Guardians of Doctrine

In the previous study, we observed the biblical precedent and imperative for churches being led by a plurality of elders. We briefly addressed the three titles given to a pastor in the New Testament: shepherd, elder, and overseer, which over time have formally become pastor, presbyter, and bishop. Ultimately, each of the title refers to the same office, but they each represent different aspects of the elder’s roles and responsibilities. Those functions will be the focus of our study today.

THREE COMMANDS // 1 PETER 5:1-5

In his magnificent book, Sojourners and Strangers, Gregg Allison argues that there are four biblical responsibilities for church elders: leading, teaching, praying, and shepherding. While I do agree with his assessment, I would like to structure it differently. Instead of saying that an elder has the four responsibilities above, it seems better to say that an elder has one responsibility (lead) that is displayed in three primary ways (shepherd, oversee, and model), which then practically functions within two primary tasks (teach and pray). Leading is, I believe, the one overall responsibility to which every elder is called, and I will argue that shepherding and leading are two sides of the same coin. Following the example of Jesus, a Christian leader is called to be a servant and a shepherd. Pastors lead by shepherding, and they shepherd by leading. You cannot divorce the two concepts from one another.

Pastor: Shepherd the Flock of God

Within the fifth chapter of 1 Peter, the apostle begins an exhortation to church elders. He writes to them as a fellow elder and gives them one big command that he explains and qualifies in verses two and three: shepherd the flock of God. Of course, pastor is one of the three titles used for elders within the Bible, and it means a shepherd. A pastor is a shepherd, so the primary command to a pastor is to shepherd the flock, the congregation. But notice the wording of that phrase: shepherd the flock of God. A pastor’s congregation is not his congregation but God’s. The church is God’s flock, His people.

But what does it mean then to shepherd?

Psalm 23 is likely the passage that first springs to mind.

Psalm 23:1-4 | The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The same imagery being used by David in Psalm 23 is the imagery being used by Peter here. A shepherd takes care of sheep. A shepherd guards and protects sheep. David is the archetypal shepherd in the Bible, who slew bears and lions to defend his flock. Pastors likewise must defend, care for, and nourish God’s people.

In order to shepherd well, a pastor must possess two qualities: a love for God and a love for God’s people. That may sound incredibly simple, but do we truly live that way? Because the congregation is God’s flock, a pastor cannot properly love them without first having a love of God. He cannot love what is God’s without first loving God. Of course, these qualities are not exclusive to elders; rather, the pastor is intended to model them before the congregation. After all, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Each Christian is called to love God and love people. Pastors, therefore, are called to model loving God and loving people.

In an article titled Two Indispensable Requirements for Pastoral Ministry, Kevin DeYoung takes those two qualities one step further. He says that a pastor must like to study the Bible and must like his people. He uses the word like with purpose. A pastor must not only love God, but he must like studying His Word. Why? God reveals Himself through His Word. How can anyone truly love God but not enjoy studying His Word! And a pastor should not just love God’s people, he should like them. Shepherds like being around sheep, and a pastor should like being around God’s flock.

Overseer: Exercising Oversight

If shepherding the flock of God is the big overall command, the next phrase is a further explanation of that command: exercising oversight. A pastor, as an overseer, must exercise oversight over the church. Just as a pastor and an overseer are different titles for the same office, so exercising oversight is, at its core, the same command as shepherding the flock of God. They are each the same responsibility of leading God’s people, but they emphasize a different aspect of that leadership. A shepherd’s duty is to care and provide for the flock, while an overseer manages and guides God’s people.

What does this oversight look like?

First, exercising oversight means watching over souls. Hebrews 13:17 commands: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” While this verse very purposely does not target pastors specifically (instead applying to everyone is a position of leadership), it should bear tremendous weight upon the heart of all pastors. He must view this verse with joyful fear because every pastor will give an account to God for the congregation they shepherd.

This is also why a proper understanding of membership is important. Pastors must know who they are watching over, which people they are responsible for overseeing, because they will answer to God on behalf of each soul. James 3:1 is sage advice: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” As an elder, I will not merely give an account of my own soul to God (which is burdensome task indeed!), but I will answer to God on behalf of each soul within my congregation.

Second, exercising oversight means equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Ephesians 4:11-14 teaches us this principle:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

An overseer must equip the saints for the work of ministry. As a pastor, I am not a minister who has been called into the ministry. Instead, I was called into the ministry as a Christian, just as every Christian is called into the ministry as well. We all have ministries, areas of life where we are called by God to serve one another.

