Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 4)

Prayer is effectual. That means prayer works. In James 5, we read these words.

James 5:16
16b 
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

In Romans 15:31–32, Paul wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray . . .

Romans 15:31–32
31 
that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

We know from earlier in the chapter that Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the financial love offering that he’d been collecting for the saints in Jerusalem. Keep this in mind as hear his prayer requests.

He has two prayer requests. First, he asks for prayer that he will be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea. He understands that there are people who would love nothing more than to see Paul dead.

Paul’s not afraid of death. He’s quite ready to die. So, why does he pray to be delivered from these individuals? He requests prayer because he’s planning on going to Spain to preach the gospel there. As Paul is writing this letter, the gospel hasn’t made its way to Spain yet, and Paul’s eager to preach the gospel where it hasn’t yet been proclaimed.

It’s a kingdom-oriented prayer. He wants to see the gospel advance.

Second, he asks for prayer that his service for Jerusalem will be acceptable to the saints there. He’s talking about the love offering that he’s carrying to them.

Now, we might wonder, “Why wouldn’t they be happy to receive financial help? Why is he asking for prayer for this?” After all, wouldn’t we be happy to receive an unexpected financial blessing?

But we do well to remember how passionate the Jerusalem believers were about the importance of keeping the Jewish law. Many of them were fanatically opposed to Paul even preaching to the Gentiles, and the offering that Paul was carrying to them had been collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia. There was a very real possibility that they would reject this help.

So, Paul asks for prayer.

And here’s what we know. Both prayers were answered! Prayer is effective.

Paul was delivered from his enemies (Acts 21:27ff). And the offering evidently helped heal Gentile-Jewish relations (Acts 21:17–20).

Prayer is effective.

As you consider the effectiveness of prayer, take some time to pray for your pastor as he prepares to preach the word to you this week.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 3)

Let’s look again at Romans 15:30.

Romans 15:30
30 
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.

In these words, we’re reminded that prayer is hard work. Paul tells us to “strive together with” him in our prayers. That’s another interesting Greek word that’s translated as “strive together.” The word means to strain along with others—straining as if engaged in a fight.

Prayer is hard work. Ask anyone who’s made a New Year’s resolution to pray more regularly. If you made that New Year’s resolution this year, how’s that going? It’s only February, but that resolution may seem like a distant memory.

We’re distracted from prayer so easily. Could it be that we’re so easily distracted because prayer is hard work? We don’t expect it to be hard work. We expect it to be easy, but it isn’t. Prayer is hard work, and it’s spiritual work. We’re fighting a spiritual battle when we pray.

In another letter, Paul writes this,

Ephesians 6:10–12
10 
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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.

When we fall to our knees in prayer, we’re entering into spiritual warfare.

In 1942, C. S. Lewis wrote a classic book called The Screwtape Letters. As the title suggests, the book is composed of a series of fictional letters from a demon named Screwtape written to a young demon nephew named Wormwood. Hence, The Screwtape Letters.

In the book, Wormwood’s been assigned a Christian “patient,” and Wormwood’s job is to keep his Christian patient from growing closer to the “Enemy.” The “Enemy,” of course, in the minds of these two demons, is Jesus.

In the fourth letter, Screwtape advises his nephew about Christian prayer. Here’s a portion of that letter. Screwtape writes,

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently reconverted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.
Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 15

In other words, Screwtape is suggesting that Wormwood should keep the patient from praying anything sincere and meaningful. Just have him pray repetitious, childhood prayers.

Screwtape continues,

If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.
Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 16–17

Friends, prayer is hard work. It’s not about our feelings. When we pray, we’re entering into a spiritual battlefield.

As you pray today, if you’re a church member in some church, consider praying for 2 church members.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (Part 2)

We read these words in Romans 15:30.

Romans 15:30

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.

