First Thessalonians 1

“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 1 (ESV)

Side NOTE: The background for the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, from Scripture, seems to be in Acts 17:1-9. And based upon that portion of Acts, and Paul’s usage of the plural in the last sentence of verse 5 (and some brief internet searches) it seems that “Silvanus” named above may very likely be “Silas” from the book of Acts. As I do not yet read the original Greek fluently, I’ll leave that observation there for what it is.

It is interesting how Paul is always about thanking God for the saints whom he knows and knows of. And it is encouraging and/or useful (I think) that his thankfulness often stems from a very practical/personal interaction element of how he came to know or be with the group his Epistle is written to. In the case of the Thessalonians he remembers broadly their “work of faith,” “labor of love,” and “steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ.” And from the account given to us in Acts 17, these aspects of the Thessalonians may be all the more intense for Paul due to the relatively small group that were initially saved there and subsequently persecuted by the Jews.

The second thing that jumps out at me in the beginning of this Epistle is Paul’s persistent consistency in using language that puts the impetus on God in the matter of salvation. Although he does not go into the depth he did in the Epistle to the Ephesians, it is undeniable that Paul believes God chose the particular Thessalonians who believed.

Now, my soteriologically synergistic brethren may be a little agitated at such an observation, however, verse 4 is quite clear. Paul thanks God for the Church at Thessalonica because he knows that they, being loved by God, were chosen by God. And Paul knows this for one reason that is threefold; because the gospel came to them “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

It seems to me that Paul is using Hebrew parallelism in describing his assurance about God’s choosing and saving the Thessalonians – for where does the “power” of the gospel come from but the working of the Spirit to “fully convict” those whom God has chosen for salvation?

And then Paul reminds his readers of “what kind of men” he and Silvanus “proved to be” among them for their sake. It seems here in the latter half of verse 5 that Paul inserts the beginnings of what is an underlying theme of both the Epistles that he wrote to the Thessalonians; and that is something of a Christian “work ethic” or “code of conduct” – if you will. Though this only becomes blatant in 2 Thessalonians (some of them apparently having missed that point) – I do not think it a stretch to see a little of that reasoning in the things that Paul will bring up later in this Epistle.

However, the primary and actual point of Paul mentioning what kind of men he and his companion proved to be was to continue to commend the Thessalonians – and further the list of things he is thanking and “remembering” before God – for their having been imitators of them “and the Lord.”

And in what way does Paul describe them as imitators of Christ? In their receiving the gospel in “much affliction,” being granted joy by the Holy Spirit because of that word and in spite of the affliction – and in so doing being made an example to other believers in nearby regions. And not only a living example, but proclaimers of the gospel of Christ – evidenced from Paul having heard that their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere,” (verse 8).

And subsequently Paul thanks God and encouraged the Thessalonians by including verses 9 and 10. Making it a perfect transition into the underlying themes of both Epistles to the Thessalonians – that of Christian living and the Eschaton.

It will be interesting to see – as we pick up “chapter 2” – how Paul continues with this personal address as he also weaves in teaching and recollections of imitation-worthy examples for how we as Christians should act and think…

For now, I encourage the reader to walk through the entirety of the Epistle in their own private study, and hope my observations have been at least interesting, if not entirely “helpful.”

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Believer’s Authority – Part 4

Continuing a critical examination of Kenneth Hagin’s book: “The Believer’s Authority”

“What is Authority?” – Chapter 2 of “The Believer’s Authority”

Now, to be honest, I could probably write an entire essay on the term “authority” and how it is used in the New Testament (as it relates to the disciple of Christ) – especially in relation to challenging the false assumptions and teachings espoused in pages 15 through 18 of Hagin’s book, The Believer’s Authority. However, I believe that Hagin’s presuppositions and questions are so shallow that anyone with eyes to see can easily point to the holes in his arguments and statements – as far as simple language and reality are concerned – and so I will not bother to waste time on semantics (unless a reader has questions to that effect – in which case, feel free to leave a comment, and we can talk). I will, however, address the passages of Scripture that he references in his second chapter and where necessary I will quote and challenge his conclusions.

