MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

Lesson 28: Private Prayer, Public Witness (Colossians 4:2-6)

Related Media

June 19, 2016

If you saw the title of today’s message in advance and showed up anyway, I commend you for your courage, because our text deals with two subjects that probably cause more guilt among believers than any other, namely, prayer and witnessing. If you feel like a failure in your prayer life and in personal evangelism, welcome to the club! I think I’m the club president!

But my aim today is not to add to your guilt. While God used my guilt over my failure at witnessing to motivate me to get some training on how to do it better (see my message, “Wise Witnessing,” 5/30/10), generally I find guilt to be a lousy motivator. My aim today is to give some practical help from our text on how to pray more faithfully and to bear witness more effectively. The connection between these two areas is that a private life of prayer is the foundation for a public life of effective witness.

In private, devote yourself to prayer; in public, be a godly witness for Jesus Christ.

In private, we are to be persistent in watchful, thankful prayer. In public, we are to be wise in our conduct and winsome in our words so that we might be effective witnesses of Christ.

1. In private, devote yourself to prayer.

Col. 4:2-4: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” First, Paul tells us how to pray; then he tells us what to pray for.

A. How to pray: persistently, watchfully, and thankfully.

1) Pray persistently.

The Greek verb that is translated “Devote yourselves” is often used in connection with prayer. Acts 1:14 says of the early disciples before Pentecost, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer….” After the Day of Pentecost, we read of the early church (Acts 2:42), “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Later, rather than getting distracted by waiting on tables, the apostles declared (Acts 6:4), “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” In Romans 12:12, Paul says that we should be, “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, [and] devoted to prayer.” And in Ephesians 6:18, Paul uses the noun when he commands us to pray “with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”

Paul cites his own example of persistent prayer in Colossians 1:3, where he says that we are “praying always for you.” He adds (Col. 1:9), “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Referring to his prayers for them, he adds (Col. 2:1), “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf ….” And he mentions (Col. 4:12) that Epaphras was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul gives the brief command, “Pray without ceasing.” “Without ceasing” does not mean praying nonstop every minute of the day, which would be impossible. Rather, it means coming back to prayer again and again. It was used of a nagging cough, which a person does over and over again (James Moulton & George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament [Eerdmans], p. 9).

Jesus taught persistent prayer in two humorous parables. In the first (Luke 11:5-8), a guy and his family are in bed at midnight when his friend starts banging on the door, asking to borrow some bread for a visiting guest. The guy in bed tells him to go away, but the guy won’t quit knocking. So finally, he gets up and gives him what he’s asking for. In the second parable (Luke 18:1-8), a widow bugs an unwilling judge to give her legal protection from her opponents. At first he resists, but finally, because of her perseverance, he relents and grants her request. The point of both parables is not that God is unwilling or unconcerned about our needs, but rather that we should persist in asking until He grants our requests.

With regard to prayer for family or friends who are lost, is there a point where we should quit praying? Well, probably not until the person is dead. George Muller began to pray daily for the salvation of five individuals in November, 1844. After 18 months, the first man was converted. After five more years, the second man got saved. After six more years, the third man came to saving faith. At the time Muller mentioned this in a sermon, he had been praying daily for the salvation of the other two men for 36 years! Just before Muller died in 1897, 53 years after he had started praying, one of the last two men got saved. The fifth man was saved a few years after Muller’s death (see Roger Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God [Harold Shaw Publishers], p. 267). While I don’t come near to Muller’s faithfulness in prayer, he is an encouragement to persist.

2) Pray watchfully.

“Keeping alert” may also be translated, “staying watchful.” It’s often used in the context of mentioning our adversary, the devil. After urging us to cast all our anxieties on the Lord, because He cares for us, Peter exhorts (1 Pet. 5:8): “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Jesus tells us to be on the alert regarding His second coming (Matt. 24:42; 25:13). In the Garden, just before His arrest, He told the disciples (Matt. 26:41), “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

If we knew that a dangerous lion had escaped in our city Sunday morning and the authorities had last seen it near South Beaver Street, we’d all be very watchful as we left church to head toward our cars! Well, a dangerous lion is on the loose in Flagstaff, not just on Sunday mornings, but all the time! Prayer is how we stay on the alert against this unseen, but frightening enemy (Eph. 6:10-18).

3) Pray thankfully.

To pray thankfully is to pray in faith, especially when our circumstances often do not seem to be in our favor. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and have a pile of bills due. Maybe your teenager is rebelling and running with the wrong crowd. Your doctor has just diagnosed you with a serious illness. Whatever the overwhelming trial, it takes faith to pray, “Lord, thank you for this trial, because I know that it’s not too difficult for You. I know that You are for me and You intend to work it together for my good. You will use it to strengthen my faith. So I ask You to answer for Your glory and Your name’s sake.” So we’re to pray persistently, watchfully, and thankfully.

B. What to pray for: Pray for God’s kingdom to expand through the spread of the gospel.

Paul goes on to ask for prayer for himself. If you were in prison unjustly for the sake of the gospel and sent out a prayer letter, it would probably include first, “Pray that I’ll get out of here soon!” But Paul, in effect, prays, “Your kingdom come….” He says (Col. 4:3-4), “praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”

John Piper points out that one of our major problems with prayer is that we have made it a domestic intercom to call for refreshments from the butler rather than a wartime walkie-talkie to call in support for the troops (“Walk in Wisdom Toward Those Outside,” on desiringGod.org). He puts it like this:

Here’s one way to picture what is going on here. Paul and Timothy (1:1) and Aristarchus (4:10) and Epaphras (4:12) are a unique team of storm troopers in the spiritual battle to recapture the hearts of men for God. They have made a strike at the enemy lines and met a tremendous counterforce. Paul and Aristarchus are prisoners of war. And it looks as though the enemy has a tactical victory in his pocket.

But Paul manages to smuggle a letter out of the prison camp to some fellow soldiers stationed to the rear—that’s the Colossians. In the letter he asks them to get on their walkie-talkie, call command headquarters, and ask headquarters to fire a missile that will blast open a door in the prison wall and in the enemy’s front line so that Paul and his squad can get on with their mission to release people from the power of Satan and bring them to God.

Praying for God’s kingdom to expand involves praying for the workers, for open doors, and for gospel clarity.

1) Pray for the workers.

This includes those on the front lines, who are engaged full time in spreading the gospel. But it also includes all believers, that we all would keep our focus on lost souls and not get distracted with all of the worldly stuff that clouds our eternal perspective. Get a church directory and pray for each person to be effective as a witness in his circle of friends If you’re not on our church email prayer list, ask to be added to it. Whether it’s a need with our brothers and sisters in Nepal or those here in Flagstaff, you can stop and pray when you get those emails.

2) Pray for open doors for the gospel.

Even someone as gifted as Paul could not open his own doors for the gospel. He didn’t rely on clever methods or salesmanship techniques to get an opening. Rather, he relied on God to open the doors (Acts 14:27; 16:14; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). God must open the door for witness (Rev. 3:8), but then we need to walk through it. When God opens the door and we share the gospel, it is powerful to save souls and transform hearts (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; Col. 1:6; 1 Thess. 2:13). So pray for yourself and for others in this church that God would open doors for the gospel.

