Sunday, May 04, 2014
"Pray for Me" Sermon: Hebrews 13:18-19
“Pray for Me”
May 4, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Last week we looked at what the author of Hebrews has to say about our leaders and the weighty calls that they have received to serve in office. We saw that we are to obey our pastors and church officers when they preach and teach the Word of God faithfully. We are to respect our pastors and church leaders for the offices they hold. And, we are to respond to the faithful preaching and teaching of pastors and church leaders in a way that gives them joy.
Today, we see that the author of Hebrews then turns and asks, specifically, for prayer for himself, and by extension, all those who serve in office in the church.
“Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.”
Here we learn more about the author and about how we are to commune with each other and especially with our leaders in the church. We see:
First, we are to pray for our leaders.
Second, we are to examine our motivations.
Third, we are to strive for moral excellence.
Fourth, walking with each other spiritually is to our benefit.
“Pray for us,”
First, we are to pray for our leaders.
The author of Hebrews asks that the readers and hearers of his letter would pray for him – and for all those in church office, as he has just described.
We ought to pray for our church leaders because God has gifted them with a weighty call.
As we saw last week, it is the duty of the church leaders to watch over your souls. We have been given the responsibility to learn about you and to lead you, as a shepherd leads his sheep, to the places of green grass, where you will draw near to God and know the Gospel and understand what God has said rightly and follow after the holiness that God has called us all to.
I would hope all who are called to church office would want your prayers that we would understand what is involved in the call to this office – that we would see to fulfill the office that Christ has gifted us for – that we would give up our self-reliance and rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom and power to be able to watch over your souls.
Every life is precious because every human being bears the Image of God. Every human being – in existing and in doing – shows that there is a God Who is worthy to be worshipped. And we are all called to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached, to receive it, to repent of our sins, and to strive after holiness, until we are received into the Kingdom of God and changed in a twinkling of an eye – but until then, we have to watch over your souls – pastors and elders, in particular, are gifted and called to teach and preach the Word of God, so we would understand what God has said and follow it.
Paul writes, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:10-15, ESV).
Coming before the people of God and saying, “Thus says the Lord!” – coming before you and saying, “this is what God said, and this is what God means, and this is what God wants you to do” – is a weighty thing! We who do so have been called to speak for God in the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word. And if we have any sense at all, we recognize that this is a weighty matter, because we are saying we are faithfully conveying God’s Word to you – and because there is a weighty penalty if we do not.
We ought to pray for our church leaders because God expects them to answer for what they did under the call.
We also saw last week, that those who answer the call to preach and teach the Word of God are held to a higher standard and will be judged more strictly for what we have said and done and how we have led you and watched over your souls.
As James warned, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV). Accepting the call of God without weighing the warnings and all that is expected of us is a very foolish mistake.
Pray for us.
We ought to pray for our church leaders because they are sinners.
Every pastor, elder, and deacon who has every served has been a sinner – and being a sinner means that we fail to live a life of holiness – we fail to do all things to the Glory of God – we fail to do all things in perfect love of God and neighbor – we have not perfectly kept watch over your souls. We need your forgiveness and we need you to pray for us.
God promises: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).
That tells us that Christians are free from slavery to sin – we never have to sin. No matter how strong the temptation to sin – no matter how good and pleasurable sin might seem – no matter how much we want it – God has provided the way of escape for every temptation to sin. So when we sin – when you sin – we are saying to God, “No thanks – I’d rather be in rebellion.” Or, “No thanks, this is more pleasurable than You know.” Or, we offer some other excuse to throw freedom back in the face of the God Who freed us from sin, and we put those shackles back on – even if just for a moment.
Shakespeare wrote, “To err is human.” Wrong! To “err” – to make mistakes – to choose to sin – is a result of the Fall – of our idolatry and turning away from God.
We ought to pray for our church leaders because they make mistakes.
Even in our best moments, we fail our call to God and for you, because the effects of the Fall – our Original Sin – our sin nature – though we are free from slavery to sin, there is still a remnant of our sin nature – calling us back, desiring us back in slavery – though that can never happen – because Christ saves His people for Himself, by Himself, and to His Glory forever.
We have a doctrine called “total depravity” which says that through Adam’s sin, every part of our self – every part of our being – is affected by sin. Our brains don’t think properly all the time. Our bodies don’t work properly all the time. At times, we embrace wrong ideas about what God has said and called us to do.
Pray for us – that we would turn away from sin and that our corrupted selves will not interfere with our preaching and teaching the Gospel.
We ought to pray for our church leaders because they get sick.
Most of us know that our bodies and minds don’t always work the way they should due to disease – which is also a result of the Fall, but we may be less involved in causing that part of our corruption. For example, if we get pneumonia, it may just be that the virus was around and not due to sin or misadventure on our part.
