|Volume 17 Number 1 January 2015||
This writer is on a mailing list to receive letters of spiritual encouragement since I experienced the most significant loss of my life. In the letter that I received in November of 2014, several questions surrounding the idea, if any earthly desire might be granted what would it be? The statement was made, “Well, today, I am trying to ‘level with myself’ – looking inwardly in a most sane manner.” This is a thought that could resonate with us for the entire year of 2015.
That sentence immediately captured my attention. I have been thinking about it since then, and a few thoughts have definitely caused me to actively pursue that inward look. Spiritually, we are either growing or we are rotting; we are either moving forward or slipping backward. There is no such thing as “holding our own” and still being pleasing to God! Being in a holding pattern is great for airplanes – never for God’s people.
The call of the prophet Zephaniah was to motivate the nation of Judah to repentance. God told him to tell His people that He would search Jerusalem with lamps, “And punish the men who were settled in complacency, who say in their heart, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will He do evil’” (Zephaniah 1:12). What were they saying? “God never does anything; He won’t help us; He won’t punish either.” They really needed a reality check! Zephaniah gave them one they would never forget regarding their terrible impending punishment.
All facets of our lives are under God’s scrutiny. We must be sure that God is pleased with our lifestyle choices from His divine perspective. This should cause us to be starkly honest with ourselves. Seeing ourselves as God sees us demands we examine His Word. The Bible reveals how God sees and judges our behavior. To borrow a phrase, God has “written us reams of letters” on what is and what is not acceptable in His sight.
There are areas in our lives that need our daily attention. For the purpose of this article only three will be addressed. First, we must level with ourselves and look inwardly in a most sane manner to confront our fatal sin calamity. The calamity of our sin is catastrophic in proportion! J.J. Turner wrote, The Book of James, and he penned many comments on James 3:2, which reads, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect [mature] man, able also to bridle the whole body.”
In one of his comments on James 2:3, brother Turner wrote, “James includes himself by using the phrase ‘we all.’ There are no exemptions from human problems or stumbling. We all sin time and time again (Romans 3:23; I John 1:6-9).” When this writer read that, it immediately came to mind that he did not say that we all sin from time to time. If we are to level with ourselves, we must freely admit that we sin time and time again every day! To say we are living our lives devoid of sinning is a totally preposterous claim!
This claim was made in my hearing many years ago. When questioned about what was said to make sure I had understood correctly what I had heard, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I just don’t think I sin every day.” There are others who believe someone they love most dearly does not sin – period! How does any human achieve that? What or who is the standard for such a belief? Why did Christ die that horrifying death on the cross?
We all must have a profound sense of our sinfulness and that this condition left to itself will lead to our ultimate eternal condemnation! There is no such thing as sinning in moderation, believing God will be okay with that. God’s standard to come into His presence is absolute perfection. That leaves all of us mortals never able to achieve that state of perfection on our own. God took care of that insurmountable obstacle in His gift of Jesus Christ.
In his comments on James 1:22-25 on the believer’s attitude toward the Word, J.J. Turner says, “There is no benefit from only auditing God’s word. We must become a ‘creative doer’ of God’s word.” Isn’t that rich? What did he mean? He explains that when we hear God’s Word, we then must put that word into practice. He says, “I am persuaded that what we need in the church today is not more sermons, but a putting into practice the ones that have already been preached.” Someone has said, “Most sermons are denied during the week by the lives of those who hear them on Sunday.” The litmus test for hearing God’s Word is to do what it says without subtraction, addition or substitution.
Second, we must level with ourselves and look inwardly in a most sane manner to confront the absolute imperative of daily repentance. Why? Because we sin every day! Repentance is the cornerstone of a continued covenant relationship with God! Luke 13:1 reads, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled [mixed] with their sacrifices.” The Bible does not tell us, as it does on other occasions, what their motive was for telling Jesus about this. Verse 2 gives us His response. “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?’” What Jesus says in verse 3 is as personal and pointed as it gets. He turned their focus inward. “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” What Jesus told them about repentance is the same for you and me.
