Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul written unto his spiritual son in the faith—Timothy. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the second chapter of the epistle. When you approach this particular chapter within the first epistle written unto Timothy you will find the apostle providing specific instruction unto his son in the faith. As you begin to read the chapter before you today you will find the apostle opening and beginning it with a very specific exhortation unto Timothy concerning men and their prayer lives. If you begin reading the second chapter of this first epistle to Timothy you will find the apostle Paul not only instructing, but also desirous that supplications and prayers be lifted up and made for all men. I happen to find the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy in this passage to be absolutely provocative—particularly and especially when you consider that the apostle Paul didn’t provide specific examples of individuals who were to receive prayer and supplications. When you read this particular chapter you will notice that while the apostle Paul does instruct and exhort that prayer and supplications should be offered for kings and rulers, he didn’t specifically begin the chapter that way. That which the apostle Paul exhorted within the first verse of this chapter was that prayers and supplications be offered up for all men. It is absolutely necessary, imperative, and even critical that we pay close attention to the use of the word “all” in this passage because the apostle Paul doesn’t omit or leave anyone out when he provides instruction and exhortation to offer up prayers and supplications. The reason I find this to be so provocative is because by using the word “all,” the apostle Paul is actually declaring unto us that we cannot pick and choose those whom we pray for. SELECTIVE PRAYERS & PICKY INTERCESSION! I have to admit that I am absolutely and incredibly challenged when I read the words which the apostle Paul writes within this passage, for the words of the apostle are a direct challenge to how we conduct ourselves in the matter of prayer.
I used the words “selective prayer” and “picky intercession” with a very specific end and purpose in mind, for I am utterly and completely convinced that there are times within our lives when we are selective in those whom we offer up prayers for. I am utterly and completely convinced that there have been countless times within my own life when I have actually thought and believed within myself that there were specific people and specific individuals whom I would not pray for. Let me pause for a moment and ask you at this very moment if you would truly pray for absolutely everyone around you. Do you possess the spiritual fortitude and grace to offer up prayers and supplications for absolutely everyone in the earth today? Are there specific individuals whom you simply don’t offer up any prayers and supplications? Are there specific individuals around you who you just find it difficult to pray for? Are there specific individuals within your life who you simply cannot bring yourself to kneel before the living God and intercede on behalf of them? If we are truly honest with ourselves there are many among us who have specific individuals who we would simply rather not pray for. If we are honest with ourselves and with the Lord our God we have to admit that when we come before the Lord in prayer there are specific names and faces that while they appear before our minds eye while praying, we simply are unwilling to speak their names in prayer. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—are there specific individuals within your life whose names you simply cannot utter before the throne of grace in prayer and intercession? Are there names and faces which you seek to quickly dismiss from your mind while in the secret closet of prayer as you ask the Lord how you could pray for that individual, or perhaps those individuals? Are there times within your quiet times of prayer when a name or face will appear before your mind’s eye and you actually declare unto the Lord that you simply cannot pray for them? While most of us would actually deny this reality to be true within our lives, I am convinced that the reality of these questions and statements is far more serious and severe within our hearts and lives.
SELFISH PRAYERS! SELF-CENTERED PRAYERS! While we would like to try and admit that we simply could never be picky and even choosy on who we would pray for during our quiet times in prayer, the reality of the matter is that that simply is not the case. Even recently in this past Sundays church service the pastor called for the members of the congregation to break up into small groups of two and three individuals and to pray—not only one for another, but also for the body as a whole. As I sit here and consider this particular reality, I can’t help but think of how many people would choose to join themselves together with those they are comfortable with, and those they are familiar with. I can’t help but think that there might very well have been those within the congregation who had specific individuals whom they simply would and could not join themselves together in prayer. When the time came to break up into smaller groups, they simply went to those with whom they were familiar and even felt comfortable with. Whether or not you would like to believe, and even accept that which I am presenting to you right now, I am utterly and completely convinced that when it comes to Prayer—even when it comes to prayer in the house of the Lord—not only are we selective in who we pray with, but we are also selective on who we pray for. I am utterly and completely convinced that there are countless times when we find it absolutely and incredibly difficult to pray for specific individuals within our hearts and lives for one reason or another. Now, I fully recognize and realize that some of you who are reading the words contained within this particular writing would strongly disagree with me, and within your hearts and minds would declare that you would never commit such an act, yet I would strongly present unto you that such a statement is not rooted in reality. I am convinced that I could present you with a specific set of names that have such a stigma and such a stench directly connected to and with them that—not only would you be repulsed by the names themselves, but you would also be appalled at the notion of even offering up prayers for such individuals. I am convinced that I could present you with a specific set of names right now and you would absolutely and totally balk at the idea of even praying for such individuals because of thoughts, emotions, and feelings that rise up within your heart.
