Saturday, October 7, 2017

171008 God’s Grace Gives Peace

Galatians 1:1-5 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I usually think of Galatians as being Romans lite. The material that Paul presents here is much expanded in the Roman letter. Paul wants the church in Galatia to recognize his authority as an apostle. Then, based on that, he will instruct them (and us) concerning justification by faith alone. Galatians helps us to understand the historical aspects of the Acts of the Apostles in relation to Paul’s life. In a couple of weeks, we will look at Paul’s growth in Christ. Now let’s look at these first few verses.
Paul’s relationship to the Galatian churches was based on the fact that he was the founding pastor in most cases. He was their apostle who had brought the gospel to them and as such was able to provide them with the necessary information to counteract false teachings that had come in after he had left. First of all, we need to see that…
Paul qualifies as an apostle. Let’s go back and see what happened when there was a gap in the apostle’s ranks. Acts 1:21-23 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.
With the departure of Judas, the twelve apostles were now lacking a member. So Peter stood up in their meeting and quoted Scripture to show that they needed to appoint another. Here Peter lays out the qualifications. A man who has been with them during the time they were following in the footsteps of Jesus. Also, this man needed to be a witness to the resurrection.
They cast lots to choose between two men who seemed to qualify. I’m not sure exactly what that means but the lot fell on a man named Matthias and he was numbered with the eleven.
A number of times I have heard fairly knowledgeable people say that this was probably a mistake. Because this man is never mentioned again. It’s true that his name does not appear again. My first response to that is most of the apostles were never mentioned again by name. However, in Acts chapter 6 the apostles called the church together to choose men to help the apostles. When they did, Luke tells us that “the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples”. I submit to you that Matthias was counted in that group. Also, when Paul records the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection he says that one of his appearances was “to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:5).
Judas’ replacement was appointed by the people of the early church. A few years later Paul was…
Appointed by Jesus. Let’s look at one of Paul’s accounts of that appointment. Acts 26:15b-18 ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.
Luke’s account in Acts chapter nine tells us that Paul, then known as Saul of Tarsus, was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.
In Paul’s account, he simply says that he journeyed to Damascus with the arrest warrants for those who followed the Way! Along the road to Damascus, he saw a great light — brighter than the sun – that blinded him. Then a voice spoke to him saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s reply was, “Who are you, Lord?”
With that question, he was given the answer that I just read for you. Note that he did not say “I am Jesus the Lord of the church which you are persecuting”. Instead, he said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” When someone persecutes the church they persecute the head — the Lord Jesus — not just his body on earth.
With that recognition the Lord Jesus himself, in the flesh, appointed him. The word “apostle” is not used. But the meaning is very clear. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent”. In our text, we can see that Jesus said: “I am sending you”! Paul became a “sent one” with direct instructions. He was to go to the Gentiles and bring them out of darkness into the light. To deliver them from the power of Satan and give them over to God. He became the apostle to the Gentiles that day on the Damascus Road. As such…
Paul speaks grace to the Galatians. This was a common part of his greetings in his letters. In writing the greeting to the Romans and 1 Corinthians Paul included the phrase “Grace to you”. Throughout his other letters, the concept of grace is often presented. Usually, it is also connected to the word “peace”. When Paul spoke grace to the Galatians he wanted them to understand that the grace and peace he was wishing for them came from God our Father and…
From the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look at John 1:16-18.  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Grace, God’s grace, means God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. Peter refers to God as “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). Grace and truth came to mankind through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). In fact, Jesus came to earth “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was given to the church through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).
Since Jesus was full of grace we have all received from him grace on top of grace. So we are able to, when addressing our friends, speak “grace” and “peace”. We have this gift because of Jesus…
Who gave himself for our sins. Paul makes it clear in Titus 2:11-14. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
“The grace of God” that has appeared is Jesus. He brought salvation for all people. He enables us to be trained to live a godly life. Because of the grace of God, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to God while in the middle of this corrupt world! In our own strength and righteousness, we can never earn the right to become a child of God. In order for us — or anyone else for that matter — to be redeemed and purified God had to send His Son to become sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him. He did this…
To deliver us from this evil age. Let’s look at Ephesians 2:4-7. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
His great love makes all things become good. He does this just because he loves us! Before a person comes to faith in Christ he, or she, is living like the rest of the world around. Without Jesus, mankind is subject to the prince of the power of the air! Such people live in a condition the Bible calls “the flesh”. Later in Galatians Paul describes that condition. (Galatians 5:19-21) “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In 1 Corinthians 6:9b-11a, Paul describes the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God in the following way. “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you.”
