Read Hebrews, Chapter 12
Memorize: 1 Peter 2:11 and 1 Peter 9:27
Let’s pray together. Lord will you give us what we need this morning. We need an understanding of our lives before you; of how they work and how they can be. Help us to understand the things we go through day by day, and not be confused and troubled; and thereby turn the events of our life to no profit. Help us to learn and help us to grow by what we experience. Use this morning’s period for that purpose. Transform our minds with your truth. Let your light shine in our hearts and set us free. In Jesus’ name.
In the community of the redeemed the discipline of grace replaces the discipline of sin. We are raised in a discipline of sin.
In Romans 6:19-23, we find this contrast, which we have studied. I want to stress now the other part of it; namely the discipline by grace. Romans6:19, Paul says:
“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of the flesh . . . “
(because of your weakness) What does he say now?
“ . . . for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity—unto iniquity”
Unto iniquity? That may look puzzling to you. What does it mean? The idea is one of yielding our body, our members to things that are wrong. The result of that is more things that are wrong. We yielded our members servants to uncleanness and unto iniquity. That’s the discipline of sin.
If a person plays basketball, what happens? He becomes better at basketball; likewise for the person who spends his time in any given way—his members, his body, his mind will be taken over by that.
As it happened that you yielded your members to iniquity, verse 19:
“ . . . even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”
It is iniquity unto iniquity and holiness unto holiness. You see there are two disciplines involved there. The contrast is very important for us to realize. Just as the wicked are like a troubled sea, where the natural motions bring forth all sorts of bad things, so likewise, the natural motions of the righteous bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
Let me read that passage once again: verse 19:
“ . . .so as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness: that is sowing to the flesh. Sowing to the flesh is to yield your members servants to uncleanness. What do those who sow to the flesh reap? Corruption. Now, as you have sown to the flesh and reaped corruption, so sow to the spirit.
“ . . . yield your members servants to righteousness.”
And what do you reap? Eternal life. It says holiness here, but I am referring to where Paul says in Galatians that you shall reap life everlasting.
Do you see the two disciplines? As I said earlier, when we were discussing sin in the singular, our bodies play a very important role as the repository of sin. The body is kind of a primary locus in which all of these habits and dispositions rest. Our body is informed by our spirit, but our spirit is also informed by our body. It becomes the sort of thing which makes it impossible as an example, for a person to be kind in a particular situation. Our feelings are bodily things. Our feelings can get in the way. Feelings also find expression in our bodies and can therefore make our bodies sick. Feelings are powerful. They focus in certain parts of the body. By using those as a point for praying on the spirit. They move us in particular directions.
I want us to look at a couple of passages. These are indeed the same passages that I am asking you to memorize for the next week. I want us to look at these two passage: then I want us to look at the discipline of prayer.
1 Peter 2:11:
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you . . . “
Peter is telling the Christians, to whom he is writing, how they are to proceed to grow, to handle their lives, and this verse sums up very much of his advice.
“ . . . abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”
Now the fleshly lusts here are primarily the lusts of the body. Now he is not saying: don’t eat when you are hungry, or drink when you are thirsty. He is not saying don’t have sexual relations. He is not saying don’t enjoy sports, playing, work, rest, and all the rest of the things which are natural and good. He is saying don’t live in them. Abstaining from them is a way of saying: have them under control, rather than have them control you. If you can abstain from them, you are a disciplined person with respect to those fleshly lusts.
Fleshly lusts are not what we usually think of when we hear that term. Everyone thinks of sex immediately when we hear the words fleshly lusts. Certainly there is much trouble and grief which comes from not being able to abstain from those particular sets of lusts or desires. But what about the desire for ease and convenience? What about just plain old laziness?
Bob Harrison asked: “You mentioned that he is talking about control of eating and sports, sex and the like, but is this to include such psychological states as anger or anxiety?”
