Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Changed by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2b)

“…chosen…according…by the sanctifying work of the Spirit….” (1 Peter 1:2, NASB95)

“To be sanctified means you are now set apart. You are special, because your life is reserved for God and His glory.” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On, p. 240) As we read through the Bible we find the words “sanctify,” “sanctified,” “sanctifying,” and “sanctification.” Looking at them we get the initial idea that there is a process going on. “Sanctified” gives this the idea that something has already happened. It is a past tense already done thing. “Sanctify” gives us the idea that something needs to be done, and “sanctifying” points to the idea that it is being done. And then, “sanctification” steps back again to give us the idea of this whole thing with an end in mind or that the goal will be achieved. In this we see three tenses to the word—past, present, and future.

The Greek word translated “sanctify” is “hagiazo” and it means, as one dictionary put it, to separate from the profane and dedicate to God. It has the idea of changing purpose and establishing a new usage. It is the ultimate form of repurposing. God takes that which was lost in sin and without hope, and cleanses it, giving it new hope and purpose. The process He uses to do this is sanctification (hagiasmos) and the ones that He does this to are His chosen or “set apart” ones—His “hagios,” or holy ones. This is what the word “saint” means. It is not about achieving a special mark in life, but rather about having trusted in the Son of God who was marked, crucified, and resurrected for us. By faith in Christ we are saved and made according to His righteousness to be called saints.

This is how it started, but we all know that this is not the end. All believers live with the certain hope that they will one day enter the presence of God and be fully complete. In the meantime we each live with the tension of sin being present while being challenged to separate ourselves daily from it and dedicate ourselves fully to Him. “Salvation is progressive. You were saved when you put your faith in Christ. You are being saved today and every day as you walk with Him and grow in grace, and someday you will be saved when you step into God’s presence. Sanctification is the term the Bible uses for this progression that encompasses what it means to be totally saved.” (Evans, p. 782) Or, “”I was sanctified the moment I was saved, I am being sanctified today, and one day I will be fully sanctified.” I say that because sanctification refers to the three tenses of salvation: past, present, and future. It deals with the progress that God wants us to make in our Christian lives from the moment we trust Christ until we are with Him in heaven.” (Evans, p. 781)

We have been set apart, and we are to daily set ourselves apart from that which seeks to draw us and our attention away from God until such time that He brings us to Him and removes us permanently from all that is unholy. This is an impossible task for us apart from the work of the Spirit in us. We did not come to Christ on our own. Neither will we will break our own way into heaven, and in between we are not walk before Him that way either. Our hearts were softened and our eyes opened by the Spirit so that we could hear and believe, and the Spirit continues to work powerfully in us as we walk in that belief. “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)

We will return to this subject numerous times in looking at 1 Peter, and looking at it extensively is not the goal for today. Instead, our focus is to be on the agent of this work who is the Spirit of God. We read in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB95) When we trusted in Christ for our salvation we were instantaneously set apart and sealed by the Holy Spirit. But more than that, we became indwelt by the Spirit as temples on our living God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95)

“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” … “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10, 14, NASB95)

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NASB95)

Being a Christian is a cooperative process of God’s Spirit working in us to enable us to live victoriously over sin and serve Him and our choosing daily to comply with God’s plan by setting aside that which is not of Him and doing that which He has chosen for us to do. We have been bought with a price and we are set apart to glorify God in our bodies. God gives us the ability to do this, but we are expected to take the active steps to do what He makes us able to do. “The Christian life is a walk, not a piggyback ride.” (Evans, p. 788)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

His Perfect Prognosis (1 Peter 1:2a)

“[who are chosen] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father….” (1 Peter 1:2a, NASB95)

In this and the next verse we will see one of the many pictures of the fullness of our one God manifest in three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. First, we read of God the Father having chosen those who are His elect or His saved ones according to His own foreknowledge. The Greek word here for foreknowledge is “prognosis” and it most simply has the meaning of before (pro) knowing (ginosko). The Bible is full of passages referring to His full and intimate knowledge not only of every single one of us, but of every detail of absolutely everything.

