Holy Desires (Part Three)

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (NIV).

God urges us to delight in his counsel. The happy person delights in God’s law. What is meant by the law of the Lord? Perhaps the word law would be better translated as “instruction”. Here the psalmist intends the Scriptures; that is, God’s written revelation. They are law in the sense of binding instruction for us, since God’s instruction is not optional, but the word means more than precepts and regulations. In God’s law you find commands, narrative examples and testimony to God’s nature, plans and actions. God teaches us who he is, what his plan for his glory is in history, how to know him and draw near to him, and how to fellowship with him.

To delight is to feel great pleasure. Joy and satisfaction combine in an intense, heart-felt experience. “Wow! I like this! I can’t stop myself from wanting more.” This is what many religious people are missing. They may worship because they feel they must, but it is the wrong kind of “must”, flowing from fear or obligation and not from joy and love. Suppose I asked my wife in a melancholy or reluctant way, “Must I kiss you?” She’d probably say, “No!” But what if I said to her with desire in my voice, “I must kiss you!” That’s a far different matter!

Delight develops from experience. Delight does not happen from a legalistic prescription. It does not come from forcing yourself to read three or four chapters a day. Approaching the Bible with that attitude is more likely to produce pride in your heart than delight in God’s law. Delight occurs as the Spirit uses God’s word with his grace and causes you to sense its value and sweetness. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold… How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth (Psalm 119:72, 103)! Like coming to know God, we taste it and by grace find out how good it is (cf. Psalm 34:8).

The delight in God’s law leads the happy person to meditate on it. The word translated in verse two as “meditate” is the same word translated as “plot” in Psalm 2:1b. To meditate is to have deep reflective thought on the ideas of God’s word and to plan how those ideas can transform our character, ideas, attitudes, words, and actions. Yes, we need to apply God’s instruction to every facet of who we are and what we do. This requires a more active reading of God’s word than most Christians are accustomed to. We need to read carefully, understand fully, think intently, and then apply wisely. All of us will profit more from the Bible, if we make longer investments of time and concentration when we read it.

In other words, meditation is for people who are active, like Joshua. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8 NIV). People who want to accomplish tasks for the glory of God need to meditate on the Scriptures. “How can God’s ideas change my world?”

Let us look intently at ourselves. In what ways are we thinking about how God’s message can transform our lives, our family, our churches, our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world? As we read the Bible this week, let’s look for ideas that will change our lives and think about how to put those ideas to work.

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Two)

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (NIV).

Since the Lord desires our joy, he urges us to turn from every path that would ruin us. The Lord tells us that the happy person does not delight in close companionship with people that he describes as wickedsinnersmockers. People so described do not manifest love for God or godly people in their attitudes, words, and actions. They must be avoided as close friends, because close friends become our “counselors”. They advise us not only by their words, but also by their way of life that they want us to share with them.

The psalmist sings of the importance of the mind. The struggle for our lives begins with our minds. Let’s think a little about how our minds get “tied” up in things. Our minds meditate on various thoughts of differing degrees of truth and value. A running back for the Eagles needs to know the offensive playbook thoroughly; it would be a waste of time for me to learn it, if I could. No one needs to know how to tell a lie, because we all are supposed to tell the truth. However, everyone should know how to be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. From our thoughts, we form ideas—about God, ourselves, morals, etc., which control our viewpoints on life. Out of our ideas come our feelings or emotions, whether love, fear, joy, hope, etc. Our ideas and emotions join to determine the decisions we make

Everyone is giving and taking advice from others through various channels, such as friendship, books, movies, magazines, TV and radio talk shows, web pages, blogs, social media, schools, churches, and so on. Have you ever mistakenly said to someone, “I’d like to lose a few pounds.” What do you instantly hear—a ton of advice about diets and exercise, especially if that person has actually been successful about losing some weight! Giving advice is okay. Christians are called to be counselors. I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14). However, be sure that the advice you give is true and workable.

