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Vigorous in Intent, Deficient in Aim

andrea-mantegna-the-agony-in-the-garden

Are we busy with Christian service? Yanadi stresses the importance of sticking closely to Christ in the midst of Christian actions.

If you know about our newest full-time elder, Thian Chye, there are a number of godly characteristics that are attached to him. Gentle, frank, dedicated, pastoral, and patient are a few that come to mind. But there is one thing that you should know about him if you are close [enough] to him; it is that he starts his day early in the morning to spend time with our Lord, reading His Word and praying.

As a millennial, I have to admit that although externally and principally I applaud such spiritual discipline, sometimes I secretly think that it is a form of legalism. In my mind, I thought, "Why does anyone need to wake up at a certain inconvenient time in order to do something considered pious?" or even generally, "Why would anyone need to commit to any spiritual discipline? We are free in Christ."

Being a multi-generational church, we are sometimes entrenched with "us against them" mentality, especially between the older generation and the younger generation, either intentionally or unintentionally. Representing my generation, I sometimes feel that the generation that has reared me is generally too strict and too specific when it comes to exerting disciplines, spiritual or otherwise:

  • Prayers ought to be before and after every meal and sleep;
  • Only certain attires are acceptable for gathering as a congregation;
  • Only certain types of music can be sung in a church gathering.

How has my generation responded though? Often not that well either. Like a swinging pendulum, we push back by going to the other extreme, becoming too liberal and too loose. The good news of the freedom in Christ can sometimes be misused and abused to be saying as if there's no law anymore, not even the law of love, where we should not stumble fellow Christians (Rom 14:1-15:7; 1 Cor 9). And it can sometimes be used as an excuse for secret ingratitude. Such attitude is the very thing that the 17th century Puritans would call "antinomianism".

This leads me to Simon Peter, the apostle, whose first letter is the basis for our current sermon series on Hope. During my free time, I try to listen to sermons related to our sermon series. One insightful sermon that I heard was by elder Anthony Mathenia of Christ Church, Radford, Virginia. Mathenia reminded his hearers of who Peter was when Jesus was still around, before he was the author of that letter.

Who is Peter?

Simon Peter is obviously one of Jesus's twelve disciples, probably the most prominent one. He was the one who boldly proclaim that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). His proclamation was blessed by Jesus. Shortly after that, however, his boldness caused Jesus to say to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mt 16:23). If there is one characteristic that characterises Peter, it is his boldness.

Continuing the motif of Peter's boldness, after the disciples were arguing who is the greatest among them during the last supper (Lk 22:24-30), Peter claimed, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away" (Mt 26:33) and "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death" (Lk 22:33). Of course most of us know that what followed was Peter's threefold denial of Jesus. But what is often forgotten is Peter's boldness when Jesus was arrested and what transpired before that.

One of Jesus's disciples cut off an ear of the servant of the high priest. Apostle John tells us not only that the identity of the victim is Malchus, but also that the identity of the offender is Peter (Jn 18:10). Peter is always bold when it comes to showing his loyalty to Jesus. But what preceded this eventful episode? It was an uneventful episode of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane bringing Peter, James, and John. What Peter, along with James and John, failed to do was simply to watch and pray for an hour. We may think that this is not a big deal, but his lack of prayer may exactly be the root of his brash boldness in the midst of his apparent display of loyalty. His boldness is anchored on his trust in himself. And this is why he was prayerless.

There might be legalism lying around somewhere in Peter, in thinking that by saying this and doing that, he may somewhat earn his Lord's favour. However, often licentiousness is mixed with legalism, or sometimes they are even two sides of the same coin. Peter may be thinking that spending some time in prayer is not necessary since he thought that his heart is loyal to his Lord anyway. He actually thought that he is willing to die with and for Jesus, although we know how it ended up.

Mathenia quoted a commentator who said this about Peter in that particular episode:

Peter was "vigorous in his intent, but deficient in his aim."

So what?

Firstly, are we vigorous in our intent but deficient in our aim? If there is only one thing that you can take home from reading this article, it is this:

Do not let yourself be in the middle of Christian actions without being in the middle of Christ's presence.

Let us intentionally and deliberately spend time with Christ for He is our living hope and source of strength.

Secondly, let me encourage all of us to uphold the law of love as taught by Jesus Himself, that we edify one another and not stumble one another. However, this does not necessarily mean that we always need to meet in the middle. But this does mean that we sometimes ought to sacrifice our preferences for the sake of the edification of others.

Lastly, the Peter that we read in his letters is a different Peter that we read in the Gospels. The former is a transformed version of the latter. The former has put behind his trust in himself and replacing it with trust in the living cornerstone, Jesus, his Lord and Saviour. Instead of competing to be the best of disciples or encouraging Christians to compete to be the best Christian out there, he encourages Christians to earnestly love one another and be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers (1 Pt 4:7-11), the very things that have become Peter's priority as a mature Christian by this time in his life; a complete 180-degree reversal from his brash and bold self in the Gospels. Therefore, let me encourage all of us to reflect on wherein do we put our trust. Let us place our trust in the living cornerstone alone. He who has transformed Peter will also transform us to become holy: God's people and place for God's glory.

Now what?

One way to edify one another instead of stumbling one another is by cultivating discipleship relationships with brothers and sisters in our church. Mark Collins, a Gospel Partner of GBC, is teaching a two-session EQUIP series on Discipling One Another in a Local Church on Tuesdays, 14 and 21 September 2021 at the usual time (8-9pm) and space (Zoom). I encourage all of us to come and attend. My prayer is that we will be equipped to apply the various EQUIP series on different subjects both to self and to others through the discipleship relationships that we develop.