In contrast, those who follow Christ will manifest the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentlenesses, self-control; against such things, there is no law. (Galatians 5:22b-23) And rather than being like those listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the Christ follower has been washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God as described in 1 Corinthians 6:11b. Since we have been so changed by the power of God we are able to have peace. When we lay aside our anxiety and submit everything to God in prayer “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Yes, God’s grace gives peace!

Paul was the only apostle directly appointed by Jesus after his resurrection from the dead. God’s grace is poured out upon us as God’s goodwill. First, there is common grace meaning all of the good things done to all mankind. And then there is special grace that is designed to bring us to salvation. Christ Jesus came to the earth for the special purpose of paying the price for our sins. We need to recognize the fact that the power of sin in mankind is so great that it can only be paid for by the Son of God himself! We need to remember that all have sinned, there is only one exception, Jesus himself. And, the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life. Have you asked him to forgive your sins? Have you asked him to be your Lord and give you eternal life? If not this can be the day of your salvation?
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

170910 Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer was extremely important to the apostle Paul. He understood prayer to be essential to any kind of effective ministry. He was especially concerned for the Thessalonians because there was such extreme opposition to their ministry in the community. They had believed the gospel when Paul presented it and had stood their ground when they were attacked. We learn something about the way God acts in Paul’s prayer life.
Please take notice that Paul does not urge people to be strong in themselves. His prayer to God for them was that God would make them worthy of his calling. When we come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we become a part of the family of God. As such we are to uphold the family honor, so to speak. I can remember during the years of my childhood hearing my mother say, a number of times, “You are a member of this family and you must act like it.” In her mind it was absolutely essential that we hold up family honor in the way we acted. We have a similar responsibility as members of the family of God. We need to act like we are Christians. Now I’m not talking about working to earn your salvation I’m talking about working because you have salvation.
To that end…
Paul prayed for those he had witnessed to. A similar theme is found in Colossians 1:9.  And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Wherever Paul traveled he received reports on the churches that he had established. Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written about 10 years after the Thessalonian letters. It’s interesting that he used similar words in both cases. Having heard of their faith and love he made it a matter of disciplined importance that he pray for them. After all, the people in each of these churches are his spiritual children. He had led them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Paul who had taught them how to organize the ministry for effective service. It was Paul who taught them to go into the surrounding countryside and bear witness to Christ. It was Paul who understood what they knew and what their limits were.
He did not pray that they would have knowledge and wisdom and understanding. He prayed that they would have the knowledge of God’s will. He prayed that they would have all spiritual wisdom. He prayed that they would have God’s kind of understanding.
He wrote to the Ephesians and…
He prayed that God would make them worthy. Writing about the same time as the Colossian letter we find these words Ephesians 4:1-3. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Here, Paul is asking that they live a life that measured up to the high calling of God. His desire was that they would be humble and gentle, patient and loving. Not according to their own strength but according to God’s strength! There is a great need in the church today to recognize the responsibility to live our lives in such a way that God is honored. We cannot do that in our own strength.
When a person comes to faith in Christ, becomes a believer, the first response is often, “This is easy.” As time goes by the Christian life becomes more and more difficult. I won’t go through all the stages they are different for every person.
Finally we come to a place where we cry out to God something like this. “Father in heaven you have called me to an impossible task.” That is exactly where God wants us to be! Unable to live the Christian life in and of our own strength. God is not limited to our strength and ability. If he were so limited the church would have collapsed centuries ago. Throughout the word of God we see that God’s work is not done by human wisdom and strength. In the words of God to Zechariah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
We shall never be good enough in our ability. We need God to make us worthy of his calling. We need God to do his work in our life. We will never be worthy in our own strength.
To that end…
He prayed that God would fulfill their needs. Let’s look at Titus 3:14. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
In writing to Titus Paul addresses much of the same issues that we have seen in the Thessalonian letters. We are to learn how to devote ourselves to good works. I believe that includes having a positive purpose in our good works. To the Thessalonians he asks that God will fulfill every intention of good work. To Titus he asks that they learn to devote themselves to good works. You see our needs are not entirely self-centered. Our needs are to equip us to the point of having resources sufficient to help others. Our resolve for good works should grow out of our relationship to the living Lord Jesus Christ.
