Pastoral Perspectives

When Eating Can Be Painful

You may not believe it, but for me, food serves as a morale booster. They need not be delicacies – a bowl of beancurd from Mr. Bean can easily brighten my day in the course of a busy week. Thus, you can imagine my misery when I caught the dreaded Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HFMD) from my daughter. For about a week, the pain from the plethora of ulcers took away whatever joy I derived from eating. Even sipping cool water brought scant relief.

As I endured my “sufferings”, I thought about whether there are some parallels between dealing with HFMD and dealing with sin. In the case of HFMD, the Ministry of Health website states that there is no specific treatment besides relief of symptoms. Treatment with antibiotics is not effective and is not indicated. Put simply, one needs to wait it out and hope that his immune system will fight off the virus.

When it comes to fighting sin, Christians cannot remain passive but are “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity … and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Indeed, there is no other way but to refuse sin and starve it. Instead of being tolerant of them or finding excuses, we are to learn to admit sin for what it really is. We should call a spade a spade. It will not help us if for example, we would rather say that “we just need to order our priorities” instead of recognizing it as an issue of “evil desire… which is idolatry”. As the Reformer, John Owen puts it, “be killing sin or it will be killing you”.

Undoubtedly, denial is something that we must do, whether it is to aid our recovery from HFMD or strengthening our resolve against temptation. For anyone who enjoys food, anything that is deep fried, spicy or would agitate the ulcers are strictly a no-no. Admittedly, when you are having HFMD, this is a no-brainer since whatever used to bring you pleasure will now only bring you pain.

In contrast, when it comes to sin, Satan is much more cunning.  When we heed Jesus’ call to deny self (Luke 9:23), Satan will attempt to deceive us and lead us to feel that God is depriving us from something enjoyable. Unless we ground ourselves with the truth about the goodness of God and His Word, our battle against sin is likely to become a chore and our spiritual resolve will weaken. However, when we submit to our loving Heavenly Father and be transformed by the renewing of our minds, we will increasingly be able to expose Satan’s lies and savour the joy of walking in God’s ways (Psalm 19:10, Romans 12:1-2). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit will enable us to see sin for what it is in God’s presence and understand that “on account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col 4:6).

Thankfully, just as the virus which causes HFMD will eventually run its course, Christians also have hope that we will emerge victorious in our fight against sin. By God’s grace, we are people who are born again and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a new life in Christ. We are those who have been “transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Even as we learn to “put on” the virtues that Christ has called us to (Col 3:12-14), we are looking forward to the day when Christ comes again.

During this period of HFMD, I am thankful for the get-well wishes and prayers from friends and church members as they brought me much encouragement. After all, I have been literally counting down to the days when I will be completely healed. With each passing day, I knew that recovery is at hand and that the plan of celebrating my birthday with my wife over a buffet beckons, albeit belated.

Interestingly enough, we are reminded in John’s vision that “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). I can only imagine what a glorious feast it will be when Christ comes again and ushers us into God’s presence. Indeed, forbidden fruits will always remain poor substitutes and leave us yearning for more. But what a joy, that with each new passing day, we can increasingly experience the truth about Jesus who is “the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (Jn 6:34).

Pastor Edwin

October 20, 2013