We have an English word that comes from this Greek word and it is one upon which many people are often found anxiously awaiting an answer. This is what doctors are expected to give every day when they give their prognosis concerning a disease or ailment. It is what economists do when the give their forecast for the future, whether it be immediate or long term. It is what weather persons do when they give us the nightly weather outlook for the next week. We all live based upon educated guesses based upon past patterns or presenting conditions.  For us today, a prognosis is simply nothing more than a forecast of the likely outcome of a situation. Sometimes that prognosis is more difficult to make than others, and sometimes it is completely wrong in its outcome. What makes it wrong is not the outcome, but the lack of full knowledge leading to the prediction and even the integrity or motives of the one making that forecast.

In 1 Peter (and elsewhere) we read that we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Therefore, it seems logical to look to look to what we can know about His knowing, and what we can be assured of His telling us the truth about what He knows. First let’s look to His integrity, and in doing this we will quickly look to a couple of things. The first is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He staked His life on the truthfulness of the Father. As the Son, He humbled Himself to take on the form of man to go to a cross and lay down His life for us so that we might be given forgiveness and life in His. Repeatedly in the gospels we read of His own words saying that He came to do the will of the Father and that He and the Father were one. He put His life on the line before us to evidence this truth. And the historical result was that He rose from the dead on the third day just as the Scriptures had said.

Just as the Scripture had said is the second aspect of this that we will quickly look at. Scripture is full of prophecies of the coming of a Savior and many other things, and except for those we are still waiting to see fulfilled every single one of them has been fulfilled without fail. Everything God has said that He would do He has done. He has proven Himself infinitely trustworthy. His prognosis on everything has been absolutely perfect, and not one bit of this has been because He is just a good guesser based upon past experience or observed trends.

God made an active decision to choose us before we were ever conceived. This was not a matter of Him looking down the road of time and observing those who would turn to Him. Of the prophet Jeremiah we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5, NASB95) Jeremiah was God’s choice to be this special prophet to the nations. He formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb. He was set apart for this work before he was born, and he was appointed by God. God’s hand was powerfully at work in every aspect of Jeremiah being who He called Jeremiah to be. Upon hearing this form God, Jeremiah responded, ““Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” But the Lord said to me [Jeremiah], “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:6–8, NASB95) Jeremiah would have a difficult task being God’s prophet, but in this Jeremiah was able to stand, not because He was doing good for God but because God was doing what He intended in him.

David wrote in Psalm 139, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16, NASB95)

Clearly these Old Testament men knew that God not only had knowledge of what was going to happen, but that we had worked with purpose in that happening. He was in full control of His intent and His outcomes. And yes, He knew without failing every single sin we would commit or failing that we might have and He still made His choice. David said earlier in the same Psalm, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:1–5, NASB95) And his response to this in verse 6 is, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:6, NASB95)

God’s foreknowledge is before deciding based upon infinite knowledge and all wisdom, and it is for that reason that many translations will use synonymously the word “foreordain.” God from before makes a choice to choose and to set apart a people for Himself. There was no educated guessing going on. It is all about His perfect act shown to us through His perfect Son who, as we read in 1 Peter 1:20 was foreknown before the foundation of the world to bring salvation to us. The incredible freedom in this is knowing that God does not make mistakes, and this means us.

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” (Romans 8:29, NASB95)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dispersed For His Glory (1 Peter 1:1)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1:1, ESV)

Yesterday we looked at 1 Peter 1:1 in the New American Standard translation of the Bible. Today we are looking at the English Standard Version. It is not that they say different things, but that the translators chose to use different words. In fact, in the ESV they chose to translate one particular word with a capital letter in order to indicate it as a particular event in history and not a statement of where the believers might be located. The word is “the Dispersion” as opposed to “scattered,” and the Greek word which was translated in these two ways is “diasporia.”

