Bible’s definition. Biblical concepts must be defined according to the Bible, not just according to the Oxford Dictionary or our own understanding.

What then is the Biblical concept of mercy? A basic principle of exegesis is to examine the context. In the immediate context of our passage, Jesus equates kindness with mercy: “He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men[34]. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (vv.35-36).

Here Jesus equates mercy and kindness; it is not mere human kind­ness but divine kindness, God’s kindness, a kindness not motivated by human feelings but by God’s self-giving love. We may be kind to those who are kind to us—a reciprocal kindness—but God is kind even to the ungrateful and the selfish. We can never do that by our human nature. I can, of course, be kind to those who are kind to me, but the Lord calls for more than that, for “even sinners do the same” (v.33).

If you are kind to a sinner, he may return his kindness to you. If you show him love, he may return some love to you. That is entirely human. In the long term, however, he won’t show you kindness consistently unless he gets something from you or you reciprocate his kindness. He won’t be kind to you consistently without being motivated by reward. A business­man may invite you to dinner even if he hardly knows you. Rest assured that he invited you to a nice restaurant in order to get something from you. The world operates on the principle that nothing is free in this world. “There are no free lunches,” as the saying goes. Every act of kind­ness is an investment motivated by reward.

But Jesus makes an astonishing statement: “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (v.35). Expect nothing in return? Yes, it takes great faith to believe that your reward will come from God and not from the person to whom you showed kindness.

It takes faith to expect things from God. Many Christians are acutely aware of their little faith. When we run into visa problems, financial problems, or health problems, our faith starts to wobble. We have limited confidence in God’s power. So we do things in a human way: Give only when there is a possibility of a return.

In our minds, the ex­change of favors is the normal decency of social life[35]. If I give you something, it is only proper that you give me some­thing in return. If you fail to return my favor, don’t expect any further favors from me. This is a universal principle of human relationships in the world.

But Jesus reverses the usual principles of society: Give without expect­ing anything in return. Give away something as though it will never come back. This way of thinking is impossible to our human nature.

Even less is it in our nature to give to “ungrateful and evil men” (v.35), even when they are in genuine need. Why should we give to the ungrateful or the wicked? We justify our refusal to give to them on the grounds that this will only serve to reinforce their ingratitude and wickedness. In this way we give our­selves a seemingly plausible argument for not giving to them. But that is not the Biblical understanding of mercy.

(3) Mercy as Practical Kindness: God’s Work in our Midst

Mercy is not a mere ideal but something intensely practical. The Biblical teaching on mercy points us to a new spiritual level that far exceeds our present level. For this reason I thank God that something beautiful is happening in some of our churches. I see an increasing concern among the brothers and sisters for one another. For example, I am touched by the fact that some people have anonymously paid the camp fees for those who couldn’t afford them. This is genuine concern for the brethren.

They reasoned to themselves, “I wish that brother or sister so-and-so could go to the camp because it will benefit them spirit­ually, but I know that he or she can’t afford the fees.” So they paid the fees anonymously. I see a growing mutual concern among the brothers and sisters, and I thank God that we have moved beyond our former spiritual level; because it was not very long ago that we were quite lacking in this kind of care and concern for each other. We may have heard something about brotherly love, but we found it hard to fulfill. We were too busy coping with our personal problems to think of others.

By God’s grace, we have moved beyond the first stage. We still have a long way to go, so we must never be complacent. Let us press toward the mark of perfection, even though it is still some distance away, and strive to reach a new level of concern (which is an essential element in mercy) that is expressed even to people we may not like. This is certainly not easy. But by God’s grace, we have at least reached a basic level of concern for each other. If we haven’t arrive at this basic level, how can we talk about caring for the ungrateful and the selfish?

By nature you and I cannot achieve this. It is hard enough to love a brother or sister who has at least some concern for us. By contrast, loving the ungrateful and the wicked seems to be some­thing not of this world. Yet Jesus commands us to be merci­ful, to be perfect. Here the imperative voice indicates more than a mere suggestion. If we are truly “sons of the Most High” (v.35), then we must be as he is, and do as he does. Jesus sets a goal before us, and we must press towards it.

In our reaching for perfection, for practical Christ-like merci­fulness, a spiritual prin­ciple comes into play: We will receive spiritual power, for it is in giving that we receive: “Give and it will be given to you” (Lk.6.38). What we give may be material and temp­oral, but what God gives us in return is spiritual and eternal. Therefore, as we press towards the mark of being merciful, we (and with us the church) will grow in spiritual strength, and thus be empowered to accomplish something for God in this world. It takes spiritual power to accomplish anything for God. Many people, by their own admission, have accomplished little for Him despite having university and seminary degrees.