We see in these words that prayer is vital. Paul begins this passage by “appealing” to his brothers and sisters in the Lord. I love the Greek word that Paul uses here. The word is used over 100 times in the New Testament. It means to appeal or to urge or to beg. I can’t help but think about The Temptations and their hit song (Ain’t Too Proud to Beg) whenever I come across this word.

Paul was willing to beg his brothers and sisters in Christ to join with him in prayer. And why was he willing to do that? Because he knew that prayer is vital.

A wise man once said, “There’s much that can be done after you pray, but nothing can be accomplished before you pray.” Paul understood how vital prayer is for the Christian.

And we also need to notice the trinitarian nature of Paul’s appeal. Not only is he appealing to his brothers and sisters, but he’s appealing through the Trinity.

Romans 15:30
30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf (emphasis added).

When we enter into prayer, it’s no small thing. When we pray, it’s not something to be taken lightly. When we pray, we are speaking to the Creator of the universe.

If we were told today that we were going to have the opportunity to spend an hour with our favorite celebrity tomorrow, we’d probably lose sleep tonight thinking about what we’d want to talk about. What questions might we ask?

Well, to state the matter rather bluntly, no celebrity compares with God! And when we pray, we are speaking with him. We’re not speaking with his publicist or his agent; we’re speaking with him.

Prayer is vital. Spend some time right now praying for 3 people you know who are not yet Christians. If you don’t personally know any non-Christians, pray for an opportunity to get to know some non-Christians.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayers

At the beginning of each year, I set aside a Sunday morning sermon on the topic of prayer. I do so not because the average church member would argue against the importance of prayer. Nearly every Christian would verbally agree that prayer is important.

But even while nearly every Christian would verbally agree that prayer is important, I wonder how many of our lives actually reflect the importance of prayer. That is, how many of us actually set aside time to pray?

And for those who do set aside time to pray, what is the content of those prayers? Are our prayers more concerned with keeping Christians out of heaven or are they more concerned with keeping non-Christians out of hell? In other words, do we pray more for our Christian brothers and sisters to get feeling better—for them to be healed? Or do we spend more time praying for the lost to hear the gospel and be saved?

I’m not at all suggesting that it’s wrong to pray for the healing of a brother or sister in Christ. I model this type of prayer every Sunday morning during my pastoral prayer. But if our prayers are nothing more than an “organ recital”—that is, praying for Aunt Sally’s stomach and Brother Bob’s kidneys, etc.—and we have no concern for the lost, then I can assure you that we’ve missed the mark.

Timothy Keller, who’s a retired pastor from New York City, wrote this in his book on prayer.

“It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. It is certain that they lived in the midst of many dangers and hardships. They faced persecution, death from disease, oppression by powerful forces, and separation from loved ones. Their existence was far less secure that ours is today. Yet in those prayers you see not one petition for a better emperor, for protection from marauding armies, or even for bread for the next meal. Paul does not pray for the goods we would usually have near the top of our lists of requests.”
Timothy Keller, Prayer, 20

Keller goes on to properly argue that it’s not wrong for us to pray for such things. Even Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, but in Paul’s prayers, we learn what we need more than we need anything else—we learn that we need to know God better. We need to focus on kingdom-oriented prayers—prayers that bring us closer to Jesus. We need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Eph 1:18).

I set aside a Sunday at the beginning of the year to preach on the practice of prayer because prayer is like oxygen to the soul of a believer.

Let me again quote from Keller. He writes,

“To discover the real you, look at what you spend time thinking about when no one is looking, when nothing is forcing you to think about anything in particular. At such moments, do your thoughts go toward God? You may want to be seen as a humble, unassuming person, but do you take the initiative to confess your sins before God? You wish to be perceived as a positive, cheerful person, but do you habitually than God for everything you have and praise him for who he is? You may speak a great deal about what a “blessing” your faith is and you “just really love the Lord,” but if you are prayerless—is that really true? If you aren’t joyful, humble, and faithful in private before God, then what you want to appear to be on the outside won’t match what you truly are.”
Keller, Prayer, 22–23

For the next several blog posts, I will be writing about the importance of kingdom-oriented prayer.

