Paul Prayed for Us

Paul in Prayer

Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.

          If you want an education on prayer, google the words “prayer rules.”  It will take your computer a little over six-tenths of a second to populate a list of 125 billion hits.

That’s how I found Christian comedian John B. Crist’s video on the subject of table grace.  He provided a refreshingly honest and funny take on praying for your food.  The video has over a million views, so the guy may be on to something.  I’ll spare you the whole three minute video and give you just the highlights.

Do you pray to receive chips and salsa or any other appetizer?  Not if you’ve ordered an entrée – pray over that when it comes.

His rule on salads – “If it comes with dressing, it doesn’t need blessing.”

You should pray for soup only if it is served in a bowl; “If it comes in a cup, no need to lift up,” is what Crist advises.

The policy on French fries is that you can eat up to three of them before praying.  Before reaching for that fourth fry, you’d better be holding your hands in prayer first.

Crist’s views are harmless silliness, but historically there have been some serious differences of opinion on the subject of prayer.  That google page I mentioned has websites from the major world religions on the subject of prayer.

The best rule for prayer is to follow the Bible.  The second best rule is to model your prayers after prayers recorded in the Bible, the obvious example being the Lord’s Prayer.  Today we’re going to take a look at Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus.  There’s a lot we can learn from Paul’s example.

CONTEXT (vs. 14+15) = FOR THIS REASON refers back to 2:11-22 and to what we learned last week: the MYSTERY OF CHRIST had been revealed.  God had made the Gentiles part of His family.

There are a couple different outcomes listed here in v. 14; one is that we are all one FAMILY.  The former distinction between Jew and Gentile is meaningless as we Gentiles have been adopted into God’s FAMILY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH.  In fact, we share a family NAME; a mutual identity in Christ.

The second outcome is where we want to devote our attention this morning.  The powerful revelation that we are one FAMILY motivated Paul to pray.  He knelt before God the Father to express a prayer for all who believe (vs. 16-19) and pronounce a blessing as well (vs. 20-21).  The content of this second prayer is similar to that of the first prayer (1:15-23); knowing God better.

My hope is learning how Paul prayed for us will give us fuller knowledge of what God has done for us and motivate us to deeper fellowship with one another and with Christ.  Let not Paul have prayed in vain.

As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.

  1. Paul’s prayers for us. (16-19)

Paul prayed for us to be strengthened by the supply (OUT OF) that is God’s GLORIOUS RICHES.  That might be a bit misleading; it is not God’s RICHES that are GLORIOUS, it is God Himself.  He is full or “rich” in glory.  GLORY is some earthly manifestation of the presence of God.  Whether it is light, or a miracle, or an overwhelming feeling of awe, God causes us to know His presence with our five senses.

He prayed we would be strengthened WITH God’s POWER.  In the Bible, the strength God gives us is most noticeable when we face opposition.  When we need it most, we feel God’s POWER more clearly. If this is NOT your experience, there is something wrong at the core of your faith, because all followers of Jesus are invited to receive God’s POWER.  Our resolve to remain faithful and to do right do not to come from our own will and strength but are God’s gifts to us.

God imparts strength IN our INNER BEING.  By way of contrast, Samson prayed for strength and received miraculous physical strength in the face of his enemies (Judges 16:28-29).  Because it is directed toward our INNER BEING, we know this empowering is NOT for physical but spiritual strength.

INNER BEING (16) and HEARTS (17) are two terms that refer to the same thing: our emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual life.  In Romans 7:22 and 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul wrote about his INNER BEING as being the means by which he received daily renewal by God.

The means of this strengthening is receiving the indwelling presence of Christ (17).  Paul prayed Jesus would dwell in our HEARTS.

As Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, our point of connection with Him is obviously not physical.  We are connected spiritually.  Everything we just said about a person’s INNER BEING applies to this statement about the HEART.  In 1:18 Paul prayed that their EYES of their hearts would, through the Holy Spirit, know Jesus better.  In 4:18-19 he wrote about hard-heartedness that makes people spiritually insensitive and leads to all kinds of sin.

The indwelling of Christ is possible THROUGH FAITH.  Faith is trust that the words of God are true and His promises reliable.  This trust allows everyone who will, to open their INNER BEING up to God, receiving Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.

The effects of the indwelling of Christ are three-fold.

Firstly, BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17).  This is a mixed metaphor, but both metaphors describe the same thing.  From agriculture we know that plants that are deeply ROOTED can withstand the wind and draw nutrients from the soil to ensure survival.  From architecture we know that buildings established on a good foundation are ready to withstand  all the trials of nature.

Secondly, to HAVE POWER, as a church, to GRASP the dimensions of t LOVE OF CHRIST (18-19).  Paul used the word GRASP to in the same way we use it to describe a firm understanding of something. Physically, to really GRASP something requires strength in one’s hands.  A weak grip allows things to slip thru one’s fingers.  Metaphorically, a weak GRASP of something implies the person doesn’t fully understand and/or truly appreciate the knowledge under discussion.

People with a GRASP of this passage will notice that Paul offers four dimensions to measure the love of Christ, when three dimensions are all that are normally required to measure objects.  He will say in the next verse that the love of Christ SURPASSES ALL KNOWLEDGE.  That fits with a four-dimensional measuring.

Remember we said the Ephesians were very involved in the occult before becoming Christians.  Two magic-using texts that survive from Paul’s era use exactly this set of four dimensions as means of “measuring” a god’s power.  We see Paul constantly using local words and things to make connections to the Gospel that local peoples would understand.

It also fits with what he wrote in 3:10; the MANIFOLD (“multifaceted”) WISDOM OF GOD.  Paul used a paradox to get us to GRASP the LOVE OF CHRIST.  To paraphrase, “You will never know the full extent of Christ’s love, but you are to spend your lives trying to know it.”  We have a limited capability and a limited lifespan but we aren’t to let that stop us from knowing in our heads and hearts the unlimited LOVE OF CHRIST.

Thirdly, to be FILLED with the FULLNESS OF GOD (19).  This prayer request is also a paradox.  Logically, we who are limited cannot be FILLED to the FULLNESS OF GOD who is UNlimited.  Paul knew this, as he wrote to the Corinthians; FOR WE KNOW IN PART AND WE PROPHESY IN PART (1 Corinthians 13:9).  His prayer, then, is that we would know all we can know of God and that our capacity to know Him would increase.  Our access to the FULLNESS OF GOD is in Jesus Christ.  In Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 Paul taught ALL THE FULLNESS of God dwells in Jesus Christ.  As Christ dwells in our hearts (17), we indirectly but entirely have God’s fullness.  This simply means that more and more of our conscious thought centers on God.

– When we ask “Why?” we ask in recognition that God is in charge.

– When we make a decision, we ask God to reveal His will to us.

  1. Paul’s blessing on us. (20-21)

God’s ability to bless us defies our capacity to define or appreciate it (20).  Just as he said earlier (18) in the four dimensions of God’s love, Paul states it again here with another paradox: “We must understand God wants to bless us more than we can possibly understand.”  Our limited language, brain power, and narrow experience can’t begin to IMAGINE, let alone know, all that God wants to do for us.  Each of the times Paul sets our limits alongside God’s limitlessness he is hoping to motivate us to humility. We have no business trying to force God into our theological systems or petty legalisms.  Instead, we should be awestruck by His power & open our mouths only to praise Him.

This fact does not diminish the need for prayer.  It makes prayer more valuable because it is only by prayer that God’s unimaginable will to bless becomes part of our understanding and experience.

