Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

Prayer Challenges

Thoughts from Doug Knox.

October 2021

Five Pillars, Part 1

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

While Others Watch: Pillars of Selflessness for a Self-Obsessed Church


Introduction: Five Pillars
Not long ago, I came upon a passage at the close of 1 Corinthians in which Paul writes a quintet of short instructions for his audience.  

 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.” 

--1 Corinthians 16:13-14

 Talk about life-affirming affirmations.  I thought that these five little gems begged to be pulled out of the matrix and polished into brilliant statements to incite us to pursue positive living. Then I remembered one of my personal cardinal rules of biblical study: Never, ever, interpret the Scripture out of context. I looked at them in context, and boy, did they come out differently. We get a hint about their meaning from their placement in the book.  The calls lie well into the concluding material, just eleven verses before the close of the book of 1 Corinthians. That fact alone tells us something.  Paul often places short commands like these in the concluding sections.  Their stand-alone quality allows him to add final reminders for faithful conduct without having to expound on their meaning.  However, they always follow the track that the particular letter has set.  


Pillars of Responsibility in the Faith Community
The five admonitions at the end of 1 Corinthians are more than simple parting comments.  Paul is too meticulous for such a lapse in his writing. The first fifteen chapters of the book focus on issues within the church.  Chapter 16 moves from church issues to church business.  The big order of business in this chapter lies with a monetary collection for the church at Jerusalem being conducted throughout the churches in Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). The material from verses 5-20 expands on the instructions and falls into three sections:


Those whom the church should expect to see in the near future:

--Paul’s plans to revisit the church, (1 Corinthians 16:5-9)

--Instructions on how to receive Timothy, (1 Corinthians 16:10-11)

--Information on Apollos’ plans to visit the church at a later date, (1 Corinthians 16:12)

Instructions to the church regarding their conduct:

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Those who watch the church at Corinth: 

--A call to recognize Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, (1 Corinthians 16:15-18)

--Greetings from the churches in Asia, (1 Corinthians 16:19a)

--Hearty greetings from Aquilla and Priscilla, along with the members in their church, (1 Corinthians 16:19b-20)

 The Church among the Fellow Servants of God
Why would Paul place personal instructions to the Corinthian believers in the middle of his comments about the people who hold abiding roles in the church’s development? He wants to put the church on notice.  The three characters at the beginning—Paul, Timothy, and Apollos—each share personal history with the church.  And they all plan to return. Those in the final section of the list have sacrificed for the church’s spiritual welfare, either directly or indirectly.  This is especially evident from Paul’s words about “the household of Stephanus…the first converts in Achaia” who have “devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15). Between these two groups, Paul places his five-fold call to watchfulness, faith, manliness, strength, and love.  The commands form a reminder for the Corinthians to get over themselves and recognize their obligation to the remainder of the world community o faith. 

 A Church Stuck on Itself
The letter to the Corinthians reveals a litany of selfishness.  The entire letter focuses on taking the people’s attention from themselves:  


· In their obsession to be identified with spiritual personalities, the church looks like a stampede to take selfies with the rock stars (1 Corinthians 1:10 – 4:21).  

·  The church has welcomed sexual sin and has allowed civil lawsuits to brew among its members (1 Corinthians 5:1 – 6:20).  

· The members have minimized the meaning and sanctity of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-40). 

· Self-proclaimed “mature” believers bully those who struggle with lesser issues (1 Corinthians 8:1 – 10:33).  

· The Holy Spirit’s gifts for service have become cause for boasting (1 Corinthians 2:1 – 14:40). 

· In a doctrinal crisis, some question whether a resurrection of the dead will take place (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).  

 Into this raucous atmosphere, Paul reminds the believers of a grave truth.  Others are watching.  His series of commands, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love,” then, are not motivational tidbits for self-fulfillment. They stand as a reminder to remind the Corinthian believers about their place among the faith community around them.  They call the church back to a humbler behavior that cares for others first.

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Five Pillars, Part 2

Acts 20:29-32

Watchfulness as a Mark of Business in the Church.


Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)


Watchfulness in the New Testament
The word be watchful occurs 46 times in the New Testament.  Interestingly, it appears in only three primary contexts.  The first involves Jesus’ words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives just before his arrest.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record what has become known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus’ teaching on what circumstances to expect in the world prior to his return. In this sermon, the call to be watchful focuses on the necessity to maintain diligence in our works while we wait for Christ’s return, so that we are not taken by surprise. In the Olivet Discourse, surprise carries a deeper meaning than a simple momentary slip.  Christ’s coming will be sudden, and in that sense, everyone will be taken by surprise (see Matthew 24:36-39 and 25:1-6) 

Jesus’ understanding of surprise is absolute.  We either expect him or we do not.  In the one case, we will remain diligent in our service for him.  In the other case, we will miss our chance to be taken with him altogether.  Similar cautions admonish the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:2 and 3, and the saints in general in Revelation 16:15. A second context involves the disciples that same evening, when Jesus goes to pray prior to his arrest.  There, he asks them to watch with him while he pleads with his Father. The third context, the one that the five pillars in 1 Corinthians 16 falls under, involves our shared commitment in the church to be alert in the present moment.  In addition to the Corinthian church, Paul uses the word when he speaks to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:31, as well as in his letters to the churches at Colossae (Colossians 4:2) and Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:6).  Peter also uses it when he writes to the Hebrew churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:8).  


A Well-developed Context
Paul’s sermon to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 provides the most complete context for the case for watchfulness in the church.  In this chapter, Paul resides temporarily at Miletus during his final trip to Jerusalem.  While there, he calls the elders from the church at Ephesus to come to hear him (Acts 20:17).  Concerning watchfulness, he says,  

 Acts 20:29-32 (ESV) 
29  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 
30  and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 
31  Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 
32  And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.


The Best Attitude
Paul used an extreme mental picture when he warned the Ephesian church that fierce wolves would come among them to take the flock. Wolves, by their nature, are opportunists.  The Ephesian church had received special blessing from God.  Acts 19 records the revival that had taken place within the church and the impact that it had made on the city. The mere fact that the church was so successful put a target on it.  Someone, somewhere would try to exploit the church. Paul said, men would come both from outside the church to devour the flock, and from within the church to draw disciples to themselves through false teaching.  


The Best Defense
Interestingly, Paul knew better than to try to specify what kind of attacks that the church would encounter.  He was not being sloppy.  He knew that no one would never be able to finish a comprehensive catalog of attacks.  There is no end to the varieties of evil in the world. This is not a problem, however.  The best defense against error is a thorough knowledge of the truth.  The better we know the truth, the clearer the error will appear, regardless of what it is.  

In that regard, watchfulness begins with the truth about our own fallibility.  No church is so secure in the truth that it remains immune from attack.  In fact, those that feel the most secure are the ones that are in the most danger. Paul emphasizes the gravity of the situation by telling the elders that “for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”  If he emphasized this point with that level of emotion for three years, it must be important.  


The Best Hope
Thankfully, the battle for truth does not depend solely on human effort.  Paul concludes this section of his sermon with the words, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Yes, fallible humans are responsible for maintaining diligence, but our hope lies deeper than our personal success.  It is God who calls us, and the word that guides us.  These two factors give us a level of hope that frees us to pursue his work. 


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Five Pillars, Part 3

1 Corinthians 15:1-19

The Meaning of a Firm Stand in the Faith


Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)

The Appeal of Pascal’s Wager
When I was a couple of years out of high school, I discovered what is popularly known as Pascal’s Wager.  Most of us are familiar with it, even if we do not know its title.  It is an argument that seeks to challenge nonbelievers to consider the Christian faith as a genuine option.  The wager is a two-part logical argument that goes like this: 

 “If there is no God, as you say, then I am wrong in my belief in eternal life.  If that is the case, then we share a common fate at the end of our lives.  We both simply move from consciousness to non-being.  I know nothing and feel nothing.  Ultimately, I lose nothing.  

 “On the other hand, if there is a God, as I believe, and you are wrong in your belief, we face completely different fates at the ends of our lives.  I go into eternity with my God and Savior, but you go into an eternity of hell and suffering.  

 “Wouldn’t you be far better served if you believe like I do, rather than me believing as you do?”  

 I loved the argument.  It gave me an upper hand in witnessing for Christ because I was able to force the burden of choice on the other person without exposing myself to moral exposure.  I felt freed from the pressure of making myself vulnerable during the act of witnessing.  I began to use it on everyone with whom I shared the faith.  


