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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Person Who Prays - Loves Other People


In last week’s Bible study, we learned what Peter meant when he told the believers in Asia Minor to have sound judgment and be sober-minded when they prayed. We came to understand this means believers must exercise self-control and consider themselves humbly in relation to God. This self-control comes through the indwelling Holy Spirit, if we let Him control our thoughts, emotions, actions, and words. With a sober mind, we believers can stay calm and collected in the face of persecution, trials, and adversity remembering Jesus faced these without sinning. Jesus’ life testified to God’s love, mercy, and grace continually. A believer, Jesus said, will face hard times so we should be guarded knowing hard times will come. Because we are believers, we can know the Holy Spirit is available to protect and guide us.

In the earlier Bible studies on the effective person of prayer, we learned the Bible teaches this person is to be righteous, alert, and fervent, believe God can do what we ask, pray in solitude, pray ceaselessly, and approach God with his or her whole being. This week we will learn from Jesus, Peter, and Paul. As believers, our relationship with other people – husband to wife, believer to believer, and believer to all people – affects our communing/prayer time with God.

Jesus’ Teaching – Relationship among Believers

Prayer with God is communing with Him through petition, intercession, thanksgiving, adoration. Communing with God includes all acts of worship while at church and in our daily lives. Prayer requires speaking and listening to God, just as any other growing relationship requires speaking and listening. God is not the only one who listens; we are supposed to listen to Him, too. Listening to God comes from reading the Bible, listening to preachers and teachers, and being aware of the Holy Spirit’s inward changes of our thoughts and resultant actions.

Being in a relationship with God means worshipping Him, too. Adoration results in worship. Within worship, believers sing, pray, listen, read, and bring offerings. True worship requires harmony between Christians. Jesus spoke to this point in Matthew 5:23-24. He said,

“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offering.” [NASB]
In this passage, Jesus spoke about the relationship of Christians to each other. He said if anything hinders your relationship with another Christian it will affect your relationship with God. Jesus instructed the people to reconcile with other believers whom they offended or who had offended them then take their offering to God. Remember, God said He will hear the prayers of righteous people, not the unrighteous (Proverbs 15:29; Psalm 17:1 and 19:14; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 4:3 & 5:16; 1 Peter 3:12, and 1 John 5:14-15). He will listen to the prayers of those who genuinely seek Him. To be righteous before God, we must repent and confess our sins. By going to the fellow believer who has something against us and making the relationship right, we acknowledge our sins and repent of them.
We show our repentance by correcting our actions, words, and attitude. We turn from our old way of life to the new way Jesus has made for us and empowered us to have through His Holy Spirit living in us. After we repent and renew our walk in God’s ways, we go before God seeking His forgiveness. When Christians do these two things – repent and confess – God promises to forgive them of all their unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). When forgiveness occurs, we can be in His presence and He will accept our prayers and offerings.
When we as Christians reconcile with another believer, we are following Jesus’ teaching. Our offerings to God become acceptable because He made us righteous and holy through the forgiveness of our sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we are made righteous by God, He will be with us and allow us to be in His presence, and will accept our offering. By obeying Jesus’ teaching and God’s command to love our neighbor, we show our love for God. Reconciled relationships among believers can bring unhindered prayer/communing with God.

Peter’s Teaching – Relationship between Husband and Wife

Jesus taught about right living in one kind of relationship – Christian to Christian. Peter taught of another important relationship that needs to be right before communing with God. In 1 Peter 3, Peter spoke to the believers in Asia Minor about the husband and wife relationship and its relevance to prayer. He said in verse seven, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman, and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life so that your prayers will not be hindered.” [NASB]

In this verse, Peter taught Christian husbands to live with their wives recognizing she is physically weaker, and show her honor as a fellow heir of God’s grace. He reminded the husbands women are generally weaker physically. This fact is known and understood. More than that, and different than what the world knows, Peter told them to honor their wives because they are heirs of God’s grace, too. [Paul taught also about the love of a husband for his wife in Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 3:19.] Unlike the cultural thought that women were property and only had status in the community by being the wife or mother of a man, Christian wives – Christian women – have value because God created them and saved them. They have the same status in God’s kingdom as men; they will inherit eternal life just like male believers. This value explains part of the definition of “honor” used in this 1 Peter 3:7. The honor due to women is two-fold. Honor women because God created her in His image. Honor Christian women because they will inherit the kingdom of God because of His grace.

Made in His image and redeemed by His blood - women, wives, men, husbands – all people have value. To view and treat them as lower than one’s self is sin and hinders prayer. The last part of this verse is the main point. To love God in word, but not in action shows that “love” to be false. True love of God shows itself in a person’s life, by godly actions, words, and attitudes. These show the real heart of a person. If one truly loves God, one will follow God’s commands, laws, and precepts. Jesus summed these up with two commandments. He said we are to love the Lord God will all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Though women and wives of the time had no value or status, the husbands and men were to treat them as having value. They were to honor them.

This holds true today. God made each person. He loves everyone. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for the sins of all people. That is true love. Who are we to devalue the people for whom Christ died? To be right before God so our prayers will not be hindered and He will listen to them, we must live right in this world. We must treat each person with respect because God made them. A Christian woman or man must honor her Christian husband or his Christian wife because she or he is a joint heir of God’s grace. We must love our neighbor as our self. Peter emphasized this when he repeated part of David’s prayer in Psalm 34:15-16. He said, “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” To look down on your spouse and dishonor him or her, Peter said, is unrighteous, and the Lord is against those who do evil. Come before the Lord in obedience. Come before Him seeking forgiveness and an unhindered relationship with Him.

