In his Chinese New Year message in early February, Kong Hee encouraged the church to expect blessings to come this year.
“Values are very important for Asians; next to God, family is everything to Asian [Christians],” said Kong Hee, senior pastor of City Harvest Church during the church’s weekend service on Feb 6. “That is why the most important aspect of the Chinese New Year is the reunion dinner. People that reside overseas would often fly home for their family’s reunion dinner.”
In his sermon two days before the Chinese New Year, Kong elaborated on the values of the Chinese and the character of the monkey.
Kong pointed his congregation to where many scholars believed Chinese New Year was first mentioned in the Bible. It is widely believed that the reunion dinner is patterned after the Passover Supper of the Old Testament. The first New Year celebration can be found in Exodus 12 when God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. The night before, everyone in the family gathered round the table for dinner. This has been a tradition observed by the Jews for hundreds of years.
When the 12 tribes of Israel were destroyed, some of the remnants went east. That was the time of the Zhou dynasty in China. History also records that the tradition of celebrating the Chinese New Year began during that dynasty.
Another value that Asians hold dear is hard work. Parents work hard to provide for their children and the children in turn work hard in their studies to honor their parents’ sacrifice.
During Chinese New Year, parents will give their children red packets as a blessing and adult children will give their parents red packets to show their respect. Showing respect to the parents is a value that is in line with the Bible.
“In Exodus 20:12, God promises us that if we respect our parents, we will live a long life,” Kong said. “The Chinese learned to have Passover dinner from the Jews; they also learned to wish long life upon their elders. This is a promise from God, and when we wish our elders long life, they in turn give us their blessings to prosper.”
Some Chinese New Year traditions, said Kong, find their roots also from the Jews who wanted to commemorate what God had done for Israel. The night they left Egypt, Psalms 105:37 reads: “He also brought them out with silver and gold, and there was none feeble among His tribes.” When it comes to the New Testament, the Christian blessing is the same. In 3 John 2, the apostle “pray[s] that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
“Good health and prosperity—in Christ, we have this as our inheritance,” explained Kong.
What about the animals of the zodiac—and the monkey in particular, this being its year?
1 Kings 10:21 said that Solomon was so blessed that gold and silver meant nothing to him. Verse 22 said, “For the king had merchant ships at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the merchant ships came bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys.”
Why would King Solomon want apes and monkeys along with gold and silver?
“All throughout history, the monkey has symbolized intelligence. Solomon was known as the wisest king ever lived. Could it be that Solomon was so impressed with the monkey’s cleverness that he wanted more of that?” theorised Kong.
The pastor went on to use several Chinese characters and legends to illustrate the character of the monkey.
“The Chinese word for monkey, hou （猴）comes from another Chinese word hou (侯) which means one who looks or observes; a person who is clever and observant.”
Another character of the monkey can be seen from the Chinese folk story behind the Chinese saying, “When the tiger is not around, the monkey behaves like a king.” In the story, Tiger was the fiercest animal in the jungle and Monkey was its only friend. Monkey used his relationship with Tiger as an advantage over other animals. One day, Tiger fell into a trap and Monkey freed him—this created an even closer relationship between them.
Many years later, the king wanted to choose 12 animals to represent the 12 years of the lunar cycle. Monkey went to Tiger and asked to be recommended to the king. Tiger knew Monkey would not amount to much, but he owe his life to Monkey, so he did. Eventually, Tiger felt used by Monkey and ended their friendship. This story lies behind another Chinese saying: “In the absence of a good leader, the incapable monkey will claim the title”.
“While monkeys are intelligent, they can also be devious and unscrupulous,” Kong said. He went on to use three Chinese phrases to describe the vices of the monkey.
1. Xin Yuan Yi Ma （心猿意马）means “the heart flickers like a monkey and the mind runs wild like a horse.”
Ecclesiastes 11:4 said, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap”. Kong reminded the church that faith demands singleness of mind, so Christians must focus on the visions and dreams that God has for them. God only answers specific and focused prayers.
2. Hou Ji （猴急）means “to be worried and anxious.”
“Jesus doesn’t want us to worry,” Kong said. “Worrying shows that we cannot trust God.”
3. Yuan Hou Qu Yue（猿猴取月) is a Chinese idiom which means greed can tempt a person to do crazy things.
Kong recounted an old Chinese folk tale of how a group of monkeys gathered and attempted to retrieve the reflection of the moon from the well because of greed. They eventually fell into the well and drowned. He warned that greed could cause people to do things that cause them to fall.
King Solomon could identify with all this, said the senior pastor, referring to Ecclesiastes 2:11 where the king said, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.”
Kong added: “He was the wisest and richest king but he lost his relationship with God because his heart was not in Him, but in the gold and silver and in women.”
Asian culture has many good values, but the one thing that cripples Asians is the fear of “losing face”, Kong continued. As a result, many try to live up to people’s expectations of them. In the process, they become opportunistic, anxious, easily tempted and lose focus on what is really important.
Kong finally related the myth of the Monkey King who was over-confident about his own strengths. He eventually realised that even he could not leap out of God’s hands. Kong reminded the church that similarly, no matter what they do, they can never escape God.
“Thankfully, the hand of God is there to protect and guide us; His hand is one of healing, deliverance and miracles,” the pastor concluded. “Let’s expect the healing and provision of God this Chinese New Year.”
Earlier in the service, Singaporean filmmaker, Jack Neo, and the cast of his new film, Long Long Time Ago, made a guest appearance to promote the film. Set in the kampong days of 1960s Singapore, the film depicts the story of a widow who struggles to bring up her children.