We have a new supplement study guide for today. We are still in Matthew 6:5-15. Remember that it is all one message going through chapters 5, 6, and 7; The Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel written to the Jews.
In the first eighteen verses of Matthew chapter 6 Jesus presents The Correct Understanding of Doing Righteousness, that is, living out your religion or your faith as it would be presented to the Jews. As we also presented to you before, there are pattern markers that divide the first eighteen verses into three sections:
Verses 2-4 The Correct Understanding Concerning the Acts of Mercy
Verses 5-15 The Correct Understanding of Prayer
Verses 16-18 The Correct Understanding of Fasting.
In verses 2 through 4 we saw the three principles that are found in all three sections.
(1) That Jesus warns us, first of all, in verses 2 through 4 warns us about our acts of mercy.
(2) That, secondly, it should not be done according to the hypocrites, the actors. Those are the religious people acting out their beliefs with no personal relationship with Christ. Do not be as the hypocrites. The characteristic of the hypocrites is they do things to be seen and noticed and to receive acclamation from people.
(3) The third thing is they receive their reward. When they are recognized and honored by people that is their reward. So He says, Do your acts of mercy in private where your Father who sees in secret sees it and He will reward you.
So there is a difference between religious practice in order to be praised by people and functioning in the mercy of God, doing things to help people but doing it to please the Lord and not for the purpose of drawing praise and honor and emphasis on self.
In verses 5-15 that we have been in the last couple of weeks, the second section is that about prayer. Notice again, Jesus said, Do not pray like the hypocrites do, because they like to pray and have people see them and honor them and praise them. They stand on the street corners so they can be visible by people, and they have their reward. The praise that people give them is their reward. There is no reward from God.
But He says concerning prayer in verse 6, Whenever you should pray enter into your private room and pray privately to your Father who sees in secret. And secondly verse 7, And while you are praying do not use vain (or empty) repetitions, like the Gentiles do for they think that God is going to hear them from their much speaking. But in verse 8, which is where we left off and started a little miniseries on prayer, Therefore do not become like them for your Father knows of what things you have need of before you ask Him. So do not think that by your prayers you are persuading God or even informing Him. That is not the purpose for prayer.
So what is the purpose for prayer? And that is what we are studying. What is prayer for and what is its purpose and what does it serve?
I want to say this before we continue on prayer, that by taking the subject of prayer it also gives us the opportunity to study about the two different Gospels. And there is not any more clear evident subject to use that points out the sharp contrast between the two different Gospels that are being preached today than we find it in prayer. There are two different teachings and two different Gospels coming out of the Bible on every major subject.
(1) One gospel focuses on the human. If you are talking about prayer they present certain Scriptures to apply to the human; that through prayer the human being can control his or her own circumstances. And the Holy Spirit is like a genie in a bottle, in that if you pray the right formula of prayer you can get the Holy Spirit to make life work out for you the way you want it to. That form of presentation of the gospel is human centered. All in the Lord’s name of course. All for His glory. He gets the credit for making me great. That is the basic presentation.
(2) There is there is another gospel that says that man is incapable of producing the things of God and that everything is Christ centered. And that Christ through the Holy Spirit is the only one who can do God’s work. And He does it for the praise of God the Father.
One is human centered. One is Christ centered. And we see these two different Gospels being preached in the church today and each church represents one of those versions of the gospel.
So prayer is either presented as a means by which a Christian is in charge of their own circumstances just by praying about them and bringing to pass or making happen whatever the Christian wants to have happen. Even subtle phrases like attributing certain events happening in life as being attributed to the power of prayer. No, it is not, it is the power of Jesus. It is not the power prayer. As we will see next week, the power prayer is the power Jesus. He is the one that empowers prayer. He is one that brings prayer about. So when people hear, “There is power in prayer so concentrate on your prayer life,” that become psychology. It is not centered on Christ. It is centered on tapping into this power of prayer and making things happen. It does not happen that way.
Last week we saw, we broke off and went into I John 5:14-15. I John 5:14-15 is the summary statement of the entire teaching of prayer for the Christian. John wrote I John some fifty-eight to sixty years after the public ministry of Jesus Christ. His letter is one of the last letters written in the New Testament. So all of the teachings that have come from Jesus Christ and all the way through those sixty years of church history, he summarizes in verses 14 and 15 of I John 5; where he says, This is the confidence that we have toward the Lord, that if we should ask anything according to His will, He is hearing us. So he says, “If you want confidence that your prayers are going to be heard then pray for things to be done according to God’s will.” That is it. And if you can put confidence, if you can say, “Well, I prayed for God’s will to be done so I have confidence that He is hearing me.”