The Lord warns us about evil counsel. Sinful advice will affect your life in three ways. First, it will provide you wrong ideas to think about (“counsel of the ungodly”). Second, it will shape your behavior (“the way of sinners”). And third, it will change whom you feel you belong to (“seat of mockers”). Your attitude toward people will change. Where you drop your anchor is where your boat is going to end up.

To consider this a slightly different way, the psalmist paints of a picture of what happens to a person. If you listen to ungodly advice, you will shift to an ungodly lifestyle, which will result in attitudes that are far from God. A mocker is a person farthest from the point of having a change of mind (repentance). Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part One)

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (NIV).

As I write, we are in the second week of preseason football. In our locality, that means the Philadelphia Eagles, and I’m sure that every Eagle’s fan has a great desire to see them win. There is certainly nothing wrong in becoming a little enthusiastic about a sporting event, provided that you don’t let that control your life! Hopefully, the Eagles will have a successful season, although they face determined opponents; if they do, we will celebrate their victory.

God has given us many desires. The desire for victory is just one of them. God has made us to enjoy many things—food, water, beauty, rest, and so on. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV). Our problem is not that we want to enjoy what God has given us for our enjoyment, but it is that we have too narrow an interest in what we want to enjoy, and far too often, we want to enjoy forbidden pleasures—things and activities that distract from God’s glory and ruin us—what the Bible calls sin. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

In a few articles, I want to direct our attention to holy desires. I call them holy desires, not to give the impression that some good things and actions are sacred and others secular, but because this psalm presents a desire for what is good in contrast to what is wicked. The First Psalm provides a series of contrasts between those who follow the Lord by faith and those who reject him and live according to human wisdom. What we want to focus on is the contrast between the godly and the ungodly regarding counsel or advice.

God wants us to live happy lives. We need to give an important clarification. When I say that the Lord God wants us to live happy lives, I am far from suggesting that the worthiness of a thought, word, action, or thing is determined by whether or not it makes you and me happy. Worthiness and holiness is always determined by God’s holiness and glory, whether we happen to like something or not. We know what God’s glory and holiness is from the Bible, God’s message. I am sure that the apostles totally disliked the experience of being flogged, but they came to know a greater joy in suffering for the glory of Jesus Christ. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41 NIV).

The correct nature of this statement is revealed through the many times that God in the Scriptures marks out for us what a happy life is.

  • Many statements in the Psalms – 1:2; 2:12; 32:1-2; 34:8; 40:4; 41:1-2; 65:4; 84:4-5, 12; 89:15; 94:12; 106:3; 112:1; 119:1-2; 128:1
  • The teaching of Jesus – Mt 5:3-12; 16:17; Lk 6:20-23; 11:28

Do we have a correct understanding of God? He really wants what is for our good. God knows where human happiness can be found, since he knows everything, he designed us to rejoice in God’s glory, and he tells us how we can have happy lives. Will we believe God?

Grace and peace, David

VBS and Bible Memorization

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters (Psalm 24:1-2 NIV).

I am in the process of trying out a Bible app on my cellphone. So far, I like it. From the title, you can see that is not my subject. After a month, I have read Genesis and most of Exodus, along with a daily reading from the Psalms. The other day, it was Psalm 24.

As I read this great psalm, I remembered the first time that I can recall hearing that psalm. My cousin Kevin lived in the house next door. Someone invited us to attend Vacation Bible School (VBS) and offered to give us a ride there and back. At this point, you must understand that my family attended a Regular Baptist Church and my cousin’s family attended an Assembly of God. Almost everyone else in our neighborhood was Roman Catholic, and before Vatican II, they weren’t allowed to attend other churches. This VBS was at a Mennonite Church in the next town. Our parents agreed, and we were set for a great adventure.

On a Monday morning, Mr. Miller arrived to pick us up for VBS. When they built a new elementary school up our road a couple years later, he became its principal. “Oh no! I’m riding to school with a teacher!” One day at school, he had to apply “the board of education” to my “seat of learning”. I’m not sure if I confessed my transgression to my parents, because my dad had warned me that any spankings in school would merit a repeat performance at home. But I digress. Anyway, in Mr. Miller’s car, my boisterous cousin and I were prepared for a “cross-cultural religious experience”, because even young boys understood that Mennonites were neither Pentecostal nor Baptist.

