As far as I knew, the only connection we had to the young man we were about to visit was that he had done some work on our church building just down the road in Provident Village. Yet for my evangelistically zealous Filipino brethren that was enough reason to visit and bring the gospel to him. I was delighted to do so. When a man does work on your church building, behold, an opportunity to witness!
Hence, I found myself walking under the moonlit sky above Metro Manila through a front yard with probably a dozen roosters. The cocks were tied by their feet to crates and posts, if my memory serves me. Cock- fighting is one of the most popular pastimes here, especially among young men. Every Sunday we drive past a crowded cockpit on our way to church. No doubt, one reason for its popularity is that it involves gambling. The roosters we saw that night were waiting for their opportunity to fight in the arena. We weaved our way through the noisy birds into the humble abode of the young man, who was the caretaker, not the owner, of the property. It was a small, dimly lit back room with a bunk bed where he lived with his wife and young child.
We took a seat and began our visit. I did not know how well they understood English, so I felt that I should try to use more Tagalog, the local language. By that time, we had already made several family visits, so I was able to recite our theme text and explain it a little in Tagalog. The text is well known to you: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
As in so many of our other family visits last winter, I drew attention to the idea of seeking. Seeking is looking for something you desire but cannot see. Jesus once spoke of a merchant seeking goodly pearls, who, when he found a pearl of great price, sold all that he had and bought it. Seeking the kingdom of God is looking for something spiritual and, therefore, is an activity of faith. The kingdom of God is not of this world and cannot be found on a map with the eyes of flesh, but must be sought by faith. But, because of the prevalence of Arminian thinking, I had to emphasize that this seeking first of the kingdom does not mean we must first seek God by our free will in order to find the kingdom and be saved. For that is impossible. There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God (Rom. 3:11). No, God must first seek us. And God has first sought us through His Son. For His Son came to seek and to save the lost. Now, in the Sermon on the Mount He exhorts us, the lost whom He has already found, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That is, we are to search by faith, day by day, for the kingdom of God as our highest priority. We are to make it our highest priority to join the church, the manifestation of that kingdom on earth, where we may hear of the righteousness of God. We are to set our hope, above all, on the final perfection of that kingdom in the new heaven and earth when Christ returns. We are to delight, more than anything, in the kingdom of God.
So I asked that young man and his wife, in their native tongue, “Ano pong hinahanap natin sa buhay?” I may ask you, beloved reader, the same question: “What are we looking for in life?” Our life is soon cut off and we fly away (Ps. 90:10). Our life is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Compared to the endless ages of eternity, our life is just a twinkling of an eye. What are you seeking in your brief moment on earth? What do you want and what do you seek that gets you out of bed each morning?
There is always a little voice, Jesus knows, that tempts us to seek more of the treasures and pleasures of this world (Matt. 6:19-24). Probably we are not tempted to go to a cockfight and put bets on a rooster, though that is a strong temptation for many Filipinos. But perhaps we are tempted to work more and more hours, to seek a higher and higher wage, to build bigger and better barns, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Every day we work hard. Then we see the fruit of our labors. Then we receive those good gifts of God with thanksgiving. But whether we receive much or little, become rich or poor, have meat on our table every night or only on rare occasion, the temptation to lay up treasures on earth is powerful. Those who seek them do not seek first the kingdom.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth!
But there is another little voice, also very dangerous, which Jesus also knows (Matt. 6:25-32). It is the nagging little voice of worry. Probably most of us do not worry about typhoons as many do in this part of the world. But perhaps we worry about our earthly needs, paying our bills, maintaining our health. Perhaps we worry about our children getting sick, hurt, bullied, abused, or lost. And a host of other things. Lack of trust in our heavenly Father also distracts us from seeking first the kingdom in our lives.
Take no thought for the morrow!
What are you looking for in your life?
The best witnessing flows out of the heart of one who seeks first the kingdom of God in his life. He is ready to give an answer regarding the hope that is in him. One who loves money cannot very well bear witness to the astounding riches that we have in Christ, riches which we can never lose, because he is caught in a snare, fallen into many foolish and hurtful lusts, drowning in perdition (I Tim. 6:9-10). Or one who, in his constant worry, does not trust his heavenly Father day by day, cannot very well talk about the hope that is in him. But one who seeks the Lord as his highest good, who has tasted and seen that God is good, to whom the lovingkindness of God is better than life, is ready to talk to his neighbor about the gospel, for it is the food and drink of his soul.
This is essential for witnessing, for talking to others about the gospel. We talk about the things that are important to us, you see, the things that we love. One who knows about God, whose mind is packed with the information of the Bible, for he had catechism, went to a Christian school, and goes to church but in whose thoughts God is not found, who does not treasure the Lord as his inheritance, as the fullness of his cup of bliss, and who is not deeply affected by the forgiving grace of God toward him in Christ, will not joyfully and readily bear witness to his neighbor about the hope that is in him. On occasion, he might mention what he believes on a given topic. Yet, peradventure, some would dare to engage in apologetics to defend the truth against those who assault it. But a man or woman will not joyfully speak to the neighbor of the wonder of grace in Christ unless that person appreciates that wonder, understands the value of the pearl Jesus has given him through His death and resurrection, and having drunk from the fountain of living waters, has tasted that the mercy of God is infinitely more wonderful than any pleasure in this world.
Child of God, look back at your life. Do you see the sins of youth that you have asked God to remember not? Do you see the sins of the flesh that have ensnared you and wrought havoc in your relationships? Do you see the selfishness, pride, and anger? The gossip, murmuring, and bitterness? But now, look back further to the life of Christ. Do you also understand that He loved you and gave Himself for you? Do you comprehend what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on you, that you should be called a child of God? Do you grasp the blissful thought that you were unconditionally chosen in Christ and precious to God before the world began? Do you marvel that God, who spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, is on your side and nothing can be against you?
Then, like Peter and John in the glow of the outpoured Spirit of Pentecost, you cannot but speak the things which you have seen and heard.
Then you will recognize the precious gifts you have been given, if you grew up in a solid Reformed church such as a Protestant Reformed church: your catechesis in Bible history and Reformed doctrine, the innumerable expositions of the Word of God you hear on Sundays, your Christian education, your Christian friends, and many other opportunities for growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Pet. 3:18).
Recognize, you are indeed ready to give an answer, to hold forth the word of life, shining as a light in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2:15, 16). Even if it means you are commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus, as Peter and John were.
Those who know about Jesus but do not appreciate Him as their Lord and Savior are in danger of falling into the sin of Peter, to whom the Lord said, “Before the rooster crows, thou shalt deny me thrice.” Remember the bitter tears of Peter. That night, visiting that Filipino young man and his wife and child, we walked through a multitude of crowing roosters. I suppose they were exhorting us to remember Peter. “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).
“What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).