God blesses us by means of HIS POWER THAT IS AT WORK WITHIN US (20).  Clearly, God does not limit His action to the scope of our prayers.  He exerts His will over all creation and does not wait for us to give Him permission.  But He has chosen to WORK WITHIN US.  He has offered to make us partners in this task of bringing His offer of salvation to the entire world.

We do God a disservice when we reduce the life of faith to the “Killer B’s;” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws.  When we mistake the tools for the trade we are guilty of trying to place limits on our limitless God.

God is worthy of our worship (21).  GLORY is the key word.  Paul located the glory of God in two sources.

First, IN THE CHURCH.  When the Bible speaks about giving glory to God, it means to make God known in the world.  We give the spiritual nature of God a human face when we act like His disciples.  It’s a big job, but we serve a limitless God, so get to it!

Second, IN CHRIST JESUS.  This is the third time Paul made this point.  As we observed in v. 19, in Jesus we find the fullness of all the members of the Trinity.  The unlimited entirety of God finds us to the degree that Jesus dwells in our hearts (17).

Glorifying God inserts eternity into our everyday lives.  Paul expressed this truth in two phrases.

First, THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS.  We see just a few generations before us now, but we stand in a line that stretches through all of human history.

Second, FOR EVER AND EVER affirms our decisions and deeds outlive our days.  What we do for God survives into eternity.  It becomes proof of our claim to be a member of God’s family and determines our reward in heaven.

As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.

          We can see three essential things for which we can ask God, regarding both our church and ourselves.  There are three prayers that need to be a daily part of our prayer life.

“Father, strengthen us with Your power.” Far beyond the empty promises of the world, far beyond the unheeding false gods people promote, far beyond our understanding or imagination, God offers us His unlimited supply of strength, knowledge, and life.  Christianity is NOT just another self-help movement or form of groupthink.  It is a window God opened so we can see a portion of who He is.

“Father, renew us with a vision of Your love.”  Suffering tries to convince us that God is either weak or unloving or both.  It can be convincing and can drain the vitality from our spirit.  When that happens we often retreat into formalism or legalism or any of hundreds of ways that we show we don’t really care.  God really cares and His people do too.  We need to work at showing God’s caring.

“Father, rule over us.”  We show God’s love by the sacrifices we make to accommodate one another.  We show our love for God by obeying Him.  In both cases, selfishness needs to disappear.  All of us together – NOT THE BUILDING – are where God dwells.  We are to be lead by God.  Following any other lead makes it painfully obvious how little we have learned of grown or matured.  People need to be inspired, not made comfortable.  Inspiration comes along with responding to God’s leadership.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Pursuant to Peace

peas

Please read Psalm 34.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          In days gone by, a young boy was driving a hayrack down the road when the wagon fell over.  It tipped backwards right in front of a farmer’s house. The farmer came out, saw the young boy crying and said, ”Son, don’t worry about this, we can fix it. Right now dinner’s ready: Why don’t you come in and eat and then I’ll help you put the hay back on the rack.”
The boy said, ”No, I can’t. My father is going to be angry with me.”

Trying to soothe the boy, the farmer said, ”Now don’t worry, just come in and have some lunch and you’ll feel better.”

The boy said, ”I’m just afraid my father is going to be very angry with me.”
The farmer finally convinced the boy and they went inside to eat lunch. Afterwards, as they walked outside to the hayrack, the farmer said, ”Now, son, don’t you feel better after that great meal?”
The boy said, ”Yes but I just know that my father will be very angry with me.”

The farmer said, ”Nonsense. Where is your father anyway?” The boy said, ”He’s under all that hay.”
CONTEXT = According to the heading, this was NOT a peaceful time in David’s life.  It refers to a time when he was being pursued by King Saul, who really was crazy and wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21, David pretended to be crazy so he would get kicked out of a city rather than be put in custody and fall into Saul’s hands.  The fact that David could write a song about peace during a time like that says a lot about the depth of his spiritual life.

COMMENT = Four points to be made in looking at the psalm from the peace-making perspective.

  1. Pursue peace by continuous praise. (1-3)

“Continuous Praise” is indicated in verse one.  The words ALL TIMES and ALWAYS clearly indicate worship is not limited to Sunday mornings but is meant to be a feature of daily life.  This virtue is challenging to practice; indeed, it would be impossible to do without the Holy Spirit.  Consider this: doesn’t a life of praise make sense if we are truly grateful for what God has done for us?  Wouldn’t praise come to mind more often if our focus is truly on God?

“Continuous Praise” is also indicated in the verbs in verses one to three.  There’s little difference between these words; they are synonyms.  And yet, they are all here in God’s inspired word, presumably to give us a full-featured definition of continuous praise.

EXTOL = “bless, praise, give thanks.”

PRAISE = “glorify; tell of God’s excellence; an act of worship.”

BOAST = “cheer; display positives.”

REJOICE = “be glad, delighted, happy.”

GLORIFY = “make great; honor; lift up.”

EXALT = “express pride; raise up.”

  1. Pursue peace by praying for divine deliverance. (3-7, 17, 19-22)

God answers all prayers. Note the personal pronouns in vs. 4-7; David speaks here from personal experience.  May all of us have this quality of personal experience of God.  I SOUGHT THE LORD: Jesus commended seekers in Matthew 7:7-8, promising a successful outcome to their search for God.  Deniers and evil-doers have no hope.  HE ANSWERED ME: there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer;” God always answers, even if it is “Hold please.”  THOSE WHO LOOK TO HIM: people who look to the LORD expectantly have sound reason to hope and be satisfied.  THIS POOR MAN CALLED AND THE LORD HEARD HIM: David thought of himself as a POOR MAN and even so, the LORD HEARD his prayer.  THE RIGHTEOUS CRY OUT, AND THE LORD HEARS THEM (17) = RIGHTEOUS folks have good reason to hope the LORD hears and heeds their prayers because they are His children.

God delivers those who seek Him.  The psalm is rife with promises of deliverance.  HE DELIVERED ME FROM ALL MY FEARS (3): Worry is one of the two big opponents of peace.  Anxiety is surrendering our God-given peace without a fight.  They are RADIANT (5): what a great picture of joy!  Those who know the Lord have reason to have a certain “glow” about them.  They are unashamed (5): whether it’s true of false, guilt is also a roadblock to peace.  The righteous are SAVED from all their troubles (6+17+19): if we stop and think about it, we can all testify to God’s deliverance from something.  They are protected by God’s angels (7): Angels operate inconspicuously, so we are most often unaware of their assistance.  But many believers can recount a time when the received some kind of miraculous assistance.  None of their bones will be broken (20): in John 19:36, this promise is seen a prophecy fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion.  In general, it is a metaphor of God’s care for His people.  THE LORD REDEEMS HIS SERVANTS (22): to REDEEM someone was to buy them out of slavery.  This image was taken up by Paul in the New Testament as a way of explaining how Jesus saved us.  NO ONE…WHO TAKES REFUGE IN HIM…WILL BE CONDEMNED (22): looking ahead to Judgment Day and in agreement with Paul in RMS 8:1, those who trust in God will escape His wrath.

WICKED people are slain by the EVIL they practice (21).  Life in this world and the next can be understood as choices and consequences.  Justice will be done.

  1. Pursue peace by trusting God’s provision. (8-10)

God provides more than refuge for those who take refuge in Him (8+22).  The word REFUGE implies a place apart from the pressures and problems of life; a spiritual retreat from the world to rest in God and commit ourselves to Him.

God’s goodness can be tasted and His provision proven (8).  To “taste” something means to have a real and personal experience of God.  Merely agreeing with a set of Bible teachings is not the sum total of faith.  God must be known in one’s head and heart.

