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First Quarter 2014 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP
Week 3: January 11–17
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP AND PRAYER
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Commentary on this week's lesson
This week’s lesson essentially gives the usual advice about how, when, and why to pray. It stresses that intercessory prayer is essential, and that there is “power in prayer”.
What this lesson fails to address, however, is the fact that being born again is the only way to understand the privilege of prayer. Those who know Jesus, who have been transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Col. 1:13) and who have already passed from death to life by believing in the Lord Jesus (Jn. 5:24) have an intimate relationship with the Father. Born again believers can approach God with the confidence and trust of His true children. Unbelievers, however, cannot expect to receive favors from God apart from approaching Him with a desire for truth and a heart of repentance.
The torn curtain
As Adventists we learned that the veil in the temple ripped from top to bottom when Jesus died, signifying that the way to god was opened and the sacrificial system was over. These facts are true, but we failed to learn the significance of what happened then.
The veil, according to Hebrews 10:20, represented Christ’s body. In other words, it was Jesus who always protected sinful humanity from being destroyed by a holy God. It was Jesus who always stood between us and the Father, shielding us from His glory and holiness. If Jesus had not protected us, we would all be dead.
When the incarnate Jesus died, however, He offered the perfect, acceptable sacrifice that that satisfied God’s justice and paid the price for human sin. His death did not automatically save every person, however; we must repent and believe to receive the benefits of His sacrifice. What His death did for all unbelievers, however, was to make it possible to directly approach God with a desire to repent.
In the Old Testament, people could not approach God without a sacrifice. No one came before God empty-handed. Gentiles, in fact, had to become part of the Jewish community and worship as Jews if they wanted access to God, because God had given the Jews the revelation of the depth of human sin and the need for repentance and sacrifice in order to be right with God.
In the new covenant, however, the death of Jesus satisfied the requirement of a sacrifice for approaching God. Now all sinners can directly go before God and repent and ask for His forgiveness and place their faith in the Sin-Bearer. They approach God and ask for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ eternal, sufficient sacrifice. The curtain has been torn.
How and why we pray
As born-again believers, we have a privilege when we pray that unbelievers do not have: we are to address the almighty God as “Father”. Jesus gave an example as to the way believers should pray:
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
We become God’s children when we place our faith in the Lord Jesus. Those who do not believe are His creations, and He loves all, but they are not His children. When we believe, we are born of God, and we are God’s sons and daughters, and we are adopted forever into His family.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 ESV)
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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. (Romans 8:15-17 ESV)
When we are born again, we have the privilege of knowing God and being indwell by His Spirit. We have the unique blessing of having the Holy Spirit Himself pray for us because we simply do not know what to pray for all the time:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV)
Furthermore, as children of God we are commanded to pray without ceasing and to pray on all occasions. This command seems almost obsessive-compulsive, unless one is indwell by the Holy Spirit who reminds us to trust and to surrender our anxiety and fears to the Father. For example, Philippians 4:4-7 says,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We see in this passage that it is a command that we not be anxious. It is not a condition we hope to find; it is, rather, a command—a command that ONLY born-again believers can obey. We can obey this command because we are alive and indwell by the Holy Spirit, hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) and able to choose to trust Him. If we have not repented and received Jesus, however, we cannot cease to be anxious. If we do not know Him, our prayer needs to be a prayer of repentance and of reception of the blood of Jesus as payment for our sin.
If we do know Him, however, we must choose to give up our “right” to be anxious and worried and instead to rest on the fact that God keeps His promises. If He has commanded us not to be anxious, then He has to have the situation already in His grasp. He is in charge. Our job is to submit to Him and allow Him to bring about His will and His peace. We are to trust Him.
What to pray for
We are to pray about every detail of our lives. If we are not sure how to pray sometimes, we can pray Scripture—we can say God’s words back to Him.
Paul gave us some powerful examples of prayers to pray. Remembering, of course, that these prayers are to be prayed in the context of of a born-again believer praying for God’s perfect will to be done in this world, these prayers give us great insight into the heart of a true child of God as well as into God’s heart which He shares with His children.
Colossians 4:2-6 is a classic example of how a believer is 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.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
We are to pray that God will give us His words and His opportunities to declare the mystery of Christ—regardless of where we are. Paul was in prison when he asked the Colossians to pray this prayer for him.
We are to pray for wisdom, for good use of our time. We are to pray for words that honor god and give clear answers for the questions we receive. And, it must be noted, it is not possible to have appropriate answers if we do not know the real gospel.
The gospel is NOT “Jesus is coming and we must be ready.” Rather, the gospel is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
We are to pray that we and those we know will experience the love of Christ through His Spirit in our hearts:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV)
We are to pray that our love and the love of those we know will abound still more and more:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV)
We are to pray that our brothers and sisters will be filled with knowledge of God’s will and spiritual wisdom:
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, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-12 ESV)
We are to rejoice, pray without ceasing, and give thanks always:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)
Prayer is not something we do in order to be more spiritual. Rather, prayer is the outflowing of our live in Christ. Prayer without the forgiveness and life of the Lord Jesus in us is just vain repetitions and mantras. Pagans pray that way.
When we know Jesus, however, prayer is the natural way of living with Him every day. It is our privilege to submit to Him and to ask Him to anchor us in truth and reality. We learn to pray according to God’s will by immersing ourselves in His word.
Formulaic prayers or obligatory prayers for others are like clanging cymbals and noisy gongs unless we know Jesus. When we take His word seriously as His personal revelation to us of Himself and of His will, we will begin to understand how to think His thoughts. We can learn to pray according to His will by actually praying His word—as the texts above demonstrate. We can pray the prayers of Scripture for people, even for those whom we do not know.
We can pray that God will honor His word and bring our loved ones to a saving faith in Jesus. We can pray that we will grow in spiritual wisdom and in the knowledge of God. We can pray that we will learn to trust Him and to put to death the desires and temptations of our flesh while we trust Him.
The bottom line, however, is that prayer is the privilege of those who are born again. Unbelievers who desire to know God can expect God to glorify Himself by revealing the Lord Jesus to hearts that desire truth. But we must be willing to give up our self-protective impulses and allow the Lord Jesus to be sovereign over us. We have to give up our “rights” to have the last word, to cognitively understand what we think is truth apart from submission to His word.
Prayer is not powerful in itself. Power resides only in the triune God. Our response to the Lord Jesus determines the function of prayer in our lives. If we trust Him as our Lord and Savior, we can know that the sovereign God of the universe has our lives in His hand, and He will teach us to trust Him. As we learn to submit and trust Him, He gives us Himself, and our prayers become the means of communicating with the One who has given us His life so we can glorify Him. We learn to pray according to His will, and He ushers us into His story and gives us a role to play.
He directs; we follow—and prayer is our privilege.