There’s a human paradox. We all know we are social creatures, but at the same time, we often get hurt by social interactions. When I look at my emotional wounds, most of them are caused by people. Of course, there are self-inflicted wounds due to my own mistakes and stupidity, but there are many wounds inflicted by others—sometimes by strangers, sometimes by friends, and sometimes even by family members.
On the other hand, we cannot just cut ourselves off from society and expect to have peace. We all know being alone is unhealthy mentally, emotionally, and spiritually because we are social creatures. Then how do we solve this human problem? How do we be part of a community and not get hurt? I have discovered the secret based on what Jesus taught.
The secret is that “life is not a journey.” If life is a journey, the destination is the focus, and the faster we get there, the better. We want to get on the fastest vehicle in the fastest lane and rush to the end. If you treat life as a journey, your mind will concentrate on “tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,” and you will not be able to enjoy the present moment. You cannot rush life because it has to be lived one day at a time. Jesus taught us to live for today in his Sermon on the Mount.
If life is not a journey, what is it? Life is a piece of music. Unlike a journey, you cannot rush to the end of the music, or it won’t sound pleasant. Just like living one day at a time, you must play every beat and every bar with proper timing and rhythm. There are high notes and low notes, happy moments and sad moments, but when you play it right, they all work together to make your life a masterpiece. Paul said,
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28).
Life is a series of peaks and valleys, high seasons and low ones. A friend said that he loves New Jersey because he loves the four distinct seasons—spring, summer, fall, and winter. They all are beautiful in their own ways because one season makes us appreciate another. We are in the middle of a cold winter right now, but it will make spring taste so delicious when it comes. It’s like a change of movements in a concerto.
I have also discovered that life is not solo music but an orchestra with God as our Conductor. As Paul said, “God makes all things work together for good,” like a magnificent concerto. I call it “life is a masterpeace,” (PEACE). So, your life is most peaceful when you play with a community that focuses on the same Conductor.
Notice the word “play.” You play through life like playing music. If life is a journey, you compete with people to get ahead. Since life is music, you play with people. When you compete with people, someone will lose, but when you play with people, everyone wins.
To cultivate peace within, you must learn to play with people. For the past three weeks, we have focused on cultivating PEACE within. We all have been through some rough three years, and we don’t know what the future holds, but if we have peace within, we can handle whatever comes ahead and make the rest of our lives the best of our lives.
There are five pillars of peace based on what the Bible teaches us, and I have put them together into an acrostic using the word PEACE. Previously we talked about,
P – Presence: Protect God’s Presence in Us
E – Emptiness: Empty Myself (as Jesus Did)
A – Atonement: Atone with Forgiveness
C – Community: Concert with the Community
Today we will learn how to concert with the community to cultivate peace within based on Jesus’ word in today’s scripture lesson. 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 4:12-17. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 4:12–17).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
This passage describes how Jesus launched his ministry from the region of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, as prophesized by Prophet Isaiah. This area lay astride the international trade routes where Jewish and Gentile communities occupied this region, living side by side. It was a multiethnic environment, so there was a spirit of tolerance and harmony. Jesus made his home here and it says,
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mat 4:17).
“The kingdom of heaven” is a loaded word. Scholars throughout history around the world have discussed and debated what it is and where. At a minimum, it’s a place of peace, like this region where Jesus made his home, where Jews and Gentiles live in peace and harmony. That’s the perfect place to launch Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the kingdom of heaven because these people had a taste of what it was like.
If the Kingdom of Heaven is the place of peace, where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus said,
The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20b–21).
Notice Luke used “the kingdom of God” instead of “the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew’s Gospel was written for the Jews, so he used “the kingdom of heaven” because it’s against the Jewish tradition to use God’s name in vain, according to the Third Commandment, “Thou shall not use God’s name in vain.” So, Jewish people used “heaven” to avoid using God’s name in vain. It’s also a Chinese tradition.
On the other hand, Luke wrote his Gospel for the Greeks and Gentiles. So, if he used “heaven” in place of God, it could confuse them. So, that’s why you see the “kingdom of God” in Luke’s Gospel. By the way, do you tend to say, “For God’s sake” or “For Heaven’s sake?” I prefer to say, “For heaven’s sake,” to minimize the use of “God” in keeping with the Judeo-Christian theology.
Back to the verse above, we encounter another quantum paradox because the word “among you” can also be translated as “within you.” If you take “among you” as the correct translation, then the Kingdom of God is in a community. However, some translations like NIV and KJV say the Kingdom of God is “within you.” The Chinese Bible also says, “the kingdom of God is inside your heart.”
A conspiracy theory says this verse is intentionally translated as “among you” because the church, as organized religion, wants you to believe that they are the kingdom of God. If it is translated as “The Kingdom of God is within you,” then they have no leverage over you. That conspiracy theory motivated me to dig into the truth of whether the Kingdom of God is “within you” or “among you” because I am committed to be faithful to God and God’s word, not the organized religion.
