Unity, Judging and Our Knowledge in Christ

John 17: 10-12, 20-23 (Jesus Speaking)

And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

I Corinthians 3: 1-4 (Paul Speaking)

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

While it can not be denied that God is bringing unity to His people, there is still much division in the church today. As flesh laden people, our natural tendency is to latch onto a certain set of pastors or teachers and believe that they speak the truth, and we dismiss and sometimes discredit others with opinions that do not agree with our own.

Often, though, both camps have a valid point in God, and by dismissing the teachings of one, we may be missing out on the fullness of what God says. We are all parts to one body – the body of Jesus walking out His life on the earth – through us. To criticize another is paramount to shooting oneself in the foot.

I Corinthians 12: 12-26  (Paul Speaking)

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

A verbose read if taken lightly. The gist is this. All of us in Christ have a purpose, and that purpose is as a member of one body. Just as the human body has eyes, a nose, ears, hands, feet, etc., and all those parts function together as one, so it is with Christ. Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23), and we are His body on earth – all of us, united as one to make one body for Christ on the earth. This is why Jesus said in his prayer above “that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

In discussing this with a pastoral team several years ago, and in praying for unity for the city I was living in, God gave me a vision. In the vision I saw a city with people going in and out of buildings, and the buildings which were churches looked like parts of a body. There was a foot building tucked away on one street and another foot building on another street. There were torso buildings, hand buildings, nose buildings, etc. Within the city, you didn’t notice the body parts here and there. They were the same size as all the regular buildings around them and did not stick out. No one thought anything of it, and the people just walked by, or went in and out. This, God showed me, is the church as it is often seen today: non-united body parts serving small groups of people. Then God showed me what would happen if His church truly became united, and in the vision I saw all the scattered body parts tucked away into various sections of the city come together. The resulting completed body was huge, towering far above the city – all the way towards heaven, where the body could then be seen from earth, tall and strong, and attached at the head to Jesus, who is the head of the church. All the people in the city could see the church, and in seeing the church, could see Jesus – mighty and strong and bigger than anything you could build or imagine. The unity made the difference. The unity could be seen by the people, and the unity showed the people Jesus.

Christ wants us to be “as one.” This does not mean that Jesus wants one gigantic church building somewhere in the world where all Christians gather on Sundays. The logistics of that should tell us that is not what Jesus meant. But spiritually, and in attitude, and in speech and action, we should truly be as one.  And seeing that, the world will believe that we are sent by Jesus.

Remember, the many parts of our one human body are for different purposes. The same is true of the body of Jesus – His church. To negate one part is to negate a part of the body of Jesus, and in effect, to negate a part of ourselves. To see the fullness of Christ, we must consider the pieces of the puzzle each person offers.

I Corinthians 13: 9-10 says (Paul Speaking)

For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

At this time “that which is perfect” has not come. We are in the same dispensation of time Paul was in when this scripture was penned. Until that time comes, we will only know in part, so we will need each other, in unity, to present the full picture of Christ to the world. One might have a good grasp on suffering. Another might have a good grasp on blessing. Combined, we will see the fuller message of God’s blessings which sustain us in the sufferings we may experience as we serve in Christ.

We are foolish to think that we already know all there is to know regarding the truths of God. As Paul says in I Corinthians 8: 1b-3:

Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

Our knowledge now is like looking in a darkened mirror (I Corinthians 13:12).  We do not fully know God, but as we are encouraged in verse 3 above, if we love God, then we are known by Him. The more we continue in Christ, the more we will realize we don’t know. And this is good, because it causes us to place our trust and dependence completely on Him, and it gives us a humility towards His Word and others. The position of Agur in Proverbs 30: 1-9 would be wise for all of us to consider:

2 Surely I am more stupid than any man, And do not have the understanding of a man. 3 I neither learned wisdom Nor have knowledge of the Holy One. 4 Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, If you know? 5 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. 6 Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. 7 Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): 8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches— Feed me with the food allotted to me; 9 Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.

