Friday, October 29, 2004

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MINISTRY

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MINISTRY

By Rev. Stephen Tong


The 20th century is a century of the container. We have created a lot of containers but we do not know where is the content. We have the most sophisticated recording equipment but the music that we record is still the best music of the 19th century. We have the best opera house but what it performs is the music of composers who have died a long time ago. We have the Internet but what it contains is a lot of junk. Some of the things in it are good but most are bad. Certainly, content is more important than the container; direction more important than tools; foundation more important than the building on it; essence more important than phenomena; wisdom more important than knowledge; music more important than musical instruments; character more important than our body; life more important than vitamins; and reverence more important than boastfulness. If we have money, we may be able to procure pastoral care but we cannot purchase true honour and reverence. It is easy for us to build up our physical body but difficult for us to cultivate our character; easy for us to design good kitchens, but difficult for us to develop good chefs; and easy for us to construct church buildings but difficult for us to nurture good preachers. The 21st century is coming soon. Although we see the progress of the world, we must at the same time pray for content, which is far more important.


Faith

The message on the first night of our Consultation was “Overview of the 20th Century”. One of the observations made was that the 20th century did not have much to offer in terms of new ideas; rather it was enslaved by the ideology of the 19th century. On the second night, the message was “Reconstruction of Faith”. The ancient Chinese had a saying, “if people do not have faith, they cannot be established.” What causes people to move forward is not money but conviction. Inter-personal relationships can only be built up through mutual trust. If man is able to maintain his purity in the midst of many trials, it is due to his faith in God.

“Faith”, according to the understanding of Confucius, means honesty. Confucius said that if there were only ten to twenty households in a small village, someone like him could be found. A person like Confucius was thus very common. Confucius had a penchant for classical wisdom. He said firstly, that he was an honest man and secondly, that he appreciated things of a classical nature. When Confucius mentioned the latter, it did not mean that he liked antiquity. Rather, he was truly seeking the wisdom of the ancients. The thinking of Confucius was therefore not creative in nature. He merely narrated and passed down ancient wisdom without engaging in creative writing.

It is to be observed that “faith” in terms of the Confucian understanding refers only to honesty – honesty to self – and is therefore not to be equated with the Christian understanding of faith. Nevertheless, that concept has relation to the Bible. The God of Scripture is the substance of honesty as well as the substance of truth. He is absolutely trustworthy, immutable and non-self contradictory. God’s honesty thus becomes the object of our faith. To be faithful means to return to God’s truth; our reason submitted to his truth, our emotions to his divine love, our will to his will and our actions to his guidance. This is what faith is. It is not simply saying, “I believe, I believe.” Faith, in another sense is like the prodigal son returning to his father.

Christianity is not a religion that murders our reasoning, neither is it a religion that lets loose our emotions. It is not a religion that simply and freely opposes God or uses human understanding to express our self-departure from God. Rather, it is a religion of our return to the large setup of God. This returning is faith. God has revealed his own truth to us and it is upon this foundation of truth that we are to build our faith in Him. Faith and word thus become connected. If a church does not use the word as a foundation, the faith of that church will have no principle. On the same note, if our service or ministry is not carried out according to the word, then it is merely a form of activity.


Ethics

The message on the third night was “Reconstruction of Ethics”. Faith without works is dead. God sees our faith towards him but men look at our works. Today, many Christians do not have any good works to show. As a result, non-Christians do not see the evidence of their faith in Christ. There are of course Christians who manifest good works, but because they are overly humble and private about them, non-Christians equally do not see the evidence of their faith in Christ.

Before President Suharto was dethroned, many churches in Jakarta assembled to pray for the repentance of Indonesia. On that day, there were many speakers and I was the last to speak. While I was preaching, I was weeping profusely and pleading for God to forgive Indonesia. I said that even Sukarno had to repent. Amongst the organizers of that assembly was a particular person who was formerly one of the security personnel of Suharto. Although he had a lot of respect for me, he never expected me to make such a statement from the pulpit. After hearing what I said, he went back trembling the whole night not knowing what would happen the following day. God worked mightily during the gathering. The offering that we collected amounted to US$600,000. With that money, we were able to help many who were suffering and in poverty.

We travelled to many places and bought cheap rice, oil and sugar to help the poor. In the process, we had to contend with two differing viewpoints: Should we let God himself be the witness of our good works or should we make it known to others? Since the places that we went to were mainly Muslim regions, I emphasized that we must disclose the fact that our work of charity to the poor was the result of co-operation between Christians. Although some may object that it is troublesome and risky to do so, it was important for us to proclaim that it was the Jakarta Christians uniting to help the poor. Some of the workers did not understand why we had to act in such a manner. I explained to them that by doing so, God’s name would be glorified. This was because in Indonesia, the image of Christianity had been severely tarnished. Hundreds of mosques propagated hatred and revenge against Christians because of the persecution suffered by Muslim at the hands of “Christians” in Bosnia.

I am not saying that everything that we do must be made known. There are many things that we do that need not be disclosed. But if what we do is able to glorify God and result in others giving reverence to him, then we ought to reveal it. This accords with the second part of the prayer that Jesus taught us in Matthew, “hallowed be Thy name.” When Christ name is being insulted, we cannot do anything about it. But when we are able to glorify God, we must not let the opportunity slip. Gradually, the co-workers began to understand. As a result of what we did, there were some Muslims who realized to their surprise that there were good Christians. Christians may not always be able to defend themselves, but their good deeds are one of the reasons others will give glory to God. If the church does not reconstruct her works, ethics and good conduct, how are Christians to testify for the Lord? Before we testify with our lips, we must ensure that our conduct and morality should first be a testimony. Only when a person truly glorifies God through his deeds and conduct, will the testimony of his lips manifest power.


Hearing and Speech

Today, the church has a problem. We think that just because we preach a little more, people will believe. The more we talk, the less we influence but the less we talk, the more we influence. There are some teachers who constantly order their students to be quiet and not to talk. By doing so, they end up making the most noise. In contrast, a wise teacher will not say much. Instead, he will stand in a position where he can exercise control over his students. By relying on the authority of holiness and a firm personality, he is able to keep the class quiet merely by the power of his gaze. Hence, we should speak only when there is a need. Every word that is spoken will then carry with it golden weight. In ordinary times, we must refrain from speaking too much but in times of need, we must not hesitate to speak as we should. Only then will people pay close attention to every word that we utter. The church is being afflicted with a very severe disease. Many ears are led to the wrong lips while right lips cannot find an audience. Do you now comprehend? We have the best Bible exposition here in Kuala Lumpur and yet sadly, there are pastors who refrain their members from attending our meetings. What a pity.


Cultural Mandate

Tonight, I had planned to expound on the subject of “Reconstruction of Ministry”. However, we have already heard two very excellent sermons on ministry from Dr. Stephen Chen during this Consultation. I praise God that Dr. Chen had spoken what God wanted me to say. I told him that I wanted to change my topic tonight to “Reconstruction of Mission”. Unknowingly, Dr. Lee Ken-Ang had spoken about it this afternoon. He touched on the subject of the cultural mandate of Christianity, a matter of great significance. Most evangelicals are aware only of the gospel mandate of the church, which is only one part of its two-fold mission. Many churches place a great deal of emphasis on raising funds and sending people out to preach the gospel. They may be very fervent in their evangelism without actually knowing whether what they preach is biblically sound. Although they travel to many places around the world to preach, their message is almost always the same, based only on a handful of testimonies and sermons.

