Monday, October 29, 2012

Soul Surgery

Main Text:    Hebrews 4:12

Point of Emphasis:    We need the Bible for health and growth

Memory Verse:        "Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You." (Psalm 119:11)

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)


When it comes to our health we are willing, sometimes, to do almost anything. The health industry has increased dramatically over the last few years. We have diet plans, pills, procedures, and therapies we are willing to endure for the sake of our health. Ask your class what are some of the new things they have tried to be healthier. (e.g. exercise, diet, gastric bypass, etc.) Then ask them to discuss the amount of pain involved in those choices.


We as a people, in general, have a high threshold of pain if we believe the benefits will outweigh the pain. Ask you class if this is true of their spiritual life as well. To what extent are we willing to go to become spiritually healthy?


The verse we are going to look at this morning deals with the way in which the Word of God is able to provide massive benefits for our spiritual life, but it also is accomplished, at times, through trials and pains in our lives. Read the text to your class and explain that we are going to break this verse down thought by thought, similar to the Pronounce It! method from Rick Warren we learned in 40 Days in the Word.


The Bible is Active

The first thing that we notice in this passage is that it is about the Word of God. Briefly, it should be noted that some people believe this passage is referring to the Bible and some think it refers to Jesus (cp. John 1). It is both. The nature of Scripture is that it is God speaking to us, as we have already discussed. He speaks to us through his Word, Jesus. As we discuss this passage in relation to the Bible I think it is beneficial for us to think that we are hearing from Jesus, since He is the Word. Psalm 147:15 says that the word of God runs swiftly all over the earth.


This Word of God, Scripture, is also active for our lives. The passage says that it is "living and active." Think about that for a moment . . . what does that mean? Most of the things that we read are passive. This lesson you are reading, the Newspaper, a blog, or Crime and Punishment, are all good reads, beneficial in their own ways, but none of them are what we can call "active" or "alive." They are just writings written by men that probe our intellects but leave change up to our own wills.


This is not so with Scripture. The nature of Scripture is that not only do we read it, but it reads us. (I will say that again). There are times we come to a text that we have read a million times but are affected by it differently each time. This is an instance of the active nature of Scripture. It is alive and interacts with our lives. An important attribute of Scripture that should drive us to read it more often.


Discuss with your class how Scripture, no matter how many times it is read, always teaches them something new.


The Bible is Accurate (a precision instrument)

The second attribute of Scripture in this passage is that it is accurate, "sharper than any two-edged sword." It is common to illustrate this section with a large sword and point out how it pierces, how strong it is, etc. But an aspect of this text is that IT IS sharper; a two-edged sword is sharp enough to kill or dismember but a sharper instrument like a scalpel—a surgeon's tool, is sharp enough to heal. This is a feature of Scripture as a sharp, accurate implement. Just as a surgeon needs something sharp he also needs something precise, a scalpel is exactly what he needs. Scripture is the scalpel, the precision instrument to heal our injuries.


The Bible, the Word of God, exists in such away that it has the ability to address our spiritual needs in the most accurate way. Psalm 119:49-50 says, "Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life." The word to the servant here is the Word of God to his people. We approach the Bible with the understanding that it exists as a precise cure for the afflictions of life. We come with hope that it will accomplish in our lives what it claims, that greatness will be done for us, that sin can be overcome and righteousness achieved.


Discuss with your class how a Scripture at the right moment has proved to be accurate, dead-on, in particular situations in their lives.


The Bible Penetrates

Third, we notice that this accurate tool also has the ability to penetrate. Notice the description of that scalpel can also be a bone saw, "piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow." This is a precision instrument. The Bible has the ability to find the smallest cancer in the deepest recesses of our lives and remove it. It is able to see the hidden maladies of our souls and extract them. This is the nature of Scripture; it seeks out all irregularities within our spirits and acts as a surgeon to remove them.


Just as with bodily surgery, spiritual surgery is such that it is necessary, but may be painful and need weeks of rest for recovery. What we often forget is that sin is vicious and dangerous, the work of the Bible in our lives functions in such a way to help us overcome sin and live righteously. However, we often allow sin to persist because we are afraid to go through the surgery that the Bible may bring to us. We often do not long for correction like James 1:2-3, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."


Discuss with your class how they have refused to read the Bible because they knew it would convict them or reprove them.