The idea here is that rather than a gradual spreading of the faith as people heard the good news of salvation in Christ, there was a forced movement of those believers as they fled persecution because of that same faith. In the simplest form my mind is drawn back to the early days of Robin and me being married and living in an apartment in Reseda, California. No matter how hard we tried to fight the problem, we were regularly infested with roaches. They just wouldn’t go away. The property owner might spray our apartment and kill a great number, but they would just come back again from the apartment next door. The only way we had of ridding ourselves of them ultimately as to move away from where they were. That is one side of the picture. But there is another, more dramatic side, as well. Whenever we would come into the kitchen (or any room) at night and turn on the light we would instantly see them fleeing in all directions into whatever safe from being seen hiding place they could find. The light signaled a danger, and they fled its presence. I must admit that this is one thing that I really enjoy not having to experience any more. There is a simple principle here, and that is persecution leads to the responses of either fight or flight, and fight in some instances is the best answer.

For a significant period of time the people of God—the Jews—did not have a home. They had disobeyed God’s ordinances and God brought judgment upon them, and the most common form of this judgment was allowing them to be invaded and/or taken captive by other nations who represented outside forces of evil. Even though the people would again come together and have a nation as was true in the time of Christ, we also know from Scripture that many Jews either did not or were not able to return. We see this in passages such as John 7:35 and James 1:1 where we read,

“The Jews therefore said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?” (John 7:35, NASB)

“James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.” (James 1:1, NASB)

These two passages clearly refer to Jew who were outside of their homeland. In both of these passages we read “the Dispersion” which is found as “ho diaspora” in the Greek. Notice that the word “ho” precedes the word “diaspora.” “Ho” is a definite article which is commonly translated as “the” indicating a specific event as opposed to a general pattern. This seems to indicate that John is referring to a historical event that moved the Jews from where they once lived, and in this case it is a series of event which over time moved the Jews away, not to return. There were many who were living abroad or outside their homeland.

Moving back to 1 Peter we find that the article “ho” is not present, and reading through the letter, we find that these people who are scattered are not specifically they Jews, but those who have believed in Jesus Christ and were saved being both Jew and Gentile. The point of question here is whether these believers were scattered broadly because the word had spread to their land or they were scattered because they had fled persecution. The best answer is probably both.

Beginning at Pentecost we know that large numbers of Jews had traveled to Jerusalem for this annual celebration, and when the Spirit came we read that all of those present heard the words in their own tongue. “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and marveled, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?“ Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”” (Acts 2:5–11, NASB)

We then go on to read that after Peter spoke to them that they were cut to their hearts, resulting in what we read in verse 41. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41, NASB) Eventually many who were saved would return home, and the word would spread. But beyond that we also know that the apostles, including Paul and others were sent out specifically to spread this Good News and to help these new believers grow. The book of Acts and the various letters of Paul give us much of this record.

These events speak to that positive form of spreading. But we also know from Scripture and from history that there was another form of spreading of these early believers, and that was persecution. Early on this was largely among the Jews as the Jewish leadership was seeking to drag believers out of their homes and bring them to trial. Saul (Paul) was one of those engaged in this practice until Jesus stopped him in his tracks and opened his eyes to the truth. But over time this animosity increased as these believers also became the enemy of the Roman government leading to them even being blamed for the burning of Rome and many suffering as martyrs as a result.

The reality of the issue is that regardless of the reason that believers have become scattered, the incredible truth is that with them the news of salvation in Jesus Christ has spread as well. Every single person who has or who ever will trust in Jesus Christ for salvation is chosen by God and knit together as one into His eternal family. We are one body in Christ. We are His church, His glorious bride, and He chose us. Knowing this we have the incredible privilege and responsibility to spread this great truth about this most incredible relationship with all who will hear regardless of where God may have us scattered or placed.