Few will argue that Paul had a great revelation of the knowledge of Christ. But consider his heart and humility on the subject. Ephesians 3:8 says “… who am the least of all the saints, this grace was given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”

I John 3:2 says

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

We know in part, and as different parts of one body, we need each other to see and show the world the fullness of Christ. And then, and only then, will the world know that He sent us.

So what then? What about those who speak falsehoods in Christ’s name? What of those who only show “one side” of the Gospel? How can we stay in unity as a church, but disagree at the same time? These are  tough questions!

I Thessalonians 5: 12-21 gives us a good starting point.

12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

Even the best of us battle with the flesh. Paul speaks well of this in Romans 7.  What he wanted to do, because of the flesh, he would not do. What he did not want to do, because of the flesh, he would do. We all share this struggle, and putting to death the deeds of the flesh will be a forever battle as long as we walk this earth. This is true for pastors, preachers, leaders, television evangelists, and everyone else. Because of this, people will fail to be perfect. We should pray for them, and pray for those who are under their care.

Where the fullness of the truth of the Gospel is missing… we should pray for increased revelation and wisdom.
Where an incorrect doctrine is being preached… we should pray for correction and a perfected revelation of God’s truths.
Where blatant lies are being proclaimed as if they are God’s truths… we should pray for the words spoken to be powerless to the hearers, and for God’s truth to break through to the one who is deceived.

And in keeping this attitude of prayer, and standing in the gap for those who are being mislead, we will see the truth of God revealed where it has been hidden, and we will see people saved by that revealed truth. If we stand behind pastors and preachers of God’s word, praying for their perfection in Christ, the people will see our unity, and will know that He has sent us.

If we simply judge those who are in the wrong, or even worse, judge those who are sincere in their love of God yet do not share our exact interpretation of what is right, the world will not see us as seeking unity, and will not see that He sent us (John 17:21, 23). They will simply see us as judgmental, and that is never our calling (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:37, Romans 2:1-5; 14:10-14; James 4:11-12).

The "I Am" of the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is unique in many ways, compared to the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Written by the apostle John, the same writer as the three shorter John books and the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of John follows a topical outlining of the gospel, and not a strict chronological order of things.  He divides his teaching into two main components: the public ministry of Jesus (Chapters 2-12) and the private ministry of Jesus to his disciples (Chapters 13-21).

Here, I want to look at ten “I Am” statements of Jesus, which are unique to this Gospel. These are bold statements Jesus makes concerning Himself and who He is to His people.

The first “I Am” appears in John 6:48

I am the bread of life.

Jesus continues, “49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”…53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

These verses must be understood spiritually. Just as earthly bread and drink will sustain a man while he lives, the Heavenly Bread of Jesus will sustain us spiritually, and for eternity. Also, just as we do not partake of natural bread and natural drink once and then live filled and quenched for the rest of our days on earth, the Bread of Jesus is “food indeed,” and like all other foods, we need to partake on a regular basis in order to continue to be nourished. The blood of Jesus is “drink indeed,” and we need to partake regularly, as the life is in the blood (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11) and and it will sustain us on our journey to Christlikeness.

These verses give evidence to the importance of Communion as a life giving nourishment to the believer.

In a strictly superficial sense, these verses are somewhat gruesome. But in looking at our society as a whole, they speak to me of a spiritual hunger in the world. Eating the flesh of Jesus, and drinking the blood of Jesus are concepts created by God, as all things were created by God (See John 1:1-4). If all things are created by God, then Satan can not be a creator, but he is a perverter and deceiver, and he uses pieces of truth in his lies and deceptions. We must remember, Satan’s goal is to distract people from seeing Jesus, and he will utilize every red herring he can to do so. Our world has an extreme interest in vampires, eating flesh, and drinking blood – even if only in a “fictional” sense. I believe Satan has simply perverted a life giving truth of God and is using it to appease the spiritual hunger of the masses. He gives a perverted version of a truth to keep people from looking for and seeing the true Truth, and turning their hearts towards Jesus. As believers, we should pray that this deception be revealed for what it is, and that the eyes of the people around us would be opened to see the Truth of Jesus as the only sacrifice that saves.

