Category Archives: Prayer

Study 10 – 1 Peter 5:5-14

She in Babylon sends you greetings

Context

We’ve reached the end of the letter by the apostle Peter to the church scattered in the northern regions of the Mediterranean. He has not addressed the letter to several churches named but to the elect of God dispersed across parts of the world. What binds the readers to gether is their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the hope of grace that comes through him. He has been encouraging Christians to stand firm in their faith despite suffering through persecution in this world. This world is not their home. His letter concludes with the returned theme of encouraging believers across the globe to trust God who is in charge and who cares. In the previous verses, Peter has been specifically addressing the elders of God’s community whose task is to shepherd God’s flock.

Observation

Structure

  • 5:5-6 Humble yourselves
  • 5:7-11 Know where the power and care lies
  • 5:12-14 Greetings from the other scattered saints

5:5-6 Humble yourselves

“In the same way…” Peter has used this same phrase to speak with wives (3:1) and husbands (3:7) and refers to his instruction back in 2:18 to do everything in reverent fear of God. All relationships fall under his headship and it is in reverence to Him that we decide how to treat one another. Slaves to masters, wives to husbands, husbands to wives and now young to elders.

“…you who are younger submit yourselves to your elders.” The word ‘elder’ means whatever the word means in it’s context. In a different context it would refer to people older than you. But following from verses 1-4 speaking directly to the shepherds of the church, this is not about age but about that responsible role of caring for the household of God. The younger, would then be a generic term for those who are not recognised as elders in the church. This generally had a correspondence with age but not necessarily (see 1 Timothy 4:12).

“…submit yourselves…” It is not the responsibility of the elders to squash the church into submission or shame them into obedience or manipulate them into assimilation. It is for the young in the faith to respect to their elders. The message of the kingdom of God is designed to be handed from one person to another and from one generation to the next. Those who have known their LORD longer and know how to handle the word of God ought to be respected and trusted as they teach and exhort others. Church life is truly a community.

“All of you clothe yourselves with humility…” Both elders and younger people, wives and husbands, slaves and masters – the entire household of God are to be humble toward one another. As the younger submit to the elder, as the wife submits to the husband and so on, the outcome is not domination or power plays but humility from everyone toward everyone else in the community.

“Because, God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Just as submission is given freely out of reverence to God, so too humility is displayed because this pleases God. Humility is not about pretending to know nothing or acting like you are insignificant but about using your gifts, talents and wisdom to serve others and not yourself. Jesus is the ultimate example of humility (Philippians 2:5ff)

“Humble yourselves…under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” This segues nicely between this section and the next. We know that God has the power to elevate us and glorify those worthy of praise and so leave it to him. No matter how good we may feel we are, we are always subordinate in every way to God. But he is no cruel master, as the next verse shows us.

5:7-11 Know where the power and care lies

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Christians do not need to fight for recognition or wealth or anything because we know that God is the giver of all good gifts. Knowing that God is all powerful and that he cares are the two most comforting truths in the bible. He has a mighty hand and he cares for us. Now, anxiety is not a sin but we need to be careful what we do with it. On a biological level, anxiety is that natural reaction to things that threaten us. As humans, we have the capacity to worry about things that are not of immediate danger (like not being ready for an exam or being disliked or afraid of failing). When we have these feelings of worry and deep concern, we have the privilege of taking them to God in prayer. Casting our anxiety on God is like throwing all of our concerns at him and then resting in his promises to do good with our request. Faith is trust. If we trust God then tell him about our worries and keep moving. If you keep worrying, keep talking to God about them. Note that talking to others is helpful and sometimes necessary too so that we indeed get good advice on how to think rationally about things that we may have irrational reactions to. But God’s ear is always the first and ongoing ear to speak with about our worries.

“Be alert and of sober mind.” We heard this phrase in 1:13 and 4:7. With clear heads, set your hope on the grace of Christ and know that the end of all things is near. The reality of the world as we know it in Christ ought to give us clarity to resist the devil and pursue what is right and good.

“Your enemy the devil…” The gospel writers, Moses, and Paul, to name a few, each described the devil as real. He is not the boogeyman.  When Adam and Eve made the mistake of their lives, the devil was talking in their ear. When Job was living a godly and holy life, it was the devil who spoke to God to get permission to cause suffering for him. The devil is not equal with God because he is a created being. But the bible does not show any signs that the devil will repent and come back to God nor that he has the option to.

