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Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Romans 13:8-14 (NIV)
Hello everyone. I'm Hajime Suzuki.
My family usually attends the English service at 9 am held here in this place.
My wife is a Chinese, originally from Shanghai, and she cannot speak in Japanese, nor our three children. We speak in English at home.
I join the SJEC service today to give a talk on behalf of Grahame who is in Japan (or Queensland?)
But I am not a pastor or missionary. I am just a Christian. I work for an Australian research organisation called CSIRO.
I donft have a particular hobby as such but I enjoy watching movies with my wife and discuss on it.
There was a movie in 2006 called gAmazing Grace.h Has anyone seen the movie?
The main actor, Ioan Gruffudd, may be more famous for his role in another movie gFantastic Fourh.
gAmazing Graceh is about a real historical figure, William Wilberforce, who was a Christian and a politician in England in the late eighteenth century.
The movie starts with these words. gBy the late 18th century, over eleven million African men, women and children had been taken from Africa to be used as slaves.h
William Wilberforce spent 28 years fighting for abolishing slave trades against other politicians who gained financial benefit from the trades.
If you have not seen it, I can highly recommend watching it. We have a DVD copy in English.
After I watched this movie, I thought that William Wilberforce spent a life with gIkigai.h
gIkigaih is hard to translate in English. My English Japanese dictionary says gIkigaih is gsomething to live for.h I will keep it as gIkigaih for a moment.
Does your life have gIkigaih?
A Japanese research performed a survey entitled gLives and Ikigai of salary menh every five years. Here a salary man means a man or a woman who has worked for a company or an organisation for paid salary. So we don't care about "Ikigai" of the people who work for themselves? (farmers, self-employed, optometrist, etc.) I am sure that was not the case, but for some reason I don't know, they only concern salary men in this survey.
The last survey got results from over 5,000 people. According to those 5,000 people, first of all, what does Ikigai mean? How do you describe the word "Ikigai" with other words? "Ikigai." Please think about it.
For me, the first word I thought of was "The purpose of my life."
According to a Japanese dictionary, "Ikigai" means "Something that makes you think that the life is worthwhile living."
So there are two aspects of the word "Ikigai." One aspect deals with one's determination, "For what purpose do you live?" The other aspect is "A sense of worthwhileness of living."
This survey itself asks this question: What is the meaning of Ikigai? Please choose two answers that best describe the word "Ikigai."
"Joyfulness and satisfaction of living." (46.7%)
"Strength and feeling of worthwhileness of living." (30.1%)
"Comfort of mind and recreation" (29.5%)
"Goal and purpose of life" (19.9%)
gJoyfulness and satisfaction of livingh (46.7%), gStrength and feeling of worthwhileness of livingh (30.1%), and gComfort of mind and recreationh (29.5%). Those are mostly senses you receive from your emotion.
There are one in five who answered that Ikigai is not only the emotion but also the purpose of life.
However, majority of Japanese think that Ikigai is a sense you receive.
The next question was gDo you have Ikigai in your life?h How many of the Japanese have such Ikigai in their lives? What is your answer? Do you have Ikigai in your life?
I have (48.0%).
I donft know (22.9%).
I donft have (19.5%).
I had it before, but I donft have it now (9.6%).
The numbers reflect the results for my age. The ratio of those who answered that they have Ikigai increases for the older ages, but it was a surprise for me that only less than half have Ikigai in my age.
In preparing todayfs talk, I had two aims. The first aim is to introduce to you the God of the Bible more. The second aim is to encourage you to live for God and make God your Ikigai.
How can we know God? We can know God by listening to his words, the Bible. The Bible was written originally in Hebrews or in Greek. We usually read the Japanese or English translations. If you can understand the meanings of what are written, then the Bible do not need to be old or Bible can be translated into any language.
Why the Bible is Godfs words? For example, we read a part the Letter written to the Romans today. This was written by one of Jesusf disciple, Paul, to Christians living in Rome about 25 years after Jesus died.