3) Pray for clarity in presenting the gospel.

This is Paul, the apostle who wrote 13 New Testament letters, including Romans, asking for prayer that he would be clear in presenting the gospel! He refers to it as “the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.” He does not mean that the gospel is mysterious or difficult to understand. Rather, “mystery” refers to a truth that was previously unknown, but now has been revealed. It can’t be known by human wisdom, but only by God’s Spirit. It especially referred to the truth that salvation, which had previously been revealed only to the Jews, was now available to the Gentiles, who now can enjoy right standing and equal access to God through faith in Christ (Col. 1:26-27; Eph. 2:11-3:7).

The gospel (good news) starts with bad news: Our sins have alienated us from God. Because He is holy and just, God cannot just brush away our sins. The penalty must be paid. God has declared that the penalty for our sins is death, eternal separation from Him. No amount of good works can pay that penalty. But what we cannot do, God did. In love, He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man. He lived in perfect obedience to the Father. His death on the cross was substitutionary. He paid the debt that sinners deserve. God raised Jesus from the dead and now offers a full pardon and eternal life to every sinner who will turn from his sins and trust in the risen Christ alone to save him (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:4-5; John 3:16).

Praying for God’s kingdom to expand through the gospel does not mean that we cannot pray for personal needs. Jesus instructed us to pray for our daily bread, for forgiveness of our sins, and for personal holiness (Matt. 6:11-13). But before we bring these needs to God in prayer, we should pray (Matt. 6:10), “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I encourage you to pray persistently, watchfully, and thankfully for Christian workers, for open doors for the gospel, and for clarity in presenting the gospel. Private prayer is the foundation for public witness. To put it another way, talk to God about people before you talk to people about God. But then, talk to people!

2. In public, be a godly witness for Jesus Christ.

There are two parts to this: your walk and your words.

A. A godly walk is the basis for effective witness.

Col. 4:5: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” “Conduct yourselves” is literally, “Walk,” a favorite metaphor of Paul. In Colossians 1:9-10 he prayed, “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” In Colossians 2:6, he commanded, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (See, also, Eph. 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15.)

To walk with wisdom towards outsiders means to base your daily life on the wisdom found in God’s Word. In the Old Testament, “wisdom” comes from the word for “skill.” Just as a carpenter has the skill to take rough materials and craft a beautiful piece of furniture, spiritual wisdom is the skill to build a beautiful, godly life. Proverbs 9:10 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” In Col. 2:3, Paul says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He also has exhorted (Col. 3:16), “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” So wisdom comes from fearing the Lord, knowing Christ, and letting His word richly dwell within you.

To walk with wisdom toward outsiders means that we are to live in line with God’s Word so that those who are not Christians will see the beauty of Christ in our lives and relationships. That gives us a platform to tell them the good news that changed our lives. A godly walk is the foundation for effective witness.

Also, part of your godly walk is “making the most of the opportunity.” When God opens the door, walk through it. The Greek word means to buy up or grab the opportunity. Some of you ladies have gone to a sale. You know what you’re looking for. When you see it on the sale table and it’s a steal, you grab it. Or, a businessman is looking for a good investment opportunity. The minute he sees it, he takes it before it’s gone.

In John 4, there is a contrast between Jesus and the disciples with regard to the woman at the well. Jesus saw her as a lost soul who needed the living water that He alone could give her. And He had a harvest mindset: He saw the fields as white unto spiritual harvest (John 4:35). But the disciples were focused on getting Jesus to eat His lunch so that they could get on with their journey (John 4:31, 33). So Jesus made the most of the opportunity which the disciples totally missed.

The foundation for buying up opportunities for witness is prayer for God to open doors for the word. Pray for God to give you gospel opportunities with people you have frequent contact with. The second He opens the door, you’re ready to go through it.

B. Winsome words are the means for effective witness.

Col. 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Here Paul tells us, “Be gracious; be interesting; and, be sensitive.”

1) Be gracious.

In light of Paul’s repeated emphasis on grace (Col. 1:2, 6; 3:16 [“thankfulness” = “grace” in Greek]; 4:18), this probably means that our presentation of the gospel should be permeated with God’s grace, the message that He gives salvation as a free gift to sinners who deserve His judgment. Since most people think that we earn salvation by our good works, it’s really important to make sure that they understand that salvation is by grace alone apart from any works (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:4-5).

But, also, letting your speech always be with grace includes speaking graciously to others. As a sinner who has received grace, you don’t speak in a condescending or condemning manner to another sinner. You are kind and humble, letting the other person know that we’re all sinners who would be on the way to hell, were it not for God’s grace. Sharing the gospel is like one beggar telling another beggar where to get free bread.

2) Be interesting.

When Paul says to let your speech be “seasoned with salt,” he doesn’t mean to use “salty” language, as sailors use, of course! Salt had two main uses in Paul’s day. It was used as a preservative from spoilage, which implies that our speech should be pure and free from corruption. It should show those whose lives are spoiled due to sin how they can be restored through the gospel. But, also, salt was used as a spice, to make food tastier. Our presentation of the gospel should stimulate people’s taste to want more. Learn some helpful illustrations to help explain the gospel. To explain what it means to believe in Jesus, you can talk about the difference between believing that a plane will fly and actually getting on board. To believe the gospel is to entrust your eternal destiny completely to Jesus and His death on the cross for your sins. He doesn’t need your help “flying the plane.” You just need to get on board!

3) Be sensitive.

Paul says that you must “know how you should respond to each person.” This is where you must be careful about using a memorized presentation of the gospel. Such presentations are helpful to give you a general plan, but you need to tailor it to each person. One person may need to understand sin and judgment, but the next person may need to hear about God’s abundant grace for sinners who repent. Study Jesus’ witnessing encounters in the gospels. He never used the same approach twice. He dealt with each person individually. He confronted the proud Pharisees, but was gentle (although He still dealt with sin) with those who knew they were guilty. Pray for wisdom as you speak, so that you will know how to respond to this person’s unique needs.

Conclusion

Years ago, the China Inland Mission discovered that the number and spiritual strength of the converts at one station far exceeded anyone’s expectations and could not be accounted for by anything exceptional about the missionary personnel there. The mystery remained unsolved until Hudson Taylor visited England. There, at the close of Taylor’s message, a man from the audience stepped forward to greet him. In the ensuing conversation, Taylor learned that the man had detailed knowledge of this station.

“How is it,” asked Taylor, “that you are so conversant with the conditions of that work?” “Oh,” he replied, “for four years I have corresponded with my missionary friend there. He has sent me the names of inquirers and converts, and I have daily taken these names to God in prayer.” Taylor realized the answer to the puzzle: the daily, specific, prevailing prayer of this man had brought eternal fruit for God’s glory.

God wants us to prevail in prayer with Him concerning His plan of salvation for all people, both here and abroad. In private, devote yourself to prayer. Pray persistently, watchfully, and thankfully. Pray for the workers, for open doors for the gospel, and for clarity in presenting the gospel. In public, your godly walk is the basis for your effective witness. Winsome words that are gracious, interesting, and sensitive are the means for effective witness. I hope you’re encouraged to pray for revival and to be a part of it through godly witness.