So the first passage that Hagin actually quotes at any length and discusses in his second chapter is Luke 10:19

Here is the verse: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”

And here is the verse in context (both are quotations from the ESV):

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” ~ Luke 10:1-24

Again leaving alone the semantics, there are a few interesting things about this section of Holy Writ that I believe should cause anyone to pause before buying the assumptions thrown at us by Hagin.

First there is who the phrase Hagin actually quotes is addressed to, i.e. the seventy-two disciples. Now, judging from Luke’s refrain from using the word “disciple” in reference to “the seventy-two,” (and the way verse 23 begins) I do not think this group included those who would eventually be called the apostles. However, that has little to do with the specifics of this point – aside from the question of why these “seventy-two” never appear again in Scripture, if they were the only ones these words (verse 19) applied to.

My primary hang up on this “who the words were addressed to” point is the phrase “and nothing shall hurt you”… that phrase most obviously – out of everything here – could not have been meant literally/physically as far as it’s broader application goes (I.e. to Christians today)… and, to an extent, at some point the words stopped being true for this group (especially if the apostles were counted among them), because they all eventually died in some manner or another – and the apostles at least (if they were included) were eventually “hurt” in many ways by others, many of them eventually being martyred.

But Hagin makes no attempt in pages 15-18 of his book to deal with these “problems” in the Biblical text. He simply assumes the words apply to him and begins to develop a doctrine entirely based upon that one verse completely removed from its context.

Now, one would think that I’d be happy that a few paragraphs into developing this doctrine he says “God himself is the power behind our authority!” (Which is true, especially in an appropriate understanding of the “authority” spoken of in Luke 10:19) But his next words point out what is wrong with that sentence: “The devil and his forces are obliged to recognize our authority!” (Page 15)

The primary problem with Hagin’s words is his use of “our.” This possessive view of what Jesus spoke of is part of what what Jesus rebukes in verse 20! Although a form of “ownership” (if you will) was involved in what was given to the seventy-two – Jesus left no room for development upon his words, and directed the thoughts of the disciples toward the great goodness of God and His gracious salvation.

But Hagin again fore goes a thoughtful argument for his idea and simply rambles off into a silly illustration about “delegated power” and how police officers exemplify his idea before mentioning Ephesians 6:10(page 16) as if that had anything to do with the false doctrine Hagin was trying to develop.

In the last half of his second chapter, Hagin provided an unverifiable story about himself that he seems to think proved his conclusions. After telling us about a dream and basically demanding that we believe his interpretation of it being a “vision from the Lord” (page 16 & 17) he quotes (in part, mind you) 1 Peter 5:8-9. I believe the entirety of the passage destroys his attempt to twist it to his own ends, so I will quote it for you here:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6-11 (ESV)

NOTE: the reader really should read the entirety of Peter’s first Epistle to have the whole context of what the apostle is saying in the passage above.

One immediate red flag is Hagin’s deliberate omission of the majority of verse 9 in his own quotation of the text(page 17). But anyone can see that Hagin CANNOT quote the text in full and maintain his false doctrine.

First, the rest of verse 9 implies that the original recipients of Peter’s Epistle were experiencing some form of suffering, and they should find comfort in knowing others in the Church suffered similar things. And Peter is using “the devil” as a warning for them to persist in the faith and resist temptation (whether it came directly from Satan or not) because if they did not stand firm, Peter reminds them, the devil (or even sin itself, if we take the analogy from Genesis) prowls around, looking to devour anyone who gives in to temptation… but there is NOTHING in the text that suggests that Peter expects his readers to go around making demands, giving commands, or even actively “battling” the devil to get rid of the suffering that seems to be somewhat attributed (at least in part) to him. We are simply to trust God for His ultimate deliverance, and be vigilant to stand firm in the faith and struggle forward in the Spirit’s empowering sanctification.

Now there is FAR more to the text than I can cover, but I think it is clear enough – having made the observations I have – that it has nothing to do with Hagin’s point on page 17 of his book.

Hagin again quotes Ephesians 6:10 as if it has something to do with his doctrine (which it might in his own mind, but certainly not in that of the apostle), and also tacks a quotation of 1 John 4:4 on to the end of his chapter(pg 18), obviously think it too – as out of context as it is – in some way reinforces his false doctrine. However, I’m sure the reader can see and reject the blatant eisegesis being used to substantiate something that has no Biblical substance.