Discuss with your class how the Bible has helped heal them of spiritual ailments.


The Bible Perceives

Finally, we see that the Bible perceives, "and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." This is closely connected to how the Bible is active, but is a specific way the Bible is active in our lives. It knows what is going on with us, it perceives our hearts. We cannot open up the Bible and hide our sins, frailties, and failures. The Bible even has the ability to point out sins we do not recognize. More than a rule book for life, the Bible is a book of life that should rule.


Specifically this means that we don't just read the Bible it reads us. This was mentioned earlier. When we approach a text in the Bible it has the ability to change our lives because it knows the very needs of our lives, since it is God-breathed and are his very words. It knows the sins we currently struggle with and the areas we need to grow. We must allow it to read us thought, we must come to open and ready for change.


Discuss with your class how they have allowed Scripture to change them.


This is the nature of Scripture, it knows how to look deep into our souls and change us to be more righteous. What we need to do, in application, is live out the prayer of Psalm 139:23-24


Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me, and know my anxieties;

And see if there is any wicked way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting.


When we live out our faith, by reading our Bibles and letting Scripture read us, we can fulfill this prayer in our lives. However, if we refuse to read, we are not allowing God to search us or try us. Though spiritual surgery may be difficult, it must be done, for what is at stake for us is "the way everlasting."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trusting the Word

2 Peter 1:16-21

21 October 2012

Main Text:    2 Peter 1:16-21

Point of Emphasis:    The written Word's trustworthiness

Memory Verse:        "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22)

16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God
spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.


It should come to no surprise that many of us are a people who are cynical and untrusting. We hear accounts of stories from others and immediately question them. We know that we exaggerate stories and we expect others to do the same. Discuss with your class a time when they struggled trusting that people were telling the truth, it may be a fish story or a serious story. Ask why they were untrusting.


Let them know this morning we are going to look at a passage that makes some very strong statements about the nature of Scripture as it pertains to being trustworthy. These statements lead us to realize that if Scripture is not trustworthy then we cannot be sure that our faith is true. On the other side, if Scripture is trustworthy then we are certain that the gospel is true and have assurance of our salvation.


So this morning we will approach this passage of Scripture by answering from 2 Peter 1:16-21 the question: Why Trust Scripture?


Not Based on a Myth (16)


The first point of this text about the truthfulness of Scripture is that it is not based upon a myth. Look at verse 16, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths . . ." The religious environment of the Roman Empire was one filled with pagan worship. In addition to Greek and Roman mythology, with the pantheon of gods, those living closer to Israel would still have remnants of other mythologies: Egyptian, Persian, etc. It was common at this time to have many different gods that were imagined in the minds of men. In Acts 17 Paul speaks to the Athenians about the "unknown god." In a setting of thousands of god he "observed the objects of your worship." The culture then was used to man made myths. Peter is countering that argument in this passage. He claims that he is not one who has made up a story about Christ, rather he is telling the truth. He is imploring people to believe his story.


In our day we also are wary of religious stories. Recently our own country has officially become a place where Christians are the minority. We have every religion under the sun and are asked to tolerate all belief under the name of tolerance. Truth has become something we define. In this culture it is no wonder people have a hard time believing the gospel. But we must also understand that the Bible is not talking about some myth like Zeus or Thor. The Bible is talking about the one true God and his plan of saving humanity. We have in it a religious story we must trust.


What difficulties do you have had in trusting the stories in Scripture?


More Sure than an Eyewitness (19)


The second thing we note in this passage is that Scripture is more sure than an eyewitness. In verse 16 Peter makes the statement that he (along with others) were eyewitnesses. The story he then conveys is the story of the transfiguration, "For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain." This is the story from the Gospels (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36), the story of Jesus showing his glory to Peter, James, and John, where they all heard the voice of God. I don't know about you, but if I heard the voice of God I think I would believe. It is like Moses coming down from the mountain and having to wear a veil over his face because it shined from God's glory (Exod 34) or Paul's conversion experience in Acts 9. I would be a believer. I would know I saw something great—I saw God.


Now contrast these stories to what Peter says next: And we have something more sure, the prophetic word. The nature of Scripture is that it is so trustworthy that we can trust it more than seeing an event itself. In essence, this text is saying, "Do you want to see God? Read Scripture, there you will find God." When we encounter Scripture we encounter God. Because of that truth we should trust in it. We do not need to have proofs for God other than his divine Word, he is speaking to us through it.


