Tuesday, September 25, 2012

God's Kingdom and Will

Part 2 of the Bible Study Series Teach Us to Pray



"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). 


Introduction 

The purpose of our prayers should be to pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done. Jesus himself told the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; rather, it is seeking his agenda for our lives. His ways are greater than our ways, and his plan is always better than our plans.


Discussion

Paul Miller writes, “Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers” (A Praying Life). How should the grace of God encourage us in our prayers? 

Some people use The Lord’s Prayer as an outline for their prayers. Another prayer system many people have found helpful is ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of using these kinds of prayer systems? 


Explanation 

The kingdom of God is an important theme in Matthew’s Gospel. Read Matt. 3:2; 4:17. “‘Your kingdom come’ has a twofold emphasis: (1) it is first a prayer that God’s rule and reign would continually advance in people’s hearts and lives until the day Jesus returns and brings the kingdom in perfect fullness; (2) thus it also refers to the future consummation of the kingdom already realized in part by Jesus coming” (ESV Study Bible, 1977). Read Rev. 11:17; 22:20.

We shy away from prayers that invite God to rule our lives. They make us vulnerable. “These three petitions, though they focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, are nevertheless prayers that he may act in such a way that his people will hallow his name, submit to his reign, and do his will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course” (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 170-71).

“Many people wonder how God’s sovereignty can be related to praying for His will to be done. If he is sovereign, is not His will inevitably done? Does our will override His will when we pray earnestly and sincerely? That is one of the great paradoxes of Scripture, a paradox about which Calvinists and Arminians have debated for centuries.… It is absolutely clear from Scripture that God is sovereign and yet not only allows but commands that man exercise his own volition in certain areas. If man were not able to make his own choices, God’s commands would be futile and meaningless and His punishment cruel and unjust. If God did not act in response to prayer, Jesus’ teaching about prayer would also be futile and meaningless. Our responsibility is not to solve the dilemma but to believe and act on God’s truths, whether some of them seem to conflict or not. To compromise one of God’s truths in an effort to defend another is the stuff of which heresy is made. We are to accept every part of every truth in God’s Word, leaving the resolution of any seeming conflicts to Him” (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, 381-82).


Application

“Our ‘prayer doesn’t work’ often means ‘you didn’t do my will, in my way, in my time’” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life). When we experience suffering, our usual prayer is for God to remove the suffering as soon as possible. During times of suffering, how else can we pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done in our lives?

Usually, when people tell us of some hardship in their lives, we respond by saying, “I’ll keep in you in my prayers.” “‘I’ll keep you in my prayers’ is the easiest way to back away politely. Roughly translated it means, ‘I have every intention of praying for you, but because I’ve not written it down, it is likely I will never pray for it. But I say it because at this moment I do care, and it feels awkward to say nothing.’ It is the twenty-first-century version of ‘Be warmed and filled’ (James 2:16)” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life). How might something like a prayer card help our prayers?

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Fully Functioning Body

Part 21 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, 

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, 
and he gave gifts to men.” 

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (4:7-12).


Christ's Body Parts 

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift (v. 7).

Does the human body have useless parts? For years it’s been assumed that the appendix has no purpose. (It’s true that we can live without, but it actually might serve a function as part of the immune system.) Whether or not there are useless body parts is a matter of debate.

Every Christian is one of Christ’s body parts. “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). Every part of the body of Christ is important. There are no useless body parts.

Within the body of Christ, everyone has a unique ability. 

In verse 7, “grace” means “enablement.” The abilities that Christ gives us are also called “gifts”. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:6). God has given “each one of us” at least on gift. We shouldn’t be jealous of other people’s gifts because they are given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Ask yourself, “What spiritual gift has Christ given me?”

Within the body of Christ, everyone has a special purpose. 

Earlier in Ephesians, Paul wrote, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:10). By God’s grace, we receive the gift of salvation and gifts for service. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:14).

Ask yourself, “What has Christ gifted me to do?”


The Descension and Ascension of Christ 

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (vv. 8-10).