When I was young, I encountered many pastors who always preach the same sermons. I thought to myself, “It must be very easy to be a preacher. You only have to prepare a few messages”. Is the word of God so simple and shallow? In one of the places that I evangelised, I met a person who told me that every time he attended evangelistic meetings, he would inevitably hear the same message, “The Prodigal Son.” I would be surprise if he did not end up as a prodigal son. It is a pity indeed.

What do we mean by cultural mandate? It is the fact that Jesus Christ should be pre-eminent in all spheres of life. In every single aspect of culture, we must glorify God because this is our Father’s world. It is a world where God is sovereign; Satan’s reign is but illegal. When a man is in sin, he is only under the temporal control of Satan. Through salvation in Christ, he will be brought back to the Lordship of God. Therefore, Christians have a great responsibility upon their shoulders. God wants us to govern His world. Orthodox Christianity is therefore not a religion that eschews reality but is instead one that confronts reality. It is a religion that brightens, permeates and influences society in a positive manner and introduces the Spirit of Christ into every area of culture.

Why then does China so despise Christianity? Is it because Christianity does not have any contribution to make? Absolutely not! In fact, Christianity was the first to dispel superstitious beliefs, introduce the advances of science and technology, establish common people education, abolish feet binding and pigtails, promote a new societal lifestyle, introduce a national system of hygiene and send a female overseas to pursue a doctorate in medical studies. The first of these females was Mary Stone. Upon returning, she established a medical school for ladies in Shanghai. Christianity was also the pioneer in opening the doors of China to democracy and science in the 20th century as well as the first to introduce the idea of a plain Chinese language. Many people have the misconception that it was the May 4 Literature Movement of 1919 which gave birth to the latter. It was not Professor Hu Shi who promoted the idea as is commonly believed. In fact, twenty-eight years earlier, ninety-four very respected missionaries collaborated with Chinese Christian scholars and collectively decided to translate the Bible into the best Chinese language. The Chinese version of the Bible, known as the Union version, is the result of that translation process that took place a hundred years ago. In the pages of this Bible, we can see the evidence of the most beautiful usage of the Chinese language. What is more astounding is that an average of eleven hours were spent in translating every verse! When the translation of this Bible was finally completed and published, all except one of the ninety-four missionaries were already dead. When the remaining missionary, who was already very old, was given a copy of the newly printed Bible, he held it with trembling hands and uttered his gratitude to God.

One cannot possibly measure the full extent of the influence that Christianity had on the Chinese. But why is it that they so severely oppose Christianity? Is it because of the perception that the Christianity is a western religion and has no place in the culture of the Chinese? Certainly not! Rather, it is Buddhism that is not compatible with the culture of China. Buddhism teaches that one should not leave home and get married. But Mencius taught that a person without descendants is the worst of three types of infidelity. If a person became a monk, he was disobeying his ancestors because he would be prohibited from entering into marriage and having children. If such is the case, why is Buddhism embraced but Christianity despised? One reason is that Chinese historians were hostile towards Christianity. Instead of responding, the Chinese Christians were content to remain in the shelter of their churches and preoccupy themselves with prayer and other spiritual matters. They did not want to associate themselves with the world but instead adopted an attitude of passively awaiting the second coming of Jesus. “The non-Christians will soon perish and end up in hell while we wait for Jesus to come and take us to heaven,“ they thought to themselves. What sort of light did they hold out? Their light only shone amongst themselves within the confine of their own church. Consequently, their testimony became hollow, having no impact on the world outside. When this happens, our light will not be able to penetrate out of the church into the world. That is the reason why I often say that the voice of Christians is especially loud in the church; particularly elders who think that by their little giving they have a great voice. These loud-mouthed Christians will end up leaving the church and no one will listen to them. In the last few years, I rarely spoke in church. Instead, I decided to preach in auditoriums and stadiums. By doing so, I hope that many non-Christians will be able to listen to the word of God. It is my prayer that our character, conduct and wisdom will shine forth to the world. Praise the Lord.

Recently, Dr. Stephen Chen, relying on his background as a Christian professor, lectured at Fudan University as well as Zhongshan University. What sort of impression did he give? Amongst all the visiting professors, he was considered one of the best. Praise the Lord. This is glory ascribed to Him. Although Dr. Chen may not have the opportunity to evangelize, I hope that every time he travels to give his lectures, he will give thanks to God before taking his meals so that others may know that he is a Christian.

Do you know that in Hong Kong, there was a film actor by the name of Qiao Hong who had departed to be with the Lord? On several occasions, I invited him to my meetings to testify for the Lord. He would do so in a very humble manner. One month before he died, Qiao Hong visited me at the Washington Reformed Institute. He said to me, “Rev. Tong, praise the Lord. I was again presented with the Best Actor Award.” He told me that the first time he was awarded the best actor award, he concluded his speech with the words, “Glory be unto God.” But later when he watched it on television, he discovered that the producers had snipped off that particular part. “How am I going to testify for the Lord?” Qiao Hong wondered. God was gracious to grant him another opportunity. When he was presented with the award on the second occasion, he told himself that he must not miss the opportunity to testify. Immediately upon receiving the award, he cried out, “Hallelujah!”

Every Christian should strive to do his best in his own profession. A Christian teacher ought to glorify God in the teaching profession; a Christian businessman in the business profession; a civil servant in the civil service and; an architect in the construction industry. Do not boast about having constructed a very grand building because when an earthquake happens, the public will know whether you have been diligent in carrying out your work. For example, in Taiwan last year, there was a particular block of building that collapsed as a result of a severe earthquake. It was later discovered that a fatal defect had caused the collapse. We cannot deceive our fellow men before God; neither can we deceive God before our fellow men. God cannot be deceived. Hence, in everything that we do, we must do unto the Lord and not unto men. That is why the products of Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland are one of the most precise and enduring; the reason being that these countries have been influenced by the stewardship concept of reformed theology.

What is reformed theology stewardship? It essentially means that everything in our possession has been entrusted to us by God. One day we have to be accountable to him for those possessions. We are not the rightful owner but merely a steward. For that reason, all that we do must be done for the eyes of our Master. That concept, after undergoing reformation, became the foundation of the work ethics in those Scandinavian nations. If we observe carefully, the best watches are manufactured in Geneva, a reformed city, not Zurich, Baron, Arosa, Interlaccen or Lausanne. Geneva was the place where John Calvin taught and as a result, it was saturated with the spirit of Christianity.

We cannot have the mentality that because we are on our way to heaven we can afford to sit back and fold our arms. While we are still on earth, we must live well, think wisely and work hard. We must do our best so that we can glorify God within the sphere of culture. This is what we mean by our cultural mandate. Today, if you were to visit Switzerland, you will notice that Zurich has a busy nightlife whereas Geneva has a quiet one. Why is this so? For the last 500 years, Geneva was influenced by reformed theology. Reformed theology, wherever it takes root, requires a person to be a good man, to live and work well and to be a good steward as well as to earn, save and use money wisely. For this reason also, Christian places give rise to capitalism. Money earned is not simply squandered but put into savings. Businesses are carried out honestly and prayerfully leading to the increase of wealth.

If you were to truly obey the word of God, you will not lack anything. However, if at times you are in need, it may be because God is testing your faith. Even then, you must still give thanks to him. In that way, Christ will be made pre-eminent in every sphere of our life. Whether we are an author, artist, philosopher, architect, educator or psychiatrist, we have to strive to establish the throne of Christ at the centre of each and every field. This again is our cultural mandate. People will then be able to see the difference in us. Our speech will reflect that of Christ, our conduct his image, our attitude his meekness and our decision-making his wisdom. Amen? Praise God! It is by these principles that we must strive to live.