God’s Sting Operation
A few months into my self-obsessed marvel, I happened to read through the book of 1 Corinthians.  Little did I realize that God was about to use that book to tear down my DIY fortress. The rout occurred when I reached the fifteenth chapter.  There, Paul discusses the question of the resurrection of the dead, along with its meaning for Christ’s resurrection.  At the very beginning of the chapter, Paul introduces the gospel, which, he says, “I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). His words were almost hostile.  The church was either with him or against him on the matter of the gospel.  The rebuke was going to be good reading.  I continued to read what turned out to be Paul’s defense of the gospel.  First, he reviewed the essence of the gospel message, beginning with what he called the points of “first importance”:

 ·  “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3)

·  “…that he was buried and was raised again on the third day in accordance to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:4)

 The Scriptures form the foundation for our beliefs, but the truth does not end there.  Following this, Paul named those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection:

 ·  “…that he appeared to Cephas [Peter] and then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

·  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:8)

 I saw that he followed the Old Testament pattern for building a legal case on the basis of two or three witnesses.  His case for Christ on lay on the witness of the Scripture, the eyewitness testimony of those who had seen Jesus after the resurrection, and finally his own encounter with Christ.  


Truth that is Greater than Wager
Following this introduction, he moved to the central issue of the chapter:


1 Corinthians 15:12 (ESV) 
12  Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

 This question moves to the immediate issue.  Some, apparently, argued that there was no future resurrection of the dead.  The force of logic is simple.  With all the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, how can they deny the possibility of a future resurrection? Of course, this line of logic flies in the face of Pascal’s Wager.  If three witnesses testify to the truth of the gospel, we do not need a just-in-case argument to bolster our position. God was knocking out my foundation stone by stone, but at this point I was still unaware of what he was doing.  I read on.  


Unraveling my Security Blanket
In verses 13-18, Paul addresses the question of the resurrection of the dead.  His argument asks, “Let’s suppose that what you say is true.”  Then he works backwards from the conclusion to show what happens if we continue to follow that faulty line of reasoning.  In the field of logic, this type of argument is called a reductio. Paul goes scorched-earth in this section.  He builds two reductio arguments, both of which begin with the denial of the resurrection of the dead in general.  This is the issue that prompted his defense of the gospel in this chapter in the first place. The first argument looks at the consequences for the preaching of the gospel:  


· The conclusion:
“But if there is no resurrection of the dead…” (1 Corinthians 15:13)

· The consequences:

o “…then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:13).

o “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

o “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.” (1 Corinthians 15:13)

 In other words, far from the neutral consequences that the wager supposes, the real consequences reduce our preaching to a lie.  We misrepresent God because we speak falsehood about him. The second reductio argument looks at the consequences for our faith itself.  The result is not pretty.  


· The conclusion:
“For if the dead are not raised…” (1 Corinthians 15:16)

· The consequences:

o “…not even Christ has been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:16).

o “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

o “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18).


During my reading so long ago, I managed to plow through all that and still remain clueless to what it meant for my thinking. My house came crashing down when I reached the final verse of the section.  Here, Paul lays everything to rest.  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19). In essence, the closing phrase, “most to be pitied,” means most contemptable.  And with my love of the risk-free clause in my gospel message, Paul had put me at the bottom of the heap.  His statement threw me into a mental rage.  I remember thinking, “No, I will not accept that!” A few seconds later I realized that I did not have the right to tell the Scripture what I would or would not believe.  I had to submit to its authority.  Those few seconds between my anger and my submission were some of the most agonizing of my life.  


Standing Firm
I learned my lesson.  From that day forward, I abandoned Pascal’s Wager and never went back to it. Paul’s call to stand firm in the faith rests on Scripture and factual evidence.  We believe the faith because it is true.  If we try to reduce the faith to a wager, we misrepresent God and leave ourselves as contemptible creatures. 

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Five Pillars, Part 4

1 Kings 21:1-16

Acting Like Men


Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)

When Men Disappear

As I write this edition of the challenge, our nation walks through the second week of the abandonment of our own and our allies in Afghanistan.  This not a time for conservative-versus-liberal mudslinging.  It is not a time for yelling.  It is a time for lament. The leaders of the most powerful and blessed nation in the history of the world have left their posts.  They have capitulated to a bunch of thugs who act out of hatred for the West and its principles.  They are “negotiating” when they should be attuned to the business of defending the people that they represent. The stories are sickening.  Women and girls are being beaten and raped.  Young women, many of them Christians, are destined for the sex trade or forced into marriages with Taliban troops.  According to news reports, one woman was set on fire. The most gut-wrenching account to me concerned a mother who threw her new-born baby over the top of the razor-wire wall into the airport in the hope that someone would catch the child and take it to freedom.  Better to risk the baby’s death on the concrete on the other side of the wall than to guarantee her abuse by keeping her close.  This poor mother sacrificed everything while our leaders go on vacation.  Our nation has become a global laughingstock.


