9-4 The Power Of Preaching
Not only our salvation but that of others can be limited by our exercise of freewill. If others' salvation is not dependent upon our preaching, then there is no meaning to the very concept of preaching. This is true to the extent that a watchman can occasion the death of those he could warn, if he doesn't do it. And their blood [for they will die] will be required at his hand (Ez. 33:8,13). The wicked will only turn from their ways if the watchmen warns them- and Ez. 33 shows clearly enough that the watchman can be lazy to fulfil his commission, with the result that some will die eternally who need not have done so. It's not that another watchman is raised up to do the job- it is his responsibility, which he can discharge or not. Paul tells Timothy to pray for the Government to allow him to continue preaching because God " will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4). There is here the suggestion that Timothy's prayers would enable more men to come to the knowledge of the Truth, and thereby fulfil God's intention. But that intention and will of God had been made dependent on the prayers and preaching of the likes of Timothy.
Paul read the OT prophecies of how " to whom he was not spoken of, they shall see" ; and he didn't just see them as descriptions of what would ultimately happen. He realised that the fulfilment of this prophecy depended to some extent on our human freewill; and therefore he strove (against so many odds) to preach Christ where He had not yet been named (Rom. 15:19,20). And he asks the Romans to strive together with him in prayer (15:30)- i.e. to join him in the struggle to witness world-wide, in that they would pray for his success. It was God's prophesied will that the Gospel would go world-wide; but it required the freewill strivings of Paul to enable it, and the strivings with God in prayer by the brethren.
We are to pray for His Kingdom to come, so that His will may be done on earth (Mt. 6:10). The Kingdom and the doing of His will are therefore paralleled. His Kingdom reigns over all in Heaven, for there, all the Angels are obedient to Him (Ps. 103:19-21). By praying for the Kingdom to come on earth we are not only praying for the Lord's second coming, but for the progress of the Gospel world-wide right now. Not only that more men and women will hear it and respond, but that those who have accepted it might work God's will rather than their own to an ever greater extent. Whether or not we can physically spread the Gospel is in this sense irrelevant; our prayer should be, first and foremost if the pattern of the Lord's prayer is to be taken exactly, for the triumph of the Gospel world-wide.
We Can Save Our Brethren
It is of course true that in some ways, we are ultimately responsible for our own salvation; our brethren can't really help us, if we willfully chose to rebel against our calling. And yet there is reason to think that up to a certain point, our prayers and pastoral concern for our brethren can save them, whereas without our effort they would not be saved. Reflect on 1 Jn. 5:16: " If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask [in prayer], and he [God] shall give him [the prayerful brother] life [eternal life, in the Johannine context] for them that sin not unto death" . This seems to be a fair paraphrase. If it isn't, what does this passage mean? James 5:15,20 say the same: " ...the prayer of faith (uttered by faithful friends) shall save the sick (struck down with sickness as a result of his sin, which seems to have happened in the first century, cp. 1 Cor. 11:30; Acts 5:5)...and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed...he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" . Behold the power of freewill effort for others: For the sake of our prayers, in some cases sins of others can be forgiven when otherwise they wouldn't be. For the sake of our conversion of our erring brethren, they can be saved from eternal death and have their sins covered. Likewise only once Israel had passed a certain level of sinfulness was Jeremiah told to cease prayer for them (Jer. 7:16 cp. 11:14). Until that point, God seems to have been willing to read Jeremiah's prayer for them as their prayer (his " cry" was seen as theirs). And Ez. 14:14,18 imply the same- Noah, Daniel and Job could have delivered Israel up to a certain point, but they were so hardened in sin at Ezekiel's time that even those men wouldn't have saved a nation which otherwise, for a lower level of sin as it were, they could otherwise have saved. If we have any grain of love in us, we will likewise dedicate ourselves to fervent prayer for our brethren, seeing it does have effect and validity within certain boundaries.
" When Jesus saw the faith of the friends , He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" (Mk. 2:5). That man was healed for the sake of the faith of others. The Centurion's servant was healed for the sake of his faith; Jairus' daughter was healed because of his faith (Mk. 5:36). The mother of the sick girl got healing for her daughter: " For this saying [of faith and understanding] go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter" (Mk. 7:29). Many weren't healed by the disciples because they lacked the level of prayer and faith required (Mk. 9:29). Hezekiah obtained forgiveness and acceptance for those who kept the Passover " otherwise than it was written" - thanks to his prayer (2 Chron. 30:18). In Hezekiah's time, all Israel had to repent to avert total destruction- but even though they didn't, the prayer of Hezekiah saved the nation (Jer. 26:13,19). All of Jerusalem would have been forgiven if there was even one that truly executed judgment, after the pattern of Phinehas (Jer. 5:1- or is this a reference to Messiah?). In fact there are quite a number of other examples of where the Lord does things for a person because of the faith of others (Mk. 5:22; 7:24; 9:14; Jn. 4:45). In other words, he regards intercession as of similar validity to the petitions of the person involved. The implications of this, the demands upon our prayer life for others, are amazing. Martin Luther commented that anyone serious about pastoral work should be spending three hours / day on their knees in prayer. I thought that this was just so much theory, until I got to know a missionary who spent around two hours / day on his knees.
