Thursday, March 25, 2010

Torrents of God’s Redeeming Love
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 NKJV)
This was the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The priests were celebrating the water-drawing ritual, making procession from the pool of Siloam with jars of water to pour out at the base of the alter in the temple. As they went, they sang from Isaiah 12:3, “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The word for “salvation” in that verse is yeshuah.

Now here was Jesus — Yeshua is how you say His name in Hebrew; it means “Yahweh saves.” Standing in their midst, He “cried out.” He was making a declaration, an important announcement for all to hear. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me [Yeshua] and drink.” It was an invitation to come and drink from the true well of salvation, the one God had promised long ago.

Then He added: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” This is not a direct quote; no verse in the Old Testament comes out and states it in just that way. It is an allusion to things spoken of in the Prophets. Readings for the Feast of Tabernacles included passages from Zechariah and Ezekiel. Zechariah 14:8 spoke of a time when “living waters” would flow from Jerusalem.” Ezekiel 47 spoke of the “day of the LORD” and of water flowing out from the temple, first as a trickle and then becoming a mighty river, a river of living water, bringing life and healing wherever it flows. It is also in Ezekiel that God promised, “I will put My Spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:27; 37:14). Anyone familiar with the water ceremony and the Scriptures that accompanied it would have understood the dramatic import of Jesus’ words.

The word translated “heart” in Jesus’ declaration is not the usual word, kardia, but koilia, which refers to the abdominal cavity. It is sometimes used of the belly and at other times of the womb. The HCSB has it as, “from deep within.” The NASB says, “innermost being” and The Message, “out of the depths.” It is the place in us where the spirit dwells, where God promised He would put His Spirit. This is what Jesus was talking about, the Holy Spirit in us.

The revelation He was bringing is that the new temple, where God would dwell by His Spirit, would not be a building made with hands, but would be found in whoever believes in Jesus the Messiah. The old temple was about to pass away. The sacrifices offered there would soon be made obsolete by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The temple itself, as well as the city of Jerusalem, would be totally destroyed within a generation, as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24. But the new temple would come when Jesus was glorified. After His death on the cross, after His resurrection from the dead, and ten days after He ascended to heaven, the disciples waited in Jerusalem, during the Feast of Pentecost, for the “promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). God poured out the Holy Spirit on His people then and there.

Now all who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit. We have become the temple of God, living water coursing from our innermost being like mighty rivers, bringing life and healing to the nations. Our part is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is not something we do for ourselves but something He does in us; we simply yield ourselves to Him. The rivers that flow out from deep within us are the overflow of being filled with Him. They come forth as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the miracles and manifestations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-10). They are the torrents of God’s redeeming love, and through them, we minister the gospel of King Jesus the Messiah that gives life and heals the world.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Grace of God in Which We Stand

By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.

She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Peter 5:12-14)
Peter ends his letter with a few personal notes, but even so, he is still bringing his message. Here is Silvanus, also known as Silas, the same one who served and suffered with Paul (Acts 15-18) and emerged with a strong faith. In Peter’s mind, he has proven himself to be a faithful brother and, therefore, a worthy example of exactly what Peter was exhorting believers to do. Silas served as Peter’s scribe or secretary for this letter, recording his message to the churches.

Here also is Mark. This is John Mark, who was Barnabas’ nephew or cousin (Colossians 4:10). He went out with Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25) but soon turned back for home and failed to complete his work (Acts 13:13). Later, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark on another mission, Paul refused for that reason. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp that they split up, Barnabas taking Mark and Paul taking Silas (Acts 15:37-40). However, though he was initially intimidated by the difficulties of the Christian mission, Mark turned out to be a faithful brother after all, as Paul eventually realized (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). He also became a very important part of Peter’s ministry. According to early Church history, the Gospel of Mark represents the preaching of Peter. Peter calls him, “my son.”

“Babylon” is a reference to Rome. As Babylon was a place of exile for Israel, Rome symbolized a place of exile for the Church. “She” is the Church at Rome, which was not separate from the other churches scattered throughout the provinces but one with them, chosen together with them by God.

Peter sums up why he has written this letter: to exhort and testify. The Greek word for “exhort” is parakaleo. Literally, it speaks of one calling out to another and by usage means to exhort or encourage. The churches to whom Peter wrote, scattered and exiled as they were, could certainly use encouragement as they faced continued harassment from unbelievers. His exhortations were also very practical, about the transformative power of love in serving others. He hits this a final lick with, “Greet one another with a kiss of love,” once again bringing together the words “one another” and “love” (see 1 Peter 1:22, The Gospel of Fervent Love).