Jesus was not finished. Just in case some were missing the unquestioned necessity of what He was saying, He added more to His response in verses 4 and 5. “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In the words of one good preacher, “It’s either turn or burn!”
Third, we must level with ourselves and look inwardly in a most sane manner in recognition of the unalterable fact that God is in control. We hear people saying this regularly. It’s almost become a buzz sentence. It’s what people say after they have stated their opinion on some news headline, some local tragedy or some crisis in their own lives. God is in control. He always has been; He always will be. We don’t have a problem with His control, as long as circumstances and events are going the way we think they should. Yet, if storm clouds start to appear in our bright sunny picture, suddenly we start saying, “God is in control.”
God rules and reigns; not any of us! No one can oppose His will successfully. There is no power, nation or person on earth who can override anything that God does or allows to be done. There was a commercial years ago with the tag line, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” When God speaks the whole world listens, whether they realize it or not!
Scripture is replete with revelation of God’s sovereignty. The following passages attest to that.
Though I did not reference any of the sentiments from the letter that inspired the thoughts in this article, in closing several reckoning statements were made that lend to leveling with self. “I and the Lord need to have a long talk! I need to listen! I need to humbly accept His care and stop trusting in myself. He has carefully charted the way and I must lovingly follow Him. Someway ‘I’ just keep on getting in the way! ‘Lord, help me to grow up!’” I say “Amen” to all of those statements for me as well.
Paul on Prayer
In a recent Bible class, a verse was quoted from the Book of Philemon. On hearing the verse, my first thought was, “I thought that verse was in a different book.” When I later looked more closely, I found the words from Philemon are found in at least nine of the books of our New Testament written by Paul. What did Paul find so important that he stated it often in his writings to the infant church? What can we learn from these words to help us in the church during the 21st century?
Throughout Paul’s writings, he used the words “I thank my God” (Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3; Philemon 4) or “We give thanks” (Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:2). Other verses also mention “thank God” (2 Thessalonians 1:3) and giving “thanks” (Ephesians 1:16). In each case, Paul was thanking God for fellow Christians and their work or for God’s gifts to those Christians.
Obviously, Paul was thanking God through prayer, as we do today. However, in many of the verses where Paul stated that he gave thanks, he emphasized giving that thanks through prayer (Philemon 4; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Ephesians 1:16). Additionally, several of these verses written by Paul tell the original recipients that he made “mention” of them in prayer.
Paul’s prayers for the brethren were about more than just thanking God for the existence of fellow Christians. In Romans 1:8, Paul was thankful for the faith of the Roman Christians that is known worldwide. Paul was thankful for the Christians at Thessalonica because their faith and love for each other continued to grow (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
Paul also mentioned the Christians to whom he was writing when he made requests of God for them. Romans 1:9-12 explains that Paul prayed to God requesting a way for Paul to visit the church at Rome so spiritual gifts could be imparted to them. Paul prayed in Philippians 1:9-11 that the brethren would grow in their love and knowledge and remain faithful to Christ. Paul’s letter to Philemon includes a request to God that “the sharing of your faith become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (6). In Ephesians 1:16-21, Paul asked God to give the Christians at Ephesus wisdom and understanding. Paul also passed along the prayers of another Christian, Epaphras (Colossians 4:12), for the church at Colossae to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
When Paul wrote instructions to the young preacher Timothy, he penned, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul told Timothy to pray for others; Paul’s writings show that he was an example of following that command.
As Christians in the 21st century, we need to follow the example of Paul in our prayers (1 Corinthians 11:1). As Paul instructed Timothy, our prayers need to include not just fellow Christians, but also rulers and those outside the body of Christ. Our prayers for other Christians should include:
The New Testament addresses prayer in many passages through instructions and examples (Matthew 6:5-14; 21:21-22; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; etc.). Paul’s writings show his deep care and concern for souls, especially those in the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:28; consider also the numerous individuals named throughout his writings). His prayers reflect that care. Our prayers should reflect the same care and concern for lost souls and our brethren.