Watchful perseverance in love

How to stand firm in the face of opposition.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 – Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.

A few of the final parting exhortations of Paul to the congregation at Corinth reveal some of the deepest foundations for believers in Messiah.

To be alert is vigilance, watchfulness; the idea of keeping awake when everyone else is sleeping. What is he encouraging them to be on the lookout for? If we review some other uses of this term in other letters of Paul, some of these ideas are found:

Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 – So then, let us not sleep, like the rest, but let us stay awake and be self-controlled.

This idea of wakefulness as Paul uses it involves thankful prayer and being self-controlled. When we relax our guard from prayer, thanksgiving, and self-control, we can be led astray. Paul reveals this to be the case by adding to this exhortation of vigilance by saying, “Stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.”

Standing firm in the faith implies persevering. One needs exhortation to persevere only when they are encountering opposition. This is a necessary element of the faith because believers, by default, can appear antagonistic to the world around them due to their opposing world views.

Psalm 37:12 – The wicked person schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.
Proverbs 29:27 – An unjust person is detestable to the righteous, and one whose way is upright is detestable to the wicked.

Paul knows from personal experience this is the case, and encourages the believers to literally “act like men.” This bravery, strength, and perseverance in the face of opposition is a necessity among believers, or the implanted word will not bear fruit. This can bring about the situation disclosed by Yeshua in his parable of the sower:

Matthew 13:20-21 – And the one sown on rocky ground ​– ​this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root and is short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.

Notice, Yeshua says “when distress or persecution comes because of the word,” not if it comes about. This is the lot of those who choose to seek out and follow the Way of God in this life, and Paul is simply ensuring those believers in Corinth are prepared.

Paul then finishes his thought on vigilance, perseverance, and courage by summing up the ultimate command for all believers: “Do everything in love.” It literally reads, “All things of you, in love, let be done.” This is the difference between the believer and the non-believer when confronting these differing world views. According to Psalm 37, the wicked person “schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.” Yet, even though to the believer the way of the unrighteous is detestable, they are still commanded to do everything in love.

True vigilance protects oneself through thankful prayer and self-control, all the while extending love to those who disagree with them. This was the path Paul encouraged those believers to navigate in their context of real danger persecution. How much more should we exhibit these characteristics in our comparatively mild day and age?


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Alert and thankful prayer that overcomes temptation

The victory over a trial or temptation is through prayer and the strengthening of God through his holy Spirit.

Core of the Bible podcast #39 – Alert and thankful prayer that overcomes temptation

Today we will be exploring the topic of vigilance, and how vigilance in alert and thankful prayer is a primary method of overcoming temptation and accomplishing God’s will on earth.

Matthew 26:40-41. And he [Yeshua] came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Yeshua was speaking this to Peter for the specific purpose of admonishing him to stay alert with him while he was praying in Gethsemane. However, this has become a type of universal admonition regarding prayer to avoid temptation, and not without good reason.

Praying to avoid temptation was a key teaching within Yeshua’s template for prayer. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Based on the original word definitions, this can be expanded and paraphrased as “May we not be lead into adversity and hard testing; nevertheless, rescue us from anguish, harm, and all evil.”

Praying in this manner is a demonstration of vigilance. When praying to avoid temptation, 1) there is an awareness of the possibility of impending challenges and 2) there is also a recognition of God’s ability to provide assistance or escape.

The act of praying focuses the mind on the essential needs of the moment. This is necessary because vigilance also involves alertness and overcoming the distractions and limitations of fleshly influence. While our spirit may be willing, many times we become spiritually disoriented as worldly impulses (whether internal or external) overwhelm us.

Galatians 5:16-17 …walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Walking in the spirit includes a rich and abundant prayer life. Many believers, myself included, struggle to maintain a vital spiritual walk throughout the occurrences of each day.  It’s easy to push spiritual things into the background while we attempt to deal with the seemingly urgent issues we face each day. Consistently praying helps provide leverage over real fleshly distractions and desires, and allows us to truly walk in the Spirit.

Yeshua’s template, his model prayer for believers does include the phrase: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This has been fertile soil for many commentators over the years to plant seeds for consideration in this question of overcoming temptation.