Peter also “testified” to them and this was what they needed to hear the most. In difficult times, it can be very easy to waver or doubt: Is Jesus really God’s promised Messiah who came to repair the world and rescue the people of God? Has the kingdom of God really come into the world and is Jesus really Lord over all? Peter’s testimony is a resounding Yes!: “This is the true grace of God in which you stand.” Yes, the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead gives us a living hope and an incorruptible inheritance. Yes, it is being preserved for us in heaven, kept by the power of God. And yes, it will be fully revealed on the earth in the “last time,” God’s great kairos moment when heaven and earth will be brought together into one, the will of God being done on earth exactly as it is in heaven.

This is the grace of God in which everyone who receives Jesus as Messiah and Lord now stands, the truth in which we live and abide. Because it is true, Peter is able to give this final benediction, “Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.” Again, Peter would be thinking of the Hebrew shalom, the peace and wholeness that comes from God and belongs to all who belong to His Messiah King.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul prayed for believers, asking that the Father would give them the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” — that is, wisdom and revelation by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17). Paul was an adept theologian and teacher who could be quite eloquent, and his teaching and letters were inspired by the Spirit of God. But that was only part of the equation. As he knew very well, the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit was required on the part of those who heard that teaching and read those epistles. Paul’s words went only so far; the Spirit of God would have to carry them through all the way.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14)
So Paul prayed that God would reveal by His Spirit the things Paul himself never could. The purpose was that these believers might know God more and more and, specifically, that they would know understand these three things:
  1. What is the hope of His calling. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words for “hope” speak of a confident expectation, a joyful anticipation. God has called us, set us apart for His own special purposes, not just for the life to come but for this present life as well. It is a life-changing, world-changing destiny, and every believer should live with the joyful expectation of fulfilling that divine purpose.
  2. What are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. Toward the fulfillment of this calling, God has placed an inheritance in each one who has received His Son, King Jesus the Messiah. Paul tells us elsewhere that we are joint heirs with Him (Romans 8:17). It is the richness of His own glory that He wants to reveal in and through us.
  3. What is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe. This is the same divine power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21). It is the same power by which God is able to doing exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or imagine, the power that is now at work in us.
Paul prayed that God would release wisdom and revelation by the Holy Spirit to His people, and that is my prayer for you. Do you suppose that anyone could ever receive that holy wisdom and divine revelation and not be changed by it?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Standing Firm Against the Adversary

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11)
To the churches scattered throughout the Roman provinces in Asia Minor, who were experiencing persecution, Peter identifies the real enemy. Not Rome, not even Nero, but “your adversary the devil.” He was well aware that this was a spiritual warfare. As Paul said, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Greek word for “adversary” is antidikos, made up of two words: anti, which means “against,” and dikos, which speaks of what is right and just. Literally, it refers to an opponent in a lawsuit. The name satan means “adversary” and he is called the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). The Greek word for “devil,” means “slanderer.” He comes making accusation against us, slandering us before God, before others and even before ourselves. He seeks to turn the world against us and is the source behind all persecution.

The devil is like a roaring lion look for someone to destroy. Though speaking figuratively, Peter may also have had in mind the Christians at Rome who were literally being thrown to the lions. “Resist him,” Peter says. The Greek word, antihistemi, means to take a stand against. When the devil comes against us with lies and persecutions, we are to stand against him by staying firm in the faith. Notice the definite article, “the faith.” The focus is on the object of our faith, King Jesus the Messiah. The apostle James put it this way: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). First, we submit ourselves to God, taking our stand in Him. Then we will be well positioned to stand against the devil.

The attack of the adversary was not against these scattered churches alone, nor would they be alone in standing against him. There were many other believers also experiencing the same persecution — and faithfully resisting the devil. Again, Peter may have had in mind the tribulation believers faced at Rome. They also had something much more powerful going for them, which Peter brings out by way of his closing benediction. The “God of all grace” would be with them and the adversary is no match for that. God has called us to eternal glory by Jesus the Messiah, Peter says, bringing us around again to the abundant mercy, living hope and incorruptible inheritance we have in Jesus, with which he opened this letter. The brief times — the word for “a while” actually means “a little” — of persecution do not compare to the rich and eternal inheritance we have in Him.