The LORD’S saints LACK NOTHING (9).  Hearing that, we might be tempted to list all the things we feel we’re lacking right at the moment – that’s human nature.  Truth be told, God provides all we need all our lives.

Even LIONS can get famished, but people who seek the LORD will LACK NO GOOD THING (10).  The LIONS here in verse ten are a metaphor for rich or strong people; those who have much in worldly terms but are poor in the things of God.

  1. Pursue peace by righteous living. (11-20)

Aspects of righteous living in these verses include fear of the Lord, virtuous speech, seeking peace, and having full-featured godliness (avoids evil and does good).  FEAR THE LORD (9+11): In Proverbs, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  FEAR refers to awe and reverence, but it also includes the kind of wary respect that the all-powerful Creator of the universe deserves.  KEEP YOUR TONGUE FROM EVIL AND YOUR LIPS FROM SPEAKING LIES (13): of all kinds of sin, sins of the tongue are the most pervasive and the most overlooked.  They are the quickest way to ruin peaceful relationships.  TURN FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD (14) are the two sides of righteousness.  Some folks pride themselves on the obvious evil they don’t do and mistakenly believe they have exercised their duty to God.  However, the truth is, that’s only half of being a godly person.  When we fail to do good, that’s sin.

SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT (14).  This is our keynote verse on this Peace Sunday.  Peace is something God gives to those who promote it; who are peacemakers, not peace-breakers or peace-fakers. To PURSUE something indicates a deep commitment, a motive to work at it and perseverance to stick with it.

Psalm 34 promises six rewards for righteous living.  Long life (12) may not mean living to old age, for the unrighteous do that.  It more likely refers to a quality of life, a blessing of one’s days.  The LORD is sensitive to the righteous (15+17): God’s EYES and EARS are sensitive to the plight of His people.  Their suffering is not lost on Him.  The LORD is against the unrighteous (16). According to Matthew 7:23, God will turn away from all evil people, saying, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.  AWAY FROM ME, YOU EVILDOERS.”  According to verse eighteen, the LORD saves hurting people.  The words BROKENHEARTED and CRUSHED IN SPIRIT describe people who look honestly on their flaws and troubles.  They are not defeated by them, but neither are they able to find victory in their own strength.  Instead, as this psalm repeatedly says, they trust in the Lord for the strength to overcome trials and temptations.  Deliverance from all troubles (4, 17+19): the word deliverance is used a lot in this psalm.  In His grace, God lifts us out of our discouragements, giving us victory.  Physical protection (20) is a metaphor of surviving this world, being delivered whole into God’s eternal presence.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          Norman Vincent Peale said, ”The word ‘worry’ is derived from an Old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. How well-named the emotion – it has been demonstrated again and again in persons who have lost their effectiveness due to the stifling effect of anxiety and apprehension.
A story is told about a man who came face to face with the dangers of worry: Death was walking toward his city one morning and the man asked, ”What are you going to do?”
”I’m going to take 100 people,” Death replied.

”That’s horrible!” the man said.
”That’s the way it is,” Death said. ”That’s what I do.”
The man hurried to warn everyone he could about Death’s plan. As evening fell, he met Death again in the same spot outside the city limits.
”You told me you were going to take 100 people,” the man said. ”Why did 1,000 die?”
”I kept my word,” Death responded. ”I only took 100 people. Worry took the others.”

Our peace can be threatened and broken by others; we have no control over them.  What we can directly manage is our own inner state.  Peace is something we receive by faith because we are God’s children.  There are some things we can do to preserve and promote peace within ourselves, then encourage it in others.

  • Most importantly, forsake worry. Trust in God instead.  Anxieties occur when we don’t trust God to keep all the promises in His word.
  • Second, forsake anger. An over-emphasis on self promotes anger, so spend your days in continuous praise and your temper will improve.
  • Third, guard your tongue. Your own peace is disrupted and the peace of others threatened when your tongue is too loose in your head and you say ungodly things.
  • Fourth, pursue peace. Your devotion to peace will be measured by the things you give up to possess it.  A God-centered heart will pursue peace instead of railing about one’s rights.
  • Fifth, seek justice. Treat others right and expect right treatment from them.  Work to see justice practiced in your home and in our community.  Let love guide you.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Willem A. VanGemeren

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/22695/finding-peace-in-anxious-times/

 

Prayer that Wakes the Dead

Pray-First-1

Real prayer changes things.

          A visiting farmer stopped at a city restaurant to eat lunch. When he was served his food he bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord. Some teenagers sitting at a nearby table noticed the farmer’s prayer and shouted, “Hey, pops, back where you come from does everybody pray before they eat?”

Their laughter was silenced when the unmoved farmer answered, “No, the hogs don’t.”

Prayer is appropriate before mealtime and any time we can turn to God.  Because we can see their effects sooner, we mistakenly think our own efforts are more important than prayer.  That’s exactly backwards.  We’ll learn this morning that prayer is partner with action.  We don’t pray and then wait around for something to magically fall from the sky: we pray and then proceed in the direction God points out to us.  Prayer precedes action; it does not replace it.

CONTEXT: You’d assume a book named “Kings” would be about kings, but this chapter is part of a section that centers on the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha.

SHUNEM was one of the cities given to the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18). An early church leader named Eusebius said Shunem was five miles south of Mount Tabor, which was in the northern part of Israel, near Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The name meant double resting-place, which is very appropriate to this account, as it was a place where Elisha received great hospitality from a woman of the village.

  1. The gifting of a child. (vs. 8-17)

The prophet was warmly welcomed in a prominent local woman’s home (8-10).  In that culture, hospitality was needed and expected, but this gal went the extra mile.  This is apparent in a couple ways.

First, she sought out Elisha and URGED HIM TO STAY FOR A MEAL.  This became a regular thing when the prophet was in the area.

Second, while a room on the roof may sound uncomfortable to us, it was one of the choice places at night when the heat of the day raised the interior temperature of the home.  The Shunnamite made sure the room was fully equipped.

In gratitude for her hospitality, Elisha offer to pull some strings to get her some unspecified favors.  This offer was met with polite refusal.  She showed independence in a deferential way proper to a woman in her culture.  In modern terms, she said, “No thank you, we country folk take care of our own.”

The prophet asked his servant, Gehazi, for advice.  He replied that the woman had not borne a son and as her husband was an old man, it was unlikely she ever would.  Since she is not called “barren” or “childless” we can assume she had only birthed daughters.  This culture valued sons as the inheritors of the father’s estate and a sign of God’s blessing.

From her reaction to Elisha’s pronouncement (16), we can infer she was disappointed about this.  Sometimes we can become so thoroughly disappointed we’re reluctant to allow ourselves even to have hope.  However, just as Elisha had predicted, she gave birth to a son about a year later.  Hope was realized.  A son was given.

  1. The re-gifting of the child. (vs. 18-37)

Something very tragic struck the child and he died (18-21).  Several years passed; enough time for the boy to become old enough to go be with his father and his workers at harvest time.  Suddenly he cried out with head pain and he was carried to his mother.  Imagine the tragic scene where the boy died, sitting on the lap of his mother.

The Shunammite woman sought out Elisha to either protest his death or see if the prophet might somehow save him (22-28).  This lady went into determined action immediately.  She laid her dead son out on the prophet’s bed and immediately left to find him. Elisha was at Mt. Carmel about 20 miles away.

When her husband asked why she was going to find Elisha, she did not even tell him their son was dead. His reference to a NEW MOON OR THE SABBATH were the usual times you’d want a prophet around, conducting a worship service.

Curiously, her reply was only, “It’s all right” (23), an English phrase translating the Hebrew word shalom.  As this is what she also said to Gehazi (26), it makes me think she think she wanted only to talk to the prophet.