So, to close;
1: I again implore the reader to demand a reason for why we should accept Hagin’s or any Word-Faither’s assumptions about these texts upon which they build their doctrine of the believer’s “authority.”
2: Never trust an interpretation of a text that ignores the ORIGINAL INTENT and CONTEXT of the passage and the author.

Finally, there is a short “prophecy” given at the end of Hagin’s second chapter(pg 18) that should cause any critically thinking and Biblically educated disciple to balk at Hagin’s blasphemous audacity.
After all of his poor “proof-texting” and eisegetical quotation without providing substantial reason for the belief he was putting forth, basically Hagin says “now I’m going to write some Scripture at the end here that assumes and proves what I’ve already said.”

The blatantly manipulative and/or “deceiving and being deceived” nature of the last paragraph of the second chapter of “the believer’s authority” alone should give anyone pause before swallowing Hagin’s kool-aid.

The Silliness of “Saying ‘No’ to Sickness”

My wife and I listen to a wide variety of speakers and preachers throughout the week to supplement the preaching we sit under (when we can) on Sunday mornings.

One such speaker we listened to recently tried to present a “Biblical view of health and healing” – and basically labeled himself a Pentecostal, if not borderline Word-Faither.

I’m not going to bother criticizing this man’s whole sermon and will not be mentioning his name for many reasons, but primarily because he is tolerably orthodox and I’m mostly just taking issue with his use of words and emphasis.

“Healing” was a big deal in the environment I grew up in, so I have had many “states” and “changes” of mind when it comes to the subject over the course of my life… but nowadays if I hear someone say something like “saying no to a cold will be the hardest thing you ever do” because of some notion of “the Enemy will come after you for it” it gets quite difficult for me to not perform a fairly painful “facepalm.”

And I proceed to practice a great amount of self-control to keep from slamming my forehead against the table when I hear people tell stories about ‘battling dozens of oncoming symptoms over the course of a specified period of time…’

I’m sorry, but your state of mind and how you think or pray do not have nearly as much correlation to God’s condescending mercy in providing “miraculous health” to your body as most Christians would like to think.

I thought of writing this post because this morning I wasn’t feeling well and one of the questions my wife and I asked while listening to this person popped into my head: “what myriad of circumstances was this person dealing with while going through this initiation into the ‘divine health’ viewpoint?”

Point being this: Any number of things could have been making me feel ill this morning; the cup of coffee I had, the breakfast I ate, how those two interacted in my stomach, how much “junk food” I’ve consumed in the last week, the emotional and mental stress I’ve experienced in the last few weeks, a virus I contracted somewhere in the last few days that my body is finally expelling (and those producing symptoms), or any number of a combination of those and other things I might not have thought of or know about!

But in spite of all those potential factors, I’m supposed to assume that “the Enemy” of the Christian has personally singled me out for an “attack” – is what it sounds like this idea is promoting when I hear it.

Frankly I think that mentality is silly for a number of reasons.

1. I’m not that important, and Satan (in particular) and the other demons (in general), would probably accomplish even LESS than they normally do in “attacking” me in that manner if they had that power (and that’s saying a lot, because they don’t accomplish very much as it is, when it comes to the saints).
2. Many people who live in “developed” civilizations have so sterilized their everyday environments and can have such poor diets that it is easier (I would think) for them to contract the common cold or other minor sickness far more easily than most people throughout history.
3. And most importantly, there is no Scriptural warrant for being borderline obsessed about the health of our physical bodies.

Also, in listening to professing Christians talk about “healing” there is always a missing element (I believe) to everything they say – and that missing element is a properly developed doctrine of suffering.

I’m convinced from my reading of Scripture that it has far more to say about suffering and human weakness and the curse and effects of sin upon creation than it does about miraculous physical healing in the here and now.

All of that to say: I would encourage the reader to look to Scripture for a proper view of suffering in order to have a proper view of health…

Scriptural Examination of the Use of “if the Lord wills” in Prayer

I have heard – far more often than I’d care to admit – so many wolves in sheep’s clothing discourage their followers from using some form of “if it be your will” in their prayers to God.

I would submit to the reader the idea that it is NEVER permissible to discourage anyone from praying “if it is the LORD’s will.”

