In our first month of the year, we have been listening to excellent messages about the triune God, and recently, on the nature of Man. This has been a good time of recognition and recalling of the nature and greatness of our loving Heavenly Father, who is also the Almighty Creator.
I am particularly struck by the message about the relational nature of our God, who is Father, Son and Spirit, and also loves us beyond what we can imagine. Our God is not an uninterested creator who drifts away from His creation, but one who actively engages with His creation. He is a relational God who has called us to be his own and is interested in our lives and wants the best for us.
It seems fitting that we are also celebrating Chinese New Year as we contemplate on the God who relates with us. Chinese New Year is a time when Chinese people re-connect and reaffirm family relationships. It is such an important occasion that in China, shops and businesses will close for a few days to allow workers to travel home for reunion dinners.
I do enjoy this Chinese New Year season and take the opportunity to consider how the nature of our relational God is reflected through our human connections. In families, we are simply bound by marriage and blood relations. When I got married, I am bound to my wife through marriage and the two became one. My wife also became a member of my biological family, and I, likewise, gained new parents and siblings. When we became parents, we learned to love unconditionally and to care for our child in every aspect of his life. There was no need for our son to earn our love, and his status as a member of the extended family is simply established through his birth. Doesn’t this remind us of how the church, like a bride, is loved by Jesus Christ? Through the redeeming blood of Christ, we no longer need to work for our salvation but can enjoy the status of becoming a child of our heavenly Father. Indeed, we can intuitively understand the relational nature of God by simply looking at our own family relationships.
This year, my extended family decided to have our reunion dinner at a restaurant. Being a natural kaypoh (Dialect for “busybody”), I took the opportunity to observe how other families in the restaurant enjoyed their reunion dinner. On one table, I saw an elderly man, his hair all white, gently feeding his wife. She was sitting in a wheel chair, and although she was unable to talk or hold her chopsticks, she seemed happy, peaceful and contented among her family members. At another end of the restaurant, I saw a mother making sure her two young children had their fill of food first before starting on her own dinner. At my own table, a daughter had carefully brought her frail and aging parents to dinner, both of them showing signs of senility and are now a mere shadow of their old self. She was perhaps wondering how many more times would she be able to bring her parents to enjoy such an occasion.
Looking at these families, I started to remember distinctly how people have shared with me about the way they loved even their deceased family members. They practice ancestral worship on the eve and second day of Chinese New Year. Some families even practice a daily ritual of burning joss sticks to their ancestors. For many people, the practice of ancestral worship, especially for the closest family members such as a deceased parent, is an expression of love, filial piety and respect. We can see that the Chinese really treasure relational connections, extending even beyond death.
I wonder perhaps that when God said “Let us make man in our image,” besides making man to be able to reason, be creative or to act nobly, He made man, above all, to be able to love and relate with each other. While we recognise that each of us has a self-centred love, we also know that this self-love is not as noble as that of sacrificial love, often first experienced within the family setting. The ability and capacity to love others and behave sacrificially for our loved ones contrasts with our innate ability to self-love.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that among faith, hope and love, the greatest is love. Having said this, it is good to remember that the occasion when Paul said this was during a time when the church was not exhibiting loving behaviours in some sections. He must have felt sad, that after experiencing the redeeming love of God and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, there were still church members who needed to be reminded to love one another.
Today is the 10th day of the Chinese New Year. Traditionally, this is a time when friends have meals and fellowship with each other. As we come to worship the God who taught us what is love, my wish for us at PSPC during this Chinese New Year is for us to remember how our loving Father has brought us into His holy family through the sacrifice of His Son. Because of God’s love for us, we have become a new family in Christ. As the Apostle John admonished us in 1 John 4:7, let us gladly receive the love that God has for us, and learn to love one another more. In the year ahead, may our discipleship progress be evidenced by greater sacrificial love for one another.
1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”