Reconstruction of Ministry

The 21st century is beckoning. There will be many who appear like the Devil in our world. There will also be many who are very beautiful externally and yet their hearts are extremely deceitful. As Christians, we are not to be so. Paul said that we who are familiar with God’s teachings are to discard our “old man” and put on a “new man”. Paul did not ask us to take off our old clothes and put on new clothes. Why? Clothes are lifeless objects with no capacity for thought. In other words, Paul was asking us to remove our “old man” along with our old thinking and masks and to replace them with a “new man” together with a new pattern of thinking, experience, affections and conduct. Since it is a transformation of the whole person, the process involves a reorientation of our ways, action and life. Praise God! May the Lord bless us and be pre-eminent and sovereign in our lives.

Let us now read together 2 Corinthians 4:1-2: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians is an instruction manual for servants. In this letter, we see Paul sharing deep from his heart what should be the rightful attitude of a servant of Christ. With these two verses, we want to encourage each other and discuss the following: (i) the reconstruction of ministry; (ii) the plan by which the reconstruction is to be carried out; (iii) the principles governing our service and; (iv) the example of a servant of God.

Paul, in a very solemn and steadfast manner, sought to encourage those of us who are ministers. At the very outset, he said very clearly that those of us who minister are those who have received the mercy of God. Any notion of man helping God or man using his own effort to contribute to the church must therefore be dismissed. In my church, there are some rich members with whom I rather not associate. I equally do not wish to visit their house and ask for even a dollar. When I observe their attitude and manner of service, it is as if they think they are helping God. If they were to approach me, I will tell them to get behind my back because they are not qualified to serve the Lord. If a person wishes to offer his money or talent to God, he must first offer his heart to him. Before a person preach the gospel and win people to Christ, he must first offer his heart as a burnt offering. I have often said that the people I respect most are preachers who serve God faithfully and the people I despise most are preachers who are dishonest. From the time I was 17 until now, I have never altered my principle.

As we return to the Bible, we see Paul telling us that we have received the mercy of God and have been given our portion. What did he mean by that? It is not man who has pity on God rather it is God who has pity on us. It is not man helping God rather it is God bestowing his grace upon us. The reason I can be a preacher is because God has mercy on me. Are we so pitiful to such an extent that God has to be merciful to us? Yes! By right, we should perish because as sinners and rebels, God’s wrath is upon us. This is clearly outlined in Ephesians 2. Why is it then that God choose to save us? I do not know. Martin Luther had a good friend by the name of Philipp Melanchthon. Melanchthon wondered what was the first question he should ask God when he appeared before him. When I discover what Melanctoch said, I was very touched. Before that discovery, I pondered in my mind what was the first thing I would say to Jesus when I meet him. Would it be, “Good morning, Jesus?” or “Have you had your meal, Jesus?” I thought of several other possible questions that I would ask: “Where is Abraham, Jesus?” “Where is Handel?” or “where is Bach?” Quite probably, I would ask Jesus, “Was Peter embarrassed when he denied you?” What would I ask Jesus? There are so many things I could ask. Perhaps I would ask, “Jesus, is it alright if you let me see your nail marks?” or “What was the depth of your sorrow at Gethsemane?” After pondering for a while, I turned to the page where Melanchthon recorded his question. He wrote the following words, “When I appear before my Lord, the first question I want to ask him is Lord, why do you love me?”

My dear brothers and sisters, God saved us because he had mercy on us. Some people object that because God elects some and not others to be saved, he is therefore not just. They cannot accept reformed theology and in particular the doctrine of predestination. One writer said that John Calvin should be condemned because he formulated the concept of predestination, which he argued amounted to God being unrighteous. How dare we use the word “righteousness” to judge God? If you and I truly understand the meaning of God’s righteousness, we would admit without a doubt that all of us deserved to perish in hell. God is righteous and he has to punish sin. If God elects to save some from amongst those who ought to perish, should we not be grateful? Some may argue, “Why is it that God elected him and not me?” Let me tell you this. Grace comes from the sovereignty of God and not from his justice. God is not indebted to anyone and therefore he is not obligated to bestow grace on everyone. God is merciful as much as he is righteous. When a sinner does not know God, he will exploit God’s mercy and try to compel God to do as he wishes. Why does he not invoke God’s righteousness and compel him to sentence everyone to hell? When a man is dissatisfied with God, he will to his foolishness use his own righteousness to judge God’s righteousness.

When Paul mentioned that we have received God’s mercy, he was in effect saying that his whole life had been transformed. In the past, he was very zealous. He prided himself in the fact that he was a Jew, a Pharisee and a disciple of the great teacher, Gamaliel. Paul was so zealous to the extent that He persecuted and imprisoned Christians, all the while believing that he was fervent in serving the Lord. There are many religious people today who persecute Christians under the false notion that they are engage in a holy war and serving God in the process. How is it possible then that a person like Paul who was so arrogant could say that he had received God’s mercy and was given the position as an apostle of Christ? Paul in particular used the word “doulos”. He was a “doulos” of “Christos”; a slave of Christ. A slave is someone who has been purchased with money. He has no personal rights and no hope of freedom. Whatever his master commands him to do, he must obey. In this respect, he is not merely a servant. Paul considered himself a slave of Christ. Yet he was a Roman citizen. What made him confessed that he was a slave of a Nazarene? Who was Paul actually? He was the greatest intellectual and the most learned at his time. Since young, he had studied the law and kept it and recited the Scriptures thoroughly. Paul was qualified to enter the Sanhedrin and be accepted as a council member of the highest council of the Jews. Such a revered intellectual and yet one who was willing to consider himself a slave of Christ. Nevertheless, Paul was not disheartened because he had received the mercy of God and was given the position as an apostle.

Verse 1 interests me very much because it contains a principle that goes against the psychology of present day. A person who constantly receives sympathy from others will eventually become very weak. That is why a mother who always pampers her child will cause the child to be lacking the strength to strive. I told my wife that we must not help our children to do anything they can do on their own because we will eventually die. A person must be allowed to grow up and learn to do things by his own strength. I personally discouraged my children from taking tuition. Why? If I allow them to do so, they may think that it would be all right to be playful at school in the morning since there will be a tutor to help them in the afternoon. The same principle is true with God. If God were to constantly have mercy on us time and again, we will end up very weak and dependant.

When God saved us, he made each one of us his co-worker, bestowed his mercy on us without ceasing and used his own method to train and strengthen us. That is why Paul in one respect said that God had mercy on us and in another, that we do not lose heart. This statement is very unique. There are verses in the Bible that appears ordinary at the first reading but if we were to examine them in detail, we will find that they contain profound wisdom. The principle is therefore this: If a person is overprotected, he will become weak. God according to his own plan will on one hand show mercy to us and on the other instruct us. We will then have meekness in strength and strength in meekness. To be a servant of God is not easy. The one whom God uses mightily will first have to endure much trials and testing in order that he may become strong.

My dear brothers and sisters, how is steel created? There is a saying that it is more difficult for God to create workers than for him to create the heavens and the earth. When God created the latter, all he had to do was to utter the command and it was done. But when God wanted to raise his servants, he had to first send his Son to die on the cross for them. After they have accepted Christ and been cleansed by his precious blood, God will allow them to endure much training and hardship and suffer much trials and testing so that they would be successful. Dr. Lee Ken-Ang, my interpreter, commands a high income, has an excellent grasp of the English language and has the ability to interpret very efficiently. Whenever he interprets for me, I never feel as if he is interfering. A good interpreter is an interpreter but a bad interpreter is an interrupter. When I speak in Chinese, he will interpret in English but when I switched to English, he will interpret in Chinese. Even a computer is not able to match what he does.