You know that I have significant health problems and I ask you to pray for me – I hope you do and will continue to do so. Pray for the health of all of us.
We ought to pray for our church leaders so we are led rightly.
And here’s a reason you should pray for us that specifically benefits you: you should pray for us to take our call seriously and understand the weight of it and the seriousness of it, you should pray for us that we would turn from sin and avoid mistakes and that we would be as healthy as possible in mind and body – taking care of ourselves, and you ought to pray for us because you want to hear what God has actually said and call you to do – right? You want to receive the truth from us, explained well, and with easy to follow instructions.
Pray for us to be able to watch over your souls well for your sake. Pray for us to be able to preach and teach the Word of God faithfully for your sake. Pray that we would be given wisdom and ability for your sake. If that sounds selfish – don’t worry – it’s what God wants for you.
Would you please pray for me each week as I prepare the sermon – that I would spend the time I need to read and study and pray that I would understand God’s Word and be able to explain it and apply it in the way that we need? Would you please pray that you would be open and receptive to the Word of God – whatever it may be – that God would apply it to You – that the Holy Spirit would not allow God’s Word to return empty, but overflowing to His Glory?
Pray for us.
“for we are sure that we have a clear conscience,”
Second, we are to examine our motivations.
The author of Hebrews had just written a letter which argues that the entire Old Testament Sacrifice System had been fulfilled in Jesus, and the followers of Jesus should not follow it any longer, but follow Jesus by faith alone. This was obviously an earth-shaking claim – for two thousand years, they had followed God’s Word revealed as the Sacrificial System – given through Moses. And it was a difficult choice to make, as they had some degree of freedom of religion under Rome as Jews – but as Christians – at that time – they were seen as atheists, disturbers of the peace, and threats to Caesar – it would have been far easier to just say – it’s God’s Word, so I’ll keep the Old Testament Sacrificial System.
And any who said so were right, the Old Testament Sacrificial System was given by God, but it could not – and was never intended – to be the way to salvation – and it is fulfilled in Jesus – the Promised Savior sent by God, Who is the Only Way to salvation – as he went to great lengths to explain.
So, the author of Hebrews asks his audience to pray for him, “for we are sure that we have a clear conscience.” The author of Hebrews acknowledges that he is not infallible outside of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so he asks them to pray for him because the motivation behind his telling them to hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to leave behind the Old Testament Sacrificial System was in good conscience – he acted in good conscience.
The word that is translated “clear” conscience in our text, could be translated as “morally good” conscience, “excellent” conscience, “fit” conscience, “sound” conscience, “beautiful” conscience – he asked them to pray for him because he had made his argument to them with the belief that he was being led by God the Holy Spirit to write and that what he had written was written with the best, purest, most morally excellent motivation.
It is as though he wrote, “Pray for us, for we are sure after soul-searching, prayer, and consultation with the Scriptures, that we wrote this letter to you and made the argument to hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the Old Testament Sacrificial System, which has been fulfilled in Jesus, with the transparent motivation of having you follow after God’s best.”
Now, the author of Hebrews knew that if they followed his letter, many of them would be put to death. He took that seriously, but he took the Word of God more seriously, and the eternal salvation of Jesus through the proclamation and reception of the Gospel most seriously.
Motivations matter. Quickly – answer to yourself – why are you here this morning?
The best motivation would be something like, “I came this morning to be with other Christians in the worship and glorification of God and that I might receive His joy.” Something like that.
Motivations matter – just look at the “Sermon on the Mount.” One example: “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).
Here, Jesus explains that when God spoke the Ten Commandments and said not to commit adultery, He did not only mean, not to commit the physical act of adultery with someone who is married to someone else – or when you are married to someone else. Yes, the physical act of adultery is forbidden, but the intent of the commandment extends to our motivation – Jesus said anyone who thinks sexually – lustfully – about anyone who is not his wife or her husband – is guilty of committing adultery – even if it never gets to the physical act. Motivations matter – the intent of the heart and mind matter. And we are all adulterers.
And we more and more in this country consider motivations – the thoughts of the heart and mind – not to matter – they do matter – and they can be exceedingly difficult to control – so don’t let them get away from you – take the way of escape that God has promised.
When we see a topless woman in an ad, and we’re told that the intent was not to engender lust, but to get us to notice the engagement ring on her finger – and hopefully buy it – something is horrifically wrong. There are few people who will not lust having seen a naked attractive person.
Pray for us – that what we bring to you comes from motivations that are of a “clear” conscience, a “morally good” conscience, an “excellent” conscience, a “fit” conscience, a “sound” conscience, a “beautiful” conscience – and we shall pray the same for you.
“desiring to act honorably in all things.”