A friend of mine, a distinguished professor in London, has a collection of degrees that will dazzle you. He has garnered the high­est honors that England could bestow on her scientists in his field of research. This professor also studied the Bible for many years. Yet one day he told me in profound grief that he was spiritually power­less. That was ironic and truly saddening, because Christians in England knew and respected his name. His name—Professor so and so—attracted many people to Christian conferences.

Brothers and sisters, we need to receive God’s power if we are to accomplish anything for God’s kingdom. It doesn’t depend on our theological or academic qualifications. By the authority of God’s word, I dare to say without apology that those who press on towards per­fection, which means to practice mercy in the way God Himself is merciful, will experience communion with Him and will receive from Him the spiritual power to do His work in this generation.

(4) Mercy is Shown to the Undeserving

“He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Here mercy is synonymous with kind­ness, but not “kindness” as we usually understand it. We have noted that Jesus is talking about a kindness that is shown even to the undeserving. That is true grace and mercy. We, as recip­ients of God’s grace, must in turn show grace and mercy to others. Jesus says, “Freely you received, freely give” (Mt.10.8).

The Lord fulfilled this level of kindness in his own life when he loved us while we were sinners. He loved us while we were yet his enemies (Ro.5.8,10). As a result, his power came into our lives and transformed us from the hostile and selfish enemies of God that we were, into “saints,” the holy ones, the children of God. It is astonishing that the Bible would call us saints. Paul’s letters are addressed to the “saints”—the very people who used to be God’s enemies!

We in turn must show unmerited grace to those who are equally undeserving. That is a great challenge! God in His mercy makes the sun rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt.5.45). Here is God’s universal mercy. He doesn’t just focus the sun on the garden of the righteous man while the rest of the world lies in darkness. Nor does He concentrate His rain on the farm of the righteous man while the rest of the world becomes a desert. He gives rain and sunshine to all, to the righteous and the unrighteous. Thus He demonstrates His grace. But over and above that, the magnificent scope of His love and grace is revealed through the wondrous cross of Christ. It is far beyond what we can comprehend. Though we may be unable to grasp its depth and magnitude, what matters is that it can be experienced deep in our hearts.

This remarkable quality of mercy as being something that is not easily comprehended yet can be deeply felt, can also be experienced by anyone to whom we show the undeserved kindness that God first gave us. The person who receives unmerited kindness or mercy will immediately wonder why it was given him, since he doesn’t deserve it. If we could, by God’s grace, consistently pass on His mercy to the undeserving, would that not result in a spiritual revolution?

I have met Christians who are unhappy with God’s universal mercy. “I belong to You, Lord. Send more sunshine in my direction, and less in theirs! The other guy doesn’t even know You, yet his harvest is better than mine. I go to church every Sunday and put money in the offering, but the other guy doesn’t give a cent.” We often feel that it’s unfair that a non-Christ­ian earns more money or drives a better car. Where is God’s justice in the world? That is a real problem in the minds of some Christians. “Why does God treat the righteous and the unrighteous alike?” The Bible’s answer is plain and simple: God is merciful to the very people we dislike, even to those who are His enemies. That is why we have a problem with God’s kind­ness.

But how different is God’s character from ours! If we are to become like Him, we must let God change our notions or ideas about Him. Many self-centered and worldly attitudes have polluted the life of the church, causing us to fall far short of what God wants His people to be. Instead of understanding God according to our image (as the Greeks did, who thought of their gods as higher versions of themselves), we urgently need to be transformed into His image.

(5) Mercy is Deep Concern

In the Bible, “mercy” means sympathy, pity and compassion. It empa­thizes with those who mourn and suffer. The Lord says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt.5.4). This is a familiar beatitude, yet how many truly understand it? “Blessed are those who mourn,” doesn’t refer to people who mourn for them­selves out of self-pity. As Christians we should have gone past the stage of mourning over our past sins which we have truly repented of, and are therefore forgiven through the blood of Jesus.

“Blessed are those who mourn” goes deeper than our self-centered thinking. It refers to those who mourn for the wretched­ness and pitiful estate of others. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Ro.12.15). If we cannot weep with those who weep, how can we rejoice with those who rejoice? Let us learn to weep with those who are stricken with grief. Or do we weep only for ourselves? The church has too many Christians who go to church solely for their own comfort and welfare. “God bless my father, my mother, my children, and especially me.” Even when we read the Scriptures, we do so in a self-centered way: “God’s promises in the Bible are for me. He is there to bless me.”