Why is this letter written by Paul to Christians Godfs words? The starting point is Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is God who became a man. If you donft understand how or why Jesus is God who became a man, please do ask this question to other Christians, or to me, for example, during the afternoon tea. But if you do accept that Jesus is God who became a man, then Jesusf words are Godfs words, and Jesusf teachings are Godfs teachings. However, Jesus did not leave anything by writing by himself. He chose some of his disciples - Christian call them the apostles - to pass down the teachings of Jesus to others. Paul was one of Jesusf chosen apostles, so Paulfs teachings are Jesusf teachings, and Godfs teachings.
Let us accept that todayfs Bible passage is Godfs words. What does God teach us through the writing of the apostle Paul? Verse 8, first of all, we are told gOwe nothing to anyone (NASB)...h These are very strong words. What do they mean? If we just read this part and try to understand, then, we may think that borrowing money, for example, is wrong. I am borrowing money to buy a house. Is it actually wrong for a Christian to borrow money?
We go to a restaurant, we order food and eat them before we pay. gOwe nothing to anyoneh says the Bible. Should I now say, gExcuse me? Ifm a Christian. Can I prepay for the food?h
When we try to understand the Bible, we should not just read a part of it and try to understand. We need to read it in the context of the book, and we need to read it in the context of the whole Bible. Otherwise, we may totally misunderstand the intention of the authors.
Some people think that, as the Bible is Godfs message, as Godfs spirit is working, we cannot misunderstand it. What you feel and receive, is Godfs message. I donft think this is what Peter, another apostle of Jesus, said. It is written in the second letter by Peter, chapter 3, verse 15. gBear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.h Here we find 1) Paul writes with the wisdom given by God, 2) Peter warns those who distort the meaning of Paulfs letter will bring their own destruction, just as if they do to the Bible (which for Peter was Old Testament), and 3) there are some parts in Paulfs letter that are difficult to understand. If you can understand it however you feel, then there should be nothing difficult to understand. No, even Godfs words are sometime difficult to understand. We need efforts to understand correctly.
To understand the Bible correctly, we should not try to understand it how we want it. We should try to understand the Bible as the authors intend.
Letfs go back to the letter to the Romans, chapter 13, verse 8. gOwe nothing to anyone (NASB)...h Does this mean that a Christian cannot owe anything, for example money?
Jesus gave this parable, in the gospel according to Luke, chapter 19: gA man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. `Put this money to work,' he said, `until I come back.'h Those ten minas were not given to the servants as gifts. They were, in a sense, borrowed and needed to return. If owing something is wrong, then the end of this parable should be this: gThe master came back and said to the servants, gWhy did you owe money to me?h However, this is not the case. If you are interested in the ending of this story, please have a look later the gospel according to Luke, chapter 19 yourself. The point that Paul wants to tell us, then, may not mean that gOwe nothing to anyone (NASB)...h What he probably means is, as the New International Version puts it, gLet no debt remain outstanding.h It is not good not to return money when you should. However, this is not the main point that Paul wants to teach us. The main point, I think, is in the next sentence. gexcept to love one another.h If I translate it freely, I may say, gLove one another. We have no obligation other than this. Because he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.h I quoted Peterfs letter and said that we should not distort the meaning of the Bible. I hope and pray that my translation is not distorting what Paul meant, but letfs move on.
What is gthe lawh? The word gthe lawh is often used to describe the first five books of the Old Testament. It also means Godfs teachings given in those five books, that a man shall obey in order to be accepted by God. Before Jesus came, we were told that a man is accepted by God by keeping his commandments. However, the reality is that no one can be accepted by God by keeping his commandments. Why? The Bible tells us that because no one can keep Godfs commandments. It is written in the letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 20. gTherefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.h
Wait a moment. Why did God give us commandments that no one can keep and taught us that by keeping them we could be accepted by God? The following verses tell us gfor all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.h The punishment I deserve to receive because I could not keep Godfs commandments was received not by me, but by Jesus, the God who became a man. He received the punishment by dying on the cross being forsaken by God, on behalf of me. This is why I can be accepted by God for free, without me sacrificing anything.
For a man, there is no other way than relying on God to be accepted by God. For a man, there is no other way to live than relying on God. God did this in order to teach men this reality.
The Bible teaches us that a man can be accepted by God simply by trusting in Jesus. Well then, if a man is accepted by God because he trusts in Jesus, does he need to keep Godfs commandments? gEven when I cannot keep Godfs commandments, I can still be accepted by God because I believe in Jesus, then I donft need to follow the law!h Some may think so.
