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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Acts 4:25-37 by Robert Dean
The Importance of Prayer. Acts 4:25-37. October 11, 2011. As we review the mechanics of effective prayer: confession, gratitude, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition, we see these components applied in a powerful way by the apostles in the way they pray. But as believers in the Church Age, are we to include each of these components every time we pray in order to have an effective prayer life? As we observe more of these early believers, their actions and decisions cause some questions to arise. What was their motivation? Were their actions in keeping with a form of socialism sanctioned in Scripture?

As we learn more about the importance of prayer, we are reminded of the impact our prayers have when we are focused and properly motivated.
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 57 secs

The Importance of Prayer. Acts 4:25-37

 

We are studying this tremendous prayer of the apostles following the arrest of Peter and John and their interrogation by the Sanhedrin, and their release by the Sanhedrin, and then we saw that they came back to the other disciples where they gave a report of what had happened. Once they had told everything that had happened—which emphasizes the importance of getting all the facts before we pray—they put together and thought through a prayer.

We do not always emphasize the importance of prayer as much as we should. Prayer is to characterize everything in our lives. We have had commands like Colossians 4:2 that we are to devote ourselves to prayer, which means we are to make it a priority that is consistent in its habit pattern. It is something that we need to do to overcome a lot of distractions and a lot of things that come into our lives to interfere with prayer; we have to make that a point. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we are to pray continuously. We define prayer this way for the believer in the church age: prayer is a grace provision for every member of the royal family of God; it is part of our priesthood. We all have that privilege to bring our petitions and requests to God at any moment without going through an intermediate priesthood. The purpose of the communication is: 

  1. To acknowledge sin. That relates to confession.
  2. To express adoration and praise to God. This can be anything from just a rehearsal of His attributes that have impressed us to ways in which God has answered prayer.
  3. Giving thanks, focusing on our gratitude to God for what He has provided us and how He has worked in our lives.
  4. Interceding for others.
  5. Praying on behalf of our own personal needs. 

 

Our prayer that we are studying begins in verse 24 and extendsthrough verse 30 is primarily a petition prayer. It is a prayer of petition for God to strengthen them in terms of the mission He has assigned them in light of the adversity and opposition that they are experiencing. So there is not an expression of thanksgiving here, not a confession of sin here. There is an expression of orientation to God in terms of His character in the opening address, expressing it in terms of the sovereign authority of God over everything in creation. That is a passage that comes out of Psalm 146 and relating to one particular verse that is tied to the character of God but specifically God as creator. Then the next verse talks about the God who executes justice for the oppressed, which is where they are. They are pulling out of a particular psalm that which deals within the psalm with the problems that they are facing in terms of a government authority that has run amuck.

Then we saw that in vv. 25 and 26 they pull a quote from Psalm 2. The point of this is focusing on the fact that their argument—laying a foundation—is an appeal to God to intervene in their life in a certain way. The next plank in the development of their thought is to say that God was the one who told us that we are in a battle, and ultimately the battle will end but the character of the battle throughout history is that the kings of the earth will gather against Him. There will always be this battle between human authority that is independent of Him seeking to control and dominate history. This focuses on hostility against God and His Messiah but ultimately He will have victory, but what the disciples were experiencing in Acts chapter four by application is part of that battle. They know that that battle is never going to cease until the Messiah returns. They are quoting the Psalm to emphasize to God that His revealed will is to put down the attack of secular powers against the Messiah.

Notice that they are praying in terms of what God's revealed will is. A lot of times we don't know what God's revealed will is. We are to pray according to His will but we don't know what that is, so in many cases we can't pray withy as much certainty as here because here they are praying in terms of specific principles that God has laid down: that His is revealed will is to defeat the secular powers that are arrayed against Him. This reinforces for them in terms of their own sense of confidence which is a major part of their petition: as they face opposition, as they face hostility that they will have confidence and boldness to fulfil the mission that God has given them. They state their petition in verse 26 (a quote from Psalm 2:2)—in the original psalm it says that the rulers will gather together against the Lord [Yahweh] and against the Anointed one [Messiah]—their application is stated in verse 27: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel." They are taking two or three concepts out of Psalm 2 and specifically weaving that verbiage into their appeal to God. They are laying a foundation, building a petition, for why God should answer their prayer. They build a biblical case for His intervention based on His Word, based on promises.

