What I Learned: That Our Joy May Be Made Complete

Editor’s note: Fellowship with brothers and sisters in the global church helps us to better understand ourselves and our times. Even more importantly, this fellowship with other believers enables us to more fully know and worship God. This November, a seminary president from the U.S. shares how a letter to recent Chinese college grads letter taught, encouraged, and challenged him and his students.


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“In exposing the cultural idolatry in China, he exposed it here as well….He expressed so clearly what I have been trying to say to Christians here. I immediately shared it with our seminary students to help them see what we are up against.

“Do you know God? Can you tell me about him?” These words came within the first five minutes of my first conversation with “Tucker.” It was September 2000, and I had been in China for only three weeks. As the year went on, I learned that Tucker was one of many Chinese college students at that time who was hungry to know God. The Spirit of God was at work. I thought to myself, “Who am I that I get to be a part of this?” What a gift! I wanted to stay until Christ’s return. Though I had to leave in 2010, the joy of those early years has never faded. Far from it! I tasted this deepening joy once again when I read Li Yingqiang’s recent letter to the graduating class of Western China Covenant College, entitled Night is Far Gone, Day is at Hand

I want to make just two observations about how Li’s letter brought me joy. 

Close Enough to Empathize; Far Enough to See Clearly

First, I was amazed at his sober reflection and critical analysis of our cultural moment. I say “our” because, in exposing the cultural idolatry in China, he exposed it here as well. Li is precisely right in saying that if Chinese authoritarianism is removed, the church there will likely face the more formidable foe of secular humanism. While opposition in China is now overt and painful, the “magic potion of individualism, materialist ecstasy, and the hypnotic drug of relativism” is perhaps more deadly. He expressed so clearly what I have been trying to say to Christians here. I immediately shared it with our seminary students to help them see what we are up against.

For decades, Christians in the West have been hard-pressed into the secular mold. At the root of the problem is the belief that we can save ourselves and our world from all its woes. But salvation always comes from the outside. The prophetic voice that bears fruit comes from one who is near enough to empathize, but with enough distance to see the matter clearly. This is how I received brother Li’s message. This is why the church in the West needs the church in the East, and vice versa. To that can be added the church in every part of the world and in every age of history. For the church to be faithful in any time and place, we must be open to dialogue with the church from every time and place. Only a brother can show us our blind spots, and we theirs. 


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“For the church to be faithful in any time and place, we must be open to dialogue with the church from every time and place. Only a brother can show us our blind spots, and we theirs. 


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Other Christians Help Us Know God

Secondly, I was reminded how we need each other not only to know ourselves, but to know God himself. The opening section of John’s first letter ends with a curious phrase: “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Why does John say “our” instead of “your”? John personally saw, heard, and even touched Jesus, the source of all joy. How can he speak of a joy made complete only when others share in divine fellowship? This question has captured my imagination for many years. Reading Li’s message renewed my experience of what I believe John is saying. 

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis reflects on the nature of friendship. 

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets…

In this, friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God.  For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. 

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“Christians everywhere need the Christians in China and vice versa. We need one another, not only to show us our blind spots, but to show us God.

Simply put, we see and enjoy more of God together than alone. Other Christians bring to light aspects of God’s glory that we would not otherwise see. Their lives manifest the beauty of faithful obedience to Jesus in ways we could not otherwise behold. We need each other. This is true of any two Christians, even those from the same culture and family. But our enjoyment of God increases all the more when those who share come from very different vantage points. Everyone has a specific vantage point, limited by many personal and cultural factors. We ought not to think that with such a limited view, we can capture the whole of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. He is simply too magnificent, like a diamond the size of Mount Everest. I am grateful for the work of the China Partnership because Christians everywhere need the Christians in China and vice versa. We need one another, not only to show us our blind spots, but to show us God. 

As I read Li’s reflections on faithfulness to Jesus Christ in a challenging context, I tasted more of the joy that awaits us all. For when the redeemed from every tongue, tribe, and nation gather before the throne, seeing and declaring to one another the excellencies of God – only then will our joy be finally made complete. 


Hoffman Rhyne is president and academic dean of Christ Our Redeemer Seminary in Auburn, Ala. 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for more opportunities for Chinese and Western Christians to help one another understand themselves and know God more intimately.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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