Tuesday, June 28, 2005

An Example of Effective Prayer

I was impressed the other day reading Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple. Some of the key points of his prayer were as follows: 1) He said that there is no God like you – a God who keeps covenant and mercy. I think we need to sometimes tell God that there is no one like Him. He knows it of course, but I think He likes to hear that we know it. 2) You have kept your promises. Solomon reviews promises that God has given that He has kept. This leads to 3) Now, keep your promise when you said…. Much is made about the fact that we need to pray in the will of God. We then proceed to ask for things that we have no idea whether they are God’s will or not. What’s wrong with praying something God has promised? People in the Bible did it all the time. 4) You are great and I am small, but in spite of that, please hear my prayer.
These thoughts were taken from 1 Kings 8:22ff

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ephesians 2:1-10

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Paul personalizes the exceeding greatness of God’s power that he just talked about. He told us that the power toward us is the same as the power that raised Christ from the dead. Now he explains that we also have been raised from the dead. The phrase “He made alive” in verse 1 is not in the original. That’s why it is in italics in your Bible. So first, he describes the lostness from which we were raised but he doesn’t explain the resurrection until verse 5. Our condition is described as one of death in trespasses and sins. We used to walk in this condition following the pattern of the world and in the plan of the prince of this world, Satan. We also lived according to the lusts of our flesh and were in our natural state children of wrath just like everybody else. We were naturally the objects of God’s wrath, anger and condemnation.

But God, because He is rich in mercy and because of the great love He has for us, made us alive with Christ. He did this even when we were dead in our trespasses. Nothing is said here of our faith or our responsiveness to the gospel. It takes a living person to be able to respond. We were dead. Resurrection comes before response. Just as in the case of Lazarus. Jesus called him out of the tomb and he came out. Did Jesus give him life because he obediently came out of the tomb or did Lazarus respond because of the life God had given him? The same is true of us. The calling of God and the Word of God grant life and then there is response.

We have been more than raised. There are several other actions that God has (past tense) performed. He has raised us up together and made us sit together with Christ in heavenly places. These have already occurred. As far as God is concerned, we are already there.

So many times we focus on us as the reason for everything God does, but in this passage we get a different point of view. God’s purpose in all of this is that in the ages to come he might show how rich His grace is as it was demonstrated by His kindness. He wants all of creation to realize how great His grace is. It has everything to do with the glory of God and His greatness. Because, after all, it is by grace we have been saved through faith. All of this is a gift of God, not through any of our own works because then we might boast. We are the workmanship of God. We are His creation – both the original and the new creation in Christ.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21far 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. 22And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

It’s amazing to me how Paul says that he does not cease to pray for the Ephesian Christians. I find it so difficult to be consistent in my prayer life and then within that to be consistent praying for particular people or situations. Notice then the content of Paul’s prayer. How different this is from the way most of us pray.

First he prays for the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. Perhaps the following line is an expansion of this idea, but we see that the giver of what he prays for is God, the Father of glory. This is the same God who the Lord Jesus Christ sought in His prayers. He is the source of the wisdom and revelation that Paul is praying for. He is asking that God the Father will give these Christian brothers and sisters such a knowledge of God that wisdom and an understanding of His revelation will come from within them.

To explain that, he goes on to say that what he is asking for is that the eyes of their understanding should be enlightened to know certain things. Only God can turn the light on for us so that our understanding is more clear. The two on their way to Emmaus had talked with the Lord and they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Jesus was able to open the Scriptures to them so that they begin to understand.
What then does Paul pray for them to know? He wants them to know the hope of God’s calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.

It’s an important thing to know the hope that God’s calling gives us. When God calls us, He gives us a hope. Before we know Christ we were without hope and without God. But the fact that God calls us provides that hope both now and for eternity. Scripture says that Christ in you is the hope of glory.

Second, Paul wants us to know the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. It is not our inheritance he speaks about here, it is God’s inheritance. God’s work in us is so glorious and so transforming that God can speak of us as his inheritance. And it is not just any ordinary inheritance. He speaks of it as the riches of the glory of His inheritance. Is that the way you see yourself in Christ?

Third, Paul describes the greatness of His power operating on us who believe. It is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. But it is greater power than that. It is the power that seated Him at the right hand of God. According to the book of Hebrews, the fact that Christ is seated means that His job was finished, the penalty of sin was forever paid unlike the priests who continually stood day by day to offer sacrifices. And finally it was enough power to make Him head of the church, His body.

This section finishes with an interesting thought. The church is described as the fullness of Him who fills all in all. It’s hard to put into words what this means, but there is some sense in which the church is the fullness of God. It’s not the completeness of God because God is complete in and of himself. But we as His church make up His fullness. I don’t know what that means, but it must mean something amazing if you think about it.

Considering this prayer makes my prayers look extremely trivial. Paul goes beyond the praying for the sick and salvation and spiritual growth. He prays for a deep understanding of the truth of God’s work on behalf of His people.

Eph 1:11-14

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

It’s an interesting study to go through this chapter and see the number of times Paul speaks of being in him or in Christ. Here we see that in Him we have received an inheritance. Later on Paul will describe God’s inheritance, but here we receive an inheritance because of our union with Christ. To describe this idea, Paul says that we were predestined. Predestination is not the same thing as election. Predestined means to determine the destiny or outcome ahead of time. In this passage, that destiny is that we should be to the praise of His glory. In other words, God has determined and planned that we will be to the praise of His glory. He works all things out according to the counsel of His will and if He determines and wills to accomplish it, it will be accomplished. We will be to the praise of His glory, because God knows what it will take in our lives to accomplish that task.

The Ephesians also trusted in Christ after they heard the word of truth, the gospel. That is the way we all come to salvation. It is always and only by trusting in Christ that a person is saved. It is always faith in the Word of God. Salvation never comes except through the Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. People cannot be saved without the Word, that is why missionary activity and preaching are so important.

Having believed, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Paul describes Him as the guarantee, earnest or down payment of our inheritance. Someone provides a down payment as a pledge that the rest will be forth coming. If the rest does not follow, the down payment belongs to the recipient. In this context, that would mean that if God does not follow through on the rest of His promise, we get to keep the Holy Spirit. It is foolishness to think that God would lose the Holy Spirit because of failure to fulfill the remainder of His promise and that is the point. God’s promise of our inheritance is that secure. The Holy Spirit is the down payment until the redemption of the purchased possession. What is that purchased possession? Us!

All to the praise of His glory. These things are not for our glory but for His. Modern Christianity has made man the center. God does what He does for His glory including our salvation. Let’s give Him the glory He deserves.