Is this right?
The Bible teaches us that this is not right. It is written in the letter to the Romans, chapter 6, verse 15,
gWhat then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!h
The Bible teaches us to obey Godfs commandments BECAUSE we have been accepted by God. Christians are to obey Godfs commandments not in order to be accepted by God, but because they have been accepted by God even though they are still sinners. We may not be able to keep Godfs commandments but this should not let us abandon trying to keep. We will come back to this topic later.
What are the Godfs commandments in this passage. Verse 9, gThe commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself."
Godfs commandment is to gLove your neighbour as yourself.h It doesnft include my family? They donft live in my neighbour. Of course gyour neighbourh includes your family.
A man asked Jesus in the gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, gAnd who is my neighbour?" Jesusf answer was that a neighbour includes anyone, even a total stranger along the street, when we come across with them. Your family, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, your school friends, your work friends, your neighbourhood friends, the man in the car just passing your car with speed, are all your neighbours. God teaches us to love those as oneself.
What would happen if we do this? Imagine your neighbour has something you donft have. That something you want. Usually, shouldnft we feel envy, or even jealous, or even hate? But if we love that neighbour as oneself, should I hate myself? No, if I love that neighbour as myself, then I would rejoice with the neighbour for the thing I donft have but the neighbour has.
Suppose I am in a trouble. I am suffering from this problem and it is stressing me. What if in such a situation, if the others around me concerns with me as if it is also their problem, and try to comfort me or try to solve the problem?
When my kids say to me, gDad, are you all right?h and concerns for me, I feel Ikigai and say to myself, gOh, life is good.h This is known as Oyabaka (parent fool) in Japanese. But what if a total stranger concerns for you as if the problem is his own? gNone of your businessh? Shouldnft you feel happy and grateful, if the neighbour genuinely concerns for you?
It is a blessing to have a family or a friend who concerns for you genuinely. But the God of the Bible teaches to do so for a total stranger. Love others as oneself.
Some people think that Godfs commands are restrictive, I cannot do what I want to do, they are not good. But I imagine of a society where more people try to follow Godfs commandments, I expect such a society would be much a happier place.
Verse 10, gLove does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.h When we keep Godfs commandments, there will be no harm to our neighbour. To do so, I will need to be changed so that I will not hate nor envy our neighbour, but instead will be concerns for them as oneself. If we can do so, then Godfs commandments are really for our own good, for our own peace.
Verse 11, gAnd do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.h What does Paul meant by gour slumberh. This passage does not clearly tell us, but I think if we have no change since we have been accepted by God, and still live a life exactly the same as before, then that is what Paul calls it gslumber.h gWake up from your slumberh if you are still sleeping and not doing anything to change.
What does gour salvation is nearerh mean? The Bible teaches us that Jesus will one day come back to this world. On that day, every evil of this world will be removed. If you so wish and trust in Jesus, your sins will be removed and you will live with God in the world without any sins. That day is called our salvation. The Bible does not teach us when exactly is that day.
Early Christians thought that that day would come very quickly. They quit jobs, sold houses, and spent days just waiting for Jesus to return. Years and ten years passed. By the time when Paul wrote the letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, his teaching to the Christian was this, in the first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 11, gMake it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you...h
Two thousand years passed. Two thousand years. Would Jesus never come back? The apostle Peter said in the second letter by Peter, chapter 3, verse 8, gBut do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.h
The reason why Jesus has not come back yet is because God is waiting yet one more person to trust in God. However, that day will surely come in the end. Each day is closer to the day. In this sense, Paul is reminding us that gour salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.h
Verse 12, gThe night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.h gPut on the armour of light.h To change the way we used to live and to live as one appropriate for being accepted by God, I think, are not easy. In my experience, to not to follow my own sinful nature, but to live according to Godfs commandments, can only be described as a war. That is why Paul is using the language of a war.
The armour include protectors and weapons. This passage does not clearly tell us what exactly the armour of light is. But in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, it is written as the following: gStand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.h Understand what are the truth, the righteousness, and the gospel. gIn addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.h Faith is to rely on God. If you do so, you will be able to negate the devilfs lies saying gYou will not be accepted by God.h gTake the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.h Have the hope of that day of salvation. Make the word of God your own. These are to put the armour of light, I think.