Differing Views of Manhood

The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “Act like men.”  Current events give us two examples of what men do not look like.  The first is the leadership in Washington, who have shown themselves to be a bunch of jellyfish. The second is the Taliban, a group of self-righteous terrorists who find their greatest joy in preying on the weak and destroying anyone who disagrees with their views. Now, let’s ask the obvious question.  If we call these two views black, then what does white look like?  What do real men do? I see two qualities.


  • In contrast to Washington, real men stand on principle over expedience.
  • In contrast to Afghanistan, real men pursue honor over brutality.


An Old Testament Genuine Man

One of the neglected heroes in the Old Testament is a man named Naboth.  He appears briefly in 1 Kings 21, near the end of the King Ahab’s reign in Israel.  The story begins innocently enough.


1 Kings 21:1-2 (ESV)

1  Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.

2  And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.”

 Under ordinary circumstances, this would be a fair offer, especially from a king.  However, the circumstances are not ordinary.  Naboth’s reply takes us to the heart of the matter.  “But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers’” (1 Kings 21:3). Naboth has shut down the king, but not out of vanity.  His statement begins with a reference to principle, “The LORD forbid…” So, what exactly does the LORD forbid?

 The principle goes to land inheritance, which lies at the heart of God’s covenant to Abraham.  When God gave the inheritance of land to national Israel, family inheritance was meant to remain in perpetuity.  Moses commanded,


Numbers 36:7, 9 (ESV)

7  The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers…  9  So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’”

 Leviticus 25:23 shows that this command falls under the purview of worship.  For anyone to sell his inheritance outside his tribe would dishonor the LORD’s relationship to the land. In short, Naboth has chosen to challenge the king’s presumption to trample God’s command for money because he understands the Heavenly King’s command.  If he were to give in to the king’s offer, he would betray his ancestors’ faith.


The Cost of a Good Man’s Principles

I wish I could say that God intervened to bring a happy end to Naboth, but he did not.  As the narrative continues, Ahab sulks.  Consequently, Queen Jezebel, the power behind the throne, sets up a false legal case against Naboth, declaring, “Naboth cursed God and the king” (1 Kings 21:13). The city leaders take Naboth outside and stone him, and Ahab goes to enjoy his new property. The seizure of property leads to Ahab’s judgment.  I will leave you to read about it over the course of the chapter.  Though God delays the judgment out of mercy in 1 Kings 21, Ahab proves his true character in chapter 22.  There, he dies in battle.


The Consequences of Capitulation for the United States

Some pastors have declared that because the United States has rejected God’s word, our nation’s judgment has become inevitable.  These are not self-proclaimed prophets who mishandle God’s word and claim to speak on their own authority.  They respect the Scripture and build their case using sound biblical teaching. To be honest, I fear that they may be right.  I know that God would be justified in carrying out that judgment.  Should that occur, all of us would find ourselves in Naboth’s place, where principled stands would cost us dearly.  If that day comes, I hope I can act like a man. In the meantime, I pray once again for God’s mercy on our nation.  Though our record has been far from perfect, we have been a beacon of righteousness throughout our history.  We do not conquer other nations.  We rebuild them.  Our nation has liberated other cultures throughout our history.  The world has experienced blessing because of the way that we value liberty for everyone. But our merit is not the reason why I pray for God’s mercy.  I pray for his mercy because he is a merciful God.  Perhaps he will call us again to show the world what a nation of men committed to acting like men can do.