Paul’s Teaching – Relationship among All People

In Matthew 5, Jesus taught Christians to live in harmony among themselves so their offerings to God would be acceptable to Him. In 1 Peter 3, Peter taught Christian men to honor their wives so their prayers would not be hindered. Paul taught about relationships and prayer, too. When he wrote to Timothy, he said in 1 Timothy 2:8, “Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray lifting up holy hands without wrath and dissension.”

In this passage, we learn about Paul speaking to Christians regarding their relationships with all people, not just their spouse or other believers. He told them to lift up holy hands –hands that have done no sin. Hands are important for worship. For by the hands, worshippers present offerings to God and they praise Him. Hands are offered to God for His service in the world. For God to receive and use something from a sinful person, it must be presented with holy hands, hands that have not sinned or been a part of sin. To have holy hands requires having a clean heart and performing only acts of love and care. It affects the heart, mind, and body, the areas by which a person is to love God. Having holy hands comes from loving God with one’s whole being, just as Jesus and Moses taught in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37-39. James taught this, too, in James 4:8. He said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded.” James spoke about the whole part of the being when he talked of cleansing hands and heart.

For a Christian to have holy hands, one of two things must occur. He or she must not sin, which is highly improbable because each person sins and falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) or he or she must confess and repent upon which God will forgive him or her. The latter is most probable for a person to have holy hands because all people sin. Paul recognized the source of most uncleanness of hands. He said it comes with wrath and dissension. These words from the Greek language mean to be angry, have a temper and be violent, to doubt and dispute, to argue, and to question what is true. Wrath and dissension lead to a breakdown in relationships and chaos in community. God is not a God of chaos, but of love and peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). True worship and prayer to Him cannot come from chaos, anger, violence, and doubt. That is why Paul taught people to lift holy hands. He knew and taught people to seek God, confess and repent, receive His forgiveness, and restore a right relationship with Him. When people are cleansed of their sinful actions and words, which come from a person’s heart and mind, they have holy hands and can offer to God unselfish prayers, God-centered worship from a clean heart, and love offerings to God by their actions and words.

Jesus’ Teaching – The Greatest Commandments

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ question is the primary lesson about right relationships to God and all people. With these relationships being right, our offerings, prayers, and worship will be righteous and unhindered. God will commune with us and hear and answer our prayers.

In Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:29-31, and Luke 10:27-28, Jesus taught we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as our selves. The teachers of the Law knew this. They learned it from their teachers who learned it from God through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus reiterated it for the Jews who followed Him. He, Paul, and Peter taught it to the diaspora Jews and the Gentiles they discipled. By consolidating all God’s laws into these two great commandments, Jesus taught all the laws of God are about the love of God and the love we are to share with Him to other people. By teaching them side by side, he taught the love of other people is a top priority of God. When we do not love other people like God loves them, we do not love God with our whole being. We qualify our love. The teacher in Luke 10:29 wanted to qualify it, too, and justify himself when he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable tells us our neighbor is any person whom we meet or know about, not necessarily our family or neighbor by proximity. The Jewish teacher understood the person who showed mercy to the beaten man was the man’s neighbor. Jesus commanded him to go do the same. Be the same to someone else. Our neighbor is any person who needs mercy and love.

Relevance and Conclusion

A person can only truly love the Lord God by obeying Him that includes loving your neighbor as yourself. Hosea taught this in Hosea 6:6. He recorded God saying, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Samuel said it to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22 when he said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” Jesus carried this teaching forward and further. In Matthew 12:33, He spoke about the character of the person. He said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” With this passage Jesus condemned the Pharisees for leading the people astray with their teachings. These Pharisees could not worship God with clean hearts nor pray unhindered because they were not righteous. They had not accepted God’s grace, and it had not made them clean from their sins. If the Pharisees had loved God, they would have loved the people as God does. This showed their sinfulness and their split loyalty to God and their own selves. We must each decide if we will love our neighbors as our self and love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The teachings and commandments are still real and relevant today.

What have we learned from this lesson today?
  • Every person has value and is worthy of love, care, honor, etc. because God created and loves him or her.
  •  Honoring a person means you recognize the person’s value and worth in the eyes of God and act toward him or her with proper respect and care.
  • When we honor and love the Lord, it should show in our actions as honor and love of our neighbors – all other people.
  • When we do not honor and love other people, it shows we do not truly love and honor God.
  • To go before God with offerings, prayer, and worship, we need to have holy hands, hands pure from anger, dissension, bitterness, hate, and neglect.
  • To have holy hands, we must either not sin or repent and confess our sins to God and be forgiven by Him.
  • When God reveals to us our negative attitudes towards a person, we should go make things right with the person. Only by obeying God’s commands to love your neighbor are you showing God’s love.
  • The teachings of Peter and Paul about love of people and right worship and prayer are not their own teachings. God told these commands to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Jesus reiterated and consolidated them in His teachings recorded in the Gospels.

Are your heart and hands clean before God?
Will your prayers, worship, and offerings be acceptable to Him?
Do you hold bitterness, anger, or hatred toward other people in your heart?

God offers a way for you to commune with Him.

Confess and repent of your sins to Him and He through His righteousness will forgive you and impart righteousness to you.
Come, now is the time to worship and pray with your whole heart.

God will be with you and hear you.