Secondly in verse 15, And if we know that He is hearing us, that is, whatever we should ask, we know that we have, (emphasis we have, present tense) we have the requests which we have asked from Him. We already have them. As verse 8 in Matthew chapter 6 said that God knows what we need before we even ask. When I ask for the Lord’s will to be done I already have my answer. Because His will is being done.
So the conclusion that I gave you last week is that prayer is the means by which we express our submission to the Lord and His will. That is what prayer is for. I am down here in this earthly life. I have events and circumstances and situations that happen in my life. I am the one who is being thrown around mentally and emotionally and maybe even physically by my situation. I am the one who is being blown around like the wind. So by coming to the Lord and taking whatever that situation is and placing it in His hands asking for His will to be done, anchors me, focused on Christ. So now the situation can do whatever it is going to do. I am now anchored. I have surrendered it and submitted it and me to His will.
We saw examples in Matthew 26, especially verse 39. Matthew 26:39 when Jesus is in the garden praying before He went to be crucified, and He says, “Father if it be Your will remove this cup from me (the cup of suffering) nevertheless not my will but yours be done.” Perfect example of what John was saying. We can pray whatever we want to pray but in the end it is His will not mine that I want done.
In James 4 we saw in verses 13 through 16 that James says, “Who are you who say, ‘Tomorrow we are going to go into such and such a city and spend a year there and make a profit, and do business?'” Who are you? How do you know? You are not God. You have not designed tomorrow. You do not know how long you are going to spend there. You do not even know if you are going to get there or not. So in James 4:15 James says, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will go into such a city and spend a year.” If we are even alive then. We do not even know if we are going to be alive that long. If it is Lords will we are going to do these things.
That opens up the fact that I have a plan, I think this is what God wants but let His will be done. We do not know what His will is. So I am submitting the whole situation to His will. This is where we get into trouble because when we have expectations about how certain situations are supposed to turn out we get very disappointed. Because God is carrying out His will for His purposes, and we are hoping that it will turn out a certain way, and a lot of times it does not turn out that way.
So since John says that we are to pray according to His will, Jesus the perfect example. And James even says that all of life is us coming to terms with our submission to God’s will in every situation. Then the question comes up – and here is where the teachings in one of the Gospels I told you about (that there is two different Gospels), the gospel that is centered on man says, “What about the teachings of Jesus when He said to pray in His name? That whatever you pray, Jesus said, whatever you pray in My name, I will do it.” And there is where people center on that. “You just pray in Jesus’ name. You can ask Him, and He will do whatever you want to do,” which is totally against the gospel if you understand the Bible.
Number one, when Jesus saved us He saved us from us going our own way and doing our own thing. Because that is what sin is. But secondly, when Jesus saved us He says, You must deny yourself, and take up your cross daily, and follow Me. How do I deny myself if I am seeking to please myself? So one gospel is focused on and centered on man and the other Gospel is focused on and centered on Christ. But what about these teachings? And we have listed them for you.
If you turn to John 14:12-14. Keeping in mind that John’s teaching there in I John 5 is fifty-eight to sixty years after these teachings. So he is taking these teachings into consideration as he shares. We go back to the teachings of Jesus in John 14:12-14. Jesus said – realize now that in John chapters 13 through 17 that is all one message of Jesus to His disciples before He went to the cross. All of those chapters are one message at one time.
Jesus said, John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the one believing toward Me (into Me) the works which I myself am doing also that one will do; and greater than these he will do; because I myself am going to My Father. And whatever you should ask in My name, this I will do, in order that the Father might be glorified in the Son. If you should ask anything in My name, I myself,” Jesus is saying, not somebody else, “I myself will do it.” I want you to notice something as we are passing through these verses. There is no conditional clause there other than praying in His name. So when people isolate these Scriptures and say, “All you have to do is pray in the name of Jesus and whatever you pray for, it does not make any difference what it is, whatever you pray for He will do it. That is a promise.” And as I mentioned last week, I have said to other people, I said, “Okay, what are you praying for?”
“Well, I need a new washer and dryer.”
“Well, what did you pray?”
“I prayed the Lord would give it to me in the name of Jesus.”
And I said, “And what happened?”
“I have never received it.”
“So, what does that tell you?”
“I do not have enough faith.”
No, no, no, no, no. There is no condition there. Jesus did not say, “If you had enough faith,” He just said, “If you use My name,” so that tells you right away that interpretation and understanding of the text is wrong. It is not a blank check. It does not work. And so the false teachers will say, “If it does not work that way then it is your fault not our fault that we teach it that way.” So people have the guilt that they are not producing for themselves like Jesus said.