Jesus, Himself, said, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB) Then in Acts He added, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, NASB) 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Chosen—Peter, Them, and Us (1 Peter 1:1)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen” (1 Peter 1:1, NASB95)

The gospel of Mark records for us following Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, that He began the selection of His disciples. We read in Mark 1:16-20, “As He [Jesus] was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.” (Mark 1:16–20, NASB95) The first four were Simon (who would later be named “Peter” by Jesus), his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John. All four of them were fishermen who were chosen by God called away by Jesus to become “fishers of men.” And, as we progress through the gospels when we find the disciples mentioned as a group, it was Peter whose name was most prominent among them. Peter lived His life for Christ in a very visible way, and when he stumbled he stumbled visibly as well.

It was Peter that told Jesus He would stick with Him to the last person, to which Jesus told him that he would instead deny Him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning (Matthew 26:30-35). And of course, Peter did exactly as Jesus had said (Matthew 26:69-75). “Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:74–75, NASB95)

Then after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, when the disciples were awaiting Him in Galilee where they were told to go, it was Peter who led a group of others to go fishing. But that night not a single fish was caught, or at least not until Jesus (being unrecognized) spoke to them from the shore instructing them to cast their nets to the other side. Then the catch was so great that they could not haul it in. John immediately recognized who it was that had spoken to them, and hearing this Peter leaped from the boat to rush to Jesus on the shore leaving the rest to drag in the net. After they had had breakfast Jesus then spoke to Peter and asked him if he loved Him. Peter replied that of course he did, and Jesus charged Peter to feed His lambs. Three times Jesus would ask Peter, and three times Peter would affirm that he did indeed love Jesus. Each time Jesus charged Peter with the task of taking care of His sheep. “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:17, NASB95)

Reading through the book of Acts we see that Peter was indeed faithful to this charge. And, as we come closer to the end of his life we find that we have these two letters of 1 and 2 Peter recorded for us. 1 Peter was most likely written in the mid-60’s A.D. when persecution of Christians had dramatically increased, and believers had been dispersed throughout various regions, even as we see listed in this verse. The exact location of where Peter was at the writing of this letter is only speculated upon with some believing that he may have obscured the location of those he was with referring to it only as the church in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13).

Clearly times were tough for believers. Persecution was on the upswing, and Peter was writing to encourage them. And, just as Peter was chosen personally by Christ, his first words to these believers was to remind them that they were chosen as well. They were not unhappy accidents. They were not neglected people who had got caught up on the wrong side of a movement, and were now scattered in lieu of being swallowed up. They were chosen by God with the fullness of His infinite and eternal knowledge according to His perfect and unlimited wisdom. He chose them, and He chooses us with His eyes full open and He never makes a mistake. And just as He chooses us, He does so with the full awareness of absolutely everything we will encounter regardless of where we might be.

Thinking about this, last week I was a work and a customer came up and asked me if I had a Proverb for her. I did not recognize her and do not know what she knows about me or if she even knows me. But she asked, and I asked her in return “Why?” Was there something going on that she needed some encouragement? She told me that she was being attacked by someone else, and she wanted a word of encouragement for her defense. I briefly told her that I did not know if anything would change the person’s feelings or actions toward her, but that there is a God who would bring her through. I walked her through Psalm 139 and the truth that God encloses us before and behind, that He has His hand on our shoulder. He knows when we rise up and sit down. He has evaluated our thoughts and He knows every work on our tongue before we every speak it. God is with us when we are at the heights of joy and He is equally with us in the deepest depths of darkness. And He has promised to be our help. At this point I was amazed that no other customers had come along, and I proceeded to encourage her to look to Him and rely on His strong hand regardless of what anyone else might do. He will not let go.

We live in difficult times in this country. We have an election coming where there is no good choice for President, and regardless of the outcome things may get much more difficult for believers. Sure, there might be one who is more favorable toward Christians, but even then there is a legal and social environment that is not quite so kind. As I think about the times in Rome that prompted Peter to write this letter when the emperor Nero was either blaming or soon to blame Christians and turned the people against them, I am reminded that our God holds us wherever we might be. As I think about David who had countless enemies and who had spent so many years fleeing the then King, Saul, I am reminded that our God is our unfailing help. And, as I think about our Lord who was crucified on our behalf, I am reminded that Jesus understands exactly what is going on and the plight we are experiencing. What to us might seem like a world out of control and without hope, really is an opportunity for us to put our trust in our God who has absolute and total control and will work His plan perfectly until its completion.