“…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The image given by Peter is enough to know that the devil is a predator. He is shark-like in his wanderings across the earth (Job 1:6-7). He sought to destroy Eden, he sought to destroy Job, he sought to destroy even Jesus Christ. Anybody who is found without sober judgment with respect to God and His kingdom are easy prey for him. But there is a defense…

“Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” What Satan really desires is for all of humanity to deny God’s rule and promises. For all to regard God as a liar or worship him falsely. But standing firm in the faith – the knowledge of the gospel and the hope that comes through Jesus Christ – is the response to his attacks. All temptation, whether from the world, the flesh or the devil, is to be combatted with resistance. Speak truth to yourself. Pray to God for help and stand firm.

“…because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” No attack from Satan is new. It’s the same old thing. The persecution in this world has the support of the devil.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,” If it is God who has called you 1:1-2, then no power of satan can alter that. Peter is closing his letter with the same themes of calling and grace that he began with. Standing firm in the faith requires remembering who called you, what you have been called to (eternal glory) and what power or proof has been given for this calling (the life, death and resurrection of Christ). Be aware that the devil is on the move but know for sure that God has already won you and paid for you and prepared a place for you in Christ!

“…after you have suffered a little while…” Recall the great theme of suffering that has taken up a large portion of this letter. Suffering is not a sign that God is losing. That is the flavour of life this side of heaven – during this time of testing.

“…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” God himself, not you, not an elder of the church, but God himself will restore you. During times of temptation, stand firm and come to God in prayer – casting your worries on him because he cares for you – he will restore you and give you strength and conviction to stand firm. Next time you become aware of temptation, come to God in prayer and see what happens.

“To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Although Peter tells us about the devil, and about the fiery ordeal of this life but does not want us to lose sight of who is always in control.

5:12-14 Greetings from the other scattered saints

“With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother…” Silas is mentioned often in the book of Acts and referenced in a number of epistles. Acts 15:22. He joined Paul on his journeys. How Silas has helped Peter to write is unclear. Perhaps he was the scribe or perhaps they co-wrote it. The way that Peter starts to conclude his letter though is to encourage the scattered church with news from the church in other parts of the world.

“…encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” There is no other gospel in other parts of the world. There is only one gospel and one truth about God and salvation. There is no such thing as localised truths and communities who manufacture their own beliefs. There is only one truth and Jesus Christ is at the heart of it. Stand firm in that.

“She who is in Babylon…” Although there are different arguments about what this phrase might mean, it seems most likely to match the phrase in Peter’s opening to the letter. He addresses the ‘scattered’ or the ‘temporarily residing abroad’. They are aliens and strangers. The city of Babylon was famous for where the exiled Jews lived for a time. They sat by the waters of Babylon and remembered their homeland. Peter is most likely using this metaphore to refer to the rest of the church (in the feminine) who are also scattered in different parts of the world. It could be specifically Rome but there is nothing to suggest this for certain. Peter is closing his letter to address the Christians scatterd in Asia Minor with encouraging words from the Church or household of God in other locations.

“…chosen together with you…” Peter mentions again that under God there is only one church. God has chosen all of his elect across time and space to belong to his royal priesthood. A Christian in a mega-church in Dallas is no greater than a Christian struggling to be fed in the 3rd world and no different to a saint in Campbelltown.

“…sends you greetings…” Peter’s theme here is to encourage all of God’s elect to stand firm because the people of God, thought scattered, are one in the faith that they stand firm in.

“…and so does my son Mark.” The writer of the second gospel record is also known as a close companion to Peter. (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39). Here he is referred to as Peter’s son although this is a spiritual relationship, not a blood relationship.

“Greet one another with a kiss of love.” While there is suffering and persecution from the outside placed on the church, Peter encourages mutual love and affection. This is a cultural reference to respect one another but the adjective to the kiss is love – not a fake kiss but authentic.

“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Peter ends the letter addressing the same readers he greeted at the beginning. Not just all who read the letter but all who are in Christ. This phrase, ‘in Christ’ is such a beautifully concise way of signalling that all of our hope, peace, trust, identity, motivation and future is wrapped up in Christ. We are not citizens of this planet but known and proud to be known as Christians.

Meaning

Peter’s final note is for all who are in Christ to stand firm and know that God is more powerful than any enemy we can face. While the dangers of this world are real (even if unseen) our defence against the devil and his attacks is to stand firm in the faith. We can be encouraged that this is the same faith shared across the globe by God’s faithful household. Even in the midst of the worst of humanity, the church of God is there and will survive. More than that, at the right time, God’s elect will be delivered to their eternal glory in Christ. Do not be concerned about the evils of this age, when you know that God cares and his power is above all and forever.