How have you seen just through the reading of Scripture the miraculous work of God in their lives?


Not from Man's Interpretation (20)


We also see in this passage that Scripture is true because it is not from man's interpretation, "know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation." What this means is that when we are reading a text of Scripture we know the truth it is bringing to us comes directly from God—we hear from God. When we read the Bible we are not confronted by the philosophies, thoughts, and opinions of others. This is an important belief for Christians, for if the Bible contains just the opinions or thoughts of man then it has lost authority. But if the Bible contains God's thoughts and opinions then we know it is truth and are to obey.


Think of a difficult text for us to obey, like Matthew 5. In this chapter Jesus says, "you have heard it said . . . but I say to you." Jesus properly interprets the Law in ways that are difficult to follow. For instance, he says that anyone who lusts after another person has committed adultery. It would be easy for us to take this verse as just the opinion of a man, and therefore be just another opinion among others and dismiss it. But as truth from the Bible we cannot ignore it, skirt, reinterpret it, all we can do is trust it. When we trust that the Bible is true then we obey it, in this case by stop lusting. In other cases we must see that marriage is between one man and one woman and that homosexuality is wrong, that we are to attend a church and tithe, that we are seek forgiveness for every offense we have made. The list goes on and on, but we must see that the Bible is God's Word to us, his interpretation, opinion, thought, and we must obey.


How have you tried to reinterpret the Bible according to your own interpretation?


Not from Man's Will (21)


Finally, we see in this text that the Bible is true because it is not from man's will. This goes to the heart of how we received Scripture. The Modern Era has tried to convince the world that the Bible was written by men, not God, with man's own agendas and wills. This text negates that. "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." This is what inspiration is, at least Christian inspiration. Sure we are inspired to do different things from time to time, but inspiration from God is when we have received his trustworthy, inerrant, infallible word. Only the BIble fits that category, it is the Holy Word of God. This is why we can trust it, it is not a text that came from anyone else besides God. Though we read the personalities of the writers in it these writers did not accomplish their task apart from God. God, through the Holy Spirit, was with them through the entire writing process because he was leading them to write his words, not theirs. When we read Scripture we can trust that it is God's word to us. We must read it as God's word to us


Do you believe you are hearing from God when they read Scripture? Why or why not?


So What? (19)


Given these four reason from 2 Peter 1 on why we need to trust Scripture, what now? Theology, the doctrines from Holy Scripture, are not intended to be sets of data to be used on Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, or as facts one know to impress at dinner parties. The teachings of Scripture are to prompt us to act in this world. The trustworthiness of Scripture does the same thing. This text tells one important thing to do pay attention to Scripture. Read it! Meditate on it! Ponder it! Pray it!


We cannot add enough exclamation points behind that. Because Scripture is trustworthy we must trust it, but how? As to a lamp shining in a dark place. Think about this allusion. If you have ever been in a pitch dark place (a cave, camping, a blackout) you know that you are searching for anything that provides light and when you find it you are drawn to it. This is what Scripture is—light. When we are lost in a situation we must look to Scripture. When we are hurting, look to Scripture, when we are in turmoil, look to Scripture. We are prone to look everywhere else. We call our friends, we indulge on food and entertainment, none of it satisfies, but when we turn to Scripture we find answers, solace, healing. Scripture, the Word of God, is the only truth we have.


Read your Bibles more; find a Bible reading program, through Hallmark or elsewhere. .By reading the text, and trusting it to be authoritative, we have the word of God that provides the light we need to be the light for the world.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

God’s Word – Inspired for a Purpose

2 Timothy 3:16&17

I think you would agree that people today (even Christian people) are increasingly biblically illiterate.

A survey conducted by Knowledge Networks for Christianity Today International and Zondervan in September 2006 revealed the following. Nineteen percent of the 1,017 self-identified Christian adults who took the survey consider themselves Active Christians (high belief, high church involvement). Twenty percent consider themselves Professing Christians (high belief, moderate church involvement).

Among Active Christians, 86 percent believe the Bible is the authoritative guide for faith and Christian living; 93 percent read the Bible; and 82 percent agree that regular Bible reading and prayer are important spiritual disciplines for all Christians. Obviously this group has a strong reverence for the Bible.

