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"(16) Therefore confess you sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (17) Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (18) Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
Toward the end of James' epistle is a statement that should increase our confidence in God: "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (5:16). What a comfort to know that the Lord hears and responds to the petitions of the righteous.
The Greek word for "accomplish" is the one from which we derive our English word energy. The prayers of God's people don't merely drift into space but are avenues through which God does His amazing work on earth. However, He cannot be manipulated into unleashing His power - there are no prayer formulas or perfect words that cause Him to act.
What does James mean by "effective prayer"? 1 John 5:14 gives us a hint: "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." Therefore we can define effective prayer as that which is in accordance with God's will.
What is required for us to pray effectively? According to James, effective prayer requires a righteous life. If we are harboring sin, pride, and self-reliance, it's doubtful that our prayers will align with God's will. We can't hang onto our unrighteousness and expect to offer effective prayers, because sin hinders our relationship with God. Before coming to the Lord with our petitions, we must first confess our sins and turn from them.
Prayer is an amazing privilege by which God involves us as He accomplishes His will in our lives and in the world. During hardships and trouble, we come to Him in weakness and helplessness, asking for His aid, strength, and guidance. Then He answers according to His good and perfect will.
"(7) Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. (8) I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. (9) He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. (10) My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him. (11) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. (12) Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (13) I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. (14) Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. (15) Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. (16) After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read int he church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. (17) Tell Archippus: 'See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.'"
Every word of Scripture is profitable for us, and that includes today' passage - the final greetings and instructions at the close of Colossians. Although reading a list of names may not seem edifying at first, doing so provides a lesson on living with a committed Christian community. The people Paul mentions are all examples of faithful servants of God.
For instance, Tychicus (vv. 7-8) brought Paul's letter from Rome to Colossae since the apostle was in prison. The distance is about 900 miles as the crow flies, but it was much father for Tychicus, who had to sail around Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea before traveling through Asia Minor on foot. Yet he faithfully endured the hardship in order to bring Paul's letter to the Colossians - and to us, since the epistle is now part of the New Testament.
Onesimus (v. 9) exemplifies a life transformed by Christ - this runaway slave was a valuable servant not only to his former master but also to Paul. Then Epaphras (vv. 12-13) was a faithful intercessor for the church in Colossae, and Luke was a committed companion to Paul during the apostle's travels and imprisonment. And Nympha is acknowledged for hospitality is opening her home as a meeting place fore the church.
In the New Testament, we're instructed to be faithful stewards, life transformed lives, pray for one another, serve humbly, and practice hospitality so Jesus' love is apparent to those who don't know Him. As the people in today's passage show, your actions can reflect Christ even more than words do.
1 Timothy 2:1-8
"(1) I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - (2) for kinds and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (3) This is good, and pleases God our Savior, (4) who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (5) For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, (6) who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (7) And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle - I am telling the truth, I am not lying - and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (8) Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing."
When we observe the godless condition of our nation, we readily recognize the need for change. but the biblical solution for our predicament is surprising. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructed his protege to establish some priorities int he church, including prayer "for kings and all who are in authority" (1 Timothy 2:2). Our petitions help us live tranquil and godly lives and thereby provide opportunities to tell others about the Savior (1 Timothy 2:2-4).
Paul would never have given this command to Timothy is he didn't believe that the church's prayers made a difference in achieving God's purposes for their nation. Our problem is not with the Lord's promise or power, but with our doubt. By focusing on the enormity of the problems or the power of those in office, we lose sight of our sovereign God, who listens for our please that He intervene.
Political policies and legislation are not ultimately determined in conference rooms and governmental chambers, but in prayer closets. The voice that shape the direction of a nation are not necessarily those that loudly ring out in legislative halls, but those that approach the throne room of the heavenly Father with bold faith (Hebrews 4:16). As the church believes and prays, the Lord will respond.
Knowing that God can change a country, you may be wondering why He has waited so long. But He is likely already working in ways we don't recognize or understand. Every authority on earth can be touched by the power of prayer if we are willing to ask and believe God.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. Ans so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you."
Overcoming the Flesh
Sin is often frightfully deceptive. We can be diligently serving the Lord without realizing that we're actually doing so for selfish reasons such as recognition, affirmation, or achieving our own goals. Or maybe our external behavior doesn't match what's really going on within our heart. We could be doing all the right things outwardly while at the same time holding a grudge, finding fault, or grumbling in our heart.
These problems flow from our flesh and its sinful desires, which are part of the condition in which we were born. The only cure for a self-focused life is what Galatians 5:16 calls "walking by the Spirit."
First, we must realize that we cannot live a godly life apart from the Holy Spirit. Remember, the flesh cannot be changed or tamed but must be replaced with dependence on the Holy Spirit. He alone can overcome the pull of sin because His power is unlimited.
Second, we must surrender to the Holy Spirit rather than yield to our fleshly desires. In other words, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Romans 13:14).
Third, we must trust the Lord. We can't fully surrender to Him until we confidently believe both that His Word is true and that He keeps his promises. Then, as our thoughts, decisions, and actions align with the truths of Scripture, we are empowered to stand firm against temptation.
God wants you to live in the fullness of His Spirit. So lay your flesh down at the cross today, and let the Spirit lead you into a fruitful, abundant life.
"(17) I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (18) For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people."
Throughout the ages the church has been bombarded with false teaching, and it's still prevalent today. Since the only way to combat error is with truth, the church must be grounded in the Scriptures to avoid falling victim to deception.
The church needs an accurate view of Jesus. To hold firmly to the truth of the gospel, we must have a solid understanding of who Christ is. Though some claim Jesus was a teacher or a prophet, Scripture says He was fully God, who created everything and came to earth to save mankind from condemnation (John 1:1-13). Others argue that there are many ways to God. However, reconciliation with Him requires that sin's penalty be paid in full by one who is sinless. Only Jesus, the perfect Son o Man, could meet God's requirement. Therefore, no one can come to the Father except through him (John 14:6).
The church must also affirm true doctrine. False teachers can be very persuasive and lead listeners into wrong thinking, confusion, and discouragement. In contrast, true doctrine strengthens and encourages believers by assuring them that salvation is by God's grace through faith in Christ alone; it is not gained or maintained by their performance (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those who belong to Jesus need never fear condemnation because the penalty for their sins has been paid (Romans 8:1). Everyone who is born again has an imperishable inheritance, which is reserved in heaven and protected by divine power through faith until God reveals it (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Can you discern false teaching? The only way to guard yourself and your church is to be firmly grounded in God's Word.