Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

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The Gall of Bitterness

Simon was plying his trade as a religious conman in Samaria where he found immense success. The superstitious folks flocked to him, mesmerized by his feats of magic and claim to be someone great.

He was achieving fame and almost certainly raking in the cash. The Samaritans in this city loved him! They hung on everything he said and did. They all gave heed to him and called him the ‘great power of God’ (cf. Acts 8:9-11).

Then one day, a stranger came to the city and turned the world upside down for Simon. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them (Acts 8:5).”

Phillip preached Christ and the kingdom mightily, proving by miraculous signs the veracity of his message. The Samaritans heard and saw, and many of them believed (Acts 8:5-9, 12). They abandoned the trickery of Simon for Jesus Christ and the gospel. This was terrible for Simon’s business.

But Simon, of all people, would know a magic trick from the real deal. He acknowledged that Phillip’s mighty acts were real, and in time he, too, obeyed the gospel. “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done (Acts 8:13).”

Very soon word reached the apostles in Jerusalem. Peter, along with John, came over to check out the situation and pray for the Samaritans, ‘that they might receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:15).’

Simon, even though he was now a Christian, had not quite been transformed by the renewing of his mind (cf. Rom 12:2). The lust for power and fame again reared its ugly head in his heart.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:18-19).”

To his shock, Peter turned to him with a fierce rebuke.

“Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:20-23).”

The gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. This is the reality of sin. Sin and its consequences are bitter to the soul. Sin holds one in bondage, although the sinner is rarely aware that he is in fact a slave.

Simon was washed by the blood of Jesus when he was baptised yet how easy it was for him to turn back to the bondage of sin. The same can be true of Christians today. We are washed by the blood of Lamb, it is true, but we may find ourselves ensnared again in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.

Take pride for instance. When a Christian allows pride to rule him, he is back again in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness (Rom 6:16)?”

Remember the two different responses when hearers were pricked in the heart by the preaching of the word? In Acts 2:37-41, three thousand souls responded by humbling themselves in obeying the commands to repent and be baptised. In the other instance, found in Acts 7:54ff, the Jews gnashed on Stephen with their teeth in anger and stoned him to death.

The sin of pride prevented the Jews from responding rightly to the word of God. How do we hear the preaching of the word today? When the preacher expounds from the word and we hear something which our conscience convicts us of, what is our response?

Are we like the Jews, taking offense at Stephen’s rebuke? Do we get angry at the preacher and accuse him—whether publicly or privately, it doesn’t matter—of victimizing us and trying to make us look bad?

Do we throw a hissy fit and drop out of worship services, Bible classes and fellowship activities as a reaction? Do we go about speaking evil of the one who preached against our sins—sins which, if we are honest, we know we ought to acknowledge and repent of?

If we do, then clearly we are still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.

Let’s come back to Simon. After the stern rebuke from Peter, how did he respond?

“Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me (Acts 8:24).”

This is the correct response when our heart is pricked by the word. Our response exposes the condition of our heart, whether we are humble and willing to submit to God or proud and stubborn, persisting in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.

May God help us to take full responsibility for keeping our hearts with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Pro 4:23).


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Christ the Ark

On the night of April 14 to the morning of the 15th 1912, the RMS Titanic sank off the North Atlantic Ocean. This was her maiden voyage. She had only been at sea for four days.

The RMS Titanic was supposed to be indestructible. She was the pride and joy of maritime engineering to date, but she instead became one of the worst maritime catastrophes ever recorded, outside of war.

The sinking claimed the lives of about 1500 crew and passengers. Hundreds were left floating in the frigid water, struggling to reach the lifeboats. There were not enough lifeboats.

Hypothermia took the lives of most of the drifters unable to make it to the lifeboats in the -2 degrees Celsius water.

Thousands of years prior to the disaster of the RMS Titanic, many more were drowned in the Great Flood that came in the days of Noah. Those were terrible days of sin and revelry.

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).”

God, who is ‘of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity (Hab 1:13)’, decided to mete out justice to sinful men and women.

“And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them (Gen 6:6-7).”

God was going to send a universal flood to cleanse the evil from the world. But there was a man who caught God’s all-seeing eyes—Noah. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD (Gen 6:8).”

Noah was given instructions on what to do to save his and his family’s lives from the coming cataclysm.

“Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch…And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female (Gen 6:14, 19).”

