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.

On the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29

Week 17 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.  (Matthew 7:28-29)

OPENING THOUGHT

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is a guidebook for being a citizen of God’s kingdom. In chapter five, Jesus covered the overall characteristics of a Christ follower, their purpose on earth, and how they relate to the Old Testament laws and commandments. In chapter six, He addressed godly actions that are not so godly when done out of pride. He also beckoned us to store our treasure in heaven where it will be eternally secure so that we might be able to live without anxiety here.

Christ opened chapter seven with a warning against hypocritical judgments against others, encouraging us to love others how God has loved us. He then issued a series of warnings to finish the sermon. First, He warned against following the easy path to the broad gate of destruction, calling us to enter by the narrow gate into life. Second, He warned against being deceived by false prophets who appear to be Christ’s followers but are not. Third, He warned against self-deception, saying that many who call Christ Lord will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

To conclude the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a fourth and final warning. Jesus tells us that if we hear and obey His words we will be like a wise man who built his house on a solid rock foundation, but if we hear and do not obey His words, we will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. It is important to note that Jesus is speaking of those who have heard His words, but some will obey and other will not. The question that we must therefore ask at the end of this sermon is whether we will choose to obey Christ’s words or not.

Read verses 24-27 and discuss the following.

  1. In Jesus’ analogy, what do the two builders have in common and where do they differ from one another? Under what conditions will their differences be revealed?
  2. How do Luke 6:46-49 and James 1:21-27 help to further understand the importance of obedience when following Christ?

Read verses 28-29 and discuss the following.

  1. How did Jesus’ authority compare to the scribes?
  2. Why is astonishment and amazement not a sufficient response?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Apply Jesus’ warning to how you hear His words in the Scriptures. In what ways do you obey the Bible, not just read it?
  • Pray. Ask God for the strength to obey His commands.

Ask & Receive | Matthew 7:7-12

Week 13 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

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)

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  (Matthew 7:12)

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)

OPENING THOUGHT

The Gospel of Matthew proclaims that Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven on earth. Within this context, we can understand Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a sort of handbook to being a citizen of God’s kingdom. Chapter five began with the Beatitudes, which are the characteristics for how Christians are to live. He then proceeded to define His followers purpose and their relation to the Old Testament commandments, which He demanded must now be met at the heart-level.

Chapter six focused upon godly religious behavior. Using the examples of giving to the poor, praying, and fasting, Jesus revealed that we could do such activities with the intent to be seen by others and render them void as godly works. Christ then urged His followers to store up for themselves treasures in heaven. This type of eternal investment could only come from a heart that served God before money or any other false gods. The chapter then closed with a command for us not to be anxious about our lives, which of course can only be followed when our heart’s treasure is eternally secure.

After discussing Facebook’s most cited verse last week, we now move into Jesus diving back into the topic of prayer. Here Jesus encourages us to bring our needs before Father, knowing that He will be faithful to give us good things. Of course, this is not a blanket promise that God will always give us what we want; rather, Jesus is affirming that we can pray knowing that the Father will provide what we need when we ask according to His will. We also close with Jesus’ succinct summary of the entire Old Testament: The Golden Rule. In light of God’s good gifts to us, we ought also to do good to others.

Read verses 7-11 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus gives us three versions of the same principle: if you ask, you will receive. Does Jesus mean that God will give Christians anything they ask for?
  2. How do Jesus’ words here relate to James 4:1-4?
  3. How are we able to have confidence that however the Father answers our prayers is always the best?

Read verse 12 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus calls the Golden Rule a summary of the Law and Prophets. How is this statement a summary of all of God’s laws and commandments?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Prayerfully evaluate how well you live out the Golden Rule. Do you truly do to others as you would have them do to you? Resolve to love others with Christ-like love.
  • Pray. Follow the commands of Jesus regarding prayer. Ask God to meet your needs, but ask in accordance with His will, seeking first His kingdom.

