Category Archives: Prayer

Romans 12:9-21 – Keep to the left of evil!

Context

Romans 1:17 told us that ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ Paul took us through the content of that faith in chapters 1-11 to say that we must devote our trust in God fully for our righteousness. Chapter 12:1-2 began the new phase of Paul’s teaching on how to take this faith into the rest of your life. We are to offer God our bodies and our minds. The way that we use both of these parts of us: what we DO and what we THINK are to be given to God and moulded by the truth of faith. God is God and we are his creatures that needed rescuing.

This next section of Romans continues the theme of how to live out our faith around other people. Although God is in the business of saving and forming his church (the body of Christ, verses 3-8) we also need to live in a world which still hates God.

Observations

The NIV breaks these verses up into 3 paragraphs plus an indented quote. The ESV divides the passage into 2 paragraphs only (9-13 + 14-21). It’s interesting to work out where the paragraph breaks should go, if anywhere! Do you see any clear reasons for breaks?

Verse 9 opens with the charge to love and not to take part in evil. Verse 21 wraps up the whole section with a similar sentiment: don’t be swallowed by evil but kill it with the energy of good. So, the whole section seems to lean toward embracing the light side and staying away from the dark! There is a vibe of combating evil with good instead of with evil. As if two wrongs don’t make a right. If evil comes barging up behind you, huffing and puffing and blowing out smoke from its ears, keep to the left and let evil pass!

The section seems to offer a list of examples and areas of life where love is put into practice and evil is left for God to take care of. The message is: don’t take part in it.

So, let’s go through the verses and see what we see.

Verse 9. Remember the binary use of the words love and hate back in Rom 9:13. Love doesn’t refer only to those things that you are passionate about and hate only those things that you are passionate against. You are either for something or against it. Often when reading the scriptures we need to look into the way that the bible writers use words and not rely on our contemporary use of them.

Having said that, we are told that love needs to be more than just ‘an act of your will.’ Verse 9 tells us that love must be sincere. The ESV uses the word, ‘genuine.’ Not faked or pretend but something that you earnestly want to portray and practice. We can’t pretend to be Christians and we can’t pretend to love others. If this is a struggle with you and somebody else, then pray about that. Ask for God’s help as you put your trust in Him to sanctify your relationships.

‘Hate what is evil.’ This shouldn’t be misunderstood as ‘hate those who are evil’ since later (v14) we are instructed to ‘bless those who persecute you.’ But verse 9 must be talking about the practice of evil. Hate and abhor it. The positive reaction to evil is to ‘cling to what is good.’ Paul says elsewhere to focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). Don’t gaze at the negative and try to hate it, but set your eyes on the good things in life – the things that God blesses. Distract evil with good.

Verse 10. I like the way the ESV puts this verse: ‘Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.’ It’s great to see family members getting along peacefully and enjoying one another. This may happen too rarley (!) but when it happens, it’s beautiful. We’re not being told to just love your brother though, we’re told to love one another. The way you do that is to put the other person first. Compete to see who can elevate the other higher! Encouraging one another like verse 7 said is a great way to promote honour and respect. How can we put that challenge into action?

Verse 11. Being fervent is to show passionate intensity – hot, burning or glowing! What a description of how to be spiritual! The question is, have you ever been this? We all display emotions and passions differently, so this really is a question for you to ask of yourself: am I passionate about the gospel? Am I 100% for King Jesus. Verse 11 defines zeal and spiritual fervour as ‘serving the Lord.’ Is this a priority to you? At home and at work and on the beach and in the city – do you do all things out of a clear understanding and dedication of your faith. Jesus said to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matt 6:33). Do you remember the zeal you had when you first became a Christian? Do you remember the passion you had for God when/if you were a teenage or young adult Christian? Has life and responsibility squashed that? The warning of the parable of the four soils will tell us that zeal for the gospel is important, or else the business of life will push it out of our minds and lower on our priority list.

How can you fan the flame of your passion and zeal for God? I listened to a good sermon today online and it reminded me of something I had not thought of for a while – it put a smile back into my faith.

Verse 12. ‘Be joyful in hope.’ I could write pages on these four words! It is hope that ought to give us joy! To think that we would not be joyful in hope is odd but then Paul thinks that this needs to be spelled out. There is no reason why we should think of all the promises of God that we look forward to in the resurrection and not produce joy in us. But, it’s one thing to know the content of the gospel and quite another to know that the gospel is for you! It’s one thing to know that Jesus died on the cross for sins – quite another to know that Jesus died on the cross for YOUR sins. It’s one thing to know that heaven will be a great place (I suppose) quite another to know that Jesus has gone away to prepare a place for YOU and he prayed for YOU while he thought about going to the cross (John 17). Like a child who can’t stop smiling on Christmas eve, our faith, when we meditate on it, when we talk about it, when we hear encouragement from one another about it, our faith is a prepaid eternity of rest and play. There might be a long time to wait for it, but the thought of it should warm our hearts and make us smile.