Benson Commentary

“And lead us not into temptation — the clause may be translated, Lead us not into temptation, but so as to deliver us from the evil, viz., either by removing the temptation, when it is too strong for us to withstand; or by mitigating its force, or by increasing our strength to resist it, as God shall see most for his glory. This correction of the translation, suggested by Macknight, is proposed on this ground; that to pray for an absolute freedom from temptation is to seek deliverance from the common lot of humanity, which is absurd; because temptations are wisely appointed by God for the exercise and improvement of piety and virtue in good men, and that others may be encouraged by the constancy and patience which they show in trials. Hence, instead of praying to be absolutely delivered from them, we are taught to rejoice when, by the divine appointment, we fall into them. See James 1.

James 1:2-4 – Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

This petition teaches us to preserve a sense of our own inability to repel and overcome temptation, and of the necessity of assistance from above, to enable us to stand in the evil day.”

As for myself, I have sometimes wondered if God purposely places us in trying situations so we will learn to reach out to him more frequently. This type of logic says that if we are in the habit of praying to him during regular times, perhaps we will not need to be disciplined in as many trying times.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

“And lead us not into temptation— There is some difficulty in the form of the petition, as it is certain that God does bring His people—as He did Abraham, and Christ Himself—into circumstances both fitted and designed to try them, or test the strength of their faith. Some meet this by regarding the petition as simply an humble expression of self-distrust and instinctive shrinking from danger; but this seems too weak. Others take it as a prayer against yielding to temptation, and so equivalent to a prayer for support and deliverance when we are tempted; but this seems to go beyond the precise thing intended. We incline to take it as a prayer against being drawn or sucked, of our own will, into temptation, to which the word here used seems to lend some countenance—”Introduce us not.” This view, while it does not put into our mouths a prayer against being tempted—which is more than the divine procedure would seem to warrant—does not, on the other hand, change the sense of the petition into one for support under temptation, which the words will hardly bear; but it gives us a subject for prayer, in regard to temptation, most definite, and of all others most needful. It was precisely this which Peter needed to ask, but did not ask, when—of his own accord, and in spite of difficulties—he pressed for entrance into the palace hall of the high priest, and where, once sucked into the scene and atmosphere of temptation, he fell so foully. And if so, does it not seem pretty clear that this was exactly what our Lord meant His disciples to pray against when He said in the garden—”Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”? (Mt 26:41).”

And to this I would add again, this idea of alertness in prayer means that we are spiritually aware of our situation and not just being carried along by our own desires. This is where we tend to fall into temptation: when we let our circumstances guide us instead of God’s good Counsel (through his Word and his Spirit) guiding us.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

“But deliver us from evil— As the expression “from evil” may be equally well rendered “from the evil one,” a number or superior critics think the devil is intended, especially from its following close upon the subject of “temptation.” But the comprehensive character of these brief petitions, and the place which this one occupies, as that on which all our desires die away, seems to us against so contracted a view of it. Nor can there be a reasonable doubt that the apostle, in some of the last sentences which he penned before he was brought forth to suffer for his Lord, alludes to this very petition in the language of calm assurance—”And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work (compare the Greek of the two passages), and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2Ti 4:18). The final petition, then, is only rightly grasped when regarded as a prayer for deliverance from all evil of whatever kind—not only from sin, but from all its consequences—fully and finally. Fitly, then, are our prayers ended with this. For what can we desire which this does not carry with it?”

Vincent’s Word Studies

“It is a mistake to define this word [temptation] as only solicitation to evil. It means trial of any kind, without reference to its moral quality. Thus, Genesis 22:1 (Sept.), “God did tempt Abraham;” “This he said to prove him” (John 6:6); Paul and Timothy assayed to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7); “Examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Here, generally of all situations and circumstances which furnish an occasion for sin. We cannot pray God not to tempt us to sin, “for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13).”

To my way of thinking while keeping an eye to the perspectives of these learned commentators, the thought here is that it is acceptable for us to pray to be kept from hard testing and temptation; Yeshua himself illustrated this prayer in Gethsemane:

Luke 22:41-42 – Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me ​– ​nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

As children of God, though we may need to suffer trials and temptations, things that God can use to try us and to refine us, we can still pray to be delivered safely through them. It’s ok to pray “Lord, if it is possible to avoid this trial, then please remove it from us. But if we must enter this trial, please strengthen us to remain pure and victorious over it.”