The more I consider the words of the apostle Paul, the more I am convinced that prayer and forgiveness are intrinsically linked and connected. The more I consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy in this particular chapter, the more I am convinced that prayer and forgiveness are absolutely and incredibly linked and in all reality cannot and should not be separated. Lest you think that what I am writing and what I am speaking is far fetched and out of line, I would present you with the words which our Lord Himself spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount. Consider if you will the words which our Lord spoke beginning with the fifth verse of the sixth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you” (Matthew 6:5-15). If you read the words which our Lord spoke within this passage of Scripture you will find that directly within what has commonly become known as “the Lord’s prayer” the reality and concept of prayer and forgiveness are intrinsically linked and connected. As you consider the reality of the prayer which our Lord taught us to pray you will find that directly in the middle of the prayer is not only a plea unto the living God to forgive us our debts, but also a declaration of our forgiveness toward those who have wronged us. We dare not miss the tremendous importance and significance of this reality, for I do not believe it is any coincidence that our Lord chose to include these words within the prayer He instructed us to pray when we entered into our closet and shut the door.
When you read the words which our Lord spoke unto those who gathered before and gathered unto Him on that day, you will find that immediately after instructing those who had gathered together to pray after a specific manner and pattern, He then immediately transitions to speaking of forgiveness. What’s more, is that not only does Jesus immediately transition to the reality and concept of forgiveness after speaking of prayer, but He directly links the two realities together. You will notice immediately after Jesus provided instruction on how to pray unto our Father who is in heaven, He then proceeds to declare unto those who were gathered on that day that if they forgave men their trespasses, their Heavenly Father would also forgive them. It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t simply stop there, for Jesus would go on to declare that if we chose not to forgive men their trespasses, and instead hold their trespasses, sins, transgressions, wrongdoings, and iniquities against them, our Heavenly Father would not forgive us. What we must recognize and and realize when considering the words of our Lord in this particular passage is that He was in no way suggesting that forgiveness was in fact exclusive to certain parities and specific individuals. What I mean by that is that Jesus didn’t isolate and set apart a specific group of men and women among and around us with whom we would forgive of their trespasses, transgressions, and wrongdoings. While we would like to think that it is possible that we can in fact pick and choose who we forgive, the truth of the matter is that we simply do not have the luxury, nor do we have the convenience of picking and choosing who we pray for. What’s more, is that not only do we not have the luxury of not picking and choosing who we pray for, but neither do we have the luxury of when we would choose to forgive. We would like to think that we can somehow dictate and control when we forgive those who have trespassed against us, and yet the truth of the matter is that this is simply not a luxury that we can afford to take. Now, I do recognize and realize that it is not easy to forgive those who have sinned and trespassed against us, and that it is more often than difficult to forgive those closest to us who have wronged us, yet Scripture makes it perfectly—perhaps even painfully clear, that we cannot pick and choose who and when we forgive. Despite the fact that we would like to decide who and when we would forgive within and throughout the course of our lives, the truth of the matter is that this simply is not the case.
THE RADICAL TRANSFORMATION OF PRAYER! THE RADICAL TRANSFORMATION OF FORGIVENESS! I am utterly and completely convinced that two of the greatest demonstrations and manifestations within our hearts and lives of transformation—true transformation which strikes at the very core of our being—are prayer and forgiveness. In fact, I would dare say that there are perhaps no greater demonstrations within our hearts and lives of transformation than prayer and forgiveness. If you are finding yourself in a place and position where you know you desperately need to be changed and transformed in such a supernatural and powerful way, I would strongly urge and point you in the direction of prayer and forgiveness, for such realities are perhaps the most difficult realities to flesh out and practice within and throughout the course of our lives. If we are truly being honest with ourselves, as well as with the Lord we must wholeheartedly admit that one of the most difficult actions we take is that of offering forgiveness to those who have wronged and trespassed against us. If we are willing to come face to face with ourselves we must emphatically and boldly admit—without reservation and without hesitation—that it is absolutely and incredibly difficult to forgive those whom we feel have wronged and trespassed against us. What’s more, is the reality and concept of what makes us think that we have the right to determine what is in fact a wrong committed against us. I am convinced that one of the greatest causes of “wrong” committed against us is wrong expectations, and perhaps even unmet expectations of those which are around us. Furthermore, I am convinced that our belief that others have wronged us more often than not stem from our own sense of self-entitlement within our hearts and lives, and somehow believing that we are owed something when in all reality we are not. The more I consider this reality of forgiveness and forgiving those who have wronged us, the more I am convinced that forgiveness is most difficult within our hearts and lives because we feel entitled to hold on to our offense, or to hold on to our bitterness, or even to hold on to our hurt and pain. More often than not, there are men and women among us who would rather imprison those around them in chains and shackles of unforgiveness, bitterness and offense, rather than choosing to release them from that which they have committed against us. Please note and please understand that I do believe there are times within our lives when it is possible that others within our lives do have the ability to wrong us, and even to sin and trespass against us. There are times within our lives when those we encounter and those we interact with can in fact, and do in fact wrong us—sometimes beyond measure, and more than we even care to admit.
