Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “prayer

What about God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them?

Mitre Peak Milford Sound New Zealand

Mitre Peak Milford Sound New ZealandWhen the disciples asked why they couldn’t drive a demon out of a boy who had seizures, Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17:20NIV). The reason was also given as “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mk. 9:29).

They lacked faith and prayer. Because of unbelief, they didn’t pray about it. The mountain is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced. They should have exercised their faith in God by praying about the problem. The prayer would be answered if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. Miracles can happen when we pray under these circumstances.

On the Monday before his crucifixion, Jesus cursed a fig tree because it was unfruitful. He them taught his disciples how to deal with the problems of fruitlessness and obstacles and difficulties. Once again the mountain illustrates the obstacles and difficulties. This is described in two gospels:

Mark 11:22-24 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Mt 21:21-22  Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

They were to exercise their faith in God by praying about the problem. God promised to answer if they believe and don’t doubt. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for answered prayer. Such confidence needs to rely on a promise from God or an assurance that the request is according to God’s will. The ultimate source of such confidence is the words of Scripture or the witness of the Holy Spirit. So the prayer needs to be in accordance with the conditions given in the Bible.

We can approach God confidently in prayer because He promises to answer prayers that are “according to His will”. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). That’s how Jesus prayed at Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39, 42) and how He told His disciples to pray (Jn. 14:13-14). And of course, God’s will is given most clearly in the Bible.

Other conditions for answered prayer include: forgiving others (Mk. 11:25), confessing and repenting of sin (Ps. 66:18), obeying God’s commands (1 Jn. 3:22), right motives (Jas. 4:3), and persevering in prayer (Lk. 17:1-8). They also apply to other passages which may seem to imply that we can get whatever we ask for (Mt. 7:7-8; Lk. 11:9-10; Jn. 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24; 1 Jn. 3:22).

God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied. So, how are you praying?

Written, September 2013


Surviving the burdens of life – lessons from David

When I read Job and Psalms recently, I realised that Job and David both suffered life threatening situations and went through times of anguish and despair. In this article we look at David’s trials and troubles when he was a fugitive.

David’s burdens as a fugitive

David was a shepherd who became the king of Israel in about 1010 BC. But he had good times and bad times before this happened. In the good times he became king Saul’s musician and armour-bearer. Then he killed the taunting Philistine champion Goliath, married Saul’s daughter and was given a high rank in the army. Because of his military victories, he became a national hero.

ButSaul became jealous of David and when this developed into hatred, he tried to kill him. First he hurled a spear towards him on three occasions, which would have been terrifying as Saul was a head taller than anyone else (1 Sam. 9:2). Then he gave him a military mission hoping that he would die in battle. After these attempts on David’s life failed, Saul remained David’s enemy for the rest of his life (1 Sam. 18:28-29). Next, Saul commanded his men to kill David. They ambushed David’s house, but his wife helped him escape that night.

David’s life had changed drastically. He now feared for his life and was a fugitive on the run from Saul and his men (1 Sam. Ch. 19-30). David said, “there is only a step between me and death” (1Sam. 20:3). He fled to Samuel in Ramah where he was given refuge among the prophets (1 Sam. 19:18). When Saul discovered David’s whereabouts, David escaped to Nob (1 Sam. 21:1-9), and then to Gath among the Philistines and from there to the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4; 1 Chron. 12:8-18) where 400 men joined him and accepted him as their leader. David’s parents joined him too, but for their safety he took them to Moab east of the Dead Sea. A prophet then told him to move to the forest of Hereth. Meanwhile, Saul was so desperate that he ordered the murder of 85 priests and their families who had innocently given refuge to David at Nob (1 Sam. 22:11-19).

For a while, David found himself in the bizarre situation of fighting Saul’s enemies and fleeing Saul at the same time. David and his men drove the Philistines from Keilah (1 Sam. 23:1-14) and then moved to the hill country of Judah to escape Saul in the deserts of Ziph and Maon. When Saul’s forces almost caught David’s men, they were called away to fight the Philistines. Then David escaped to En Gedi on the Dead Sea. After Saul arrived with 3,000 soldiers, David went to the region of Maon once again. David spared Saul’s life on two occasions when Saul was hunting him (1 Sam. 24:10, 26:9). He was still loyal to the king.

David and his 600 men and their families then returned to Gath and settled in Ziklag because he thought he was safer amongst the Philistines. As Saul stopped searching for them, they were able to stay there for 16 months until Saul was killed in battle against the Philistines (1 Sam. 27:1-6; 31:1-6). David was probably a fugitive for about 4-5 years; assuming he was about 16 years of age when he defeated Goliath (2 Sam. 2:2,10; 5:4).

When David was on the run as a fugitive, he hid from his pursuers; Saul and his men. His life was in danger because Saul feared and hated him.  Instead of addressing the Philistine threat, Saul’s attention was diverted to the pursuit of David.

David’s songs as a fugitive

Today we see people walking and running around with headphones listening to songs. Well David also had songs in his head, but he didn’t need headphones because he was a singer, songwriter and musician!

Here are some songs that David composed when he was a fugitive, which show his feelings and responses to his burdens of life.

Psalm 59 is a prayer for deliverance when Saul’s men ambushed David’s house (1 Sam. 19:11-17).

“Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
and save me from those who are after my blood.

See how they lie in wait for me!
Fierce men conspire against me
for no offense or sin of mine, LORD.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
Arise to help me; look on my plight!” (Ps. 59:1-4NIV)

He trusts in God in such times of trouble and the song finishes with praise.

“I will sing of Your strength,
in the morning I will sing of Your love;
for You are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.

You are my strength, I sing praise to You;
You, God, are my fortress,
my God on whom I can rely.” (Ps. 59:16-17)

Psalm 7 is a prayer for deliverance from one of Saul’s men.

“LORD my God, I take refuge in You;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” (Ps. 7:1-2)

The song finishes with praise.

“I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.” (Ps. 7:17)

In Psalm 56 David experiences waves of fear and faith as he seeks refuge from Saul amongst the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-15; 27:1-4).

“Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.” (Ps. 56:1-2)

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps. 56:3-4)

In Psalm 57 David fluctuates between faith in God and fear of his enemies when he is hiding from Saul in the cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 24:1-22).

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in You I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until the disaster has passed.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.

I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.” (Ps. 57:1-4)

Even though God and his enemies were ever-present, the song finishes with praise.

“I will praise You, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of You among the peoples.
For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let Your glory be over all the earth.” (Ps. 57:9-11)

In Psalm 142 David is overwhelmed with stress when he is hiding from Saul in the cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 24:1-22). So, he prays for deliverance.

“I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out before Him my complaint;
before Him I tell my trouble.” (Ps. 142:1-2)

“I cry to You, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise Your name.” (Ps. 142:5-7)

Psalm 54 is a prayer for deliverance when the Ziphites betrayed David twice (1 Sam. 23:19-28; 26:1-4).

“Save me, O God, by Your name;
vindicate me by Your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.

Arrogant foes are attacking me;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
people without regard for God.

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in Your faithfulness destroy them.” (Ps. 54:1-5)

He then offered praise and thanksgiving.

