Do you know what Christians were called before the term Christian existed? The word “Christian” was a derogative term, meaning little Christ. It was a way to make fun of those who follow Christ. But, later, they felt proud to be called Little Christ, so they adopted the term “Christian” as their identity.
Again, do you know what they were called before they adopted the term Christian? They were called—or we were called—the “followers of the Way,” with the capital “W,” just like the “Word.” Paul says,
“I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.” (Ac 24:14 NIV).
Paul was arrested by the Jews, accused of starting riots, and brought to Governor Felix for a hearing. He said that, as a “Follower of the Way,” he believed everything in the Law and the Prophets—meaning, as Christians, we believe everything the Jews believed. They were the ones that called us a sect, meaning they were being divisive.
Several times in the Book of Acts, Christians were called the “Followers of the Way,” or those who “belong to the Way.” This term began with Thomas asking Jesus to show him the way. Jesus said,
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6).
I think the term “Followers of the Way” is fascinating because the Way indicates a journey. Unlike “Christians,” which reveals who we are, “Follower of the Way” shows where we go. Since the Chinese philosophy of the Dao also means the Way, it gives us more material for Christology—the study of the person, nature, and role of Christ.
Laozi said the Dao is like water. He says in chapter 8 of Dao De Jing:
Supreme good is like water.
Water greatly benefits all things without contention.
It flows through places that people loathe.
Therefore, it is close to the Way. (Dao De Jing #8a)
Water perfectly describes Jesus’ way of life. Jesus brings salvation to the world through grace. Jesus goes to places people don’t want to go, especially the cross. Water follows to the lowest places, representing humility. Water is soft and gentle, just as Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble in heart.”
So, if we are the Followers of the Way, we must learn to be like water. Bruce Lee made this philosophy famous by saying, “Be water, my friend!” asking people to be fluid, flexible, humble, and adaptable. If you become water, you have no contention. Contention disrupts our peace and joy. The water state is the Way to happiness.
Today, we will learn from Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, how to be the Followers of the Way and live like water to benefit all things without contention, living in heaven on earth. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 23:1-12. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Mt 23:1–12).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
Here’s the context. Jesus had three debates with the religious leaders at the temple during his last days before he was crucified. Right before this passage, Jesus taught the Great Commandments to throw a knockout punch at the Pharisees. We covered this in last week’s message. The Bible says they dare not ask him any question again from then on. Instead, they plotted to kill Jesus.
Now, there’s a problem. Jesus just taught the crowd and the disciples to love their neighbor as themselves. Then how do you deal with these corrupt religious leaders—Pharisees and Sadducees? Those were a bunch of civilized terrorists who crucified the Lord. Jesus needs to teach them how to deal with authority, so he said,
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (Mt 23:2-3).
These religious leaders hold important offices. Jesus reminds them to respect their position. Learn what they teach, but don’t do what they do because they don’t practice what they teach.
Sophie had a friend who used to come to church. She was not shy about speaking her mind. Being a Korean, she said, “In Korea, there’s a joke. Someone went to heaven and saw a bunch of lips floating in the air without their body. She asked an angel, what are those floating lips? The angel answered, ‘Oh, they are the pastors. You know they are good at talking, but they don’t practice what they teach.’”
She told this joke when Sophie introduced her to me for the first time. You can imagine how much respect she had for pastors. I don’t mind her bluntness. In fact, I appreciate warning like this because it’s true for people in my position. I try my best to practice what I teach.
Still, Jesus wants you to respect the pulpit even if I fail to practice what I teach. Don’t ignore the message because of the messenger. Right after this passage, Jesus went on a long list of woe sayings against the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites six times.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Mt 23:13).
He went on and on for the rest of the chapter. It shows how awful these religious leaders were. Despite that, he still wants us to honor their office and their teachings. This attitude toward the authority is particularly relevant to us Americans.
A friend told me that from the perspective of many countries worldwide, Americans treat our government officers pretty harshly. We vote them into the offices and scold them constantly. No other countries do that, at least not as severely as we do. You might argue that our politicians today are terrible, but whining doesn’t help your spirit.
For our own good, Jesus wants us to be like water. He said,
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Mt 23:12).
When we denigrate our politicians, we exalt ourselves above them because we are saying we are better than them. That destroys our spiritual maturity. It hinders our wisdom. It ruins our peace. It sabotages our growth.