Telling Others about Jesus

What does it mean to make disciples who make disciples? Well, it may mean many different things to different people, but it all starts with seeing people in the same way that God sees them. It starts by seeing every person as someone special who’s been created in the image of God. Every individual person has been created in the image of God because God wants to have a relationship with that person.

And we make disciples by being very intentional in all we do, to point others to Jesus. Making disciples who make disciples is primarily about being intentional in all of our actions and in all of our relationships to move people in the direction of being more like Jesus.

We want others and we want ourselves to look and be more like Jesus. Five-weeks, ten-weeks from now, 6-months, 12-months from now, will we be more like Jesus than we are right now? Our friends or co-workers now, who don’t yet know Jesus, will they know more about who Jesus is and why it is worth it to give their whole lives to follow him? Will they know more about that in the weeks and months to come than they do right now?

Here’s a helpful visual. If we were to think of a number line—this number line has positive and negative numbers on it. It’s numbered from a negative 10 all the way to a positive 10. Negative 10 represents someone who is a militant atheist. This person gets aggressive at the very thought of God. That individual represents a negative 10.

A little further up the scale, we have a friend who’s heard the good news about Jesus. She may even be able to explain the good news to us, but she hasn’t yet repented of her sin and trusted in Jesus. She may be represented on the scale at a negative one or two.

Zero is the moment that a person actually comes to faith in Christ.

So, we have a family member who just became a Christian in the last month. She’s so excited to be a Christian, but she doesn’t know what following Jesus looks like. She would be a positive one or positive two.

And then we have someone who has been faithfully following Jesus for decades. He regularly practices spiritual disciplines. He tells others about Jesus. He may be a 7 or an 8 on the scale. [No one actually makes it all the way to positive 10 until we are finally glorified and with Jesus in heaven!]

So, we have this scale. We can all picture the scale in our minds. We may even have friends, family members, and co-workers, who, if we were asked, we could put them at some point along that scale.

Now, our job, in making disciples who make disciples, is to move that person to the right on that scale (toward the higher numbers). Now, it’s extremely important for us to understand that this is ultimately a work of God. “We” don’t do it. God does it. But God uses us as his means to accomplish this. He uses us as we open and share the Word of God with these individuals. He uses us as we are prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit to work.

So, for our militant atheist friend who is currently a negative ten, if we could, by God’s grace, get him to the point where he would acknowledge the possibility that a supreme being exists, that would be a win. He’s moved from a negative 10 to a negative 9 or maybe a negative 8. He’s moving in the right direction.

Now, of course, our ultimate goal is present everyone mature in Christ so we should have a godly desire to see this friend actually get to a zero and then to grow in Christ, but it’s still a win for him to move from a negative 10 to a negative 8.

And for our family member who just became a Christian in the last month, by God’s grace, we hope that she’ll move from a positive 1 to a positive 3 in the next twelve months.

We’re making disciples who make disciples by moving people to the right on that scale.

So, I have two questions to leave you with. First, what number would represent where you’re at right now on that scale? Second, if you’re a Christian, what are you doing to help move others (and yourself) to the right on that scale?

If we’re going to make disciples who make disciples, we have to open our Bibles and tell others about Jesus.

The Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21 has been called the beginning of the end—the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Here’s how Matthew 21 shows us that Jesus is the long-awaited King. There are three testimonials.

First, we have the testimony of Jesus himself.

Matthew 21:1–3
1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

During the Passover week, the population in Jerusalem would swell to 3 to 4 million people. It would have been an amazing sight—to see the number of religious pilgrims flooding into the city.

But Jesus and his closest disciples would have only made up 13-people. In a crowd of 3- to 4-million people, by themselves they likely wouldn’t even have been noticed at all. But Jesus does something unusual. He does something that he’s never done before. Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead to fetch a donkey so that he can ride into the city on a donkey.