“I will sacrifice a freewill offering to You;
I will praise Your name, LORD, for it is good.
You have delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.” (Ps. 54:6-7)

Other songs

Some other songs may have been composed when David was a fugitive.

Psalm 13 is a prayer for deliverance from his enemies.

“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’

and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in Your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in Your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for He has been good to me.”

So although David felt forgotten, depressed, humiliated faced the risk of death and defeat, he finished with praise.

Psalm 17 is a prayer for deliverance from enemies who had tracked him down.

“Keep me as the apple (or pupil) of Your eye;
hide me in the shadow of Your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.” (Ps. 17:8-9)

Psalm 31 is prayer and praise for deliverance.

“But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in Your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.” (Ps. 31:14-15)

Psalm 109 is prayer for God’s judgement of enemies.

“My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.” (Ps. 109:1-4)

Psalm 35 is a prayer to be rescued from those who taunted him. As usual, he finishes with praise.

“May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, ‘The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.’

My tongue will proclaim Your righteousness,
Your praises all day long.” (Ps 35:27-28)

Psalm 120 is a prayer for deliverance from lies and slander.

“I call on the LORD in my distress,
and He answers me.
Save me, LORD,
from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.” (Ps. 120:1-2)

Finally, in Psalm 22 David feels forsaken by God and rejected by people and surrounded by his enemies.

“Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.” (Ps. 22:12-13)

Lessons for the children of Israel

All these songs are recorded in Scripture for the benefit of God’s people. What was the lesson for the children of Israel in Old Testament times? As a fugitive, David’s life was in danger because he was outnumbered by Saul’s men and he was under continual stress. How did he handle this burden and the fact that his father-in-law hated him? He used the weapon of prayer to get God’s help; he said “Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). He dealt with his burdens by directing them to the Lord. So, he laid the situation before God, recalled who God was, what God was able to do, and his status before God. He requested God’s help, affirmed His power, and offered thanks and praise. It was a pattern of prayer and praise. After all, David said, “I am a man of prayer” (Ps. 109:4). He also said: “In the morning, LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly” (Ps. 5:3). He prayed when his mind was clear and the temperature was cool.  Being “a man after God’s own heart”, he was a model for the Jews to follow (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).

David’s suffering was also prophetic of the suffering of the Messiah; they both felt forsaken by God (Ps. 22:1; Mt; 27:46) and they were both taunted with “let God rescue him” (Ps.22:8; Mt:27:43). Jesus was a descendant of David who suffered, yet was innocent. Like David, He responded to His burdens with prayer and endurance.

Lessons for us

First, are we like Saul or like David? Who do we trust? Saul trusted himself, but David trusted in God. David knew that God created the universe and rescued his nation from slavery in Egypt. Do we realise that God created the universe? Through trusting in Christ we can be rescued from the consequences of our sinful ways and have peace with God. That’s real security.

Second, if we are trusting God, we need to be careful when applying Old Testament verses to us today because since then Jesus has come and the church has formed. God’s people today are Christians whose sins have been forgiven by the death of Christ and who live under God’s grace, not the children of Israel who lived under the Old Testament laws (Rom. 6:14).

Is David’s pattern of surviving burdens by prayer, praise and endurance consistent with the New Testament? Yes it is, but with the following changes because of what Jesus and the apostles taught:

  • Like Jesus, we are to love and pray for our enemies, instead of hating them like David (Mt. 5:44). Although David did respect Saul as king of Israel.
  • We shouldn’t pray vindictive prayers or seek vengeance on others like David in Psalm 109, but leave such judgment up to God (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Pet. 2:9). Although vindictive prayers were proper for a Jew living under the law, they are not for a Christian living under God’s grace. The time of God’s vengeance will come after the church is raptured to heaven.
  • Also, we should be willing to endure suffering, taunting and slander like Jesus did and not react against it like David (Mt. 5:11-12; 1Pet. 2:20, 23; 3:9)
  • Today people are not our enemies like they were for David; instead it is our sinful desires that war against our soul (1 Pet.2:1). Our enemies are within; they are internal not external (Mt. 15:11, 19). They are spiritual not physical. Keep that in mind when you read the Psalms.

There are two similarities to note between today and David’s time:

  • As Saul’s men followed David relentlessly, so our emotional and spiritual burdens follow us around.
  • Prayer is still important for New testament believers: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Like David, let’s be people of prayer.

So although our burdens are ever present, remember that our God is also ever present and that prayer and praise are essential for surviving the burdens of life.

Written, October 2011

Also see: Surviving the burdens of life – lessons from Job


Why don’t we pray to the Holy Spirit?

Most of the examples of prayer in the Bible are addressed to God the Father. Jesus told His disciples that after He returned to heaven they should make their requests to God the Father in prayer “in my name” (Jn. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26).  As the name of the Lord represents His character, to ask God for something in Jesus’ name does not mean to mention this in the prayer, but to pray in accordance with Christ’s will. In order to do this, we need to be in close fellowship with the Lord, knowing His desires.

Prayer should be “in the Spirit”, which means to pray as guided by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20). Praying in the Spirit also means praying in accordance with God’s will as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us through Scripture (1 Jn. 5:14-15). In fact the Holy Spirit prays for us “in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).

As the godhead comprises the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; what about prayer to the Son and the Spirit? Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). This is consistent with the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind (1 Tim. 2:5). It is the clearest example in scripture of a prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no instance in scripture of a person praying to the Holy Spirit or mentioning the Holy Spirit in a prayer. This may be related to the fact that the Spirit prays and intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit also helps believers pray to God as their Father (Gal. 4:6). If the Holy Spirit guides our prayers and prays for us, there is no need to pray to the Spirit. On the other hand, there is no scriptural warning against prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit.

There is no instance in scripture of a person praying to angels or to the saints in heaven. The Bible certainly doesn’t advocate prayer to those who are not members of the godhead.

Written, April 2004


Contend for the faith

Jude’s advice on living for God

The letter of Jude addresses apostasy in the church. An apostate is someone who professes to be a believer but is not a true Christian—the Greek word means defection or revolt. They deny the fundamentals of the faith. Judas Iscariot is a good example—he travelled with Jesus and the apostles, but showed his true character when he betrayed the Lord.

The apostates at that time were the Gnostics who regarded matter as being inherently evil and spirit as being good. This lead to hedonism as a result of the idea that the body could do anything it wanted to. They were selfish immoral heretics, who denied that Jesus was God’s son, that He died for the sins of the world and that He rose back to life (Jude 4,18). They also divided the church and didn’t have the Holy Spirit with them (Jude 19).

How should a Christian respond to such opposition, gross sinfulness and ungodliness? In this case it was coming from within the professing church. Jude lists five things that they could do in this situation. These would apply to any believers facing opposition and ungodliness. It describes how Christians should live for God in a sinful world.

Build yourselves up in your most holy faith

The first activity is to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith” or build your lives on the foundation of your most holy faith (Jude 20NIV). The Greek word used for “build” in this verse is used elsewhere to describe:

  • God and the Bible (Acts 20:32)
  • teaching in the local church (1 Cor. 3:10, 12, 14).
  • teaching of the writers of the New Testament (Eph. 2:20)
  • Living as though Jesus is Lord: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). This is similar to Jude 20 and shows that the building is linked with being “strengthened in the faith”.