Among Professing Christians, 74 percent believe the Bible is the authoritative guide for faith and Christian living; 48 percent say they read the Bible; and 54 percent say regular Bible reading and prayer are important spiritual disciplines for all Christians. According to this, only about half of Professing Christians see a need for regular Bible reading, and fewer than half even do it. What a huge surprise—to see roughly half of this group, most of which believes in salvation and the importance of the Bible—place a relatively low priority on using the Bible.

For the past few years, at Hallmark, we have been teaching through various books of the Bible, offering "Bible Reading Plans", and encouraging Scripture memorization in attempt to get God's people back into God's Word. Over the next 40 days, all of our Life Groups will be learning the "Devotional Method" of Bible study. I truly believe that when God's people are immersed in God's Word daily the end result will be life change. Not just increased information, but life transformation. It will not simply increase our belief, but it will also impact our behavior.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I. The Extent of God's Word
Some people will say that they believe the Bible contains SOME words from God, but that it isn't THE Word of God. The result of this belief is a cafeteria Christian that picks and chooses which parts of the Bible he/she wishes to believe. The Bible then becomes a buffet of belief that the consumer enjoys at leisure. They'll use it when it helps them, but refuse it when it challenges them (Who's God in that arrangement?).

As much as some of us would like to exclude some of what the Bible says, we must surrender to the fact that ALL of Scripture is God's Word.

It's important to understand that while all parts of the Bible are NOT inspirational, ALL parts of the Bible ARE inspired. In other words, you might find more personal worth reading the Sermon on the Mount than in reading the genealogy tables in Matthew chapter one; but one was just as inspired as the other. "ALL Scripture is inspired".

Psalm 19

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,

Yea, than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,

And in keeping them there is great reward.


King Solomon said, "EVERY Word of God is pure" (Prov. 30:5). When Jesus was led out into the wilderness, before beginning His public ministry, he was tempted by the Devil himself. His weapon against that wicked attack was God's Word, "It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4 KJV). Jesus went on to say, "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till ALL is fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18 NKJV).

II. The Evidence of God's Word

"…is given by inspiration of God"

The late, Dr. R.G. Lee said, "The Bible is a book above and beyond all other books…as a river is beyond a rivulet/as the sun is beyond a candle in brightness/as the wings of an eagle above the wings of a sparrow in strength/…it is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, immeasurable in influence, infinite in scope, divine in authorship, human in penmanship, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, and inspired in totality! The Bible is the book that has walked more paths, traveled more highways, knocked on more doors, spoken to more people in their mother tongue, than any other book has ever known, or ever will know."

"ALL scripture is given BY INSPIRATION OF GOD".


Perhaps, you've heard people say regarding that statement, "Prove it!" How can you prove that the Bible is NOT just another book? Well, there are two broad categories of evidence when it comes to God's Word: External & Internal.


For the sake of time, let's just take a look at 3 external evidences this morning that show us how the Bible is truly a miracle book:


A. The miracle of its origination.


The Bible is really a library of books…66 in all. These 66 books were written over a period of 1,600 years; they were written by 40 different men, from 13 different countries, and 3 different continents, yet they all come together as a literary masterpiece, with one central theme, and without contradiction. That's a miracle…with a divine Author overseeing the whole thing! Those 40 men came from a variety of backgrounds: doctors, fishermen, shepherds, soldiers, kings, and princes; some were rich, some were poor, some were educated, and others were uneducated.


If we were to take 40 men from church today, and let's say they were all equal in social standing, education, and background: if we put them all in a room together, the 40 of them probably couldn't ALL agree on any one thing, much less everything! And yet, God's Word stands without contradiction! And they all write about the same hero, Jesus Christ. Look closely and you find Jesus throughout this book.


The Bible covers a variety of subjects:

Origin of universe, creation of man, beginning of sin, divine principles of government, rise and history of Israel, incarnation of Christ, institution of the church, evangelization of the world. Yet, with all of this variety and with a thousand threads weaving its tapestry, when you step back and look there is just one theme from beginning to end: Jesus Christ, and the redemption of mankind.


In Genesis Jesus is the seed of woman prophesied in Gen. 3:15,

In Exodus Jesus is the Passover Lamb,

In Leviticus, He is our High Priest

In Numbers, He is the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night,

I could go on and on…


Needless to say, this book is a miracle!


B. The miracle of its preservation.


No less amazing than the Bible's origination, is its preservation.