The Gospel of Thomas turns out to be helpful in this case, even though it’s not part of the canon. Thomas recorded Jesus saying,
“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and outside of you.” (Thomas 3).
He effectively articulated the profundity of the Kingdom of God as a quantum paradox. The Kingdom of God is both within you and without you. It’s both-and, not an either-or. Putting in the context of Jesus’ entire teaching, the kingdom of heaven is omnipresent both in time and space. You cannot pin the kingdom of heaven to one place or time, as Luke said above:
The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within/without you.” (Luke 17:20b–21)
So it means we must cultivate peace within our hearts and in the community. In the past three weeks, we have been cultivating peace by nurturing the kingdom of heaven inside our hearts, and today we will learn to nurture the kingdom in the community because if you have peace in your heart, but you cannot get along with people, it’s not true peace.
Jesus reveals the secret to finding the kingdom in one word. He said,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mat 4:17).
“Repent” is another loaded word. Most people think repentance means regret, but it’s more than regret. The Hebrew word for repentance, “naham” means “regret and change.” Coincidently, the Chinese word for “repentance” is composed of two words, “悔改” (huigai), meaning “regret and change.”
Furthermore, the Greek word for repentance, “μετάνοια” (metanoia), also means “changing of heart and mind.” So, in conclusion, regret without change is not repentance. If we don’t change, we will keep hitting the same wall over and over again. Someone said,
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~Annonymous (AA)
The only way to enter the kingdom is to change. How do we change? John the Baptist said it succinctly,
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” (Mt 3:8).
This short verse reveals the definition of repentance: changing from a baren state to a fruitful state. Coincidentally, the English word “state” can also mean “kingdom,” “nation,” or “country.” We can understand the “kingdom of heaven” as a state of mind or a state of spirit—a fruitful state.
In that state, we bear the fruit of the Spirit. There are nine flavors of the fruit of the Spirit. The word “fruit” here is singular, so we cannot say nine fruits but nine qualities or flavors of the fruit. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Did you see every flavor has to do with relationships?
If the fruit of the Spirit is all about relationships, where can you practice bearing such fruit? In a community! That’s why you need a community that can nurture you to bear the fruit of these flavors. Using music as an analogy, you need this state of mind to PLAY harmoniously with the orchestra. You must nurture these flavors to play through life, so you don’t have to plod through life.
Let’s review these flavors of the fruit of the Spirit and see if any of these characters can be developed without a community.
The entire teaching of Jesus is about love. If you don’t that anything else, get this one. You cannot practice love without a safe community because love requires vulnerability. Jesus gave birth to this safe space called “Church.” Sometimes, we need even a smaller community to practice love. That’s why we have “small groups.” From there, you grow to love a wider circle of the community.
Joy might sound like an individual flavor, but if you think seriously, how awkward it is to stuff your joy inside without sharing it with the community. If you are concerned that people might be jealous of you if you share your joy, that’s not a good community. A true Christian community celebrates one another’s joy together.
If you have inner peace, you will also have peace with others. The way to test whether you have peace within is to see if you can be at peace with people. It requires a community to grow the flavor of peace.
Patience means time. You must sacrifice your time in a community to enjoy healthy relationships. Paul said, “Love is patient.” Without patience, there is no love. It also implies that it’s contradictory to say you have love without giving time to your church and community,. To harmonize with people, you need patience. You practice it by spending time in church and small groups.
In a community, there are people ahead of you as well as behind you in maturity. You grow in kindness as you nurture those behind you. Kindness in music might mean covering another’s flaws with your perfection.
Generosity inspires generosity. Do you know “women hate stingy men?” It’s because they have more to offer. If you treat others with generosity, you will receive a generous return. Most importantly, God blesses those who are generous because God is generous. In a more profound sense, generosity is synonymous with grace.
Faithfulness is the ability to keep your promise, so you cannot practice it alone without a community. In a community, you learn to show up and keep up with your promises and commitments by faithfulness.
Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” Jesus personifies gentleness. Sometimes, when you are right and others are wrong, you need to explain to them gently instead of shooting at them like a machine gun. Grow in gentleness so that you can harmonize with people.
Last but not least, self-control is refusing to react to other people’s reactivity. Many problems in this world exacerbate like a domino effect. Self-control is being that domino that doesn’t fall. It’s not easy, but as a result, you save the day and restore harmony.
There we have it! Nine dimensions of the fruitful state—the kingdom of God—or nine flavors of the fruit of the Spirit that allows us to live in peace and harmony with people. The way to achieve it is to practice in a healthy community committed to cultivating the fruit of the Spirit.
In conclusion, life is not a journey where you try to get ahead of others and rush to the destination. It will only slow you down. But life is a piece of music that you play together like an orchestra with God as our Conductor. Only in playing harmony do you have peace. Then life becomes a play, not a plod.
So, let’s cultivate a fruitful state, or the state of heaven, as a community and make our lives a “masterpeace” (PEACE).
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 love, joy, and peace.