May 30/31, 2020
From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee
Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,
I am not addicted to “junk food,” but at times, when I get started on some, I can see how it can be very addictive – you just can’t stop once you get started! “Junk food” is exactly what it is, “junk!” I guess we could ask the same question of why people are hooked on or prefer “fast food” instead of “fine food“ all the time (economics aside), because somehow such food is so enticing, tasty but mostly unhealthy (oily, high on sugar and salt). Lest you think I am against all such so-called “junk food” because I am not, I do enjoy some sometimes between my meals. What I cannot understand is why for some, “junk food” comes to replace “fine food” all the time because the latter is so much better in value, both nutritionally and quality.
Spiritual junk food?!
You can therefore understand why I am so surprised when I recently in my study came across the term “spiritual junk food!” You must be kidding, is there “spiritual food” that can be regarded as “junk?” Yes, the term appears in Eugene Peterson’s free translation in The Message (MSG) of 2 Timothy 4:3 – “You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy.”
Interestingly, Peterson uses the same expression in an Old Testament verse: “Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest.” (Isaiah 55:2, MSG) Yes, why waste money on “junk food”? That started me thinking and here is what I like to share from my reflection.
No stomach for solid teaching
The context is an exhortation of Paul the great apostle and mentor to young Timothy, his spiritual son, to encourage him to stay faithful to the preaching of the Word (the gospel), whether it is convenient or inconvenient (in season or out of season). We believe in the “priesthood of all believers” and therefore it applies to all of us, that is, we need to be a faithful witness, no matter what. Paul is warning that there will come a time when he will find Christ’s followers prefer “junk food” rather than “solid food” (sound teaching), but at such a time, he should all the more persevere and be faithful to “preach the Word.” “No stomach for solid teaching” literally means “will not endure sound teaching.” (ESV) “Solid food” is being given up and replaced by “spiritual junk food.” Peterson expands on what he means by “spiritual junk food” with this qualifier – “catchy opinions that tickle their fancy,” which literally means “having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (ESV) In other words, there will be Christians who only want to hear what they want to hear, and therefore prefer teachers who do that rather than orthodox preachers like Timothy who will only follow the instruction to “preach the Word.”
Catchy opinions that tickle their fancy
These words sound so true even today, and explain why there is always a market for heresy and half-truths down through the ages till now, and why it is so hard to preach the Word of truth. The question for all of us, even during this time of the COVID pandemic, is do we have an appetite for the solid food of God, or do we prefer “spiritual junk food” that will “tickle our fancy (own passions),” that are just good to our ears. Peterson’s use of the term “catchy opinions” (vs. sound teaching) catches my attention. This sort of “teaching” is “catchy” or palatable and attractive, and we are easily hooked, but nevertheless they are just “opinions” of people who say what we want to hear. In the past several years we hear the term “fake news” being battered around, and I am sadden to see how people are so gullible and so willing to accept them as “truths.” Have you ever wonder why suddenly we now have such a flood of “knowledge”?
Applied to the Christian context, there is indeed a lot of “fancy teaching” that is unorthodox, that we need to guard against. This type of teaching will only make them (and us) “turn their (our) backs on truth and chase mirages.” (v. 4. MSG) That means, we “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (ESV) This may include false teaching about the end times. Next time before we forward something to our brothers and sisters, make sure that they are not stuff that are against the truth of God. They may be just “spiritual junk food.”
Keep the Message alive
Paul not only has a warning for young Timothy, he also has an exhortation for him and us all: “But you – keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.” (v. 5. MSG) In another translation we have, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (ESV) The question for us all, are we focused (sober-minded) on our service to God as God’s servants by keeping the Message alive? There is so much good sound teaching that is available nowadays, including those from our own pastors and teachers. Are we taking full advantage of this good teaching for our learning? Let us go for “solid food” that helps us serves God better, keeping the Message alive in and through us.
Also can we “accept the hard times (endure suffering) along with the good?” Indeed, we are all going through “hard times” because of the pandemic. Our perseverance at this time will be a strong witness for Christ. As Christians, are we as fearful and restless as our neighbours who are not Christians? Should our trust in Christ and in the promise of His word make a difference? If we are strengthened by the solid teaching of the Word, then our testimony will draw people to Christ, because people need the Lord.
Eat This Book
In his book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene Peterson reminds us: “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” Let us be the Book during this pandemic.
Your pastor in Christ,
Rev. Simon Lee
Senior Pastor, RCAC