I don’t think so Bob. Those things heave to be dealt with, but I think he is warning here, against a very specific set of things which tend to be the causes of anger and anxiety. The New Testament distinguishes a set of things, like in 1 John 2:16,
“For all that is in the world . . . “
Now here he distinguishes three classes of things,
“ . . . the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life . . . “
You see the lust of the flesh is not the only thing that causes problems. Indeed they are not the ultimate source of problems. The kind of things that you mentioned are much closer to the source. They are spiritual difficulties. But after a person has lived in this world for a while there seems to be a great tendency to be dominated by the desire for convenience and ease, or the desire for food, etc.
Bob: “Is that a symptom; the result of the spiritual problem?”
Yes, I think it is. It is a symptom, and it is also a further cause, because these things create further problems with which one then has to deal with. A particular desire complicates, and is complicated by the spiritual problems one has in terms of anxiety, a lack of trust, pride, the pride of life as it says in 1 John 2:16, etc., because when a person is spiritually in a hole already, and he has troubles say, the finances, or gambling, that sort of thing just creates more and more difficulties. What Peter is saying here, and what Paul says later in the passage we will look at in 1 Cor. 9:27, is that there is a specific set of things which seem to localize the bad tendencies of the old nature, and that these have to be abstained from. This is something we can do! We have control of that. Abstaining is a way of sowing to the spirit. Now the abstaining alone is no cure for man’s spiritual problem. He is not suggesting that it is. We have all kinds of abstainers, don’t we; people who go around abstaining from this, that and the other. Some wind up abstaining from everything, and then wonder why they are miserable. Abstaining is only one side of life. Abstaining as it is directed here is towards a particular problem which people find themselves in. If you look at the ordinary human condition, what do you see people in trouble over? Basically, it is the lusts of the flesh. We have our wars, we have all kinds of heartaches, we have our family upsets, suicides, and all are very often driven by the lusts of the flesh. The lusts of the flesh tend to become obsessive. They tend to destroy because they are obsessive.
Let me give you an example. Let us use anxiety. You can find a person who is on drugs, or using a credit card, or something else to assuage anxiety. If you do you will see that anxiety is a very fleshly feeling. It hits you right in the guts. Quite frankly, when persons head for the bottle, the pill, the credit card, or whatever else they use, they are seeking relief from a specific bodily feeling by and large. Many of them could not tell you that unless you discussed it with them. My point is there are a set of feelings that localize themselves in the body, in the head, in the arms, which are associated with anxiety and relief from them is sought. That relief is a lust of the flesh. The flesh lusts after relief just as it might lust after sexual release or power. (Like sitting in one of these vehicles feeling you are king Tutmost the third. When you sail down the freeway in your little space bubble with the air conditioner on and all that sort of thing. A feeling of power.) By the appealing to a particular lust of the flesh, we are manipulated, and we manipulate others. Let me put it this way: and again I stress, this is not the total solution to anything, but if you can come to the point where you are not manipulated by localizable lusts of the flesh, you are in a position where you can begin to move in a different direction. As long as one is the plaything of these, you are captive. Someone else can find your button and push it or pull it, and there you go. This is exactly what Paul is talking about elsewhere, in the letter to II Timothy 2:24, when he speaks of those who are taken captive by Satan whenever he want to. It says in verse 24:
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.”
That is a good picture of a person who is a victim of these kinds of things. They oppose themselves. They don’t want to do that, but they do.
“if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
The devil’s playthings, you see. We know that we can’t get out of that just by trying heard. We know that we have to be saved by the grace of God, and that comes primarily, as Paul mentions here, by the infusion of truth and light into our minds. It is truth that sets us free, not decisions, even though decisions do have a place, and not feelings. Indeed it is our decisions and our feelings which we need to be set free from.
Bob Harrison: It is not abstinence that sets us free?
No, no, right, it isn’t. We must remember, though, that here he is speaking to people that have the basis by which they can stand against these things. He is not talking to people who are wrapped up in them. He is talking to people who have a basis in truth to stand against the power of lust.
Helen: What concerns me is the part that says peradventure. Would you paraphrase that for me?