These are the things we should be building on and with—they are the contents of our belief, that is Christian “faith”. As they come from God, they are called “holy” (Jude 20).

Building up conveys a sense of growth and strengthening. Jude had urged them to “contend for the faith” (v.3) they had been given. This is a command to guard and defend Biblical truth. Similarly, Paul writes that believers should contend for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose them (Phil. 1:27-28). So the Christian faith as given in the Bible is entrusted to us and we need to know it well enough to defend it.

When we accept Christ as Savior and Lord, we begin a lifetime of spiritual growth—we are to keep on building: “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:23). This is a personal responsibility: “build yourselvesup”. Some effort is required here to respond to all God has given us in the Bible by assimilating it into our lives. Paul expressed a similar thought, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 3:18). There are two parts to this growth; grace and truth! This means becoming more like Christ (Jn. 1:14).

The fundamentals of the Christian faith should be taught by preachers and teachers and understood by believers. When this happens there is a response of thankfulness (Col. 2:7). Preachers, teachers and small group leaders are builders in the local church (1 Cor. 3:10-17). They may build using “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw”. Teaching can either be of lasting worth or only of passing value or of no value at all. It can be tested against the teachings of the Bible.

Paul and Barnabas strengthened believers and encouraged them to remain true to the faith (Acts 14:21-22 ). We should help each other in this: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11). So, it should be a corporate activity, not just an individual one.

Pray in the Holy Spirit

Next Jude writes that we should “Pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). This means to pray as guided by the Holy Spirit. It’s a part of living each day by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25).

Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:18-20). We need an active prayer life. Share your life with God; after all you are His ambassador. Pray for each other. Paul doesn’t ask to be released from prison, but that he may declare the gospel.

Praying in the Spirit also means praying in accordance with God’s will as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us through Scripture. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15).

Prayer replaces anxiety with peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit prays for us! “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).

Keep yourselves in God’s love

Then Jude calls Christians to “Keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 21). The word “keep” has been used to describe how Jesus watches us and protects us from evil (1 Jn. 5:18; Jude 1). This would have been comforting to those experiencing persecution.

To “keep” often means to guard—Paul was guarded in prison (Acts 12:5,6; 16:23). He also guarded the Christian faith (2 Tim. 4:7). He asked us to guard our lives by keeping free from sin (1 Tim. 5:22). To keep yourselves in God’s love means to live in God’s love—to guard our lives so that His love controls us (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Of course, no-one can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). God always loves us, but when sin comes into our life we longer enjoy His love. Let nothing come between us and God—if it does, then confess it and turn away from it (1 Jn. 1:9). Then we can enjoy His love and let it influence us and express it to others.

Is God’s love central in your mind, will and emotions? Paul wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Th. 3:5). When this happens it is evident in how we live, “if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him (1 Jn. 2:5). Similarly, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (Jn. 15:10). Also, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (Jn. 14:21).

To live in God’s love means to show it to others (1 Jn. 3:16-18). So, it includes what we do as well as what we say. God’s love for us should flow through to our love for each other, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

Another mention of “love” in Jude’s letter is the “love feast” (v.12)— a common meal eaten by early Christians before the Lord’s supper. Times of fellowship and the Lord’s supper should help us to live in God’s love.

Like learning Christian doctrine and prayer, living in God’s love has a corporate component—we can’t do it all by ourselves. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). We need to encourage one another in these important aspects of the Christian life whenever we meet together.

It is interesting to note that these first three activities were practiced by the early church; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Wait for the Lord’s return

Jude also urges Christians to “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). To “wait” means looking forward and expecting a favorable reception. Paul wrote that believers should “wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). Christ’s coming is to “bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28). When Christ returns He will come to take His people home to heaven. This is the next phase of God’s great work of salvation; they will be like Christ, with new bodies and free from the presence of sin (1 Jn. 3:2). Ultimately, we are looking forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13).

In the New Testament, the word “wait” is closely connected with how we live our lives. For example, we should “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” and be “eager to do what is good” while we wait (Tit. 2:12-14). Also, we “ought to live holy and godly lives” as we wait (2 Pt. 3:11-12). So waiting for the Lord’s return involves changing our behavior!

The prospect of the Lord’s second coming should encourage us; “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). We have hope regardless of what our situation may be. We should use it to encourage one another; we are on a journey and we haven’t reached our destination. The best is yet to come. It should help us to live godly lives—“Everyone who has this hope will keep themselves pure, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3).

Reach out to help others

Finally, Jude calls Christians to “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23).

In the case of apostasy in the church and those following false teachers there are three situations. Firstly, leaders and those actively promoting this behavior need to be dealt with firmly. This is the responsibility of the elders (Acts 20:28-31). For example, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 Jn. 10-11). We should not show hospitality to such people.

For the remainder there are two courses of action. Secondly, “be merciful to those who doubt”—show kindness by helping and correcting them.  The word “doubt” means lack of faith. Jesus expressed mercy in healing the demon-possessed man, while lack of mercy is illustrated by the servant who should have forgiven his fellow-servant (Mt. 18:33; Mk. 5:19). We need to reach out compassionately to these people and help them replace their doubts with true Christian faith. This is how Jesus responded to people, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). So He healed, fed and taught them (Mt. 14:14; 15:32, Mk. 6:34).

Thirdly, “snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”. Remember Lot had to be snatched from the city of Sodom before it was destroyed (Gen. 19:15-17). Some need strong warning, instruction or action to stop them following false teachers or to remove them from bad situations. But be aware of the influence of sin. In Old Testament times the clothing of those with infectious skin diseases such as leprosy had to be burned (Lev. 13:47-52). This illustrates the care that must be taken when dealing with people who have been involved with serious sins. Sin is tempting and can be contagious, we must do all we can to avoid catching it. In these situations it is best not to act alone; get others to pray and help in any rescue mission.

Those living in fellowship with God will show mercy to others (Jas. 2:13).  An example of “mercy mixed with fear” is “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Of course, like Jesus, our compassion should reach those outside the church. We should encourage each to reach out to those who don’t know God and who are slaves of sin.

Living for God today

Today we often face apathy rather than apostasy. I think Jude’s advice applies in both situations. What world view are you building your life on? What are you keeping because of its value? What are you waiting for in anticipation? Are you praying? Are you reaching out to help others?

Whatever challenge you face, contend for the faith by following Jude’s advice. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith—learn about it from the Bible, which is how God speaks to us. Pray in the Holy Spirit—speak to God. Keep yourselves in God’s love—apply the Bible to your life. Wait for the Lord’s return and reach out to help others. These should be top priority for Christians and for local churches. We can’t control what happens around us, but we can influence our response to it and live godly lives.

If you are faithful in this, God promises to “keep you from falling” down here (like apostates and false teachers) and to “present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” up there (Jude 24). Then you will respond in praise, “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” (Jude 25).

Written, April 2002


The Bible teaches us to submit to various authorities. But what if an authority makes a law that requires us to disobey God?

