To Live is Christ
3rd in a series of messages expounding 2 Cor 12:9 “My power is made perfect in weakness”. Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang, delivered on December 1992, at Singapore Christian Disciples Church, Camp 1992.
As part of this camp theme “To live is Christ”, the subject assigned to me today is “The strategy for implementing the camp theme”.
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 Phil 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
1. I am nothing
We find this statement “I am nothing” in 2 Cor 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 Gal 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 Cor 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 Phil 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 Phil 1, 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 Phil 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 Phil 1:21, or is it the converse? If we use Phil 1:21 to 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 Matt 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 Phil 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 Phil 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.
2. I have nothing
The true disciple has nothing. The untrue disciple has everything he wants. Let’s look at 2 Cor 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 Rev 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?
3. I do nothing
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, 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 Phil 1:21 means. 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.
4. I know nothing
I know nothing - this is going from one “nothing” to another! The Christian life is to know nothing. Wonderful, isn’t it? 1 Cor 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 Cor 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 Phil 1:21. In Phil 2, it goes on to say that He was equal with God, King of kings and Lord of lords. What did He do? He humbled Himself down to the earth. At Christmas time, 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 God who got crucified on earth. He gloried in a God 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 God as King of kings (though He is that too), but the kind of Christian who boasts in a God 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.
5. I fear nothing
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”. Phil 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.
6. I lack nothing
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 Thess 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.
7. I withhold nothing
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 Cor 12:15, “I would be glad to give you everything, to be spent for you.” In Rom 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. Rom 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.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church