But they’re not fetching the donkey because Jesus is tired of walking. Everywhere he’s gone in his earthly ministry, he’s walked. The average person didn’t ride an animal. That was reserved for rich people, or for people who couldn’t walk for themselves—like Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus.

Jesus is asking for the donkey because he’s wanting to make a statement. He wants to stand out. He wants people to notice him—but not in a prideful kind of way. He’s making a statement about who he is. He’s wanting the people to see that he’s the king that they’ve been waiting for, but at the same time he’s going to show them that he’s not the king that they think they’ve been waiting for.

Jesus is going to ride into town on a donkey, not on a warhorse. Jesus is going to come into town humbly. He’s going to come into town as someone who wants to save his people. But he’s not going to save them in the way they think they need saving. They think their coming King is going to drive the Romans out of the land. They think their coming King is going rule with force. But that’s not who Jesus is. Jesus is a servant King. He’s a savior King. He’s a humble King. He’s a gentle King.

So, Jesus sends for a donkey. This is the first testimony that this Jesus is indeed the long-awaited King.

The second testimony is the testimony of scripture. In verse 5, Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. He quotes from Zechariah 9:9. Time won’t permit us to look at every verse in Zechariah’s prophecy, but I do want to focus on one quick idea in Zechariah’s prophesy.

Zechariah 9:9
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

“Behold, your king is coming to you.” The clear promise of scripture here is that a king is coming. That Matthew, who is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would use this passage in the context of Jesus coming into Jerusalem tells us that Jesus is this King.

This isn’t Jesus making a big deal of himself. This is the testimony of scripture. Jesus is the long-awaited King.

Third, we have the testimony of the people.

Matthew 21:7–11
7 They [that’s the two disciples] They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. [i.e., he sat on the cloaks—he didn’t straddle both donkeys] 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

A close reading of this passage shows us that there are three groups of people here. First, there are the two disciples in verse 7. Those two are the ones who return with the donkeys and they put their cloaks on the donkeys.

Second, there’s the crowd that’s singing “Hosanna.” They’re described in verses 8 and 9 and 11.

And third, there’s the crowd in Jerusalem. They’re the ones who don’t know what to make of Jesus. This group is described in verse 10.

What typically happens when we read this passage is this. We typically conflate the second and the third group, and then we talk about how fickle the crowd is. We’ll say things like, “The same crowd that was singing his praises just a few days prior is now crying out for Jesus to be crucified.”

But that’s missing the point of what’s happening here. This second crowd, who are singing his praises, are some of the fellow pilgrims making their way into the city. They’re the ones, according to John’s Gospel, who were with Jesus when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb.

The third group, on the other hand, the crowd in Jerusalem, are likely Jerusalem natives. According to Luke’s Gospel and John’s Gospel, they’re likely a part of the Pharisees.

Here’s the point. Different people respond in different ways to Jesus.

Some, who are familiar with the work that he’s done, see Jesus for who he really is, and as a result, they respond with praise and enthusiasm. They recognize him as the Son of David. They recognize him as the promised Davidic King. And they give everything to follow Jesus. These are pilgrims on a journey, and they give their very cloaks to honor their King. The cloak would have been the most valuable possession these pilgrims had with them.

And then there are those who are happy with the status quo. They don’t want things to change. They’re happy with their positions of power, and they don’t want to give that up even if it means finding the Messiah. They’re the ones who react with scorn. “Who is this?” “Who does this person think he is?”

And the crowd that had been praising Jesus all along, they respond with these words, “He’s a prophet. That’s who he is. He’s a prophet.”

But please don’t underestimate their response. We may think that this second group got it wrong. Or at least we may want to tell them that they don’t have it all the way right. But what they’ve said is profound. They’re response that Jesus is prophet is a profound response. The Jewish people had been looking for a prophet ever since Moses. Moses promised the people that God would one day send another prophet to them.

