Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn.3:16). We would have heard sermons about the love of God that has been demonstrated through His giving, His giving His only Son. “God proved His love on the cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you’” (Billy Graham). One characteristic of this kind of love that God has, in contrast to the love that people usually have, is that He did not think about Himself or what He would gain but about what He wanted to bless us with. Human love, in its essence, is selfish in that we want to gain something from the ones we love. The typical refrain of human love songs, “I can’t live without you,” betrays this focus on ‘I’ and its expectation of what ‘you’ can do for ‘I’. “In real love, you want the other person’s good. In romantic love you want the other person” (Margaret Anderson). This is where the love of God is different. He thinks of what we need and makes self-sacrifices for our good.

A rather ‘refined’ form of this human love is also selfish in its core even though it gives the superficial appearance of selfless service. Many people, irrespective of their faith, do much good to others, sometimes at the cost of a lot of effort, time and money. Philanthropy is appreciated by everyone. But what goes unnoticed often is the expectation some of these benefactors have in terms of returns for their efforts. Some expect fame or appreciation for their sacrifices and some others expect that one day there will be a reciprocation of these helpful deeds when they come into need themselves, either from their beneficiaries or from God! Here again, it is selfishness that is behind this so-called love.

It is only when a man is born again and the love of God is poured into his heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom.5:5) that he begins to have divine, altruistic love sprouting up in his heart. Now he begins to do good to the others, not because he wants anything in return, but because he wants to bless them. The compassion of God also begins to fill his heart and he becomes willing to make many sacrifices in his own life in order to be of benefit to the others in need.

The apostle Paul is a great example of this love in the way he gave his whole life to preaching the Gospel and seeking to present every man perfect or complete in Christ (Col.1:28). He adapted himself in order to become acceptable to different types of people (1Cor.9:19), not to win their friendship for his support but so that he could make their hearts open to receiving the Gospel. At the same time, he did not hold back anything that could profit his listeners (Acts 20:20), including words of rebuke or correction. His goal was not any gain for himself but everything possibly good for the others. He loved people in such a way that he was even willing to exchange his salvation for theirs if that could somehow save them (Rom.9:1-3). We can see, to our challenge, how the love of God constrained him (2Cor.5:14,15).

When we look around, sad to say, we find very few pastors and teachers of this calibre. What Paul commented about his co-workers applies even now, possibly to a greater extent. He said that all of them, except Timothy, were only seeking something for themselves in their ‘ministry’ (Php.2:19-21). Christian workers of various ministries seem to be primarily serving not God, but people for their own support, either in terms of money or popularity, and the poor sheep are not being taken care of properly. God has been seeing this even from the Old Testament times when shepherds were living off the sheep instead of feeding them (Ezek.34:1-6).

In these days, people in many churches, readers of many Christian books and viewers of a lot of Christian TV are hardly getting nourishing food according to the need of the hour (Lk.12:42). They get music and songs, entertaining messages, profound sounding words with hardly any application in daily life, but impressive displays of showmanship, and calls for donation with promises of great things to come. However, thankfully, God has not left Himself without a remnant.

What is generally the biggest focus of the popular messages? How we will get healed, how our financial situation will rebound, how our marriage will change overnight, how our dreams about our career, house, car, travel, etc., will become realities – in fact, how God is going to do a miracle and our life here on earth will become comfortable and enjoyable!

Why do people flock to and support such preachers? It is because that is what they think they need and that is what they have been told God would do for them. They have not heard anything else.

Preachers are exploiting the need of people in order to satisfy their own desire for fame, wealth and power. They preach about what the people want to hear and not what they need to hear from God. “Wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2Tim.4:3).

It is true that we have a lot of needs here in this life, and it is only natural that we go to God looking for remedies or solutions. In fact, Jesus has told us that our Father Himself loves us and we can ask Him for anything (Jn.16:26,27). But what we must not forget is that there are more important things in life than just meeting our daily needs. When people crowded around Jesus and sought after Him, Jesus’ message to them was that they should be concerned more about things that pertain to eternal life than the life here on earth. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Jn.6:27). He was not at all exhilarated with their seeking Him for their earthly needs while their crucial need was to seek Him for eternal life (v.26).

If we are seeking Jesus only for earthly needs, the chances are that we have not heard the Gospel properly. Jesus did many miracles for the people who came to Him but only as signs of who He was (Jn.2:11). The good news He came with was that He would save us from our sins through His death on the cross. That is what would matter through eternity. Even if we are healed or even raised from the dead, we would still die later. However much money, property or name we accumulate here, we can take nothing with us to eternity. But it would matter very much whether we experienced His salvation or not while we were still alive and how His grace was able to transform us.

This true Gospel is not being preached widely, even when evangelists have statistics to show about the number of people who ‘received’ Jesus. Who would not ‘accept’ a ‘Jesus’ who would heal our sicknesses, remove all our problems, and give us everything that is needed to make us happy and comfortable? But that is not the Jesus of the Bible. The name of Jesus itself was chosen to indicate that His main task was to save people from their sins (Matt.1:21)! Other things are a bonus. If we are shepherds, let us see if we are feeding the sheep properly, and if we are sheep, let us see what kind of food we are getting from our shepherds.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, September 2017

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