Listen to this now, in the Middle East culture in Jesus’ day a person’s name represented their character and attributes. If you go back and study the names of God in the Old Testament, every name that is attributed to God has a meaning to it. Yahweh [Jireh], God is our provider. [Yahweh Rapha], there is God is our healer. And the different names of God represent His character and attributes. To go in the authority and commission of someone’s name is to represent the authority and purpose of that person.
We see it in our day. I always use the example of the Verizon repair man that comes out to your house to repair the phone line or to repair some kind of service. Any type of service company where the guy comes out, and he has a little uniform there, and he has the company name on it; when he comes to the door he is coming representing the company and its services. He is not there to represent himself or to do what he wants to do. He is coming in their authority and that he is there for their purposes to service you.
To go in the name of Christ means to go representing His authority and purpose in every situation. So what am I getting at? Is that what Jesus taught and what John taught in I John 5 are saying the same thing. When you go and pray in the name of Jesus you are asking something to be done for His purposes, for His authority, and not my own. So it is not a magic formula. It is not mysticism and magic to make things happen. It is actually an act of submission. To pray for things to be done in Christ’s name means that I am here to represent Christ. I am here in His authority to represent His purposes. That is why John said – see Jesus is here in John is speaking to the Jewish apostles and John is speaking both to Jews and Gentiles in I John 5. He is saying the same thing. Pray according to the will of God. Jesus is saying pray in Jesus’ name, that is, for His purposes, for His will to be done.
As we continue in John 15:7, same message different chapter. If you should abide in Me, and My words should abide in you, whatever you should desire you will ask, and it will happen for you. No condition but it is with a promise. But it is interesting that Jesus said, If My words abide in you, you will ask, whatever you desire you are going to ask, and it will be done for you. Why? Because it will be done according to the Lord’s word.
John 15:16, You yourselves did not choose Me, and we emphasize the personal pronouns here. He is talking specifically to them about Himself, not to you and me, to them. You yourselves did not choose Me, but I Myself chose you and appointed you, in order that you yourselves should go and should bear fruit, and your fruit should remain, in order that whatever you might ask the Father in My name, He might give it to you. Bearing fruit, asking the Father in the name of Jesus, that means it is in Jesus’ authority, it is for Jesus’ purpose, and it is for the bearing of fruit.
John 16:22-24, And you yourselves, therefore, indeed now you have grief; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one is removing your joy from you. And in that day (that is, the day when they see Christ again) you will ask Me not one thing. You are not going to ask Me anything once you see Me again. Truly, truly, I say to you, that whatever you should ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you did not ask one thing in My name. That is true. Up to the time of Christ they never asked anything in Christ’s name. Now He is asking them to ask in His name until He comes back again, which at that time they will not need to ask Him anything because everything will be fulfilled. But until now you did not ask one thing in My name; be asking (showing continuous [action], it is a command) continue to ask and you will receive, (that is a promise) in order that your joy might be full. Again, to pray in the name of Jesus Christ is to represent Christ in the situation. That I am here to represent Christ, the thing that I am praying about, I am praying representing Christ. I am praying in His name to represent His authority in the situation. I am praying in His name for His purposes to be fulfilled. I am praying in His name to represent Him not me. So to go in the authority and commission of someone’s name is to represent that person, their authority and purpose.
Now the false teaching, the false use, the misuse of these verses in chapters 14, 15, and 16 that people like to isolate and focus on and say, “Well hey, all you have to do is pray in the name of Jesus. That is what it says.” And I am often presented that. “Hey, it says right there brother.” And I will say, “Okay brother, I see it right there. Show me how it is done. How many times have you prayed the name of Jesus, and it did not happen?”
“Well, that was my fault. I did not believe enough.”
Well, it does not – look brother, yeah you are talking about what it says, it does not say anything about believing. It says if we pray in His name the Father will do it. There is no other condition there. So obviously you have misinterpreted it and mis-taught it. Because that is not what it means. It does not mean that you get a blank check by using the name of Jesus. That is not what it means at all. So in all of those texts that we read in chapters 14, 15, and 16 there are no conditional clauses. All promises, no conditional clauses. If you do this, except for praying in the name of Jesus.
Secondly, that interpretation, isolating these texts and saying that using Jesus’ name you can get the Lord to do whatever you want Him to do, goes against the rest of Scripture.