Verses 8-10 cause us to ask three questions. First, does Paul misquote Psalm 68:18? Psalm 68:18 says, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men.” Paul writes that “he [Christ] gave gifts to men” rather than “receiving gifts among men.” “The ‘you’ in v. 18 refers to God’s ascent of Zion, probably in the person of the victorious king (or perhaps in reference to the establishment of the ark, which symbolizes the invisible presence of the God of Israel, on Zion). He led his captives in triumphal procession as they made their way up the temple mount…. Paul applies this picture to Christ’s ascension, not because there was some vague analogy between the two events, but because he saw in Jesus’ exaltation a further fulfillment of this triumph of God” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 288-89). “After a conquest, the spoils were distributed among the leader’s men. Thus the psalm focuses on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, while Paul’s adaptation of the truth of the psalm focuses on how that conqueror distributed the spoils to his own” (ESV Study Bible, 1018). 

Second, to where did Christ “descend”? The traditional view is that Christ descended into Hades. Paul is probably referring to the incarnation. When the Son of God became human, he descended from heaven to earth. This descent included Christ’s death and burial.

Third, who are the “captives”? In Psalm 68, the captives are the enemies of Israel who were defeated when Jerusalem was capture. In Ephesians, the captives “can be either believers (2 Cor. 2:14) or principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). In light of Ephesians 1:20-23 on the Lord’s exaltation over spiritual forces, evil powers are probably in view” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, 201).

In summary, Christ descended from heaven to earth and was crucified and buried. But he rose from the grave, demonstrating his victory over Satan and his demons. Then he ascended to heaven and gave gifts to his people. Now Christ “fills all things,” meaning he rules over all the universe.


We're All Ministers

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (vv. 11-12).

These verses reveal God’s plan for ministry within the body of Christ.

1. Every Christian is to be equipped through the teaching of God’s Word. 

“Paul is listing gifts and not offices” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 539). God has given to the church gifted individuals who are to “equip the saints.” (Based on the original Greek, some commentators believe that the phrase “shepherds and teachers” should be translated “teaching shepherds.”)

2. Every Christian should be ministering to others. 

The saints are equipped so that they may do “the work of ministry.” Ministry is for everyone. “The body of Christ does not have two classes of members—clergy and laity—or two sets of expectations. Everyone has the same task of building up the body, even though responsibilities vary” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 224).

3. The result: increasing unity and maturity within the body of Christ. 

The equipping and ministering of the saints leads to the “building up” of the body of Christ. “What is the purpose of Christ’s gifts? It is to serve Christ’s people, so that the body itself might become increasingly unified in faith and mature in practice” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, 138). The body of Christ is strongest when all its parts are working together.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Our Father in Heaven

Part 1 of the Bible Study series Teach Us to Pray



Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matt. 6:9). 


Introduction 

On one occasion, after observing Jesus praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus then taught his disciples a model prayer, which is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). This prayer is not a mantra to be repeated mindlessly or superstitiously but an example of the kind of prayer a Christian should pray. (This is why many Christians say that “The Disciples’ Prayer” is a better title than “The Lord’s Prayer.”)


Discussion 

The average Christian struggles with prayer. Many view prayer with cynicism. In his book A Praying Life, Paul Miller confesses, “Personally, [cynicism] is my greatest struggle in prayer. If I get an answer to prayer, sometimes I’ll think, It would have happened anyway. Other times I’ll try to pray but wonder if it makes any difference.” What are some other reasons for our struggles with prayer? 

Miller also writes, “Jesus does not say, ‘Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.’ No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28, NASB). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy” (A Praying Life). How does this approach to prayer encourage us to pray and keep on praying? 


Explanation 

Read Matt. 6:5-8. In these verses, Jesus forbids two kinds of praying. First, we are not to pray to impress others. “The public versus private antithesis is a good test of one’s motives; the person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern” (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 165). Second, we are not to pray thinking long or repetitious prayers persuade God. “Jesus is not, of course, forbidding long prayers; he himself on occasion could pray all night (Luke 6:12) and on one occasion he taught his followers ‘that they should always pray and not grow weary’ (Luke 18:1). Nor does he forbid repetition, for in Gethsemane he repeated his prayer (Matt. 26:39-44)” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 142).

There are six petitions in “The Lord’s Prayer”: the first three concern God’s glory (“your… your…your”); the last three concern our good (“us…us…us”). Scholars often debate why there are many differences between Matt. 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. “The reasonable explanation is that Jesus taught this sort of prayer often during his itinerant ministry and that Matthew records one occasion and Luke another” (Carson, “Matthew,” 168).