The second “I Am” appears in John 8:12

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

Jesus is the light of the world, and this light is the light of life. Where Jesus is not, there is darkness. Matthew 5: 14-16 states that as Christians, we have been given the call of being lights to the world. Our light should point the way to the True Light, so that people will see Jesus. People can not see if they are in darkness, so we are to bring light to them.

During the Exodus from Egypt, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night” (Exodus 13:21). Jesus says that like the Israelites of old following God as a pillar of fire in the darkness of their world, we are to follow Him as the Light which leads us in the darkness of ours, overcoming the darkness, and bringing light to those around us.

The third “I Am” appears in John 8:23

I am from above

Jesus states that He is from above; He is not from this world. Further He states that the Pharisees were “of this world” but He was “not of this world.” In our journey to Christlikeness, we should be less and less “of this world” and more and more “from above” while still walking with and engaging with the people of earth.

The fourth “I Am” appears in John 8:58

Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.

Exodus 3:14 says “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”” The Pharisees Jesus is speaking to would know very well that God says He is “I AM.” For Jesus to make the same claim speaks of his Godship and oneness with the God of their fathers. Further, Jesus says that before Abraham was, I AM. This speaks the truth that Jesus, as God, was before father Abraham was even born. He is the always has been ever present One. With this, Jesus clearly proclaims his divinity. He is using the eternal name of God.

The fifth “I Am” appears in John 10: 7-9

I am the door.

Jesus is the door.  If we are to find the way to heaven, we must enter through the door. Jesus is that door. Jesus continues, “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” The “in and out” is not a vacillation between being saved and not, but represents the freedom and security we have in Christ.

The sixth “I Am” appears in John 10: 11-15

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.

In combination with being the door, Jesus is the good shepherd. While several scriptures refer to many of God’s great leaders as being shepherds, the Psalms and the Prophets speak of God being the ultimate Shepherd (see Psalm 23:1, Psalm 80:1, Isaiah 40: 10-11, Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 23, Micah 5:4, Zechariah 13:7). Jesus’ saying He is the good shepherd equates Him with God. This proclamation is confirmed by other writers of the New Testament (Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 2: 25, 5:4, Revelation 7:17).

In being the ultimate shepherd, Jesus says He will lay His life down for His sheep. A hireling, in comparison, would protect himself and let the enemy scatter the sheep. We must look at ourselves: Are we like a hireling, putting our life above those of others, or are we like Jesus, esteeming Christlikeness as worth any sacrifice. Jesus gave His all as the great shepherd, and we are called to do likewise.

Being the good shepherd, Jesus knows His own (John 10: 14) and His own follow Him (John 10: 4, 27). We can rejoice that if we are truly seeking Jesus, then we will “by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for (we) do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10: 5) This should be our prayer based in these scriptures – that we will know the voice of Jesus, discern the voice of deceivers so we will flee them, and that we will only follow Jesus.

The seventh “I Am” appears in John 11:25

I am the resurrection and the life.

Jesus’ statement comes in the midst of the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. John 1:4 says that life was in Jesus from the beginning. If we are in Him, we have life by faith in Him as well. In fact, it is no longer us that lives, but we live by faith in Jesus, who lives in us (See Galatians 2:20). This statement could only be made by man if He is also God. Only Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

The eighth “I Am” appears in John 14:6

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus is the truth that sets us free. And Jesus is life, not only in eternity, but here and now. There is no other.

The ninth “I Am” appears in John 15:1-2

I am the true vine.

Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. The branches can not live apart from the vine, for they will wither and die without the life of the vine. Jesus is that life. See an in-depth study of this section of scripture: The Vine and the Vinedresser.

The tenth “I Am” appears in John 18: 5-6

I am He.

At first, this seems like a simple statement made to the guards when they came to arrest Jesus before His crucifixion. They were asking for Jesus of Nazareth, and He was replying “I am He.” But notice, “He” is in italics, as it is not found in the original Greek text. Jesus merely replied “I Am,” much like in John 8:58, noted above. However, He wasn’t making the point of verbally proclaiming his divinity, as He did in John 8: 58 when He stated He was before Abraham. He was simply replying that He was… who they were looking for. Nevertheless, notice the reaction of the guards. Upon the simple statement of “I am He,” they “drew back and fell to the ground.” Jesus’ statement of being who they were looking for contained power to knock them to the ground. Jesus is always with power, even when submitting Himself to death for our sins. As stated in the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and David Brown

“This, occurring before His surrender, would show His power over His enemies, and so the freedom with which He gave Himself up” [MEYER].