Certainly. If by chance—peradventure means by chance. Let me put it this way: Paul never assumed that everyone he met could or would become a Christian. He never assumed that. On the other hand, he urged Timothy, and he himself did speak to all men the same: with patience, meekness and so on. He advised Timothy in this way, because you never know who God is going to turn. Usually your judgment about that, will be dead wrong. The one you think is just right, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if that person became a Christian, very likely they won’t, and the unlikely one, the one you may not have thought about at all, suddenly they are blossoming in the Kingdom of God. That’s God’s work. Salvation is of the Lord. We have a part in it and Paul is advising Timothy how to do it.
Let’s now look at 1 Corinthians 9:27. Paul is speaking of his own ministry here. I’ll go back a few verses to read. He is talking about how he makes himself all things to all men that they may be saved. Now stating at verse 22:
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
Not all. Paul did not expect to save all. Verse 23:
“And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the price? So run, that ye may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things . . . “
That is he has himself under control.
“ . . . Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
I therefore so run not as uncertainly, so fight I, not as one that beateth the air;
But I keep under my body . . . “
I bring it into subjection: He is not saying he abuses it. There is also a play on the Greek word here which indicates that he pummels his body, he gets it down and beats the stuffings out of it. But you must not understand that as torturing himself. Paul did not believe in torture. He never tortured himself, but he did keep his body in subjection.
“ . . . and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached others, I myself should be a castaway.”
You always have your body, and Francis of Assisi called it, Brother Ass, because it bore him about. It bore him about as a beast of burden. Francis of Assisi had exactly the right attitude toward his body: Brother Ass. How an ass you don’t allow to ride you. You ride an ass. Yet if you abuse it you are going to be in trouble just as much as if you allowed it to ride you. The trouble will be different, but it will come out about the same place. You won’t have anything to ride, or if you do, it won’t go where you want it to go. Paul says, I keep my body in subjection. I want to stress again that in the concept of discipline, the body is very important because it is the repository of what is good and what is right. Before it was the repository of what is evil.
The person who is able to do brain surgery, is not conscious of what he is doing. It is part habit. It is in his hands and his head. His fingers are trained. They were trained for years. He didn’t just suddenly intend to do brain surgery and his fingers obeyed, any more than a person just suddenly intends to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. These abilities reside in the body, and we must come to understand this if we are to understand the way we progress or fail to progress in a Christian way.
It says in Romans 6: “Submit your members servants to righteousness.” What does that do? It causes your members to produce more righteousness. This happens in the automatic way; very little effort involved. Why? Because the effort has gone before. The effort has deposited itself in the members, and the members take over. The person who has a disciplined tongue does not have to hold it with his hand to keep silent. It is directed in the right way already. The person who had disciplined themselves in subjection to another, does not have to kill himself in order to bring off something like humility before his brothers and sisters. It is a natural outflow.
This natural outflow is carried through as the notion of fruit in the following verses. Romans 6:21:
“What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”
A natural fruit.
“But now being made free from sin . . . “
Notice the singular please.
“ . . . and become servants to God, ye have your fruit . . .”
A tree does not bear its fruit because that is what the tree is. A tree does not get out in the back yard and try real hard to bear oranges. If it is an orange tree and if it is fed well, it will naturally bear oranges. If it is not an orange tree and/or if it is not fed right, forget it! There will be no oranges. That is the way of the fruit of the spirit.
“ . . . ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let’s talk about prayer. That is one of the great spiritual disciplines. Prayer is one of the main portions of a Christian’s armor. I ask you to look at Ephesians 6:18. After listing all the parts of the Christian’s armor, Paul says:
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the
Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”
He uses redundance to emphasize the importance here. All prayer, all prayer, and there are many kinds of prayer. What basically is prayer? Many times we are defeated here, because we do not come to a clear understanding of what it is. First of all it is communication. It is sad to say that many people are defeated in prayer because they cannot believe that it is communication. They think it is self-manipulation or that it is something you do to convince God how serious (you) are, sometimes it is thought of as kind of penance, and has often been combined with forms of torture. But prayer is basically communication.
Bob Harrison: Is that because most of us are not sure of who we are communicating to?
Yes that is right. The failure here is a failure to believe in God as a person.