It blocks our flow. We stop flowing like water but become stale like a stagnant pond. Jesus wants us to be humble, just like water flowing to the lowest places. How? He says,
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Mt 23:11).
Laozi said water dwells in the lowest place as if he were describing Jesus. Jesus sets an example by washing the disciples’ feet. He would wash our feet if he were here, reminding us to be great by being a servant. Water serves the trees, the animals, and the planet. Water is the closest element to resemble Jesus. He said,
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” (Mt 23:8).
One of the American cultures I appreciate is that church members call their pastors by their first name. Each time I went to another country, especially in Asia, they called me Pastor or Reverend Doctor. I felt very uncomfortable because I didn’t want to lose the grounding and forget to flow to the lowest place, like water.
Sometimes, I went to Burma, and the seminaries there would ask me to teach. It is their campus rule to call every teacher with their title. I have to comply.
However, we must understand that Jesus often teaches with hyperbole and exaggeration for us to remember the core message. For example, Jesus says,
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Mt 18:8–9).
If you take this literally, Christians will be a bunch of cripples and blinds. Putting it in the context of Jesus’ entire teaching, he wants us to repent. Repent means change. If we cut off our limbs without change, it’s meaningless. He wants us to realize the intensity of our sins.
So, here, Jesus warns us of the danger of being placed in high positions by being called teachers, rabbis, or pastors. After long being honored in that position, we could become elated and lose our grounding. Jesus wants us to remember that we have only one pastor, Jesus Christ, and I am a student like you all.
The next one can be a little confusing. He says,
“And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.” (Mt 23:9).
Here, the above explanation helps us understand this teaching. Just like cutting our limbs out is not literal, Jesus doesn’t mean we should not call anyone father, but to remember that we all have one father in heaven.
Our earthly father didn’t create us. Only God the Creator brought us to earth. He is our real Father. Most importantly, he wants to maintain humility when we are called fathers. Again, we want to be like water, always trying to be a servant. Then he says,
“Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” (Mt 23:10).
The word “instructor” is translated from Greek, “καθηγητής (kathigitís),” meaning “teacher, instructor, or master.” In this context, it’s better to translate as “master” because of the following verse that says, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Mt 23:11). Jesus was talking about the servant-master relationship.
“Nor are you to be called masters, for you have one master, the Messiah.” (Mt 23:10).
Near his crucifixion, Jesus repeatedly instructed the disciples about treating him as the master. Maintaining a servant mindset will make us more effective on earth because it’s human nature to become arrogant and lose our fruitfulness. Always remember to be like water.
Laozi says water shows us what is the best:
The best dwelling is on the ground. (Humility).
The best mind is broad and deep. (Like oceans).
The best relationship is merciful. (Forgiving).
The best word is sincere.
The best honesty is healing. (Honest words could hurt).
The best work is competent.
The best action is timely.
Since there’s no contention, there is no frustration. (Dao De Jing 8b).
At the beginning of this section, he said water benefits all things without contention. Now, he ends it by saying without contention, there’s no frustration.
You might wonder, “Didn’t Jesus have contention with the religious leaders, and that was why they crucified him?” Contention came from the other end. Even though you don’t contend with others, it doesn’t mean they don’t contend with you.
Just like Paul’s case above, he said that he had no contention with the Jewish beliefs because he believed everything they believed. It was they that contended with him by excluding him as a sect.
Even so, Jesus taught us not to contend with anyone and to maintain a servant mindset like water. Many of us are kind to those less fortunate than us, but we can be extremely unkind to those above us, especially when discussing politics. We are unkind to our president and politicians.
Jesus reminds us that it’s not our job to punish them. If we do, we will lose our spiritual integrity—our water-like flow. Paul said,
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Ro 12:19).
Let’s leave room for the wrath of God, meaning don’t play God.
If you don’t want frustrations in life, relinquish contention from your end. Jesus says he is the Way. If the Way is like water and we have seen he exemplified it, we should learn the way of water.
Water doesn’t just flow to the lowest places but also changes forms based on the condition. It could turn into ice to cool your drinks. It could turn into vapor to give you rain. Whatever situation it encounters, it still serves you in that mode.
We are the Followers of the Way. If the Way is like water, be water, my friend!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.