Application Questions

  1. Some say that since there is no biblical command or example of praying for someone’s salvation, we should not do so. Your response?
  2. How can we know when to persevere in prayer and when God is saying “no”?
  3. What do you find most difficult about witnessing? Why?
  4. How can we be more alert to opportunities for the gospel?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Evangelism, Prayer

From the series: Colossians PREVIOUS PAGE

Lesson 30: How God’s Team Operates (Colossians 4:7-18)

Related Media

July 3, 2016

Stored in a safe place at the Library of Congress is a small blue box. The label reads: “Contents of the President’s pockets on the night of April 14, 1865,” the terrible night when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

The box contains five things: (1) A handkerchief embroidered “A. Lincoln”; (2) A country boy’s pen knife; (3) A spectacles case repaired with string; (4) A purse containing a $5 bill—in Confederate money! (5) Some old and worn newspaper clippings.

The clippings mention the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. One of them reports a speech by John Bright, a British statesman, saying that Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time. That’s not news for us who live over a century later. We all know that Lincoln was a great man. But in 1865, the jury was still out. The nation was divided and Lincoln had fierce critics on both sides as he made decisions that he hoped would restore the Union. Remember, Lincoln hadn’t read the history books on himself!

There is something poignantly pathetic about picturing this lonely figure in the Oval Office reaching into his pocket and spreading out these newspaper clippings as he re-read the encouraging words of a man who believed that Lincoln was a great man. It gave him the courage and strength to go on (Charles Swindoll, in a newsletter, First Evangelical Free Church, Fullerton, California.)

All people, including great leaders like Lincoln, need encouragement! So did the apostle Paul. We need to remember that Paul didn’t know that his life and teachings would be included in the New Testament to be read by millions and radically change the course of world history. From his perspective, he was under house arrest in Rome after two years of house arrest in Caesarea. He had seen the Lord use him to plant a few small churches around Asia Minor and Europe. But some of those churches had major problems. Critics in Corinth were attacking Paul and his ministry (see 2 Corinthians). In Rome, some were preaching against Paul out of envy and strife (Phil. 1:15-17). His main critics, the Judaizers, dogged Paul’s steps wherever he went, trying to get his Gentile converts to conform to the Jewish laws. Rather than accumulating honors, Paul had received numerous beatings, imprisonments, and other hardships as he served the Lord (2 Cor. 11:23-29).

And now Epaphras had brought word to Paul of the false teaching that was threatening the young church in Colossae. In his final greetings to that church, which Paul had yet to visit, he mentions three men, Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus, and then adds (Col. 4:11), “these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.” God used these three men to shine a ray of sunshine into Paul’s dark situation.

We saw in our last study that Christians are on a team devoted to serve Jesus Christ. Every Christian is to be committed to serving the Lord. The church is not a one-man-show, but a team effort. The team consists of men and women from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The team is the family of God, with every member being a servant/slave of Jesus Christ. The team is focused on prayer and the Word with the aim of helping every member stand mature in Christ. And, with a healthy dose of reality, we saw that the team has members who often will disappoint us. But, how does the team operate? The final principle is:

The team operates in an atmosphere of encouraging each member to become all that God wants him or her to be.

First, there is the goal that each person should become all that God wants him or her to be. Second, the atmosphere in which team members grow is encouragement.

1. The goal of the team is for each member to become all that God wants him or her to be.

Paul says that this is his aim (Col. 1:28): “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Just a few verses before, he said that this is God’s aim in saving us (Col. 1:22), “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” To be “holy, blameless, and above reproach” is the same as being mature or complete in Christ.

Our church’s purpose statement is: “At Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, we aim to build a community of joyful believers in Jesus Christ who love God and His Word, love one another, and love those without Christ by bringing them the good news of salvation.” The overall aim is to build a community of joyful believers in Jesus Christ. This can be broken down into three components: Love for God and His Word; love for one another; and, love for the lost, both here and abroad, expressed by bringing them the good news of salvation. Paul has emphasized these three goals in this short letter:

A. God wants us to be rightly related to Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:1-3:4).

Colossians is a Christ-centered book because the false teachers whom Paul was confronting were emphasizing their legalistic philosophy over and above Jesus Christ. In the opening paragraph Paul mentions not only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also love for one another and spreading the gospel to the lost (Col. 1:3-6):

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.

Faith in Christ Jesus is the beginning point of a relationship with God. By birth and by behavior, we all are alienated from God because of our sins (Rom. 3:23): “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Furthermore, no amount of good works or promises to try harder can bridge the chasm between us and the holy God. So, how can we possibly be reconciled to God and have our sins forgiven? Paul continues (Rom. 3:24), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

To be justified is to be declared righteous by God. It’s a gift, not something that we earn by our good behavior. It comes through God’s grace or undeserved favor. Redemption means that by His death, Christ paid the penalty we owed to buy us out of the slave market of sin. We receive this free gift simply through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 1, Paul goes on to mention his prayer that they would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that they may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects (Col. 1:9-10). Then he extols the preeminence of Jesus Christ over all creation (Col. 1:15-20). As we saw when we studied that passage, Paul isn’t just talking theology—he is worshiping Jesus Christ!

Throughout the first two chapters, Paul magnifies Christ as he contrasts his ministry with the false teachers who threatened the Colossian church. He wanted every person to come to a true knowledge of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3). He wanted each person to continue walking in Christ Jesus the Lord even as they had received Him (Col. 2:6-7), because “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:10). All that we have received from God centers in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:11-15). We are totally identified with Him (Col. 3:1-4) so that (Col. 3:4), “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

So being rightly related to God through faith in Jesus Christ is our top priority. Everything else depends on that. All that we do as a church should aim at helping each person become mature or complete in Christ.

B. God wants us to be rightly related to one another as we walk in love (Col. 3:5-4:1, 7-18).

After extolling Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:1-3:4, Paul applies this to our relationships. We are to put to death the members of our body with regard to sexual immorality and greed (Col. 3:5). We should also cast off all anger, abusive speech, and lying (Col. 3:8-9). In place of these practices of the old man, we are to put on the behaviors of the new man, which may be summed up as love (Col. 3:12-14). In our families, wives should be subject to their husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands should love their wives and not be embittered against them. Children should obey their parents and parents should not treat their children harshly, so that they lose heart (Col. 3:18-21). Slaves should obey their masters and masters should treat their slaves with justice and fairness (Co. 3:19-4:1). If we are Christ-centered, it will show in loving relationships.

C. God wants us to be rightly related to those without Christ through prayer and wise witness (Col. 4:2-6).

Our third priority as we aim at each person becoming all that God wants him or her to be is that we would love those without Christ by bringing them the good news of salvation. Paul hits that in Colossians 4:2-6. Prayer is the foundation for our witness. Pray for those you know who do not know Christ. Pray for open doors for the gospel. Pray that we all could make the message clear (Col. 4:2-4). Then, walk with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities God opens up. Use winsome, gracious, interesting, sensitive words to communicate the gospel (Col. 4:5-6).