To discover those areas of ministry, we only need to ask a few questions. Are you a spouse? If yes, that’s an area of ministry for you. Are you a parent? Another ministry. Are you child? Are you employed? We have been placed in each realm of life by God for a purpose. And the role of an overseer is to equip the congregation for their ministries. We do not hire a pastor to do the ministry for us, but to lead us in how to minister throughout our lives.

Elder: Being an Example to the Flock

The third command that Peter gives is to be an example to the flock. Once more, this is not an independent command. Just as shepherding and overseeing are the same command viewed from different angles, so is being an example to the flock. Modeling maturity and godliness is the task of an elder, just as shepherding is for a pastor and overseeing is for an overseer.

When considering maturity, we should note that age is not the primary factor for being an elder; spiritual maturity is. Paul gave this famous instruction to his young disciple, Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). The first half of that verse is too often cited without the latter portion. Young pastors, because of their youth, have all the more reason to set an example for the flock in their speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. In short, an elder must model godliness to the congregation. He must give an example of a life that is fully surrendered over to God’s will.

But elders must also model repentance for the congregation. No pastor is perfect and without sin; therefore, pastors will always have sin to repent of. Yes, they are shepherding God’s people, but they are also a part of God’s people, being shepherded by the chief Shepherd. Like all Christians, elders will fail and fall into sin. But the mark of a Christian is not sinless perfection; it is repentance. Christians are a people who repeatedly cling to the hope of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Elders, therefore, must model that hope via repentance.

TWO TASKS // ACTS 6:4

In 1 Peter 5:2-3, pastors are given three commands which correspond to the three titles: shepherd the flock, exercise oversight, and be an example to the flock. Each command is a different aspect of leading God’s people. Pastors lead by shepherding, overseers lead by overseeing, and elders lead by modeling. These are great overall ideas, but how does that look in the everyday? What are the primarily tasks by which a pastor shepherds, an elder models, and an overseer oversees? Acts 6:4 gives us the two most important tasks required of a pastor: prayer and the ministry of the Word.

As we will see when we study the responsibility of deacons, the apostles within Acts 6 are acting as prototype elders of the church in Jerusalem, and within that text, they also establish the first seven prototype deacons. Therefore, the apostles’ resolve to commit themselves primarily to prayer and the ministry of the Word must also be the heart of every pastor. The entire purpose behind establishing deacons was to defend pastors’ ability to focus upon praying and ministering the Word.

Above all things, pastors must devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. That’s not to say that an elder does not have other tasks that must be done, but being devoted means giving unremitted attention to these two things. If he can do only two things, they are prayer and the ministry of the Word. People often have a multitude of expectations for what a pastor ought to do, but the Bible is clear that these two tasks must be above everything else.

The Ministry of the Word

A pastor must be rooted in God’s Word. As an overseer, he oversees through the Word of God. As a pastor, he shepherds with the Word of God. As an elder, he models submission to the Word of God. As intimidating as being a young pastor can be, it also forces me to depend only upon the Scripture. I simply do not have the life experience or the time-hardened wisdom to say many things that must be said. Fortunately, I have God’s Word, which is the only authority worth asserting.

For the importance of ministering the Word to others, we only need to turn to the life of Jesus. The primary focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry was preaching the gospel. This, of course, runs against what we tend to assume. Our minds first go to Jesus’ miracles, but He performed those miracles in order to demonstrate the authority of His preaching. Mark 1:35-39 tells of Jesus’ disciples informing Him of people in need of healing, but He says to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38).

Furthermore in Mark 6 we find the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Verse 34 gives provides the background to that miracle: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep with a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” It is tempting to link Jesus’ compassion upon the crowd immediately to His feeding them; however, Jesus’ love for them was first displayed in His teaching them. They were lost sheep, so He shepherded them by teaching them the good news of the kingdom. Jesus, therefore, saw teaching as shepherding. This is even further enforced by Jesus command for Peter to feed His sheep in John 21:15-19.

The mark of teaching God’s Word is so important for a pastor that it is listed in the office’s qualifications (1 Timothy 3:2). Although there will almost always be teachers in the church who are not elders, the ability to teach God’s Word is a requirement for elders. Not all teachers are elders, but all elders are teachers.