Psalm 119:89 says, "Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven".

The Bible is not the "book of the month"; it's the book of the Ages!!!

No book has been the object of more attacks and more scorn than the Bible.

No book has ever been despised and rejected like the Word of God.

It's been burned/ridiculed/outlawed, but amazingly, the more it is attacked,
the more it multiplies!


Voltaire, in his day said, "in 100 years the Bible will be a forgotten book, only to be found in museums." 100 years later, Voltaire was dead and his house was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society for the printing and distribution of Bibles!


Robert Ingersoll, agnostic and Bible skeptic of last century, used to travel a circuit delivering messages on why the Bible is not true, he said, "In 15 years I'll have the Bible in the morgue…within 15 years Robert Ingersoll was dead and buried. A local preacher bought his house and used the same desk Ingersoll had used, to write weekly Bible lessons.


Many a man has preached the funeral of the Bible, only to find it remains the most published and translated book in the world.


John Cummings said, "the empire of Caesar is gone, but the Word of God still survives, the legions of Rome are now dust, but the Word of God still survives, the avalanches that Napoleon heaped upon Europe have melted away, but the Word of God still survives, the pride of the Pharaohs has fallen, but the Word of God still survives. Tradition has dug for it a grave. Many a Judas has betrayed it w/ a kiss. Many a Demas has forsaken it, but the Bible still survives!"


There's only one explanation for the Bible indestructibility…it has been miraculously maintained and providentially preserved by Almighty God.


The Bible is a miracle in its origination, its preservation, and


C. The miracle of its circulation.


No book has been circulated like the Bible; by far the #1 seller of all time. Many people have given their lives for the cause of circulating the Word of God. The Gideon's are just one organization doing this, and each year they distribute over 500 million Bibles worldwide. I have met folks who risk their lives to smuggle the Bible into countries whose leaders forbid its distribution; yet some in America won't even carry theirs to church.


John Wycliffe gave his life to translating the Bible from Latin to English, against the wishes of the pope, (Wycliffe had spoken out against the pope, saying that he was not infallible). A clergyman hopelessly entrenched in Roman Catholic dogma once taunted Tyndale with the statement, "We are better to be without God's laws than the Pope's". Tyndale was infuriated by such Roman Catholic heresies, and he replied, "I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life a few more years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!" After his death, the church actually dug up his bones and burned them, and threw the ashes into the Thames River…what a beautiful picture, though, of what he did for the Bible, for the river carried his ashes to the ocean, and ocean currents spread them over the world, and everywhere that waves crash on the shore, the Word of God has been distributed.


It's a miracle book…in its origination, preservation, and circulation. That's just some of the external evidence.

We could spend at least as much time discussing the internal evidence for God's Word:


A. Scientific Accuracy

B. Historical Accuracy
C. Archeological Accuracy
D. Prophetic Accuracy


Hopefully you've come to realize that, with a cursory study of the evidence, the Bible is no ordinary book. In fact, it is God breathed. He inspired ALL of it, and has miraculously preserved it for us today and for all time. That leads us to the question, "Why?"


III. The Effect of God's Word

"and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every
good work".

Some important prepositions in this text are: by, of, and for. God's Word is given BY inspiration OF God and is profitable FOR... God's Word is "for" some things.

It's FOR…

  1. Doctrine

Doctrine is a belief system built on what the Bible teaches us about: God, man, sin, incarnation, salvation, sanctification, etc. Any church that names the Name of Jesus Christ should have the Bible, and ONLY the Bible, as its source for doctrine.

If the Christian life is like a journey, proper doctrine assures us that we're on the right road. But what happens when something causes us to veer of the straight and narrow?

  1. Reproof

God's Word not only instructs us about what's is right, it reproves us when we're in the wrong. In Jeremiah 23:29 the Lord said, "Is not My Word…like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces?" I'm sure I am not alone when I say that there have been times in my life where God's Word has literally leveled me in my sin. The Lord has brought certain passages of Scripture to bear on my life at just the right time, and in just the right way to turn me back to the straight and narrow. I always pray in my heart before I preach or teach God's Word, "Lord, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable".

