Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of Philippians 4:9 in the fight against anxiety. Here it is again:
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
In this text we see that there is a very active element to receiving God’s gift of peace. God wants us to obediently follow the example of Paul, and as we do so, He promises that his peace-giving character will be with us.
What I didn’t expound on yesterday is why this command is so important in fighting anxiety. If you ever struggle with moments or seasons of anxiety, you know how it can cripple you in your obedience to the Lord. Anxiety keeps you inside yourself, trying to answer questions that you can’t answer, seeking to handle hard circumstances by yourself, and trying to get to the bottom of your struggle. Anxiety leads us to keep spinning our wheels while going nowhere. As this is happening, we are dropping the ball on our spiritual privileges and responsibilities – we forget to pray for other people, we neglect those closest to us, and we stop pursuing the Lord in worship.
This is why it is so crucial for Paul to tell us to follow his example. Anxious people need to be reminded of who God is and what Christ has accomplished for us, but we also need to be told to get busy living again – living a life of devotion to our King. The right feelings might not be there at first, but that’s when we repent, ask God’s forgiveness for not desiring Him as we should, ask Him to provide us with those right feelings, and then keep moving forward by His grace.
Lately I’ve been meeting with God in the book of Titus. In this short, three-chapter letter Paul gives more than a little weight to the importance of good works. Take a look at these statements:
- Speaking of certain unbelievers, Paul says, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, ” unfit for any good work” (1:16).
- Speaking to Titus, he says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (2:7).
- Speaking of believers, he says that one of the reasons why Jesus redeemed us is to “purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (2:14).
- Speaking to Titus about his teaching, Paul says, “Remind them… to be ready for every good work” (3:1).
- Again, speaking to Titus about his teaching, Paul says he wants Titus to “insist on [the gospel] (which he details in verses 3-7), so that those who have believed God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (3:8).
- Speaking to believers again, Paul says, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (3:14).
Be careful to notice how 2:14 and 3:8 bring the gospel into play before they mention good works. Paul emphasizes the importance of good works, but he also wants to make sure they are fueled by gospel-motivation.
I’ve been meditating on 2 Corinthians 5:14 over the last week. It reads, For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore, all have died. If the word “controls” makes you feel uncomfortable at first, you’re not alone. Upon encountering this verse, my sinful heart initially recoiled at it as well. We don’t like to think of ourselves as being controlled. We are quick to voice our freedom in Christ and we bask in the liberties that his death and resurrection have achieved for us. The word “control” makes it sound like faith in Christ transforms us into automaton robots, so our eyes begin darting in every direction looking for a way to get around what we think is being suggested here.
Don’t worry, Paul is not saying that Christ’s love takes an unwilling person and makes him do things he doesn’t want to do. Rather, he is emphasizing the affect that Christ’s love has had on his and Timothy’s motivations and choices. The gospel of Jesus Christ is so overwhelmingly gracious that the realization of the love it communicates produced such a strong desire for holy living in Paul and Timothy that they saw its work as having control over them.
When a person truly understands the glory of the gospel at the heart level it changes that person from the inside out so that they willingly do what pleases the Lord. The same thing takes place in Luke 7 with the prostitute who came into the Pharisee’s house to anoint Jesus’ feet. Jesus tells the Pharisees in this scene, I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (v. 47). The prostitute got it; she understood the gospel, which is why she worshiped Christ as she did. The radical reality of Jesus’ love did not force her to do something she saw as undesirable, but it did create in her a desire to do that which is ultimately good as if no other option was legitimate.
In those moments when you and I cannot say, like Paul, that Christ’s love controls us, we need to run back to the gospel and drink deeply of its truth while praying that God would help us to see its resplendent beauty in such a way that to do anything else but serve him would be foolish.
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I think much of what drives us in this life is a desire for comfort. Naturally, we don’t like pain, stress, pressure, and the like, so we go looking for rest. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel comfort, but like everything else, the problem arises when we find comfort in the wrong places. Comfort should not be sought in our pet sins, but in the Lord.
The Lord, however, gives us comfort through a variety of legitimate means. As I was reading the Bible this morning, I was struck by what God used to comfort the apostle Paul and what it says about Paul that he actually saw this as comfort. In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that he and Timothy are experiencing affliction and distress in ministry (1:8-11), so I would expect that what they would see as comfort would be for the suffering to stop completely. But in 7:6-7 Paul tells us what actually brought them comfort: “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you.”
You may have to read that last part more slowly, but what Paul is saying is that the arrival of Titus gave them comfort, but beyond that, they were comforted by the fact that Titus had been comforted by the Corinthian church (the people he is writing to) in his visit with them just previous to meeting up with Paul and Timothy. The fact that Titus had been comforted by the Corinthians comforted Paul because it meant that they were in a place of spiritual health (v. 9 tells us that they had repented of sin). Paul’s heart was so wrapped up in the spiritual welfare of the local churches he was serving that the news of them acting out biblical Christianity for the benefit of his friend was uplifting to him.
The reason why this was striking to me is because I want my heart to feel the same comfort as Paul’s when I hear the news that my church is acting out biblical Christianity for the good of others. I want to so love them and invest in their lives for the glory of God that my heart is immediately uplifted upon hearing even the smallest report of their obedience to the Lord. This desire, however, should not be only for pastors and people in full-time ministry, but for everyone in the church. We are the body of Christ, together united with him through his death and resurrection. Therefore, let us pray that our hearts will be “knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2), so that what we experience as comfort in our trials is the news that others are growing in holiness.
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Have you ever wondered why we want multiple people praying for us whenever we’re going through a trial? For many of us, I think it is because we believe what James says: The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (5:16). We know that God has chosen to work through the prayers of godly people, so we want as many godly people praying for us as possible.
Certainly, commissioning other people to pray is a good thing, but if you’re like me, then this practice can very quickly turn into a me-centered affair instead of a God-centered one – Rally the prayer warriors! I am suffering and I need relief! Time is of the essence! Our trials are real and our suffering is real, but so often we allow our hardships to push God to the place of wish-granter in our prayers when he should still be seen as glorious, sovereign God of the universe.
How, then, can we keep God in his rightful place while acquiring the prayer help of many people. How must we think? Listen to Paul’s request of the Corinthian church after he has told them that he and Timothy are hoping in God for deliverance: You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11).
Did you catch that? Paul wants the Corinthian believers to pray for he and Timothy so that more people will give thanks to God whenever God answers their prayers. Getting other people to pray for you is to give them certain details about your trial and ask them to invest their time and energy in pleading with God on your behalf. When God answers that prayer, whether it’s exactly what was prayed for or a different blessing, then all the people who prayed for you are already primed for giving thanks to God. They labored with you in prayer, and upon seeing the answer to that prayer, they see the fruit of that labor in the merciful, giving hand of God. God, then, receives the praise from not one person (as when you pray alone), but dozens of people.
With this perspective, to ask many people to pray is to ask many people to praise the God who answers.
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