Prayer is communication plus expectation. Many people do not believe the communication part of prayer because they feel that God has this elaborate bugging device, which he is always using. He’s got his eye on you, everything you are thinking, everything you are doing, everything about you, he knows, and therefore there isn’t anything that you can tell God that he doesn’t already know. If that’s the case, how would prayer be communication? This is why I think many people confuse prayer with talking to oneself. Now, everyone needs to talk to himself occasionally, but prayer isn’t talking to oneself.
You see, God can know anything he wants to about you. You can’t hide anything from God. You can’t get away from him, but God respects you as an individual. He gives you the right to leave him out of your life. Now eventually that is not going to be so, but for the present you can turn your life away from him. All of us, I think, have had the experience of doing it. You’ve had the experience of choosing to do what He couldn’t want. “Now God, you go away, and when I am done you come back! I’m going to do this, and I know you won’t like it, and so, see you later.” And there He goes. You know, God will do that.
In the book of Amos, God speaks to the Prophet concerning Israel and says, “Leave him alone. He is wedded to his idols; just leave him alone.” God often leaves people alone.
Now prayer is a away of communicating to God about the things that you want, and about what you are. It involves many other things. Prayer essentially involves adoration for example, worship as we often call it, but basically, I think prayer is best understood as asking and receiving: that is communication plus expectation. We have to work through so many things in order to pray right. One of the great mistakes we make is trying to work them through before we pray. The mark of any discipline is that you do it before you know how. You learn as you do it, and you don’t learn otherwise.
You can read books on kissing or on swimming forever, but you won’t know how until you do it. You may not know how even then, but you certainly won’t know how until you do it. There is only one way to learn in the disciplines of life and that is to do it. The first times, you are bound to do it wrong. You will always do it wrong the first time no matter what you attempt. You will pray wrong, for example. You may pray for many years with the basic feeling of “Well if God does not answer, what is that going to show me?” Our self-righteousness is at stake in our prayers. As long as that is at stake in our prayers, we are not going to be able to pray right. But what is the answer? The answer is to pray on: to keep praying, yes to think, to study, and to do other things also, but never stop praying. You are unworthy; keep praying. You are never going to get worthy if you don’t pray. Prayer isn’t answered on the basis of worth anyway. Pray on. Just do it. It will straighten out. Thought is needed: understanding is needed: confession is needed: so many things are needed, but the basic thing is to do it. Do it, just do it. Self-grace is what teaches us to pray. The more we come to understand that, the better able we are to pray.
Jesus taught a parable in Luke 18; it is a beautiful, beautiful story. Let’s read it together then; let’s look at the book of Daniel. What a man that guy was who prayed! The book of Daniel is just soaked with prayer. You see in Daniel one of the all time great prayers. There again, if you wonder why he was so great, it was because he did it. He prayed all the time; he never stopped. You know why he got thrown in the lion’s den don’t you? It’s because he prayed. He didn’t even think about the lions. The lion’s den didn’t look bad to him at all. He just prayed three times a day. He went up to his room opened the window and prayed. Daniel was a great prayer, and there is no better person to have in the back of our mind as we read this passage from Luke 18:1:
“And Jesus spake a parable unto them unto this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Now he does not mean that you are not to pass out there. He means you are not to give up; don’t quit,; don’t lose heart. Men ought to pray. How often? Always. You don’t feel like it. Pray always. Things are going well. Pray always. Pray always, and not give up; don’t faint. The world is coming to an end. Pray. Here is how he taught them in the parable. Luke 18:2:
“Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man.”
This was some ornery bugger.
“ . . . and there was a widow . . .”
Now who was more helpless; more harmless than a widow. Possibly only an orphan. But the choice here is of someone who had no rights; had nothing.
“ . . . in the city, and she came unto this judge saying, Avenge me of mine adversary . . .”
I want justice. Now Jesus doesn’t tell us what the story was. He doesn’t go into the circumstances of what the woman had suffered. He just expresses her claim. She had been injured and needed some justice from the law.
And he would not for a while . . .”
