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Don’t Stand By and Do Nothing

In late October 2013, a man apparently tried to cut into a queue in Singapore, but was calmly told by a woman in the line to go back to the end of the queue. He went into a rage and spat into her face. He also turned on another woman, yelled at her, and spat on her face too. What uncivilized behavior!

There were a number of men standing around but only one tried to stop the man. Significantly, the enraged man did not spit on this lone hero.

It is certainly not part of Singaporean culture for a man to get enraged and behave in an uncivilized manner towards a woman in a public place. However, neither should it be part of Singapore’s culture for able-bodied men to stand around and not try to scold the bully or physically restrain him.

Culture can be outlined as the beliefs, ideas and ideals, arts, custom and social behavior of a particular group of people or society; it is linked to the way of life of a people. Is there such a thing as a Christian culture? And if so, what are some of its main features?

A central teaching of Jesus Christ is love; love for God, and love for fellow believers of Jesus and love for one’s neighbours. By “neighbours” is meant all the people around us, even those hostile to us. Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan stopped to help an injured Jew, normally an enemy, points to the way we should behave. In fact, Christians are to love their neighbours as themselves. So how can a Christian make another human being his or her slave?

Such ideals led to the abolition of slavery in the Western world and eventually virtually the whole world.

The Judeo-Christian embracing of God’s commandments to keep the Sabbath Day holy and a day free from work, led to a six-day working week. Before that, there was no regular rest day in the week. We have to thank God for a weekly rest day. Modern societies, especially the developed countries, have gone beyond this by instituting a five or five-and-a-half day working week.

Jesus and His 12 disciples lived according to the Law of Moses, which Moses received from God. Thus they refrained from harming other people, or each other, much less kill anyone. They did not steal or covet another person’s wife, maidservant, animals or belongings. Whatever cash donations they received were put in a common pool to meet the group’s travelling and living expenses. They did not covet riches. They refrained from falsely accusing others of wrongdoing and made sure that they themselves did not sin. It was said of Jesus, that “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). If there had been, his enemies would have proclaimed them far and wide. We, as His followers should follow His example, and shape our culture by our daily example.

Jesus made no distinction between rich and poor, the healthy and the sick, the educated and illiterate. He healed all who came to Him with diseases and preached to everyone alike. He set His followers the supreme example for regarding all men and women as equals. All were sinners and yet worthy of being loved, worthy of forgiveness if they repented and asked God for forgiveness. From these have sprung up our modern concepts of liberty, fraternity and equality. Is it our culture to accord citizens and permanent residents the freedom to live their lives within the boundaries of our laws, and to regard them as equal to ourselves within the brotherhood of the human race? Christians through history set the example and Christians today should continue to set the example in these areas and more.

Education is another area where Christianity has had a great impact in the lives of many people. Of course, schools have been set up in many countries since ancient times, but they were usually or mainly for the children of the rich or the nobility, especially those aiming for positions in government or the priesthood. From the Middle Ages, big strides were made in the establishing of monastic schools by churches, and groups of Christian scholars and students later gathered in communities which became universities, like the universities in Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge, and many others in Europe, Britain and later North America.

Today, Christians need to go back to those pioneering days in education and build not just primary and secondary schools but also more universities, polytechnics and vocational schools – institutions that not only educate, but impart Christian values and morals to live by in a world in which there is so much crime, drug abuse, promiscuity, divorce and the breaking up of families and general decline in good behavior.

We may not be able to change the whole world by ourselves, but we can certainly influence those around us if we set the example for them, if we are a light shining to light their way. We can start by being polite and considerate to all around us. We can greet everyone we meet and have a cheery word for them.

Coming back to the incident where a man spat at a woman in a public place, we should remember that we are called to rescue the weak and the needy, delivering them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:4; NIV, ESV). Christians should therefore be among the first to go to the rescue of the woman, to shield her, to admonish or restrain the abuser, and to call in the police.

We may not be able to change the whole world by ourselves, but we can certainly influence those around us if we set the example for them, if we are a light shining to light their way. We can start by being polite and considerate to all around us. We can greet everyone we meet and have a cheery word for them. We can ask about their health and show concern if they look downcast or worried. In this gentle, kindly way, we can improve the culture in the areas where we live, work or play.

It is with patience that we will win the friendship and curiosity of the people around us. They will eventually wonder why we are different from other people. Only then will there be opportunities to tell them about our beliefs, and about our loving God.

Mickey Chiang wrote this in hospital after a small brain operation. [He asked a Filipina nurse whether her home in the Philippines was safe after Hurricane Haiyan swept over the Philippines. He asked another nurse where she came from and was surprised to learn that she was a Chinese Australian.] Mickey was called home to be with the Lord on 15 March 2023.

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