The Shunammite woman’s emotions become plain when she finally sees the prophet.  Elisha can see for himself she was in BITTER DISTRESS, even though God gave him no insight into the reason for it.  She TOOK HOLD OF HIS FEET (27), a sign of surrender to his authority.  Her taking hold of the prophet’s feet reminds me of how the women took hold of Jesus’ feet at his Resurrection (MTW 28:9).  These were two extremely emotional situations as well.

Her BITTER DISTRESS was evident when she cried, “DID I ASK YOU FOR A SON, MY LORD?  DIDN’T I TELL YOU, ‘DON’T RAISE MY HOPES?’”  In effect, she is protesting the turn of events; “Why give me a son only to take him away?”

At first, Elisha tried to affect a resurrection by “remote control” but it didn’t work (29-31). This is a curiosity to me.  I don’t know why he sent the staff with his servant, instructing him to lay it on top of the boy, but there are three possible explanations.

First, in the Bible, inanimate objects are sometimes imbued with divine power, like Moses’ staff.  Elisha may have expected something similar to happen here.  In Acts 19:11-12 we read that cloths that Paul had touched cured illnesses and exorcised demons.

Second, it would keep them from burying the boy before they could get there: no one would dare to touch the prophet’s staff or move it off the body.  No one would dare touch the prophet’s staff.

Third, Gehazi was a kind of trainee or apprentice in the school of prophets, so this may have been on-the-job training.  This also explains why Elisha constantly spoke with the Shunammite through Gehazi.

However we understand Elisha’s reasoning, the boy’s mother was not having it.  She was entirely focused on Elisha as the cure.  She vowed she would not leave his side (30).  The text is not clear whether she was blaming him or had faith in him.  Whatever her motive, the woman and Elisha left for Shunem together.

Gehazi traveled to Shunem as quickly as he could, but Elisha and the woman went at a pace more reasonable to an older man.  The servant got there much sooner, attempted the instructed cure, and still had enough time to meet Elisha and the boy’s mother on the road to Shunem.  He reported the attempted cure failed: he got no response from the boy (31).  As “sleep” was a polite euphemism for death, he said, “THE BOY HAS NOT AWAKENED.”

When he went there to pray in person, God gave a miracle (32-37).  All three of them went to the rooftop room, but Elisha shut Gehazi and the mother out of the room.

Verse 33 is key to the passage.  Elisha PRAYED TO THE LORD.  All that follows is a product of prayer.  However, the prophet did not only pray, he did something.   Though some would look at Elisha’s actions to see if there is some medical explanation, some scientific reason why his laying atop the boy’s body would help him, they are missing the point.  These are symbolic actions.  Like circling around the city of Jericho, the action cannot be a cause of what happens.  The outcome is entirely up to God.

This account is very similar to Elijah restoring the son of a widow who lived in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24).  On that occasion, the prophet also laid atop the boy’s body.  Elisha may’ve been familiar with that account and attempted something similar.

I believe that occasionally God tests our obedience by requiring us to do things that don’t make sense in our earthly wisdom.  Elisha’s actions seem weird to us.  The strange action had to be repeated before the boy’s life was restored. Elijah had to do it THREE TIMES to restore the widow of Zarephath’s son!

The boy “awoke” with a sneezing fit (seven, the number of completeness) and opened his eyes.  You’d sneeze too if you awoke to find a bearded old prophet lying on top of you!

After expressing her gratitude, we read an understated account of the  touching reunion of mother and son in vs. 36-37, a great end to the story.  I probably should repeat this sermon on Mother’s Day!

Real prayer changes things.

This account perfectly illustrates the principle of prayer we want to take home with us.  When first confronted with the problem, the prophet Elisha didn’t want to have to do anything himself.  He attempted to have God do a miracle without any effort on his part.  We saw that didn’t work at all.

The prophet was face to face with a determined woman and that wasn’t going to be good enough for her.  She vowed she would not leave his side until he got off his fanny and went to her son.  After sending his servant with his staff in hand on a fast horse, the prophet himself reluctantly rode with the mother back to Shunem.

It was when he arrived that Elisha got involved.  The text tells us the first thing he did was pray to the LORD!  Then he went into action.  It was not his actions that restored the boy’s life; it was his attention to prayer and obedience to what God showed him.

What we learn about prayer here is encouraging: pray first then act.  Don’t wait until after you act and then have to plead with God to “bless your mess!”  Make prayer your priority and then see what God will do through you!

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, R.D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel

The Daily Study Bible, A. Graeme Auld

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce (Ed.)

Doing Our Jobs

church-work-day-clipart

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          Today is Church Vocations Sunday and Installation Sunday; we are celebrating and supporting those who give leadership to our church.  It’s wonderful to see the leaders of the church cooperating with one another to show a congregation the way Jesus wants them to go.

For example, I’m reminded of a church where the trustees took out the old paper towel dispensers and replaced them with modern hot-air hand dryers.  For their part, the deacons added signs above each dryer which read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

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CONTEXT: Our passage this morning is the second of two threats to the unity of the First Church.  The first, in ch. 5, was hypocrisy.  Ananias and Sapphira pretended to sell their home and give all the proceeds to the church.  In a demonstration of how much God hates hypocrisy, this lie cost both the husband and wife their lives.  As we will see, the second problem was complaining.

We will also note the selection of deacons set up the next two sections of Acts as the spotlight falls on two of the newly-elected deacons, Stephen and Philip (chs. 6-8).

  1. The problem. (vs. 1-2)

Part of the problem was the rapid growth of the Church = THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES WAS INCREASING.  References to church growth bracket this narrative.  A great problem to have, right?  The Church added people faster than they added the leadership to take care of them.

How fast?  Note 3,000 converts were mentioned in 2:41 and the 5,000 members in 4:4, we know for certain that the Church numbered in the thousands in a city of 100,000 residents.  That’s a lot for twelve guys to administrate!

The other part of the problem was complaining = THE GRECIAN JEWS COMPLAINED AGAINST THE HEBRAIC JEWS.  At this point the Church existed only in Jerusalem and was made up only of Jews.  It was considered to be a sect of Judaism.

At that time, there were two kinds of Jews.  Luke referred to one group as GRECIAN JEWS; they were people who converted to Judaism or were born Jews, but came from other parts of the world.  HEBRAIC JEWS, on the other hand, were people who were born in the region.  The primary difference was the fact they spoke different languages.

The out-of-town Jews believed that their widows were not getting their fair share of the daily soup kitchen.  This is not a small thing: Ministry to widows, orphans, aliens, and other down-and-out types was a big focus of the early church.  It was where a lot of their money was spent.  It is no coincidence that the first complaint in church life involved widows – the Old Testament commanded care for widows (i.e., Deuteronomy 10:18).  Jesus taught neglecting the care of widows was evidence of disobeying God (Luke 7:12-14).

The result was that the Apostles’ time was being spent waiting on tables when they should have been ministering the WORD.  The same Greek word translated here as DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD appears in 1:17+25 as the MINISTRY the Apostles received from Jesus.  This linguistic connection makes two things clear.  One, the TWELVE did the work of waiting on tables.  Two, waiting tables and proclaiming the Word were both considered ministry.  Both were important work.

Why were the Twelve doing all this themselves?  Sometimes it’s easier for leaders to do things themselves than it is to recruit people to do them.

What’s more important in this case, is that the Twelve demonstrated wisdom by recognizing taking care of this problem themselves was not a good idea.  When it came down to a choice between waiting tables or ministering the WORD, they knew which was part of their calling and which was not.