Since he did not fear God nor regard men. Why should he? Who is this thing; this widow coming up and bothering me. I don’t have time to fool around with her. But the widow was not going to let this matter drop. He would not for a while but she was carrying on, so:
“ . . . afterward he said within himself, though I fear not God nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said hear what the unjust judge saith . . . “
What Jesus does is he takes a principle of personality and he says look: just on that principle alone, keep praying. What is that principle? It is that people tend to give in when you keep asking. He is saying that asking is not an incidental trivial sort of thing. It is among the most fundamental of human relations. Asking and giving are of the deepest parts of human nature and personality.
Why does God give us what we ask for? Because we ask him.
“ . . . and shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night to him though he bear long with them?” (verse 7)
This next verse is terribly descriptive of our true situation.
“I tell you that he will avenge them speedily . . .” (verse 8)
God does answer prayer.
“ . . . Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh; shall he find faith on the earth?”
The implication; practically naught, no. Men and women are so wrapped up in their own enterprises, their own way of getting what they want, that they will not allow God to do things for them. God doesn’t have to be bribed. He doesn’t have to be convinced that you are worthy, that you are right, or that you are good. Right? Knock and it shall be opened—if you hold your mouth just right. NO! There are no qualifications. No ifs, ands, or buts. Knock and you shall receive.
Babs said: Prayers are sometimes answered in a different way than we expect. We may not even recognize the answer. Sometimes the answer won’t come because it is not what we should have. And sometimes if we keep on asking for the thing we want, when we get it, it really is not as good as we thought it would be.
Yes indeed; that’s very true.
Daniel was a great man. He really was. You know in Ezekiel 14, when Ezekiel is talking about the bad things which are going to come upon the people of Israel, he selects three people which would be able to deliver their own souls from the bad things which are to come. These three people were Noah, Job and Daniel. That’s pretty select company.
Daniel was a powerful figure. It is true that he is rather a hard figure to grasp if you look at the historical questions as to just who he was and how he functioned in the various kingdoms in which he lived, but there is no question but that he was a real historical figure of powerful dimensions. He was a man of great discipline. We don’t know how this came about. But if you read in the first chapter of Daniel, he was called to the test very quickly along with some of his friends. He was selected along with a number of people to be in the palace to be given a chance of becoming first class leaders in the Kingdom. Young people were brought in. In Daniel 1:5 (Pages have 1:15 but it is 1:5):
“And the king appointed daily provision of bread and wine . . . “
So Daniel had this problem. He was a teetotaler and he was a vegetarian. He was not going to eat that fare. So here in verse 1:8 (Pages have 1:18 but it is 1:8):
“proposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.”
So he set up a little test to prove that you didn’t have to eat the king’s meat and to drink the wine to look quite snappy. So he won the battle, and as the years went by, Daniel rose high in the government of the Kingdom and in Daniel 6, you find that he had become one of the main leaders. As is always the case, a person who is successful has to deal with the envy of others. Daniel was much envied; much hated by those who wanted to be as successful as he was. So his adversaries devised a test which was to have anyone thrown into the lion’s den who did not worship the King. They knew what Daniel would do. They knew they had him in the trap. They didn’t know what the lions would do, however. They miscalculated somewhat on that. Daniel 6:9-10:
“Wherefore Darius signed the writing and the decree. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”
He did the same as he had done. He prayed to God. He believed in God. He didn’t hesitate to ask, and he didn’t hesitate to expect.
As the three Hebrew children in the firey furnace, as we say spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar and said, “Look, we believe in God, and he will deliver us. If he doesn’t, no matter. So just throw us in.” So here with Daniel, you have that same sort of carelessness. Where they say: “We are not careful to answer thee, oh King. We don’t have to sit down, and call a conference and think this out, or appoint a committee to look into it. We are not careful to answer thee, oh King. Just go right ahead. Daniel was the same way.
You know how that story comes out. The lions didn’t eat him. Some people have said that they didn’t eat him because he was all backbone. More likely, God sent a spirit of peace into that place and there was no desire to eat him. It is remarkable how sensitive animals are to the spirit of a man.
Babs: The King was worried about him also.
Yes, he spent the night fasting, didn’t he?
Next time: Fasting, Poverty and Simplicity