At VBS, we did the usual stuff, including a sign-in with cheerful greeters. Here I met my first cross-cultural experience. The women were wearing doilies on their heads! This was definitely not a Baptist church! But I survived the culture shock, and went in for the opening program, which probably involved several children’s songs. But I don’t remember that. I don’t remember the Bible story or even if they had a missionary story, which was a standard part of a Baptist VBS! I don’t even remember the cookies and juice that have been the normal snack in VBSs everywhere since the beginning of time.

I remember two things. One was playing some version of “King of the Mountain” on a small hill outside the church building. I can assure you that Kevin and I enjoyed that, because we loved to wrestle and wreak havoc. I do remember a lady with a doily urging us to memorize Psalm 24, which was the Bible passage for the week. “You need to memorize God’s word.” How many times I was told that as a child! How many times I didn’t listen to that counsel, I can’t count. But somehow, at that country church for a week in the summer, I learned most of Psalm 24.

I still remember it, though I’ve used different Bible translations since the early seventies. The early learning of God’s word stays with you over the years. The Holy Spirit uses the Holy Scriptures to change us, and the memorized word becomes an always near resource. My advice is to memorize Bible verses and passages when you are young. When you’re old, it’s hard to recall where you put your keys, to say nothing of memorizing verses. I’ve been telling our seven-month-old granddaughter verses already. One of them is 1 Corinthians 13:4a; it’s a verse available for all to see as soon as they enter our apartment. Love is patient, love is kind (NIV). Hide God’s word as a treasure in your heart. Think about what Paul wrote to Timothy: And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15 NIV). Try to hide a verse of God’s word in your heart this weekend.

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part Four)

SAMSUNG

Hebrews 6:12

So that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance (CSB).

The Christian way of life is a life of learning. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a learner of him and also of his people. The second can be valuable because of the union of the Lord Jesus and his people. We are “in him” and he is in us. The Spirit of God develops the character of Christ in us, so that his words, ideas, attitudes, and actions become ours. This happens in everyone who knows the Lord, which points to the value that we can gain as we learn from his people. All have significance as examples through their union with Christ and the transforming work of the Spirit. Consider how Paul commended the Macedonian churches to the Corinthians in the matter of giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).

The Spirit uses various methods to accomplish his purpose of developing the character of Jesus in us. For example, he uses the Scriptures and people teaching them. The Spirit wants us to understand that he also uses the examples of other followers of the Lord. Later in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer will present numerous examples of faith (Hebrews 11). James writes of the faith that worked of Abraham and Rahab, the endurance of Job, and the prayers of Elijah. Such believers provide models or patterns of faith and other graces that we are to imitate. Think of how John pointed out the good example of Demetrius (3 John 11-12).

  • God himself is worthy of our imitation. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children (Ephesians 5:1 ESV; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6). This involves our consecration to God and his purposes. But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV, my emphasis). This is one of the core principles of godliness. We are to be set apart to God and what pleases him.
  • We are to imitate spiritual leaders like Paul. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV; cf. 4:16). Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7 NIV). The essential prerequisite is that they themselves are imitating Christ. We ought to see Christ-likeness in them and imitate it.
  • We should also imitate local churches. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14 NIV). Yes, entire local groups of believers are to show forth the power of faith in God. Churches have been far too content to drift along, coddling the spiritually lazy and weak, when they ought to be aiming for strong faith in their whole assembly.

Who are the “model believers” from whom you learn faith, love, hope, joy, peace, and goodness? You need such people on the pilgrim way. Are you a model for others? Can you challenge your brothers and sisters in Christ to imitate you? How is the Spirit of God making you a better example now? What fresh ways of godliness is he forming in your words, ideas, attitudes, and actions? May you have the joy of seeing him form Christ in you more clearly the rest of this month!

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part Three)

Hebrews 6:12

So that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance (CSB).