Again, both these were ministries were important to the church.  But the Twelve realized they were called to minister the word, not administrate a social program.  It was not RIGHT for them to WAIT ON TABLES because that would have required them neglecting their true ministry.  Somebody needed to do it, but it needed to be somebody else.  Here is an example of a situation where spirituality and practicality both need to be heard.

  1. The proposal. (vs. 2-6)

They proposed the congregation choose seven godly men to WAIT TABLES.  The Twelve created the proposal but they left it up to the members to decide who would administrate this program.

They proposed a group of SEVEN men because seven is seen as a symbol of completeness; that’s all that was needed.  Social scientists tell us seven is just about the ideal number for any working group.

The Twelve set forth the qualification the Seven were to be KNOWN to possess: FULL OF THE SPIRIT AND WISDOM.  True wisdom comes from God through the Holy Spirit.

The DISCIPLES (the members, the congregation) chose seven men from among their own number.  The fact that they all have Greek names does not prove that all Seven were GRECIAN JEWS, but if they were, that was an extraordinary accommodation by the HEBRAIC JEWS to the GRECIAN JEWS.

Luke describes only two of the Seven in any detail.  His mention of Stephen as A MAN FULL OF FAITH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT set up the account of Stephen, the first martyr, starting in verse eight.  The other mention is Nicolas, a CONVERT TO JUDAISM.  This proves that not all of the church members were born Jews.

Delegating authority was not a new idea: in Exodus 18:13-26; Numbers 11:1-25, and Deuteronomy 1:9-18, we read about 70 Israelite men who were selected to assist Moses in settling disputes among the people and to train them in faithfulness to God.

The phrase WAIT ON TABLES is the Greek word diakonein, from which we derive our word “deacon.”     Though Luke does not refer to the Seven as “deacons” in this passage, he will by chapter 21.  It’s ironic how the church has turned this word upside down.  The original deacons were table waiters; workers in a soup kitchen that delivered daily meals to the needy.  Their jobs were practical.  In the modern American church, deacons are responsible for spiritual ministry while the practical work is given to “trustees.”  Biblically, it ought to be the other way around.

If the proposal were accepted, the Apostles would have more time to pay ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.  PRAYER is a separate ministry.  It includes public worship and private visitation.  MINISTRY OF THE WORD includes preaching and teaching; discipleship that occurs in public and private situations.

As we stated earlier, this division of labor does not imply any kind of elitism.  The Twelve and the Seven had two different kind of work but BOTH were considered ministry.  The fact that the Seven were commissioned for ministry by the laying on of hands (v. 6) is further evidence of this variety of callings without a hierarchy of callings.

  1. The product. (vs. 5+7)

For possibly the last time in recorded history, all the church folk were happy at the same time.  The Greek word for PLEASED denotes a kind of satisfaction with the actions of another.  Our objective is to aim to please God, not any individual or group in the church.  So if everyone’s happy, that’s gravy, not our goal.

Luke listed two signs of God’s approval of the way the problem had been resolved.  He wrote, THE WORD OF GOD SPREAD.  On a practical level, the Twelve had their time freed up by turning the food ministry over to the Seven.  On a spiritual level, God registered His approval by giving them more opportunities to speak the word to those outside the church.

He also wrote THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES INCREASED.  This is the other bracket that frames this passage; the Church was growing in number before the complaint and it continued to grow after they faithfully resolved the complaint.

The text supplies two qualifiers of the growth the First Church experienced.  The word RAPIDLY implies the Church’s growth gained speed.  A LARGE NUMBER OF PRIESTS were added to the membership.  These were men who had a vested interest in the status quo and were trained in the Scriptures.  And they overcame all that to choose to follow Jesus!

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          That’s not important.  What is important is the example set for us by the early church. Every believer is given their individual set of spiritual Gifts and other resources they can contribute to the life of their local church.  When all the believers make their contributions, the church prospers.  We need a variety of contributions and a depth of contributors in order to be faithful to God and the mission He has given us.  Church is not a spectator sport.  Everyone’s contributions differ slightly, but everyone contributes.  With love, we assemble these offerings of various resources and expend them in ministry to our people and the people outside our walls.

Here’s their example for us to follow:

– When a problem is announced, the leaders are responsible to see if it is a problem and take reasonable steps to resolve it.

– The leadership formulates a proposal and presents it to the membership, requiring them to share responsibility for a solution.

– Working together, the leaders and followers enact the solution with prayer and good sense empowering a godly way forward.

– When we are faithful, God makes us fruitful.  It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1291

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel

Searching for the Perfect Gift

Gift

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Please read Matthew 7:7-12 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Last Christmas a little boy did not get what he wanted.  He decided to negotiate with Santa and wrote the following:

“Deer Santa, I am riting this on the day after X-mas and I am very sad.  I only received 1 of the 2 presents I asked for.  Sense you ate my cookies I will asoom that my missing gift was a miss take.  I will give you 1 week too fix this.  Jeremy.” (Spelling errors are his.)

His parents saw this as an opportunity to teach their son a lesson and composed a very professional-looking “reply” from Santa: “Dear Jeremy, I’m sorry you are disappointed with your presents.  You asked for two very expensive presents and Santa can only do so much.  You need to learn to be grateful for what you have, not upset about what you don’t.  If you continue to complain I will have no choice but to add you to the naughty list next year.  Santa.”

Jeremy fired back with another note to Santa: “Deer Fatty, your threats don’t scare me.  I played your game and you did not deliver.  This is not O.K.  I will give you 1 week and then you will pay.  Jeremy.  P.S. I don’t know why you care that it is expensive when you have elf slaves to make things for you.  I think you are naughty for having slaves.”

What would you do next?  Jeremy’s parents decided another reply from Santa was needed: “Dear Jeremy, You are being a very bad little boy.  Because you cannot be happy with what you have, I have talked to your parents and told them to take away your Wii U.  Now you have nothing.  Once you learn to be grateful, perhaps you can have it back.  I am very disappointed in you, Jeremy.  You will need to be an extra good boy this year if you want to make it back on the nice list.  Santa.”

Jeremy is one unforgiving kid.  He wrote a third letter; “Deer Santa, I do not like that stunt you pulled with my parents.  You are on my naughty list.  Be afraid.  You look slow and easy to kill.  Enjoy your cookys next year because the will be poison.  I hope you die.  Jeremy.”  (Emphasis his.)

(You can see these notes for yourself at https://thoughtcatalog.com/callie-byrnes/2017/12/this-boy-didnt-get-everything-he-wanted-for-christmas-so-he-decided-to-get-back-at-santa-with-these-hilarious-letters/.)

I wonder what Jeremy’s Christmas will be like this year?!!  This is a sad and ridiculous example of how disappointment can overtake a person’s better judgment, resulting in toxic words and deeds.

Sadly, sometimes people have this kind of feeling toward God when His answers to their prayers don’t match up.  I know a very intelligent man who remains an unbeliever because his childhood prayers were not answered as he wanted.

Today, we hope to encourage you to pray by proving, with Jesus’ own words, that prayers to God are always heard, always answered, and always make a difference, even if the difference is limited to our own attitude.

  1. Be encouraged: God hears & answers seekers (7-8)

Three verbs appear twice: ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  There is an ascending level of commitment/ involvement.  Each requires more of you.  The verbs are repeated for emphasis and to model persistence in prayer.

The tense of the verbs is called “infinitive,” which describes a constant, ongoing activity.  We are to keep on asking, never cease seeking, and keep on knocking on heaven’s gate.    Persevere in prayer until you receive a clear answer from God or He changes your mind.

As God knows what I need better than I do, and as He will do what He wills, why should I pray?  There are at least four excellent reasons to PRAY CONTINUALLY, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says.