I can still remember the occasion when Dr. Lee started interpreting for me. When I gave the altar call for those who wanted to offer themselves as preachers to come forward, I noticed that Dr. Lee did not respond. He, along with me, gave the invitation to others, but refused to step forward himself. For almost eight years, he interpreted for me but still did not respond to my various calls. In the eight year, I asked him again, “Do you want to step forward?” He finally said, “Yes”. When Dr. Lee responded to God’s call, he had to give up a high-paying job in order to study theology. As he did not have enough funds, he contemplated selling his house. I told him that he must not sell it because he would suffer more difficulties. Instead, I exhorted him to depend on God and to strive. Looking back, I really do not know how he managed to go through his six years in the seminary. But he is all right as you can see today. Praise God! When I went to the United States to preach, I visited Dr. Lee at his Westminster hostel. He was staying in a very small and cramp room. It is through such hardship that God will use a person. Today, we expect our young Christians who offer themselves to the Lord to be an overnight Billy Graham. Surely that cannot be so.

Do you want to hear my testimony? When I was 12, I dedicated myself to the Lord. But 5 years later, I gave up my faith as a result of my interest in philosophy, communism, dialectic materialism, material dialectics, evolution and atheism. Because my mother was a God-fearing woman, I had to follow her to church on Sundays. As the service progressed, I would tilt my face sideways and glare at the pastor. I cried out to myself, “what gives you the right to stand here and instruct me when you are an advocate of imperialism? Do you think I will believe in Christ just because you wail and shout while you preach the gospel? Dream on!” I do not know what sort of reaction the pastor had when he saw my demeanour. But later when I became a preacher myself, I saw that many in my audience glared at me in the same way. Perhaps that is what is called restitution.

When I was 17, I remember weeping so profusely until my clothes were wet. I said, “Lord, I want to offer myself to you. I want to serve you for the rest of my life. Wherever you want me to go, I will go. I will love you more than my mother, wife, brothers and everyone else.” So, at the age of 17, I dedicated myself to God. At that time, I was teaching in two schools in Surabaya. In the morning, I studied in the high school and in the afternoons as well as in the evenings, I taught. As a result, I woke up at 6 a.m. and went to bed at 1 a.m. One of my students was a 58 year-old man and on one occasion, I even caught him copying. I was 18 then.

As you can see, since I was very young, God had given me the opportunity to encounter and accustomed myself with people of various age groups. After my dedication to the Lord, I preached the gospel 7 times every week. In a span of 3 and ½ years, I preached a total of 800 sermons. Only after that did I enter a seminary. With the money that I earned, I bought gospel tracts, which I distributed to passers-by on the streets. I journeyed by train to other towns to preach the gospel door-to-door. I preached the gospel onboard trains, in hospitals and in schools. Sometimes I was chased away. I even encountered Muslims who surrounded me and threatened to beat me up. Nevertheless, I persisted in preaching the gospel fervently because I knew that my life did not belong to me but to Christ.

When I was studying in seminary, I was given a scholarship because my father passed away when I was 3 years of age. My mother was the one who painstakingly raised me up. Upon graduation, the principal of the seminary requested me to stay behind and teach. This has never occurred before in the history of the seminary. So, ever since 1964, I have been teaching theology. The pastors and preachers I taught and instructed within that span of time numbered about 1200. When I started teaching, I was receiving income from both the church and seminary and was therefore well off financially. Since the seminary had assisted me in my studies, I decided to return the money from the seminary by putting it back into the seminary offering. I felt that the seminary could better use the money to help other needy students. Thus, I survived by just depending on the income that I received from the church.

Later, the inflation rate skyrocketed 300% in just a year but my salary remained the same. As a result, I could not afford to travel from Surabaya to Malang to teach in the seminary there. “What should I do?” I thought to myself. An idea came to my mind. I decided to enlist the help of truck drivers and request their permission to ride with them. It was through this way that I was able to make my way to Malang to teach. I cannot remember exactly how long this lasted, probably about half a year to one year. So, even though I had very little money, I was able to travel to Malang by just paying a small fee. As the trucks transported vegetables, animals and salted fish, I would end up very smelly. Upon reaching Malang, I would quickly take a shower and start to teach. My students do not know about this and even until today, many people do not know as well. That was how God tested me.

Let me ask you. Will you serve God regardless of whether it is easy or difficult and whether people welcome you or otherwise? There was once I was preaching in the United States. My hosts were under the impression that everyone who came from Indonesia was from the rural areas. They simply assumed that I did not know the difference between cold water and hot water taps and took care to explain to me. Who did they think I was? They also told me that if my brought along my wife on the next trip, I would be given a larger room. I bet they would be very surprised to find out that my room back home was four times the size of their master room! We must be careful when we meet this sort of people because some of them will try to flatter you while others will attempt to belittle you.

On another occasion, having lectured in the University of Toronto, I flew back to Jakarta. According to my schedule, I had to immediately fly to Sarawak the next day. From Miri, I travelled to Lawas and then to Longbangan. Do you know that a missionary who was 82 years old actually cycled to the airport to welcome me? I said to the Lord, “This man has been staying in this place for 36 years. As for me, I will only be spending 28 days here.” I stayed in a small tilted zinc-roof with chicken and swine beneath the floor planks for company. I told Jesus, “Lord, now I know what a stable is like.” Out of the 28 days I had to preach, only two days I showered in the bathroom while the remaining 26 days, I bathed in the river. Even English missionaries who were there washed themselves in the river. My heart was very moved when I saw that. My schedule was really grueling because everyday I had to preach 3 times and every time I was required to preach long sermons, lasting about 3 hours. The difficult part was that my audience was not educated. If I were to talk about Socrates, they would not understand. They would be equally bewildered if I were to tell them about Lao-Tze, Confucius or even Master-Q. Since my audience wanted me to keep my preaching simple, I had to fashion my sermons in a manner that was easily understood.

During this period, I wrote two of my favorite hymns. One morning, I took my Bible with me and went into the forest. All of a sudden, as I was reading the Scriptures, I heard a voice: “No matter where I go, my heart is already prepared; The Lord will guide my path, no matter where I go, no matter where I go”. The melody began to play in my mind. I search frantically for a piece of paper but could not find any. Finding a piece of dry leave, I quickly wrote down the words. Later, I took the leave back and had the words copied on paper. Do you know the hymn? It has been sung in various places.

On another occasion when I was preaching, a group of people carrying knifes, rifles, long spears and even kitchen utensils suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It was like a scene from the movie “Tarzan”. Male and female and half naked, they came towards my direction. I asked them, “Why are you here?” They answered, “ We are here to participate in your meeting!” I had the shock of my life because I thought they were going to kill me. Later, I found out that these natives had journeyed on foot for 5 days and 6 nights before arriving at the meeting place. But how did they know that the meeting was to begin on that day? They knew about it because exactly 183 days earlier, they had inquired about it. As the natives did not have calendars, they devised a way of keeping track of the days by using a long cane and making 183 knots on it. Everyday when the sun rose, they would undo a knot. When there were only 6 knots remaining, they packed their bags and started their journey.

Having travelled for 5 days and 6 nights, the natives managed to arrive just on time. Surely these people had to stop to eat at different times in their journey. That was the reason they brought along all their cooking utensils. 5 days and 6 nights these people journeyed; the old and the young and even their dogs! I was so moved when I heard their story. Some of you here may have flown to this Consultation from Hong Kong or Canada but it is nothing compared to the natives. They had to travel on foot, brave the heat and rain and use blowpipes to hunt for food. Since they had journeyed over such a long distance, I had to preach wholeheartedly to them.