I grew up in northeast Ohio. Summers there are very warm to hot, filled with thunderstorms, and mosquitos. I enjoyed going fishing with my dad in the evenings. When we went, we made sure we used mosquito repellant. Our “bug spray” of choice was “6-12”, which was pulled off the market in 1991. Without it, we could not have gone to the ponds and small streams that are ubiquitous in northeast Ohio. So “6-12” is ensconced in my memory.

Our text is a “6:12” that we need to remember, though it is much neglected. It sounds too difficult to our self-indulgent flesh: So that you won’t become lazy. Laziness is pandemic; only a few escape it. Few desire to avoid its embrace. Laziness can feel very appealing, especially when we’re stressed, tired, and aging. Exertion is difficult. Diligence (6:11) is hard work, as said in the previous article on these verses. We tend to view it as the opposite of comfort. I have an alarm set on my fitness watch to tell me to get at least 250 steps an hour to avoid sitting for too long. It just went off to remind me to get up and walk. We need this part of Hebrews 6:12 as an alarm to avoid spiritual laziness. We need to pray, rather than to be lazy. We ought to read and meditate on God’s written words instead of being lazily distracted. We need to turn off the television or similar media devices and exert ourselves to be with people.

You see, laziness disrupts a pilgrim way of life. Laziness soothes us with smooth words. “You work so hard; you have so many responsibilities. ‘Couch potato Christianity’ is very acceptable for someone like you who is so overwhelmed.” I write these words, not as a workaholic, but as a pastor who wants us to grow in diligence about our own souls and the good of others. We will not help others if we are lazy. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10 NIV). This requires prayer, time, and work, all of which are contrary to laziness.

Certainly, we all need to make proper investments in rest and relaxation. But I rarely have to convince people about their need to have “R&R”. The writer of Hebrews warns us all about being careless and overinvolved is ourselves. What will we do? Will we look for opportunities to serve one another in love? Or will we excuse ourselves yet again from the partnership with other believers? “Spray this 6:12” on your soul; it will help keep the mosquitoes of spiritual laziness off you.

Grace and peace, David

Evil Questioners

Matthew 22:15-40

In our Bible studies, we encourage people to ask questions. This increases understanding, as people explore the passage or subject under discussion. Hopefully, they learn how to put the teaching into effect in their way of life. We ought to always remember that the teaching of the word is not simply to gain factual knowledge, but to increase wisdom and the personal application of the Word to our lives. We also should remember that doing is much more important than knowing. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22 CSB). It is good to memorize Matthew six, but it is better not to worry and to trust God.

In our text, Jesus received three questions from people whose motives were evil. They spoke evil from the evil in their hearts (Matthew 12:34). None of them wanted to learn, so that they could repent (change their minds) and then live for the glory of God and good of others. Their goal was to make trouble for Jesus. Let’s look at each.

The first group tried to cause political problems for Jesus (22:15-22). The question concerned paying taxes to the Roman emperor. They attempted to soften him up with flattery. It seemed that either way that Jesus answered, he would have serious problems. If he said yes, the Jewish zealots could condemn him as traitorous, and he would lose the support of the crowds. If he said no, the Romans could condemn him as rebellious, and the Romans had a habit of crucifying Jewish rebels. Jesus’ answer put the burden on them. Would they fulfill their duty as Caesar’s subjects? More importantly, would they give themselves to God?

The second group tried to embarrass Jesus with a question that seemed that any answer would make him look ridiculous (22:23-33). They presented an improbable scenario from the inheritance laws of the law covenant to make the idea of a resurrection appear unbelievable. (The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, 22:23.) Jesus responded that they were the ones with two serious problems. First, they didn’t know the power of God to resurrect people and to provide them with a higher level of life. Second, they didn’t know the Scriptures. Jesus took them to the account of the burning bush, in which God said I am (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though all had died hundreds of years previously.) How could they be religious leaders if they did not believe in God’s power and word?