In Christ, God chooses and we are secure. For those of us responded to Christ, who have believed that He was sent by the Father just as He had promised, and that He died, was buried, and rose again, we are indeed chosen and no one will snatch us out of His hand.

“… I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.” (1 Peter 5:12–14, NASB95) 

Monday, October 10, 2016

First Hand Encourager (Ephesians 6:21-24)

“But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” (Ephesians 6:21–24, NASB95)

Paul had just asked the audience of his letter to be praying for him in a more general sense. In these final words Paul informs them that his desire in sending Tychicus with the letter was that they also might hear in more detail first hand from someone who was there with him. Paul was sending Tychicus as a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord to them. Their relationship with him was important, and just as it was important to hear how they are doing so was it important for them to hear how he was doing.

Paul had just told them to pray and petition at all times for all things, and here he follows it up by giving them more specifics for how to pray which reinforced the oneness that they had in Christ despite the physical distance they shared. In Christ they were one regardless of their location. In the same Spirit they could pray for one another. As people who had shared in his ministry, Paul desired to give them appropriate updates on just how that ministry was going and how he as the minister was doing.

Hearing how he and those with him were standing strong even in prison and persecution was to be an encouragement for them to stand also. This is the instruction of Ephesians 6:10-18—to stand firm. Hearing how Paul was standing firm was similarly to bring comfort to their hearts and encourage them to stand firm also.

As I reflected on these words I thought about the email updates that I get from friends on the mission field or in service to God in some other area. These letters are more than just updates. They are sent so that we might continually enter into the work with them as our hearts are knit together and we remember them before our God. Knowing how they are doing and what they are facing encourages us to pray for them, but it also encourages us as we are reminded that we are not alone in service to our Lord. It is because of this same relationship that we share with our God that we also can encourage one anther knowing that He is firmly in control of each of our lives. Just as He was working in Paul and Tychicus, so was he working in the believers in Ephesus and us today.

These last words are used to remind them of not only their oneness, but also to let them know of his continued prayers for them. The benediction, “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” are read in churches regularly as one of many benedictions from the Word as churches send their people out for the week. They are a hope for the days ahead as we separate from one another. They are not well-wishing, but they are firmly founded in truth.

Paul prayed for peace to be with them. Looking back to the salvation we have in Christ, we are reminded that we are at peace with God because our sins have been forgiven fully in Christ. There is no more charge of sin against us. We are also reminded that as we go into the world that we do so with the presence of God who holds us firmly in His hands. This means that we can find His peace even when there is turmoil all around us. And, as we walk and rub against each other we are reminded that we are to continually be mindful of the oneness we have in Christ as we are longsuffering and forgiving. We are to seek to be at peace with one other because we belong to the God who makes us at peace with Himself. In this prayer for peace is also the recognition that they are living in a world that knows no peace and that there will be various forms of trials, tribulation and suffering. There is the hope that things will go well, knowing that God always holds our welfare.

Paul prayed that they would know the love of God and that they would love for one another. Knowing that God loves us and that He is working His good will in us emboldens our faith to trust Him more even when things on their surface seem to say otherwise. We can choose to love even when others might be or act unloving. We can do this because we choose not to love with the feelings of our immediate response, but with the love that we know is right from Him. This is how we evidence our faith in Him as we respond in love toward others. We become vulnerable because we know that our God is totally in control.

The context of all of this is exactly what Paul wrote, “from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are in Christ because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We have a relationship with God the Father because He sent His Son to bring us to Him. He is the one from who all things come, and it is Christ who holds all things together. Our God loves us and all that we have is from Him, even our ability to stand when things get tough. Our great joy is in knowing that we have a great hope from our God who will never disappoint.