Titus 1:9 reiterates this necessity while providing a twofold look at its practice: “He [an overseer] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Three points must be made from this verse. First, the ministry of the Word means holding firm to the Word as trustworthy. Second, he must be able to give instruction in sound doctrine. Third, he must be able to refute those who contradict it. Instructing and refuting are the two arms of ministering the Word. In shepherding terms, instruction is feeding the sheep, while refutation is protecting them. All pastors must feed the sheep by teaching the Scripture and drive away the wolves by rebuking false doctrine.

Prayer

The second task of an elder is prayer. Why is prayer a job requirement for an elder? Aren’t all Christians supposed to pray? The quick answer is yes. All Christians are certainly called to pray. Remember, elders are models of Christian maturity; therefore, a pastor should desire for all those in his church to pray like him. If this does not humble a pastor, he should probably examine his heart. Few Christians, pastors included, are strong enough in their prayer to confidently tell a new Christian to pray like they pray. Elders, nevertheless, must model prayer.

This does not mean, however, that elders are the only models of prayer in a church. Specific ministries of intercession are sorely missing in most churches today. In fact, I would urge each Christian to grow in intercessory prayer throughout their life. Too many older believers become disheartened in their old age that they cannot do the ministries they once did due to physical constraints. Aging, of course, cannot be stopped; therefore, we should prepare for becoming warriors of intercessory prayer in the years where our bodies can no longer perform many of their former tasks.

Elders, though, should not only model prayer for the congregation; they should also pray for the flock of God. Personally, I use either physical notecards or the app, PrayerMate, to pray for every member of the church. Placing each family unit on a card, I pray for three to five cards each morning. While that system is not required of each elder, it does ensure that each member is being prayed for by his or her pastor on a regular basis. Without this system, I tend to only pray for those who I know are in present need of prayer, but as a follower of Christ, I do not want people to only pray for me whenever I am in visible need. I want to be prayed for at all times because I need prayer at all times! How then can I not do the same for the congregation?

The danger of prayer is that it is so easy to neglect. Since most prayer happens behind the scenes, a pastor can be readily convinced of the need to focus on more “important” or showy things.

In terms of importance, seemingly random needs will always come to the surface at the moment of prayer. Unfulfilled to-do lists come to mind with a renewed resolved to see them accomplished whenever one becomes ready to pray. But there is no work more important than prayer.

As for showy things, it is all to easy, as a pastor, for me to neglect prayer in favor of doing things that will be seen by others. For me at least, it’s rarely a means of boasting; instead, I often fear that I will be seen as lazy. Time spent in prayer, after all, is time not spent elsewhere. By working prayer into my schedule, I must set aside more “productive” tasks. The heart is ultimately at stake here. I prefer the hands-on work because it can be recognized and affirmed by others; prayer, however, is between God and I. Prayer is work, but it is work without recognition and affirmation of others. Since pastors live before the watching eyes of the congregation, God was certainly wise in pairing the public work of teaching with the private work of prayer. When I teach well, I risk taking the glory for myself, but knelt in true prayer, I can do nothing but give glory to God.

Prayer forces a pastor to remember that only the Holy Spirit can change hearts. Pastors need to always be reminded that God shepherds His people through them. They cannot do the work of shepherding alone; they need the empowerment of the Spirit.

ONE PURPOSE // TITUS 1:7

To conclude our study on the responsibilities of an elder, I would like to journey into Titus 1:7 where we will confront the ultimate purpose of a pastor that has been undergirding the other two passages: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” Notice how the overseer is described as being God’s steward. A pastor must lead by shepherding, overseeing, and modeling through prayer and the ministry of the Word; however, he is called to do these things as a steward of God.

A steward is one who enacts authority on someone else’s behalf, to be a manager. Although a manager might have near total control of a store, he or she is ultimately acting in place of the owner. Thus, in calling the overseer God’s steward, Paul is establishing the pastors as the managers of His church. This ought to be a weighty statement. It is a reminder that pastors are watching over the souls of the congregation, “as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). This burden is too great for one man alone to bear, which is why elder plurality is so crucial.

Though the nature of being a steward is heavy for the pastors, there is also a responsibility for the church to submit to their leadership. Within many churches where all decisions are finalized via congregational vote, the tendency is to provide the leadership with a set of boundaries and guidelines rather than obeying and submitting as Hebrews 13:17 commands (for proper usage of voting, read Members’ Responsibilities). In general, this seems to stem from the importation of the democratic ideology into the church. While in theory democracy looks just as helpful for the church as the government, the reality is that church and state are entirely different beasts. Democracy means “people-ruled,” and this idea works well for governments where people of various ideologies must work cohesively together.