Third, we are to strive for moral excellence.
“Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.”
The author of Hebrews asks his readers to pray, because their motivation in presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ as being worthy of holding onto – even amidst persecution to death – rather than turning back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System, and because they desire – they long – the strive – they work towards – acting – living – honorably in all things.
Just as the author of Hebrews requested prayer that they would be right about their motivation, the truthfulness, and the clarity of his explanation of the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sacrificial System to them and the reasons it is not worth holding on to, and the reasons it is worth suffering even death for the Gospel, they ask that they would pray for them that everything they do – whatever they do – would be done honorably.
The question is, “What does it mean to live honorably?” And the answer is relatively easy, since the word that is used here for “honorably” has the same root word as the word that was translated “clear.” So, they author of Hebrews is asking them to pray for them as they seek to live lives that are “morally good,” “excellent,” “fit,” “sound,” and “beautiful.”
He is asking that the command God gave through Paul would be true in their lives: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33, ESV). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, ESV).
As Wes King sang, “The Ultimate Underlying No Denying Motivation,” for everything we do, ought to be that God is glorified and thanked. Our purpose in life – our overarching purpose – no matter what specific thing we like to do or are gifted in – is to make sure that God and His Gospel are known to the whole Creation.
That’s what they are asking for – that no matter where they are – not matter what they are doing – no matter what they are thinking about – no matter what their circumstance at any given time – first and foremost, they are asking for prayer that they would seek to live lives that in every way show God to be God and the Gospel to be the Only Way to Salvation.
Please pray that what we do in every moment of our lives is to the Glory of God and in thanksgiving to Him.
“I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.”
Fourth, walking with each other spiritually is to our benefit.
Notice the urgency of the author of Hebrews that they be engaged in prayer for them – for their message and their lives always to be about Who God is and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They say they more earnestly urge them to pray for these things that they would join together in praying for them that they might accomplish all that God has for them to His Glory – in a way that is pleasing to God and joyful to them.
And we may enter into this conversation: “I pray in church, why should I spend my time even making some slight provision for our leaders when I need to be praying – and doing things – for myself? Are there no prayer groups they could go to?”
“Plenty of prayer groups.”
“And could they not go to the seminaries to be prayed for - are they still in operation?”
“They are. I wish I could say that many of them were not.”
“Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them from praying for each other.”
“I don't think you quite understand us, sir. We are asking that all Christians pray for the leaders of their church and for each other.”
“Because Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, ESV).
“And Paul wrote, ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load’ (Galatians 6:1-5, ESV).”
When we walk with each other, supporting each other in prayer, we are stronger than when we are alone. When we walk with each other in prayer, we can better fend against those temptations that beset us as individuals with greater resolve. Although in the end, our sins are our own sins, when we gather together in prayer – or prayer for one another – as part of what it means to share in the communion of the saints, we find the strength to continue to strive after that life of honorable living in all things.
As the author of Hebrews urgently requested the prayers of their fellow Christians, I – and the others in office in this church urgently request your prayers for us. Help us to live honorable, God-glorifying Gospel-promoting lives, by praying for us in all these ways that we have discussed and more that you find in the Scripture and become aware of. And we will pray for you in all these ways.
And if you have the blessing of finding a fellow Christian who can be your confidant -- with whom you can share your struggles, and sins, and pray together and hold each other up under each other’s burdens and encourage each other in taking the way of escape from temptation, holding each other accountable, and respecting that confidence and leaning on each other – you will have greater joy and success as you walk together to the Glory of God and by His Grace.
The author of Hebrews ends this section saying that he wants them to pray earnestly “in order that I might be restored to you.”
At the very end of the letter, he mentions that he is in Italy, but he doesn’t explain his circumstances – why he is not able to be with them at that time – the letter to the Hebrews was sent to a specific, but unnamed, group of Jewish converts to Christianity – but we are not told where they were, and we are not told whether the author of Hebrews is busy, sick, imprisoned, or something else.
He does tell us that he wants to be “restored” to them. The word that is used there means “to be sent back to” or “to be brought together again” – so the author of Hebrews had been to wherever the original audience was located, and he was anxious to return to them, if and when his circumstances allowed it.
Until it did, he asked them to pray: to pray for their leaders, to pray that they would examine their motivations, to pray that they would strive for moral excellence, and to pray that they would walk with each other spiritually to their benefit.
Shall we pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the author of Hebrews, for his humility in grounding the truth of his letter in Your Word and Your oversight of his writing. We ask that we would be inspired and stirred up to pray for our leaders in the church and for each other that we would all join together in striving to live holy lives that glorify You, that we would do all things for Your Glory and the propagation of the Gospel, and that we would grow and benefit through the support and prayers of the communion of the saints. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.