A Midnight Friend and an Unjust Judge

In Luke 11 we see the story of the someone who receives some late night guests and has nothing to place before them, so he goes to a neighbor in the middle of the night asking for bread so he can offer it to his guests. I have heard this story preached many times, and the basic gist I often hear is this:

In those days, it was customary to offer guests something to eat after their journey, so upon realizing he had no food for his late night guest, the first man in the story was in a perilous position. He did not want to be rude to his guests, or offend them by not offering food, as was expected and customary.

So he goes to his neighbor and it’s late. In those days, the family would all sleep together due to space and to stay warm, and would be upstairs with animals held safely inside downstairs for the night. To get up and get food for the man banging on the door would have been a great inconvenience, and would have waken everyone up! It is only because the man outside was persistent in banging on the door and yelling up at his neighbor that he got him what he asked.

Some will even add: The neighbor was stuck in a double lose position: get up and bother everyone getting bread for the man at the door, or try to ignore him and have everyone in the house bothered by the incessant banging and yelling.

This never set quite right with me. I don’t disagree with any of the customs as described, though I have no evidence either way. It makes sense, though, that if someone came as a guest, that you would be expected to offer them something to eat, and it makes sense that families would sleep together, and it makes sense that getting up in the middle of the night to get bread would involve some sacrifice. However, the moral of the story always seemed to be – not “ask and it shall be given” as Jesus said in the very next verse, but “bother God enough and He’ll get tired of you, so in order to shut you up and make you go away, will give you what you want – so keep at it!”

Luke 11, verses 2-13 are what Jesus says in response to being asked to teach His disciples how to pray. All of the text must be considered together, as it is one conversation. First, He teaches the Lord’s Prayer, and immediately proposes a question in telling the story discussed above. After this, He proposes a few more questions in further making His point. Let’s look at all of these questions, as they are all asked in the same discourse, and all are being used to teach the principles of prayer.

  • 5 And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?
  • 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?
  • 11 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
  • 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

I have the fortune of having a few friends. Even though it may be a bother to them, I know that if I show up at their door at midnight and wake them up, even waking up their whole family, I can get bread from them if I ask. He will not just tell me to “go away.”  I also have a father, and I’m fairly certain that if I ask for bread from him, he will not give me a stone. If I ask for a fish, he will not give me a serpent. If I ask for an egg, he will not suggest a scorpion instead.

I believe the point Jesus was trying to make with every question He asked in explaining prayer, was that we should not expect the outcome proposed in the question. We should expect the opposite. He asked, in all four scenarios, a question that was seeking an opposite response to make his point. To every question, our thought should be, “no, that wouldn’t happen.” In none of the four scenarios was He making a statement of how things are.

“I’m sorry neighbor, but even though we are friends (as stated by Jesus) and you’re in a tough spot, I’m not going to help you – you will have to go home and offend your guests with nothing to offer them.” Or, “Son, I know you’re hungry, so here’s a rock.” – in both cases, just the opposite.

This brings us to a couple of points that should be clarified so that there is no confusion. Verse 8 says “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.” Maybe friendships were different then than they are now, or maybe Jesus was making the point that it’s not because of the friendship that the man gets his late night bread. It is because of his persistence. The original King James uses the word “importunity” instead of persistence. The word is from the Greek anaideia. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament, and it means shamelessness or impudence, and implies a lack of modesty. Picture a desperate man in need – guests have arrived and he needs to honor them with food, for they have been traveling, so he is knocking on a friend’s door at night, regardless of the rudeness or inopportune time when everyone is asleep, and you will see a shameless man who knows he can come to his friend, even in this inconvenient situation, and ask for a favor.

And such it is with us and God. Even in the darkest hour, late at night, when every fiber of our being says that we don’t need to bother Him with our petty problem, God says, “ask, and it shall be given.” In our desperation, we can call on him, and our prayers will be heard, and provided for.