The Beatitudes | Matthew 5:1-12

Week 2 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:3-12)

OPENING THOUGHT

Last week, we began our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount primarily by studying Jesus’ call for repentance because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In fact, the proclamation of God’s kingdom was the core of Christ’s earthly ministry. He is the great King, the son of David, to whom the Father would give an eternal throne over all the earth. Knowing that Jesus is the King, ushering in His kingdom, is crucial to our study of the Sermon on the Mount because the sermon is essentially the handbook for living as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

As we now dive into the sermon itself, it opens with the Beatitudes, one of the most famous biblical texts. Each Beatitude is composed of three parts. First, they open with a blessing, which biblically means to have the full favor of God. Second, they provide a characteristic for the one who is blessed (poor in spirit, mournful, meek, etc.). Third, they list the reward for embodying each characteristic. Together, these characteristics and rewards of a blessed person form a challenging introduction to the greatest sermon ever preached.

Christ’s followers, the citizens of the His kingdom, are favored by God, blessed. Thus, we should understand these characteristics to be the characteristics of a Christian, and the rewards are the rewards of a Christian. Though, in this life, we will never perfectly embody these descriptions, their presence in our life reveals the fruit of our belief in the good news of Jesus Christ. Though they stand against the world’s values and ideas of success, the Beatitudes succinctly proclaim the qualities and nature of God’s kingdom.

Read verses 1-12 and discuss the following.

  1. How are the characteristics listed by Jesus in the Beatitudes opposed to society’s ideals?
  2. If the Beatitudes are so different from what we would expect, why does Jesus say we are blessed for being them?
  3. Jesus concludes each Beatitude with a promised reward, but what is the ultimate reward that Christ’s followers will receive (the reward to which each of these points)?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Since the Beatitudes are characteristics that should define a Christian’s behavior, slowly and prayerfully consider each one, evaluating how much your life displays them.
  • Pray. Ultimately, we will never be able to live out the Beatitudes in our own strength, so pray for grace to live as Christ has called us to live.

The Kingdom of Heaven | Matthew 4:17

Week 1 | Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

OPENING THOUGHT

If we were asked to sum up Jesus’ ministry on earth into one sentence, we would likely receive a wide-variety of answers. Some might suggest the Golden Rule. Others might offer the greatest commands: love God and love people. Still others might say, “Judge not.” Biblically, however, the Gospels give us a one sentence summary of Jesus’ ministry and teachings: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Mark gives a slightly different version, still with the same message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” In Luke, Jesus explicitly says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus saw His purpose on earth as bringing and proclaiming the kingdom of heaven.

This is certainly in line with the Old Testament. God promised David an offspring with an eternal kingdom in 2 Samuel 7. Daniel receives a vision of this Davidic King in Daniel 7. And Isaiah prophesies of the King’s coming kingdom in Isaiah 9. In fact, the Jews of Jesus’ day were primarily waiting for the Messiah (or Christ) so that He could establish His kingdom, freeing them from Roman rule. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, who was doing just that.

As we will learn through our study on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the kingdom of heaven did not come as the Israelites expected. Jesus did not build an army and overthrow the Romans; rather, He preached a kingdom that functioned opposite to almost every human impulse. He claimed that God’s kingdom belongs to the poor, meek, and persecuted and that citizens of the kingdom would not strike down their enemies but pray for them in love. This Sermon twists our behaviors and moralities on their head, giving us a standard of living only achieved through perfection. These words should break our natural ideas of being good, making us painfully aware of our spiritual poverty. But in this brokenness, Jesus’ message truly becomes good news, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Read verse 17 and discuss the following.

  1. What is the Sermon on the Mount?
  2. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?
  3. Why does Jesus call us to repent?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. As Jesus urges us to do in our text, repent. If you already follow Christ, continue to repent of sin. If you have not decided to follow Christ, repent today “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)
  • Pray. As Jesus will guide us to do in Matthew 6, pray for God’s kingdom of come on earth as it is in heaven. We can pray this in at least three ways. First, remember that Jesus is your king and worship Him as such. Second, pray for the Lord to use you to expand the kingdom today through sharing the gospel. Third, pray for God’s kingdom to come fully with the return of Christ.

Making Disciples | Titus 2:1-6

Week 6 | Study Guide & Sermon

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers 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. (Titus 2:3-5)

OPENING THOUGHT

Having now concluded the first chapter of Titus, we can now easily see that Paul’s theme and focus throughout it was establishing a correct view of church leadership. First, we learned that the New Testament assumes a plurality of elders leading and shepherding the local churches. Second, Paul delivered to us a list of qualifications for being an elder of a church, as well as emphasizing the importance of pastors leading the church in holding firm to the Scriptures. Third, the apostle gave a rousing exhortation against false teachers, during which he warned Titus how to both identify and confront them.