Deuteronomy 18:15–19
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

Friends, Jesus is that prophet. Jesus is that long-awaited prophet. According to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the better Moses. Jesus is greater than Moses (Heb 3).

Listen to the testimony of scripture. This is Hebrews 3.

Hebrews 3:1–3a
1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses.

There were two testimonies given by the people. One was a testimony of faithfulness and belief. The other was a testimony of faithlessness and unbelief. Which testimony will you give Jesus today?

Rejoicing and Weeping (part 2)

In my last post, in light of Paul’s command to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), we looked at 6 reasons Christians ought to rejoice. In this post, we will look at 3 reasons Christians ought to weep.

First, we should weep over our own sin.

In 1973, a psychiatrist named Karl Menninger wrote a provocative book titled, Whatever Became of Sin? In his book, Menninger argues that the idea or concept of sin has been slowly eroding away in our culture. Now, remember, this book was written in 1973. If we fast forward 45-years, we might want to call Menninger a prophet instead of a psychiatrist.

We’ve lost our moral compass. We’ve lost the idea of sin—personal sin.

We play the blame game. It’s not sin anymore; it’s just a mistake. And my “mistakes” aren’t really my fault.

  • I do that because I had a bad home life growing up.
  • I do that because everyone else is doing it.
  • I do that because it feels good.
  • I do that because I was just reacting to what this other person was doing to me.
  • I do that because if I don’t look out for myself, no one else will.

Each one of us can pick our own excuses, but we’ve lost our since of personal responsibility. I don’t write these things to minimize the devastation that can come out of a bad home life, but at some point, we need to look in the mirror and take personal responsibility for our sin. We need to be broken over our own sin.

In Luke 7, Jesus had been invited to a certain Pharisee’s house to have dinner. And while Jesus is reclining at the dinner table, a certain woman from the community comes in and begins washing his feet with her tears. Luke records it this way.

Luke 7:38
38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

The larger story has many important lessons. but I want to ask this question. Why was the woman weeping? Why was she weeping?

We know from the text that she was a notoriously sinful woman. Everyone in the room knew who she was. They knew of her reputation. Her reputation had preceded her. And I believe that gets to the heart of why she’s weeping.

She’s broken over her own sin, and she’s found in Jesus someone who doesn’t condemn her in her sin. She’s weeping over her own sin. There’s a lesson there to be learned by all of us.

Second, we should weep over the results of sin.

It’s one thing to weep over our own sin, but it’s another thing to weep over the results of sin. Here, too, our culture has missed the mark.

We often hear people talk about personal autonomy as if personal autonomy is the highest good. Here’s how that sounds. Someone will say, “I should be able to do whatever I want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Right? We’ve all heard that before. It sounds simple enough. We might hear it and even be tempted to agree with it. But here’s the problem with it.

All of our actions cause reactions. Everything we do has an effect on someone else. This is Newton’s third law of motion put into action in a cultural sense.

Just in case you don’t know what Newton’s third law of motion is, this is what is says. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now, I know, don’t send me any emails, I know that Newton was talking about physics when he said this. But I’m suggesting that this is also true in a cultural or moral sense.

Whenever we decide to do what God has told us should not be done, there will invariably be negative consequences. God, who is the author of all things that are good, who isn’t the author of anything evil—when we violate his good and perfect laws, there will always be negative consequences. In other words, when we sin, it always has a negative consequence. This is a fundamental rule of how the universe is created.

So, we should weep over sin, and we should weep over the results of sin.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is chastising the believers in Corinth because they aren’t weeping over the sin of one of their church members.

1 Corinthians 5:2
And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

Without getting too far into the context of this passage, suffice it to say that this man was embroiled in sexual sin that even the pagans thought was out of bounds. The church in Corinth, however, thought they were being tolerant. They thought they were being loving. They wanted to look the other way. Paul said that was the worst thing they could do. Rather, they should have mourned over that man’s sins and the havoc it was creating in the community.

Third, we should weep for those who reject Christ.