So when we get into passages like 1 John 5, talking about "We know that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us," this is how we know His will: if we can articulate our petition in terms of the promises and procedures that God has laid down in His Word, so that we are basically coming to God and using these passages from Scripture correctly within their contexts and applying them correctly and creating this kind of an appeal, that God would be honored and glorified.

Acts 28 NASB "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." The paradox of this verse: on the one hand  there are these human rulers who are antagonistic to God and are gathered together to oppose God, exercising their volition freely to oppose God, and yet what it is that they are doing actually is God's plan. Throughout the Scriptures we often have the use of a metaphor for the power of God. The Scriptures talk about the arm of God or the hand of God, and it is with our arm or our hand that we do things. So the arm or hand of God is usually a metaphor for God utilizing His power to intervene in human history. It is anthropomorphism, which means that it us using an aspect of human anatomy to relate something about God's character or His attributes. To paraphrase this, it is "to do whatever your power [or will] wishes to accomplish." Then the second part of this is "Your purpose predestined to occur." Whenever we have the word "predestined" something happens to people's brains, they just have some sort of spiritual seizure and either go off in one direction or another and immediately there are all kinds of problems. Because the English word "predestined" has come to communicate something more in the order of fatalism, that there is a certain course of action that has been set forth that we cannot deviate from in the plan of God. That really isn't what the word indicates in Scripture or in the original meaning of the English.

If we just break down the word predestined there is the prefix "pre," which means beforehand, and the word "destined," which has to do with a destiny or goal or objective. The basic meaning of the word "predestined" is merely to establish or to set forth a goal or an objective ahead of time. We do that every morning when we make a to-do list for the day. That really captures the idea of the Greek word proorizo [proorizw] which is translated into English as "predestined." proorizo means to decide upon a course of action ahead of time, or prior appointment, to appoint something to a position beforehand. It is a verb, a rare Greek word. It is used six times the New Testament: once in Acts, and five other times by Paul. Where there are only five instances of a word it is really difficult to nail down the specifics of the meaning. This word is only used one time in classical Greek literature that we know of prior to the New Testament and that was in the fourth century BC. The root idea seems to have the idea of appointing someone to do something ahead of time.

When we look at this word we find no use of it in the Old Testament; it is not used in the LXX at all. It is used one time by Demosthenes in the 4th century BC, and he writes in the context of a court case in which he was trying to recover in court a house that he had inherited but had been fraudulently taken from him by a man named Onitor [sp?]who was attempting to steal this house from him. So in court Demosthenes wrote: "To prove that these statements of mine are true, that he [Onitor] even now declares that the land is mortgaged for a talent, but that he'd laid claim [proorizo] to 2000 drachma more on the house." The question we ought to ask is what does laying claim on something have to do with predestination? When we look at such a well-known passage as Romans 8:29: "For those whom He foreknew, He also LAID CLAIM{to become} conformed to the image of His Son…" That gives a whole different focus on that passage now. Hypocrites [sp?] also used it in about the 3rd century AD used it to describe the early diagnosis of a disease, like a prognosis which is from the Greek word proginosko [proginwskw] meaning to know before hand—so a prediction about what the course of the disease will be. It was once used in the 3rd century in Egypt for a day that was set aside for a wedding day. So the basic idea of proorizo seems to be that as God plans ahead of time He appoints or sets aside certain people for certain tasks and certain objectives.

A related word, horizo [o(rizw] means to limit or to set a limit, or to fix or to appoint something, to establish it. proorizo would mean to establish it ahead of time. It is used tat way in Luke 22:22 NASB "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined [planned ahead of time]; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" Acts 2:23 uses it in the same sense: NASB "this {Man,} delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put {Him} to death." We could say, "by the previously appointed plan and foreknowledge of God." So God had a plan. Nobody has a problem with saying God has a plan. When God created the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them He certainly had a plan. Acts 10:42 NASB "And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." It is the idea of God appointing Jesus to be the judge of the living and the dead. Acts 17:31 NASB "because He has fixeda day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." In Romans 1:4 it is translated "declared"—sometimes designated. He predestined Him to be the Son of God with power. That is not the idea that is there in the text. It is really important to understand that predestination is not a good reflection of this Greek word.