The first is the most obvious: God commands prayer.  Be obedient and pray.

The second is that God designed prayer for our sake, not His.  Let’s be clear; God is not waiting for any of us to pray to “activate” His will.  He does not depend on us for anything.  Instead, He commands prayer because communication is key to all relationships and loving communication promotes loving relationships.  God commands prayer to deepen our spiritual maturity.

James 1:5-8 gives specifics on what our attitude should be when praying: IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, HE SHOULD ASK GOD, WHO GIVES GENEROUSLY TO ALL WITHOUT FINDING FAULT, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO HIM.  BUT WHEN HE ASKS, HE MUST BELIEVE AND NOT DOUBT, BECAUSE HE WHO DOUBTS IS LIKE A WAVE OF THE SEA, BLOWN AND TOSSED BY THE WIND.  THAT MAN SHOULD NOT THINK HE WILL RECEIVE ANYTHING FROM THE LORD; HE IS A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN, UNSTABLE IN ALL THAT HE DOES.

Third, we should pray because Jesus’ promises regarding prayer are unconditional.  For example, in this passage EVERYONE’s prayer is answered.  When people talk about “unanswered prayer” they really mean is “God said ‘no’ or ‘wait,’ or said ‘yes’ to something they didn’t want.”

Fourth, the Bible clearly promises that prayer changes things; it has an effect on our world.  As James 5:16b says, THE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN IS POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE.

  1. Be encouraged: God’s answer is always what’s best for you (9-11).

More than any earthly parent, God knows our needs.  He will not tease or do evil to us.  Nor is He a child-centered parent who will indulge our wants.  Jesus used humor to make this point:

BREAD versus STONE = Some loaves of bread are baked so hard they become stone-like, some stones take on an appearance similar to bread.

FISH versus SNAKE = Both fishes and snakes have scales, some snakes swim and eels look like snakes.

The point is, if our earthly parents (YOU WHO ARE EVIL) can be trusted to tell the difference and not give us something bad, we can trust God (who is good) to do even better.

Whether God’s answer is what we want or not is not important; it is not the basis for evaluating prayer.  Rest assured God’s answers are always GOOD GIFTS.  Our theology of prayer is not to be centered on us.  God’s answer to prayer reflects His nature and His will.  It is never about our sincerity, posture, gesture, or choice of words.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is false.  Prayer is designed by God to be humbling and focused on Him, because self-focus is hardly ever healthy or helpful.

Full disclosure: it gripes me when people preach negatively about prayer: “Don’t do this or that.”  They reveal their ignorance of Scripture and the true purpose of prayer.  The best prayers are like tears: they flow from a heart overrun with either happiness or sorrow.  Prayer is the inner self expressing itself to God; every other consideration is secondary at best.

  1. Be encouraged: life with God is simple (12).

There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Following Jesus is not easy in the sense that it is a lifelong commitment to change and growth; hardships will be faced, expectations raised, persecution endured.

But living for God is not complicated.  Jesus reduced our ethical life to two commands, both to love, and one simple rule on how to treat others: just the way we want to be treated.

In guiding people’s behavior, you can take two approaches.  The Legalistic approach is to try to anticipate every kind of wrongdoing and write a law to cover it.  Congress is an example of this approach of multiplying the rules.

The Principled approach is to advocate for what is good by setting forth principles.  Everything else is evil.  As an example of reducing the rules is our work on constitution review.  One of our goals is to streamline the current constitution.

The Golden Rule – like the board game “Othello” – “takes a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.”  Using this rule requires us to embrace the principle of the preciousness of others.  Paul explained this principle: Philippians 2:3 = DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELF.  See also Romans 13:10 = LOVE DOES NO HARM TO ITS NEIGHBOR.  THEREFORE LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.

We will always learn new ways and be confronted with new situation in which we can apply this principle, because Jesus said we were to apply it IN EVERTYTHING.  Motivation to use the Golden Rule is also quite simple: it comes from a love for self.  To the degree that we have a healthy self-image and take care of ourselves, it makes it easier for us to treat others in the same way. It may sound backward to say it this way, but a sensitivity to others is founded on knowledge of self; particularly what makes me feel loved.

Interestingly, a variation of the Golden Rule appears in all the world’s major religions.  However, Jesus is the only one who expressed the principle positively.  All others said it negatively; “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”  In this, Jesus sets an example of positivity that we should seek to follow.  His positive version embraces both sides of goodness: it is actively doing good works as well as avoiding evil ones.  Jesus’ version can be applied more broadly.

  1. How to help another seeker find God.

A = Active Listening (withhold your own opinions, suspend judgment for the moment).

B = Begin Where You Meet Them (match the need(s) they express with biblical teaching & church ministry).

C = Consider Their Experience (avoid using terms or making references that they don’t know).

D = Develop Your Own Story (stress points of your own experience common to all and/or similar to theirs).

E = Engage in Dialogue (your goal should be to do about half the talking and half the listening).

F = Find a Time to Continue the Conversation (initial encounters should be brief, later ones lengthier).

G = Get to an Application (an invitation to church is the place to start, invite a decision as the Spirit leads you).

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Earlier in Matthew’s version of these teachings, Jesus taught His disciples to avoid praying out of a hypocritical motive (to earn the praise of others).  In this section, He clarified what our motive for prayer should be.  Then He told us how to live out the godly life that goes into our prayers.

Teaching about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another should go hand in hand, because people who love God will love others.  The Bible teaches a lack of love for neighbor betrays a false love for God.

This is one reason I felt lead to express some “ABCs” of how we can have conversations about God even when we have just met the other person.  We do all we can on Sundays and Wednesdays to present the word of God truthfully and compellingly.  But the living out of that word is something we all must do as much outside the church walls as we do within.

During this season, many of us will spend more time out in the public than we normally do, as we search for Christmas gifts.  (After all, you don’t want to let Jeremy down again!!)  Part of our ambition for the remaining days before the Christmas Holy Day must be to use these public moments to tell others about Jesus.  It is wise for us to make best use of the public’s general affinity for Christmas to make Jesus Christ more widely known.

The first step is to not be in such a hurry.  Linger in public places, make time for conversations.  Then start some!  Make an invitation to church.  We will have Christmas Eve at 6 pm.  Do someone an act of kindness and explain why you did it.  Start somewhere!

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #929

The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, Scot McKnight

Continuous Thanks

Take a moment to read Ephesians 1:15-23 in your Bible translation of choice, then peruse the following as an informed reader.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare my remarks.

thanks

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, Robynne Boyd wrote an article for Scientific American magazine entitled “Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?”  She attempted to refute a widely-accepted modern myth that even the smartest human beings only use 10% of their brain’s potential.

She quoted neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who said, “It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.  Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Boyd added; “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most [of the brain’s regions] are continually active over a 24-hour period.

She also quoted John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as saying, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/

Don’t you feel better about yourself already?  We’re all more brainy than the “Ten Percent Myth” gave us credit for being.

While we’re in a myth-busting mood, let’s tackle another.  There’s a belief among church people that is said in a couple different ways: either “Church is as good as it gets,” or “Church will never be as good as it was.”  That’s a myth.

Look around for a moment and thank God for all He’s given us.  But don’t think for a moment that it’s as good as it can be.  Don’t think that in some “good old days” the church was just as good as it could be.

The truth is that our experience of what the Church is supposed to be like is only 10% or less of the rich grace and power God has given us.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said virtually the same thing.  We’ll see how Paul praised them for what they had achieved and then pointed out how much more was available, just waiting for them to claim it by faith.