The Bible is very clear in that there’s only one way that God has given us by which we can be put into a proper relationship with him, and that one way is through Jesus his Son. So, we should weep over those who reject Jesus. It should break our hearts.

If we get a bad haircut, it’ll be better in just a few weeks. Don’t weep over a bad haircut. Hair grows back quickly. It will grow out and we’ll soon forget the bad haircut.

If we land a bad job, we can get our resume ready, and with a little help, we’ll soon have new job. Don’t weep over a bad job.

If we make some bad financial decisions and have to declare bankruptcy, even then, in just seven years, we can rebuild your credit. Don’t weep over that.

But if we die after rejecting Jesus, we will spend an eternity in place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), and there will be no relief for us.

Friends, this should cause all of us to weep for those who reject Christ.

Rejoicing and Weeping (Part 1)

In Romans 12:15, the apostle Paul urges Christians to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep.

To rejoice is “to feel happiness or joy,” and to weep is “to cry aloud.” These words express emotion.

Paul is urging us to have empathy for one another. If our brother or sister in Christ is rejoicing in God’s kindness to them, we ought to rejoice with them. If our brother or sister in Christ is weeping, we ought to weep with them.

But this isn’t even a remotely controversial idea. After all, even our non-Christian co-workers will rejoice with you when you have a baby, and our non-Christian neighbors will weep with you when tragedy strikes your family.

So, how are these two commands, “to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep,” how are these two commands distinctly Christian? Let’s ask ourselves these two questions.

First, what are some things for which Christians should rejoice? And second, what are some things for which Christians ought to weep?

Since the Word of God tells us that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, we should know when we should be rejoicing and when we should be weeping in the first place.

When should we rejoice?

First, we should rejoice when we face persecution for the cause of Christ.

In Matthew 5, Jesus said these words,

Matthew 5:10–11 (cf. Luke 6:23)
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Most of us don’t like being the object of persecution. That’s not our default setting. Our default setting is that we like people to like us. We want to be likable people—at least most of us feel that way. But Jesus tells us that we’re to rejoice when we’re persecuted for righteousness. We’re to rejoice when people say all manner of things falsely against us on account of Jesus.

We see this example carried out in the lives of the apostles. Early in the book of Acts, Peter and John and been put into jail for telling people about Jesus. When they got out of jail, this is what happened.

Acts 5:41
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

So, we should rejoice when we suffer persecution for the cause of Christ.

Second, we rejoice in the cross.

A bit of cultural understanding is helpful and important here. When the writers of the New Testament mentioned a cross, none of them had on their mind a pretty piece of jewelry that was worn around one’s neck. That would have been the furthest thing from their minds.

The cross was a symbol of shame. It was a symbol of pain and suffering. It was a symbol of death. The cross wasn’t pretty, but as Christians, we rejoice in the cross, because it’s through the cross that we have life.

It’s through the cross that God removes the penalty of our sin. It’s through the cross that our sin is covered in the righteousness of Christ.

Romans 5:8
8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus went to the cross. He went to the cross and he bled and he died to pay a penalty that we owed. And then his body was laid in a tomb. But his body didn’t stay in the tomb. On the third day, God the Father raised his Son, Jesus, from the dead and victory was declared over the curse of sin.

If you believe this, you can have eternal life. If you turn from your sins and turn to Christ, you can have eternal life. And this is why Christians rejoice in the cross. Because it’s through the cross that Jesus bore our sin and gave us new life.

Third, and closely related to the previous point, we rejoice when others embrace Christ.

It’s one thing to rejoice in our own salvation, and, yes, that is something we ought to rejoice in. We ought to rejoice in our own salvation. But we should also rejoice when we see others embrace Christ.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of three parables. All of the parables have the same message—the central message is this. Rejoicing when what had been lost has now been found.

In the first parable, a man has 100 sheep, but one of his sheep has gone astray. One of his sheep is lost. He searches everywhere for that one sheep, and when he finds it, he comes home and says this.