Moving into the second chapter of Titus, there is a shift of focus from one aspect of the church to another, a shift from leadership to membership. Paul’s overall aim throughout chapter two is to reinforce the importance of each Christian living a godly life for the glory of Jesus Christ. Just as we covered leadership in three parts, we will spend an equal amount of time on members. Across this chapter, we will continue to see the same basic theme of the letter: the marriage of sound doctrine and good works.

Paul begins our discussion of active church members with a familiar topic: discipleship. Since we know that Jesus’ final command to His disciples before ascending to heaven was the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), it should come as no surprise that Paul would consider this crucial for every Christian to understand. By speaking to older and younger men and women in purposefully broad generality, he seeks to encourage and guide everyone into further obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. In this verse, Paul urges Titus to teach sound doctrine. Why is sound doctrine so important for the church?

Read verses 2-6 and discuss the following.

  1. These verses present Paul’s practical view of discipleship within the church. What is discipleship? Why is it important?
  2. Paul presents four categories of people (older and younger men and older and younger women). Which category do you fall under? Does your life reflect the characteristics that Paul describes?
  3. The apostle commands the older men and women to train younger men and women in both theological and practical things. Why is this training important? Do you actively practice this?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider your life in light of Jesus’ command to make disciples. Make a list of areas where you succeed and fail in discipling others and being discipled by others and a list of how you might grow in discipleship.
  • Pray for the kingdom of God to continue expanding into the earth through the making of disciples and for the Lord’s guidance in how you can more effectively make disciples.

 

For the Kingdom

Your kingdom come,

Matthew 6:10a

Many Christians do not realize that all of Jesus’ teachings and ministry can be easily summed into one sentence: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17).” The entire life of Jesus centered around the idea that He was bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth. The Jews of Christ’s day understood that this was Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. From the moment that God promised King David an offspring with an eternal throne in 2 Samuel 7, the Israelites waited for the appearance of that great Davidic King, who would reign forever over Israel and the world. By announcing the arrival of the heavenly kingdom, Jesus implicitly declared that He is the promised descendent of David.

Throughout the gospels, we read of Jesus’ teachings regarding the kingdom of heaven. Most of these instructions came through parables. In Matthew 13, after Jesus told the parable of the sower, His disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables. Jesus answered, “To you is has been give to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given… This is why I speak in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand (v. 11,13).” Jesus taught about the kingdom in parables as a means of both revealing its secrets to His disciples but also concealing them from others. In other words, the kingdom of God is not all-inclusive. Jesus did not first come in the glorious and splendid fashion that the Jews expected; rather, Jesus inaugurated His kingdom quietly, unveiling it only to His followers.

This backwards and upside-down display of God’s kingdom is also on display in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In chapters 5-7 of Matthew, Jesus essentially presents the picture of how citizens of His kingdom are meant to live, which are all completely counter to what comes natural for us. For instance, we find normal and, sometimes, appropriate to respond violently to those who are violent against us, but Jesus says instead, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:39).” Then He goes even further by commanding, “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 (Matt. 5:44-45).” Citizens of Jesus’ kingdom must be ready to go against what comes natural to us in order to do what God desires of us.

In praying for God’s kingdom to come, we ought to consider three applications.

First, knowing that we are a part of God’s kingdom should remind us that Jesus is our King. Asking God for the kingdom to come is a prime opportunity to remember that our lives are all about Jesus and His glory and honor. We live to serve the King, not ourselves, in all that we do.

Second, though Jesus inaugurated the kingdom with His life, death, and resurrection, the kingdom of God is yet to be consummated. In other words, we know that Jesus is King, but we do not yet see that reality fully around us. Therefore, we should pray that Christ would make His second coming to earth to consummate His kingdom fully.

Third, this prayer helps remind us that God’s kingdom is expanding everyday, and it is doing so through the making of disciples. God has ordained for us to be instruments in the spreading of His kingdom into all the earth, which happens by obeying the Great Commission. Thus, we must pray that God would guide and use us for the coming of His kingdom.


Mediate upon the kingdom of God and your responsibility to live and expand it.

Pray that Jesus would become more clear to you as King, that God’s kingdom would come in all of Christ’s glory, and that you would be active in expanding the kingdom now.