Application

  • Topic A – Helping yourself and the church grow. Peter provides a formula for the younger Christians to submit to the overseers in the church. To the younger, it is wise to submit because there is much to learn in the Christian faith. To the elder, it is important to show wisdom with humility. This is a wonderful formula for church growth and maturity. Do you see where you fit in the process of maturing one another in the faith at church?
  • Topic B – Anxious prayer. We must understand how important prayer is. What causes you worry, concern or anxiety? Do you take it to the LORD in prayer? Read Psalm 55 to hear how the psalmist talks to God and listen for the echoes to 1 Peter. Perhaps you could use this Psalm in your groups to pray together.
  • Topic C – The community of saints across the globe. We can always bring our brothers and sisters in Christ to God in prayer who are scattered across this planet. We are not identified by race, class, culture or denomination but as those who stand firm in the true grace of God. We don’t wear badges. We don’t have a secret handshake. But we call Christ our LORD and Redeemer and we have all been born again into a living hope through the blood of Christ. Do you identify with this community?

 

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, we thank you for your universal church, distinguished by race, gender or class, but set apart by your Son and your call to stand firm in the faith. May we be sober of mind and encourage one another daily while we wait for your kingdom to be revealed. Amen.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Partnership in prayer

“Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and the endurance of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Context

Paul has commenced the letter to the Thessalonians with great encouraging words about their progress in the gospel and he then prayed for their continued faith in the Lord. In chapter 2, he assured them not to be distressed by the current state of affairs but remember that Jesus is Lord and his second coming will not go unmissed. He prayed for them again that they would be encouraged and stand firm in the faith. Paul’s’ concern has been for the Thessalonians to not waver from the message that they received from Paul about the gospel and to make that their comfort and their strength.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-2 Pray for Paul and co.
  • 3-4 Trust the Lord
  • 5 Prayer for them

1-2 Pray for Paul and co.

“Finally, pray for us” Paul has more to say in the letter but this ‘finally’ (ESV) signals that he has covered the main concern and purpose of his letter. He has prayed for them and prays for them always (1:11). Now he looks for reciprical love. He has been calling them brothers (and sisters) throughout the letter (1:3, 2:1, 2:13) and this emphasises the equality which he views between him and the Thessalonian converts.

“…that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly…” Above health and safety comes the priority for the gospel message to be spread. It is a general prayer in that he doesn’t pray for a particular town or region or person. Yet it is specific because it is about the only message that saves continuing to spread. Again, this is a prayer which calls on God to fulfill his plans and promises. Jesus said that the gospel must go out to the ends of the earth. This reminds us to focus our prayers on the things which God has taught us to pray for. Prayer is calling on the Lord to do his will.

It’s also a specific prayer in that it is for Paul and his partners to be freed to take the gospel far without delay.

“…that the message of the Lord…be honoured, just as it was with you.” Paul is asking for the gospel to find happy recipients. This is the positive side of the prayer. As if to say, if it is God’s will, we desire to take the gospel straight to those who will receive it well and believe without experiencing delay from those who will only reject it anyway. Paul is hoping that Thessalonians will want others to receive the gospel just as they have. That leads us to the other side of the prayer…

“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people…” The word delivered is related to ‘saved’. Paul desires to avoid hangups from people who only wish to cause trouble. Paul is realistic, though, and knows from experience that there will be wicked and evil people that need to be held back through prayer.

“For not everyone has faith.” Nor will everyone believe the gospel. Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” (Matt 7:13). He also said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19:23). But…some people will have faith!

3-4 Trust the Lord

“But the Lord is faithful…” Although many will not have faith to trust God, the Thessalonians have no reason to. God is faithful. He does not save through the gospel only to give up on those he has called. So, trust the Lord.

“…he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” Now the promise here is protection from the evil one. It is possible that “wicked and evil people” (3:2) cause delay or harm but those who have “honoured” the gospel will be protected from the evil one, namely Satan. It is those who believe the lie who stand condemned but God will hold the believer in their belief. Predestination is a comfort to those who believe but not to those who will not.

“We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.” Paul cannot guarantee that their gospel mission will go uncontended but he is certain that the Thessalonians will remain in the faith. What is Paul’s command? To stand firm and hold fast to the teachings passed on to them (2:15) and then…(see verse 5 below)

5 Pray for them

“May the Lord…” Paul articulates his prayer and therefore his desire for the Thessalonians.

“…direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” How beautiful is this prayer! Where your heart is, there is your treasure. Paul desires for the Thessalonians to treasure the love that God has and the work that Christ has done. It is a prayer overflowing with grace. Paul wants the church to grow deeper in the conviction of what God has done. It is God who loves and therefore sends the Son to redeem. It is the Son (Christ) who loves the Father without fault or failing. He remains faithful even when we do not. The phrase ‘Christ’s perseverance’ describes the endurance that Christ showed or is showing. It is both a celebration of the righteousness of Christ as well as the primary example for the Thessalonians to remain faithful even under trial and persecution.