The third group tried to drag Jesus into religious controversy (22:34-40). That the Pharisee had an evil intent is made known by the word “test” (22:35). The rabbis held a variety of opinions about the greatest command in the Torah. Whatever answer Jesus gave might entangle him in debates with the other rabbis and their followers, causing Jesus to be discredited as a prophet in the eyes of the people. This time Jesus answered in a way that exposed them to discreditation. If they denied the first great command, they would be denying God’s supremacy. If they denied the second, well, Jesus had already taught them a few lessons on their need to love their neighbors and show mercy to them.

It is good to ask questions, if we desire to know and love God, his word, and people better. It is evil to ask questions that attempt to show up the teacher or to entrap him. And let’s ask ourselves, “Why do I want this question answered? Do I want to see Biblical change occur in my life? Do I want to walk in love? Do I have a teachable spirit, or am I trying to show off?”

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part Two)

Hebrews 6:11

Now we desire each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the full assurance of your hope until the end (CSB).

Our subject is the Christian way of life. We are on a journey from this world to the heavenly city. God has provided great helps to us on the journey. We have his word to tell us the story of his glory and to set forth wisdom in the light of that story. The Spirit of God is our ever-present Friend to provide the presence of Christ, power to serve, and purity of life, and passion to communicate with God (cf. Romans 8:9-17). We also have brothers and sisters in Christ and their gifts for mutual benefit. With all these benefits, our progress to the city of God might seem to be automatic.

However, spiritual leaders understand that those in their local assembly need to demonstrate diligence. In the previous verse, the initial readers of this book were commended for demonstrating work and love as they served the saints. (A saint is someone set apart for God, which means a follower of and believer in Christ.) The Lord does not hesitate to congratulate people for diligence in their works of faith, hope, and love (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Diligence is a quality that people admire from a safe distance. For the third year in a row, the NBA Finals will feature two teams that have battled for the championship. Each has won once. They will compete again because they have great talent, but they also have diligence, which is indispensable to win a championship. Diligence involves hard work, commitment to a goal, endurance of hardships, and the ability to resolve conflicts. People admire the diligence of these two teams, but most don’t want to pay the price of diligence, especially the first two “four letter words”: hard work.

Diligence on our spiritual journey is not a casual stroll in the park. Yes, it is a life of joy and peace, but those blessings come as we “walk with the Lord, in the light of his word”. Diligence is required in the following ways:

  • Prayer (individually, with one’s spouse/family, with other saints)
  • Reading of the Scriptures
  • Putting sin to death
  • Putting on God’s armor and spiritual graces
  • Meeting together
  • Sharing your faith

All these can seem overwhelming, and they are unless you believe in their importance, make them a priority, and build them into your life. Trade less important things for matters of spiritual and eternal importance. Value people more than things and personal entertainment. A holiday weekend is an opportunity to reflect. As you enjoy life with family and friends, set apart some time to evaluate your spiritual diligence and how you can change according to this verse.

Grace and peace, David

A Principle of Trust

Isaiah 31:1

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord (NIV).

We all are dependent. Self-sufficiency is a myth clung to by those who have failed to think deeply about life. We all receive help from others in many ways. Crises can unmask live-shaking experiences of this reality, but our need for trust is constant. For a common example (for those over fifty!), I just received a message to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. I trust that the pharmacist puts the correct medication in the bottle. I also trust the prescribing physician, the drug manufacturer, etc.

More pressing needs, like severe illnesses and terrorism, compel people to exercise faith, to pray. Or perhaps they do. Our text teaches that people seek other solutions besides trust in the Lord. Israel, God’s old covenant people, serves as a teaching example for us in the new covenant age (cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:5, 11). Isaiah spoke to Israel’s desperate situation. Strong nations encircled them, and they had an obvious need for protection from attacks and conquest by foreign powers. Need was not their problem or ours. God knows what we need. (See Matthew six.) It was what to do about the need. This brings us to a principle of faith.