Although Christians are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), they must also submit themselves to all forms and levels of human government (Tit. 3:1). God established human government after the flood; and Genesis 9:6 introduces the concept of governmental authority when it speaks of capital punishment. Governments help maintain law and order, keep the peace and avoid anarchy. Our attitude to authority is an important part of our Christian life.

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities because they are established by God and viewed as His servants (Rom. 13:1-7). The governing authorities are set in place by the permissive choice of God and their power is from God (Jn. 19:11; Rom. 9:17). Their weapons are a sign of their authority. So when people disobey a human ruler, they indirectly disobey God.

It’s good to be law-abiding citizens, because if we don’t submit to authority we will have a bad conscience. We are to pay our taxes to those in authority and never join in rebellion against the government or seek its overthrow by violence.

Paul quoted Exodus 22:28 when he said, “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5 NIV). He also said that we should pray for “all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). It should be noted that the governing authorities were probably pagans when these passages of the Bible were written.

Here are three examples from Scripture of those who respected authorities in difficult circumstances.

  • David honored wicked King Saul and called him the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:6) even though he sought to kill David.
  • When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus, He said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21).
  • Nero (a godless brutal ruler) was the Roman emperor when Peter wrote “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

Christians should obey God, but not place the authorities above God (Jn. 14:21-24; 15:10; Eph. 5:24; Heb. 5:9; 12:9; Jas. 4:7). A Christian is not required to obey if an authority orders him to sin, to disobey God or to compromise his loyalty to Jesus Christ. When the apostles were commanded not to preach they replied “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29).

Here are two examples from Scripture of those who disobeyed authorities instead of disowning God.

  • When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon commanded that everyone should bow down to an idol, three Jews – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – chose to follow God’s command instead (Dan. 3; Ex. 20:3-5). Because of their faithfulness, God protected them from the fiery furnace and they were promoted in Babylon.
  • When King Darius issued a decree saying that anyone who prayed to a god other than the king would be thrown into the lions’ den (Dan. 6), Daniel kept praying to his God “just as he had done before” (Dan. 6:10). When he was punished by being thrown into the lion’s den, God protected him, and he even prospered.

Scripture shows us that we should obey all authority, unless that authority requires us to disobey God, who is the highest authority.

Published, February 2010


What is a deliverance ministry? Is it scriptural? Should I get involved?

What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.

A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.

Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.

Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.

Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:

“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).

“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).

It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.

The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).

As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.

Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.

In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).

Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).

Published, April 2009


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 6: Living As A Christian

In this Series on 1 Thessalonians we have seen that Paul visited and preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. Because he couldn’t visit them for some time, he wrote a letter of encouragement. From 4:1 to 5:11 Paul reminded them how to please God – avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. Instead of grieving for those who had died, they were to look forward to being reunited with them and to be awake and sober as they looked forward to the Lord’s return. Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with the elders, other believers and God.

Living With Church Leaders
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NIV

These verses address leadership in the local church. The Bible teaches that each church is to be led by a group of qualified elders who share this responsibility. Several characteristics of elders are mentioned here. They are to “work hard” at caring for people. They are to be “over” the congregation, meaning that they are to maintain or rule. In other letters Paul said that they “direct the affairs of the church” and “lead” (1 Tim. 5:17; Rom. 12:8). Both Paul and Peter likened their care to spiritual parents caring for a family (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Elders are also to “admonish” or gently reprove the congregation. Paul used the same word when he told them to warn anyone who didn’t obey his instructions (2 Th. 3:15). Elders are to remind the church of God’s truths and the dangers of living a self-centered life.

In this passage, the congregation was given two responsibilities with respect to the elders. It was to “respect” them. This Greek word is translated as “acknowledge” (TNIV), “know” (KJV), “recognize” (NKJV), “appreciate” (NASB) and “honor” (NLT). The congregation needs to know the elders if they are going to trust and follow them. They are also to “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else.

In this context Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (1 Th. 5:23; Gal. 5:22). There is a need to value all the elders, as favoring one divides the congregation. Also, elders should serve the whole congregation, not just part of it. Paul wrote elsewhere that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace” and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 14:19; 12:18).

Living With Believers
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Here Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-11). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that “anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior (2 Th. 3:10-13). This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.

“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work.

“Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. Paul also taught that we shouldn’t stumble those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1-15; 1 Cor. 8:13). They need our encouragement, friendship and help.

Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). When someone hurts us, we should not get angry and retaliate, but rather seek reconciliation (Mt. 18:15-17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.

Living Before God In All Circumstances
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Paul began with “Be joyful always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. In Philippians 4:4 he added that our rejoicing should be “in the Lord.” This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1 Th. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.

Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. For example, when Peter was in prison, the believers prayed and he was released (Acts 12:1-19). We should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).

Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Believers should be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7) even in the trials and difficulties which mature us. We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. Daniel prayed three times a day, “giving thanks to his God” even though his life was in danger (Dan. 6:10-12). We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.

Living Before God As He Guides
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church. This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to keep the Spirit’s fire burning by following Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and by following the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. Paul also said that those listening to prophets should discern or “weigh carefully” what they say (1 Cor. 14:29). They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Paul’s Prayer
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful. There are different aspects to sanctification (holiness), and here he addressed progressive sanctification. Paul prayed that their sanctification would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul.

It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.

In Conclusion
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. The kiss was a normal greeting of that day, similar to a handshake in western countries. It expressed friendship with fellow believers. Paul wanted “to have this letter read to all” brothers and sisters, a statement not found in any of his other letters (5:27); he thought it was that important. We should read it with this in mind.

Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.

Lessons For Us
Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.

May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.

Published, June 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)

See the first article in this series:
- Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 3: Paul’s Joy

In this series we have seen that Paul preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. These people turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They were also a good example for all believers in Greece. Paul loved new believers like a mother caring for her baby, and coached them like a father training his children. He was a hard worker. He knew the opposition the Thessalonians faced because he had faced it as well.

In Part 3 we look at Paul’s joy, which is mentioned three times (1 Th. 2:19,20; 3:9). We will see his priorities in life and his attitude towards new believers.

Paul’s Concern
“But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Th. 2:17-20 NIV)

Paul explained his failure to return to Thessalonica (2:17-18). Perhaps his critics accused him of being afraid to go back because of the opposition he faced, but Paul said that his separation from them was like being “torn away.” He felt like an orphan – their close relationship was like family.

His concern for the Thessalonians is clearly evident. Although he was forced to leave the city, he still thought about them regularly. In fact, he had an “intense longing” to know how they were doing, and did all he could to visit them again. He tried at least twice, but his plans were blocked by Satan (2:18). But God always overrules Satan’s opposition, and in this case He used Paul’s delay so this letter would be written and believers in all eras could benefit from Paul’s example.

Satan wants to hinder the spread of the gospel and the spiritual growth of believers. When we face hindrances in God’s work, Satan is often behind them. Paul wrote: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Satan and his demons are the real enemy, not the people or circumstances that they use. Satanic opposition is permitted by God. Remember how Satan got God’s permission before he afflicted Job. It is God’s way of getting our attention. Nothing happens by chance to Christians.

Paul believed that his most important work was helping new believers grow in the Christian faith (2:19-20). As his spiritual children, they were his hope of reward and great rejoicing in heaven. He also said that the believers in Philippi were his “joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1).