The church, however, was always meant to be a theocracy (God-ruled). God, not people, must govern, rule, and lead the church. Democracy often leads to a people-centered mind, but the church must be God-centered. This causes many churches, under the best of intentions, to attempt to market themselves primarily toward reaching people, which is done out of love for others. However, the most loving action we can ever do is point people to God. Making churches that center around people in the end fails to love those people fully. Instead, let us attend and organize our churches for God, and as we point people to Him, they will behold the deepest spring of love. And it is the pastor’s role as God’s steward, therefore, is to turn the congregation’s gaze toward God, leading them under the sole authority of God’s Word.

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Pray With All Prayer

With all prayer and supplication.
Ephesians 6:18 ESV

Paul’s next ALL statement is that we should pray with all prayer and supplication. Since supplication is a particular type of prayer, I believe that Paul means to use various kinds of prayer whenever we pray, with a special focus on supplication. Fortunately, throughout the Scripture, the authors display and model for us the multifaceted nature of prayer. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Psalms, which are themselves God-breathed song-prayers. Thus, I will briefly touch upon a few of the main types of prayer and then provide a list of Psalms that incorporate that type of prayer.

ADORATION

Adoration isn’t used much outside of saying that kittens are adorable, but biblically adoration is a great word to describe our worship of God. Adoration simply means to deeply love and respect someone or something in a worshipful way.

We worship and adore God by loving Him deeply, but in order to do this, we must first know who God is.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model for them to use. In this prayer, He taught His disciples to begin praying by focusing upon God.

Here are a few characteristics of God that can be seen within the Lord’s Prayer:

  • God is our Father, which means like a father, He loves us, wants what is best for us, and is willing to discipline us as needed.
  • God is heavenly, which means He is not physical nor living on earth.
  • God’s name is holy. Holiness means unique, set apart, distinct, or other. This means that God’s name is completely unlike any other name in all of creation.
  • God has a kingdom that is coming; therefore, God is also a king.
  • God’s will is done in heaven, and it will also be done on earth, which means that God is sovereign and in control.
  • We can ask God to provide for our needs, like having food to eat, which means that He loves us and cares for us.
  • We can ask God for forgiveness, which means that He is ready and willing to forgive us.
  • We can ask God to keep us from evil and temptation, which means that He is able to help us overcome our sins.

Notice that Jesus spends the first half of the Lord’s Prayer describing God and praying for His will to be done. Jesus worshiped God before He asked God for anything.

Jesus knew that prayer is not about our desires but about submitting ourselves to His will. God is not a genie, granting us our wishes. He is the Creator of everything who will do whatever He wills.

The best way to adore God in prayer and know His character is by reading the Bible, which is how God has revealed Himself to us. The Psalms in particular are filled with prayers of adoration, and there are dozens of small ones in the New Testament called doxologies.

Psalms of Adoration

Psalm 8, 19, 33, 34, 103, 109, 145

New Testament doxologies: Romans 8:38-39; 11:33, 36; 15:5-6; 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24-25; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:12-13; 7:12; 22:20-21

 CONFESSION

Because confession is the pleading guilty to our sins before God, confession cannot be properly understood without first knowing what sin is.

The Bible gives a clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Of course, John is not merely referring to city, state, or country laws; rather, he is talking about God’s laws, which are summed up nicely in the Ten Commandments.

But the problem does not end with simply being guilty of sin. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet describes how our sins separate us from God: “But your iniquities [sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Notice how frightening is that last part: our sin stops God from listening to us!

We broke God’s laws, so we rightfully deserve His punishment and to be cut off from any relationship we might have had with Him.

But by the grace of God, even though sin earns us eternal separation from God and left us incapable of doing enough good works to fix it, Jesus Christ came to offer eternal life with God as a free gift instead.

Of course, believing the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not mean that we stop sinning.

We continue to break God’s laws on a daily basis, and the gospel is not a get-out-of-hell-free card that we believe in once, continue to live in sin, and still go to heaven when we die.

The Bible calls us to continually kill the sin in our lives and to admit the sins we commit to God in prayer. This is called repentance.

When we repent, we confess our disobedience to God and strive to obey Him from now on.

