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Faith on the Frontline

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“Faith on the Frontline” IDOP 2005. Romans 15:30-33

Romans 15:30-33 30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; 31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; 32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Before US forces converged on Fallujah, in Iraq, 35 marines swayed to music and asked Jesus Christ to protect them. Men with buzz cuts and clad in their camouflage waved their hands in the air, M-16 assault rifles laying beside them, and chanted lyrics in praise of Jesus Christ in a yellow-brick chapel. They counted among thousands of troops surrounding the city of Fallujah, seeking solace as they awaited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's decision on whether or not to invade Fallujah, with many soldiers coming from the conservative American south and Midwest, have deep Christian roots. In times when fighting looms, many soldiers draw on their faith to help them face the battle. This month, car bombs at two Baghdad churches and at a hospital treating the victims of those attacks, killed at least eight people and wounded dozens. Victims of the blasts outside the churches were carried by injured friends or relatives in torn and bloodstained clothes and rushed to the Yarmouk hospital. Theirs is “Faith on the Frontline”

Paul in his account of events in Romans 15, is writing to Roman Christians. He expresses his affection and longing for them and promises them that he will visit Spain, but first he must return to Jerusalem.

In the meantime, he requests their prayers, for a very difficult assignment, at the frontlines of the battle.

In our world, the name of Jesus Christ causes division and, all too often, suffering. From North Korea, Eritrea, Columbia to Sri Lanka, Christians are jailed, isolated, beaten and even murdered for their faith.

"In some places," says Elizabeth Kendal, a spokeswoman for the WEA Religious Liberty Commission, "there is 'active persecution,' where authorities are involved and persecution is systematic, operating in accordance with discriminatory and oppressive laws. In other places there is 'passive persecution,' where persecution occurs at the community level.

Christians in some countries are protected from severe persecution by good government and the rule of law, Kendal adds. "In countries where human rights are not respected, Christians lack protection and persecutors appear to have unofficial permission to act with impunity."

So what can people who enjoy religious freedom do to help those who are persecuted?

This week is the IDOP and we consider the nature of “Faith on the Frontline”. Right now around the world over 200 million are suffering for their faith. Today, on November 21, 2004,  we join with Christians all over Canada and in over 130 countries to stand with our suffering sisters and brothers and pray for God's peace and grace in the midst of suffering and hostility; pray for the physical needs and safety of suffering Christians and their families; pray for the persecutors; and thank God for His faithfulness in the midst of tribulation.

How does Romans 15 relate to our Purpose of this week: First we see the focus in Paul’s Purpose

Rom 15:30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit,

A person who fulfills a divine calling is one who has a clear purpose in his service for the Lord. The preposition for has the sense of “on behalf of,” or “with regard to.Now I beseech/urge you introduces the exhortation to the readers to pray for his protection and ministry. Before giving that exhortation, Paul declared unequivocally that the overriding purpose for his request was to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ø      We focus on the IDOP for the purpose of Glorifying God. When we unite in prayer with our brothers and sisters who suffer, we recognize who is in control and there is a purpose in the events of their suffering.

Please turn to 2 Cor 4

Paul told the believers at Corinth, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23), which is to say for Christ’s sake, the source and power of the gospel. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).

2 Corinthians 4:5,11 5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. 11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

Now over to Chapter 12

2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

In his closing remarks to the Galatian churches Paul wrote, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).

And to the Philippians he said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

The faithful Christian witnesses for the sake of those who need the Lord and he serves for the sake of those who need help, but his supreme motive always should be to serve His Lord and Savior, in whose name and by whose power he ministers to others.

 

Paul rejoiced in the fact that, if he succeeded in reaching Jerusalem with the contribution of the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, Christ would be glorified, within the church and before the on looking world.

For Paul, the Lord would be glorified by the willing and loving generosity of the Gentile contributors as well as by the grateful reception of the gift by the Jews to whom it was sent. Christ is always honored and glorified when His church is unified in His name and in His service.

Ø      Perhaps you read this week of the father who lost his pregnant wife and seven children in a fire, who could testify to God’s comfort in the midst of suffering. His testimony to God’s provision even while unexpectedly taking his family from him shouts before a sleeping world of the power of God.