Now, the reason I put forth this idea is that I believe Scripture teaches the seeking of God’s will over and above our own in our prayers and day to day actions.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” ~ James 4:13-17 (ESV) (I would encourage the reader to also investigate the context of this passage; chapters 4 & 5… better yet read the entire Epistle of James)

The passage above is located in the greater context of rebuking “worldliness” among the people of God, but James’ specific idea follows the thought of the Psalmist (Psalm 39:5 & 62:9) that men are about as substantial as smoke or a thin mist – in the grand scheme of things the individual means next to nothing. Therefore, how arrogant is it for someone to assume they know how their lives will go or even how to make their lives go that way? Especially when they cannot possibly know the minute specifics of the Will of God in their lives? Thus, as God fearing worshippers, we should acknowledge and submit to the overarching and/or specific Will of God in our obedient stewardship of our own lives.
Another interesting thing that James points out here (like Solomon: Proverbs 19:21) is the fact that – regardless of all a person’s plans or thoughts – only the Lord’s Will and plans will ultimately be established, and James explicitly states that we do not necessarily know the specifics of that Will or “plan.”

An account in the Old Testament has a similar idea buried in the worldview of it’s three Jewish characters. In Daniel 3 Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath is incited again Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (a.k.a. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respectively) for their refusal to worship the golden image he had made. When Nebuchadnezzar confronts them and threatens to throw them in a “burning fiery furnace” if they do not worship his image, this is what Scripture records as their response:

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” ~ Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)

I’m sure the reader has noted where my previous assumption is shared by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but for the sake of filling out my argument I will point the reader’s particular attention to verse 18. Specifically the phrase “but if not.” These men would not have said the things they did if they did not have a properly balanced theology of God’s choices when it comes to how He works out His own sovereignty. They knew that God was ABLE to deliver them from the fiery furnace specifically, and they knew that God WOULD deliver them out of the king’s hands ultimately, but they DID NOT know whether God would deliver them in both or just one of those ways.

There is a big deference between trusting in God’s ultimate faithfulness and mercy on behalf of His people, and presuming upon God for the specific ways in which He “must” carry out those qualities. A very big difference, indeed.

Lest there should be any possibility of my making more of something than is warranted by two passages of Scripture (though I believe what I have offered is more than sufficient to prove my case), let us examine another individual who obviously understood how to speak and think about his life in light of God’s ultimate say in the course of events.

“But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power.” 1 Corinthians 4:19 (NASB)

“…but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus.” ~ Acts 18:21 (NASB)

These examples (and more that can be found throughout his epistles) are spoken by the apostle Paul. It is clear by Paul’s references to God’s will and the theology he teaches in the epistles that he believes (and even seems to just assume it without needing to argue for the point) that disciples of Christ are never CERTAIN of the exact (i.e. specific and down to the minute details) will or plan of God in any given situation. What Paul often gives the Church as certainties are God’s mercy and grace in the salvation, justification, and sanctification of the saints; His ultimately meeting out justice at the Judgement; and other such general tenets of the Christian Religion or of the character and/or attributes of God. (See Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Ephesians, etc…)

There is another person who gives us this example, however, and I am sure you already know who he is.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” ~ Matthew 26:36-39 (ESV) {for parallels see Mark 14:32-42 & Luke 22:39-46}

Now, the accounts of our Lord’s travails in Gethsemane are amazingly deep and rich portions of Scripture, and I pray the reader will excuse my shallow look at these Scriptures for the sake of my thesis – as it is far from the meat of the particular passage at which I am currently pointing. But I do not think I do the Lord any injustice when I look to His prayers for examples of how I should pray – after all, would He not prove to be the best exemplar of his own teaching? (Matthew 6:9-13)

The fact that I am not looking to the primary intent of the author in recording these words for us aside, notice Jesus’ words: “…nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Repeated in different forms twice more according to later verses)

My point? If the sinless, righteous, perfect Son of God; who knew/knows what was coming with greater clarity and detail than we could imagine; who had/has a more intimate relationship with and knowledge of the Father than we will EVER have; and would feel/felt with agony in the full force of the weakness of His humanity (and endured only because of the strength and perfection of His divinity) the Wrath of God against the sins of His people… if the blessed Christ included a caveat like ‘if it be your will’ in the very prayers that are recorded for us right before his being handed over for crucifixion – how dare any of us even think such a thing is inadvisable?

