Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do You Love Me?

No, in case you are wondering, I am not asking you this question ;-)

This was the question which Jesus, after his resurrection, asked Peter three times:
John 21:15-17
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

In the English translation, it seems that Jesus asked Peter the same question three times but in actual fact, Jesus asked Peter the same question only twice. The first two times, in v15 and v16, what Jesus asked was "do you ἀγαπάω (agapaō ) me?"

Both times, Peter answered "I love you" but in the Greek, the word "love" which Peter used was not agapaō ; Peter actually said, "I φιλέω (phileō) you."

According Strong's definition, agapaō  means "to love dearly" whereas phileō  means "to like"; agapaō  is the deep love which God has for us whereas phileō  is just affection for another person.

Why did Jesus ask Peter "do you ἀγαπάω (agapaō ) me?" twice? Jesus wanted to confirm that Peter had indeed learned his lesson. What lesson? Before Jesus' arrest and subsequent crucifixion, Peter was so sure of his love for Jesus that he boasted to Jesus - "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble. Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" (Matt 26: 33,35) - yet before the night was over, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times.

Peter had now learned his lesson. He knew that he could not love Jesus the way Jesus loved him. Peter knew deep in his heart that he could not agapaō  Jesus, the best he could do was phileō Jesus, and he did not change his answer the second time.

Satisfied that Peter had learned his lesson, Jesus asked Peter the third time, but this time Jesus asked "Simon, son of Jonah, do you phileō Me?” and Peter answered, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileō You."

Peter knew that the Lord Jesus knew that he only phileō  Him, but Jesus let Peter know, by His third question, that it is okay that his love is only phileō ; Jesus did not insist on agapaō , he can still use us at our phileō level to do His work - "Feed my sheep".

In John 14:15, Jesus said "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Many preachers have used this verse to exhort the church to keep the 10 commandments. Some preachers have also said the commandments do not refer to the 10 commandments but rather the commandments Jesus mentioned in Mark 12:30-31 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself."

However, I think both set of preachers missed the significance of the key word in John 14:15 - "love". Yes, you'd probably guessed correctly by now that the "love" in the verse is "agapaō ". If you have learned Peter's lesson, you'd know that it is almost impossible for us to agapaō  God, it is impossible for us to love anything, let alone God, with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, ALL our mind and ALL our strength; only God can love like that because GOD IS LOVE.

Therefore, I believe it is vital that the church, week after week, focus on God agapaō us, and in the process fill our hearts with so much of His love that we can't help but love (phileō ) Him more and more each day. If the church focus on we agapaō  God, I fear that we may some day end up burnt out and denying Jesus like what Peter thrice did.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Playing Music To The Cows

Chinese idiom
A kind sister-in-Christ, L, who is also attending NCC, after reading the comments on my previous post here and on facebook, emailed me to advise me and fellow NCC members "not to waste time engaging the outsiders" to explain NCC's one-north project.

I understand her feelings and agree that it seems a waste of time to share our church's vision with them since it seems that many of them have already made up their minds that NCC is on the wrong path, no matter what we say. It is like what a Chinese idiom says: "playing music to the cows" .

I agree with her too that "whatever God has called NCC to do is purely for our members and I believe only we can totally appreciate and enjoy the whole process. It is also a result of many years of revelation of God's Word in NCC members' life and the vision that God has given the church leaders that we dare to step out to do what we did."

I explained to her that my comments and rebuttals are not really meant to convince the person I am arguing against but rather to give another side of the picture to other readers reading the exchange so that they can make a more informed judgment. I'd like more people to understand NCC's position but I guess ultimately it does not matter that others do not understand because it is enough that we, the members, appreciate, participate in and enjoy the whole process.

There are many armchair critics who make comments without thinking it through thoroughly. That's why sometimes I purposely question them to provoke them into thinking more deeply about and justify their comments. For example, one facebook acquaintance questioned why "NCC doesn't consider other alternatives to 1-North" and I asked him for his good alternative. His answer: "split into smaller churches".

Split into smaller churches? That does not meet NCC's objective of keeping the whole church under one one roof, does it? His answer: "many churches down history and in singapore have split into smaller ones when they hit a particular size. there's nothing new about megachurches' size except their insistence on staying under one roof. if this isn't siege/kingdom mentality, i dunno what is. is a family under many roofs less of a family?"

Okay, let's say splitting into smaller churches is really good for NCC. How do you implement it? How many churches should you split 22,000 people into? How about 5? That means over 4,000 people per split church, if every member just unquestioningly follow instructions (which is how some outsiders tend to view us NCC members; the person who suggested the church split even refer to us as drones) to attend a particular split church. That still makes each split church technically a megachurch. Where can you find 5 venues in land-scarce multi-religious Singapore to accommodate 5 new megachurches? How many more pastors and staff and equipment are needed to serve 5 different congregations in 5 different locations? Most importantly, what is the objective of splitting into smaller churches?

When NCC exhibited the first pictures and scale model of one-north, I (and quite a few friends) found that from certain angles, one-north looked like Noah's Ark and perhaps that is fitting since Noah's Ark, just like one-north is now, was a building project ridiculed by those outside his family but Noah knew it was God's project. Those outsiders eventually knew it too, when the flood arrived.

God bless the integrated hub @one-north. Amen.