Not only did Paul minister on behalf of the glory of Christ but also for the sake of the love of the Spirit. This phrase and the idea it expresses are not found elsewhere in Scripture. The context, however, seems to indicate that Paul was speaking of his love for the Spirit.

Devotion to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and love for His Holy Spirit should be the foremost and ultimate motive for all Christian living and service. In gratitude for the divine grace by which Christ saved us and for the divine power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, everything we think, say, and do should express our love for them and bring Him glory and honor.

We have seen What our Purpose should be, now we see an example for: Prayer

Rom 15:30 (Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit), that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;

Paul now urges his fellow believers in Rome to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.

Ø      The most important thing we can do for our suffering brothers and sisters is ferverant prayer.

 

Sunagoµnizomai (to strive together) is an intensified form of agoµnizomai, which means to intensely struggle, fight, or yearn in petition and is the term from which we get the English “agonize.” The word was originally used of athletic events, especially gymnastics, in which contestants, such as wrestlers or boxers, struggled against each other.

For “Faith on the Frontline”, Prayer is the battle. Sometimes the “opponent” is our unredeemed flesh, which continues to wage “war against the law of [our] mind, and [makes us] a prisoner of the law of sin which is in [our] members” (Rom. 7:23).

Please turn to Colossians 2

Prayer is always, in one way or another, a struggle against sin and evil, whether in us or around us. Paul’s struggle on behalf of believers at Colossae and Laodicea doubtless included many hours of agonizing prayer on their behalf, that:

Colossians 2:1-4 For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; 2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

Then over to Chapter 4

Near the end of that letter, Paul sent greetings from Epaphras, who was from their fellowship:

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.  

Our finite minds cannot reconcile the power of prayer with God’s absolute sovereignty. As with the Trinity, and many other clearly revealed but humanly unfathomable teachings of Scripture, we simply acknowledge their absolute truth. Any seeming inconsistencies are due to the limits of our human comprehension. We know from His own Word that God is sovereign and immutable. Yet we also know from that same Word that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). Or as we studied last week:

Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.

  • In dealing with suffering it does become hard to reconcile the sovereign God of the universe, with the suffering of his saints. But as we will see there is a purpose in the suffering to actually show the sovereign God of the universe through the suffering of his saints.

Although Paul asks for protection while in Judea, in this present passage Paul is not speaking primarily about struggling in prayer against the forces of evil. His emphasis here is rather on earnestly struggling along with his brethren in Rome in their prayers to God for him.

He makes many similar requests in his letters. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit,” he counsels the Ephesians, “and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf” (Eph. 6:18–19).

During his first imprisonment in Rome, he implored the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well” (Col. 4:2–3). In his second letter to Thessalonica, he said, “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1).

In dealing with persecuted brothers and sisters we can see a Purpose, Prayer and now:

Prayer for our suffering brothers and sisters should be for Safety, Success, & Satisfaction:

Safety

31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe (Disobedient) in Judaea;, (15:31a)

Disobedient is from apeitheoµ, which carries the basic idea of being obstinate and unpersuadable. In this context it refers to Jews who obstinately refused to believe the gospel and therefore were disobedient to God, whose Son, the Messiah, they rejected. It is therefore rendered “do not believe” in the King James Version. The same verb is translated “disbelieved” in Acts 14:2 (NASB), referring to Jews who “stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren,” specifically, Paul and Barnabas (see 13:50).

From the time that Paul first “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’ ” (Acts 9:20), Paul was marked for death by Jewish leaders in Damascus (v. 23) and shortly afterwards by Jews in Jerusalem when he began preaching the gospel there (v. 30). By the time he wrote the letter to Rome, he already had endured ridicule, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, and even stoning by Jews who fiercely opposed him and the gospel he preached (see, e.g., 2 Cor. 11:23–25; Acts 14:19; 18:12; 20:3, 19).

Please turn to Acts 20

Paul’s request to be delivered was not for the purpose of his being spared further persecution or even death. He unselfishly wanted to be delivered only to the extent necessary for him to complete the ministry the Lord had given him.

While his ship laid over at Miletus, he told the elders from Ephesus who came out to meet him:

Acts 20:22-24 22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.  24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul’s prayer request to be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea was therefore answered positively, to the extent that the unbelieving Jews in Judea were not allowed to take his life, yet he was beaten and imprisoned.