Meaning

What is of utmost importance is that the gospel be honoured in our lives. It must be spread regardless of possible hostility. It provides assurance and comfort to those who believe. It is to be our treasure. We are to uphold one another in prayer for the sake of the gospel.

Application

  • Paul desired the gospel to spread rapidly. Is this a desire for us? In what way do we seek for the gospel to be passed on? Is ‘rapid’ a word you could use of yourself or the church?
  • Pray for missionaries. Paul requested prayer as he desired to take the gospel abroad and be unhindered in doing that. Talk about the missionaries that we support as a church and how we can be praying for them. Spend time in prayer.
  • Paul promised protection from the evil one and prayed for the hearts of the believers to be oriented toward God. Are you conscious of the spiritual battle and our need to pray for one another in this manner? Paul doesn’t need to ask the Thessalonians for prayer points when he decides to pray for them.

Prayer of the Week

Heavenly Father, we pray for the gospel to go out into all the world. Both at home and abroad, would you hold back wicked and evil people and keep your servants faithful to the gospel. May we all direct our hearts to your love and the work of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Acts 12:1-24 – The church must be out of its mind to pray! (v5,9,15)

Context

The book of Acts is attempting to describe the spread of the good news that Jesus is Lord. The expansion of the gospel is taking place in many directions now, in Jerusalem and surrounding towns, to the north of Jerusalem as far now as Antioch, and to the south-west where Philip had baptised an Ethiopian.

The story has bounced between Peter’s experiences and Saul’s experiences. We return to Jerusalem now and to Peter and the others. There has been a great explosion of faith since Acts 2 but also scattering of believers through persecution. Jerusalem was experiencing a time of strengthening and peace and growth (Acts 9:31). But then King Herod acts. This is the Herod who had arrested and beheaded John the Baptist. In Mark 14:1-12 we learn that Herod was aware of prophets and their public influence. We also learn that he is influenced by the whims of the people and of the moment.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-5 Herod’s attack and the church’s defence
  • 6-11 Peter is rescued by God’s messenger
  • 12-17 The church is astonished
  • 18-19 Herod executes his own soldiers
  • 19-24 Herod is executed by God’s messenger

1-5 Herod’s attack and the church’s defence

“who belonged to the church…” Once the followers of Jesus were called disciples, then believers, then people of “The Way”, and then Christians. Now, they are recognised as the church. This word means “gathering” or “assembly” or “congregation”. Many will use it to describe a building used for religion but it is undeniably used here to refer to the people gathering together for a common purpose. It is used as a synonym for all the previous titles given to the followers of Christ.

“Herod” – This is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. See ‘Context’ for more.

“Persecute” – The greek says something like: to mistreat in the hands of Herod. As the mistreatment of is aimed at the church, ie, a specific people group, it is persecution.

“James, the brother of John” – these are the two sons of Zebedee, disciples of Jesus. At the end of this narrative, another James, probably the brother of Jesus, is told of Peter’s rescue. This second James is likely the writer of the epistle by the same name.

“…death with the sword…approval among the Jews.” Most of the Jews who had turned to Christ had been scattered out of the area under Saul’s persecution. While there was peace in Jerusalem post Saul’s conversion, apparently many Jews still viewed the Christian church as a nuisance and abomination. Herod’s dislike or hate for the church was embraced by the Jews. The approval encouraged Herod to arrest Peter, the leader of the church.

“Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.” The Festival of Unleavened Bread is a seven day annual event amongst the Jews in preparation for the Passover. Both festivals are memorial celebrations of the Exodus, especially the night when God passed over all the houses marked by blood. This was the same festival coinciding with Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus had told Peter that he would die a similar death (John 21:18019). Perhaps Peter felt like this was the moment!

“…but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” This was the church’s line of defense – to take their concern to God and plead with Him to intervene. Against a King who has successfully executed one believer and assigned 16 soldiers to guard Peter, the church prays. Perhaps Herod conceived a remote possibility that the church would muster a rescue plan by force? But he did not expect a rescue mission from the Almighty!

It must be noted that the church prayed ‘earnestly’. I wonder if there really is a different type of prayer? Of course you can say that you’ll pray and you can throw a light-hearted suggestion to God for something (like someone to believe, healing to happen, peace to be reached). But if it’s not earnest prayer, is it actually prayer? Of course I need to answer yes. Prayer is prayer whether it is described as earnest or casual. These are just adjectives. But this verse describes the focus of their gathering – they desired for God to help Peter in some way. They prayed deliberately, decidedly, thoughtfully, intentionally. The actual word here means: eagerly, fervently, constantly. They were still together at the end of the rescue – still in prayer! (v12) And the answer to their prayers even took them by surprise! It is so good when God answers our prayers so vividly. And it is a shame that we don’t pray like this. Individually and as a body of believers, it would be good to cultivate our prayer habits.