When afflicted: be patient like a person who knows there is relief coming.

Your prayers: constant, unshaken, trusting in the one who is listening.

Verse 13. Two more aspects of love is to share and to welcome. Both of these things we are simply told to do.

Verses 14-16. I’d like to make a broad statement about these 3 verses. They seem to tell us to embrace everyone. If someone is attacking you: embrace them. If someone is celebrating: cheer on their team. If someone is crying out: give them your shoulder. If someone seems different to you: be a chameleon and become like them. Don’t distinguish yourself from everybody else but sing with them.

Verses 17-20. The sentences on their own here are fairly straight forward and clear – it’s the principle that might be hard to understand. The principle comes down to who the Judge of this earth is – and it is God. Deuteronomy 32:35 is quoted in verse 19 as well as Proverbs 25:21,22. Our job is to be God’s holy people who were called out of darkness to live in the light and be a light to the world. It is God’s business to avenge and he will do it very well. When we show compassion and love and kindness and care in the face of hostility and anger and hate, then, if that person doesn’t repent and turn to Christ, it will be like adding heat to the fire on judgement day. When Jesus told the crowd to love their enemy, he didn’t intend for the enemy to get away with everything. He just meant to leave the justice to God.

Verse 21. It will harm us when we get into battle to fight against evil to try and overpower it. We will be swept up in the same evils. The best tool against evil is to embrace righteousness. Replace evil with good.

Meaning

  • Love, in all it’s forms, is the best weapon we have.
  • Love and hate; light and dark; good and evil; our choice is not to convert the latter but to be the former.
  • Don’t focus on what HATE and EVIL isn’t – focus on what LOVE IS!

Application

  • There are many applications here. The trick is to move beyond the general principle and to put some real examples into place.
  • Cling to what is good. Keep passionate about serving the Lord. Show love to those around you. Practice being good.
    • How do you practice being good in the church and in Growth Group?
    • How do you practice being good in the workplace?
    • How do you practice being good while commuting?
    • How do you practice being good in the shopping centre?
    • How do you practice being good in your own home?

Prayer for the week

Dear Father God, we praise you for the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who succeeded in all the challenges that Paul lists for us this week. We ask for your Spirit to guide us, to teach us and to provoke us toward love and good deeds. Because of the mercy that we have received and learned from you, help us to show love and mercy to everybody we meet. Thank you for the hope you have placed in our hearts. Help us to cling to that hope with all the joy that it brings. Amen.

 

Does God really listen?

INTRODUCTION

In Luke 18:1-8, we are told that Jesus gave an illustration of a woman bothering a grumpy and selfish judge until the judge finally gave her what she needed. He told this story so that we would learn to pray to God and keep on praying!

Does this mean that we are meant to be ‘God botherers’?

Is God actually bothered by our requests? Are we right in bringing our problems to him? Or does he want to be left alone and work out our own problems?

The question about whether God really listens can be rather, should we bother with prayer?

CONTEXT

Before continuing to answer this question, it is worth looking at the context of Luke 18:1-8. The previous chapter began with a story of ten lepors who all came to Jesus with a request (a prayer if you like) to be healed. All ten were healed but only one returned giving praise to God. Jesus recognised this one man out of ten as having faith.

Then chapter seventeen continues with Jesus describing what it will be like when the Son of Man comes. He compares that day with the day of Sodom and Gomorra’s destruction and with the day that Noah boarded the ark! It will be a day of judgement.

It is in the context of this subject that the story of the persistant widow is given. Note in verse 8 that Jesus asks whether faith will be found when the Son of Man comes. The two previous accounts are feeding two strong subjects into this widow’s story 1) Faith and 2) the day of judgement.

The next story starting at verse 9 is just as important. It compares two type of prayers. One from a Pharisee who believes he is God’s gift to the world. The second is a tax collector who comes to God in humility and repentance. Jesus declares that the latter will return justified before God.

This allows us to see that the story of the widow is not simply a message to pray because Jesus says to. We notice that the widow has come in desperation to the local judge – only because he is the only person who can help her. She needs what only he can give. The widow’s story teaches us that, in light of the coming judgement, we need to see our need and the only One who can supply it. We need to come to the judge for help. Like the faith of the tenth lepor, Jesus wonders whether he will find us praying when he returns (verse 8).

THREE THINGS FROM THE PASSAGE (more or less)

1) Prayer is expected – verse 1

Nowhere in the bible are we told to begin praying. It is expected right from the opening story of the scriptures. Man and God were in communication with each other right at creation. Before the woman was created, man spoke with God. But God’s image bearer hid from God’s sight after the Fall. Sin removed the natural position of prayer.

Prayer was not stopped, it only became harder.