The grace of God is here to “perfect, establish, strengthen and settle” us. The word for “perfect” has a range of meaning, any of which would be encouraging for those facing difficult times: to prepare, repair, restore, equip, make whole. To “establish” means to stabilize, make firm or constant. “Strengthen” means to make strong in body or soul; here, with the strength that comes from God. “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might,” Paul said (Ephesians 6:10). To “settle” means to set on a firm foundation.

Peter finishes with a doxology, a praise to the God of all grace for this eternal glory: “To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” It is His glory and His dominion that will endure long after every persecution and difficulty has passed away.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Under the Mighty Hand of God

Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5-7)
Peter teaches us that we are to be clothed with humility and serve one another. He quotes Proverbs 3:34 (from the Septuagint version, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text).

God “resists” the proud. The Greek word is antitassomai, from the same root as hypotasso, the word for “submit.” The verb stem, tasso, means to arrange or set. The prefix hypo means to be under something. When we are submissive, we are arranged or set under whatever it is we are submitted to. The prefix anti means to be against. The word antitassomai is set in the middle voice, which means that God arranges Himself the proud. The point is clear: If we are not willing to be submissive to one another, God will set Himself in opposition against us. On the other hand, if we will learn to serve each other with a spirit of humility, God will pour out His grace upon us. The grace of God is His favor, His willingness to release all the power and authority of heaven on our behalf. The contrast could not be sharper: God is ready to arrange Himself for us or against us, depending on our willingness to serve and submit to one another.

The answer, of course, is that we should allow ourselves to be humbled under the mighty hand of God. The Greek word for “humble yourselves,” is actually in the passive voice, “allow yourselves to be humbled.” Whenever the mighty hand of God is revealed, it is always for the benefit of His friends but against His foes. If we are humble and willing, the mighty hand of God is not against us but for us, and He is gracious to get us where we need to be. He will teach and empower us for His way of loving, giving and serving. Then when the “due time” (Greek, kairos, the poignant or proper moment) comes, He will exalt us, even as He exalted Jesus.

Loving and serving one another are all the more important in times of trouble or persecution, when it can be so easy for us to focus on our own needs to the neglect of each other. But Peter assures us that we are in good hands. When we allow God to teach us humility, we can “cast our cares” over onto Him, because He cares for us. The Greek word for “cast” means to fling or toss, to hurl in a sudden motion. There are two different Greek words for “care” used here. The first one (“cast your care”) refers to the distractions and anxieties of life that so often eat away at us, sapping our strength and destroying our peace of mind. These are the cares we are to quickly heave over onto Him. The second word (“He cares for you”) speaks of the interest or concern God has for us. He will take care of everything we need, freeing us to care for each other. (See also How to Cast Your Cares.)

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Clothing Yourself with Greatness

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility. (1 Peter 5:5)
of these scattered churches to “shepherd the flock of God,” willingly and eagerly, leading not as lords but as examples. Next, he turns to those younger in the faith, who are under the spiritual care of these shepherds: “Likewise … submit yourselves to your elders.” He directs them to respond to the elders in the same way he directs the elders to lead them: willingly, eagerly, following their example.
The word for “submit” is hypotasso, the same word Peter used numerous times in chapter 2, of obeying governing authorities and honoring all people, of servants obeying their masters, of wives serving their husbands — and by submitting to all, exercising the true freedom we have in King Jesus the Messiah.

Now, he broadens his exhortation to include both elders and younger: “Yes, all of you, be submissive to one another.” The elders are to be just as submissive to the younger as the younger are to be to the elders. Submission is never a question about who is the boss; it is always about who is the servant, for those who are greatest in the kingdom of God are those who serve (Matthew 20:25-28).

This is really quite a radical thing Peter is telling them, for he adds, “… and be clothed with humility.” This is the heart of one who serves. The Greek word for “clothed” used here is egkomboomai; from komboo, the word for “knot” or “buckle.” It refers to tying on or fastening together garments such as aprons, the clothes of a servant. It is cast in the middle voice, which means we must clothe ourselves, taking upon ourselves the humble attitude of a servant.