Prayer for our suffering brothers and sisters should be for Safety, and now: Success

that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; (15:31b)

Paul’s second prayer request was that, regardless of what dangers might befall him, his service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints. In other words, he wanted his ministry to benefit the Lord’s people there. He was not concerned for what might be called professional success. He once warned the Galatian believers that, “Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.… For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:8, 10).

Because he and his Gentile companions from Macedonia and Achaia were bringing a financial contribution to the church at Jerusalem, which was still largely Jewish, the service which Paul mentions doubtless referred, at least in part, to that offering. He wanted the saints in Rome to pray with him that the gift would not offend Jewish believers in Jerusalem but rather would prove acceptable to the saints there. He wanted it to be received with loving gratitude for what it was, a gesture of brotherly love and conciliation. It could have been seen as a bribe, and only have intensified the hostility.

Paul himself had persecuted the church in Jerusalem. He knew the dangers. He knew that there were memories that could now stand in the way of his ministry to this church.

He was aware of how intensely he was hated by the Jews. They saw him as a Jewish renegade and heretic who was teaching a disastrous theology and undermining Judaism.

Does prayer work? Yes, in the sense that it changes us. But it also works in the sense that it is God’s appointed means to spiritual victory and right ends.

Charles Hodge wrote in connection with these verses. “Prayer (even intercessory prayer) has real and important efficacy; not merely in its influence on the mind of him who offers it, but also in securing the blessing for which we pray”.

Paul’s prayer for success in Jerusalem also was answered. “When we had come to Jerusalem,” Luke says, “the brethren received us gladly.… And after [Paul] had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God” (Acts 21:17, 19–20).

Prayer for our suffering brothers and sisters should be for Safety, Success and now: Satisfaction

32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed (and find refreshing rest in your company). (15:32a, c)

In the closing comments of his first letter to Corinth, he said, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and others (Fortunatus and Achaicus); because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours” (1 Cor. 16:17–18). He rejoiced in the blessings and joy of others. “Besides our comfort,” he later wrote to the same church, “we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Cor. 7:13).

Ø      The greatest earthly comfort that persecuted Christians express in knowing that those who are not in chaines, pray for them. They do indeed express it as a refreshment of their sprit.

Again we note that above all else, Paul was committed unalterably to the will of God.

When the believers at Caesarea begged Paul not to continue on to Jerusalem because of the dangers he would face there, he responded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13; cf. 20:24). What happened to him was unimportant, as long as he was following the Lord’s will in doing the Lord’s work.

For us this becomes the summary of our prayers and hope:

Matthew 6:9-13 9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Ø      For our persecuted brothers and sisters we can pray for Safety, Success and Satisfaction, but ultimately we must pray that God be honored and his Holy will be done.

Benediction

Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. (15:33)

God is the source of all true peace, the peace “which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7). In fact, “He himself is our peace, who made both groups,” Jews and Gentiles, “into one” (Eph. 2:14; cf. vv. 11–13).

Apart from close communion with him there is no peace. Basic to it is reconciliation with God through the death of his son.

The person who has been thus reconciled has the inner assurance that past sins are forgiven, present events are being overruled for good, and in the future nothing will be able to separate him from the love of God in Christ.

On the human level, Paul’s life as an apostle was far from peaceful. As far as outward particulars were concerned, he lived in uncertainty and often turmoil. He was under almost continual threat against his physical safety and life.

His enemies saw him and stirred up the masses of the people

Acts 21:28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

The last charge was untrue but it was effective in causing the people to seize Paul and try to kill him.

But he knew intimately the God of peace, and he lived himself in the peace and settled tranquillity that God gives to those who faithfully abide in His will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor murdered for his faith in a WWII concentration camp, wrote in The Cost of Discipleship that “in Jesus Christ his followers have witnessed the kingdom of God breaking in on the earth. They have seen Satan crushed and the powers of the world – sin, and death – broken”. Bonhoeffer knew painfully that God’s kingdom is still exposed to suffering and strife. We long for the day when:

Revelation 7:9 Revelation 7:9-15 9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Amen., May it be so.

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