When you turn and direct your attention to the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find Jesus speaking unto His disciples when they came to Him asking Him who was the greatest in the kingdom. What first began with an illustration using a little child would eventually turn to a powerful discourse and lesson concerning forgiveness of those who have trespassed against us. Consider if you will the words which our Lord spoke beginning with the fifteenth verse of the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:15-22). Notice within this passage of Scripture that Jesus does in fact begin speaking of and declaring the reality of our brother trespassing against us, and in fact committing a fault against us. It’s worth noting that instead of suggesting and speaking of unforgiveness, bitterness, animosity, offense, anger, and resentment, Jesus first speaks of restoration and forgiveness. What we find and what we read in verses fifteen through twenty is actually a powerful discourse concerning restoration in light of, and restoration instead of unforgiveness, bitterness and offense. Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many of us would rather remain in a place of unforgiveness, bitterness, and offense than seek out forgiveness and restoration. For many, we find it much easier to remain in the place of bitterness, resentment, and even unforgiveness than exercise forgiveness and seek out restoration. Permit me to ask you right now whether or not you would choose restoration and forgiveness over offense, resentment, bitterness, anger, malice, and perhaps even hatred within your heart.
What I find to be so incredibly intriguing about Peter’s question of Jesus was that Peter seemed to suggest and speak of limitations on forgiveness of his brother who sinned and trespassed against him. Upon hearing the words and reality of a brother sinning and trespassing against him, Peter then proceeded to ask Jesus how often his brother could sin against him, and he forgive him his trespass, his wrongdoing and his offense. There is not a doubt in my mind that Peter thought he was somehow justified, and perhaps even gracious when he offered up seven times forgiving his brother his offense, and yet Jesus took Peter’s question, flipped the script and turned it on its head. When Peter thought that he could forgive his brother seven times for seven different offenses, trespasses, and transgressions, Jesus declared unto him that seven times was simply not enough. Jesus took Peter’s seven times forgiveness, turned it on its head, and suggested seventy times seven. Essentially that which Jesus did was not only expand Peter’s concept of forgiveness, but also remove and take off the limitations of forgiveness. Undoubtedly Peter thought that he was somehow being gracious with offering forgiveness seven times to his brother who sinned and trespassed against him, and yet Jesus declared very plainly that that simply was not enough. Oh, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to the words which we find in this particular passage, for Peter’s question didn’t ask Jesus what sins and what trespasses his brother could commit against him which he would and could forgive. In other words, Peter’s question didn’t suggest and speak of specific and certain trespasses and wrongdoings which could be committed against him, and he would offer and provide forgiveness. This is actually quite remarkable and astounding when you take the time to consider it, for it not only suggests the possibility that our brother could sin against us in a variety of different ways and manners, but it also suggests that our brother could commit the same offense, the same trespass, the same wrongdoing against us, and we offer forgiveness of that brother. Peter’s question not only suggests the possibility that our brother could commit seven different trespasses and offenses against us, but it also seems to suggest that our brother could commit the same offense and the same trespass against us seven times. This runs absolutely contrary to the reality and concept of “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
The thing that is so provocative about the words which Jesus spoke is not only that our brother could commit the same sin against us seven times, but also that our brother could the same sin against us seventy times seven. What’s more, is that Jesus seems to suggest that our brother could commit different transgressions against us seventy times seven, and yet we are to forgive him—not only of absolutely every transgression, but we are to forgive him of every single transgression. Oh that we would recognize and understand that forgiveness is not exclusive to any specific transgression and wrongdoing, nor does it have limitations on it. We must recognize and realize that forgiveness must be offered at all times and for all crimes—regardless of whether or not we feel it is necessary and appropriate to do so within our own hearts and lives. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke earlier on in His Sermon on the Mount—words which are recorded beginning with the twenty-first verse of the fifth chapter: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That showoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:21-27). What is highly provocative about the words of Jesus in this particular passage of Scripture is that Jesus doesn’t simply stop there, but only a few short verses later He actually takes this a step further when speaking of offense, wrongdoing and trespasses committed against us. Consider if you will the words which our Lord spoke, which are recorded for us beginning with the thirty-eighth verse of the fifth chapter:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall come thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do even more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect? “ (Matthew 5:38-48).