Peter knew exactly what this looked like. On the night of the Last Supper, he saw Jesus do exactly that, how He “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:4-5). At first, Peter did not understand and was embarrassed for Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus answered, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this” (v. 7). When He finished washing all their feet, He sat down and said,
Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
Jesus clothed Himself with servant humility from the beginning. I call it the “algebra of love”: God is love (1 John 4:8). Love gives and serves (John 3:16; Mark 10:45). Even now, Jesus makes intercession for us at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34). If He has become the servant of all, should not we, then, also serve each other? Paul said,
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name. (Philippians 2:5-9)
It is in clothing ourselves with humility and serving one another that we clothe ourselves with greatness in the kingdom of God.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wearing the Victor’s Crown

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Everything Peter has said up to this point has been for believers in general. Now he has a few words for the elders, leaders in the churches to whom the people would naturally look, especially in times of crisis. “Shepherd the flock of God,” he tells them. This is the same charge Jesus gave to Peter in John 21:16, “Tend My sheep.” It is the charge Paul gave to the elders at Ephesus: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). It is the pastoral function — the Greek word for “shepherd” is also same word translated “pastor.”

The role of shepherds is simple, though not always easy even in the best of times. They see that the flock is fed, keep it from straying, and protect it from wolves, snares and other dangers. They “exercise oversight.” The Greek word is episkopeo, which means to watch over, look after and care for the flock, being alert to danger or problems. The author of Hebrews uses this same term in a way that emphasizes its diligent nature: “Looking carefully [episkopeo] lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright” (Hebrews 12:15-16).

To be a good shepherd and properly exercise oversight requires the motivation of a pure heart. Peter breaks this down by way of three contrasts:

  • Not under compulsion, but willingly. No shepherd should feel pressured into this work but should be able to serve with a willing heart, for it can be a very difficult and risky business in perilous times.
  • Not for shameful gain, but eagerly. Elders who rule well are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17) and those who are taught in the Word should share with their teachers (Galatians 6:6), but this is not to be the motivation for elders and teachers. They are not to be lovers of money, as were some of the Pharisees (Luke 16:14). They are not to be eager for gain, calculating a return, but eager to serve out of love and devotion. True shepherds lay down their lives for the sheep, but hirelings run away when trouble comes (John 10:11-13).
  • Not domineering, but being an example. Shepherds are not to act as lords over an allotment, or masters over a possession. Their job is not to overcome, subjugate, subdue or force the flock into submission. Rather, they are to lead the flock God has entrusted to them by the example of their own faithful lives.
As shepherds, elders are accountable to the Chief Shepherd, and when He comes again, those who have served faithfully will receive the “unfading crown of glory.” This is the victor’s crown, the wreath given to those who have won their race. Paul spoke similarly as he came to the end of his own apostolic career: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). It is an unfading crown, like the incorruptible inheritance God has reserved for all who trust in Him (1 Peter 1:4).

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When the Spirit Takes Hold of Prayer

Yesterday, I talked about taking hold of answered prayer. Today, I want to talk about when the Holy Spirit takes hold of prayer.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26)
In Romans 8, Paul talks about a number of things that “work together for good” for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (v. 28). Now he comes to how the Holy Spirit “helps” us in prayer. It is because we have a weakness: We do not know what or how to pray. So the Spirit of God comes to “help” us in exactly where we need it most.

This word, “help,” is very interesting and is what I want to talk about today. The Greek word for it here is synantilambano. It is made up of three components:
  1. syn, a prefix which means “together with.”
  2. anti, which means “over against” or “opposite.”
  3. lambano, the word we talked about yesterday and means “to take hold of.” In the middle or passive voice, which is how it is found here, lambano means “to take hold of in turn.”
Taken all together in the middle or passive voice, it is a picture of one taking upon himself the burden of another in order to share it with him. Like two men carrying a timber, one at one end and one at the other, or two people rowing together in a boat, either across from each other at an oar. That is what the Holy Spirit does with us in prayer. He doesn’t do it for us but with us. He takes hold of prayer and “pulls” with us because, otherwise, we would not know how to do it.

How does He help us, then? Paul says He makes intercession for us. While we are praying, He is praying with us and for us, praying on our behalf what we do not know how to pray. Paul describes it as “groanings which cannot be uttered.” Groanings or sighs “too deep for words,” is how the NASB puts it. The Greek text can mean either that they are unutterable (cannot be uttered) or simply that they are unuttered, which is how the HCSB has it: The Spirit intercedes for us with “unuttered groanings.” The point is that the Holy Spirit is doing this in us as we pray whether or not we have any other awareness of it. Although, sometimes it may manifest as a deep burden or travail we feel inside, or as a profusion of tears, or as the heaving of sighs, or perhaps even as speaking in tongues, words that have no particular meaning to our understanding but arise from the Spirit praying in us.