—–

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

I find it interesting that prayer is meant to be an activity in which our conscious awareness is alert and watchful. This implies that prayer is purposeful and intentional, not just something in which our rational thought is disengaged. In fact, it is just the opposite; as we can see in this selection of Scripture references, believers are encouraged to pray for very specific things at specific times:

Tenakh:

Num 21:7: “The people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against Yahweh, and against you. Pray to Yahweh, that he take away the serpents from us.” Moses prayed for the people.”

Jeremiah 42:1-3 – Then all the commanders of the armies, along with Johanan son of Kareah, Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached the prophet Jeremiah and said, “May our petition come before you; pray to the LORD your God on our behalf, on behalf of this entire remnant (for few of us remain out of the many, as you can see with your own eyes), “that the LORD your God may tell us the way we should go and the thing we should do.”

Yeshua

Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, “

Matthew 6:9: “Pray like this:… “

Matthew 9:38: “Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.””

Matthew 24:20: “Pray that your flight will not be in the winter, nor on a Sabbath, “

Mark 13:33: “Watch, keep alert, and pray; for you don’t know when the time is.”

Luke 10:2: “Then he said to them, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out laborers into his harvest. “

John 17:15: “I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. “

Apostles:

2 Corinthians 13:9: “For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. And this we also pray for, even your perfecting.”

Philippians 1:9: “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment;”

2 Thessalonians 1:11: “To this end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness and work of faith, with power;”

2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, even as also with you;”

James 5:14: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…”

Throughout the Bible, prayer is exemplified as being enacted for intentional and specific purposes; most importantly, for the will of God to be accomplished on the earth. This strikes at the heart of the all-too-common practice of only praying for personal needs and wants.  While God does want us to trust him for everything, in the grand scheme of the Bible message, ultimately our personal needs and wants are and should be subjected to the larger scope of God’s kingdom and the establishment of his rule and reign in the hearts of people on this earth.

Remember in our Colossians passage, Paul encourages believer to pray with an alert mind (as we have just illustrated), but also with a thankful heart.

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Having a thankful heart means that one is in view of all of the ways that God has blessed them. If you are thankful for the provision of your home, you won’t be tempted to go into further debt for a shiny new one beyond your means. If you are thankful for the nutritious food that God has provided you for your sustenance, you will not be tempted to eat beyond what your body needs. If you are grateful for the friends and family you have, you won’t be tempted to go astray from your spouse or to put your family or friends at risk.

Thankfulness runs all through Paul’s epistle to the Colossians:

Colossians 1:9, 12 – For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, … giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

Colossians 2:6-7 – So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 3:15, 17 – And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. … And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Constant prayer and giving of thanks is a theme Paul also brings to the congregation in Thessalonica as well. In fact, he cements this as a cornerstone of believing practice in the accomplishment of God’s will.

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 – pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua.

If we are therefore praying in an alert fashion, that is, being aware of what we are praying and why we are praying, and we are doing so from a place of gratefulness and thankfulness for his provision in our lives, then we have a recipe for overcoming temptation.

This takes discipline and thoughtfulness. By intentionally praying for God to assist us when we are being challenged, this type of behavior can be changed. The victory over a trial or temptation is through prayer and the strengthening of God through his holy Spirit. How quickly it happens depends on how alert we remain and how diligent and thankful we are in prayer.

As we grow in this process, remaining steadfast in prayer to God keeps us focused and in communication with the One who is more than able to provide us the necessary strength to overcome any obstacles we may encounter.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Overcoming spiritual instability through vigilance

How do we measure up to Paul’s assessment of the Corinthian believers?

Be vigilant, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strengthened. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

As Paul is concluding his epistle to the Corinthian believers, after having attempted to correct their disfunction and internal strife over the fifteen previous chapters, he abruptly includes these five exhortations to summarize his earnest intent for that congregation: be vigilant, stand firm, be courageous, be strengthened, and do everything in love.

We can gain inspiration from these five qualities; however, we can also gain insight by looking at their opposites. By doing so, we can gain a better understanding of what the true state of the Corinthian congregation was.

Instead of vigilance, they evidenced drowsiness and carelessness. Instead of standing firm in the faith they had an unsure footing and understanding of basic doctrine. Instead of being courageous (literally “manly”) cowardice was evident among them. Instead of strength they demonstrated weakness over the smallest matters. And most importantly, instead of exhibiting love with one another they were factious and divisive.