The believers at Thessalonica were also Paul’s “glory and joy” on earth (2:20). His investment of time with them resulted in believers who would praise God forever. Such investments are the best we can make because the reward extends into eternity. What a great incentive for this type of work!

Delegation
“So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and our efforts might have been useless” (1 Th. 3:1-5).

Paul had heard no news and wanted to find out how they were doing (3:1-2). He sent Timothy, a spiritual brother and co-worker in God’s service (1 Cor. 3:9), to accomplish three tasks: strengthen and encourage them in their faith (3:2); ensure they were not being unsettled by persecution (3:3); and check their progress in the Christian life (3:5). Paul was afraid that they may have been seduced by Satan to escape persecution by giving up their faith. The choice was loyalty to Christ or personal comfort. If they chose personal comfort, the church would wither and die and Paul’s work would have been in vain.

Hardship And Opposition
Paul had already reminded them to expect persecution (3:4). When he revisited Pisidia he said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The journey for believers before they share in Christ’s glory involves suffering (2 Tim. 3:12; Jn. 16:33). The Lord warned His disciples that to follow Him meant facing opposition: “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:20). We know that Christ and the apostles were persecuted (1 Pet. 2:21). Timothy would have told them to expect opposition and to persist through it. He would have also reminded them of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that God was training them through their hardship.

God uses opposition, persecution, suffering and trials to discipline and train us (Heb. 12:7-11). They can test and prove our faith and weed out those who profess but don’t have true faith (Mk. 4:17; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). As we experience God’s comfort, we can encourage others who are going through difficult times (2 Cor. 1:4). Difficulties also develop character (Rom. 5:3; Jas. 1:3) and make us more zealous in spreading the gospel (Acts 8:3-4).

Timothy’s Report
“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” (1Th. 3:6-9).

Timothy’s good report from Thessalonica filled Paul with joy. His labor was not in vain. Their faith and love were clearly evident. They had pleasant memories of Paul’s visit and longed to see him again. His response was to write this letter.

They were living according to his teaching and showing this by loving one another (3:6). They had the right attitude towards God, towards others and towards Paul. To the Galatians Paul wrote: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). And to the Ephesians he wrote: “Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints I have not stopped giving thanks” (Eph. 1:15-16).

Although he was suffering “distress and persecution,” Paul was greatly encouraged because of their faith (3:7). He was relieved to know they were doing well (3:8). In fact, words couldn’t express His thankfulness to God (3:9). His attitude was like John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 4).

Paul’s Prayer
“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones” (1 Th. 3:10-13).

When it’s hard to know what to pray for Paul wrote: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).

When the Thessalonians were persecuted, Paul prayed most earnestly, frequently and specifically. “Most earnestly” is a compound Greek word meaning “most exceedingly.” He knew what they were going through and prayed night and day. It’s not surprising that they were “standing firm in the Lord” (3:8). He also wrote, “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-17).

Paul mentioned four things specifically in his prayer. First, he wanted to see them again. Second, he wanted to teach them further truths from God. Third, he wanted God to “clear the way” for him to come to them. God answered this prayer when he returned to Thessalonica (Acts 20:1-3). Fourth, he prayed that their love for others might increase.

In Chapter 1, Paul noted their “labor prompted by love” (1 Th. 1:3); they had made a great start. Their love was to include both believers and unbelievers – and even their enemies. This was the kind of love that Paul modeled. It is a love that is to be practiced continually.

Our expression of love in this life leads to blamelessness in the next. If we love one another and all humanity, we will stand “blameless and holy” when Christ returns to reign on earth. The Greek word used to describe believers in the New Testament means “holy one” or “saint.” Positionally, believers are holy (set apart for God), and practically should be becoming more holy in character by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).

Lessons For Us
This is a lesson in the importance of follow-up work. It is not enough to lead sinners to the Savior; they must also be discipled towards maturity. Remember that Paul revisited many of the cities where he had preached and established a church. He sought to build up the believers in their faith, especially teaching them the truth of the Church and its importance in God’s program. The aim of such missionaries is to establish self-sustaining churches.

The Lord’s command to His disciples was, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20). Making disciples was Paul’s passion.

Are we like Paul? Do we encourage younger believers? Do we long to know how they are doing? Do we rejoice in their progress? Do we pray for them? Do we train them like Timothy, and then release them to do God’s work?

Are we like the Thessalonians? Do we stand firm in the Lord? Is our faith strong in the midst of suffering and temptation? Do we trust God despite the difficulties of life? Is our love evident and increasing? Are we living godly lives?

This was Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians, and for us.

Published, March 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Living to please God


The Unseen World Of Demons

Satan’s Invisible Agents

Many people doubt the existence of demons or evil spirits, because they believe in a scientific view of the world. They assume the physical world is all that exists, as only it can be observed and measured by scientific methods. But what if a reality exists outside the world of science? Our Christian faith believes in such a reality because after His resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ lived in the unseen world which science cannot sense in any way. Such unbelief is nothing new; the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, angels or demons (Acts 23:8).

The Unseen World
The Bible is the only reliable source of information about demons and the unseen world. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: visible and invisible (Col. 1:16). The unseen spiritual part of our world is like an extra dimension which we can’t detect with our physical senses. The word translated “spirit” in the New Testament is the same Greek word as “wind,” which is used to describe things that are invisible and powerful. By faith we can be “certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1 NIV).

The unseen world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills; not “forces” or “influences.” It is comprised of two components; the divine and the created. The triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the divine inhabitants of the unseen world (Jn. 4:24). The created inhabitants of the unseen world are: angels who are God’s agents that serve God and His followers (Heb. 1:14); Satan who opposes God and His followers (1 Pet. 5:8); demons who are Satan’s agents; and human spirits which are the eternal part of our being (2 Cor. 4:18). Note that demons are not divine and they are not human spirits.

The unseen world is eternal, it will never end: “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Demons are immortal. Their destiny is eternal torment in the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).

Satan’s Agents
Demons are Satan’s angels and Satan is described as the “prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24; 25:41). Demons share some things in common with angels and with Satan. They were created as God’s angels, but they followed Satan and rebelled against God. There are many references to demons in the Bible. Demons are always associated with evil because they work as Satan’s agents.

Demons have greater power and knowledge than humans, but less than God their creator. They were created as angels and because they have existed since the creation of the world, they have much more experience than we do.

Demons are not just superstitious explanations for an unknown disease. A clear distinction is made in the Bible between disease and demons. For example, Jesus told the apostles to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mt. 10:8). When demon activity is associated with ill health, a clear distinction is made between the two.

Demons are not spirits of the dead. Human spirits are separate from demons. After the rich man and Lazarus died, their spirits were in a place of torment and in paradise (Lk. 16:19-31).

Agents work in various ways. Satan can work in secret as an “angel of light” and a “deceiver.” This is the main way he works today, because Satan and demons want us to believe that they don’t exist. This helps them to achieve many of their purposes because people are unaware of their activity. Satan and demons can also work in an obvious fashion as a “roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Four arenas where demons are particularly active as agents of Satan are: idolatry and false beliefs, the occult, demon possession, and the apocalypse.

