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This past week’s message—Prayer, The Last Resort: When Praying is, “All We Can Do” was a message focused upon prayer, as a primary response of the believer in any given circumstance. The title was slightly misleading, because prayer is not the last resort. However, followers of Christ at times fail to go before the throne of grace seeking, knocking, and asking God for help in our times of need.Pray Without Ceasing

When reading your Bible it is obvious that the prayer of God’s children is paramount. Over 4,000 times the word ‘Pray’, or words linked to prayer are used in the Scriptures, in part demonstrating the importance of prayer. Praying is often presented as something that needs to be done constantly. Praying is not presented in the biblical witness as a means of manipulating God, but it is God’s gift to us for his purposes. In the words of Kevin Dickey, the much-quoted veterinary-theologian, “Prayer is God’s gift for the believer, it isn’t so much for God.”

An introductory point for the sermon last Sunday, which I did not add because of time, was about the various Scriptures regarding the manner, focus, and aims of prayer. Here is the skeletal structure of the extra point:

  • Prayer is directed to God, Matthew 6:9-13
  • Prayer helps keep us in the love of God, Jude 20
  • Praying for our brothers in sin will lead to God given life, 1 John 5:16
  • Prayer has great power as it is working, James 5:16
  • Prayerful supplication brings peace as we rest in God, Philippians 4:6, 7
  • We pray because of God’s surpassing grace upon our brothers in Christ, 2 Corinthians 9:14
  • God blesses others through the prayer of many and grants help to those who we pray for, 2 Corinthians 1:1

Prayer is something we devote ourselves to biblically. The Bible teaches that we are to pray for strength (Luke 21:36), healing (James 5:16), deliverance (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2), with endurance (Ephesians 6:18), understanding and wisdom (Colossians 1:9),  with repentance for forgiveness (Acts 8:22), open doors (Colossians 4:3), so that others may be saved (Romans 10:1), that our love abound (Philippians 1:9), to proclaim Christ clearly (Ephesians 6:18-20), to be kept from evil and temptation (Matthew 6:9-13), that our faith may not fail (Luke 22:32), and so much more…

Get into your Word and see in what manner God would have us pray

1 Thessalonians 5:1–18, “Rejoice always, “”pray without ceasing, “”give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

 

chalk boardI have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. ” (1 Corinthians 4:6, ESV)

In 1 Corinthians 4:6 the Apostle Paul appears to use a helpful pedagogical device. I’m not sure what to label the device, or even if I should label it as one; however in an effort to rebuke, correct, exhort, and encourage with all patience those in Corinth, the apostle uses some tact in his letter.

This ‘device’ applies the truth one degree removed from those who are guilty of the error he is correcting. The Apostle is not duplicitous in his example, but simply seeking to remove the sting of rebuke in the following verses. Verse 6 is pivotal in the letter, as it helps the reader understand more clearly the apostle’s purpose. It’s as though he is allowing the reader to deal with the truth before applying it to themselves.

The prophet Nathan confronts David in such manner before revealing David was the offending party. While the Apostle Paul is not telling a parable, as did Nathan, he appears to disarm the Corinthians by applying these truths to Apollos and his self. In an effort to confront a party spirit he doesn’t single out an individual party either positively or negatively. Instead of pointing a finger at the offending party he allows truth to penetrate before giving the proverbial, ‘you are that man’.

By no means is this ill-advised counsel leading down the trail of response manipulation, but this verse seems to evidence tact in the delivery of truth. Labeling this intuitively tactful delivery as a teaching device is misguided; legalistic applications of apostolic wisdom fail to achieve God’s ends. Proverbs 25:11 teaches us that, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. ” Paul’s fitly written word can be a lesson to us, but it mustn’t be boiled down to a mere teaching device to be employed. May we learn to teach with wisdom, power, grace, and truth at all times. May we learn from apostolic wisdom and not cheapen what needs to be taught by making it law.

During the course of study and preparation for last Sunday’s sermon, I read this quote from D.A. Carson regarding the last few verses of the passage,

Paul’s point in the closing lines of this paragraph: ‘All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the World or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.’ (3:21b-23). Part of the meaning of this sentence is clear enough. Paul, Apollos, Cephas (and, in principle, any other bona fide leader in the church) all contribute to the church. They belong to the church, in exactly the same way that the farm workers all belong to the field and its harvest, and the contractors and builders all belong to the building project. To focus on one part of the project as if it were everything is to cut oneself off from the project as a whole. To fasten undue and exclusive affection and loyalty on one leader is to depreciate how much there is to receive from all the others. In other words, factionalists overlook the wealth of the heritage we as Christians properly enjoy.” (D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, pg 86)

While there are many things to be gleaned from this quote, and the passage, my aim is to reflect upon the concept of ownership within the congregation and leadership of the church.

The leaders of the church belong to the church on the whole. “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas…” The leaders mentioned belong to the church. Then in principle so do all bona fide church leaders there after. However, this is not personal ownership, rather it is corporate ownership. The division in Corinth, led by a misunderstanding of the gospel and a sense of personal ownership regarding teachers, is being exposed as mere fleshly and shallow factionalism.

On the other hand, the leaders do not have a right to personal ownership either. I don’t recall from the New Testament any teacher, other than Jesus Christ, ascribe personal ownership of the Church, the body of Christ. The pastor, the leader, the preacher belongs to the church, and the church to Christ, and Christ to God. In light of how many pastors seem to take personal ownership of a congregation, as if it were their own, we need to give the idea of ownership some consideration. Personal ownership conveys responsibility, which is necessary, but it also leads to entitlement; a sense that the owner can do as he pleases rather than working as a steward on behalf of others. Personal ownership from a pastoral position can be particularly damaging, I will highlight two of many ways.

First, if the pastor takes ownership of the church as though it were his flock, and not God’s, then he may take ownership of any success. Acting as an owner rather than a steward leads one to all manner of prideful deeds. This seems to be the general attitude the apostle is seeking to undo in the first chapter of this letter.

Second, if the pastor takes ownership then any failure may lead to inappropriate despair, which can lead to compromise of gospel stewardship. The results of each problem are multifaceted and numerous.

Own

Even though the leader belongs to the community, this does not make that leader an employee; here is the flip-side of the coin. The congregation cannot stand pointing a finger and reminding the preacher that, “we hired you & we can fire you”. While the leaders of a congregation belong to the community they are not the personal property to be handled carelessly. Quite the contrary, the leaders of God’s flock belong to God, as servants of God, given by God. This manner of viewing shepherds and leaders of God’s church will be examined more closely, as we move though 1 Corinthians 4.