Reading : Hebrews 11
To develop a saving faith men and women first have to hear the gospel. This point is made by the Apostle Paul when he writes ‘ So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ (Romans 10:17) A preacher is therefore required to give voice to that message.
The preacher might be a highly respected speaker giving a formal public address but he or she may just as easily be that quiet unassuming person who simply says a sentence or two to a family member, a neighbour or a work colleague at the right time. A few words on the bus, or at work, or by an email might just start the whole wonderful process off. If someone is hearing with the right spirit then by the grace of God they too can have that faith that saves.
The word of God in preaching is vital. If a correct understanding of the scriptures is not conveyed then only the word of man is shared. The preacher must preach but it is God’s word that is powerful and life giving. If we are to have a pleasing faith before God, then, we must all cherish His word, both preacher and hearer. Commending the word of God to Timothy his fellow disciple the Apostle Paul says ‘thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.’ (2 Timothy 3:15-17) The man or woman of faith does not neglect God’s word.
Note also the following words that the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica ‘For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The phrase ‘effectually worketh’ is just one word ‘energeo’ in the original Greek language from which we can see easily we get the English word ‘energy’. We should endeavour to receive the word of God daily so that it will give us a living energetic faith.
All the great men and women of faith have a high regard for the word of God. The Lord Jesus is of course the finest example. All his teaching was derived from the word. He lived consistently and unfailingly by the word. He gave his perfect life as a sacrifice according to the word. The Apostle John in the book of Revelation even calls him ‘ The Word of God’. ‘ And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.’ (Revelation 19:13)
Those of faith also value highly the privilege and the power of prayer. All the faithful in scripture are seen at prayer and once again the finest exponent of this is the Lord Jesus. He is the man of prayer. As we read through the gospel accounts of his life we repeatedly see him at prayer. We read of him praying at his baptism and at his death. He prays when feeding the five thousand and when he abstains from food for forty days and nights in the wilderness. He prays for his disciples alone on the mountaintop, amongst a crowd at the graveside, with the disciples in the upper room and most intensely of all when alone in the garden of Gethsemane. There cannot be any question whether a disciple should pray or not. Faith cannot be developed without prayer.
On one occasion a disciple having seen the Lord praying asked him to teach them as well. ‘ And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples’. (Luke 11:1) The prayer the Lord gave them we commonly refer to as the Lord’s prayer. Now whilst we are not expected to repeat this prayer word for word without variation nevertheless it would be foolish for us not to base our prayers upon it. Before we consider the main features of the prayer read Luke 11:2-4.
The first point to note is that for a disciple, God is referred to as ‘our Father’. Amazingly He who is awesome in majesty and might, the great creator, is to be considered as the head of a family. What a comforting and reassuring title this is for the Lord Jesus to emphasise. We are watched over, cared for and loved as children before a perfect father.
The Lord then instructs us that ‘our Father’ is ‘in heaven’ so we must show humility before Him. We are upon the earth and naturally of the earth. God even though He is a Father is much higher than us.
The prayer then moves on to our first request which overrides any pressing personal needs for we say ‘Hallowed be thy name’. God’s name is all about His character. We desire to see His characteristics made manifest all about us and of course within ourselves. The Lord Jesus by using this expression is alluding to the proclamation of the name given to Moses upon Mount Sinai as recorded in Exodus ‘ And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.’ (Exodus 34:5-7)
Our second request is for ‘Thy kingdom come’. We desire earnestly for the Lord Jesus to be reigning as King in Jerusalem giving righteousness and peace to the peoples of the earth.
The third request which is closely related to the previous two is ‘Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.’ Men and women of faith long for the days of man’s misrule to be replaced by God’s rule when Godliness prevails at last.
Only after these three petitions calling for God’s worldwide plan and purpose to be accomplished does the disciple then think of his or her present needs ‘Give us day by day our daily bread.’ We ask in faith for our mortal lives to be sustained. We ask for enough food to keep us going for the day.
The Lord then says we should address our spiritual health ‘forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.’ Regrettably we often sin and so we must seek forgiveness. However we must hallow the name of our God by forgiving others. If there is no willingness to forgive on our part then God will not forgive us.
Finally we pray for our Father’s help that we should not sin or go astray ‘lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.’ We have to be honest with ourselves and realise that we are weak. So easily do we fail when confronted with temptation. We need God’s help to steer us away from it and to turn us away from evil.
Faith in God is developed when an individual recognises the importance of the holy scriptures and of prayer. Alongside these is also the essential regular partaking of bread and wine in remembrance of the Lord’s death and sacrifice. In the upper room just before the Lord went to Gethsemane and then on to Golgotha he instituted a new passover feast which should be kept by his disciples. ‘And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.’ (Luke 22:19-20) This ritual is the only one demanded of the Lord other than baptism. He knew that his followers would need to be reminded regularly of his saving work. Their faith would require this remembrance. As the bread and the wine is shared with fellow believers their common need for forgiveness is recalled. They rejoice too in the Lord’s triumph over sin and death and in the certain knowledge that he will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Their faith that they will be given immortality at his appearing is strengthened.
The importance of this remembrance cannot be over emphasised and in the Acts of the Apostles it is referred to as ‘the breaking of bread’. In Acts chapter 2 verse 42 we read ‘and they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.’ Later on in the same chapter at verse 46 we read ‘ And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart’.
The Lord Jesus did not state how often or on what particular day of the week the ‘breaking of bread’ should take place and so there are no rules on this matter. However the popular practice of doing this once a week as a church on a Sunday is in harmony with first century practice. We note for example what happened in Troas when the Apostle Paul visited the church there ‘ And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.’ (Acts 20:7)
We have considered three aspects of discipleship which are important if our faith is to be sustained and enriched; the importance of reading and applying the word of God; the necessity to be prayerful at all times and to remember the sacrifice of Christ, if we are baptised, by the breaking of bread. There is one more aspect, amongst others, that we will briefly mention and that is church membership. It is not always the case but usually when we are baptised there is a group of believers near by. The Lord expects us to help and support one another in a church. Our faith is usually bolstered when we are in the company of others of like precious faith. We can discuss the word together, we can pray together and break bread together. We can also praise God together and preach together. We should be busy in the church. The Apostle Paul on more than one occasion likens the church to a body with the head being the Lord Jesus (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4). In the Apostle’s analogy we might be a hand, a foot, an eye or perhaps another apparently less significant part of the human frame but we all need each other. We all have our contribution to make under the direction of the Lord Jesus. The church requires all to work together for the benefit of the body as a whole. Whatever our circumstances we do not serve ‘our Father’ alone. Faith develops when we serve.
In conclusion so much of what has been said is summarised by the following words of the Apostle Paul to the believers at Colosse ‘Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him’. (Colossians 3:12-17)