Confessing our sins in repentance to God is so important that John uses it as a test to see if we are truly Christians: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

Followers of Christ confess and repent of their sins to God, knowing that He will graciously forgive them because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

Psalms of Confession

Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, & 143

THANKSGIVING

Most Christians probably agree that we should give thanks to God in our prayers, but why is that? By journeying through a few texts of Scripture, we should be able to get a brief look at what thanksgiving is and isn’t, and why it’s important.

The story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is one of the most popular in the Gospels because of its lesson on thanksgiving.

Of the ten, only one returned to thank Jesus, which Christ equates with giving praise to God. Because they did not give thanks, they failed to praise God for healing them.

Some people have wondered how the other nine lepers could be so ungrateful, but I imagine that they were indeed very grateful.

Because it is a highly contagious skin disease, people with leprosy were exiled from normal society and forced to live in groups with other lepers. They were completely cut off from their friends and family, forced to die a slow death alone.

How could they not be grateful for being cured!

But Jesus did not fault them for being ungrateful; He faulted them for not giving thanks.

Ultimately, gratitude is feeling and giving thanks is an action.

Jesus never questioned how grateful the other nine felt. He only remarked that they did not give praise to God through giving thanks.

We, therefore, must understand first of all that thanksgiving is not the feeling of gratitude. If thanksgiving is not spoken, then we have not truly given thanks.

If Jesus equated giving thanks to praising God, why should we give thanks to God?

James gives us a pretty great answer to this question: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17-18)

Notice James’ wording: EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from the Father.

All of the good things in this world come from God.

As the Creator, He has given us the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rain and sunshine, friends and family, meat and fruit, dogs and cats, everything comes from Him.

As our Savior, God declared His love for us by dying on a cross for our sins, allowing us to be called the sons and daughters of God.

This is why Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul views thanksgiving as so important that he calls it the will of God for us.

God’s will for your life is for you to give thanks in all circumstances.

Because God has given us countless good gifts, we ALWAYS have something to give thanks for. There is no circumstance in life where we cannot thank God for something He has done for us.

Psalms of Thanksgiving

Psalm 27, 37, 42, 56, 100, 117, 136, 139, 145

SUPPLICATION

Supplication isn’t exactly the kind of word that comes up in everyday conversation, but even though it’s an uncommon word, supplication is probably the most common type of prayers that we pray.

Supplication simply means to make a request or petition, so praying a prayer of supplication is asking God to meet our needs or wants.

It can be tempting to feel uneasy about making requests to God after having discussed confessing our sins to Him, adoring Him in worship, and thanking Him everything. We might wonder why we should bother God with our small needs.

Fortunately, bringing our requests to God isn’t only something we are invited to do, we are commanded to do it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Paul commanded the Philippians not to be anxious but to bring their request to God instead.

Let’s think through this verse together for a bit.

What does it mean to be anxious, and why does Paul command us to pray instead?

Anxiety is excessive worry about something.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to trust God by taking our needs to Him instead of being anxious.

What kind of requests does Paul urge us to bring to God?

The answer is all of them. Paul commands us to bring all of our needs to Him in prayer. God as our Father invites us to bring everything to Him, no matter how small.

Before you get too crazy about bringing God your requests, it is important to remember that God is not a genie. He does not exist to grant our wishes, and He makes no promises about giving us everything we want.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their needs, He told them to pray for God’s will to be done.

God’s will often doesn’t match our own, which can lead to God not answering our prayer (or really just telling us no).  This is ultimately for the best because God’s will is better than our will. God may deny our requests because what we want would actually be bad for us.

Can you think of anything that you wanted in the past but now know that it was best not to have?

We think we know what we need, but God actually knows what we need. It’s important for us to trust that He knows best when we bring our requests to God.

Psalms of Supplication

Psalm 4, 5, 25, 28, 54, 56, 77, 106, 130, 141

LAMENTATION

If you noticed, I just described a popular acronym for prayer, ACTS. While adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are certainly biblically mandated types of prayer, we must take care to understand that they do not encompass every form of prayer. In fact, there is one more type of prayer that often gets neglected, but it highly prevalent throughout the Scriptures: lamentations.

Praying a lamentation, or lamenting, is a form of bringing our trouble, sorrow, or suffering before the Lord. Too often, we feel uncomfortable about praying our sorrows or complaints to God for fear of being disrespectful. While fear of disrespecting God is healthy, God is also big enough to handle our questioning, and He is loving us to listen to our pain and confusion. As with all prayer, lamentations are best guided by Scripture, which help prevent us from praying unbiblical prayers.