Again, I hope the reader can excuse my shallow examination of the example given us in a few words spoken by our Lord in one of His darkest hours, but I also hope and pray that you can see the validity of my observations.

Now, the anti-Biblical group I mentioned at the start (i.e. those who discourage people from praying “if it be your will, Lord”) generally only make their heretical statements when speaking in the context of praying for healing.

I spent the other night discussing this with my wife and wondered about this detail. As we talked I pinned down a few things that I think cause even those who seem to be more orthodox in “charismatic” circles to say such things.

The first and primary idea I concluded would cause this is a presupposition; namely “it is ALWAYS God’s will to heal.”
Now obviously if we take into consideration eschatology, any orthodox Christian could agree that the Lord does ultimately plan and desire our complete restoration and “healing.”
The difficulty is what most charismatics actually mean by the statement – and that is that “it is ALWAYS God’s will to heal supernaturally/miraculously in the exact moment a prayer is prayed and in the exact way the prayer is meant.”

Side NOTE: before going further, I want to acknowledge that this assumption is in fact quite huge and complicated, having many aspects; such as how one defines faith, how one is to “act in faith;” and many such other things. But to properly address the idea in its fullest would require far more words than I have to give at this time. So I shall merely be sharing the essence of the conversation my wife and I had the other evening.

As I’m sure the reader has already anticipated, I will say that it is a borderline arrogant, presumption upon God – without any Scriptural basis – to think you know exactly how God feels about or intends to act upon our prayers for the physically ill, handicapped, and/or infirm.

Side NOTE: notice I have said nothing to discourage prayer for the sick – I am assuming any disciple of Christ reading this will take it for granted that we are supposed to pray for them (just as we pray for all those we serve and care for), and even specifically request that God relieve them of whatever malady they might be suffering under.

The connection to this assumption about miraculous physical healing and discouraging believers from using the language of Jesus, Paul, James, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaraiah in their prayers for healing, I think can be explained in part by a wrong understanding of (or possibly just emphasis upon) an idea most fully articulated by James in James 1:5-8 — but was also taught in many of the places where Jesus tells us we should not doubt God when we pray.

Side NOTE: my wife pointed out that James was specifically talking about requesting wisdom from God, and so that passage has a more narrow application and interpretation intended than Jesus’ statements.

Now as I came to this concept of doubt in the particular area of requesting miraculous physical healing from God, I concluded that perhaps some of the more orthodox people I have heard say we shouldn’t pray “if the Lord wills” because it displays doubt.

My answer to that misconception is twofold;
1) even if a Christian has some form of doubt when it comes to what he is praying for – and BECAUSE of that doubt he concludes with “nevertheless, not my will, but yours” – I do not think it wise to discourage this brother from his chosen phrasing simply because a: if he is requesting something God desires him to have, it will be given whether he is COMPLETELY doubt free or not (Mark 9:14-29… verse 24 I believe is specifically relevant), b: he could have experienced that doubt because he has requested something that is outside of God’s will and the Spirit has pricked his conscience on the matter, and c: if his doubt is going to affect the answer to his pray, leaving out such a sentiment will not change the consequences of his doubt…
2) If using this language necessarily implies some form of unbelieving doubt, then what are we to make of Jesus, the apostles, the men of God in the Old Testament, and the writers of Scripture themselves? There is nothing in Scripture that implies a follower of Jesus cannot be fully confident in the condescension, provision, mercy, and faithfulness of God in his prayer, and yet not know whether what he is praying for is within the particular, specific plan of God and thus he leaves God the room He is owed in the very prayer itself to answer in a way that is not anticipated by the nature of the specific request.

So, all of that to say, I would warn the reader to pause and be wary of someone who says anything negative about praying “if it is the Lord’s will” – because that person has not thought out their position, at best. Or they have an underdeveloped view of God and His interaction with His creation and a wrong view of man and prayer at worst.

“Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)

May the LORD be praised, for He is worthy.

