Rev Dr David Wong

What is the sign of the growth and maturity of the church? Rev Dr David Wong posed this question on Day 3 of Summit 2022 on January 12. Photo by Ang Wei Ming.

Francis Schaeffer called for “the orthodoxy of truth” as well as “the orthodoxy of love”.

The gospel is the gospel of truth. It is a true and living God coming to us, providing a true and only way back to Himself through Jesus – the One who came and said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

But it is also the gospel of love.

These two are put together by the apostle Paul when he talks about the Church.

When you reach the pinnacle of your growth, you are truthing in love.

The sign of the growth and maturity of church, Paul says, is when we are “speaking the truth in love”. (Ephesians 4:15)

If you go to the Greek text, the word “speaking” is not there. The one word there is “truth”, but as a verb: “Truthing in love”. It is “truth” used as a verb, which is not found in the English language.

In English, we can use the word “love” as a noun: Like “I have love”. Or as a verb: “I love.”

In the Greek language, “truth” can be a verb.

What Paul is saying is: When you reach the pinnacle of your growth, you are truthing in love.

It’s a beautiful combination of the two terms: Truth and love, blended together.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus says: “A new commandment I give you: Is that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also ought to love another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I want to focus on two parts of this verse:
1. “Just as I have loved you”. How did Jesus love his disciples?
2. “And by this, all people know that you are my disciples”. How will people know that we are His disciples?

In order for us know how to love one another, we need to see how Jesus loved His disciples. We’ll look at Thomas, Peter and Judas.

Humility toward a doubter 

The disciples were in danger. Their Master had died. The remaining 11 were finding strength and comfort in each other. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples, why was Thomas not with them? We can surmise that maybe he fell out with them. Maybe he judged them for abandoning their Master. Maybe he judged himself as one who abandoned his Master. He felt he no longer belonged with them.

In your life or ministry, you may have met people who doubt you. What do you do with people like that?

When told “We have seen the Lord”, he could not believe the collective witness of 10 of the people who had journeyed with him all those three years.

Thomas said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24-29)

He had fallen out with this group of people and he doubted their credibility.

In your life or ministry, you may have met people who doubt you, doubt your intention, your motives, your credibility; people who not only cannot believe you, but will not believe you.

What do you do with people like that?

I’m just amazed at the humility of Jesus. He didn’t say, “Thomas, do you know who I am?”

Jesus made a special personal appearance just for Thomas. And when he appeared, He didn’t lash out and say, “You idiot, why didn’t you believe your brothers when they told you?”

Jesus offered himself: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”(John 20:27)

It makes me think of how some people in high positions respond when they are doubted or questioned.

I’m just amazed at the humility of Jesus. He didn’t say, “Thomas, do you know who I am?” He took the initiative to make that special appearance for him.

Restoring the one who failed

Then there is Peter. Remember what he said? “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26:33)

Peter was boastful, he was prideful.

It’s one thing to fail something (like an exam, a driving test), it’s another thing to fail someone (like your parents, your spouse, or someone has invested a lot in you). And that’s what happened with Peter.

It’s one thing to fail something, it’s another thing to fail someone. And that’s what happened with Peter.

After he denied Jesus, there was this brief moment of eye contact. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’” (Luke 22:60-62)

I often wondered about that brief eye contact that Jesus had with Peter. What did Peter see? We are not told.

Was it a look of condemnation? Was Jesus saying to Peter: “I knew this would happen. I knew you would do it.”

Or was it a look of compassion?

I believe if it were a look of condemnation, Peter would have gone and hung himself, like Judas.

I believe that it was a look of compassion. Something in that look broke Peter. He went out and wept bitterly. But he didn’t take his life.

Later, an angel told Mary Magdalene and the women who found the empty tomb, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee’.” (Mark 16:7)

The way Peter’s name was included is significant.

It was no longer “Peter and the disciples”, but “his disciples and Peter”. Had Peter been demoted?

I think it’s something else. I would like to translate it as “Go and tell the disciples, especially Peter”, implying that Peter was the one Jesus wanted very much to see.

By the way, Jesus appeared to Peter soon after he appeared to Mary Magdalene, even before He appeared to the other disciples (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).

On that one-on-one meeting, we have no details, so personal was the encounter that Peter probably did not talk about it.

That brief eye contact that Jesus had with Peter … Was it a look of condemnation? Or compassion?

Finally, there is the meeting in John 21 with Peter and the disciples in Galilee. It’s amazing how Jesus orchestrated the whole breakfast event by the Sea of Galilee to remind Peter of a similar miracle that took place there when Peter was first called (Luke 5:1-11). Jesus also recreated what happened when Peter denied Jesus. Peter denied Jesus three times in front of a fire. Now Peter has opportunity to reaffirm his love for Jesus also in front of the fire – but this time with barbecued fish.

I’m just amazed at how Jesus loved Peter. And how He did everything to bring Peter back.

Peter represents people who fail us. These are people who overpromise or underperform. They tell you they will do something for you, but never did it. And when you need them most, they are not around. You think they remember you, but they don’t. You think you count on them, but when you look for them, they are not around. They may not be bad people, but they’re just people who for some reason, fail you when you need them.

Loving in betrayal

Finally, we’ll look at how Jesus loved Judas.