Psalms of Lamentation

Psalm 12, 13, 44, 74, 85, 90, 137

Also, there is a book of the Bible called Lamentations that is composed of five prayers of lament.

Pray at All Times

Praying at all times in the Spirit…
Ephesians 6:18 ESV

Paul begins his discussion on prayer in verse 18, and within this verse, we find four all statements made about prayer. So we will divide our study and view prayer through the lens of these four declarations on prayer.

The apostle first tells us to pray at all times in the Spirit.

It is worth noting that there is never an inappropriate time to pray. That may be incredibly obvious, but even so, I think it is still worth saying. Prayer is always appropriate.

After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.

Wait a minute.

If ceasing means to stop, does this mean that we are supposed to pray continuously throughout the day? If so, how often does Paul intend? Every hour? Every minute? Every second?

How are we supposed to pray without ceasing?

Here is my suggestion at what Paul means: our entire day should be prayerful, though not always with words. Remember for a second what prayer is: communion, or communication, with God. Though we may not always use words, living our lives in fellowship and communion with God is living prayerfully.

The Bible frequently calls our lives with Christ a walk with Jesus, so perhaps walking is a helpful metaphor to use here as well. When I am walking somewhere with my wife, our conversations tend to be numerous but not necessarily constant. Even if there is a moment of silence, we are still together; we haven’t left one another’s presence.

I think Paul desires for us to have this kind of attitude of prayer throughout each day. Praying at all times means living our lives in constant fellowship and communion with God, and like walk with a friend, verbal communication will be frequent but not necessarily constant.

How then do we live prayerful lives?

Praying in the morning tends to be immensely helpful, as it sets the pattern for the rest of the day. Morning prayer is not a requirement, but it is a wise discipline. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy or formal, just begin the day with prayer. Is there really a better way of beginning our day than by immediately coming to our loving Father in prayer?

We also need to address the final three words of our present phrase: in the Spirit.

To your disappoint or relief, please note that Paul is NOT describing the need to speak in tongues here.

In Romans 8, Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as being the One who enables us to call God our Father (8:15). The Holy Spirit guarantees us that we are children of God, and it is only by His strength that our prayers are able to reach the throne room of God.

This means that we could very much call prayer an act of the Trinity. We pray to the Father. The Spirit lifts our prayers into the presence of God. And the Father hears them as the prayers of His children only through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

In this way, true Christian prayer cannot be made outside of the Holy Spirit. We cannot come to God as our Father without the continuous power of the Spirit. If we do not pray with the Spirit at all times, it is only because we do not have the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is the regular, but powerful, prayer of a Christian.

Prayer as Warfare

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12 ESV

In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper dedicates the second chapter to discussing the role of prayer in missions. He opens up the chapter like this:

Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of frontline forces and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus, prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.

Verses 10-17 give us the necessary context for verse 18, so it is important that we spend at least a moment discussing them. In a nutshell, Ephesians is primarily about how individual Christians come together to glorify God as the Church, and throughout the letter, we find how the Church ought to pray, how we ought to worship, and various other things. Within these verses, Paul teaches us how to fight, how to wage spiritual warfare.

In discussing spiritual warfare, we must be careful to avoid two equally damaging extremes.

On one end, we have (typically) charismatic Christians who can often make spiritual warfare a de facto primary doctrine. They can become obsessed with defeating Satan in Jesus’ name, and often even speak to Satan directly in order to rebuke him.

But you also have less charismatic denominations that err to the opposite extreme of rarely, if ever, mentioning spiritual warfare. We talk about of sin and struggles, but we don’t talk about Satan. We let God deal with him. Both extremes are harmful. Neglecting and making it the centerpiece of our walk with Christ are equally damaging practices.

This passage calls us, as followers of Christ, to war. We cannot neglect this truth. We are in the midst of a battle with stakes that are higher than any earthly war ever waged. Although all war is serious and devastating, World War II stands apart from others. The Nazis, armed with heinous ideals and brutal death camps, are difficult to rival when imagining the epitome of evil in the world. Thus, in many ways, World War II was a fight for the world’s soul. In that battle against evil, millions of soldiers lost limbs and millions more lost their lives.

Yet as grisly as that war’s spectacle was, it pales in comparison to the stakes of this war. In this war, people lose not merely their lives but their eternity. Victims of this war will spend an eternity cast out of God’s presence and under the outpouring of His wrath.

