Category Archives: Prayer

Study 1 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Faithful Work of God

Discussion Question

What makes a church great?

Background

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). The gospel started in Jerusalem and spread out into the world. One unexpected disciple was Saul who began as a persecutor of the church but was dramatically converted and became the greatest missionary the world has ever known. In Acts Chapter 18, we read of him preaching the gospel in the city of Corinth and, although there was great persecution there, he sowed the seeds of a church.

He now writes a letter to this church to encourage, correct, rebuke and train them in righteousness. Paul knew this church personally, having spent 18 months with them at the beginning, but has been absent as the church continued to grow in their knowledge of the gospel. Rather than predict what issues had arisen before reading the letter, it is sufficient to simply read the text and allow the story to unfold before us.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

What did you see?

Structure

  • From Paul via God (1-3)
    • Who is the writer? (1)
    • Who are the readers? (2)
    • A relationship made in heaven (3)
  • Evidence of God’s work in them (4-6)
  • Confidence in God’s faithfulness (7-9)

From Paul via God (1-3)

“…called to be an apostle” Paul did not climb the ladder seeking to be a world-wide missionary for God – he was called. Paul (FKA Saul) was miraculously reborn on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul began many letters with this credential because he does not speak from human philosophy or religion but as a servant of Christ Jesus (Romans 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). See Galatians 1:1 and 2:8.

Apostle” means messenger – someone commissioned by another to represent him in some way. Like every word in the bible, it is just a word but when used in context, it refers to those commissioned by God through Christ to represent Christ in the world.

“…and our brother Sosthenes…” This is the same synagogue leader who was beaten by fellow Jews for allowing Paul to preach in his synagogue. The beatings did not stop him from being a follower of Jesus! See Acts 18:12-17. What a glorious picture of a man who will choose truth over earthly protection. He, like Paul, had given up everything to serve the gospel of our LORD.

To the church of God…” The letter is addressed to a brotherhood of believers meeting in Corinth. They are…

“…sanctified in Christ…” ie, made holy in Christ. This is not to be overlooked as we begin a journey through 1 Corinthians. They are not a church becoming holy but a church that IS holy in Christ. That is, for all who call upon the name of Jesus, they are saved, redeemed and made righteous in the eyes of the LORD. Paul expands on this later in these first 9 verses.

…called to be his holy people…” As holy people in Christ, they are called to be holy! We are not saved in order to return to our old selves. Sanctification is a now and progressing language in the bible. We cannot progress TO holy without being MADE holy by grace. And we must not remain in sin once we have been called out of it!

…together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours…” The gospel is the gospel no matter where you go. There is only one way to be saved and it is through Jesus Christ. Likewise, there is no super church anywhere that has better access or higher knowledge than any other church of God anywhere in the world. An illiterate man saved by God is just as sanctified as a multi published theologian. As God has called us to be holy, we call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Gen 4:26; 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25; 1 Kings 18:24; Psalm 116:4; Joel 2:32; Zephaniah 3:9; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). Calling on the name of the LORD is a sign that you are putting your trust and hope in Him – it is a way of describing faith. This is not a personal invite to the Corinthians but an invitation to the whole world to call on Jesus to be saved.

…Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” At the end of this first section, which is the announcement of who is writing to who – we see the reason the letter is being written. Namely, that because of God, this relationship exists. Without God, who is Paul and who are the people in Corinth? Both are nobody! Neither is anybody. Both those sentences are true! Paul’s authority comes from Christ to write to them; the people’s assembly is in the name of Jesus, otherwise it would not be a church of God made holy in Christ; and the relationship that exists is on the basis of grace and peace that only God the Father through Christ the Son can have achieved! Church exists because of the grace of God and the peace of God. Outside of this dome of truth, Paul is a nobody to these people and why should they care to listen further?

Evidence of God’s work in them (4-6)

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Paul was a prayer. His letters are filled with the prayers that he offered up for the church. An excellent book by Don Carson called “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” takes the prayers of Paul in the Scriptures to show us the heart of a faithful prayer praying the mind of God for the church. The simple reason for Paul’s thankfulness for the church in Corinth is for the gospel of Jesus being effective among them. He doesn’t praise them for what he hears. He thanks God for what he has heard. And he doesn’t praise the Corinthians for being anything but he praises Christ for his grace reaching the church in Corinth! Paul is thankful that his grace is at work in Corinth. The church is not brilliant apart from the grace of God.

For…” because – and here is the proof…

“…in [Christ] you have been enriched in every way…” Their speech and their knowledge are examples of how they have been enriched but notice that their deposit book is filled already with the grace of God. They have been fully enriched. There is no lacking area of investment yet to be accessed and deposited. The church may be boastful about their speech and their knowledge, but Paul reminds them that this is from God. So don’t get cocky.

“…God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.” This appears to be Paul saying that they are showing signs of the gospel taking root in their lives. The confirmation of salvation is in their conduct and enriched lives of faith. In other words, Paul came and told them about Jesus (his testimony about Christ), and God confirms the testimony about Jesus by bearing fruit in the lives of the Corinthians.

Confidence in God’s faithfulness (7-9)

Therefore…” and so. It follows, that since God has blessed you and enriched you fully…

…you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Firstly, what we do now that we are saved is wait for the return of Christ. We have been living in the last days since the resurrection and ascension. Secondly, there is no second blessing. God has saved the church by bringing the testimony of Jesus to them and the evidence of conversion is in the way that the church talks about God and Christ and faith. There is not second blessing of the holy spirit to await, no special gift that we need to beg God to bring to seal the deal. The church in Corinth have every page in their Kingdom of God passport stamped already – and each was a free gift of grace through Christ.

He will also keep you firm to the end…” A promise of God to the saved. Not only is there no second blessing, but there is also no higher order of working hard to stay saved. Those called by God will be kept safe by God. That is why it is called grace. Be careful of who we might call ‘strong Christians’ since God has promised to keep all of his little ones safe.

…so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul said in Colossians 2:6-7 that we grow up in Christ be sticking with him. We are made righteous by Christ and we will be kept righteous by Christ on the last day. This is God’s promise. NB that it is called the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. A day when all will see him as Lord of all.

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” See how Paul is on point here? He has begun the letter describing the church of God in Corinth as sanctified, called to be holy, made holy by Jesus, given everything they need for salvation and sanctification and reminded that God will continue the work that he begun in them till the end. They have no reason to boast in themselves and every reason to give thanks and praise to God for his grace shown to them in Christ Jesus.

What did we learn?

See Verse 9!

Now what?

Topic A: Getting grace right. Christianity 101 is about the grace of God. Can you explain God’s grace with ease? What issues arise when you try to explain it? Discuss.

Topic B: Prayer as faith speaking. Although this passage is not about prayer at the heart, it shows the natural flow of Paul giving thanks to God for what he sees happening in the church. Prayer has been described as ‘talking to God’. But real prayer is much more than that because it flows out of a relationship and true knowledge of God. We pray the very things that God has promised to answer and out of thankfulness for everything we see that God is doing. Prayer is faith speaking. What we pray for is a reflection of our knowledge and trust in God.

Topic C: What is church? Discuss what we can say of church from this passage. Are we able to correct or train our thinking about church because of this passage? For example, church is not about rosters or watered grounds, or a 75 minute meeting once a week. What is church then?

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.