In my 43 years of preaching, I dare not say that I have ever carried the cross. I have also never felt myself carrying any cross. I can only say, “Lord, I want to carry your cross and follow you.” Many people said to me, “Rev. Tong, it must be very difficult and exhausting for you to preach like that and be stricken by sicknesses at the same time.” I said to myself, “These people must be crazy.” Those of you who are young and eager to serve God must never think that you are helping God. It is because God has mercy on you that he gave you a position of responsibility. This is the meaning of verse 1.

Having been touched by the story of the travellers, I was inspired to write another hymn “Even in the wilderness, my heart is filled with joy”. Every single word of the hymn was written from my heart. When we serve the Lord, we must not be calculative about the pain and suffering that we have to endure. When people hear the gospel and are blessed through us, it is because God had mercy on us and granted us the opportunity to serve Him.

Do you know that if I were to accept invitations to pastor a church in the States, I would be able to receive a salary of US$100,000? A friend of mine even offered me US$1 million per annum if I was willing to hold my evangelistic meetings in his country. I rejected these offers because before I do anything, I must first be certain of God’s calling and burden upon my heart. When Indonesia’s economy collapsed, the salary given by my church did not increase. At the same time, I did not want to ask for a raise because I was the one who founded that church. I really do not know how God made it possible for my son to finish his studies in the States. One thing I know is that God will not abandon those who honour Him.

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. This verse shows that a person who truly serves God must understand His calling. It was also very difficult for Dr. Chen when he studied in the States. Along with his wife and two children, he went to study in the University of Chicago, one of the top institutions in the world. When you hear his preaching and see the way he thinks today, you will realize that he has successfully completed his training. When people offered to help him, he refused because he did not want to be indebted to anyone. In that way, he would be free to do the ministry of God. Praise the Lord!

God wants to train us and use us not in order that we may have a cradle to go to heaven. He makes use of different methods to mould his servants. I believe that if you were to listen to the testimony of Rev. Ong Fook, you will shed your tears. Through great difficulties and testing, God will mould each and every one of His servants so that they become harder than steel. A person who is called by God will be accountable to God but a person who is called by men will end up being accountable to men. In the same way, a person who is motivated by money will be end up serving money. When you hear some preachers preach, you can even smell the stench of money. If a person does not have the calling of God, you will know because it will be manifested in his conduct.

Dr. Lee and I are no longer young. We are therefore very cautious when we accept seminary students. By just looking at the students, we will know what sort of pastors they will become. There are some students who look for the easiest, fastest and most convenient way to obtain credits. I will tell them, “You better leave!” To these students, I will ask, “What do you really want to do? Do you want to serve God or serve yourself? Do you truly want to be an effective servant or merely one that is pleasant to look at?” In times of chaos, you will discover the one who is truly faithful and in times of difficulty, you will find the one that truly submits to the will of God. When chaos broke out in Indonesia, there were preachers who quickly escaped by plane. After peace was restored, they came back and wanted to serve in the church again but their members rejected them. You cannot have your own way. Whatever God wants you to do, you must do it.

I am telling you all these principles this evening in order to prepare the church leaders of the 21st century. Do not come and listen to my preaching merely because I can preach well. You have the responsibility to give an account to God for every word that you hear. Now that you have heard these words, you must bow humbly before the face of God in prayer. If God calls you, are you willing to obey? If God wants to use you, are you willing to be used by Him? We cannot expect God to accomplish our own desire. True prayer is not asking God to accomplish our own will, rather it is asking him to carry out his will through us. Taking this into account, our decision to dedicate ourselves to the Lord in service or otherwise should not be made based on our own will but only after serious and solemn prayer before His face.

Preachers who have decided to leave their church but stayed behind because they have been given a pay rise would certainly not become good preachers. When they accept the increase in their salary contrary to their initial intention, their personality will be devalued. Either you leave or you stay; no two ways about it. There must not be any statement that is derived from an impure motive because you are a leader before the people.

My dear brothers and sisters, we have received God’s mercy to do his work. Because we have received His mercy, we do not lose heart. Whether it is power, political pressure, military menace, attack from Satan, poverty or materialism, all of these are trivial in comparison. Let us not forget that when our Lord Jesus Christ was on earth, he said this: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head”. Please do not be mistaken. I am not saying that as a preacher you have to be very poor. It is not wrong for a preacher to be rich; indeed there are preachers who are rich. However, you must learn the secret of being contented whether you are rich or poor. You must have a heart of suffering so that when the situation requires, you will be prepared to manifest your faithfulness to God. Praise God!

Let us move on to verse 2. Verse 1 touches on the aspect of calling but verse 2 concerns the aspect of character. The verse is not about the method or eloquence of our preaching. Instead, it is concerned with the moulding of our character. How do we mould our character? Verse 2 puts it in this manner: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways”. We are to renounce all our secret and shameful lies, habits and behaviour. All that which is shameful and which cannot be expose to the public must be discarded because God cannot use that which is unholy. He does not need us. When God uses us, it is because he bestows His mercy and grace upon us and grants us the opportunity to do so. When we do God’s holy work with unholy hands we are putting God to shame. When we preach the gospel through unholy lips we are also putting God to shame. Equally, when we meditate on God’s holy word when our heart is unholy we are bringing shame to God. That is why holiness is the most fundamental character that a preacher should possess. Satan may be able to duplicate many different gifts and methods but holiness is something that he cannot imitate. When a person leads a holy life, even Satan is afraid of him.

A person once asked Dr. Billy Graham this question, “How is it that God used you so mightily?” Dr. Graham did not attempt to give any sort of answer. He merely said, “Let us not discuss this. It will only grieve the Holy Spirit.” Why is it that God uses a particular person? The answer is very simple. It is because of God’s sovereignty. When a person asks this sort of question, it is as if he is trying to discover some preconditions or qualifications. Similarly, if you were to say, “God uses Rev. Tong because he is very knowledgeable and eloquent in his speech,“ you are putting God to shame and belittling his glory. That is why Dr. Graham said that we should not discuss this matter, less the Holy Spirit be grieved. Our election by God is unconditional. This principle forms the essence of the doctrine of salvation in reformed theology.

We have no qualifications or conditions yet God elects us. Why? This is all because of the sovereignty of God. If God wants to use us, we must not argue. He is the one who created us and if he chooses to use us, we do not even have the right to avoid his call. No one, not even our parents, husband or wife should get in the way. If God wants to use you, you must say to him, “Lord, here am I.” As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem before his betrayal, he sent two of his disciples to fetch a donkey with her colt from a village. You may wonder, “What kind of master would want his followers to steal a donkey?” or “what would happen if the disciples got scolded?” What did Jesus say? He said, “If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them.” Jesus never debated with them because he was the one who created every donkey. And he was the one who created the whole world. When Christ wishes to use something, we do not need to ask any question. There is also no need for him to give any reason. If anybody asks you, tell him that the Lord needs to use it. You just do according to God’s will. If he wants you to do something, he will provide what is necessary.

