Part 11 of 11
This is the final post. As I said two posts ago, I hope that this series has been a benefit to you. More importantly, I hope that it has been glorifying to God. In my final statement last post, I identified three activities in which we must be involved as a church: study of God’s word – including hearing His word preached, outreach to the needy, and prayer for those both within and outside of our church. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does capture three foundational activities which must be part of our daily lives. To bring this series to a close, let us look at these three.
So the first: study of God’s word. Make it a daily practice to study the Bible. In it we find life, while reading it we commune with God, and knowledge of His Word gives understanding (Psalm 119:130). There must exist in us a passion for the knowledge of God’s word; a passion that is typified by King David. Hear David express his love for God’s word in Psalm chapter 119: “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you” (Psalm 119:161-168). David’s heart stands in awe of God’s words. He rejoices in them as in great riches. He loves them exceedingly. And He praises God throughout the day for giving His righteous rules. Is this how you respond to God’s word? Do you have a desire to know Scripture which exceeds your desire for riches? Indeed heaven and earth shall pass away but His word shall never pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
Where does this love for God’s word, and this passion to know it, come from? It is brought about in us by God’s Holy Spirit as we participate in the means of grace – reading, memorizing and considering Holy Scripture being one. As is the case at many times in human experience, we must not wait for a desire or love to grow before we engage in an activity to which we are called. Instead, we pursue that to which we have been called and find a love growing for it. Further, as we devote ourselves to the knowledge of God’s word, He shall change us and bring about growth.
One such area of growth shall be personal holiness: for the child of God, study of His word will cause godliness to grow. It is the promise of Scripture that as we keep our way according to His word, our way will be kept pure (Psalm 119:9) and we cannot keep our way according to God’s word unless we know it. Not only are we to pursue holiness based upon a call to do so – to lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1), but also the overflow of our pursuit of holiness will be a blessing to our family, our church, our community, and our culture. Concerning outreach, let it not be godless humanitarians reaching out to the needy, but let it be the Lord’s people: we who understand the underlying reality of spiritual need – that those outside of His church are without hope and without God. Their principle need is not self-esteem counseling, it is to be brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12, 13).
Another area of growth as we study God’s word is that we shall be equipped with wisdom for daily life: the pure, peaceable, gentle, and reasonable wisdom from above (James 3:17). There is a great need for wisdom as we help the needy and the afflicted, so let us “…conduct [ourselves] with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). How shall we be equipped to do this? As we devote ourselves to the means of grace – specifically the study of Scripture. This wisdom will also grow out of experience as make outreach a habit of our church.
The second of these foundational activities is outreach. And since the previous two posts concentrated on this subject, I will make but a few comments here. We have already established that the Scripture call exists that we care for the needy and the afflicted. We looked, in post one, at a section of Scripture from Matthew chapter 25 concerning the judgment of the sheep and the goats. Let us return there once more and consider the verses previous, containing the parable of the talents.
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:14-30).
From this parable we can learn the following truths:
- The idea of a man leaving on a journey communicates the fact that Jesus would not at the time of his soon arrival in Jerusalem take possession of His rightful throne and rule over the earth. As Luke says: “…[Jesus] proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11b). As we now know, and as the disciples we soon to learn, Christ will be absent for a time between his advents. As John Calvin says: “For, though he sits at the right hand of the Father, and holds the government of heaven and earth, and though, from the time that he ascended to heaven, all power was given to him (Matthew 28:18) that every knee might bow before him (Philippians 2:10), yet as he has not yet subdued his enemies – has not yet appeared as Judge of the world, or revealed his majesty – it is not without propriety that he is said to be absent from his people, till he return again, clothed with his new sovereignty.”
- The money given to the servants represents physical and spiritual gifts which God has given to us as He sees fit. We are to invest these gifts to the furtherance of God’s kingdom in this world. We are not to take that which he has given to us, whether it be our time, our abilities, or our resources and “bury them in the ground” or, as Luke says: “keep them laid away in a handkerchief” (Luke 19:20b). This is a call for a change of mind. We are here today – we are given life each day – to labor for our Master while He is absent. Knowing that He will one day return, in the revelation of His glory, and shall establish His kingdom forever. “No longer will there [then] be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servantswill worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).
- We shall one day give and account for what we have done with what God has given to us. As John Calvin further says: “When it is said that the master of the house, after his return, called the servants to account; as this ought to impart courage to the good, when they understand that they do not lose their pains, so the indolent and careless, on the other hand, ought to be struck with no small terror. Let us therefore learn to call ourselves daily to account, before the Lord come and make a reckoning with us.”
The third foundational activity which must be part of our daily lives is prayer. But before we discuss specific statements concerning prayer in Scripture, let me make this auxiliary comment in answer to a question you may have: The is a mechanical way of understanding prayer which explains how our prayers can play a part in bringing about events – how our prayers are secondary causes, whether that be the salvation of someone, the healing of one afflicted with illness, or the maturing of a Christian. I refer to it as a mechanical understanding because it is just that: the explanation is that God not only predestines the ends – the results – but that He also predestines the means to bring it about – the secondary cause. Why do I call it mechanical? The word may imply that I am dissatisfied with the explanation, which is not true – the explanation is scriptural. I use the word mechanical because we must be cautious when we explain this truth concerning prayer, or any truth concerning the character and activities of God. The context of prayer is primarily that of relationship: finite creatures bearing God’s image communing with God Himself. We certainly come to prayer because we have been commanded to. Yet we also come to prayer to involve ourselves in the opportunity of speaking to God; the one who created and preserves all things, even we ourselves as we speak to Him in prayer.
So concerning prayer, it must be such a part of our daily lives that we satisfy the Scripture command of I Thessalonians 5:17 – to pray without ceasing. The content of our prayers will include: praise of the Father, requests for daily provisions, for forgiveness for sins, and for daily help. Our daily prayers should include prayer for the sanctification of the saved and salvation for the lost. Concerning sanctification of the saved, let us pray as Paul did: “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:17-20a). Concerning praying for the salvation of the lost, let us pray as Paul commanded those at the church at Colossae to pray: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4).
Concerning the continuous nature or persistence of our prayers, consider the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth’” (Luke 18:1-8)?
From this parable we receive a command for persistence, and from this parable we also receive a command to pray in expectation for response: that “…whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23b). As Christ says in Matthew 21: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21, 22). Also consider the promise for response given in Matthew chapter seven: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11)!
Our prayers are to be made on behalf of friend and foe. As Christ says in Matthew five: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Finally, let us make our requests know to God not to be noticed by men as the hypocrites do – who want to be seen by others. Nor let us pray as the non-believer does: with empty phrases, thinking that they will be heard for their many words (Matthew 6:5-7). Instead, let us make our requests know to God in private; with sincerity of heart. And let us know that even when we do not know how to pray, “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
What will be the effect upon our culture when the people of God take seriously to what God has called us, and take seriously what God has promised to do with faith no larger than a mustard seed? The impact will be immense. We are called to obey the Gospel of God and to preach it to every creature. We are called to the fatherless and the widow – to the needy and the afflicted in this world. In our body of the Church let us be faithful with the resources God has given us.