The Holy Spirit bears witness to the God-fearing character of the man, Noah. “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he (Gen 6:22).”

Finally the day came when ‘the windows of heaven were opened’ and the judgement of God poured from the sky. ‘…all the fountains of the great deep broken up’ and the earth was covered in the deluge.

“And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark (Gen 7:21-23).”

This is the greatest disaster in history, yet there is another approaching which will make the Great Flood pale in comparison.

“…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2Th 1:7-9).”

Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2Pe 2:5). If only the people had listened to him! How many would have been saved! Yet they rejected the message of God Noah preached; they spurned the chance of salvation.

When the flood came, how many regretted and lamented their ill decision? How many begged Noah to open the door of the ark, which God had shut? It was too late. There was no more salvation to be had on the day the door was shut and the water level rose.

For us today there is still the chance of salvation. Jesus Christ is the ark which we must enter if we are to be saved from a worse tragedy than the one that struck during the flood.

“…when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Pe 3:20-21).”

We are baptised into Christ (Rom 6:3). Just as Noah, his family and the animals entered the ark and was saved from the flood, all who thus entered into Christ will be saved from the judgement of God and His wrath.

All who were left outside the ark perished; all who entered the ark were saved. Have you entered Christ the Ark? Have you obeyed His gospel and been added into His body, the church?

Why delay? The people of Noah’s days delayed and paid the ultimate price for refusing to repent and taking the way of escape provided by God. Why would you be counted among the foolish?

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His Name was John

He was a fisherman, and so was quite likely not educated much higher than the primary level. The thinking of his days perhaps was that men like him did not need much schooling. They needed to learn the ins-and-outs of their trade fast in order to join the labour force.

Manual labourers depend on their skills to earn a living and feed their families. Furthermore, there was the exorbitant taxes made worse by dishonest tax collectors who lined their own pockets—men like Levi, also known as Matthew.

He came from a family of fishermen. How many generations before him had been fishermen? We have no way of knowing. He went out every evening to the Sea of Galilee with his father, Zebedee, and his brother, James.

His name was John.

John and his fellows often toiled at the nets till daybreak when they returned weary, either with a good catch or a bad one. A good catch meant they were to feed the family and pay for other domestic needs. A bad one, well…

The life of a fisherman has always been a tough existence, especially in the ancient world. They did not have the advantage of modern technology. Much of what they did was heavily dependent on brawn and muscles.

It was not too far-fetched to imagine the young man John was tanned and muscular, a tough guy in a very physical sense.

He might have a rough sense of humour, not uncommon among hard labourers. His work ethic must be good to survive at his trade. What vices did he have? Did he curse and swear? Was he a drinker? We do not know.

What we do know is that John and his brother James had a fiery temper.

Jesus gave the brothers a nickname. He called them “Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder (Mark 3:17).”

Then there was that incident in Samaria.

“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village (Luke 9:51-56).”

The brothers were provoked by the Samaritans so much that they wished destruction upon the Samaritans, just for snubbing their Master.

John, despite his fierce temper and tough exterior, was a loyal and sentimental friend. He ran like the rest of the disciples when Jesus was arrested, but later he and Peter tailed the party and John even managed to make his way into the palace of the high priest (cf. John 18:15).

He was there too at the cross when the Lord entrusted His mother to his care (cf. John 19:26-27).

Many years later he would write his account of the ministry of Jesus—His life, death and resurrection—so readers would believe (cf. John 20:30-31). He would write three letters that would stir later commentators to dub him the apostle of love. He would close the canon of Holy Scripture with the revelation the Lord gave him on the isle of Patmos.

He had a long and fruitful ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered much for the sake of the gospel but he never wavered.

What turned this Son of Thunder into the loving, gentle apostle who constantly exhorted the saints to love one another? Did he mellow with age? Did the sufferings he endured under the harsh conditions of the Roman world as a Christian break his zealous spirit, if not his faith?

No, that was not it. His spirit was not broken. His zeal was not taken from him. He did not mellow with age. What transformed the fiery-tempered young fisherman into the longsuffering apostle of love was his encounter with Jesus Christ.

Jesus loved this disciple dearly. The Holy Spirit called John the disciple whom Jesus loved (cf. John 13:23; 19:26). Over the three and half years he was with the Lord, observing Him up close and learning from Him, John was gradually transformed from a worldly-minded young man into a servant fit for the Master’s use.