With this kind of self-centeredness rampant in the church, no wonder it is hard for us to understand what mercy is. Mercy is true concern and sympathy for people in their need and suffering. But why should I care about their needs, let alone those of the ungrateful and the evildoer? Why? It is because I see their sad and, indeed, tragic situation. Let us learn to be merciful so that we may be delivered from a self-centered Christianity that is not one whit better than the self-centeredness of unbelievers.

(6) Mercy is Rooted in Selflessness

In the first chapter, we discussed the death of our old self. Let me define this concisely in one sentence: Death to self means that we cease to be concerned for ourselves, and become concerned for others. This definition may seem simplistic (though it is not), but it is in accord with Scripture. If a person is dead to self, what are his concerns now? Is a dead man concerned about food and clothing, buying a house, and worldly ambitions? These things concerned us when we lived according to our old way of life, before we became new persons in Christ. At the present, we are still living in this world in our fleshly bodies, so we do need food and clothing; but these are no longer our central concerns when we become new people in Christ.

We have died with Christ and have been buried with him. We have been raised into newness of life, and now we have received the mind of Christ (1Cor.2.16; Phil.2.5). It is a mind that is finished with the self and goes out to others. Since we are freed from preoccup­ation with our own concerns and interests, we are free to turn our attention to other people’s needs.

When I listen to brothers and sisters in the church share about their visa problems or financial problems, it brings back memories of my earlier years of walking with God. I have gone through more visa pro­blems than most people have ever had to cope with. I was in England for seventeen years, and had seventeen years of visa problems. My visa was up for review every year, sometimes twice a year. The approval process was complicated by the fact that I came from China, which at that time[36] had diplomatic relations with very few countries, and was regarded by most countries with distrust if not hostility. I learned to leave the visa matters to God without worrying about them. I would say to Him, “Lord, if You want me to stay in England, please keep me here. But if You have some other plans for me, then put me anywhere else in the world.” I didn’t waste my time worrying about these problems.

Some of you are facing financial problems. I empathize with you. I was often penniless or near-penniless. An empty pocket was my familiar companion. If I had worried about money, my hair would have turned gray in my twenties. By God’s grace, I would simply forget about myself and get on with the work He had entrusted to me, knowing that my heavenly Father will provide for all my needs—which He has never failed to do.

I studied at the Bible Institute without any assured financial support, and therefore with no certainty of being able to complete my studies there. By the grace of God, I completed my studies. It was the same when I went on to another Bible college. Likewise, I entered university with no assurance that I could even pay my first term’s fees. I didn’t rely on anyone to help me in my financial need, but looked only to the Lord. This situation repeated itself yearly when it was time to pay the fees. But I thank God that anxiety was far from me. I simply told Him, “A degree means nothing to me. Whether You want me to have it or not, I will be grateful either way.” In the end, He saw to it that I completed my studies.

We must learn to forget about ourselves and our never-ending problems. Don’t we encounter many problems in our Christian lives that exasperate us because they get in our way? We want to advance in our pursuit of the Lord, but these problems distract us, consume our time and energy, and may even cause us to feel resentful. We want to move forward but these problems pull us back to the self—the very thing we want to forget. But let us be deter­mined by God’s grace to finish with the self, in order that, like Paul, our eyes may be focused on the goal before us in Christ. “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb.12.2).

Paul also says, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude” (Phil.3.15). Here “perfect” is the same word in the original Greek text as used in Matthew 5.48. Those who are perfect ought to have “this attitude”—namely, the attitude of fixing our eyes on the goal before us, forgetting about ourselves and our past, and pressing on. “Let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb.12.1).

Brothers and sisters, we are called to finish with the self. It is a high calling but it is not limited to so-called “higher” or “more spiritual” Christians. Death to self should have taken place at baptism. The old life should have ended there, as the pulse of the new Christ-life began to beat in us. Is that true in our exper­ience? Or do we remain in bondage to the self and to self-interests, powerless to serve God and to think of other’s needs?

We must be delivered from the self in order to be merciful, or perfect, for no self-centered person could possibly be merciful. The merciful person goes out to others, especially those in need, but the self-centered person is imprisoned in his own shell.