It is God’s desire that we develop resources adequate to meet the needs of others in such a way that they come to faith in Christ. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he asks that God let his grace abound for them so they will have sufficient resources to do the good work he’s called them to. He supplies us with seed for sowing that will supply the needs of many (2 Corinthians 9:8). As Paul continued his prayer…
He prayed that God would strengthen their faith. Luke tells us that this was a continuing goal for the new churches. Let’s read Acts 16:5. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Paul and Silas had set out on Paul’s second missionary journey. Only a short period of time had passed since Paul had been preaching the gospel in these regions. Today, when we establish a new church we are able to be in contact with them in real time. Paul could only write a letter and hope it arrived. He could send a messenger and wait patiently for a reply. Or, to be certain, he would have to travel to each city and speak to the people face to face. During this time he had not written any letters to the churches. Soon he would see it as necessary to write letters since he could not quickly travel to see them. In order to strengthen their faith he could pray for them, he could travel to them, or he could write letters. Soon his letters would become his primary means of travel. We a grateful that he wrote those letters because they make up a large part of the New Testament.
One of the reasons he was making this trip was to tell the churches about the conference they had at Jerusalem. It was important that the Gentile believers throughout the Roman Empire understand that they were equal to the Jews. It was not necessary for them to become a Jew first and then a Christian.
One consequence of that message was a strengthening of their faith. The Gentiles would rejoice in the fact that there was equality in the church. Beyond the strengthening of their faith…
He prayed that they would reflect God’s power. Again we look at Ephesians for a continued example. Let’s read Ephesians 3:7. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.
Paul’s ministry was not based on his education, ability to speak, or his rank in the church. It was God’s grace that allowed him to reflect the power of God. Remember, it was not Paul’s strength but God’s. Every work of faith is by the power of God. There is no other explanation for the fantastic spread of the gospel around the world that continues even today except that God chooses it to happen. So…
He prayed that Jesus’ name would be glorified in them. Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer. John 17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.
A great need in the church today is for Christ be glorified! In this prayer Jesus speaks of all of those who are his. They are his because they are God’s. There’s always been, throughout history, a group of believers that God could point to. Remember the prophet Elijah! He had won a great victory over the pagan worshipers of Baal. He had prayed and ended three and half years of drought. And then he was told that the Queen was going to take his life. With those words he traveled into the wilderness apparently to escape the threat. He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and asked God to take his life. He didn’t need to go on this journey for that end to be met! Jezebel would have ended his life gladly. Instead of God ending his life he had an angel feed him and send him on his way to Horeb the mount of God.
There, he went into a cave and soon God spoke to him. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” To which he answered, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.… I only am left and they seek my life,” (1 kings 19:9-10). God then takes him through a series of encounters each of which he might’ve thought of as the voice of God. There was a strong wind, but God wasn’t in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake. There was a fire but God wasn’t in the fire. Then there was a low whisper and Elijah knew God was in that whisper. He went outside the cave where God spoke to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” These were familiar words. Again Elijah explained that he was the only one left and would soon be dead at the hands of the Queen. God did not dignify Elijah’s words with an answer. He simply gave him instructions as to what he next wanted him to do and then told him, “I will leave 7000 in Israel, all the knees that had not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Elijah was not alone and no matter how we feel we are not either.
Our prayer should be that Christ be glorified in us. And…
He prayed that they would be glorified in Christ. Let’s read Romans 8:16-17. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
John Piper coined a phrase, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This is the very reason that God called us to salvation. In everything God needs to get the glory because he deserves it. We are not to think of ourselves as better than we are. We are to rejoice in the Lord because he gives us all that we need to live a godly life. We need to pray for ourselves, and for each other, that we would be glorified with Christ.
Not only did Paul have a comprehensive prayer life he also called on his friends to pray for him. In closing his first letter he asked the people there to pray for him (1 Thessalonians 5:25). Specifically, he asked for prayer that the word of God would spread rapidly and be glorified in them (2 Thessalonians 3:1). One of the weaknesses of the modern church is a failure to invest adequately in prayer. Prayer should be a major part of the foundation of our ministry. We should so focus on prayer that people would be drawn to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is he your Lord? Then you should talk to him regularly! If he is not your Lord you should ask him to receive you today!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.