But we are told time and time again that God heard the cries of his people (Gen 21:17; 25:21; 30:17; Ex 2:24;16:12; 23:13; Deut 23:5; 26:7-9; Jdg 13:8-9; 2 Sam 22 esp v7; Psalm 18; 2 Chr 30:27; 33:10-13; Psalm 54:2; 55:1; 61:1; 66:17-20; 78:56-61; 84:8; Isa 38:4-8; Jer 31:18-20; Dan 9:19; 10:12; Acts 4:30-31; 2 Cor 6:2) and he even hears his ridicule too (2 Kings 19; Isa37:4).

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, the weren’t asking what prayer was or whether it was necessary, but how to do it! They were impressed by Jesus persistence and dedication to it.

In Luke 18:1, Jesus tells us to pray and not to stop praying. Two reasons can be given for this which together, are the most wonderful things ever known. Firstly that God is able to do anything he chooses. He is the sovereign Lord of all. Later in chapter 18, the disciples will ask Jesus how on earth anybody can possibly enter God’s kingdom. Jesus tells them that it is impossible for man, but nothing is impossible for God! Isaiah 46 is a beautiful chapter on exactly how powerful and in control God is. “I am God and there is no other, and I will do all that I please.”

This on it’s own is important news but it is not wonderful unless combined with the next truth: God cares about his people! He has demonstrated that care for us in sending his one and only son in the world to die in our place! Does God care? Of course he does. This is the greatest chasm between the judge in the story and our ultimate judge. The latter cares! And he cares about true justice and righteousness. God can do anything and he cares for you! How wonderful is that news!!!

Prayer is expected. A relationship with our creator was always a priority to him and sin has not stopped God relating with us. He has done away with that obstacle so that we can talk to him.

But what shall we talk to him about in prayer?

2) Prayer is at the heart of salvation – vv2-7

We can bring anything to our God in prayer, but before we do, there is one request we must bring to him and must never be far from our minds: to be saved!

The woman in the story was not bothering the judge for a tablespoon of sugar! She was desperate to get his attention to seek justice. The woman needed to get an answer from the judge and she persisted in this prayer with him.

What is our greatest need? There are some very big issues that plague us. Some of us are burdened with sickness or some misery or hardship. Some have unrelenting addictions. Chronic pain. Relentless depression. All of these are real and can be brought to God in prayer.

But our greatest need is forgiveness. It is easy to forget that. Remember the paralytic man that was brought to Jesus, and when Jesus saw him he told him that his sins are forgiven? And then he healed him of his useless legs only to prove that he CAN forgive sins! Our sins need dealing with first and foremost. This is part of our life of faith: knowing by faith that our greatest need is to be made right with God and then knowing that Jesus can make that happen.

At the heart of prayer, there is a need to be saved. To be rescued from our greatest enemy – sin and death.

When Jesus returns or he calls us home, all of our pain and sorrow will be stripped away. If we have not come to God in repentance – truly sorry and crying out for help – then we treat God more like a wish-bone or a dandelion that the sovereign God and judge.

God can do anything and he cares. But our greatest need is forgiveness. God is not bothered by our requests for that. He has worked hard and long and patiently and deliberately so that he can tell you that it is done. What is impossible for man has been done for us by the Son of God.

God expects that when we pray, when we pray, our desire will be first and foremost to be part of his kingdom. Once that has occured to us, then everything else we talk to God about will be effected by his kingdom.

3) Prayer is faith speaking – verse 8

Jesus was pleased to see that tenth lepor giving praises to God for the healing that he had received. The other nine were shallow and quickly forgot all the heartache they had been through – that they were clean was all that they cared about. The tenth remembered who had brought this salvation to his life. Jesus was pleased to see faith demonstrated in this man. While he didn’t see God, he praised him. While the healing came from a man of Nazareth, he knew that God had made that happen.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Will he find people bringing their desperate need of salvation to him in prayer and hearing the songs of praise as faith sings out the victory song? God will deliver all those who cry out to him in faith.

But what should we do with our smaller requests? Is God only interested in our salvation and not in our daily anxieties?

God cares and we are told in 1 Peter 5:8 to throw all of our anxieties on him because he does care. This too is an act of faith. Handing our stresses and nervousness over to an unseen God.

Paul, who wrote half of the NT, brought a concern to God in prayer. He described his problem as a thorn in his flesh. He asked God three times to take it away. He persisted to some degree. Did God hear his prayer? Did God really listen?

The thorn was not taken away. God did not change the circumstances that Paul was in. Although Paul was left in the same physical state as before he prayed, God did change something: he changed Paul. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul saw even clearer, through this hardship, that God knew what he was doing. And that the gift of the kingdom was sufficient for Paul.

Some good Christians will say that God always answers prayer: he says either yes, no or not yet. This is a true statement. I don’t find it at all comforting though. I’d rather hear the answer that God always listens to a person who needs him. It’s not that our prayers need to be sincere enough. It’s that when we speak with Him – the one who gave us life – seek first the kingdom of heaven, and his righteousness, and you will know what it means that his grace is sufficient for you.