So, that’s what we’re aiming at: We want each person to become all that God wants him or her to be, specifically: to be rightly related to Him through faith in Jesus Christ; to be rightly related to one another in love; and to be rightly related to those without Christ through prayer and wise witness. To do that, there must be an atmosphere permeating the local church:

2. Encouragement is the atmosphere in which we help one another become all that God wants us to be.

This passage oozes encouragement! Paul was a master at giving genuine affirmation to others so that they would be motivated to grow to their full potential in the Lord. Here we see nine factors involved in creating that kind of encouraging atmosphere:

A. Encouragement thrives with open communication.

Paul sent Tychicus and Onesimus to inform the church of his situation so that they would be encouraged (Col. 4:7-9). He had nothing to hide from them. Remember, he was in prison and other Christian workers in Rome were criticizing him (Phil. 1:15-17). Paul could have made it sound bleak to elicit sympathy or he could have hid the truth to try to make it sound like he was more successful than he really was. But Paul didn’t camouflage his situation by making it sound as if things were better or worse than they really were. He believed in open, honest communication.

Here’s how this relates to encouragement: You’re struggling with discouragement over some problem and someone you know asks, “How’s it going?” You don’t want him to think that you’re struggling, because that makes you look like a defeated Christian. So you say, “Everything’s great! God is faithful!” But you haven’t been honest in sharing your struggles. You just missed an opportunity for that brother to encourage you and to pray with you. For encouragement to take place in the body, we’ve got to be open in communicating the truth.

B. Encouragement is fostered when we interpret trials by faith.

Paul says that Tychicus will tell the Colossians about his circumstances (Col. 1:8), “that he may encourage your hearts.” How would learning of Paul’s situation encourage the Colossians? The great apostle was in chains. Can’t you hear Tychicus tell them, “It’s just awful! He’s chained to a guard 24 hours a day. He can’t go anywhere or do anything. Other Christians in Rome are preaching against Paul out of envy. It’s a grim situation!”

But Paul didn’t interpret events that way. He saw his imprisonment as a great opportunity to present the gospel to the Roman guards. He had a captive audience that changed every few hours! As for those preaching out of envy, at least they were preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18). Because Paul interpreted his circumstances by faith, he could send Tychicus with a word of encouragement for the churches. If we will interpret our problems through the eyes of faith, we spread encouragement among the Lord’s people and help them to view their problems from God’s perspective.

C. Encouragement involves standing with a brother or sister who is unjustly being attacked.

Paul says (Col. 4:11) of the three Jewish brothers (Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus), “They have proved to be an encouragement to me.” The Greek word translated “encouragement” here is different than the word Paul uses in verse 8. It only occurs here in the New Testament, but it’s used in secular Greek as a medical term in the sense of alleviating pain (J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [Zondervan], p. 239).

Mark, by recovering from his failure and now working alongside Paul, alleviated the pain that he had caused Paul when he deserted Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Barnabas, whose name means, “son of encouragement,” had helped Mark recover by giving him another chance. So Paul was encouraged by the ministry that the son of encouragement had invested in Mark!

Together, these three men “from the circumcision” gave encouragement to Paul because they didn’t join with the circumcision (the Judaizers) in their attacks on Paul and his ministry. Paul’s critics, including the preachers in Rome who were attacking him, were probably saying, “If he were a true apostle, he wouldn’t be in prison. God isn’t behind his ministry.” But these three men believed in Paul’s gospel and his ministry. They didn’t let his critics’ attacks stop them from serving alongside him.

When you’re involved in ministry, you will be criticized. You expect it from the enemy, but it stings when it comes from professing believers who attack your motives. At a time like that, it’s a great encouragement to have brothers like Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus stand with you in ministry.

D. Encouragement is a mutual need.

Even though Paul was an apostle and one of the most gifted men in church history, he acknowledges that these three men had been an encouragement to him. He didn’t view himself as being on a pedestal where he ministered to everyone else, but he didn’t need their ministry to him. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said that he longed to see them so that he might impart some spiritual gift to help establish them. But then he quickly added (Rom. 1:12), “that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Paul not only wanted to give encouragement; he also knew that he needed to receive it.

E. Encouragement is given through verbal affirmation.

Paul let people know verbally that he cared about them and appreciated their ministries. He affirms each of the workers here, except for Demas. Paul wasn’t afraid to promote others’ ministries. We need to remember that we’re all on the same team and that if a team member is doing well, that’s great! Tell others in the church how much you appreciate the work they are doing.

F. Encouragement flows through prayer.

Paul encourages the Colossians by telling them of Epaphras’ prayers for them. It’s always an encouragement when you hear that someone has been praying for you. I encourage you to get a church directory and pray through it. When you see those you prayed for that week at church, tell them that you prayed for them. That says, “I’m with you in the battle! We’re on the same team!”

Also, Paul’s final request (Col. 4:18), “Remember my imprisonment,” was probably a prayer request. He needed the encouragement of their prayers. It also showed the cost of discipleship: Following Christ often leads to increased trials. Thus we need to uphold one another in prayer.

G. Encouragement is extended when we grant forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In his letter to Philemon (sent along with Colossians), Paul asked him to forgive Onesimus, his runaway slave. But Paul practiced what he preached: he had forgiven Mark. Forgiveness is encouraging to experience and to see in others. It broadcasts hope for those who have failed. It says that the past can be set aside; there can be a new beginning. Yes, Onesimus had wronged Philemon. But now he was a brother in Christ. Yes, Mark had failed by deserting Paul. But now he was to be welcomed as a faithful fellow worker. We need to be forgiving each other the hurts and wrongs that are bound to happen as we work together on the Lord’s team.

H. Encouragement sometimes requires gentle correction and challenge in a context of affirmation.

Note how Paul carefully exhorts Archippus (Col. 4:17): “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.’” Why didn’t he address him directly: “Archippus, get with it”? By addressing the church, Paul gently corrected and challenged Archippus, but he also affirmed his belief in Archippus’ call to ministry. We don’t know why Paul felt the need to exhort Archippus. Perhaps Epaphras had reported some concerns to Paul. Perhaps, like Timothy, Archippus was timid and needed the confidence to do what God had given him to do. In one brief sentence, Paul both challenged Archippus and, in effect, said to the church, “You guys get behind him.” Sometimes encouragement requires the gentle correction and challenge of saying, “You’re doing well, but you can do better.”

I. Encouragement is bathed in grace.

Literally, the final sentence is, “The grace be with you.” (That sounds like, “The Force be with you,” but “The Grace” is far better than “The Force”!) This was more than a perfunctory way of closing the letter. Grace was the theme of Paul’s gospel, the motivating force behind all he did for the Lord. Grace means that God blesses us apart from any merit on our part. He saves us by grace and we grow in His grace. By grace, we must strive to be holy vessels for God to use. Beneath all that we do in serving the Lord is His abundant grace.

Conclusion

Years ago in California I came under intense criticism because I had decided that I could not endorse certain “Christian” psychology programs that some wanted to use in the church. One night, feeling rather discouraged, I went into our bathroom to get ready for bed and saw a yellow sticky note from our 14-year-old daughter, Christa, with Jeremiah 29:11 in her handwriting: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

Then, shortly after I began as pastor here, four elders at that time tried to get me fired because I firmly opposed one of them who was pro-choice on abortion. Many in the church sent me encouraging notes, expressing support for my ministry, which meant much to me. But the note that meant the most came from our then 13-year-old daughter, Joy. She wrote,

Mom & Dad, I just want you to know that I really appreciate you even though some other people don’t! Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what they’re talking about! Dad, I’m really glad you only preach the truth and don’t compromise what the Bible says. Your sermons have helped me lots! A lot of other people have said the same. Just hang in there and both of you keep up the good work! Look up these verses: they’ve been an encouragement to me: Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28. I love you lots! Love always, Joy.