Idolatry And False Beliefs
Idolatry is linked with demons: “The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). It seems as though demons use idolatry to control unbelievers. So those who are involved with idolatry of any kind are involved with demons and are influenced by demons.

Paul wrote, “Some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). In this case people were being encouraged not to marry and not to eat certain foods. This was a false belief or philosophy that was deceiving people at that time. It originated from demons who inspired the hypocritical false teachers to spread these false beliefs. Demons are the power behind false beliefs.

The Occult
Demons are also involved in the occult. The word “occult” means hidden, secret, dark, mysterious and concealed. This is Satan and his demons deceiving as an “angel of light.” The occult involves predicting the future by means such as astrology, horoscopes, visions, or crystal balls. It also involves magic such as charms, curses, spells and attempts to communicate with the dead through such means as seances in which a demon may be disguised as the spirit of a person who is dead.

Demons have superhuman knowledge and intelligence. The slave girl who was possessed by a demon could foretell the future (Acts 16:16). This shows that mediums can get information from demons.

Demon Possession
Demons desire to live in people (Mt. 12:43-45). Demon possession occurs when one or more demons inhabit the body of a person and take control of him/her. It was particularly evident in the Gospels and Acts. Satan was particularly active in opposing Jesus Christ and the early Church. Our struggle against demons is described as being “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). There is not one example in the Bible of a Christian being possessed by demons, although they may be tempted and afflicted by Satan and by demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor.12:7). However, demons can promote jealousy, selfishness, pride and disorder (Jas. 3:14-16).

The man who lived in the tombs was demon possessed (Mk. 5:1-15). His symptoms were caused by an evil spirit, not by an illness (Mk. 5:2). He had unusual physical strength: “No one could bind him any more” (Mk. 5:2-3). He was isolated from society, living in the tombs. He had a spilt personalty; he ran to Jesus at first, but then he cried out in fear (Mk. 5:6-7). He resisted Christ. He had clairvoyant powers; he knew who Jesus was even though he was isolated from the community. The demons spoke through him; maybe in a different voice or a different language (Mk. 5:7-9). These show the characteristics of demon possession. They include opposition to Christianity. On this occasion, Jesus caused the demons to transfer into a herd of pigs (Mk. 5:13). From this episode we see that demons have names, they have intelligence, they have emotions and they have a will.

In another instance, demon possession is associated with physical ailments such as lack of sight and lack of speech (Mt. 12:22-29). When Jesus healed the man, the people thought He was the promised Messiah. They knew that this act indicated that Jesus was more than just a human being. Jesus claimed that the demons were driven out “by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:28). We see that Christ’s will prevails over the demons. His power was strong evidence of His deity, as the Trinity is the only power that is stronger than Satan and his demons.

There are instances of others casting out demons. Jesus gave His disciples “authority over evil spirits” and they drove out many demons (Mk. 6:7,13). Of course it didn’t always work for them. The reasons given were: “because you have so little faith,” and “this kind can come out only by prayer” (Mt. 17:14-21; Mk. 9:14-29). They needed to have the power of God working through them to cast out demons.

Philip cast out demons (Acts 8:7), and Paul said to a demon in a girl who could predict the future, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ … at that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:16-19). When some Jews imitated Paul they failed to cast out demons, which indicates that the power of God was not working through them (Acts 19:13-16).

The Apocalypse
Satan and the demons are revealed as a “roaring lion” in the end times. We read of people who “did not stop worshiping demons and idols” (Rev. 9:20). Here we see that demons are associated with idolatry once again. The other behaviors associated with worshiping demons were murder, magic arts, sexual immorality and theft (Rev. 9:21). Three evil spirits are described as “spirits of demons performing miraculous signs” that gather armies for the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-14). These demons have great power as they are associated with miracles.

Babylon the Great, the evil system that killed many believers, is called “a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit” (Rev. 17:6; 18:2,24). Demons are influencing any people that persecute believers.

God’s Power Over Demons
As Satan’s agents, demons are strong influences in the unseen world. They promote Satan’s strategies in his ongoing battle against God and believers. There is a spiritual war going on in the unseen world around us even though we may not be aware of it. In our response to this we need to be aware of the following:

Christ’s Victory – The Son of God appeared “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). He died “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The demons are working for Satan, but Christ is destroying Satan. God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). Christians have changed sides, from Satan’s to Christ’s kingdom.

Christ’s Power – Only God’s power can defeat demons. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). Do we really believe that one believer and Jesus are stronger than any other force in the universe? When we fear the evil about us we need to realize that we have access to a greater strength than the demons do. “If God is for us, who can be against us? … We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither … angels nor demons … nor any powers … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39). “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). Christ’s power is the only power that is stronger than that of Satan and his demons.

Delegated Authority – There are two Greek words for power: “exousia” means “delegated power or authority” while “dunamis” means “inherent power.” As Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of humanity, He didn’t use His inherent power, but exercised the authority He received from God the Father (Acts 2:22). He gave His disciples a similar delegated authority/power to cast out demons (Mt. 10:1). They reported: “‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.’ He replied, … ‘I have given you authority … to overcome all the power of the enemy … However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Lk. 10:17-20). Similarly, God has given believers authority over Satan and demons, provided we use His weapons His way (Eph. 6:10-18). But our salvation is much more important than any power over demons.

Our Response To Demons
First, we need to pray before we act. We need to resist the enemy in the unseen world, that’s where the real battle is happening. God’s kingdom is advanced through God and this requires prayer and Spirit-led action.

Second, we need to resist the enemy by using God’s resources. Our weapons should be directed at Satan, demons and the issues involved, not at people: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). Otherwise we are not building up the kingdom of God or tearing down the kingdom of Satan. Release any anger about sin and Satan in prayer. Our weapons are:

Jesus’ Name – This carries the victory of the cross and the resurrection. But we must be wholly committed to Jesus to use it effectively.

God’s Word – Claim Christ’s victory and power. Remind the demons of the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41). “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God … Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3). Get help from a believer with the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).

The Holy Spirit’s Power – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit has a greater influence on people and circumstances than we do.

Jesus’ Blood – Believers can overcome Satan and demons “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev.12:11). Remind Satan and the demons of Christ’s victory and their defeat at the crucifixion.

The Truth – Tell them about God and be honest about ourselves.

Believers don’t have to fear Satan and his demons. We have been rescued from their dominion of darkness, sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and provided with the resources to stand against them. We are more than conquerors through Christ. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Published, March 2005

See the other article in this series:
The unseen world of angels


Partners In The Gospel

A look at the letter to the Philippian church

The Mission
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave instructions to His followers: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). They were to be witnesses who told people everywhere about Jesus. This should also be our mission today.

Paul used another illustration: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). As an ambassador represents his country in a foreign land, believers are to represent Jesus in our world. We are ambassadors for Christ, sent on a mission to speak on His behalf and carry out the business of the gospel.