The last words of Paul in this letter are, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” The love we have for God is a result of His love for us, and His love is unchanging and incorruptible. It is unable to be contaminated or diluted. His love is perfect and this is exactly how He has loved us, and now we love in return because we have known and are learning more and more of His perfect love. We love because He first loved us, and as we grow in Him we understand more and more just how perfect His love is. In Christ we are given the ability to love, and having graciously been given that ability we are called to put it into practice in our lives. And Paul is encouraging them and us in these last words that we would know daily God’s incredible favor toward us as we live and love in His love.

This was his prayer for them. It is his prayer for us. And as we pray for others, we are incredibly privileged to pray the same for them, even as we side-by-side are to put into practice the encouragement that God has given to us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

And Alertly Praying (Ephesians 6:18-20)

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, NASB95)

Frequently when people speak of the Christian armor of Ephesians chapter 6 they end with the Word of God being the final piece, and essentially it is. But looking to our passage we quickly observe that Paul immediately moves from this last piece to the subject of prayer. And, if you were to think of this in a military sense, especially understanding that the battle we are engaged in is not one of flesh and blood, but of the spirit, this transition makes perfect sense. What soldier would go out into battle on his own against an enemy that he could not see? This is a sure formula for defeat. But recognizing that our success in battle is totally dependent on our standing firm in Christ, then it makes sense that we need to be in close touch with Him as we engage the enemy.
The way we do this is through prayer, and prayer is nothing more that communicating with God. We are told in these verses, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times….” Twice we see here the word “all.” We see all in the subject of our prayer and we see all in the time of our prayer. We are told to pray about all things at all times. The converse of the is that there is nothing that we cannot bring to Him and there is no time that He is too busy to be bothered. There is nothing too big or too small. There is no waking Him up in the middle of the night and there is no excuse for us when we are woken up in the middle of the night. There is no situation too intense for Him, and there is no situation too rushed or intense for us when we also cannot look and pray to Him. We may not have an hour to run away to a closet, but we have that moment to look to Him and plead for His help and guidance. We truly can and we truly are intended to pray to Him at all times and in all things.

We see what might seem to be two forms or classifications of prayer here. We have the word “prayer” and the word “petition.” Prayer is the broader, all-inclusive, form of prayer. It includes absolutely everything. It includes our adoration of God, our worship of Him, our praises, our confession, and our thanksgiving. There is nothing which is to be excluded from our prayer. It even includes this second aspect—petition. Petition is when we bring specific requests to Him, and possibly mentioning it separately we are reminded that going to God is more than asking things of Him, but also going to Him means that we can ask things of Him. When we are engaged in battle we need to communicate with the commander, and this is God. When we are engaged in battle we have needs, and it is right and appropriate to lift those needs to Him. It is right for us to prayer for ourselves and to pray for others. This is part of prayer, and Paul tells us here to bring all of our prayers to God. There is nothing that He does not know and nothing that He cannot do, but He wants to hear from us. This is how He works. We look to Him and He answers. What an incredible gift He has given to us to have a relationship with Himself. He truly does care and He is powerful to answer.

We also read that we are to pray “in the Spirit.” This does not mean that we have to be in some special state in order to pray such that God hears and responds. We do not have to get right first. In fact, the very process of getting right involves our confessing our wrong, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and agreeing with Him on moving forward right. What praying in the Spirit does include is the understanding of with whom and to whom we pray. Our prayers are not empty wishes thrown up into space, but they are communication with the Living God with whom we have been brought into an eternal relationship through His Son and through whom we have been eternally sealed by the Spirit. This phrase reminds us of the respectful attitude that we are to have recognizing with whom we are communicating. We are talking through the Holy Spirit to the sovereign, all-powerful God, and in so remembering this we don’t come to him with a flip, indifferent or even haughty attitude. We have been privileged to be able to speak to God through the Spirit of God who unites us with God in the Son.