That’s encouragement! That’s how God’s team should operate! We want to develop an atmosphere of encouraging each member to become all that God wants him or her to be.

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important in all of our relationships to have the goal of presenting each person mature in Christ? Practically, how would this change your existing relationships?
  2. Is it right to focus on our own needs before we focus on serving others? Where is the biblical balance?
  3. What has God used most to encourage you in your walk with Him? How can you be an encouragement to others?
  4. Jesus (and the Bible) often commands, “Take courage!” (e.g. Matt. 9:2, 22; 14:27) Study all of the biblical references and answer, “How can we take courage when we’re discouraged?”

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life

The Bible Teacher's Guide: God’s Battle Plan for Purity: Strategies for Victory against Sexual Temptation

Related Media

Preface

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2

Paul’s words to Timothy still apply to us today. We need to raise up teachers who correctly handle and fearlessly teach the Word of God. It is with this hope in mind that the Bible Teacher’s Guide (BTG) series has been created. The BTG series includes both expositional studies and topical studies. This guide will be useful for personal devotions, small groups, and for teachers preparing to share God’s Word.

Gods Battle Plan for Purity: Strategies for Victory against Sexual Temptation can be used as a four-week to thirteen-week small-group curriculum depending on how the leader chooses to divide the intro chapter and the twelve strategies. Every week, the members of the group will read a chapter or more, answer the questions, and come prepared to share in the gathering. Each member’s preparation for the small group will enrich the discussion and the learning. Another way to lead the group is for the members to read the chapter and answer the questions together during the small group and continue with the next strategy as time allows.

I pray that the Lord may richly bless your study and use it to build his kingdom.

This book is also available for purchase here on Amazon.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Marriage, Men's Articles, Sexual Purity, Sexuality, Singleness, Women

Introduction

Related Media

For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God
1 Thessalonians 4:2-5

Purity is a raging battle that, unfortunately, many are losing. David lost this battle as he committed adultery with Bathsheba. Solomon lost it as he had 1,000 wives and concubines to fulfill his lust. If we are going to win this battle, we must be strategic and disciplined. Winning is important to protect our lives, our families, and our churches, and most importantly to honor God.

How can we keep ourselves pure? How can we win the battle for purity?

In 1 Thessalonians 4:2-5, Paul writes to the Thessalonian church and tells them to “avoid sexual immorality.” Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul said, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

This is startling because with many other dangers in Scripture, we don’t get such a command. In James 4:7, we are told to “resist the devil” and he will flee from us. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul says that believers “wrestle” against powers and principalities which refers to demons. With Satan and demons, we resist and wrestle, but when it comes to sexual immorality, we should avoid it and flee from it.

This demonstrates how dangerous sexual immorality is. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit adultery, he jumped out of the window to escape her. It is the same for us. This is a danger that we should not flirt with, enjoy on our TV, or fantasize about. It is something that we must flee from at all cost.

It is for this reason that many stumble in this area and find themselves bound and unable to be set free. Sexual immorality is dangerous because when we commit sexual immorality, we sin against our own bodies. This sin affects one’s mind, body, spirit, and emotions. It can have drastic effects. It opens the door for physical disease and emotional baggage. It can even affect one’s sexual orientation. Those who have been sexually abused often grow up with perverse tendencies, whether that be towards the opposite sex or even children. Sexual immorality destroys homes, careers, friendships, and even one’s faith. It is so hazardous that our only recourse is to flee from it.

One might ask, “If it’s so dangerous why did God create it?” When God created everything, including sex, he said it was “good.” However, when the world was perverted by sin, sex gained the potential of being destructive. In the confines of a marriage relationship—fulfilling God’s original plan—sex is good and powerful. It creates intimacy and pleasure between a husband and wife and has the ability to lead to procreation. However, outside of that, it is destructive. In fact, Romans 1 says that one of the primary results of denying God is a distorted sexuality. When a nation, a community, or a person has turned away from God, it will typically be demonstrated through pervasive sexual immorality. Romans 1:22-24 says:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves (ESV)

This is what we are seeing and experiencing in today’s culture and this is why it is such a battle. The world has denied God, and therefore, sexual immorality is rampant.

Problem in Culture

This was also true for the early church including the Thessalonians. The fact that Paul calls for the Thessalonians to “learn” how to control their bodies implies that many did not know how to control the lusts of their bodies (v. 4). Thessalonica was part of Greco-Roman culture in which sex was glorified. In that culture, when worshiping the false deities, one would have sex with the priests and priestesses (religious prostitutes) of which there were thousands. This was normal family life, as sex was part of worship.

For the Greco-Roman mindset, marriage was not the primary avenue for gratifying sexual desires; it was for social advancement and to provide an heir. By unifying two families, one could climb the social ladder. Thus, a beautiful daughter was like a meal ticket for a poor family. To fulfill sexual desires, it was quite normal and acceptable for a man to have mistresses and concubines. The gratification of sexual desires was not the focus of marriage in that culture.

Also, homosexuality and bisexuality were rampant in that culture. In fact, it probably would have been considered strange for a man to prefer one sex over another. It was considered normal to enjoy both.i

Problem in Church

The pervasive sexual nature of the culture was in the church, and therefore, the Thessalonians needed to “learn” how to control their bodies. This was also true for the church of Corinth which was also part of the Greco-Roman culture. In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, the implication is that some were still having sex with temple prostitutes. Paul said this to them:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” (ESV)

In chapter 5, a man was even having sex with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1). The world’s sexual culture was in the church and they needed to learn how to keep their bodies pure.

Sex is also a problem for the modern day church. It is a problem for children, youth, college students, adults and even leadership, although it is rarely talked about. It is rampant. The enemy is aggressively attacking and defeating the church in this area. In the same way that sex was a problem in the early church, it is a problem for our churches.

In fact, in our culture, it may be even more pervasive. With the advent of the Internet, sex is more accessible now than in any other generation. At a person’s whim, it can be watched on his or her phone at any moment. Statistics say that 70% of men ages 18-24 watch porn and one out of three porn viewers are women. The average age for a child to first view porn is eleven years old. ii

Can we talk about sex? Can we talk about purity? If we don’t openly talk about this in the church, as Paul did, we cannot conquer it. And sadly, a lack of addressing this subject seems to reap the most consequences on our young people, who are even more susceptible to the influence of sexual culture.

The enemy is bringing a great assault against the church today in the area of purity, and sadly like the Thessalonians and the Corinthians, the church is losing. To win this battle, we must develop a battle plan. Better yet, we must adopt God’s Battle Plan in Scripture for purity. Through Scripture, God trains and equips the man of God for all righteousness—including purity (2 Tim 3:16-17). In this study, we will consider twelve strategies for victory against sexual temptation. May God thoroughly equip you to stand in this evil day. Amen.