Verse 13, gLet us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. g Spend time in orgies and not working with own hands, being drunk and losing control, being trapped in sexual desire and wanting to have sex outside onefs marriage, fighting with others and envying each other... Romans live such lives two thousand years ago. Are we any better now? We can now fly to many places of the world. We can now communicate instantly with the people on the other side of the planet. And yet, our sinful nature is exactly the same as before, two thousand years ago. How can we not be the slaves of our sinful nature? How can we follow Godfs commandments?
Verse 14, gRather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.h What does gclothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christh mean? This means that have the same mind as Jesus, have the same attitude as Jesus, and be transformed to the likeness of Jesus, I think. Jesus surely loved others as oneself. He helped those whoever asked him for help. Even when he was persecuted and being killed by the crowds, he prayed for them that they might be forgiven by God. When I am changed to be more like Jesus, then I expect that I can leave the old way of my life.
Let me summarise.
I believed in Jesus when I was twenty one. My envy, hate, and pride that I had before I knew Godfs love have gone, although, not completely, to my regret, but I can feel that they are at least reduced. I hope this is not my boasting, but the work of God.
So with the reduced envy, hate and pride, are there no evil in me anymore? Certainly there are. I am afraid something may not have been changed at all since twenty years ago. My immorality, greed, despise, and all other evil thinking and deeds. What is more, if somehow anyone thought that I have not shown a particular sinfulness, that is only because I have not had an opportunity. If I am put in a situation where most people may fall, may feel hate, may arouse, not just by thinking but by deeds, I have not confidence in me whether I would not do what others would do.
What if there were actually no change in me, between the time I was not a Christian, the time I became a Christian twenty years ago, and the time now? Shouldnft I think gLetfs just give up,h or gNo point in trying,h or gIsnft this just the same routine again and again?h
A Christian will not give up.
I consider living in this world is not easy. It may seem funny to hear that, given that I donft need to worry about the food to eat, clothes to wear or place to sleep comfortably. For those who are really suffering may think that I know no real suffering at all.
But when I see sad incidences and crimes in this world, when I know the difficulties occurring among my neighbours, when I see my own sinfulness and evil in me, my heart suffers.
Some people may say, gIf God exists, why there are so much suffering in this world?h But isnft the most suffering caused by us human? Arenft they the results of our own sinfulness?
If many of us follow Godfs commandments, love our neighbours as ourselves, the word would be a better place, worth living, full of Ikigai, full of happiness, isnft it?
I have a choice, to follow God, or to follow my own sinfulness. I know Godfs commandments are good, I know they are good for me and for others. And yet, do I follow Godfs commandments? No I still follow my own sinfulness.
Indeed, the Bible tells us that the all sufferings, not just those caused by human directly, but including all the accidents, all the diseases, all the disasters, are due to us not following God, but following our own sinfulness. This is part of Godfs punishment on us.
Why did God do this?
So that we can know Godfs love for us. God should have punished me. God could have forsaken me. And yet, God punished Jesus on behalf of me, so that I can be accepted by God. Through this, I can know clearly Godfs love. Because of this, I can long for Jesusf return.
At the start of this talk, I referred to the movie, gAmazing Grace.h There is one scene in this movie that impressed me the most. It is a scene where William Wilberforce prayed in his garden. He prayed, gDear God, I know it is utterly absurd, but I feel I need to meet in secret.h His face is full of happiness.
This scene makes me think that William Wilberforce knew Godfs love in person, and he was making God as his Ikigai. William Wilberforce achieved a great thing, freeing millions from slavery. But his starting point was his love for God and his love for others. I pray that you will know Godfs love daily, and to make God as your Ikigai.
If you also wish so, please pray with me as follows:
Dear God, I have lived ignoring you and against your commandments.
I donft deserve to be accepted by you.
Please forgive me.
Thank you for Jesus as he took the punishment I deserve.
Please change me so that I may live with you as my Ikigai.
In Jesusf name, I pray.
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Produced by Hajime Suzuki
Special thanks to my wife Louise for her constant encouragement and patience