  1. Paul’s perpetual praise.

Paul began, FOR THIS REASON in verse fifteen.  For what reason?  For all the things God has done for us.  Here we review the blessings God bestowed as Paul listed them in Ephesians 1:3-14:

– The heading is this: God has blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING (3).

– The first item on the list: God chose you (4 + 11).

– The second item: God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

– Third: God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

– Fourth: God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

– The conclusion: God sealed these blessings with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

Looking back on that list, Paul was mindful of what God did for the church and through the church, (in its local & global manifestations).  Similar to the outpouring of praise in that section, in this section, Paul wrote a sentence of thanksgiving 169 words long.

He started with the words, EVER SINCE I HEARD ABOUT YOUR FAITH.  This  means Paul had received a report of their spiritual maturity and it pleased him so much, he continued to thank God for the Ephesians.  This happened frequently in Paul’s letters; seven of them begin this way.

Here in Ephesians, he cited two specific thanksgivings.  First, Paul was thankful for their FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS (15).  They demonstrated belief in the Lord and faithful acceptance of all His blessings and teachings.

He was also grateful for their LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS (15).  By Scripture and experience we know FAITH and LOVE become real as they are manifest in good works.  The SAINTS refers to other believers.  The Bible affirms that “Charity begins at our church home.”

This good news prompted perpetual praise in Paul and since then, he wrote, I HAVE NOT STOPPED GIVING THANKS FOR YOU (16).

  1. Paul’s perpetual prayer.

REMEMBERING YOU IN MY PRAYERS (16).  This is a summary of the things for which Paul prayed when his prayers centered on the church in Ephesus.

Prayer Request Number One = for them to know God better (17).  Knowing God better requires learning at least two things, as Paul elaborated.  First, we must know GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (God the Father).  As we learned in our study of 1:1-14, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the plan of God.  God the Father is able to provide us with salvation because God the Son was obedient, even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:8).

Second, we must know that God deserves to be glorified (THE GLORIOUS FATHER, v. 17).  Part of the glory of God the Father is the salvation He has created for His people.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the supreme moment of God’s glory.

We come to know these things by means of the gift of the SPIRIT.  The channels for the Spirit’s work in us are WISDOM and REVELATION (see Colossians 1:9).  By WISDOM it is meant, as we frequently observe, the FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (see Psalms 111:10).  True WISDOM comes from God and is a Spiritual Gift.

REVELATION is similar to the MYSTERY of 1:9 in the sense that God has, through the Holy Spirit, revealed His plan of salvation.  God’s chief means of revelation is the Bible.

Prayer Request Number Two = Enlightenment (18).  Paul prayed enlightenment might come to the Ephesian believers through the EYES OF YOUR HEART.  If that expression sounds confusing in English, you may be glad to know it’s even more confused in original language (Greek).  Regardless of how we sort out the words, the important thing is the purpose of this enlightenment: it was needed in order to know (be assured) of three things:

Assurance Number One = THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU.  God calls His people to a hopeful view of the future, one that puts Jesus Christ at the center of the new creation.  HOPE is a key part of our faith.  Today’s woes are reduced when we look past them to tomorrow’s blessings.  HOPE is not wishing; it is a settled conviction that everything God promises will happen.  It is an anchor for the soul according to Hebrews 6:19.

Assurance Number Two = THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS which is, surprisingly, about God, not us.  The words RICHES and GLORIOUS are frequently used to describe the majesty of earthly kings (like Hezekiah; 2 Chronicles 37:27.  Note this is INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, not “for” THE SAINTS.  Frequently in the OT, the people of God are referred to as His “inheritance.”  Paul wanted the Ephesians to think of themselves in this way.  We must as well.  We are God’s prized possession.

Assurance Number Three = HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER AT FOR US WHO BELIEVE.  The people of Ephesus were notorious for being involved in the occult.  This is why they would be concerned with knowing God’s power, particularly that He is more powerful than their false gods & spirits.

In fact, the two can’t be compared at all; God’s POWER is INCOMPARABLY greater than anything manifest in idols (see 2:7; 3:20).  The Greek word translated into English as INCOMPARABLY was used in a number of ancient inscriptions and documents that have been discovered in Ephesus.  Paul was using the words of the false teachers and magic-users to contradict them!

Prayer Request Number Three = to experience God’s power (19-20).  It is good thing to acknowledge God’s POWER; it’s something more to experience it personally.  God’s power IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS MIGHTY STRENGTH (19).

The Greek word for WORKING describes POWER being wielded; God’s power being used to benefit His people as opposed to potential power.  It describes activity and function, more than explain the source of power.

The three Greek words for POWER, might, & STRENGTH occur all together in only one other place in all of ancient literature; a Jewish text that reads more like a magical spell than a prayer.  That text commanded angels to supply victory in all their endeavors.  Paul did not endorse casting spells, prayer to angels or any nonsense like that.  He put the power of God on a higher plane.  God’s power was at its height in Jesus.  Paul wrote of two specific times in v. 20.

The first instance in which God’s power was particularly evident was at Jesus’ Resurrection: WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first and most central doctrine in the Christian faith.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said that if there is no Resurrection, our faith is FUTILE and we are still dead in our SINS (1 Corinthians 15:17).

The second instance was at Jesus’ Ascension: WHEN…HE SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND I/T HEAVENLY REALMS (see Acts 1:1-11).  The right hand of the king was always the place occupied by the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Historically, this was Jesus being glorified to the ultimate degree after He humbled Himself to the ultimate degree; death on a cross.

Prayer Request Number Four = To know Jesus’ preeminent place (21-22).  God the Father revealed through Paul that God the Son is FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION (21).  Paul is saying that Jesus place is superior to all His enemies combined.  Put all the earthly and demonic powers together; they still can’t compare with Jesus’ power and authority.  These terms were familiar to Paul’s Jewish readers as the Jews used them to distinguish between good and evil angels.  These terms were also familiar to Paul’s Gentile readers as they were used for spiritual powers in magical texts of the day.

Another expression of Jesus’ preeminent place is, FAR ABOVE…EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME (21).  Paul is saying there are absolutely no exceptions.  There’s nothing in the physical or spiritual worlds that is not under Jesus’ authority.  People who put stock in magic (like the Ephesians) believed that if you could name something you have power over it, so the TITLE/name is important.

Continuing on this theme, Paul wrote that GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET (22).  This promise is declared in PSS 8:6 + 110:1.  It will be fulfilled on the occasion of the Second Coming.  Paul made the same point several ways: Jesus is in charge!

Jesus is preeminent because GOD…APPOINTED HIM TO BE THE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING (22).  In Paul’s day, this word HEAD meant “origin;” the HEAD produced the body.  As it does in our own time, HEAD also referred to the leader or ruler of a group.  In both uses of the term, Jesus is the HEAD of His BODY, the Church: our origin & our leader.

Prayer Request Number Five = To know the Church’s place in relationship with Jesus Christ (22-23).  The four-fold description of Jesus’ preeminent place in vs. 21-22 has an expressed purpose: FOR THE CHURCH. (This is a measure of God’s grace; we who deserve it the least benefit the most.)

Paul developed this relationship in his two-fold description of the Church.

First, the BODY to Christ’s HEAD.  Paul used this metaphor in four of his letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians).  The diversity of the parts (individual believers) is joined together in service to the one HEAD.

Second, Jesus is THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY (23) and the Church is supposed to be THE FULLNESS of Christ.  When people see us, they’re supposed to see Jesus in the FULLNESS of who He is!

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone address you with the praise and thanksgiving the Apostle Paul expressed in this letter?  Let’s summarize and review Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus so we can use it to pray for each other.