Reflection

  1. In what ways have you seen the sexual immorality in our culture become even more pervasive?
  2. How would you rate your level of victory in the battle against sexual temptation from 1-10? And why?
  3. Paul told the Thessalonians to learn to control their bodies and yet doesn’t explain how. The implication is that they would learn from Scripture and the instruction of their leaders. What strategies have you learned that have helped in your fight to be pure?
  4. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  5. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown


i Accessed 8/25/2015 from http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/sexuality/a/aa011400a.htm

ii Accessed 8/25/2015 from http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-stats-on-internet-pornography-infographic

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

1. Strategy One: Know Our Battle

Related Media

In order to win the battle for purity, believers must first answer this question: “What is sexual immorality?” If we are going to avoid it and flee from it, we must know what it is. I think many Christians are failing simply because they don’t know what sexual immorality is. It has never been defined for them. Some would even say that it is just “intercourse.”

Many believe that oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, heavy petting, etc., are not part of sexual immorality. Such belief leads then to open these doors as avenues of fulfilling their lust while trying to maintain their “virginity.”

However, by doing this, they are really committing sexual immorality and opening the door for the enemy to attack them and bring them under greater sexual bondage. Therefore, this is an important question to answer. What is sexual immorality?

In order to answer this question, let’s consider 1 Corinthians 7:1-3:

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.

Paul, the author, said that it is good for a man to stay single and not marry. But because of temptation towards sexual immorality, each person should consider marriage as a spiritual protection. In marriage, the husband and the wife fulfill each other’s sexual desires.

From this, we can gain this basic definition of sexual immorality: Sexual immorality is the attempt to fulfill natural sexual desires outside of the marriage union between a man and a woman. This includes things like sex, oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, heavy petting, pornography, and sexual imaginations. In short, sexual immorality encompasses all acts and thoughts designed to fulfill sexual desire outside of marriage.

In fact, Jesus said this about sexual immorality in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In other words, a person has already committed adultery when lusting, since he went outside of the marriage union to fulfill his sexual desires.

This might seem unrealistic to some. “How can anyone keep themselves from sexual thoughts?” And some might ask, “Why would they?” The reality is that God created sex and he has given us ethics for its use. If we pursue these desires outside the marriage union, we do it at our own peril. We sin against our own bodies, and most grievously, we sin against God.

How then should a single person respond to his natural desires? Scripture uses the analogy of sleeping for those desires. Listen to what Solomon’s fiancée said in the Song of Solomon: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (3:5). She exhorts the young ladies in Jerusalem to keep their desires asleep until it is time.

Well, the next question we must ask is, “How can we keep those desires asleep?” or “How can we put them back to sleep after they have been awakened?” We will consider this in the following strategies.

Reflection

  1. What was your previous understanding of sexual immorality?
  2. Define sexual immorality. Why is it important to know its definition?
  3. How commonly do you think people open sexual doors simply because of lack of truly understanding the definition?
  4. Why is it important to keep sexual desires asleep?
  5. When should churches and parents start instructing children about sexual immorality?
  6. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  7. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

2. Strategy Two: Count the Cost of Failure

Related Media

Just as with any battle plan, one must count the cost of failure. What will be the cost of being overcome by sexual temptation? We see this strategy used when Solomon counseled his son in Proverbs about the lure of the adulterous woman. Solomon, who had many wives and concubines, knew the consequences of sexual immorality well. His father’s marriage began from an adulterous affair, and he struggled with his father’s lust. Consider the costs of sexual immorality in Proverbs 6:27-35:

Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house. But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away. For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge. He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse a bribe, however great it is.

Although Solomon is talking about adultery specifically, many of these consequences apply to lust in general. Solomon said, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” The answer to the rhetorical question is, “No!” In considering adultery, he said a person “destroys himself” and blows and disgrace will be his lot, and the shame will never be wiped away. The consequences last forever. Can anyone escape the penalties of indulging in lust? No. It is impossible. As mentioned, sexual immorality is a sin against one’s body (1 Cor 6:18). It always affects one’s body, mind, and spirit. It leads to mental and emotional baggage that is later carried into one’s marriage. Personally, I still struggle with explicit images and thoughts from things I saw and experienced before marriage. I carry those as baggage with me from the sins of my youth. Sometimes, the consequences are physical sickness such as STDs. Other times, it is an unplanned pregnancy—potentially leading to an abortion. When married, the costs become greater. Marital unfaithfulness leaves brokenness and carnage in its trail. A brokenhearted spouse and emotionally damaged children are just a few of the consequences.

As a married pastor with a daughter, I always think of the consequences of falling to my lust. I think of the pain it would cause my wife, the destruction I would be raising my daughter in, believers who might fall away from Christ because of my example, and being disqualified from ministry (cf. 1 Tim 3:2, 1 Cor 9:27). The consequences would be devastating, and like Solomon said, the “shame will never be wiped away” (Prov 6:33). Certainly, forgiveness is available, but forgiveness does not eliminate the consequences. God forgave David for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, but the consequences were the sword never departing from his home and losing his first child with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:9-14).

Another consequence of sexual immorality that must be considered is its effect on our relationship with God. In the Beatitudes, Christ said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). The word “pure” means unmixed. When we allow lust and other wrong desires to enter our heart, it hinders our relationship with God. It separates us from him. David said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).

Have you counted the cost of failure to sexual temptation? Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic sites.i The seeds cultivated in a man or woman’s youth often bear destructive weeds in marriage. If we are going to win the battle against lust, we must count the cost. It is simply not worth it.

O Lord, keep us from dishonoring your name, damaging ourselves, and damaging others. Make our feet like hinds’ feet and keep us from stumbling (Psalm 18:33). Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us (Psalm 51:10).

Reflection

  1. What are some potential costs of falling into sexual immorality for both the single and the married?
  2. How can considering the cost help in one’s battle against sexual temptation?
  3. Do you ever consider the costs of this battle? How has it helped? If not, why not?
  4. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  5. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown


i Accessed 8/25/2015 from http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

3. Strategy Three: Declare War

Related Media

The next strategy in God’s Battle Plan for purity is identifying sexual temptations and being ruthless in getting rid of them. Listen to what Christ said in the context of teaching on adultery:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Matthew 5:29-30

After teaching that a man who lusts after a woman who is not his wife has already committed adultery in his heart (v. 27-28), Christ says that one should be violent in removing temptations towards sexual sin.

The plucking out of one’s eye and cutting off one’s hand are hyperbole or symbolism for war time tactics. In ancient wars, when an army conquered another, they would at times pluck out the eyes and cut off the hands of the conquered so that they would never rise up and fight them again. This cruel tactic was used on Samson. When the Philistines defeated him, they blinded him with the intent of disabling him from ever harming them again (Judges 16:21).

By using this hyperbole, Christ shares how we must similarly declare war in order to be pure. He shows us how severely we must deal with sexual temptations. If our eyes—what we look at—are causing us to lust, we must get rid of it. If our hands—what we do—are causing us to sin, we must cut it out of our life.

The eye and the hand represent things dear to us—things that may seem essential for life. However, even these must not be spared in our efforts to be holy and pure. Is an intimate relationship tempting us? It must be severed. Is it our reading or TV watching? Let us discard it. We must be violent in our task of remaining pure and holy.

This violence will be demonstrated in various ways. I have had friends get rid of their TVs in order to be holy. Personally, as a seminary student and youth pastor, I wouldn’t own the Internet at home because I wanted to protect myself from temptation. I would only use it at work or school. I even had to end relationships that went too far physically to protect the person and myself, but most importantly, to honor God.