  1. Correction

It corrects our mistakes and often reveals to us where we went wrong. If we stumble along the way out of ignorance, like a patient teacher, it shows us what to watch out for and corrects our steps. This leads us to…

  1. Instruction in Righteousness

God's Word not only teaches us what to believe, but it also teaches us how to behave. Do you want to please God with your life? Live what you learn from God's Word. It is no mystery how to please your Maker; simply do what He says. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15 NKJV). We heard a message on John 3:17 a few weeks ago which says, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (NKJV).

We see the effects of God's Word outlined for us in Paul's letters contained in the New Testament. He wrote the letter to the Romans to emphasize the importance of "doctrine". In his letters to the Corinthians, he shows it is profitable for "reproof". In the Galatians epistle His emphasis is on "correction". And, in the Ephesian letter he speaks about the need for "instruction of righteousness".

An effective ministry of God's Word will do all four – teach doctrine, reprove sin, correct false paths, and instruct in godly living. Balance is the key. The temptation is to overly emphasize one purpose to the exclusion of others. Some preach mainly on Bible doctrine but hardly ever deal with Scriptures that reprove sin, correct false thinking, and instruct on righteous behavior. Others emphasize reproof; they beat the pulpit and shout red-faced reproving everyone else for their sins. Others think it is their calling to correct everyone else's improper thinking. Others spend all of their time instructing in righteousness to the exclusion of doctrine and reproof. The results of all these examples are imbalanced believers that are easily swayed off course.

God's Word has been given to us, preserved for us, and will work in and through us if we simply study it and do what it says. A believer's behavior will be blessed if it is built and bound by the Bible.

Our faith is not rooted in fable; it's rooted in the truth of God's Word. Believing the Bible isn't a leap into the darkness, it's a step into the light!

May the Lord help us over these next forty days as we study His Word; like never before. I pray that we would be changed individually and corporately for His glory!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Praying Together

Main Text:    James 5:13-18

Point of Emphasis:    The benefit of praying with others

Memory Verse:        "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James 5:16


For many of us, especially men, we prefer to do things on our own; we live in the age of the individual. We are told to be tolerant and not to tell people they are wrong. We feel entitled to our opinions. This mindset, however, works against the very nature of what the church is: a community of believers in Jesus Christ.

Our culture celebrates individuality. The Home Depot and Lowe's target do-it-yourselfers. Some men refuses to ask directions, because we just know the way. I have loaded and unloaded large appliances from a pickup by myself; I once even tried it with an upright piano, just because I don't like to ask for help.

But how does this affect our spiritual life? On a basic level our individuality is a hindrance to prayer (you can remind them of last week's lesson). Our pride keeps us from God. However, he is not the only one we shut out. We often do not see the need for others in our lives, especially our prayer lives. This morning we are going to look at a passage of Scripture that addresses the need to pray together.

Biblical Content

The Bible is clear that faith is to be lived out in a corporate, and not an individualistic way. On an eternal level, God exists in community. He is the Trinity—One God in three persons. God created man in community with himself, then he created woman for community as well. After the Fall, which broke that community, God established a way of salvation through the means of community. He called out Abraham and made a mighty nation out of him, though their imperfections led them away from God. In Ezekiel 36 he talks about redeeming his people, putting a new heart into the nation. God has chosen to bring salvation through a corporate group—the nation of Israel.

In the New Testament this is true as well. Though Christ is the one who brings Salvation (sent by God in the Power of the Holy Spirit) it is the church that he chose to be the proclaimer of the word. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 it speaks of the church corporately, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." The church is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 36, it is corporate, it is the people of God.

This aspect of the community of saints, God's people, then means that the church is to be working with one another. That is, we need one another. Romans 10 shows that no one will hear apart from someone proclaiming the gospel. Acts 2 shows that the first believers did everything together. Jesus himself called a group together, the disciples, and sent people out two by two. Mark 6:7 "And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits."

With this focus upon the corporate nature of the church, why is it that the fundamental way in which we communicate with God is often missing our community. To say it differently, why do many Christians not pray together if it seems that God sees that we work better together? Matthew 18 is clear "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." We don't pray to be heard by men, but we must learn to pray together.

James 5:13-18

Meeting Specific Needs

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses[e] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

In this passage we see more information about prayer and its necessity in our lives. We want to spend our time on the corporate nature of prayer—on praying together. The book of James has been said to be a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. Both texts address the basic needs of the Christian life and the way in which the church should act. So it is not surprising that both have thoughts on prayer. We have seen in James 4 that "we do not have because we do not ask."