When we visit a church, we can often assess its spiritual condition in a few minutes. In many churches, people don’t even greet you when you walk in. You are like an invisible ghost who walked by. After the service you get up and go, and again you seem to be an invisible ghost! In some churches you may receive a smile or a handshake. In only a few churches will you find people who really care about you, taking the time to chat with you. What we are aiming for is genuine concern, not a show of politeness.

(7) The Merciful are Not Fixated on Their Own Salvation

Why should I be kind to the ungrateful and the evildoer? How does that benefit me? As far as we can see, it doesn’t benefit us at all. Our sole reason for being kind to the ungrateful and the evildoer is: an outgoing concern for their salvation and eternal welfare. Sad to say, many people go to church for their own salvation without a shred of con­cern for the eternal welfare of others. “What counts is that I’m saved. I’m sorry that you’re going to hell, but I’m too busy with my own things to worry about that.”

The genuine Christian, because he has exper­ienced God’s grace and salvation, won’t go on being preoccupied with his own salva­tion. He is concerned about the salvation and eternal well-being of others. That is the mark of a true Christian. The apostle Paul shows remarkably little concern for his own salvation, but is willing to forfeit his own salvation if that could lead to the salvation of Israel (Ro.9.3). I know of some Christians who are offended by Paul’s statement. But we do well to remember that Paul is closer to the mind of Christ than most of us are. Are we willing to offer up our own salvation if that will result in the salvation of others? Or are we concerned only about ourselves?

Paul was simply imitating Jesus. When the Lord was dying on the cross, some among the multitudes mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Mt.27.42). In fact he could have saved himself, but he would not; because if he save himself, he could not have saved others. His concern was not with saving him­self but with the salvation of the world. That is what Christ is like. To be Christ-like is to have this way of thinking. That is what the call to perfection is all about.

For better or for worse, most people in our church are intellect­uals. This is mostly for the worse because we are trained, or have trained ourselves, to think for our own interests. We study diligently to benefit ourselves, and we show little concern for other people, includ­ing our brothers and sisters in Christ. “I must study hard, do my assignments, write my exams, and get good grades.”

We justify our indifference to others by saying, “First I must finish my studies, after that I can spare some time to think about others.” In reality, that day will never come because you will then pursue other objectives after completing your education. There is no limit to the pursuit of knowledge or success.

Realistically speaking, our acad­emic achieve­ments benefit only our­selves. We rationalize our self-centeredness by saying that if we get good grades, we can eventually do something for others. In reality, when the time comes, our thinking will become so thorough­ly trained in selfish­ness that it will be humanly impossible to change.

It is hard to change a way of thinking that has been cultivated over many years of pursuing an education and a career. Yet Jesus tells us to do what is humanly impossible: turn away from self-preoccupation and self-betterment to a preoccupation, born of a deep concern, for the salvation of others. For that to become a reality in us requires a total transform­ation by God’s redeeming power.

(8) Being Perfect or Merciful is not a Matter of Self-improvement

This leads to an important point. We could easily fall into the trap of confusing perfection or mercifulness with self-improvement. Is reaching perfection a matter of exerting myself to improve in this area or that? That is, after all, the only way the world knows how perfection can be attempted. But Biblical perfection cannot be achieved this way.

How do I become a good tennis player? I must practice tennis day in and day out, improving my serve, improving my lob, improv­ing my return, improving my drop shot. I swallow multi-vitamins, and jog for hours on end, building up my stamina. I pract­ice my swing and improve my accuracy. All these things help me achieve perfection in tennis. This is perfection in terms of self-improvement, but if that is our concept of spiritual perfection, we are on the wrong track!

The Bible does not teach self-perfection because self-perfection focuses on the self. If we take the road of self-improvement, then in order to improve ourselves spiritually, we might go to a quiet place such as a monastery, and lock ourselves in a room so as to stay away from people who may bother us or distract us. Today we will pray three hours, tomorrow four hours, the day after five hours, and one of these days, perhaps even twenty-four hours! I can then climb a ladder to heaven and achieve perfection and mystical union with God! With self-improvement as my object­ive I stay away from irksome people and focus on God. I forget about human misery and think happy thoughts about God and hope to arrive at something akin to perfect holiness (minus the merci­fulness!).

This is not to deny the great value of having times of quietness before God to commune with Him. When we are engaged in a busy ministry, such times are not only valuable, but absolutely necessary in order to refocus our direction on God and to draw strength and inspiration from Him. What we are denying is that holiness is a­chieved in isolation as a way of life.