  • We need to avoid attractive, plausible alternatives. In Israel’s situation, the substitute for trust in God was to go down to Egypt for help. What made the alternative appealing was the power they could see, rather than the greater power that was invisible. Horses, chariots, and horsemen could be seen. Today, people depend on military might, on wealth and prosperity, on people of skill, and on the latest technology. Part of our difficulty is that we get caught up in the latest and greatest. For example, “Don’t give me an iPhone 4; it’s not even functional. I have an iPhone 7, but there’s so much it can’t do. I need the next version soon!” We long for what we can see with more power. We spiral down and away from God.
  • We ought to understand God’s judgment on those who go down to Egypt for help. The Spirit of the Lord gave a terse verdict on those who put their trust in other things: Woe. It was a course of action that was doomed, that the Sovereign Lord would ensure was doomed. The Spirit wanted them to see the “poison” label and shun the alternative. To seek other help besides the Lord invites God’s judgment and ruin into our lives. What might look like a good solution becomes the portal to deeper and more destructive consequences.
  • We should act in the way of God’s wisdom: look to the Holy One of Israel and seek help from the Lord. What is the point? From many passages in the Bible, it is clear that we are to use human means, since they are all gifts from God. So, this verse is not teaching some sort of passivity in which we do nothing. Instead, the Lord wants us to seek him first and to rely on him in the use of proper means. Yes, go to the doctor, take your medicine, and get proper rest and exercise. But first, depend on the living God for your health and other needs. We are to actively trust: seek help from the Lord.

The question is, “Will we trust in the Lord first in our next predicament?” God wants us to desire him first and above all. This is an important principle of trusting God.

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part Two)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

In our previous article on this text, we saw that the apostle Paul concluded the teaching part of the letter to the Romans with a prayer. He began the prayer with worship and then stated his request for his brothers and sisters in Christ in Rome. In this request, we discover what the Christian life should be like. Joy and peace are two substantial parts of God’s righteous kingdom. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval (Romans 14:17-18 NIV). Paul prayed that his readers would have a large amount of joy and peace. It would be a strange cake that lacked flour and sugar. It is even stranger to live as a follower of Christ and show only little peace and little joy.

Both joy in God and peace of conscience arise from a practical awareness of justification. (cf. Romans 5:1-2). Peace with God is the foundation for the peace of God in one’s life. There is still spiritual progress to be made from the time of justification, what Peter calls growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). We cannot become more right with God, but we can have a richer experience of his great joy and peace.

Paul did not neglect the importance of faith in the Christian life. It is good to pray, but there must be more than prayer. We must pray in faith. Prayer without faith is a dead, meaningless ritual. Prayer with faith is living and dynamic. Consider prayer for the sick. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5:15 NIV). Faith must have the correct object: as you trust in him. We live as Christians when we take our eyes off ourselves and look on Christ (Ephesian 3:12). We need to live according to what someone called “Pioneer theology”. For example, do you view Christ as the sheriff who is out to get the settlers in town if they break the rules, or as the scout whom you gladly want to follow on the journey to heaven?

In the third part of the prayer, Paul declared his purpose. He wanted them to reflect the character of God. This is the goal of the new creation. Cf. Ephesians 4:24: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (NIV). Let’s rid ourselves of small outlooks. Paul requested overflowing hope! Who would use an old, battered, sputtering push lawn mower if he had a new lawn tractor in the garage? Can you imagine the sweating fellow saying, “I console myself during my frustrations with the thoughts of the better one in the garage.” Silly guy! Use the new one!

The means is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All progress in likeness to God is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. As we by his grace become confident of treasures in heaven, we will become better witnesses of Christ. His divine power is required in our growth in grace. He makes the new self that we are in Christ advance against the remnants of sin and conquer them. Some view the work of the Holy Spirit in the wrong way. They think his job is to make them feel comfortable with the status quo. But his goal is to stir us up so that we overcome the world by grace that is found in Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this hope? It will serve as an anchor to the soul, to keep it safe and steady, during life’s storms and tempests. To the degree that this prayer is answered in reference to any individual Christian, to that degree he or she will be holy, happy, useful, and full of love and good works. The same is true for a local church. As it is made up of people who are overflowing with hope, so it will grow and multiply. It will then be pure, peaceful and energetic “for promoting the glory of God and the happiness of mankind” (Brown).

Grace and peace, David