Today, many churches are not able to accomplish the will of God. “We have so little money. How can we do God’s work?” they say. If I were to follow the budget system in the States, I would not be able to accomplish any work. There was once I asked the principal of a reformed theological seminary how the institution had the means to hire a professor. He told me that they must first collect US$1 million. By putting the money into a bank, they would be able to obtain interest at US$50,000 per annum. Only with the income would they be able to invite a professor to teach. I almost fainted when I heard that. If that was the case, we would not be able to do any sort of work. We must never look at how much money we have first before we decide to do any work. Whatever God wants us to do, we have to obey. After we have completed our work, we leave the rest to him. God may call another person to do his work. We must let God has his own way. Praise the Lord!

Do you think that many wealthy people actually support us? No. In our recent evangelistic meeting in New York City, 105 churches came forward and offered their support. One church contributed US$200, another contributed US$500 and that was how we received financial aid. Do you know where we stayed? We stayed at Madison Square Garden, one of the most renowned places in the world. Although the hall where we held our meeting could only seat 5,500 participants, the expenses for 3 nights amounted to US$350,000. 7 months before the meeting was to commence, my heart was already filled with apprehension. I said to the Lord, “Thank you for putting my heart to the test. I want to depend on you.” When I arrived at New York City, I only had US$50,000 with me. I was still short of US$300,000. So, I told the Lord, “Have mercy on me. Do your own work.” God did not fail me. For the last 43 years, it has been the same. Every single day I depended on God. Praise the Lord!

When we hold this Consultation, we did not know where the money was going to come from. You can see for yourself how excellent this place is. Would it be all right if I leave it to you to organize the conference the next time? I will let you negotiate the rental with the management. For this Consultation, we rented 180 rooms for 4 nights and had 300 rooms reserved. It was by faith that we organized this meeting, one step at a time. There was one occasion the safe in our church office got stolen while we were having our Sunday service. The thieves must be thinking that a reformed church is very rich. Later we found the discarded safe in a river about 30 kilometres away. Surely the thieves would be disappointed to discover that after struggling to carry such a heavy safe, there was less than US$60 inside it. They were thinking that I was rich. I am not rich but my God is. When God wants me to do his work, he will prepare each and every step of the way. And when God wants to use our money, it is because he gives us face and the opportunity for us to do so.

What is the condition before God can use us? It is holiness. That which is shameful must be totally discarded because if a person is not holy, God cannot use him. In 2 Timothy 2: 20, Paul said: “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay”. Those four articles ranged from the most expensive to the cheapest. The rich man in the story had everything in his house. When he came back and was thirsty, he looked around for a cup. He found his golden cup but it was filled with bird droppings. Do you think he would use it to fill water to drink? Of course he would not. He looked for his silver cup but it was filled with dust. Would he use the cup to drink? No. Next, he saw his wooden cup but it was filled with rust. Surely he would not use that as well. Then he noticed the cup made of clay. It was clean. Do you know which cup the rich man used? It was the cup made of clay.

Today, many people say, “I am very intelligent.” Let me tell you this. God will not use them because although they may be intelligent, their thinking is crooked and twisted. Some say, “I am very gifted and talented.” God will also not use them. He only uses those who are holy. A person who is holy will not make any enemies. Even if enemies were to confront him, he would not be afraid. A person who has pure motives will remain strong under the most severe testing. And a person who has a clear conscience will remain unmoved by pressure from others. Even if the whole earth were to shake, he would not be frightened because his heart is pure. That is why we are to renounce all our secret and shameful ways.

What is the second important character? It is sincerity and honesty. There must be no conflict between our outer appearance and our inner self. Let your “yes” be “yes” and let your “no” be “no”. If you say more, what you say comes from the Evil One. Today we can see many intelligent people suffer downfall as a result of their own intelligence. Only those who are honest and straightforward can serve God to the end. Very often, co-workers in the Lord face disagreement with each other but they are not bold enough to express them. A co-worker may appear very pleasant to another co-worker with whom he disagrees but in actual fact he may be nasty to him behind the latter’s back. This is not right. It is better for him to rebuke his brother publicly than to love him in secret. This is what the Bible says. We must speak the truth with a loving heart. Some people may speak so much truth yet having no love. They may be absolutely correct in their criticism of others yet are not motivated by love. That is why the Scripture exhorts us to speak the truth in love. May God have mercy on us.

Those who are deceptive may be able to deceive others once or twice but they cannot succeed in doing so all the time. Eventually, they will be exposed. Do you remember the story of Esau? Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. What did Esau say? He said, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I am famished”. Do you know how long Esau lived after that meal? He lived another 80 years. But did not Esau say that he was about to die? Why was he so foolish to give up his birthright for a single meal? Jacob then deceived his father, Isaac by disguising himself as Jacob, the firstborn in order to obtain blessing from the father. Thinking that Jacob was really Esau, the father ate the tasty food prepared by Jacob and blessed him. On the very same day, Jacob’s fraud was discovered. So, if you are thinking of deceiving others, bear in mind that your deception may only last for a day but you will have to live with the consequences for the rest of your days. If we want to serve the Lord with our whole life, there is only one way; we must have honesty.

There was once I asked Dr. Andrew Gih, “Why is it that many Christians are very fervent in serving the Lord when they are young but when they are old, their heart become cold? How can we truly love the Lord with our whole life?” He did not answer me but instead stared at me. I was very frightened. At that time, I was only in my early twenties. Then he said, “My son, if you are pure gold, why should you be afraid of fire?” With that, Dr. Gih walked away. I thought to myself, “That statement made a lot of sense.” If you are pure gold, why should you be afraid of fire? Praise the Lord! I no longer need to look for any method in order to avoid being unfaithful to the Lord. I have discovered the secret and that is to be pure gold because if I am pure gold, I will never be afraid of fire! Pure gold has been tested by fire and it will remain pure even though it is tested again. Young people, do you want to be used by the Lord? If so, you must be pure gold. Do not be deceptive, do not cheat and do not seek after vainglory and the praises of men. Flattery from men cannot be trusted. Today, they will cry, “Hosanna, Hosanna!” but two days later, the same people will shout, “Nail him to the cross, nail him to the cross!”

When I was 21 years old, I held a large evangelistic crusade. The hall was filled to the brim. Those who heard me preached shook their heads in disbelief, “We have never heard such good preaching for many years.” I was compared to Dr. John Sung, the great evangelist to China. When these people shook hands with me, they told me that I was very anointed. I was only 21 years old. My heart was very flattered by the praises I received. However, on the very same night, I knelt before the Lord in prayer and the Holy Spirit convicted me. God said to me, “I do not want to use you anymore because you like to receive praises from people.” I cried and told the Lord, “Please forgive me, Lord. If you do not want to use me, my whole life will be useless. I will renounce everything so that you can use me. If you still do not use me, what else can I do? Lord, please forgive me. I want to die to praises. No matter how people praise me, I will still die to their praises. I will not be flattered just because they praise me. I have died to praises. I have truly learned my lesson. I will not care about praises from men but instead I will give you all the glory.” Now, people’s praises no longer affect me. The reason why you praise me is because you do not see my weaknesses. Those who know me will discover my shortcomings.

25 years later, I was dead to praises. However, I had to contend with another enemy in the form of criticism. People accused me of doing things that I did not do. They circulated thousands of poison-letters all over the world. Why? It was because I did not want to share the same platform with them and chose not to follow their way. So they started writing various letters to slander me. I was very wounded emotionally because I was truly serving the Lord wholeheartedly and was respected worldwide. For no particular reason, my critics scolded and slandered me. I got down on my knees in prayer and once more the Holy Spirit convicted me, “You are dead to praises but not to criticism. When people praise you, you are dead to their praises but when people criticize you, you are not dead to their criticism. You are only partially but not completely dead. Do you know that I had mercy on you for 25 years before I allowed people to criticize and slander you?” I did not realize that my God actually love me so much. If He had allowed those personal attacks on me 25 years earlier, I would have committed suicide and given up my ministry. Instead, God allowed me to gradually increase in my maturity before permitting me to face criticism and slander. I cried again, “Lord, please forgive me. I want to die to criticism as well.” So now, whether you praise or scold, rebuke or apportion blame on me, I will not be troubled. If I know that God wants me to do something, I will obey. And I will still do it regardless whether you like or dislike it. But if God does not move my heart to do something, I will not do it.