And the other way round, it was Zedekiah who personally 'burnt' Jerusalem- it was his stubbornness which lead to the city's destruction in the sense that had he repented, the sinful city could have been saved (Jer. 38:23 RVmg). Thanks to Solomon's prayer, and if he had been obedient, all Israel would have been blessed and experienced Yahweh dwelling amongst them (1 Kings 6:12,13). Moses prayed for God to forgive Israel; and He responded: " I have pardoned, according to thy word" (Num. 14:20) rather than according to their repentance and prayer. Indeed it would seem from Heb. 11:28 that Israel were delivered from the Egyptians due to Moses' faith in the Christ whom the sprinkled Passover blood pointed forward to. Jethro perceived the vital effort of Moses in Israel's salvation when he advised: " If thou shalt do this thing…then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place [Canaan] in peace" (Ex. 18:23). Due to Moses' prayer, " the Lord repented of the evil which he had said he would do unto his people" (Ex. 32:14 RV). Yet these are the very words of Jer. 18:8- if a nation repents, then God will repent. But in this case, God accepted the singular prayer of Moses. Likewise Peter told the lame man: " In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk" ; but the healing was because of Peter's faith in Christ's Name (Acts 3:6,16). The Jerusalem Bible makes this apparent: " It is the name of Jesus which, through our faith in it, has brought back the strength of this man" . The RV has: " By faith in his name hath his name made this man strong" - as if the power of the name of Jesus is waiting to be activated by human faith.
It is also worth reflecting how Ps. 132, which was written after David's time (:8,10), includes a prayer to God to reward David for all his afflictions (:1). Even after a man's death, faithful men prayed for his salvation; so it seems. This needs some reflecting upon as to its implications. 2 Tim. 1:16 records Paul praying that the Lord would give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus; yet the same phrase is used in v. 18 about receiving mercy at judgment day. Here it seems that the whole household of Onesiphorus is to be granted mercy, at that day, because of his faithfulness. Does this imply that some will be in the Kingdom only due to the efforts of a third party? Thus the husband can save his wife…Noah saved his family. The spirituality of those in the land could affect the fate of the others in captivity (2 Chron. 30:9- and these words are applied to us in James 4:8). Indeed, if Judah had turned back to the Lord fully, then the 10 tribes who about 10 years previously had been taken into captivity in Assyria, they would have found " compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land" (2 Chron. 30:9). But they became 'the lost 10 tribes' because Judah didn't respond as fully to Hezekiah's reformation as they should have done.
Thanks to David building an altar at his own expense and asking God to kill him and his family, God stopped the plague upon Israel (2 Sam. 24:16,17- the stretched out hand of God in destruction was what David asked to be upon him and his family). Israel were suffering the effect of their own sin, in not paying the temple tax (Ex. 30:11-16); but in the spirit of Christ, David was willing to die for them. And his dominant desire was counted as if it had been done, and thanks to his self-sacrificial spirit, the people were saved when they personally were unworthy. The wrath of God can be turned away by the actions of those He is angry with (Num. 25:4; Dt. 13:15-17; Ezra 10:14; Jonah 3:7,10; 2 Chron. 12:7; Jer. 4:4; 21:12). And yet that wrath can also be turned away by the prayers of a third party (Ps. 106:23; Jer. 18:20; Job 42:7). This means that in some cases, our prayers for others can be counted as if they have repented. We can gain our brother for God's Kingdom (Mt. 18:15), as Noah saved his own house by his faithful preparation (Heb. 11:7). Through our personal dying to the flesh, the life of Christ is manifest not only in us, but is made available to others: " Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you" (2 Cor 4:10-12). The life that is even now made manifest in us is also made available to work in others because death to the flesh has worked in us personally.