Read Eccles. 5:2; Heb. 4:16. God is “our Father” and he is “in heaven.” Our prayers should be characterized by both love and reverence. “We address God intimately as ‘Father,’ but we immediately recognize his infinite greatness with the addition ‘in heaven’” (Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 144). Notice also that God is addressed as “our Father,” not “my Father.” This prayer was meant to be prayed in fellowship with other believers, not in isolation.

The first petition of “The Lord’s Prayer” is that God’s name be “hallowed” (treated as holy). God’s “name” is God himself. David Turner writes that “the three ‘your’ petitions are essentially one, the final phrase of Matt.6:10, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ describes all of them, not just the third” (Matthew, 187). He goes on to say, “Matthew 6:9-10 convincingly shows that one should not pray primarily to receive goods and services from God but to render service to God. Prayer is not first and foremost an exercise to vindicate the disciple’s causes, meet the disciple’s needs, fulfill the disciple’s desires, or solve the disciple’s problems. Rather, one’s priority must be the promotion of God’s reputation, the advancement of God’s rule, and the performance of God’s will. These three petitions are essentially one expression of burning desire to see the Father honored on earth as he is already honored in heaven” (ibid.).


Application 

Jesus wants us to come to “our Father” like little children. He once said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). How can we be more childlike in our prayers?

If Jesus felt he needed to pray, so should we! “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray” (A Praying Life). What are some changes we can make to our lives to help us devote more time to prayer?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Be Unified

Part 20 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (4:1-6).


Privileges and Responsibilities 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (v. 1).

In Canada, we enjoy many privileges (e.g., freedom of speech). But we also have responsibilities (e.g., obeying the law). We don’t think highly of someone who enjoys all of the privileges without accepting any of the responsibilities. 

If you have received the blessings of salvation, don’t ignore your responsibilities. 

We are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” What is this calling? It is God’s gracious invitation to salvation and all of its blessings (cf. Rom. 8:29-30). Paul began this letter praising God for the blessings of salvation: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (1:3). We have been chosen (1:4) and adopted (1:5) by the Father, redeemed (1:7) by Christ, and sealed (1:13) by the Spirit.

Our “walk” is our lifestyle (cf. 2:2; 4:17; 5:2, 8, 15). “Our problem is that we have a million dollar salvation and a five-cent response” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, 217).

Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians are theological; chapters 4-6 are ethical. There must be a proper balance of theology and ethics. “In theology, head knowledge alone will make little difference in individual or corporate lives, and practice without theological knowledge has the potential to lead to heretical practice” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 499).

Since we have received from God so many amazing blessings, we should be willing to carry out our responsibilities. In 4:1-16, we find three responsibilities First, we are to be unified together (vv. 2-6). Second, we are to be serving together (vv. 7-12). Third, we are to be maturing together (vv. 13-16).


We Are to Maintain Unity 

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (vv. 2-3).

Those who are humble, gentle, and patient will tolerate others and strive to maintain unity. “It is important to realize that unity is something given by the Spirit, not something we create” (Snodgrass, 198).

“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make hast to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:16-19). 

Self-centeredness is the root of disunity. A self-centered person is lacking in humility, gentleness, patience. Jesus modeled a life free from self-centeredness (John 13:3-5, 12-15; Phil. 2:3-8).

An understanding and appreciation of God’s grace destroys our self-centeredness and promotes unity.

“To keep this unity must mean to maintain it visibly. If the unity of the Spirit is real, it must be transparently evident, and believers have a responsibility before God to make sure that this is so. To live in a manner which mars the unity of the Spirit is to do despite to the gracious reconciling work of Christ. It is tantamount to saying that his sacrificial death by which relationships with God and others have been restored, along with the resulting freedom of access to the Father, are of no real consequence to us!” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 280).


God Has Given Unity 

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (vv. 4-6).

“The apostle, however, is not speaking of a unity at any price in which the fundamental truths of the gospel are jettisoned. As a strong motivation for his appeal for unity he presents a series of seven acclamations, each using the word ‘one,’ in which the readers are reminded of the fundamental unities on which the Christian faith and life are based” (O’Brien, 280).