Look at your last piece of text in James 4:1-4. James says, From where do wars and fighting’s among you come from? He is talking to Christians. Is it not from this, from out of your hedonistic desires, which are warring in your members? That is the members of your body. Literally it is the word (hēdonē), hedonistic desires. A hedonist is someone who seeks pleasure. People say we live in a hedonistic society. Everybody is looking for pleasure. So he says, “You are looking to satisfy your hedonistic desires. That is why you’re fighting amongst yourselves.” Verse 2, You desire and do not have. You murder, and are jealous, and not able to obtain. You fight, and you war, and you do not have, because you do not ask. Oh, all I have to do is ask. I do not have to strive and try to get things to turn out my way. See, my problem is I do not pray. I do not ask.
But he goes on to say, You ask, and do not receive, because you are asking wrongly (literal translation, that is) in order that you might spend it on your pleasures. Again it is the word (hēdonē). Well, your problem is you need to ask God for it. Instead of striving, and out of jealousy, and murder, and fighting with people to get what you want, you need ask the Lord for it. And you have asked the Lord for it, and you still do not receive because you are not asking for the right thing. You are asking God to fulfill your prayer request so that you might fulfill your own pleasures. So he says, You are asking wrongly. That is not what prayer is for. This text alone would teach against and cancel out John chapters 14, 15, and 16 being presented as use the Lord’s name to get what you want. It is not what prayer is for.
He goes on to say in verse 4 of John 4, Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship of the world is hostility toward God? So he is saying, “You are committing spiritual adultery by seeking out the things of the world and making yourself a friend of the world.” Whoever therefore should purpose to be a friend of the world is establishing himself as an enemy of God. That is pretty serious stuff. So if you are trying to fulfill your own pleasures and desires with the things of the world, and you are hurting other people doing it, or you are asking God to fulfill your fleshly human desire, well know this, that you are establishing yourself as an enemy of God. You are putting yourself in opposition to God.
Which emphasizes even more why we say that prayer is the means by which we express our submission to the Lord and His will. It is the surrender of myself. It is the acknowledgment that He is God. The highest form of praise to God is when I surrender myself and everything to Him, that is in recognition and confession that He is God.
People also misuse John chapters 14,15, and 16 about praying in the Lord’s name because of Psalm 37:4. Psalm 37:4 basically says this, Delight yourself in the Lord and He will fulfill the desires of your heart. Here is how the false teaching goes. The false gospel, the man centered gospel, takes Psalm 37:4 and says – the text says, Delight yourself in the Lord and He will fulfill the desires of your heart. So they say, “Delight yourself in Him: give worship and praise and adoration to Him; and then once you express your delight in Him, then He promises to give you whatever your heart wants.” Closer scrutiny of the text basically says, Pleasure yourself in the Lord and He will give you the requests of your heart. What the text is saying is that if you are seeking to please the Lord He will answer your request because the desire of your heart is to please Him. See how people twist that and say if you perform a certain way, delight yourself in Him then He will give you whatever you want for yourself if you fulfill that first covenant and condition. Again that is an abuse, a misuse.
So we go back to our original statement in I John 5:14 he says, We have confidence that the Lord is hearing us if we ask anything according to His will. He will always answer that prayer. It is just that I, the human being, I have to come to grips with – and this goes along with our study the first hour in Ecclesiastes – that the Lord does both good and adversity. That the Lord causes this change from one to the other to happen all of the time.
What started the false teaching on prayer that has just run rampant in our culture is because people started praying according to the teaching of the Bible, praying for God’s will to be done. And after they prayed for God’s will to be done the situation got worse in the human. It started turning out the way they thought it should not be. And as I have said to you many times that old saying, “Cheer up things could get worse. Sure enough, I cheered up, and things got worse.” A God of love would never want our human to suffer, so if I pray for God’s will to be done and things get worse or things stay the same then that is not the answer. I must be doing something wrong.
In comes false teaching that says, “Your problem is that you need take control your life. God wants you to pray in the name of Jesus and He wants you to be in control of everything that happens in your life by using His name.”
“Oh! that makes sense.”
But that is a human being not accepting the fact that God allows adversity. God allows things to fall apart. God allows things, He allows people to be sick. He allows things to happen that we in the human do not like and we do not agree with, because we are protectors of our flesh, our human flesh and sin nature. How can a God of love do that to me?
The teachings are the same, to ask things to be done according to God’s will and ask things to be done in Jesus’ name. When you ask everything to be done in His name, you are asking the authority of His name to bring about the purpose of His name in the situation. It is an act of submission. I am to pray not representing myself, but to represent Christ. I am not to pray for my purposes but to pray for His purposes to be done, like Jesus said, in order that the Son might be glorified in the Father.
Let’s close with prayer.