Thus we can as it were do the work of the Saviour Himself, if we truly live as in Him. In this spirit, Moses' faith in keeping the Passover led to Israel's salvation, they left Egypt by him (Heb. 3:16; 11:28); and when Aaron deserved death, he was redeemed by Moses' prayer on his behalf (Dt. 9:20). Moses' prayer, with uplifted hands, resulted in Israel's victory over Amalek; without his prayer, and the intensity of it, there would have been no victory for them. However, he had to learn this lesson; for God first of all taught him that if he explained the power of God's Name to Israel's elders, then they would hearken unto him (Ex. 3:18). But they didn't hearken unto Moses (5:20), because he didn't bother expounding the Name to them. Therefore he did explain it to them (6:1-9 = 3:14-17); but then again they refused to hearken to him (6:9 cp. 3:18). He learnt that what was proclaimed by God as possible all the same depends on human effort. And this lead him on even further, to realise that through his spirituality, he could bring salvation for others.
Jude further catches the spirit of all this when he writes: " ...praying in the Holy Spirit...of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire" (Jude 20-23), just as the Angel had pulled Lot from the fire (Jude 7)- in this sense, Jude seems to suggest, we can do God's work for him. Likewise we must " make a difference" concerning some, just as the Angels " contended" [s.w.] for men (Jude 9 cp. 22). The fire of condemnation at the judgment is in a sense already kindled, as the Lord Himself had taught (Lk. 12:49). The weak brother condemns himself by his way of life, and falls into condemnation even now, before the judgment (James 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:6; Tit. 3:11). We see this, and have the power in some cases to save the brother by pulling him out of that fire of condemnation. Surely the point is that we can save our brother from condemnation at judgment day by what we prayerfully do for him now.
Abraham saved Lot out of Sodom by his earnest prayer for him; and there is ample reason to think from the Genesis record and his subsequent reaction to the Angel's invitation to leave that Lot of himself was simply not strong enough. Without those prayers and the concern of Abraham read by God as prayer, Lot may well have been left to suffer the condemnation of the world he preferred to live in. And yet Lot fleeing from Sodom is used in the NT as a type of our latter day exit from the world at the Lord's coming. Is this not to suggest that the latter day believers will be saved only by grace, they will not be strong and ready to leave; and their salvation will only be on account of the prayers of the faithful? Lot was not without spirituality; but he was simply swamped by the pull of the world in which he had become entangled, not to mention his unspiritual wife. He was the type on which one could have compassion, making a difference, and pull out of the fire. Indeed, it could even be that Jude's words about pulling a brother out of the fire may be a reference back to Lot being pulled out of the fire that came upon Sodom. Those in his position sin a sin which is not unto death only in the sense that we can pray for them, so that their sin will not lead them to condemnation. But only in this sense is sin not unto death; for the wages of sin, any sin, is death (Rom. 6:23). But in some cases this sentence can ultimately be changed on account of our effort for our brother.
Whilst the way I have expressed all this may seem radical, it is surely apparent that it would be pointless to pray for our brethren if in fact those prayers have no power at all, and if ultimately we are all responsible for our own spiritual path. There is in all this an incredible and most urgent imperative. This is why Paul bowed his knees in prayer for the Ephesians, knowing that his words could really increase and enrich the quality of their relationship with God, if not their very salvation (Eph. 3:14-19). If my prayers can influence your eternal destiny, if they can lead you from condemnation to the eternity of God's Kingdom: then I must, if I have any gram of love and care within me, dedicate myself to prayer for you. And you, likewise, for me. Prayer for others' spiritual well-being becomes no longer something which is 'tacked on' to our tired, repetitious evening prayers. The preparation of exhortations, comments on the daily readings, all the host of pastoral work which we all ought to be doing for each other in some ways: these things no longer should be seen as the repetitious duties required to keep the Christian show on the road. There is an urgency and vitality about these efforts to upbuild each other. For we are dealing with nothing less than the eternal destinies of others. Even if they are apparently spiritually strong, all the same, our prayers for them make a difference. Paul asked his brethren to pray for him " that I may be restored to you the sooner" (Heb. 13:19). The Lord Himself seems to have asked the disciples to add their prayers to His in asking the Father to send forth more labourers into the over-ripe, unharvested fields (Lk. 10:2), which, by implication, He alone couldn't satisfactorily gather.
All this leads on to reflection upon the power of collective prayer. If God is truly sensitive to one human prayer, allowing His mind to be swayed, influenced and even changed by it, then it follows that He is the more sensitive to the joint prayers of His children for the same thing. If one man on the top of Carmel, face between his knees, could bring forth clouds and rain...what might the united prayers of 50,000 believers achieve, uttered as they would be in languages from Albanian to Zulu? We read that God will shorten the period of time of trouble before His return (Lk. 18:7); and we read that He will also lengthen the period of grace (Lk. 13:6-9)…if His people ask Him. What He ‘will’ do perhaps should be read as what He can do. And this is why so much prophecy is conditional. Significantly, no other religion that I know contains this feature- of a God so passionate and so real that He will change His stated will and intention for the sake of His people’s prayers.