6-11 Peter is rescued by God’s messenger

“Then Peter came to himself…” The account of Peter’s rescue is mixed with physical action and mystical illusion. On the one hand, Peter is physically struck by the angel in order to get him to wake up, he is ordered to dress himself and chains and doors are removed or opened. On the other hand, Peter doesn’t feel like it is really happening, the guards are mysteriously avoided, doors and chains are dealt with magically and the rescuer is an angel. It all happens, in Peter’s mind, as if it is a dream or a vision. But when he comes his senses, he sees that this has actually happened. God has answered the prayers of the church and intervened miraculously.

All of the intentions of the government and the religious enemy have been thwarted by God. Everything was stacked against Peter. But God was against the will of men in this instance.

12-17 The church is astonished

“John, also called Mark.” This new character becomes very significant in the early church and the work of God. He became a travelling partner with Saul and Barnabas (v25), he was a cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10), remained in service of the apostles and described as a son to Peter  (1 Peter 5:13). He is recognised as the writer of the gospel in connection with Peter.

“You’re out of your mind!” It’s amazing how Peter’s arrival was met with doubt. They had been praying for God to act but even this was beyond their expectations. The episode of the arrival of Peter is comical. But when they realised that Peter was saved, they celebrated and sent word to James to encourage and relieve him too. Our Christian growth will include a growing confidence in the ability of God to act. He will not always give us exactly what we ask, but when we pray fervently for things that God has promised to do, we must dismiss the temptation to doubt He can do it!

“It must be his angel.” This could be understood as Peter’s spirit (like Matthew 14:26) or as a guardian angel of Peter’s (see Matthew 18:10 and Hebrews 1:14).

“But Peter kept knocking” – He didn’t intend to go in and stay with the believers in Mark’s home since he immediately “left for another place” (v17). But he was intent on showing his brothers and sisters that he was alive and free and that James be told as well. Peter’s persistent knocking may remind us of the persistence needed sometimes in prayer. This is a shallow link, I know, but his unstopping approach is paralleled by the unstopping prayer of the church. It’s a small illustration of persistence when the initial prayers are not answered, don’t give up.

18-19 Herod executes his own soldiers

“no small commotion…thorough search…cross-examined…” The aftermath of the escape was extreme. With no answers found, Herod executes the guards. Perhaps his only explanation was that the guards were hiding the truth from him. How else could the escape be explained? It reminds me of when illnesses are mysteriously removed – unexpectedly – but doctors will just shrug their shoulders rather than concede that someone divine has intervened. Herod knew that the Christian church was surrounded by stories of miracles – even an empty tomb. But rather than examining the truth and conceding Jesus as Lord, he orders and execution on his own men.

19-24 Herod is executed by God’s messenger

“…because Herod did not give praise to God…” These verses describe the unique way that Herod the Tetrarch died. Although he was bringing a kind of unity in the region, according to these verses, he did not rebuke the people for praising him as a god. He had been exposed to enough of the work of God to know better and this was the final straw. A messenger of the Lord struck him down. He wasn’t instantly killed but bizarrely he was eaten by worms and died.

It’s a fitting conclusion to this section which began with Herod’s attack on the church. The church had prayed for the situation with Peter. Not only was the prayer answered by delivering Peter to freedom but it was further answered by delivering Herod over to death by worms!

Meaning

The church might appear out of their mind to pray – but we would be out of our minds not to!

Application

  1. Prayer of course! Prayer must be understood as a request or plea to the Almighty to take action. It is not a demand or a ‘name it and claim it’ practice. But neither is it a social pleasantry aimed at closing a Christian gathering or wishing someone good luck. When we pray, we enter the council of the Lord our God and we ask him to save, to restore, to renew, to protect or to reveal. Christians have turned their life to Christ and admit that God is supreme over their lives, which they are failing to live properly. Prayer is this faith speaking. The community of saints must be a community of prayers. If we are to be a “Christian community devoted to maturing in Jesus”, then let us devote ourselves to prayer!
  2. Reflect on your prayers and consider what you pray for. Do you bring to God the things that you believe he would want you to want?
  3. Pray for the persecuted church. opendoors.org.au, vom.com.au, and barnabasfund.org are three ways to be informed in your prayers – to pray specifically.