Christ came to bring His kingdom to earth. Historically, kingdoms often find themselves warring against other kingdoms, and Jesus’ kingdom is no different. All of creation falls under the realm of one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We are either soldiers for God or for the enemy.

This means that making disciples is spiritual warfare. If we are each a member of either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness, then expanding God’s kingdom means bringing people out of darkness into light. Making disciples, the mission of each Christian and church, is also God’s strategy for waging war.

It is upon this thought that Paul launches into the subject of prayer. The full armor of God is necessary, but prayer is the force that makes the armor usable.

Without prayer, faith is not our shield.

Without prayer, the readiness of the gospel does not gird our feet like shoes.

Without prayer, we cannot properly wield the Word of God as a sword.

If we strip prayer out of its warfare context, we risk turning it into something that is biblically unrecognizable.

Healthy Members | Ephesian 4:17-32

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clarmor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

We now conclude our study of the church’s values by turning to Ephesians 4. In the first half of the chapter, Paul described how to become a healthy church by prioritizing unity and helping one another grow in maturity through our diverse gifts. The second half likewise describes being a healthy church member. Here Paul urges us to put away our previously sinful way of life and to live like Christ. He ends with a volley of quick commands that show practically how we are meant to live around each other in Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 17-24 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Paul commands us to put off our old, sinful ways of living and to put on our new life in Christ. What aspects of your life before Christ have you put away? What aspects do you still wrestle with? How does this gospel provide us hope even in the midst of our sin?

Read verses 25-32 and discuss the following.

  1. Within these verses, Paul delivers a series of exhortations for how we should live as members of the body of Christ. Which verse is most convicting for you? Why? What practical steps might you take to walk in obedience?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Healthy Church | Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon | Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

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. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

Having now studied our values, we will finish by spending two weeks in Ephesians 4 where Paul provides a wonderful glimpse at what healthy churches and church members look like. In the first sixteen verses, Paul gives to us a description of a healthy church, noting that it will be a church of diverse members united and growing one another into the maturity of Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 1-6 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Paul emphasize the importance of unity within the church? What might a united church look like? What might a divided church look like?

Read verses 7-13 and discuss the following.

  1. What is the main purpose of leadership within the church? What are some common gifts found within churches? How does the diversity of gifts benefit the church?

Read verses 13-16 and discuss the following.

  1. What are some characteristics of Christian maturity? Which characteristic is most convicting? Why?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Teaching (Making Disciples: part six)

Too often, we think of discipleship and evangelism as two entirely distinct enterprises, but they are, in reality, two sides of the same coin. 

Both are sharing, proclaiming, and teaching the gospel. 

They only differ in their audience. 

During evangelism, we share the gospel with non-Christians, and during discipleship, we share the gospel with Christians. 

Therefore, discipleship is evangelism for believers, and evangelism is discipleship for non-Christians.

The process of discipleship is important because our call to make disciples is not complete after someone becomes a Christian. 

Jesus did not command us to make converts; He told us to make disciples.

How then do we continue the process of discipleship after someone becomes a Christian?

Our Lord answered the question Himself in the Great Commission: by teaching them to obey all that He commanded us. We are meant to teach Jesus’ teachings to the next wave of disciples.

As with evangelism, God does give to some in the church the specific gift of teaching; however, each Christian is still called to teach in some capacity. Consider Paul’s charge to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul encourages Timothy to continue the process of teaching other men what it means to follow Christ.

But the process is not only for men. In Titus 2:3-6, Paul gives Titus these words for women:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanders or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Notice that Paul commands older women to teach and train younger women.

Both men and women are called by the Scriptures to teach those who are younger in the faith. I say younger in the faith because physical maturity is not necessarily indicative of spiritual maturity. A young man might be quite mature in Christ, while an older man is an infant in the faith.

Of course, this does not mean that younger believers have nothing to share. Just as we are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, so should we teach another the truths of God that we find in Scripture. (Ephesians 5:21) We should mutually build one another up in the Lord, teaching one another to continue walking faithfully with the Christ.

This process can be as intentional as meeting regularly with someone or a small group to study and discuss Scripture, or it could be as relaxed as two families eating together, discussing what God has been teaching them recently. The key is to actually discuss the Scriptures and what God is doing. If we meet with brothers and sisters in Christ without discussing the goodness of the gospel, what makes us any different than the world?