Luke 15:6
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

In the second parable, a woman has 10 silver coins, but one of them is lost. She turns the house upside down to try and find the one coin that was lost. When she finds it, she says this.

Luke 15:9
And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

In the third parable, a man has two sons, and one of his sons goes astray. He lives a life of sin and rebellion. When he finally gets to the end of himself, he repents of his sin and returns to his father’s house. This is what the father had to say.

Luke 15:23–24
23
‘And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

It’s good and right to celebrate when someone turns from their sin and embraces Christ.

Fourth, we rejoice in our sufferings.

This is different than rejoicing in our persecutions. With persecutions, we’re referring to suffering specifically for the cause of Christ. Here, with sufferings, we’re just talking about any run of the mill sufferings. We’re talking about the suffering that comes to all of us because we live in a broken and sinful world. We should rejoice in those sufferings.

Paul writes this in Romans 5.

Romans 5:1–5
1 
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In the middle of this broken and sinful world, we WILL experience sufferings. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. Don’t listen to any false teacher who’ll tell you that by the word of your faith you can speak these sufferings out of your life. That’s neither biblical nor true.

We WILL have sufferings in this world. But listen to this—this is important—our suffering in this world isn’t pointless. Our suffering isn’t pointless. God uses our sufferings for our good and for his glory. Our suffering produces endurance, which produced character, which produces hope in Christ.

So, we rejoice in our sufferings.

Fifth, we rejoice when someone walks in obedience to Christ.

We rejoice when people repent of their sins and walk in obedience to Christ. Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 7.

2 Corinthians 7:9
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

In this passage, Paul’s writing to Christians in the church at Corinth, and many of these Christians are living in a way that would bring shame on the gospel. So, Paul decides to write a harsh letter to them. He wants to confront them in their sin. And he does just that.

And as a result of this harsh letter, the Christians in Corinth grieve over their sin and they repent of their sin. So, Paul says, “I rejoice that you repented.”

Genuine repentance is a good and godly thing. It’s something we should rejoice over. It’s a good and godly thing to walk obediently in the truth.

Sixth, and the final “rejoice,” we rejoice when the gospel is preached.

In Philippians 1, there were some people who were preaching the gospel to make a name for themselves. In other words, they weren’t preaching the gospel for the correct reason, but they were preaching the gospel.

Their gospel content was correct, but their hearts weren’t where they were supposed to be. So, what are we to make of that? Should we be happy that people are using the gospel to make a name for themselves?

Now, let me be clear, this would be different than much of what we see on TV in America today. Many—not all—but many of today’s TV preachers preach for the wrong motivation AND then to top it off, they ALSO get the gospel wrong. Paul’s not talking about that.

Paul’s addressing people who have the wrong heart motivation, but they have the gospel right. This is what Paul has to say about those people.

Philippians 1:18
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

So, we too rejoice when the gospel is preached.

These are 6 reasons Christians ought to rejoice, and we ought to rejoice with one another about these things.

My next post will explain why Christians ought to weep.

Walking Together

Perhaps you’ve read church membership covenants that are full of the language of “I” and “my”—first person SINGULAR throughout the covenant—no references to “we” or “our.”

Is this a problem for a church membership covenant? Is this significant? I would argue that it’s extremely significant.

But you might think that I’m making a mountain over a molehill. But this isn’t me making a mountain out of a molehill. This has everything to do with understanding what the church is.

We’re not the church individually. We’re the church collectively. Individually, we’re a part of the church. Individually, we’re members of the church, but we’re not the church individually.

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges his readers, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” In our English language this fact may get past us since we have only one word for “you”—whether we’re speaking of the singular “you” or plural “you all” or “y’all.”

But the language that the New Testament was written in is more precise than that. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, and in Koine Greek there’s one word for singular “you” and there’s a completely different word for the plural “y’all.”

And, yes, I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, the “you” that Paul uses in this verse is the plural “y’all.” He goes on to expand on that by using the language of “bearing with one another” in verse 2.