Now, let me ask you. Whenever the Holy Spirit prays, do you think that the Father hears and answers His prayers? Of course, He does. How could it be otherwise? In verse 27, Paul says, “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” The Holy Spirit is always praying for us according to the will of God. The Father certainly knows what the mind of His Spirit at work in us is, and the Spirit knows exactly what is in the heart and mind of the Father (1 Corinthians 2:11). God will always respond to what He Himself is doing in us and answer the prayers that He Himself produces in us.

We never enter into prayer alone. The Spirit of God is always there with us, taking hold of prayer with us. He always knows what He is doing, so we should be attentive and always follow His lead. Paul says we should always be praying with all kinds of prayers in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). The Holy Spirit bears the burden with us and knows how to get the job done. Our part is to pray in faith, knowing that our prayer, along with His, works together for our good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Taking Hold of Answered Prayer

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 ESV)

“Therefore” is there for a reason. Jesus was teaching the disciples something very important about faith and doubt and moving mountains.

Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. (Mark 11:22-23)
The truth here is that we can have what we say when we believe what we say and do not doubt it in our hearts. Now Jesus applies this to prayer:
  • Whatever you ask in prayer. The Greek words that make up “whatever” here mean just that: whatever. There is no request too big for God to handle nor too small for God to care about. The word for “ask” is about what you desire, request, crave or call for. The word for “prayer” is a form of the verb proseuchomai. It is pressing in toward God with your request.
  • Believe that you have received it. Notice carefully here that Jesus does not say, “Believe that God can answer it.” There is an often-quoted saying: “Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that God will.” Jesus puts it even finer edge on it here. What are we to believe when we make our request to God in prayer? Not that we will receive it (future tense) but that we have received it (aorist tense, signifying completed action).
  • And it will be yours. What we have secured by praying and believing we have received will eventually show up. “Faith is the substance [underlying reality] of things hoped for [anticipated, expected]” (Hebrews 11:1). We can expect it to come.
Now for the word of the day. I want to talk about “received.” The Greek verb is lambano. It is not a passive word, as we often tend to think about receiving something. It is active. It means to “take hold of.” Whatever we desire or ask when we pray, we are to believe that we have taken hold of it. In Hebrews 11:1, the Greek word for “substance,” hypostasis, was often used to refer to the title-deed for a piece of land. If you held the title-deed to a property, it was the proof that that property was yours.

In prayer, we are to believe, that is, exercise faith, that we have “taken possession” of whatever we have asked. We are to count it as a “done deal.” Even the word we often close our prayers with shows this. When we say, “Amen,” it is not a polite, religious way of saying “Over and out,” or “See You later, God.” It is a powerful word that expresses faith. It is akin to the Hebrew word aman, which is about believing. It is a word of assurance, as when Jesus would often say, “Truly;” in the Greek text the word is amen (actually an Aramaic term). When you say “Amen” at the end of your prayers, let it be a word of faith that what you have just asked God for in prayer, and believed you have taken hold of, is truly yours and will come to pass. That is the assurance Jesus gives.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Deliverance in Difficult Times

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now
“If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:17-19)
Peter speaks of a judgment that is at hand. The Greek word for “time” here is kairos, a pregnant and propitious moment of significant fulfillment. Notice, he does not say that the time for judgment will come but that it has come.

This judgment begins at the “house of God.” Peter is alluding to a couple of prophetic passages from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 25:15-9; Ezekiel 9:6) that speak of God’s judgment on His disobedient people. However, Peter uses it quite differently here. Judgment begins at the house, or household, of God. “With us,” he says. Not the judgment of God on His disobedient people but the judgment exercised by the world on God’s faithful ones. Those who believe the gospel of about King Jesus the Messiah are being judged and persecuted by the world. But there is coming a time in which God will judge those who do not believe. The persecution believers may experience now cannot compare to the judgment that awaits those who do not obey the gospel, that is, those who reject Jesus.

Peter may also have had in mind the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which was foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24 and fulfilled in AD 70, just a few years after this letter. It was a time of great tribulation and bloodshed for the Jews, but those who believed in Jesus, having been warned by Him of this terrible holocaust, were for the most part able to escape desolation.

Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31, “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” This is not how it renders from the Hebrew text but from the Septuagint, an early Greek translation, which better serves his purpose. The use of “saved” here does not speak of eternal salvation of the soul but of deliverance in the time of trouble. The word “scarcely” means “with difficulty,” and indeed that was the case for these scattered believers. It was a very rough time.