“The sevenfold list is basically threefold since three of these unities allude to the three persons of the Trinity, while the remaining four refer to [our] relationship to the Spirit, Son, and Father” (ibid.).

1. There is one body, one Spirit, and one hope. 

2. There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 

“The ‘one faith’ does not have reference to an objective faith, the body of truth believed by Christians…, but rather to the subjective faith which is exercised by all Christians in Christ their Lord” (Hoehner, 516-17). 

“One baptism” may refer to either water baptism or the baptism of all believers into the body of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).

3. There is one God. 

God is “Father of all.” “All” refers to believers. God is “supreme over all, operative through all, and resides in all” (Hoehner, 521).

God has given us this unity, and we are to maintain it. We maintain it by having humility, gentleness, and patience. These virtues will grow in our lives when we appreciate and understand the grace of God in our lives. May we not be people who enjoy all the blessing in Christ but ignore the responsibilities God has given us.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What the Cross Says About God's Wisdom

Part 1 of The Cross: What It Says About God

You can listen to this sermon here.



For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 
And the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:18-31). 


Actions Speak Louder Than Words 

It’s often said, “Actions speak louder than words.” Actions reveal more about a person than words.

The cross speaks louder than any words God could say. 

Imagine you know absolutely nothing about the God of the Bible. Then one day someone tells you, “God loves you.” Without knowing about the cross, how could you really understand God’s love? “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The cross is the ultimate “act of God.” It helps us better understand many of God’s attributes (e.g., his love, mercy, grace, holiness, justice, sovereignty, and wisdom).


The Wisdom of God 

God “has access to all information. So his judgments are made wisely. He never has to revise his estimation of something because of additional information” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 302). We, on the other hand, often act unwisely because we don’t have all the facts.

Because God knows everything, he always makes wise decisions. 

“How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all” (Ps. 104:24 NIV). “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).

God’s decisions “always will bring about the best results (from God’s ultimate perspective), and they will bring about those results through the best possible means” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 193). From the human perspective, the cross seemed like a failure (Jesus’ followers) or a defeat (Jesus’ enemies). But from God’s perspective, it brought about the best result (salvation).


The Wisdom of the Cross

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (v. 18).

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (vv. 22-24).

The cross divides the human race into two groups: “those who are perishing” (who see the cross as “folly”) and “us who are being saved” (who see the cross as “the power of God”). The first group is further divided into two additional groups: the Jews and the Greeks (cultured Gentiles).

To the Jews, the cross was a “stumbling block” (v. 21). The Greek word for “stumbling block” is skandalon, which means “scandal.” The Jews, who demanded “signs” (v. 22), considered the message of the cross to be offensive. How could the Christ (Messiah) be crucified (cf. Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13)?

To the Greeks, the cross was “folly” (v. 21). The Greek word for “folly” is moria, which means “madness.” The Greeks, who sought “wisdom” (v. 22), considered the message of the cross to be stupid. How could a man who died in such a humiliating way be a hero?

The world asks, “How can a crucified Christ help anyone?” 

Those who reject the message of the cross don’t know all the facts. They think they are being wise, but they are actually making the most foolish decision possible. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). (When you’re talking with an unbeliever about the gospel, does they act like you’re speaking in another language?)

How can the wisdom of God seen in the cross?

1. The cross solves the problem of sin. 

All of us have sinned. Because God is holy and just, our sin must be punished. It can’t simply be overlooked. On the cross, Jesus suffered so that we could be spared. He willingly received the punishment that we deserved.

Amazingly, God, in his wisdom, used the foolishness of men to bring about the crucifixion. Paul writes, “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). Had they understood all the facts about Jesus, they never would have killed him. But if they hadn’t killed him, there could be no salvation.

2. The cross makes salvation available to all. 

God doesn’t save only society’s elites. God saves “those who believe” (v. 21). A person’s wealth, fame, or power give him no advantage over any other person. Paul says, “For consider, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (v. 26). (Notice that Paul says “not many,” not “not any.”)

“Those who are perishing” either reject that sin is a problem or reject that salvation is by grace through faith. But they are not wiser than God. He knows all the facts, not them.


Boasting in the Wisdom of the Cross 

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (vv. 30-31).

Though the world mocks its message, never be ashamed of the cross! 

Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Don’t be ashamed to share the message of the cross.