Satan and the Christian

Some observations of what Scripture says about Satan’s relationship to the Christian…

According to Strong’s Concordance, outside of the gospels and the book of Acts, in the New Testament Satan is mentioned less than twenty times. Obviously if we bring in the gospels and include references to “the devil” and possibly “the evil one” we’ll get a bit more of a base of what the Bible actually says about the fallen angels – but don’t miss the significance (or lack thereof) of the apostles’ lack of reference or teaching about Satan. And while we are on this “times referenced” point, I will also propose to the reader that Satan – as an individual or even as a general reference to fallen angels – is addressed even less often in the Old Testament.
However, I would also suggest to the reader that the most voluminous and clear teaching that we have about Satan in the Bible is IN the Old Testament; specifically the book of Job.
At this juncture I would greatly encourage the reader to pause and at least peruse (if not read in its entirety) the book of Job, paying particular attention to references to Satan (chapters 1 & 2) and God’s response to Job (chapters 38 through 42).

(Side NOTE: Satan is never referenced again after his role in the first two chapters of Job.)

From the first two chapters of Job we can assume at least 3 things about the character of Satan: 1: he is NOT omnipresent; 2: he can do nothing that God does not permit (at the very least in the sense of “does not prevent him”); 3: Satan was probably more interested in cursing God and besmirching His Name than he was in ruining Job’s life.
In the end of the book, God never rebukes Job for attributing the tragedies that happen to him as ultimately being in the hands of God; and not once in the 4 chapters of God’s challenges and questions to Job does He ever mention Satan. I believe the serious, critically thinking reader of the Scriptures should find these facts to be noteworthy.

What does all of this have to do with the relationship of Christians to Satan specifically, or demons generally?

Before we get to that, let us observe the only other scene we are given in the Bible’s historical narrative that includes Satan as an active player – the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness.

To my knowledge, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 are the only passages of the New Testament in which Satan (a.k.a. “the devil/tempter”) is displayed as an actual character interacting with another person. I find it significant that – as was the case with Job – Satan’s only interaction recorded for us in Holy Writ is with God Himself.

As far as what we are to learn about the devil from these passages – though their primary aim is NOT to teach about the devil – I take away primarily the confirmation of point (3) after we considered the account in Job: Satan is primarily interested and/or occupied in cursing God and attempting to besmirch His Name.

But to come to the main focus of this post, I would now point the reader to Luke 22:31-32.

In these two verses we seem to have a ‘Job-ish’ situation in which Satan has made a “demand” of God, that apparently – to some extent – God has condescended to acquiesce to (as evidenced by Jesus’ admission of his interceding for Peter)…

Now, most of us – I believe accurately – will assume that this “sifting” has something to do with the following verses in which Jesus prophesies that Peter will deny him.

I think the first thing that the disciple reading this text should take comfort in is Jesus’ concern and care for those that are His. Though I do not believe this demand of Satan is normative, it is a great comfort to know that the Lord will not allow his sheep to be tempted or tormented by “the evil one” beyond what they can bear.

Notice, however, that Jesus does not give us any more details; such as how, when, or even why, Satan will carry out the demanded “sifting.” Obviously somehow he was involved in Peter’s denials of the Lord, but I think our Lord’s lack of specificity on Satan’s end should keep us from worrying about or wanting to know exactly how Satan interacted with Peter – as it is apparently not that important for us to know.

(Side NOTE: While discussing the text with my wife, she offered the speculation that Satan potentially didn’t do or “try to do” (since Jesus has prayed for him, obviously the devil does not prevail against Peter) anything to Peter until after his denial of the Lord – based upon Satan’s tactics of deception or accusation… I offer that speculation as food for thought, but I do think the text should primarily indicate to us that we need not be concerned with more than preliminary speculation on the issue.)

So, thus far I have observed special occasions in which Satan is named as having acted – or made a request to act – in the life of a child of God. Taken by themselves, I believe they point to the NON-normative nature of the devil’s conscious, personal relationship to individuals among the people of God. And even as we move to consider more generic statements from the apostles on the devil’s ability to influence disciples of Christ, I believe my three proposals of the primary motivations and desires of Satan will stand; 1) Satan shares no attributes/abilities with God(I.e. Omnipresence, omniscience, etc.). 2) Satan is restricted by the Will of God, and can do nothing that is not first permitted – or “not prevented” by God (however that happens to work). 3) Satan is more preoccupied with his agenda to slander and destroy God than he is with any particular human being…

“If/Then” Statements in Relation to the Nature of God

My theological knowledge that was more orthodox than heretical began to develop in leaps and bounds around the age of 20 (I have no specific “conversion” memory, so I have no specific year to point at – let alone day) when I began to seriously study and read through whole books of the Bible in one sitting. That said, the idea that I am about to argue for was only a seed in my mind that wasn’t articulated until discussing origins theories with (at the time) my soon to be wife – so I will mostly be framing this concept within that realm.