“Therefore,” Peter says, as he introduces the response such a time of persecution calls for, “let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” The will of God here is not what He prescribed but what He permitted. God allows persecutions to come on His people — indeed, Jesus promised us there would be persecutions (Mark 10:30) — but He does not abandon us to them. He is faithful and we can trust Him to see us through every trial and circumstance.

Notice in this verse that the words “to him” are in italics. There is no textual basis for this, but translators supplied it in an attempt to help make the text more understandable. It leads us in the proper direction; we are to commit ourselves to God our creator. But leave out those italicized words and we discover how we are to do just that. We trust ourselves to Him by “doing good.” Here again is that word agathapoios, which we saw in 1 Peter 2:15 and 20, the giving of self that blesses others.

God has created us — Paul says that those who are in the Messiah are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) — and He will continue to take care of us no matter what. The way we commit ourselves to His faithful care is by continuing to do good to others, no matter what. That is how we live in the freedom we now have in Jesus.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Unexpected Cause for Rejoicing

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4:12-16)

“Do not think it strange,” Peter says to those being persecuted for their faith in Jesus, “as though some strange thing happened to you.” It probably did seem strange to them, and to us, too. Are not believers in Jesus a new kind of people — a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people (1 Peter 2:9)? Does not King Jesus the Messiah, in whom we believe, now rule and reign at the right hand of God (1 Peter 3:22) and does not all glory and dominion belong to Him now and forever (1 Peter 4:11)? How is it, then, that believers must endure such harsh treatment from the world?

“Fiery trials” will come. Literally, the Greek word refers to smelting, the process of extracting useful metals from useless ore by the application of extreme heat. It is like the refining process Peter referred to in 1 Peter 1:7, where the end result is a faith “more precious than gold.” What he may have had in mind here were the Christian martyrs in Rome who were being burned alive as torches in Nero’s gardens, giving a new and terrible reality to “fiery trial.”

To “try” something means to test or prove it. The enemy tests us because he wants to see us fail and fall away from the faith; God allows it because He wants us to succeed and move forward in faith. The enemy wants us to suffer and be full of fear; God wants to reveal His glory in us and fill us with joy. The enemy intends for it to destroy us; God allows it to refine us. (It is important to understand that the real enemy here is not those who persecute us but the evil one who motivates them.)

The outcome for us is assured — God will bring us through — so there is no reason for us to fear persecution. Indeed, Peter finds in it reason for “exceeding joy.” This is the third time he has used the word agalliao, which signifies exuberant rejoicing (see 1 Peter 1:6-8 and A Joy Words Cannot Contain). However, it is not in suffering itself that Peter rejoices, but in what it signifies, for both now and in the future.

  • It shows that when King Jesus returns at the end of the age and His glory is revealed, we shall share in it with Him. The apostle Paul, likewise, speaks of suffering and being glorified together with Jesus. “And if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:17). Suffering persecution for Jesus’ sake is also a sign that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
  • It shows that the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. This is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, but He is also called here the Spirit of Glory. The word “rests” means that He abides with us. He does not come and go, He stays with us. Notice the present tense; not rested or will rest, but the Spirit of Glory rests on us — just as He rested on Jesus. When we are reproached because of our faith in Jesus, it is actually the Holy Spirit who is being dishonored by those who persecute us, while He is honored by our faith and honors us with His presence. He is not just with us but upon us, which means that it becomes evident to us and to others.
There is no glory in suffering for being a murderer, a thief, an evildoer or a meddler. These are usually scorned by society, as they were in those days, and rightly so. For the Gentiles, however, believers in Jesus belonged in the same category and were called “Christians” as a term of derision. But what the world treats shamefully, Peter takes as honor: When you are reproached for the name of Christ and called “Christian,” do not take that as a badge of disgrace but as an opportunity to give thanks to God.

This was not just theory for Peter. He lived it. When he and some of the other apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin and admonished for preaching Jesus, Peter answered, “We ought to obey God rather then men.” On advice from Gamaliel that this movement would probably come to nothing, the council released Peter and the apostles. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Algebra of Authority in Heaven and Earth

Before He ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven, King Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

Paul said, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17).

If all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, and we are joint heirs with Him, then all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to us.

Call it the “Algebra of Authority in Heaven and Earth.”

What are you doing with the authority you have received in Jesus the Messiah?

(See also The Authority of Heaven on Earth and Divine Algebra)