With this said, we can understand why many cannot remain pure. The reason is simple. They just don’t hate their sin enough. Purity is not a big enough priority to get rid of things that are dear to them. They love their eye and their hand too much. Friendships, TV shows, a dating relationship, the convenience of the Internet, etc., are too much to part with in their quest to be holy.

If we are going to win the battle against lust, we must declare war on it. Are you willing to go to war in order to be pure? For those who have opened sexual doors, this battle may be especially difficult and costly. But God will help as you are faithful.

Reflection

  1. What types of cherished things commonly hinder a believer’s quest for sexual purity? Why is it often so hard to let go of these things?
  2. What things have you had to cut out of your life in order to be pure? Are there any things God is calling you to let go of currently?
  3. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  4. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

4. Strategy Four: Guard Our Eyes

Related Media

The next strategy in our battle for purity is guarding our eyes. Jesus said this, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is good your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23).

What did Christ mean by the whole body being filled with light or darkness based on one’s eye? In Scripture, light typically refers to what is righteous, good, and true, and darkness refers to what is evil, bad, and perverse (cf. Ephesians 5:9). To have a good eye means for a person to continually view what is godly, and therefore, a bad eye refers to continually viewing what is ungodly. Though the context of this passage is riches, it can refer to being filled with anything that is good or bad.

The eyes are a doorway to the mind and whatever one’s mind continually thinks upon, a person will eventually do. If a person is going to be pure, he must be intentional about guarding his eyes. This will affect the types of movies watched, books read, and Internet sites visited. It will also affect how one looks at the opposite sex. For many, when they view the opposite sex, it is hard to not view them from a sexual standpoint. Their eyes continually trigger lustful thoughts and intentions, and if not combated, these eventually trigger lustful actions.

When a person views what is good or evil, it begins to “fill” them. To be filled means to be controlled by. In Ephesians 5:18, believers are called to be filled with the Spirit—controlled by it. When one is full of darkness, it means they are controlled by evil. In reference to lust, a person’s lust can become out of control, even leading to tragic acts such as sexual harassment, rape, molestation, etc.

Sexual abuse statistics are frightening! One out of three American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime. One out of four women and one out of six men will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen.i Four out of five sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.ii Why is sexual abuse so pervasive and overwhelming? No doubt, it in part has to do with the increased access to erotic material in books, on TV, and on the Internet. The result of people viewing these materials is that eventually they can’t control themselves—they are filled and controlled by the darkness their eyes continually engage in.

Conversely, a person whose eyes are continually engaging with the Word of God and godly things will be controlled by them. Fruits of the Spirit will be born in their lives—love, joy, peace, and self-control.

What are you filled with? Are you filling yourself with light which creates righteousness or darkness which creates uncontrollable, evil urges?

How can we practically guard our eyes?

Bouncing Our Eyes

Let’s consider what Job said about disciplining his eyes. In Job 31:1, he said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” In order to remain pure, Job guarded his eyes from looking at a woman lustfully. This was his continual discipline.

Some have called this “bouncing” one’s eyes. When seeing an attractive female, instead of cultivating lustful thoughts and intentions, a man quickly bounces his eyes to something else. When seeing seductive images on the TV or the Internet, instead of taking a second look, one bounces his eyes by turning the channel or closing the webpage.

I remember one time in seminary seeing a young lady who was very attractive. I closed my eyes and prayed to God: “Lord, that woman is sooooo attractive—she will never get a second look from these eyes.” This was the type of discipline Job implemented, and it is the type of discipline we must implement as well if we are going be pure. Remember Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “learn” how to control their bodies in a way that is holy and honorable (1 Thess 4:4). No doubt, “bouncing” their eyes in a sexually charged culture was one of those disciplines.

How else can we guard our eyes?

Praying Over Our Eyes

Another discipline we should practice is prayer. David, a man who struggled with lust and pornography, often prayed over his eyes. In Psalm 119:37, he prayed this: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”

He prayed for God to turn his eyes from the darkness of what is worthless to the light of God’s Word. Whatever we practice becomes a habit. If we’ve practiced sizing up members of the opposite sex and looking at alluring images, then we will need even more grace to break those habits. Prayer is one of the ways that God changes our eyes from being dark to light.

Lord, turn our eyes from what is worthless to what is good.

Reflection

  1. Why is it so hard to guard our eyes in this culture?
  2. How is your struggle with your eyes? In what ways is God calling you to better guard them?
  3. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  4. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown


i Accessed 8/28/2015 from http://www.woar.org/resources/sexual-assault-statistics.php

ii Accessed 8/28/2015 from https://rainn.org/statistics

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

5. Strategy Five: Guard Our Ears

Related Media

Another strategy we must implement is guarding our ears. Some might ask, “What difference does it make what we hear or listen to?” Consider what James said about the power of the tongue:

Indeed we put bits in horse’s mouths that they may obey us and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
James 3:3-6

By illustration, James describes how a powerful horse is controlled by a tiny bit in his mouth, and a ship is controlled by a tiny rudder. In the same way, the tongue, though seemingly insignificant, controls our lives. Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was very wrong. Words are tremendously powerful. In fact, Proverbs 18:21 says, “The power of life and death is in the tongue.”

Words spoken over a person’s life has the ability to direct him—drawing him into a good and wise direction or an evil direction. It can build a person up or destroy him. If one sits under godly parents who faithfully teach God’s Word and attend a good church that teaches the Truth, the “power of the tongue” will help direct him into what is good. But if one sits under ungodly teaching and ungodly conversations, it will affect his life negatively. This is especially true when it comes to sexual immorality.

No doubt, one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to influence people sexually through the music industry. Much of today’s songs are full of sexual overtones and graphic language. Some of it is essentially lyrical pornography—meant to control and guide people away from God and into sexual strongholds.

Sadly, many Christians fall prey to this tactic of the devil. They listen to ungodly, sexually charged music all day, then wonder why they can’t control their lust and don’t desire to read the Bible. The tongue is directing their lives—leading them away from God into lusts.

Psalm 1:1 says this: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (ESV). Some have called this the pathway of depravity. A person starts off listening to the “counsel” of the wicked, then he is standing in the way of sinners—practicing the same thing sinners do, and then they are in the seat of scoffers. Biblically, “scoffer” or “fool” is used of those who mock holy things. Psalm 14:1 says the fool says in his heart that there is no God. First, these people were just listening. Maybe like some Christians who listen to ungodly music, they say, “I only like it because of the beat; I don’t even listen to the lyrics.” The next thing you know, they are practicing sin, and one day they are mocking God and the practice of holiness. Satan led these poor souls astray by simply getting a hold of their ears.

In the same way, many raised in Christian homes with godly morals, such as waiting to have sex until marriage, are now sexually promiscuous just like the world. And it all started with the wrong counsel—sexually charged musical lyrics, sexual dialogue from movies, and sexually flirtatious conversations. Now, instead of following God, they mock what is holy and practice the sexual ethics of the world.

Who is speaking into your ears, and what are they saying? Are your conversations with friends full of sexual jokes and innuendo? Are your TV shows and movies promoting casual sex? If so, you won’t be able to remain pure.