At the last supper, John, who usually sat next to Jesus, turned to him and asked: “Who is the one who will betray you?” (John 13:26)

And Jesus said: “It is he to whom I give this morsel of bread when I’ve dipped it.”

There are two things to note here.

This handing of the bread to Judas was a gesture of honour.

For Jesus to dip the bread and give it to someone, this must be to someone close to him. So, maybe Judas was sitting on his left (with John on the right side). It was a private conversation between John and Jesus, and between Jesus and Judas. No one in the room heard the conversations, because no one knew that Judas was going to betray Jesus. Only John knew.

Imagine at the Last Supper, Jesus allowed the one going to betray him to sit so close to him. This handing of the bread to him was a gesture of honour – just like at a dinner when your boss takes something from the common dish and puts it on your plate. It was almost like a last opportunity for Judas to change his mind.

Judas took the bread but he rejected the friendship. And at that point, the devil entered Judas.

In other words, he closed the door to Jesus and he opened the door to the devil.

In the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas betrayed Jesus, what were the last words Judas heard from Jesus?

“Friend, do what you came to do.” (Matthew 26:50)

Remember how Jesus told the disciples in John 15:15: “I are no longer call you servants. I call you friends.” The same gesture of friendship is extended to Judas even at the point when Judas is betraying a friend, a comrade, a mate, a pal, a partner.

What were the last words Judas heard from Jesus? “Friend, do what you came to do.”

I think Judas represents those people in our life and ministry, whom we trust, who betray our trust, whom we love, who turn against us.

When pastors conduct Holy Communion, we say “… on the night when Jesus was betrayed …”.

At one point in my ministry, I was telling myself, “I’ve never been betrayed in my life. And if I want to be Christ, I need to know how it feels to be betrayed.”

God answered my prayer. I experienced two episodes of betrayal that same year which were very, very hurtful.

A betrayal is probably one of the hardest things to bear in life and ministry.

So how are we to love such people? Look at how Jesus taught us, and how Jesus loved Judas.

Love is a verb

You read in John 13:35, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you love for one another.”

How will the next generation tell our story?

How about people who are outside watching us? Are they attracted to Jesus? Are they repelled by the One we believe in?

Do we point people to Jesus or do we turn people off from Jesus?

Now we are called to be disciples and we want to be known as disciples.

So let me mention three things to think about.

1. Look up. The term disciple means “a learner”. So the first thing I suggest we do whenever we are hurt, betrayed, or whenever people fail or doubt us, is to look up. We ask the Lord, “What are you teaching me?”. Not “Why is this happening to me?”

Robert Clinton who wrote The Making of a Leader said that God sends us “processing items” – things to test and mould you.

2. Look within. If I’m not taking up my cross and denying myself, am I following Jesus? The question is, have I died to self? Because the refusal to love or to be reconciled or to forgive has to do with this self within us that clamours for vindication, for justification. So if you’re not dying to self, how can you call yourself a disciple?

3. Look around. Perhaps God is calling to mind some people who fall into the category of Thomas, Peter or Judas. If you call yourself a disciple, and call Jesus “Lord”, then remember He said: “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I tell you to?”(Luke 6:46)

To love is a command. It’s not an option. It’s not a choice. It’s not “I don’t feel like doing it” or “I need to wait for a time to do it”.

Love is not a noun. It’s not whether you have it or not. You don’t come to the point and say, ‘I once had a love for this person; now I don’t have it any more.’

Love is a verb, which is something you do. Like couples on their wedding day who “promise to love each other for better or worse till death do us part”.

One wife, among the couples I’ve counselled, told me: “I came to a point in my marriage that I couldn’t stand the sight of my husband. But I cook him the best dishes because that’s the only way I can show love for him.”

So it is taking the first step and leaving the rest to the Lord.

To bring joy to the Father

Not too long ago, someone asked me for “one compelling reason” why churches should come together.

I sent him this photo, taken on my 70th birthday when my daughter and her family flew in from Seattle, the USA, to join in the celebration.

The “one compelling reason” I gave him was: To bring joy to the father. So we bring joy to our Heavenly Father when we love one another and come together in unity.

Rev Dr David Wong celebrating his 70th birthday with his wife, their two daughters and husbands, and their four grandchildren. Photo courtesy of Rev Dr David Wong.

What if one of my daughters had said: “Dad, I can’t get along with my sister. I don’t think I want to come.” Or if one of my grandchildren said, “I can’t get along with my cousins. I don’t want to attend.”  

So why unity? Why love?

Two very simple reasons:

The first is to bring joy to our Lord is an answer to His prayer“ that they may be one even as we are one … that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me …” (John 17:22-23)

The second is to bear witness to the world that we are truly his disciples, that “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. (John 13.35)

This excerpt is adapted from a sermon by Rev Dr David Wong on the third day of LoveSingapore’s Summit 2022.


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About the author

Rev Dr David Wong

Rev Dr David Wong is the General Secretary of the Bible-Presbyterian Church in Singapore. During his pastoral ministry spanning 40 years, he served at Mount Carmel and Zion Bishan BP Churches. He also served with Haggai Institute, overseeing leadership training in Maui, Hawaii, for Christian leaders from over 100 nations. He and his wife Jenny have two married daughters and four grandchildren.