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Five Pillars, Part 5

2 Kings 13:14-19



Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)

A Brief Look at “Being strong”

The command, “Be strong,” involves more than simple physical prowess.  Few of us can bench-press 250 pounds. I see two general qualities that fit under the term.  One is the ability to stand on one’s convictions, whether or not he has an audience.  Strength is subjection to principle.  It is the willingness to declare a stand and take the heat for it. When everyone else says, “Someone ought to do something about that situation,” the strong man says, “I know what needs to be done, and I will do my part.” The other quality that I see as being essential to real strength is self-honesty.  If we do not know ourselves, we will discover that we lack the control to stand when the call comes. A recent Glen Beck radio segment, for example, focused on his dire predictions for our nation’s moral future and the courage that we will need to meet them when they occcur.  He said, “Someone told me, ‘I don’t know whether I’ll have the courage to face the difficulties that will come.’  I trust her a lot more than the person who says he won’t have a problem. The one who is overconfident has failed to think about the issues.” He is right.  Courage, the outworking of strength, requires awareness, thought, and commitment.  We must be aware of our weakness as well as our strength.  We do not stumble into this kind of thinking.  We grow it when we weigh our self-knowledge against the necessity to declare our stand.  In the biblical sense, strength is a call to self-honesty, moral courage, and trust.


 The Strength to Call on Strength

One of the seldom-studied incidents in the Old Testament occurs with the eighth-century BC King Joash of Israel.  The events take place during the final days of Elisha the prophet, who succeeds Elijah. Joash follows his father Jehoahaz, who has reigned for seventeen years.  After Jehoahaz dies, Joash must deal with the ongoing war with Syria.  However, the Israelite army is depleted to fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen (2 Kings 13:7), a pittance against an army like Syria’s. Enter Elisha the prophet.  Joash goes to Elisha seek his help, but all he can do is lament the state of his army.

 2 Kings 13:14 (ESV)
14  Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father!  The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”

 We cannot fault Joash for his fear.  At this point in the story, his future is hopeless.  He has every right to weep. However, Elisha speaks for the LORD, and in going to the prophet, Joash seeks mercy from the LORD.  Elisha knows this and directs his words to Joash’s request.

 2 Kings 13:15-17 (ESV)

15  And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.”  So he took a bow and arrows.

16  Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it.  And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands.

17  And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it.  Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot.  And he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria!  For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.”


The Symbolism of Actions

The actions that we see here are explicit and significant.  If we spread them out, they fall into two corresponding stanzas, followed by a promise that God would complete the battle:  


First Stanza:
And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows.
Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,”and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands.


Second Stanza:
And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,”
and he shot. And he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria!
For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.”

 The symbolism is forceful.  The two commands in the first stanza— “Take a bow and arrows…. Draw the bow….” —illustrate God’s invitation for Joash to own his part in God’s intervention.  When Elisha lays his hands on the king’s hands, the act physically signifies that God will be with Joash in the fight.

The commands in the second stanza— “Open the window eastward…. Shoot” —call Joash to act.  Elisha’s pronouncement, “The LORD’s arrow of victory…” is an ironclad promise.  Joash will win when he fights.


 The Time to Face Up to Courage
Elisha’s promise does not come in the form of a cashier’s check.  It comes as a call for Joash to summon his strength.  We see that fact in the text that follows.

 2 Kings 13:18 (ESV)

18  And [Elisha] said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped.

 Elisha’s command to strike the ground with the arrows is a call for Joash to affirm the promise.  After all, he is king and commander of his army.  His duty is to lead.  In vernacular terms, he ought to be psyched for victory. Instead, he shoots three arrows and stops.  This is timidity in its worst form, and Elisha’s reaction is not pretty.

  2 Kings 13:19 (ESV)

19  Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

After this dire prediction, Elisha succumbs to his illness and dies (2 Kings 13:20-21).  Now, Joash’s course of action is set in concrete.  He cannot go back and decide to do things better.  He gets his victory, but it meets only the minimum standards.  We see this from the closing of the event. 

 2 Kings 13:25 (ESV)

25  Then Jehoash [Joash] the son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad the son of Hazael [King of Syria] the cities that he had taken from Jehoahaz his father in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel.


 What Joash’s Aftermath Means for Us
Joash missed a critical moment in Elisha’s ministry, and in that oversight, he lost a victory.  When Elisha laid his hands on Joash’s hands, he offered more than a symbolic reference to victory.  He stood beside him to encourage him as a man. Joash wanted deliverance.  Elisha offered him far more.  Joash’s failure to understand what Elisha offered caused him to out on a far deeper act of grace from God. To borrow from Glen Beck’s observation quoted above, we all begin in uncertainty.  This is natural.  In the absence of danger, we remain unsure how we will act. The way to assure our strength is to examine our principles and predetermine our moral boundaries, and the way to do that lies in meaningful relationships with other men.  We need each other’s encouragement, so we can say, “When the time comes, we shall do this.”  Yes, we must fix our moral boundaries in our minds, but when we do so in solidarity with others, the task becomes far easier to carry out. When we call each other to readiness in advance, we will have a deeper well with which to summon our strength.