Between the questions, Jesus says “9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” The Amplified Bible translates these sentences with “ask and keep on asking,” “seek and keep on seeking” etc. because “the idea of continuing or repeated action is often carried by the present imperative and present participles in Greek.” – from the Amplified’s notes attached to these scriptures.

I agree. We should ask, and keep on asking. We should seek, and keep on seeking, and we should knock, and keep on knocking. But let’s not apply the point here inappropriately to the story preceding it. There is no note of the present imperative being used in the story above, stating that the friend was “banging, and kept on banging at the door.” There is no evidence that the friend was kept waiting at all. His friend saw his shamelessness (remember: anaideia) and answered the plea by giving whatever he needed.

The present imperative means: Continually, habitually follow this command! The Present Imperative is often a call to a long-term commitment and calls for the attitude or action to be one’s continual way of life, or lifestyle.

Just because we knocked on the door last night doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it again tonight if we find ourselves in another desperate situation. Asking – should be our lifestyle. In that, we should keep on asking, no matter how much asking we have already done. In fact, by definition of the imperative, it is a command.

I want to look at Luke 18, verses 1-8, to conclude this study.  This is the parable of the woman and the unrighteous judge. I often hear this story told in conjunction with the story of the late night neighbor, to press the point of “persevering with God so you eventually get what you need.”  Verses 1-8 read as follows:

1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

The point of most arguments suggesting God wants us to really pray and pray and pray is based on the words “He bears long with them.” I agree that God wants us to pray and pray and pray. Please don’t assume I am saying otherwise. But I don’t believe He wants us to pray and pray and pray just so that can He sit up in Heaven watching, waiting, looking at His watch thinking to Himself, “I think I’ll make him pray on this for 2 more weeks, and if he’s still troubling me then, maybe I’ll do something.”

That is not our God.

We must look at the original Greek for these words, “bear long.” It will change the entire meaning of the passage. We must also remember that it is God who is bearing long. It is not us who are bearing long, waiting for God to act. These two words are from the Greek word “makrothymeō.” The outline of Biblical usage is as follows. I encourage you to read the full Thayer’s Lexicon entry at the link above:

  • To be of a long spirit, not to lose heart
    • To persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles
    • To be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others
      • To be mild and slow in avenging
      • To be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish.

So in what way is God “bearing long” with us? By definition of the Greek, He is, not losing heart. He is persevering patiently and bravely in enduring troubles. He is being patient in bearing offenses. He is slow in avenging, slow in anger, and slow in punishing. He is longsuffering with us.

Look at verses 7 and 8 together in light of this definition: “7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?””

He will avenge us speedily! He is bearing long with us, waiting on us! If we have sin we have not dealt with, God is bearing long until we take care of that before He answers. If we have anger towards our brother, He is bearing long, waiting for us to go make it right before He responds. If we have bitterness in our heart regarding the very situation we are praying about, He is bearing long, waiting on us to come to Him confessing our need for deliverance of that bitterness before He addresses the issue. We need to ask God to reveal to us what He is bearing long about when we pray. And when we do, and when we are praying in faith, because we are praying His Word, He says He will avenge speedily.

Without God, we cannot; but without us, God will not

The words of the title are from St. Augustine. They capture a great truth – a truth that needs revitalized in today’s society. In today’s world of internet and television and work and friends and family and thousands of other things, it is very easy to forget many of the facets of our true calling in Christlikeness. One of those facets is prayer. So many tend to put God in a box that says “He can do whatever He wishes, and all things work together for good in Him, so we can let Him be to do as He wants.” And while it may be true that He can do whatever He wants, the fact of the matter is – He has chosen to work through and in partnership with us!

Look at Ezekiel 22:23-31 (NKJV).

23 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 24 “Son of man, say to her: ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’ 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. 28 Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD had not spoken. 29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.

Here, we see the story of the sins of Jerusalem. How they parallel to today’s world. It is Biblically sound that sin calls out for God’s judgment. But that is not where the Lord wants us to focus, for it is also Biblically sound that God desires for us, His people, to stand in the gap before Him on behalf of the world around us. While sin calls for His judgment, His desire is that we would call for His grace and mercy!