Praying in the Spirit also means that we come before God seeking and submitting to God’s will for our lives. Our prayers are to be laid before Him in such a way that we are seeking to align our wills for our desires with His will for His plans. We aren’t to come to Him asking Him to do things that are contrary to His will especially when we know from His Word that what we are asking is specifically prohibited by Him. And when we do come to Him asking things that we are not certain about, we do so with attitudes that are willingly submitted to Him responding according to His own counsel or will.

We also are told to “be on the alert” in regard to our prayer. In 1 Peter 5:8 we read, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB95) We have a very active enemy and he is an opportunist, looking for every opportunity to attack. Recognizing that our battle is largely an unseen one, we need to be on the alert to those signs that something might be going on and we need to be prayerful concerning those things. We need to be constantly mindful, recognizing that the battle is real and that we need to be continually in contact with the only One who can truly see what is going on and knows how to respond to it. Oftentimes, these attacks come in the form of an off look or a misplaced response. Maybe someone was a bit harsh, and we respond with angrily in some way. James 1:19 tells us to be quick to hear, slow to listen and slow to anger. Being alert in this situation means not taking the bait and biting back. It means stopping to look to God and seeking His right way to respond or even put aside. The battle might even be more extreme leading to us or someone close to us climbing into a dark hole or depression. We need to be alert to these things and bring them to God so that the path can be cut short and a new and stable stance be taken. Being alert is how we do this.

The way we do this alertly is with “perseverance and petition….” This is the second time that petition is mentioned, but it is also the second time, in a sense, that perseverance is mentioned. We read that we are to do this at all times. Praying at all times is persevering in prayer. It is not throwing something at God and them ignoring, it is being constantly aware of the situation and being constantly attuned to bringing it to the hands of God. The devil is persistent, and we are told to persevere and to persevere with specific requests (petitions) of God. As these things are on our minds, our continually being in prayer at all times for all things is bringing these continual things continually to God trusting Him to hear and respond. It is not begging or pestering, but it is the continual recognition of our need and the needs of others and His ability to meet those needs. Persevering and petitioning keeps us mindful that God is God and it is in Him that we are to trust and to stand.

Then we read that we are to do this for “all the saints.” Every single believer is united with one another in Christ. We are made one in Him and we all have the same enemy. We are not in this battle alone, and Paul reminds us that we are to be in prayer for all of those around us so that we might mutually support one another in Christ as we look to God to hear and meet their needs as well as ours. Not only do we have opportunities to speak truth and encouragement to others, but we have been given the incredible privilege and responsibility to bring one another before the God who draws us to Him and who holds us securely in His hands.

Praying for others takes our focus off of the hurt they may have caused us, and turns our hearts toward God tenderly caring for them remembering that He is the one that makes us righteous with the righteousness of His own Son. Just think about how relationships might be changed if rather than harboring hurts we turn to our God and pray His blessings and help instead. Praying for others also brings us on board with them as they are engaged in the work given to them by God. We may not be able to go on the mission field or to walk in the shoes of other believers, but we surely can join with them in prayer as we come before our God who works all things in all His people.

In the next couple of verses Paul gives his readers specifics concerning how they might prayer as he turns his attention to himself and how they might pray for him. “…and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Encouraging them to get specific in their prayers and petitions, Paul gave them specifics asking that they pray that he might not only have opportunities to speak, but that he might also have boldness in those opportunities to speak the truth with which we have all been entrusted, and that he might do so in just the right way.

“Prayer is definitely the final piece of the Christian's strategy in living a successful life amidst the spiritual attacks one faces in this world. Its importance should not be overlooked. This is the way to put on the full armor of God, for God is the one who teaches us the ways of war and fights the battle through our hands and feet. It is in communion with Christ that the armor is set and reset for battle. We must allow him to cinch up the belt of truth tightly and to lower over us His breastplate of righteousness and tie on His sandals of his peace with God and the peace of God, if we want to be victorious. Thus armed, through prayer and dependence upon the Lord, and the confidence we have through being in Christ, we can take our stand for Jesus Christ. The choice is ours.” [Spiritual Warfare, Calvary Crossroads Church]