Our Basic Needs are Met through Prayer and Praise

Verse 13 addresses the basic aspect of prayer. If you are suffering—pray. If you are joyful—praise. We all need to be aware of this simple truth of the Christian life. Instead of doing it all alone, we need to depend upon the one who can do it alone. In 4:8 it says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." In 4:10 it says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." With such promises we must not neglect the simple request of prayer and praise.

Is prayer our last resort, or the first point of action?

Praying Together Can Heal Sickness

Beyond the simple need to pray and praise comes the need to do so with others. This is corporate nature of prayer. In vs. 14 it addresses sickness. We all know of people who are sick and we all have heard for and asked for prayer for those about which we are concerned. However, often little time is given actually in prayer for these requests together. They become moved into the private realm of our prayer life, if prayed for at all.

Notice that this verse does not say, "if someone is sick, ask others to add it to their prayer list," though this is not a bad idea. Rather, it says, "let him call for the elders of the church." This is a request for a group to pray over a person. In particular this is calling for the presbyteros, the elders, the pastors, of the church to pray. The effect of this calling is in verse 15 "And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up." The corporate nature of the prayer of those who pray in faith are effective. However it needs to be seen that one must sometimes pray with others, offering petitions together.

Sometimes prayers need to be prayed more fervently, faithfully, and repeatedly. Remember the passage of the person who the disciples could not help in Matthew 17? The boy could be healed only through much prayer and fasting. Healing can come, but sometimes it has to be done through the prayers of many.

Discuss with your class experiences of how God healed through praying together.

Praying Together Helps Confession

A third aspect of corporate prayer in this passage is found in the realm of confession. We are Baptists and Evangelicals, Protestants and not Catholics. When we hear of confessing to one another we may think of the confessionals in the Roman Catholic Church. In the RCC confession to a priest is needed to take away sin, but we believe that Christ is our only mediator and we have no need of another person to do this for us. However, sometimes we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

In verse 15 we see that "And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." Though we know that we must confess sour sins for forgiveness we often miss the next verse, "Confess your trespasses to one another." This is where the passage becomes more difficult. We are to confess verbally our sins to other people. Please do not back off of this point based upon the difficulty found here. The text is clear, confession exists that we may have forgiveness.

The obvious reason for the difficulty in this verse is pride. We have a hard time confessing to God in secret, let alone to another person. We love to tell of the praises of God in our lives (or the praises of ourselves) but we hate to speak of the difficulties, sins, and failures. What we miss out on is the blessing found in confessing our sins one to another. Consider sharing this quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"In Confession there occurs a breakthrough to the cross. The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and desires, my life and my death. The spirit and flesh of human beings are inflamed by pride, for it is precisely in their wickedness that human beings want to be like God. Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one's pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian. Because this humiliation is so difficult, we think we can avoid confessing to one another. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory of such humiliation. It is none other than Jesus Christ who openly suffered the shameful death of a sinner in our place, … crucified for us as an evildoer. And it is nothing else but our community with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession, so that we may truly share in this cross. The cross of Jesus Christ shatters all pride. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found, to the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to carry the cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession. In confession we break through to the genuine community of the cross of Jesus Christ; in confession we affirm our cross. In the profound spiritual and physical pain of humiliation before another believer, which means before God, we experience the cross of Jesus as our deliverance and salvation. The old man dies, but God has triumphed over it. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life." (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 111-12).

The implication of verse 16 is that sometimes private confession needs to be escalated. The idea here is that dwelling in habitual sin, even if confessed over and over can lead to sickness. In that case we need the amplified effect of group confession and prayer. Imagine after calling in other prayer warriors for confession and prayer for healing, it will be more difficult to fall for Satan's old deceptions again, because of the humility of public confession, and the realization that it had brought sickness into your life.

Can anyone think of a time when public confession has helped them find forgiveness?

Why are we reluctant to publicly confess?

Praying Together has Great Power

Lastly, this passage sums up prayer and implicit in that is the corporate nature of prayer. "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Another way of saying this is "The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power." Whatever we do as Christians it must be done in prayer. Consider Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths."

Discussion questions:

  • When have you had a time when you felt like your prayers were effective?
  • If you pray with others, with whom do you pray? (Spouse, Fiend, etc.) Why?
  • Have you seen more effectiveness in your prayers when you are praying with someone about an issue?