#1 = Pray we will become more aware of the power God makes available to us.  This will not happen only or chiefly in Bible study, but is something we learn and appreciate by personal experience.  Until we embrace change and take risks to attempt things only God can do, we will not see His power; we will only be certain about our limitations.  This is why so many church folk get weary and depressed, losing confidence in the future of the Church.

#2 – Pray we will stand in His strength alone.  The culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.  Elements of our culture are trying to squeeze everyone into their mold, preaching the new orthodoxy of “political correctness.”  They more we resist that squeezing, the more we will need God’s power to stay faithful.

#3 – Pray we will partner with God and with each other to remain in Christ.  Jesus is the fixed point of all creation.  We identify with Him and hold that His resurrection is the source from which all life worth living flows.  Our hope is not founded on our own cleverness or repeating the apparent success of past generations.  Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ.  We look ahead to see Him waiting for us at the finish line of history.

These truths are the most real thing in all the world.  God forgive us when we live our daily lives as if they don’t matter or aren’t real at all.  By prayer and practice, they become a greater part of how we live.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Last Supper, Last Words (5 of 5)

upper-room

(Please pick up your favorite Bible and read John 17:20-26.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.)

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, spending the last twenty years utterly alone.  When a ship finally discovered him, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he’d built & asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house and that building over there is my church.  It is a wonderful church and – to be honest – I hate to leave it.”

“And what is that third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

(Via “The Joyful Noiseletter.”)

Why is that joke funny?  Is it because it’s a little too close to the truth?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe He was sent by the Father. (17:20-21)

He said, “MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US” that is, “May my followers be in fellowship with God.”  We need to go back to chapter fifteen to Jesus’ image of the VINE & BRANCHES to understand the object of Jesus’ prayer.  There He taught every separate branch must remain in connection to the vine in order to survive and BEAR FRUIT (words and deeds useful to glorifying God and building the Kingdom of God).  There Jesus used the word ABIDE to describe the closeness of our relationship with God.  As we observed in our study of 13:15, 21, 23, Jesus identified LOVE of God as obedience.

An objective of abiding and one kind of fruit-bearing is making disciples; as Jesus said, “SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.”  An outcome of have a relationship with God is having a witness to His reality.  This news is too good to keep to ourselves.  Our fellowship with God isn’t just for our own salvation but also so that God may use our words and deeds to help others be saved.

In these verses Jesus clarified what the WORLD is to believe; “THAT YOU SENT ME.”  Jesus’ power and authority flowed from the Father, enabling Him to accomplish His mission in the world. Similarly, we receive power and authority through the Holy Spirit to do the work the Father has set before us.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that complete unity is possible. (17:21-23)

The ultimate standard for unity is found in God’s nature, specifically, in the Trinity. In verse twenty-one Jesus prayed “THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.”  When you consider what Jesus is praying for, it is staggering: He asked the Father that His followers would have a depth of unity JUST LIKE the unity in the Trinity!  We struggle so much to barely communicate, to get along and be civil, this kind of unity is hard to believe.

I will let you in on a secret; all God’s moral standards are beyond our capacity to achieve on our own.  If we could do it on our own, why would we ever turn to God?  God sets impossibly high standards because they’re right, because they’re best for us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.

This works when we succeed in doing right, because it is through the Holy Spirit He has made us able to succeed.  This also works when we fail to do right, because we can ask God and others to forgive us and move on.

In verse twenty-two Jesus again requests unity for His Church; “I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU GAVE ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE AS WE ARE ONE.”  The word GLORY refers to the visible manifestation of God’s presence.  Jesus has given us all we need from God the Father to be in divine unity with Him and with each other.  This verse reaffirms we are to be in unity JUST AS God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one.

In verse twenty-three Jesus expanded on our unity in 2 ways.  First, He prayed, “I IN THEM AND YOU IN ME.”  The Trinitarian depth of unity isn’t something we achieve; it is God’s gracious gift.  Second, He prayed, “MAY THEY BE BROUGHT INTO COMPLETE UNITY.”  The unity God gives is COMPLETE.  God’s standard for relationships is COMPLETE UNITY, no exceptions or conditions.

The outcome of unity is TO LET THE WORLD KNOW two things.  One, that Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father.  Two, [YOU] HAVE LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME. This is the message Jesus wants you and I to take to the world.  One way we demonstrate the truthfulness of this message is loving and living in unity.  How can the world take the message seriously if the messengers don’t live as though they believe it?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that a glorious future awaits the faithful. (24)

“I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” is a prayer directed at a future moment.  Go back to John 14:1-4.  What did Jesus promise His disciples?  He promised a heavenly home with lots of room!   That should create confidence.

Though it may sound incredible, Church is supposed to be a taste of heaven.  Our fellowship on Earth ought to be so characterized by UNITY that we are together experiencing what heaven will be like.

We don’t truly serve God if our main motive is something other than His glory.  We work to invest in eternal rewards and not for praise, power, or profit.  (See Matthew 7:21-23.)

“AND SEE MY GLORY, THE GLORY YOU GAVE ME BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.”  In this verse Jesus organized his prayer chronologically.

“BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD” refers to the time before creation and before Jesus’ birth.  Jesus existed as God before He entered into human history as one of us.

“TO SEE MY GLORY” refers to Jesus’ time on earth, the Incarnation, when His glory was perceived by physical eyes.

“TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” refers to the time between Jesus’ going back to heaven (Ascension) and the future, where we will be united with Him in heaven.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe their righteous Father loves them. (17:25-26)

The WORLD doesn’t know the Father but it must.  Why don’t worldly folk know the Father?  There are at least four reasons:

One, they are under the influence of the system that hates God and actively works to destroy faith.

Two, the system is under the influence of Satan, the “prince of this world.”

Three, the devil blinds unbelievers to the truth, even clouding their minds when they read the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Four, another reason people don’t know the Father is the failure of church folks to introduce them.

Having observed these four reasons, the fact remains that everyone exercises their free will; people actively reject God.  They are not innocent or ignorant victims.  The Bible says unbelief is an act of wickedness and that unbelievers are self-condemned.

Jesus revealed the Father to the WORLD.  In John 10:9 + 14:6, Jesus said no one can come to the Father except as He leads them. Romans 5:1+2 promises we have ACCESS to God’s saving grace, but only by means of Jesus Christ.

“THEY KNOW YOU HAVE SENT ME” is Jesus’ assertion He clearly communicated the Father: no one can make excuses.

“AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN.”  Jesus keeps this promise through you and me.  He makes God known through us!

LOVE is the best means by which we make God the Father known to the world.  We use words, of course, but actions speak louder than words.  The faith about which we speak must be made evident in words and deeds.

Jesus prayed for all believers and for all to believe.

The final scene in the upper room is one of prayer.  The final moments of Jesus’ freedom would also be a time of prayer.

Those facts ought to be instructive to us.  Jesus depended on prayer, we must too.

Today we’ve looked at the subject of Jesus’ final prayer with His disciples and noted two things for which Jesus prayed.  First, He prayed for all who would believe in Him and follow Him.  He turned His attention from the Eleven to future generations of believers and prayed for us.  He prayed for us to have unity & love as means of witness and blessing.

He also prayed for all people, that the world might come to know Him as Savior and Lord.  While He knew this would not be the case, Jesus nonetheless asked the Father for every living soul to be saved.

Are you living in a way that makes it clear God answered Jesus’ prayer for you with a “Yes?”  Jesus prayed that all His people would be distinguished from the WORLD by their unity and love.  These are two means by which we gain a hearing with folks outside our faith.  We earn the right to be witnesses for Jesus and supporters of our church by making these virtues so evident that they can be perceived by all people.