This may come as a shock (or mild surprise) to some readers, but in my experience there are three groups of thought on origins theories within the Church (I.e. True believers disagree on which theory is the most Biblical). Those groups are “Young-Earth Creationists,” “Old-Earth Creationists,” and “Theistic Evolutionists” (I’ve heard Hugh Ross recently tossing around “young universe” etc. but as far as I know these terms are still widely used, so I’ll stick with them). Neither my wife or I find evolution to be a valid theory on any basis, so I will mostly be speaking in terms of the other two – also, both the former views tend to shy away from evolution as a validly scientific theory.

The names pretty much speak for themselves so I will not here go into more detail than this; Young-Earthers believe in a literal, 24-hour interpretation of Genesis 1 and a global flood, while Old-Earthers take a slightly less “literal” approach to Genesis 1 (thus allowing for about fourteen-billion years as opposed to ten-thousand for the age of the universe), and they believe in a “local” (but HUGE) flood…

That said, some groups in the Church are incredibly passionate about this topic and there has unfortunately developed a quite aggressive mindset among some in debating it. Though my wife and I have quite a few thoughts on what many Christians do wrong (and right) in this debate among brethren, one thing has always stood out to both of us as an essential that both sides SHOULD agree on; and that is this matter of “if/then” statements about God.

It has seemed to us that Young-Earth advocates seem to make this mistake more often than others in that many of them will make negative statements about God having been “wasteful” or “evil/sadistic” if He allowed or caused death and/or sickness to exist before the Fall of Man. However, I have also encountered Old-Earth advocates making negative statements about God being “deceptive” if the earth is young(thousands of years) because it looks old(millions of years)…

As the wise, unbiased, God-fearing reader will already know, even a hypothetical statement claiming that God is “bad” in any of those ways indicated above is an utter blasphemy that should never even cross a Christian’s mind, let alone his lips!

It shocks me how many professing to know and follow Christ do not seem to grasp this basic concept: God is the very DEFINITION of “Good.” (Revelation 4:8, Job 38-40, Isaiah 45:5-10, Psalm 24, Psalm 50, Colossians 1:16-17, etc.) As the Maker and Sustainer of all things He is the only being that can dictate “right and wrong,” define “good or bad.” And anything or anyone who rejects His Rules and/or Definitions is the very epitome of Evil.

The very expression “God is Holy, Holy, Holy,” is an acknowledgment of the fact that He is completely OTHER from His creation; He is SEPARATE in every meaning of the word as far as existence and/or being are concerned. Thus it is an absolute and obscene absurdity for any mere creature to pretend to be able to say something God does is “wrong” on any level!

So how should this effect our thoughts? Like so – if God deems it good/necessary to afflict the righteous or the wicked with a disease, then He is Good. If God decides to send a hurricane upon a continent, killing thousands of people and upsetting the lives of many more, He is Good. If God preserves the life of a child but gives it an intense disability, He is Good. So on and so forth, no need to explain His motives or reasons.

However, He HAS explained His reasons and motives to us in Scripture; He seeks to glorify Himself in Judging the wicked and unrepentant, and in showing Grace to a people for Himself. (Isaiah 45:5-10, Job 38-40, Psalm 50, Ezekiel 36:22-32, Exodus 4:11, Colossians 1:13-20, Romans, etc.)

Many will not like my implications that God is the source of calamity, disease, or any other thing that is not necessarily “good” for a person as people perceive it – but if they do not, that is merely because they have a sub-biblical view of God.

So, coming to a simple summary of my topic to close; God, as He IS and as He ACTS, is the VERY ESSENCE of what is Good, Right, and Perfect, and He dictates what is considered as such in His interactions with His creation, and in His creatures’ interactions with Him.