For 25 years I served the Lord in Malang, a small town before I left for Jakarta. Many famous preachers asked me, “Why is it that a person like you who is so experienced, gifted and talented would want to remain in such an obscure place?” I told them God did not stir my heart to go elsewhere. So I continued to teach in Malang. There were some who asked me, “Indonesia is so turbulent and stricken with poverty. Why do you choose to remain in the country?” I gave them the same answer, “God did not move my heart to go elsewhere.” Nevertheless, God did stir my heart to do a new work for Him this year – to expand my preaching to other cities. I preached in Jakarta on Sunday morning, Singapore on Sunday night, Kuala Lumpur on Monday, Hong Kong on Tuesday and Taipeh on Wednesday.

In order to facilitate my air-travel, I would usually buy the cheapest air ticket. After preaching in Taipeh, I would take my flight back to Jakarta. On the journey, the plane would stop at Hong Kong, then Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before touching down at Jakarta. Although I got up at 6:00 a.m., I arrived home only at 11:00 p.m. as a result of having to stop at several destinations. “This is not practical at all and very exhausting,” I said to myself. Some people suggested that I should buy a one-way ticket so that I could travel straight to Jakarta from Taipeh without having to stop at the other cities. The flight would only take 7 hours. However, one-way tickets are very expensive; costing approximately US$1,400 every week. These people said, “Never mind the cost, you are already old. No one who is 60 years of age will do what you are doing.” On one occasion, I told you that if you were to come for my Bible Exposition every week, I would be full of admiration for you. But before I praise you, I must of course praise myself because every week I would definitely be here. And if I do not come, you will not come as well.

My dear brothers and sisters, listen to this. First of all, you must submit to God’s calling. Secondly, you must lead a holy life. Thirdly, you must absolutely not practice deception. And fourthly, you must renounce all your secret and shameful ways. Are these enough? No. What else do we need to do? Let us look at verse 2 again: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God”. We have now arrived at this portion of Scripture. What are we to do now? We are to be a witness. What kind of witness? Many people think that in order to be a witness, they have to practise to be one. Dr. Chen had already told us that ministry is not to be “done”. If that were so, it would amount to “activism”. Ministry is the testimony of our whole life. We are to be a witness and not to “do” the witness. This understanding is evident from Greek culture. Witness is something that we become, not something that we speak or do. We “are” the testimony and we “become” the testimony. Witness concerns our position and our whole existence. Therefore, ministry is the outflow of our very life.

In verse 2, Paul was not only saying that we must not use deception. He was also saying that we must not distort the word of God. What do we mean by distorting the word of God? This can happen in several instances. Firstly, we distort the word of God by carelessly preaching it due to our own misunderstanding of the word, caused by our refusal to carefully and diligently study, examine and understand it. There are churches that practise a form of interpretation known as “spiritualization”. They seek to understand only the spiritual meaning of Scripture but not its true and essential meaning. When the congregation hears the sermons, they are captivated by its apparent profundity. What is worse is that the preachers of these sermons are not accountable to anyone.

Once I heard a preacher expound on the resurrection of Christ. Do you know what he preached? He said that when Christ was resurrected, his burial cloth was left in his tomb. This meant that in order to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection, Christians must discard their education and bury their graduation robe in the grave. Only then can they be witnesses for the Lord. Many in the congregation responded with shouts of “Amen!” when they heard what the preacher said. Is that the true meaning of that particular account? Was the burial head cloth equivalent to a graduation certificate? This sort of erroneous preaching is the result of careless interpretation of the word of God.

There was a student in Taiwan who told me, “Praise the Lord! I fared the poorest in my examination and yet I was promoted.” I asked him, “Why are you thanking God when you are last in your class?” He answered, “If I perform too well in my examination, I may become proud. And if I obtain top place in the examination, I would undermine the glory of God. Therefore I do not want to perform too well.” Is that kind of thinking correct? It is wrong. I said to the student, “Come and let us look at the Bible. Daniel came out top in his training. Read it for yourself.” He murmured, “You are right. But how come Daniel was first?” I told him straight in the face, “Do not ask why Daniel was first. I ask you instead. Why are you last?” He answered, “Our pastor told us that we must not be first in everything, less we undermine the glory of God. Do not be too aggressive or else we may have pride of the flesh.” Is this right?

In Singapore, another student told me that he did not want to sit for his university examination although he only had one more week of his final term to complete. When I heard what he said, I was very sad. I asked him, “Why do you refuse to sit for the examination when you have already studied for 4 years? Your parents invested so much money on your education. Are you out of your mind?” He replied, “I want to renounce everything for my Lord’s sake. I want to carry my cross and follow Him.” When I heard that, I really felt like punching him. I asked him, “Do you think you are renouncing everything by doing this?” Very seriously I said to him, “You do not have the right to renounce what you do not possess.” He replied, “I want to imitate Dr. Sung who threw his certificates into the sea.” I answered, “Dr. Sung threw his certificates away only after he had received them. But you have not even received yours.” Then, he asked me, “What is your opinion, Dr. Tong?” I replied, “In the name of Jesus, I command you to sit for your examination. If you fail, you study diligently for another year. Only after that should you go and give glory to God.” Eventually, he decided to sit for his examination but somehow he failed and had to repeat another year. Now, he will truly discover what it is like to carry the cross. Let me tell you. Not only will God not use this kind of people; even if they were to come and follow me, I will also not use them.

Today, many big companies, banks and corporations are looking for the most intelligent people. Surely God has the same right to use the brightest minds. What about those who are not so smart? Of course God uses them as well. Let me ask you. Does God have the right to use the most intelligent people? Are you the most intelligent? Perhaps you are; perhaps you are not. God uses both the intelligent and the foolish. What does the foolish do? They will help those who are more foolish. Today, there are some foolish people who want to lead the intelligent. That is impossible. I hope you do not say to yourself, “I am one of those foolish ones God has chosen.” Actually, Paul was the one who made this statement. He was the most educated amongst the apostles yet he considered himself foolish. If you think that you can imitate Paul without taking your education seriously, you will be in trouble. You are confused even with the principle itself. Wang Min-Dao, Watchman Nee, Jia Yi-Ming, Dr. John Sung and Dr. Andrew Gih were intellectuals of the church during their time. But when God called them, they obeyed.

Secondly, how do we distort the word of God? Some preachers are confused as a result of their fear of people. Consequently, their preaching is one-sided. They might look very bold in their preaching but when someone who is more learned appears halfway through their preaching, they would tone down their message. They know that if they were to continue preaching in such a manner, their flaws would be discovered. This kind of preachers is very dangerous. On one hand, they are preaching but on the other, they are deceiving people. They will deceive those who are not learned but when the learned appears, they become quiet.

There are some preachers who simply preach when they see that there are no important people in their congregation. But when someone important appears (coincidentally the one who wanted to invite him to preach in a large rally) while he is preaching, he will immediately start to preach very seriously. The audience will be wondering, “How is it that all of a sudden, his preaching improved so drastically?” The reason why these preachers suddenly preached so well is because they want to promote themselves. A person once told me that he used to respect a particular preacher. But after he discovered the preacher’s true colours, he no longer had any respect for the latter.