The “one another” phrase clearly spells out the importance of relationship. It spells out the importance of community. But this isn’t the only place in the New Testament that talks about how we treat “one another.” Tthere are nearly 60 passages in the New Testament alone that speak of “one another.”

  • Encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11)
  • Bear with one another (Col 3:12–17)
  • Forgive one another (Col 3:12–17)
  • Teach one another (Col 3:12–17)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13–15)
  • Confess our sins to one another (Jas 5:16)
  • Honor one another (Rom 12:10)
  • Love one another (John 13:34–35)

And we could go on! The point is simple and clear. We weren’t made to live by ourselves. We weren’t meant to struggle by ourselves. We weren’t meant to pursue Jesus by ourselves. We’re meant to do that in community—with one another.

Here’s something important I tell people when they join the church. When you join a church, you’re giving permission to your fellow church members to get in your business! That’s what you’re doing when you join a church.

And the flip side of that is true also. When we as a people receive someone into church membership, we’re telling that person that he or she has permission to get into our business.

We’re saying to one another, “I love you enough to allow you to speak the truth of God’s Word into my life, and I love you enough to speak the truth of God’s Word into your life.”

Friends, we were made for this. We were made to live in community. The “we” language of a church covenant is EXTREMELY important. We do this together.

God Is Faithful

How do we respond to God? When God shows himself faithful to us, do we respond with faith in return? The history of God’s people paints a different picture.

In Nehemiah 9, the Levites recount God’s steadfast faithfulness to his chosen people.

In verse 7, we’re reminded that God was with his people from the beginning, since Abraham. We’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people when God rescued them from Egypt (verses 9ff). We’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people while they wandered in the wilderness (verse 21). And we’re reminded of God’s faithfulness during the period of the judges (verse 27).

Again and again, we’re reminded of God’s faithfulness to his people.

But God’s people didn’t always respond with similar faithfulness towards God.

In verse 16, we’re told of how God’s people had “acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey [God’s] commandments” (cf. verse 29). We’re reminded of how they fashioned a golden calf for themselves (verse 18).

Yet in response to the unfaithfulness of his people, God responded with grace and mercy.

Nehemiah 9:17
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

We’re reminded again and again of God’s faithfulness towards his people, and we’re reminded again and again of their own unfaithfulness. The whole history of God’s people is that of a people who do absolutely NOTHING to deserve God’s love and faithfulness, yet he gives it to them at every turn.

Time after time, God is faithful, and then God’s people are unfaithful in response.

But, lest we be too hard on these people who lived centuries ago, let’s remember this. We are those people. We’re the same people.

Here’s what I mean. You and I have done NOTHING to deserve God’s love and faithfulness. The Bible even goes so far as to say that you and I deserve the opposite of his love and faithfulness. We deserve his wrath (cf. Ephesians 2). That’s what we deserve. That’s what we’ve earned.

At most every turn, when God shows himself faithful to us, we rebel against him. We choose our own way instead of his way. In many ways, we live as a stiff-necked people—just like they did.

And what does God do? What does God do in response to our rebellion? What does he do in response to our stiff-necks?

In response to our rebellion, God sent us his Son—his only Son, Jesus Christ. In response to our sin, God sent Jesus to bear the penalty that we owe for our sin. In response to our stiff-necks, God provides a way in which we can be reconciled to him.

We didn’t deserve it. We hadn’t earned it. It was an act of sheer grace. But praise be to God for his never-ending mercies!

Because Jesus bore our sins on the cross and because God raised Jesus from the dead, all who turn from their sins and believe in or trust in Christ, ALL who do that will be saved—all who do that will inherit eternal life.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how unworthy you think you are. Because where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20).

But you need to trust in Christ Jesus. You need to lay hold of the gift of God through his Son Jesus. If you’ve never done that, you can do it today! You can do it right now. You can call out to God and trust in him today.

For his glory,
Pastor Brian