On the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested He spent time encouraging and praying with His disciples. In Chapter 17, verses 1-5 Jesus prayed for Himself, in verses 6-19 He prayed for His disciples, and in verses 20-26 He prayed for you. Yes, He prayed for you! Jesus specifically beseeched His Father on our behalf, praying into the future for all those who would come to a place of saving faith in Him by way of the Gospel Message. Think of it…before you knew Him, Jesus was praying for you.
Born again…other than Jesus, only Peter used this term in the New Testament. But as Christians, it’s a very common label we give to someone who has accepted Jesus into their life. But to the unbeliever it’s very foreign sounding. Kind of like Nicodemus’s confusion when Jesus told him the only way to see the kingdom of God was to be born again. (John 3:3-7) Or as a bewildered Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old?” So the term Spiritual Rebirth might be an easier way to explain it. Peter brought clarity to the term when he wrote, “In God’s great mercy He’s given us new birth into living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.” (I Peter 1:3) Or as we read in Titus 3:5… we are saved through the washing of rebirth and renewal through Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus very frequently going off by Himself to pray. “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place.” (Luke 4:42) “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22-23) So what can we learn from His example here? But more importantly, why should we implement it into our own lives? Jesus sought out secluded areas to be alone with God…away from the noise, confusion, and distractions of the world….with nothing to draw His mind away. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? That’s because quiet solitude with God, far from the busyness, chaos, and racket of everyday life, can be life changing to a stale, stalled, or nonexistent prayer life. Try it today. Get off by yourself somewhere quiet and pray…just you and God.
The meaning of the type of judgment used here is about our private opinions. It’s about quickly pronouncing judgment using such high standards and criteria that we ourselves can’t adhere to them…rather than taking the time to ask questions and gain knowledge first. For as prideful humans, we’d rather judge, slander, and speak against each other than to offer grace. But Romans 2:1 warns us, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” It’s the old adage of the pot calling the kettle black…none of us have the right to judge, only God can …or as Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, “It is the Lord Who judges me.”
As Job lamented earlier in this Book, “Man is born to trouble and hardship.” (Job 5:7) That’s because we live in a very broken world…filled with calamity, destruction, and suffering. Thus trouble can overtake any of us, at any time, whether we’re a Believer or not…simply because of sin in the world. But also, the misery, and hardship we encounter can be self-inflicted by wrong thinking and bad decisions. We are then sold as an indentured servant or slave to the ruler of our own sin nature. But Isaiah 40:2 exhorts us that our hard service has been completed and our sins have been paid for…that we are no longer slaves to sin anymore, but sons and daughters of the Most High God.
When we’re caught up in the consequences of our own sinful behavior, we can go one of two ways. We can blame God for the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, and refuse to take responsibility for our own actions. And instead complain, whine, and argue with God about how unfair things are. Or as it says in Job, “God, what are You doing?” But when we realize that blaming God for our own sinful actions will get us nowhere and we’re just receiving the fruit of our defiant disobedience, we can repent and ask for forgiveness. And if we do, that’s when God can move on our behalf…or as Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called to His purpose.”
To be very honest with you, I don’t know how I would have made it this far without the Lord’s strength. He has become my shield, my refuge, my song, and the strength of my heart. And as I journey through life in this foreign land, undergirded by His strength, I have become but a wayfarer seeking after Him…resolutely setting my heart and mind on things above…and turning my face towards Zion. (Jeremiah 50:4-5)
God first loved us, so much that He sent His only Son to die on the cross in our place…and now we are commanded to take that love He showed us and love one another. (John 15:17) And as we abide in this love, it realizes its objective. For if we love one another, “God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” (I John 4:12) But it takes faith and obedience on our part to truly love one another with the Agape love God first loved us with…for human beings are very unlovable creatures. We’re deceptive, selfish, and full of pride, and would much rather love ourselves than someone else. But in order to be in right fellowship with our Heavenly Father and hold fast to the hope of eternal life…we must love one another.
The early Church wasn’t just a place that people gathered for a couple of hours on Sunday and then was empty the rest of the week. It was a community meeting place that teemed with people coming and going all the time…each with a variety of problems. It was not a place where spiritual needs were met only, but both physical, and emotional as well. This holistic approach integrated and treated the whole person, not separate parts…people caring for the spiritual as well as the medical needs of their fellow Believers. The other interesting bit of this Scripture is the Greek word for “elder” in this passage…Ekklesia is not limited to the Office of Elders in the Church…it also refers to men and women of a ripe old age and experience, that are full of wisdom and sage advice who can pray with people and minister unto the Lord for His glory.
No matter where you are in your Christian walk or how long you’ve been saved, the stark truth is – you once used to follow the ways of the world. You were unresponsive spiritually to the things of God…satisfying the desires of the flesh…disobedient and rebellious. At one time or another, we were all lost and doomed to God’s righteous judgment. And that’s what Paul is telling us here…we are just sinners saved by grace, and we can’t forget that, or become smug and prideful…especially when we interact with unbelievers. There is not one righteous among us…we are all beggars looking for bread.