There is also another type of preachers. They preach very carelessly as a result of their misunderstanding of the word of God. During the early days of the church, there lived a person by the name of Origen. He misinterpreted a statement made by Jesus that there were some who became eunuchs for the sake of the gospel. As a result, he castrated himself. Later when he was old, he was filled with regret when he discovered that the meaning of the statement was not what he had assumed it was. It was already too late then. That is the reason why if we do not have any principle in interpreting the Bible, we may be misled by the wrong teaching of preachers. This is very dangerous. If the preacher is wrong in his preaching, you will end up listening and believing the wrong thing and consequently, you will end up doing wrong for the rest of your life.

There are also preachers who are money-minded. They distort the word of God for the sake of profit. In their mind, they will be thinking, “If I were to preach in this manner, it will be profitable for me but if I were to preach in that manner, it will not bring me any gain”. As a result, these preachers only preach what is pleasing to the ears of their audience. When they see wealthy people coming to listen to them preach, they will tailor their words to please them. We do not want this kind of preachers. If you remember, Paul told the elders of Ephesus in tears, “All of God’s ways which are beneficial to you, I did not withhold. I have preached everything to you.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not young anymore. So whenever I preach, I will pass on to my listeners that which is most essential from the depth of my experience. Wherever I preach, my sermons will be very good. Although I only visit a particular city once in a long while, I will preach my best. My audience all over the world will then be able to see that no matter where I preach, I will bring out my best. Of course I can be very simple in my preaching if I choose to. But I will not do it that way. Every week when I preach, I will expound every verse. I will preach on important matters as much as less important ones; difficult matters as much as simple ones and; interesting matters as much as dull ones. In this way, I will be giving due honour to the word of God. Our attitude to the word of God must be such that we will preach it systematically and in its totality.

Is it enough if we do not distort the word of God? No. The following sentence says that we are to set forth the truth plainly. Is it enough if we just speak the truth? No. After we speak it, we must set it forth. Whatever we speak, we must do the same. It must be evident in our conduct and it must be expressed in our life. We are not merely to preach the truth on the pulpit. In Surabaya, there was an elder who wept as he told me, “In my whole life, I have seen many preachers. Their sermons are good and all that they preach are the truth but their whole conduct is tainted with falsehood. I am very saddened.” All that they preached are true but all that they do are false. Do you want to hear this kind of preachers?

In Malang, there was a boy who was 11 years of age. For 1 year, he had been preparing himself for baptism. On the night before he was going to be baptized, he passed by a cinema. There he saw the pastor who was going to baptize him the following day queuing up for ticket to a movie that was unedifying. The boy’s eyes popped out and he said to himself, “Tomorrow he is going to baptize me but here he is watching a movie like this? Lord, please forgive him.” After that incident, the boy refused to be baptized. Even children understand when they see falsehood. We cannot deceive them.

We must never think that we are so smart. Rather, we are to set forth the truth. Millions of people in Kuala Lumpur are looking to the Christians, “All you Christians, set forth your truth.” In Singapore, there was a participant of our church meetings who went around deceiving people for their money. Many people were cheated by him. He even managed to deceive the son of Dr. Mochtar Riady. When the government tried to arrest him, he suddenly disappeared. Even his wife did not know his whereabouts. Later, some people found out that he was in Los Angeles. He was cheating again. And this man is a member of my church. If you were to look at him, you will discover that he is a very handsome man. He has a very fair complexion like the appearance of an angel. But when you are with him, you will discover that he is actually a professional conman. That is the reason why I have never dared to print my own name card. If you were to ask me, “Dr. Tong, can I have your name card?” I will tell you that I have yet to print them. If I were to simply give my name card to people, they might use it to cheat others. Our world today is too horrifying. There is too much deception and irresponsible people. A person may tell you that he is a Christian but in actual fact, he is only one by name and not a true Christian.

We are therefore reminded by Paul to set forth the truth. We are not to simply speak the truth or only speak it in church. Rather we must express it by our conduct. Is that sufficient? No. There is one more requirement. Paul says that we are to commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. What do we mean by conscience? This word did not even once appear in the Old Testament. But it is found more than 20 times in the New Testament. In Greek, conscience is called “sina desis” and in Latin “consiensia”. The Latin meaning of conscience is similar to its Greek meaning. What does the word mean? It means “co-knower”; that which is my co-knower. My heart is my co-knower. Our knowing in our heart is different from our knowing in our mind. The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal made the following observation: “The heart has its own reason, which reason does not know”. In other words, the mind has its own reason and the heart also has its own as well. The voice of conscience is not only God’s observer and also his representative. What is in our conscience is actually more truthful than what we express. Paul was therefore saying that we must conduct ourselves in such a manner so that others will truly commend our good conduct in their conscience; only then will we have true value.

The fool will say that everybody is good to him. Of course outwardly, they will treat him well. But what does the voice of their conscience say? These people will say, “Please have a seat” or “Please come again when you have the time” but in their hearts, they may be saying, “You better go away.” I have a brother who says to people that he is not very fond of, “If you are free, please do not visit me too often because if you do so, I will be bothered.” He will say it very frankly and yet rather humorously at the same time.

Very often, the way people treat us outwardly is different from the way they treat us inwardly. We however are to be different. Paul says that we must conduct ourselves in such a manner that others will in their conscience testify that we are truly of good conduct. Only then are we truly good. Let me now ask you a question to test how high your I.Q. is. Generally speaking, which animal in particular are people most fond of, if we were to exclude the Muslims? People usually like dogs, am I right? Unless of course if they are the type who are afraid of dogs. Let me ask you another question. Which animal do people detest the most? It is also the dog, is it not so? If someone were to say that you are a fat and lazy pig, you probably will not get too upset. But if someone were to say that you are a dog, it would be very difficult for you to forgive him. Am I not right? Dogs are creatures that people love as well as detest the most. When a dog sees someone, it will wag its tail. The dog is also the only animal that will please its owner anytime. If your wife is sleeping very soundly and you wake her up, she will get very upset. But if you were to wake up your dog from its sleep, it will get up immediately and start wagging its tail. Of course people will love an animal that will please its master anytime. But dogs are also most despised by people. Why is this so? Dogs have no principles. If you feed him, it will love you. So outwardly you will say, “I like you very much,” but in your heart you will say, “I detest you.”

Similarly, there are two types of preachers. The first is the kind people like but also detest, quite similar to a dog. The second is the sort people will get upset with but also admire, rather akin to a lion. Is there any one who detests a lion? No one detests a lion. When you see a lion coming, you will run for your life. Even though you are frightened of it, you will still admire it. How then should the servant of God be like? Should he imitate the dog or the lion? Which of these two is better: people like you but at the same time they loathe you or; they are angry with you and yet they admire you? What was Daniel, John the Baptist and Paul like? They were like lions. Why was it when Daniel was thrown into the den of lions, they did not devour him? It was because he looked like a lion himself! We are also the same. Praise the Lord!

Therefore, we are to commend ourselves to every man’s conscience. I believe no other person has expounded these last few verses in the manner I have done so. All that is important, I will preach to you. If you want to be a preacher of God, you must be called by him, have his holy nature, renounce your secret and shameful ways, not use deception, not distort his word, set forth the truth and commend yourself to every man’s conscience. This is the kind of preacher that the 21st century needs. Is there anyone who is willing to say, “Lord, if you want to use me, I am prepared to be used by you?” “This evening, I am willing to submit to you. Use me and send me.”

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