Many of us perhaps struggled with a bad temper, like John. We may be bothered by other issues in our lives. Temptations may seem to never leave us alone. We may be secretly ashamed of our lack of success with self-control. We may wish longingly to one day finally be as godly and joyful as certain brethren we admire.

Turn to the Lord Jesus. Saturate yourself in His word. Meditate upon His teachings. Observe Him. Learn from Him. Obey Him, whatever the cost may be. Be persistent in following Him; never quit. One day, by and by, the power of the word will transform you.

A disciple from long ago can vouch for it. He’s been there, done that.

His name was John.

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The Sin of Partiality

James uses a vivid illustration to teach an important lesson on showing favouritism or partiality. The lesson remains relevant today because partiality continues to be a social ill, sadly even in the church.

“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts (James 2:1-4)?”

Showing favouritism has no place in the faith of Jesus Christ. Christians cannot exercise true Christian living by displaying partiality toward certain people.

James cuts right into a problem everyone either has struggled with or currently still struggles with—judging a person by his/her appearance.

Our society stresses much on etiquette. Dressing well and even stylishly is desired and considered a mark of culture. Almost on auto-pilot, we respect people who are well-dressed and well-groomed.

What about the person whose clothes don’t fit? Maybe his shirt is one or two sizes too big. Or his pants are a little too long. Maybe she has food stains on her blouse or her hair isn’t immaculate. Again on auto-pilot, it is easy to regard this person with lower esteem.

What’s worse, there seems to be an almost instinctive tendency to judge a shabbily-dressed person to be of an inferior moral character than the one who is well-dressed and well-groomed.

What has dressing to do with a person’s morality unless that person is immodestly dressed?

A case in point. It is unfortunately far too common to hear disparaging remarks from locals about foreign workers in the manual labour industries. They have been unfairly regarded as uncouth and lowly educated among other criticism. I shall not repeat any of these disparaging remarks. Surely you must have heard or read some of them.

But then, have we perhaps made any of these remarks? Or entertained them in our heads? Have we laughed at jokes made at their expense? Do we try to move away from them on public transport because we are afraid we might be somehow ‘contaminated’?

I was on a train one Sunday evening when I heard a woman telling her kid, who looked like he was 4 or 5, to get away from “these people” when a group of foreign workers boarded the train. Her reasoning was “they might catch you!”

James uses a real-life illustration. Suppose someone dressed to the nines walks into our assembly. Are we more ready to welcome that person? Do we find it easier to try to make conversation with that visitor?

A shabbily-dressed visitor walks in as well. Perhaps there is an odd smell about him/her. Do we leave him/her alone? Will any member be willing to sit with that visitor and get to know him/her after the service is over?

Or suppose one person looks healthy and fit while another apparently struggles with a very real weight problem. Overweight people are often depicted in the media as clumsy, silly, not very bright, comedic, mean and rather ‘uncool’—whatever society’s standard of ‘cool’ is at the moment.

Now, do we as Christians subtly agree with this distorted image of overweight people? Again, are we more ready to extend welcome to a person in shape than a person out of shape?

Showing partiality isn’t confined only to judging a person by his/her appearance.

What about education? What about occupation? What about places of residence? What about nationality? What about hobbies or recreation? What about mannerisms? Do we secretly despise a klazomaniac (a person who can only speak by shouting)? How about someone who is the opposite of witty and charming?

You see, there are so many ways the sin of partiality can manifest itself. We simply have to be more aware and reflective of our own thoughts, attitudes and actions toward others.

This is not merely a problem to be swept under the carpet as just another ‘cultural’ issue. James says that when we practise partiality, we “become judges of evil thoughts”.

Take a moment and let this sink in: partiality is evil in the sight of the Lord. It is sin. It is breaking the law to “love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark 12:31).” It is a violation of the Golden Rule.

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Mat 7:12).”

Our God and Saviour is no respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). The Son of God shed His blood to take away the sins of the world—not merely the well-dressed, well-groomed, well-mannered, highly educated, big car-driving, big house-living, jet plane-flying, etc. individuals.

Every soul is precious to the Lord. We must not and shall not turn anyone away because of bias or prejudice. You never know but the next unimpressive-looking person might have a good and ready heart for the seed of the gospel to be planted.