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Five Pillars, Part 6

Mark 10:32-44

Acting in Love


Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)

God’s Crowning Achievement
Doubtless, the reason why the Apostle Paul saves the command, “Let all that you do be done in love,” for last is because biblical love is the blanket that overshadows everything we do. The art of acting in love is a task that learn over a lifetime.  Consequently, God’s greatest achievement is to transform men who naturally act in self-interest into servants who understand how to care for others’ needs as their first order of business.

A Lesson in Love
One of the most concrete examples involving the meaning of love in action occurs in the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel.  The chapter records the conclusion of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which begins in Mark 8:32.During the journey, Jesus makes three pronouncements about his approaching death in Jerusalem.  These occur in Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; and 10:10:32-34. Near the end of the journey, the reality of the situation begins to set in for Jesus.  Mark writes, “And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them.  And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mark 10:32). The situation is ominous.  When Jesus must separate himself from his large group of followers, something is wrong, and his actions are enough to make his followers afraid. At some point, Jesus gathers the twelve and tells them,

Mark 10:33-34 (ESV)
33  See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.

34  And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

An Ambitious Request
Unfortunately, the twelve remain locked in their anticipation of national domination.

 Mark 10:35-37 (ESV)
35  And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

36  And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

37  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

 When we read the words, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” the dialogue is suspect.  This is saying, “Teacher, we want you to sign a blank check for us.” I am sure that Jesus knows what is on their minds, but he asks anyway, “What do you want me to do for you?” Then they drop the bomb.  They want the right- and left-hand positions of glory when Jesus reaches his kingdom.

 The Blindness of Ambition
After a request like the one that James and John asked, I am surprised that Jesus maintains his temper.  He does, however.

 Mark 10:38-40 (ESV)
38  Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

39  And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,

40  but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

 Jesus affirms that they will drink the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism that will determine his fate, but the two are unaware that his words point to the high cost of coming apostleship.  Further, their request is outside of his authority to answer. 

 The Things that Trigger Jesus’ Anger
The account begins to become dicey as the other ten hear what is going on.  Here, Mark gives us only the essential details, leaving us to fill in the gaps.

 Mark 10:41-45 (ESV)
41  And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.

42  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

43  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,

44  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

45  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 So, what lies in the gaps? The first thing is the reason why are the ten indignant.  Probably, they are appalled that the two could ask Jesus such a thing, but I believe that jealousy underlies the issue. Second, Mark writes that Jesus “called them to him.”  Jesus is going to the cross, and twelve squabble over their anticipated glory. Jesus’ moral lesson punches them in the gut.  He begins by demolishing the glory myth.  Notice that he talks about those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles.  The word signifies assumption over fact.  Power goes to people’s heads. By contrast, he tells the twelve, “But it shall not be so among you.”  Greatness is not about acquiring power.  It is about service.  To be great, one must become a servant, and to be first, he must become the slave of all. This is the essence of doing things in love, and it is the essence of Jesus’ ministry on the earth.

 A Seemingly Unrelated Incident
Following this altercation, Mark jumps onto another track.  “And they came to Jericho” (Mark 10:46).  At first, the change in geography looks like a change in the subject.  However, Mark will tie the two incidents together.  He continues,

Mark 10:46-47 (ESV)

46   And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.

47  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 Wouldn’t you know it?  A crowd begins to celebrate Jesus’ glorious liberation when a blind beggar interrupts them. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. Come on, Mark, why should we care about his name?  He is not important.  But to the crowd’s displeasure, Jesus calls for him.

 Mark 10:48-51 (ESV)

48  And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49  And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”

50  And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

51  And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”

 Everything is straightforward until we come to verse 31, where Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Isn’t the answer obvious? Factually, the answer is obvious, but Jesus does not ask the question for factual reasons.  The question is word-for-word the same as the one that he asked James and John earlier.  Jesus is not asking a factual question.  He models a servant’s question when he is summoned. Bartimaeus’ answer goes to what Jesus is authorized to do, and that is to give him his sight.  Jesus does precisely that.  

Mark 10:52 (ESV)

52  And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

 Jesus took on the role of a servant to James and John, and they missed the significance of the gesture entirely.  Bartimaeus receives Jesus’ act of service in the sense that it was meant, and he follows him to Jerusalem.

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