All too often the human concept of self-improvement governs even the way we think about the attainment of holiness. According to way of thinking, a holy person is one who spends four hours praying in the morning. “Take a look at his knees! They’re worn away by constant kneeling. He’s a real holy man!”—as though holiness is to be eval­uated by the quantity of time spent in prayer (or how “hole-ly” his trousers are), and not in the quality of our praying to God or our communing with Him, whether it be in a kneeling, sitting, or standing posture, or even when walking.

In any case, what quality can prayer have if mercy is not its motiv­ating force? Intercession is a significant part of prayer—unless, of course, our prayer consists mainly in praying for ourselves. But will such self-centered prayer find a hearing before God?

Worship, too, is an essential part of prayer. God’s mercy to us inspires our heartfelt worship and thanksgiving to Him. But even here let’s not forget that if we, as recipients of His mercy, can channel some of that mercy on to others, how many more people could be added to the number of those who worship Him.

Significantly, the gospels do not portray Jesus as one who spent all his time kneeling in prayer. On the contrary, being merciful, he was so busy doing things for the benefit of people that he sometimes didn’t have time to eat (Mk.3.20; 6.31). That being the case, how could the Lord spend four hours in prayer every day? Does that mean he didn’t pray much? Certainly not. He was in constant communion with the Father—a fact that comes out with particular clarity in John’s gospel. And he did some­times pray through the night, thus sacrificing much needed rest.

At such times, was he praying for himself or for others? For one whose whole life was a ministry of mercy and concern for the salva­tion of others, the answer is perfectly clear.

Final Word of Caution: Self-improvement is Contrary to Christ-like Mercifulness

Earlier we noted that Christ-like mercy is rooted in selflessness, whereas self-improvement is preoccupied with the self. It is clear that these two are opposites. In the New Testament, the “new man” (or “new person,” sometimes translated “new self”) grows in the process of being renewed in the new life, for life develops by means of growth. The Bible never speaks of the new man as pro­gressing through self-improvement. It is the old man who tries to improve himself, but the new man is concerned with growing in Christ. That which lacks spiritual life can be “improved,” whereas that which has life grows.

It should be clear why Biblical perfection has nothing to do with self-improvement, even when it involves lengthy prayers and Bible readings. Prayer and Bible study are certainly important, but only if we have finished with the old self. If the self has not died, everything will simply cater to the self. Bible knowledge will then become dangerous because the self will revel in its superiority over others: “I’m a super-rabbi and Bible expert!” Because knowledge puffs up (1Cor.8.1), even Bible know­ledge can be dangerous if the self has not died.

Our prayer life, too, can become a cause of pride. “I pray many hours daily, and my trousers are getting thin at the knees. How long do you pray?” We become proud of our supposed spiritual superior­ity, as were the Pharisees. That’s why Jesus warns his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees (Luke 12.1). A little leaven (yeast) will render the whole lump of dough useless for Passover (1Co.5.6-8). If we haven’t finished with the self and haven’t been buried with Christ at baptism, we will end up as Pharisees and hypocrites. True spirituality is never self-centered.

The Bible talks about the death of the self, never about its improve­ment. “Whoever wants to saves his life (Greek psychē, sometimes translated as ‘soul’) will lose it, but whoever loses his life—forgets his life, denies his self—for me will find it” (Matthew 16.25, NIV). Doesn’t this mean that if we attend church primarily for our own salvation (that is, to save our own soul or life), that may be the one thing we will not receive? Isn’t it also clear that it is the merciful, that is, those who are concerned about the salvation of others, who will be saved?

Those who put God’s kingship and the salvation of others above their own interests, are the ones whom God chooses to save. From the human point of view, Jesus’ words in Matthew 16.25 turn the whole issue upside-down. The statement is so unexpected because it is so contrary to our egoistic ways of thinking. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares Yahweh” (Isa.55.8). For this reason man finds God’s thoughts and God’s ways hard to understand and to accept.

There is so much “breath and length and height and depth” (Eph.3.18) to the Lord’s mercy and wisdom; or as the apostle puts it in another place:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathom­able His ways! (Ro.11.33)


[34] Ponēros, Πονηρός, the word here refers to an “evil-intentioned person, evildoer”. Cf. BAG, A Gk-Eng. Lexicon of the New Testament, 2.a.

[35] In Chinese we would say, li3 shang4 wang3 lai2 (courtesy calls for recipro­city).

[36] The late fifties and the sixties of the last century. 


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church