However, at the head of the list, and the quality upon which the others depend, is vigilance. The Greek word in the text conveys being wakeful or perpetually watchful. This implies remaining alert, not allowing distractions, maintaining careful attention at all times.

Alexander MacLaren in his commentary provides the following insights in regard to this term:

‘Watch ye.’ That means one of two things certainly, probably both-Keep awake, and keep your eyes open … there is the military idea underlying it. What will become of an army if the sentries go to sleep? And what chance will a Christian man have of doing his [duty] against his enemy, unless he keeps himself awake, and keeps himself alert? Watchfulness, in the sense of always having eyes open for the possible rush down upon us of temptation and evil, is no small part of the discipline and the duty of the Christian life. One part of that watchfulness consists in exercising a very rigid and a very constant and comprehensive scrutiny of our motives. For there is no way by which evil creeps upon us so unobserved, as when it slips in at the back door of a specious motive. Many a man contents himself with the avoidance of actual evil actions, and lets any kind of motives come in and out of his mind unexamined. It is all right to look after our doings, but ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ The good or the evil of anything that I do is determined wholly by the motive with which I do it. And we are a great deal too apt to palm off deceptions on ourselves to make sure that our motives are right, unless we give them a very careful and minute scrutiny. One side of this watchfulness, then, is a habitual inspection of our motives and reasons for action. ‘What am I doing this for?’ is a question that would stop dead an enormous proportion of our activity, as if you had turned the steam off from an engine. If you will use a very fine sieve through which to strain your motives, you will go a long way to keeping your actions right. We should establish a rigid examination for applicants for entrance, and make quite sure that each that presents itself is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Make them all bring out their passports. Let every vessel that comes into your harbour remain isolated from all communication with the shore, until the health officer has been on board and given a clean bill. ‘Watch ye,’ for yonder, away in the dark, in the shadow of the trees, the black masses of the enemy are gathered, and a midnight attack is but too likely to bring a bloody awakening to a camp full of sleepers.”

Maintaining a watchful eye over our motives at every turn will provide us the footing to remain steadfast in the faith and flesh out our doctrinal understanding. It will overcome our tendency toward cowardice and provide us courage in the face of opposition. It can help us understand our weaknesses and learn where we need to be strengthened. And with vigilance, we can and must destroy all factiousness and divisiveness so that every action and motive is conducted from love.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The continual, watchful prayer for all of God’s people

Paul admonishes believers to pray vigilantly and unceasingly for all of God’s people.

Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your petitions for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:18

This passage comes on the heels of a very famous passage from Paul regarding the putting on of the armor of God, and yet this integral instruction on perseverance in prayer for all of God’s people is often omitted.

Paul’s original audience for this instruction was experiencing persecution: real, life-endangering persecution on a regular basis, and this type of exhortation would not have fallen on deaf ears. While most of us can only imagine the severity of their situation, in a crisis it becomes quite natural, almost a reflex, to defer to prayer on a regular basis. But this type of crisis-prayer is typically centered around the individual, and praying for personal safety. However, Paul is here admonishing the Ephesian believers to pray vigilantly and unceasingly for all of God’s people, not just for their own personal needs and desires.

Two types of prayer are mentioned here: prayer which is a type of worship, and petitions for specific needs that are urgent and immediate. All of these are to be offered “in the Spirit,” that is, in accordance with the operation and fruit of the spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…Galatians 5:16, 25 I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfil the lust of the flesh. … If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to have the path of one’s life patterned on the principles of the Spirit that Paul mentioned in this very passage.

Paul was encouraging the believers to pray in this fashion for all of “the saints,” that is, all of those who were set apart within the remnant of Israel, for their specific needs and protection during a time of extreme social and civil duress.

The urgent necessity of this praying for the saints is highlighted by a term that is used for wakefulness and alertness; they should never stop lifting up their brothers and sisters with all the principles of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc.

I believe this type of dynamic, urgent, and constant prayer lifting up their brothers and sisters in the Spirit is what allowed that generation to be a positive example for all time, through which God ushered in the new life of the eternal kingdom to all nations.

The example is there for us to receive this instruction for our own generation.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.