Paul said this in Ephesians 5:3: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”

He said that there should not even be a “hint” of sexual immorality in our lives. Many desire to be pure but their mouths and the mouths of those they listen to are full of sexual hints that eventually bear fruit in their lives.

Are you guarding your ears? Satan keeps many Christians in bondage to lust by flooding their ears with sexual garbage.

Lord, help us to take out the garbage so we can be clean.

Reflection

  1. In what ways does the enemy flood sexual temptation into our ears?
  2. How have you seen or experienced the power of words, especially sexual words, in guiding one’s life?
  3. How is God calling you to better guard your ears?
  4. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  5. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

6. Strategy Six: Guard Our Mind

Related Media

Along with guarding our eyes and ears, we must also guard our mind. Consider what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Like Matthew 5:29-30, this passage uses warfare terminology for our battle against sin. In order to be holy and pure, both in heart and body, we must fight. War isn’t easy. Our enemy is relentless in trying to conquer his prey, and lust is one of his most commonly used weapons. In this battle for our mind, Paul says we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Satan always targets the mind—it is our primary battlefield. He bombards every believer’s mind with sexual images and thoughts. He does this through the world system which he rules and his myriads of demons. He understands that if he can control the mind, he can control the body. So, if we are going to “learn to control our bodies in a way that is pure and honorable,” (1 Thess 4:4) we must fight to control our mind.

Satan’s attack on our mind overlaps with his attacks on our eyes and ears. It is through the eyes and ears that input is given to the mind. Therefore, by guarding the first two, we guard the latter. However, that is not the only way we guard our mind.

How else should we guard our mind?

1. In order to guard our mind, we must recognize ungodly thoughts and ideas by testing them against God’s Word.

David said this in Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”

The Hebrew word for “simple” has the meaning of “open-minded.”iThe ancient Jews described it as someone whose mind was like an open door: everything went in and everything went out.ii This person is gullible and will believe anything. His mind is open even to thoughts and images that should be rejected. However, David says that by filling the mind with God’s Word, one becomes wise to discern what is not of God (cf. Heb 5:14). Wisdom in Scripture primarily refers to knowledge of God and obedience to him (cf. Prov 9:10). That is why Scripture describes the “fool” as one who says there is no God (Psalm 14:1).

A person who does not know the Word of God will have difficulty testing what is not good and therefore have difficulty protecting himself. His mind will continually be saturated by ungodly thoughts, sexual images, and lusts meant to control and destroy him. He will lack the power and discernment to close the door on sexual thoughts and many times will not only accept them but also cultivate them.

If we are going to protect our mind, we must recognize what is not godly. When watching TV shows, listening to music, or engaging in risqué conversations that cultivate and stir lust, the simple accepts what pollutes his soul, while the wise recognizes what would dishonor God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19).

With all that said, guarding our mind does not stop at recognizing what is ungodly by testing it against God’s Word.

2. In order to guard our mind, we must reject the ungodly by using God’s Word.

While the simple opens the door, the wise closes the door. Again, this is done first by recognizing what is wrong and then using Truth to combat what is false and sinful. When Christ was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he quoted Scripture to reject Satan and his lies. We should do the same. Arm yourself by memorizing Bible verses related to lust and purity such as:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV)

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
1 Thessalonians 4:2-8 (ESV)

Personally, when attacked by lust, I quote relevant Scriptures, confess wrong thoughts, lusts, and images before the Lord, and ask him to take them away. In our war for our mind, we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

3. In order to guard our mind, we may at times need to command the devil to leave in Jesus name.

Again, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he initially responded to the temptation with quoting Scripture, but ultimately he commanded the devil to leave. Matthew 4:10-11 describes this:

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Similarly, at times you may need to do this. When battles with lust, pornography, and illicit sex are especially difficult, we can be sure that the enemy has set up camp in these areas, and we may need to pray in authority over these demonic strongholds to be broken in the name of Jesus.

Some struggle with this, arguing that authority over the demonic was exclusively for Christ and his apostles. However, I believe there are many evidences that demonstrate this is for every believer. For instance:

  • Christ is our perfect model for everything in life, including spiritual warfare (cf. Phil 2:5-11, Heb 12:2-4. 1 Peter 2:21-24).

We should model his life as the perfect example of humanity. His example in defeating the devil in the wilderness is not only descriptive but prescriptive.

  • Other believers commanded demons to leave throughout the New Testament.

In Acts 16:18, Paul commanded a spirit of divination to leave a slave girl in the name of Jesus. And in Acts 8:6-7, Philip, who was possibly one of the early deacons, also cast out demons. Yes, Paul was an apostle but Philip was not. This was practiced by the early church.

  • Finally, Scripture indicates that Christ has given us his authority based on our union with him.

Ephesians 1:20-22 describes his position of authority at the right hand of the Father seated above powers and principalities (the demonic) in the heavenly realm. And then Ephesians 2:6 describes how believers are seated with him. Again, this seating is not primarily a location but a position of authority which believers have in Christ. In fact, one day we will judge fallen angels with him because of this position (1 Cor 6:3). We have authority over the demonic just as the apostles and the early church, and we are called to conquer them with the spiritual weapons God has given us (cf. Eph 6:10-19).

Unfortunately, many believers neglect this authority not only to their own detriment but also to the detriment of others. When Christ sent believers into the world to proclaim the gospel, he sent them in all the authority given to him (Matt 28:18-20). We need this authority not just to spread the gospel but also for spiritual warfare.

Christ’s authority is important in battling lust because some strongholds and temptations are not just of the flesh, they are demonic. Like Christ in the wilderness, Paul, at times, recognized certain obstacles and temptations were not just of the flesh and of the world, but of the devil. Paul said this in 1 Thessalonians 2:18: “we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us” (ESV). We need to discern this as well and resist the devil.

James says this: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). As we submit to God through his Word, prayer, and the ministry of other saints, we can resist the devil, and he will flee from us. However, at times, resistance may include commanding the demonic to leave in the name of Jesus as demonstrated by Christ and the early church.

It is not God’s will for us to live bound to lust and sexual immorality, and God has given us all the resources to walk in freedom, including his Word and his authority. Thank you, Lord, for giving us everything needed for life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3). Thank you, Lord, for your grace. Thank you, Lord, that you are creating a pure and blameless Bride for your pleasure (cf. Eph 5:25-27).

Are you guarding your mind? Are you taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ? Are you filling your mind with God’s Word? Are you resisting the devil’s attacks so that he flees?

Reflection

  1. Why is the mind so important in our battle for purity?
  2. In what ways does the enemy bombard our mind with sexual images and thoughts?
  3. How can a person tell when certain strongholds, especially sexual ones, are also demonic?
  4. How should we resist the devil so he flees? In what ways is God calling you to better guard your mind?
  5. What other questions or thoughts do you have about this section?
  6. In what ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.

Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown


i Accessed 8/25/ 2015 from http://biblehub.com/topical/s/simple.htm

ii Wiegel, Robert, “How Does God’s Word Change Us.” Sermon accessed 8/25/2015 from https://sermons.logos.com/submissions/49039-19-Psalm-019-7-08-How-Does-Gods-Word-Change-Us#content=/submissions/49039

Related Topics: Sexual Purity

Pages