The Message
The message to be brought to unbelievers is, “Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God … now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:20-21; 6:2). This is a dangerous activity because it is often strongly opposed: when Paul preached this message he was placed in jail (Mt. 10:17-23; Lk. 10:3; Eph. 6:19-20). What was Paul’s motivation to continue in such a hazardous occupation? It was Christ’s love for us that compelled him to live for the Lord instead of pleasing himself (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

The Messenger
Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples, “As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18). That Jesus was sent to the world is mentioned six times in John 17. God sent Jesus to reveal His love to man. Similarly, Jesus has sent His followers to reveal God’s love to man. We are to be God’s ambassadors. In the Incarnation, God left heaven and came to where the people were. Similarly, His witnesses today should go from the local church to where the people are, because the gospel is spread primarily through relationships. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15).

Evangelists are those who share Jesus with others more easily; it is a God-given gift (Eph. 4:8,11). We need to acknowledge them and let them use their gifts where the people are. Let them “do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Some evangelists are: Peter and John, who took the gospel to many Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25); Paul and Barnabas, who preached the good news in Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:7); and Paul, who preached to those who had never heard of Christ (Rom. 15:20; 1 Cor. 1:17).

Partners In The Gospel
Paul’s Philippian letter illustrates the relationship between a local church and a missionary. It describes the partnership between Paul and the church at Philippi: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4-5). They shared a common interest. Paul called them co-workers, which illustrates that evangelists and missionaries can’t work alone – they need the local church (Phil. 4:3). This partnership was fostered by communication, visitation, prayer, and practical support.

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). The Philippians had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him money. Epaphroditus took the gift to Paul and stayed to help him. While there, he became very ill. When he was ready to go back to the church in Philippi, Paul sent this letter with him to thank the Philippians for their gift, to encourage them, and to warn them about false teachers.

Communication
Paul and the Philippian church communicated with each other. His letter gave them news about his work in the gospel – how God enabled him to witness to the Roman soldiers in prison (Phil. 1:12-18). He also expressed appreciation for the work of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:19-30). He shared his passion with them; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” and “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 1:21; 4:13). His life was centered on Christ; he lived by faith.

Paul was aware of their struggles. He knew about the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3). He knew enough about their situation to warn them against false teachers. He looked forward to hearing from them. He and Timothy had a genuine interest in their welfare (Phil. 2:1-20; 3:1-3). So local churches, evangelists and missionaries need to communicate regularly by letters, phone and e-mail.

Visitation
Face-to-face communication is most effective, and relationships grow when people spend time together. Epaphroditus was sent from Philippi to take care of Paul’s needs; he risked his life to help Paul (Phil. 4:18; 2:25-30). He was willing to sacrifice his own interests and health for the gospel.

We read that Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus and Colossae. “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose … that he may encourage you” (Eph. 6:21-22). “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me … I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts … They will tell you everything that is happening here” (Col. 4:7-9). Paul also wanted to visit the believers at Thessalonica, but when he couldn’t, he sent Timothy to visit and bring back news from them (1 Th. 2:17; 3:6). Local churches, evangelists and missionaries need to visit one another to share news personally.

Prayer
Paul knew that the church at Philippi was praying for him and he prayed for them (1:4,19). He knew the power of prayer, and was confident that through their prayers he would be delivered from prison (Phil. 1:19). He also urged them to pray for everything and not be anxious (Phil. 4:6). To the church in Thessalonica he wrote: “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Th. 3:1-2).

Christians should pray for evangelists and missionaries. First, we should pray that God would raise up more of them. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Mt. 9:36-38). Jesus is the one to ask that more evangelists and missionaries would be identified and sent. Second, we should pray for their success. Paul asked for prayer to help him preach the gospel in prison: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:19-20). Local churches, evangelists and missionaries need to share prayer needs and pray for each other.

Practical Support
Paul thanked the Philippians for their financial help. At one stage they were Paul’s only means of support, and they met his needs more than once in Thessalonica. Because they financed evangelism and missionary work, they were promised that God would meet their needs (Phil. 4:14-19).

We are to give because: it helps to meet a need (Phil. 4:14,16); it is an investment in the future – like storing up treasure in heaven (Lk. 12:33; Phil. 4:17); it pleases God, being an act of worship (Phil. 4:18). The church at Corinth was reminded to give generously to those in need (2 Cor. 8-9). This was viewed as being a service to the saints. Local churches need to be aware of the financial needs of evangelists and missionaries and endeavor to meet those needs.

Unity And Christ-Likeness
The church in Philippi is a good model for any local church to support evangelists and missionaries. What are the characteristics of such a church, besides communication, visitation, prayer, and practical support? Their partnership in the gospel endured; it was “from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5); they remained loyal to the faith (Phil. 1:6-7); it was evident that God was at work in this church (Phil. 1:6).

Of course, like all humans they were not perfect, and Paul told them how to deal with one of their problems, a difference of opinion between two women. He tells them it was a problem of selfishness: “Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). The solution was to “consider others better than yourselves,” to care about them as much as you care for yourselves, and be willing to serve them (Phil. 2:3-7). They were told to solve the problem, realizing that God was helping to make them willing and able to obey Him (Phil. 2:12-13). In this case a third party, possibly Epaphroditus, was asked to assist (Phil. 4:3).

Paul stressed that unity, being like-minded, loving one another, and working together with a common purpose was important (Phil. 1:27; 2:1-8). Do we pull together? Are we looking for ways to work together even though we might disagree? Do we think the best or the worst of people? Do people have to bend over backwards to please us? Do we disregard the opinions of others? Local churches need a shared vision and common goals.

Paul mentions five things that can help us come together in unity: remember what you have received; resolve to pull together; resist selfish attitudes and actions; regard others as more important than yourself; and consider the needs of others (Phil. 2:1-4). They were to have the same attitude as Christ, who left heaven and became the perfect servant on earth.

Partnership
The local church should encourage Christians to be witnesses and ambassadors for Christ wherever they live, wherever they go. We should pray that God would raise up more evangelists and missionaries, and give them success in spreading the good news. And we should partner with them in the gospel by: communicating with them; exchanging personal visits; praying for them; and supporting them.

We see from the letter to the Philippians that the key is unity and Christ-likeness. We should encourage these characteristics in one another. As Paul wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus.”

Published: December 2003


Prayer And Praise In Times Of Trouble

God’s servants depend on God

It has been said that “life was never meant to be easy.” And I believe we can all testify to this. We all face trials, troubles and difficulties from time to time. To help us through them, the Bible contains many examples of how God’s servants responded to their troubles. Let’s consider just two of them, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.

David’s Troubles
In the Old Testament, King Saul was jealous of David’s military victories and his popularity. Jealousy developed into hatred, and Saul pursued David to kill him. During this period before he became king, David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life.

Saul tried to kill him at least three times with a spear, and then he attempted to have him killed in a battle with the Philistines. After these attempts failed, Saul “remained his enemy for the rest of his days” (1 Sam. 18:29 NIV).

Saul then asked his son Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David, and even sent men to his house to kill him, but David escaped. David told Jonathan, “there is only a step between me and death” and Jonathan knew for certain that “his father intended to kill David” (1 Sam. 20:3,33).

David kept moving from place to place, as Saul and 3,000 men searched for him. He fled to Nob and then to Gath; he hid in the cave of Adullam and then in Moab, Judah and in the desert. Finally, he settled among the Philistines in Gath.

