As the year draws nearer to an end, Aries Zulkarnain invites believers to spend this time reflecting on their relationship with God.
2020 has been a difficult year but City Harvest Church’s executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain encourages the church to bring those experiences and encounters before God.
“Growth comes, not just by going through an experience, but by going through an evaluated experience,” he said in his online sermon on Nov 9 and 10.
He also pointed out that having fewer events in church does not mean that one becomes spiritually “less”. “Sometimes, God cuts off all events and programs in the church in order for you and me to focus on being more like Christ,” the pastor explained. “So that when things are back to being busy again, you and I can be in a healthier state both spiritually and emotionally. Our doing must always come from a healthy state of our being. Only then can it be lasting and have longevity.”
Continuing from his previous sermon on becoming a person of truth and love, Pastor Aries focused this time on growing into a person of love.
He started by reading Leviticus 19:17-18. God had given Moses and the children of Israel a set of moral and ceremonial laws to live by as they were about to enter the Promised Land. Just like Abraham, the children of Israel were entering a land filled with strangers who worshiped pagan gods contrary to the Hebrew culture. Despite all that, God wanted them to learn to live among these pagans without losing their own values. That was why He equipped them with a sets of laws and instructions—to distinguish them from the pagans and to help them manage those differences.
Leviticus 19:17-18 ends with “but You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This concept went against the normal practices of those times; it was unimaginable to expect the Israelites to love and respect people completely different from them.
Pastor Aries noted that even though society has become more civilized today, it is no less chaotic and individualistic, and “loving your neighbor as yourself” is no easier a feat than it was back then.
While God understands the difficulty of it, yet He still chose to instruct the Israelites to love others as they loved themselves. Likewise, modern day Christians are exhorted to do the same in today’s world.
HOW TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
Knowing that God would not ask for the impossible, Pastor Aries emphasized the next part of Lev 19:18, “I am the Lord”, which is stating “This is Who I am”.
Pastor Aries explained that there is a very simple, yet profound key to loving your neighbor as yourself. Christians can’t do it by just treating it as an ethic to live by.
“The way to do it is to have God inside your heart. When God becomes the Lord over your life—when He dominates your heart when He has become the spiritual reality inside of you—then loving your neighbor as yourself will become a natural manifestation of the nature of God that is already living inside of you,” he said. “Jesus must become your spiritual reality, because (loving your neighbor as yourself) requires Him to take over your heart, your value system and your entire belief system.”
Jesus quoted the same phrase when the Pharisees challenged Him to name the greatest commandment in the Law (Mt 22:37-40). “Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees because the Pharisees are very religious, but deep inside their hearts, they are not showing the love of God to other people,” the pastor noted. “If Jesus is the spiritual reality in your life, then technically, out of it should flow out the love of God. You will then be able to see people the way God sees people.”
Pastor Aries then asked the church, “Who has become your spiritual reality?” Is it producing more of Jesus or more of something else? The Pharisees and religious leaders studied and became experts of the Law, but yet it did not produce that love within them.
“To find out (who your spiritual reality is), simply look at how you treat others,” the pastor went on. “Are you loving and patient? Or you find yourself always quarrelsome and argumentative?”
If a person is a church-going, Bible-reading Christian, but continues to be proud and disrespectful to others, then the god inside his heart might be himself and not Jesus, asserted the pastor.
“You can only love like Jesus to the degree you have Jesus living in your heart. That’s why today it is important to check your heart. Do you have more of Jesus?” It is hard to love when culture makes it difficult to do so. “But if you make Jesus the center of your heart and your spiritual reality, then the Holy Spirit will empower you with His love and His grace so that you can love your neighbor as yourself,” Pastor Aries assured the church.
WHAT DOES LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR LOOK LIKE?
Luke 10:25-37 records a conversation Jesus had with a lawyer, which led to Him telling the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer asked Jesus how to inherit eternity and in return, Jesus asked him “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Lk 10:26)
“Basically, Jesus is asking this expert of the law, ‘who has become your spiritual reality?’” Pastor Aries explained. The lawyer gave a religious answer: to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus then challenged him to live it out. Knowing it was impossible to love like that, the lawyer then asked Jesus to define “neighbor”.
“To love your neighbor is to show the love of God and do good to anybody unconditionally, without discrimination,” the pastor spelled out. In the story, the victim was a Jewish man, and the person who helped him was a Samaritan. Giving a background of the culture at that time, Pastor Aries explained that the Jews had always despised the Samaritans and vice versa. Here, Jesus pointed out that not even a fellow Jew would help the man dying on the street but a Samaritan lent a helping hand.
“The Jewish law expert began to realize the very people you discriminate against may end up being the one showing grace and love to you unconditionally and without discrimination,” he said. “Jesus is trying to tell this expert in the law that your neighbor is anybody, and you must show love to anyone unconditionally, without prejudice or discrimination.”
It is easy to discriminate against others, but Jesus left the Jewish lawyer reflecting on the possibility of becoming the victim. “Before you cancel others or ridicule and shame them publicly, are you able to ask yourself, ‘What if you are the one being destroyed?’” the pastor preached. “Not many people are mindful of the fact that one day, they themselves might be the one in need of mercy, grace and forgiveness.”
That is why Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 7:12)
Understanding that everyone receives love differently John, the apostle of love, did not give instructions on how to love; he simply described love as a Person. “God is love,” he says in 1 John 4:8. Pastor Aries noted, “But he points to Jesus as the example—ove must always be personal and it must always be sacrificial.”
This sacrificial love should be so radical that it moves the hearts of people. “It’s unthinkable and unimaginable. Why would you want to help someone who doesn’t deserve to be helped?” the pastor said. “And yet, this is what the kind of radical love that Jesus has called us to do, to love your neighbor as yourself.”
In closing, he read from the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, written to defend Christians against its critics under the Roman Empire. It describes Christians as people who lived by the laws of heaven and “love all men, and are persecuted by all”.
“This is the kind of radical love Jesus wanted us to demonstrate,” the pastor preached. He encouraged the church to make Jesus their spiritual reality and to get rid of self and of pride. “Out of that, love and that nature that is living inside of you flows out naturally, the personal, sacrificial, radical love of God,” he concluded.