Please mark and make note of the words which our Lord spoke in this particular passage of Scripture, for the words which Jesus speaks in this particular passage not only touches on the area of forgiveness, but it also touches on the area of prayer as it pertains to forgiveness. I wrote earlier concerning prayer, and how we can oftentimes be selective concerning who we pray for, and yet I am convinced that this is perhaps no more true than in the case of that which Jesus suggests in these verses. Within this passage Jesus suggests that not only are we to love our enemies, but we are to do good to them that hate us, and even pray for them which despitefully use us, and persecute us. These words which Jesus spoke in this Sermon on the Mount are absolutely and incredibly challenging, for they bring us face to face with the fact that more often than not there are times within our lives when we aren’t merely to pray for and intercede for our neighbours, or even our brethren, but are to pray for those who persecute and despitefully use us. What’s more, is that while it has been said that we should love our neighbour and hate our enemy, Jesus turned this on its head and completely flipped the script by declaring that we are to love our enemies rather than hating them. LOVING ENEMIES AND PRAYING FOR WRONGDOERS! I am absolutely and utterly convinced that the words we find and the words we read in this particular passage of Scripture are directly linked and directly connected to the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of the first epistle which was written unto Timothy—not once, but twice. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the first two verses of the second chapter of this epistle: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). As you read this particular chapter you will notice that this isn’t and this wasn’t the first time Jesus spoke of offering up prayers and supplications for all men. If you transition down to the eighth verse of the same chapter you will find the following words: “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8).
In the first verse the apostle Paul exhorts, admonishes and instructs Timothy that supplications, prayers and intercessions be made for all men, while in the eighth verse of the same chapter the apostle Paul declares his desire that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. Oh that we would come face to face with the tremendous power and weight of these words, for within these words written by the apostle we find him declaring unto Timothy that the saints of God could not and should not pick and choose those whom they pray for. Much like we cannot pick and choose who we forgive of their trespasses and transgressions, so also we cannot pick and choose who we pray for, who we offer intercessions for, and who we make supplications for. I am convinced that we might very well come to Jesus and ask Him, saying, “Lord, how oft shall I pray for my brother? Shall I pray for my brother seven times?” I am convinced in direct response to such a question being asked of our Lord, Jesus takes this question and this concept, turns it on its head, completely flips the script, and declares unto us, saying, “ I say unto you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Please note that I am in no way adding to Scripture, and I am in no way adding unto the words which Jesus spoke concerning forgiveness. What I am writing about, and what I am speaking about is that we cannot choose who we pray for no more than we can choose how often we pray for those around us. What’s more is that this is as much true of our neighbours and bout brethren as it is of our enemies. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that Jesus not only declared unto us to love our enemies, but Jesus also declared unto us that we are to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us. I believe with all my heart that when we would seek to put limitations on how often we would pray for our brother, and even how often we would pray for our enemies, Jesus takes the limitations completely off, and declares unto us that we should continually make intercession for our brethren and enemies alike without any reservation, hesitation and limitations. I am firmly convinced that if we want to experience true and radical transformation within our hearts and lives we must look no further than the realm of prayer and forgiveness, for two of the hardest areas within our lives are on these two fronts. If you are in need of a powerful and radical transformation within your life, I would strongly urge you—not only to start praying for others, but also to forgive others. If you are in need of radical transformation within our life I would urge you to not only begin praying without ceasing for your neighbour, but I would also strongly urge you to start praying for your enemies. What’s more, is that if you are in desperate need of transformation and change within your life, I would urge you to look no further than forgiving—not only your brother, but also your enemy of the wrongdoing, the trespass and transgression they have committed against you.