Moses stood in the gap, and it turned God’s wrath. Exodus 32: 10-14

10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

The choice is clearly ours.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (Amplified Bible)

If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

But in honest reflection, how often do we humble ourselves? Pray, seek, crave and require the necessity of God’s face? Turn from our own wicked ways? How often do we stand in the gap on behalf of the world around us?

Instead, if we’re to be honest with ourselves before God, how often do we complain about the world around us? Criticize each other? Passively ignore the disciples’ calling to strive for the Kingdom? Look the other way?

1 Timothy 2: 1-4 (NKJV) reads:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

It is clear from the writings of the New Testament that the early disciples prayed “without ceasing” (See Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Timothy 1:3). And so to, should we. Prayer is powerful, and God calls us to it, at all times and in all seasons – so that His will can be done. And oh how wonderful it would be, if everywhere we turned, we would begin to call forth on His mercy, and see His will done.

The Vine and the Vinedresser

John 15:1-6 (New King James Version)

The True Vine

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Here we have Jesus’ words regarding the vinedresser and His actions. A superficial reading of this passage can lead to confusion, so I want to take a look at what is being said.

At first, it would appear that God simply removes those who do not bear fruit and prunes those that do manage to bear fruit so that they bear more fruit. Realizing that we are the branches, this seems rather harsh, and at first appears to to put the burden on us to at least bear some fruit before God can work to improve our fruitfulness (verse 2). Verse 3 doesn’t appear to fit, and then verse 4 returns to the idea of bearing fruit, stating that we must abide in Him to be able to bear fruit. To the casual observer, parts of this will make sense, but other parts will seem to contradict.

To better understand this passage, we need to realize that Jesus is talking to his disciples. The “you” in this passage is referring to Jesus’ disciples – those who have accepted Him as their Lord. If we are unfruitful, we need not worry about being “taken away” as stated in verse two. Jesus is more gracious than that. The word translated “taken away” is Strong’s G142airō. This is a beautiful word!

“Taken away,” according to the first definition of the Greek word, might also be translated “to raise up, elevate, lift up” as you would with a weak or hurt branch that has fallen to the ground. Further, the second definition of this word is ” to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear.” So, it is reasonable to say that if we are in Jesus, and are His disciples (one of His branches), and we are not bearing fruit, that the vine dresser will lift us up, and even carry us and bear us, and then, take us away (in His arms, as He has lifted us up and is carrying us). He will take us away from the junk that is stifling our bearing of fruit. This is a far different picture from the believer simply being cast off because of his or her unfruitfulness.

Ah, but as always with God’s Word, it gets better. Let’s look at the idea of pruning in verse 2, where we who are bearing fruit will be pruned so that we will bear more fruit. Horticulturist will tell you that pruning usually involves removing the dead or unfruitful branches which are stifling the growth of other branches. Looking at the Greek, we see that the word translated “prunes” is Strong’s G2508kathairō. This word literally means “to cleanse, of filth impurity, etc.” In vegetation terms, the word means “to prune trees and vines from useless shoots” and it also can refer to the removal of guilt. How beautiful! If there is an aspect of our lives that is not bearing fruit, God (the Vinedresser) will pick that part up, bear it on himself, and take it away). Those parts that are bearing some fruit, he will cleanse of impurity, removing guilt because He has atoned for our sins, so that we can bear more fruit!

With this, verse 3 no longer seems so random and out of place. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” It is the Word – abiding in the vine of the Word, who is Jesus, that strips away all of our junk so that we can be more fruitful for Him. Verses 4 and 5 make sense as well, and no longer seem to conflict with the being “taken away” of verse 2.

Verse 6 is the warning, but here Jesus is no longer referring to “you” – the disciples. He is referring to those who do not abide in Him. Here, “cast out” means just that – cast out, without regard. We are to abide in the vine, so that He will cleans us and remove our junk, so that we can be fruitful for Him, and in being fruitful, we will bring in others – the lost, lest they suffer the consequences of not being in the vine.