David’s Response
David prayed for guidance and God answered and protected him. He consulted with men of God such as Samuel, Ahimelech and the prophet Gad. He “found strength in the Lord” in difficult circumstances (1 Sam. 30:6).

David’s experiences as he fled from Saul are described in Psalms 7, 18, 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59 and 142. These are characterized by both earnest prayers for God’s help and songs of praise recognizing God’s goodness. Consider these examples.

After pleading “save and deliver me from all who pursue me,” David said, “I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” In distress he cried for help; when he was rescued he praised God (Ps. 7:1,17;
18:6,49).

David was always ready to praise the Lord, and sought to be delivered from his fears (Ps. 34:1,4). After criticizing a traitor, he said he would praise God forever (Ps. 52:2,9). After seeking God’s mercy, he praised God’s promises (Ps. 56:1,10).

David prayed for protection in times of danger, and was ready to sing hymns of praise for God’s love and loyalty (Ps. 57:1,9-10). He asked to be protected from his enemies, yet he sang of God’s strength and love (Ps. 59:1,16). When he laid all his worries and troubles before the Lord, he looked forward to being able to praise God for His goodness (Ps. 142:2,7).

Paul’s Troubles
As a Jewish leader in the New Testament, Paul persecuted the early Church by punishing its members, trying to get them to give up their faith, putting them in prison and even supporting their execution (Acts 26:9-11).

After his conversion to Christianity, Paul faced all sorts of persecution: expulsion from Pisidian Antioch; ill-treatment and stoning in Iconium; stoning and being left for dead in Lystra; arrest, flogging and imprisonment in Philippi; a riot in Thessalonica; abuse in Corinth; being publicly maligned in Ephesus; plotted against in Greece; and being arrested, flogged, struck in the face, and having more than forty men plot to kill him in Jerusalem (Acts 13-23).

Paul said of his hardships and sufferings, that he had “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers … from bandits … from my own countrymen … from Gentiles … in the city … in the country … at sea and … from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

His sufferings in Asia were so horrible and unbearable that death seemed certain (2 Cor. 1:8-9). He also experienced a “thorn in the flesh” that tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

Paul’s Response
Paul persevered with the mission to which God called him despite his hardships. For example, when he faced opposition from the Jews in Corinth he protested to them and moved on to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6-8). Like David, under God’s guidance he was courageous and was able to escape many threatening situations.

Paul’s response to difficulties is illustrated by his time in jail at Philippi. Having been severely flogged, placed in the inner cell and fastened in stocks, Paul and Silas were “praying and singing hymns to God” in the middle of the night (Acts 16:25). So, like David, prayer and songs of praise characterized his life. This would have included prayers for those who persecuted him (Mt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14).

Our Response
Although we may not face life-threatening situations as often as David and Paul did, we can learn from their experiences. We will all face hardship, trials, troubles and difficulties while serving God in this sinful world. On such occasions it is important to realize our dependence on God and express it through prayer and praise.

In difficult times and at critical moments in life we should bring our needs to God in prayer. Then as we realize God’s power, love and goodness this should lead to praise and thanksgiving. Only those who see the big picture, God at work even in our trying times, can suffer gladly (Rom. 5:3).

Published: June 2000


What’s The Use Of Trials?

Opportunities for spiritual development

God can seem so distant when we are going though difficult times of trial and trouble. Yet the Bible teaches us that God is always at work for our good (Rom. 8:28).

The Christian faith, like the human body, requires exercise in order to keep healthy. Otherwise it will grow weak and useless (Jas. 2:14-26). The trials in our lives can be viewed as opportunities to develop our “spiritual muscles” in four areas of our lives.

Trials Develop Patience And Maturity
Besides prayer, the most common theme associated with suffering is that of developing patience, perseverance and endurance. In such times our faith is being exercised and tested and we become more mature (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).

God does not want weak Christians who give up when they face difficulties. Instead, Paul says “we do not lose heart,” and he reminds others, “you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (2 Cor. 4:16-17; Heb. 10:32 niv). The illustration in these verses is that of a contest or a battle. Near the end of his life Paul stated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Christ is the greatest example of perseverance: “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3).

Patience is a characteristic of the divine nature (Gal. 5:22). Paul told the Thessalonians: “We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Th. 1:4). He also urged them to continue to persevere: “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Th. 3:5).

Another illustration is that of training and discipline within a family. Here God is viewed as a parent disciplining a child: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).

So God uses trials and hardships to mold and refine our character, like metal is refined and molded in a furnace. Through these we learn what is most important in life, and our values, priorities, attitudes and behavior are developed. We are transformed and God’s image and likeness are more evident in us (2 Cor. 3:18). This vision of maturity enables believers to joyfully endure trials and suffering (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4).

For example, David faced adversities in preparation for being king of Israel. His perseverance in facing the opposition of wild animals (like the lion and bear), enemies (like Goliath), and countrymen (like Saul and his men), gave him the experience which developed his skill to lead his nation.

Trials Increase Reliance On God
Paul saw that the reason for the hardships that threatened his life in Asia was, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). He knew that God supplies all our needs (Phil. 4:19).

The Bible also states that: “He who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2). Physical suffering makes us realize that we are accountable to God and we need to live for Him.

Paul understood that he was given the “thorn in the flesh” so that he would acknowledge Christ’s power rather than take the credit himself and become proud. As Christ’s power is more evident in times of human weakness, Paul delighted “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Similarly, Paul could write that our bodies are likened to “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:7-11). Due to physical weakness we learn to persevere by God’s power and not our own strength.

Trials Encourage Care For One Another
God calls on His people to support those facing trials and troubles through helping, praying and comforting.

°Helping: We are to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Rom. 12:13; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; 2 Cor. 9:12). In fact, “if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,” then he is not behaving as a Christian should (1 Jn. 3:17).

Paul thanked the Philippians for sharing in his troubles and sending him aid (Phil. 4:14-18). He also remembered those who helped him when he was in prison (Phile. 12-13). The principle is to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3). This could include standing side by side with those who are being persecuted (Heb. 10:33).

°Praying: When Peter was in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him,” although they were surprised by his miraculous escape (Acts 12:5). And Paul was confident that the Corinthian church’s prayers helped to deliver him from hardships and suffering (2 Cor. 1:10-11). He also asked others to pray for his struggle against unbelievers (Rom. 15:30-31).

°Comforting: We are told to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). As God comforts us in our troubles, we in turn can comfort those facing trials and difficulties (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Trials Strengthen The Church
Christianity has flourished under persecution. For example, when the early Church was being persecuted, the Christians left Jerusalem and evangelized wherever they went (Acts 8:1,4). This resulted in Christianity being spread across the Roman empire.

When Paul was imprisoned he was glad that the gospel was being preached by others and that his Christian faith was widely known (Phil. 1:12-18).

The Church is also strengthened in difficult times as more believers grow towards maturity and realize their dependence upon God and express this through prayer and praise. There is also an increase in care for each other by helping, praying, and comforting.

Finally, we must keep in mind that our troubles are insignificant when compared to eternity with Christ (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We always need to view the present in the context of a vision of the eternal.

Also see – Facing trials

Published: May 1999


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