The Greek word aphorizein [a)forizein] is used ten times in the New Testament with the idea of to separate—Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:15; Acts 13:2, to indicate that God is setting apart or separating something for a particular reason. Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (which always has to be evaluated on a somewhat cautious basis) says the core meaning of the word is God marking something off for His purpose or for His service. That is the main idea; it is not predestination, it is God in His plan defining and determining something within a specific role.

If we translate something along the lines of "previously appointed" it is the best idea there in Acts 4:28: that they were to do "whatever your power previously appointed to occur." God's plan was for the Messiah to be crucified and as much as they went against God nevertheless God used it to bring about His purpose in the crucifixion. God did not violate their volition; they freely chose to rebel against God and to crucify the Messiah. 

We know that God is the sovereign of the universe and has a plan for His creation that is consistent with His omniscience because His omniscience is always the same; it never increases or decreases. He always know simultaneously and intuitively everything that that is ever going to happen in all of eternity. So when He establishes a plan for creation His plans take into account everything that He knows could possibly take place. So it ends up being a perfect plan. Isaiah 14:24, 27 talk about this plan. NASB "The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, 'Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand' …. For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate {it?} And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?" God has a plan and a purpose in history. That doesn't mean there is no volition but it means that God has constructed history and so oversees history so as to bring about His purpose.  Isaiah 46:9-11 NASB "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; {I am} God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned {it, surely} I will do it."

Romans 8:29, 30 NASB "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined [previously appointed]{to become} conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." When we think of it that we see that as believers we are appointed to a goal. God wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. That is the destiny that He has established for believers. It doesn't have anything to do with determining who will go to hell and who will go to heaven.

God's plan includes appointing specific people for a specific task, and we could add two specific goals. Above all this involves appointing the Lord Jesus Christ to the task of carrying out and fulfilling our salvation.

The paradox on Acts chapter four is that on the one hand these rulers of the earth representing a foreshadowing of those kings of the earth in Psalm 2:2 are gathered together, but what they accomplish is exactly what God had determined would be accomplished in terms of salvation, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then we come to the petition. They have set up the rationale now for God to act a certain way and now they are going to call upon God to act in a specific way. Acts 4:29 NASB "And now, Lord, take note [observe or pay attention to] of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, [30] "while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus"—validate what we are teaching by giving us power in terms of signs and wonders and miracles that you promised would validate the ministry. The first thing that they are asking is for God to observe the threats, to be aware of the fact that they are facing opposition and to deal with that opposition and protect them while they carry out the ministry that God had commanded them. Secondly, that God would give them the ability to speak the Word with confidence, with boldness. The Greek word here is parrhesia [parrh(sia], to speak with boldness or confidence so that they would do what God had said to do—Acts 1:8. The third thing is that God would give them the power in terms of signs and wonders and miracles that would go forth as their credentials. We know from 2 Corinthians 12 that signs and wonders were the sign of the apostle; they weren't something that every Christian did, only the apostles because it validated their message that God was working through them. So their prayer is specifically related to these promises from the Old Testament and from the command that Jesus had given them just a few weeks earlier.

Praying in the will of God. They knew exactly what God's will was: for them to stand up against the rulers and the kings of the earth and to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. That is a great way to pray: look at a problem, a situation in terms of how does God say I am to act and deal with this kind of a situation; then pray that God will give the wisdom, the ability, the skill, the insight to do what I am to do in that circumstance, and at the same time that God is going to deal with whatever the other forces of opposition might be: I do my mission while God accomplishes His mission.

A lot of times we don't have that kind of specificity. We can think of examples where we know that God's will is contrary to what we are praying for. For example, in 2 Samuel 12 Bathsheba had become pregnant, David had been involved in the conspiracy to get her husband Uriah killed, and going was going to discipline him. God had already announced that part of that discipline would be that the child born from Bathsheba was going to die. David knows that is God's will but David continued to petition God to let the child live. David wasn't wrong in doing that. James said we have not because we ask not. There are numerous examples in Scripture where God has answered prayer and changed what appeared to be a specific course of action due to petition.

In other cases we really don't know what to pray for. Romans 8 says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:26, 27 NASB "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness [spiritual infirmities]; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for {us} with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to {the will of} God." The "groanings" is inaudible from the Spirit to God. It can't be articulated, we don't know what it is but what the passage is saying is that when we don't know what the specifics should be in terms of prayer the Holy Spirit does, and He straightens out our muddied-up prayer requests on the way to God.

Another example of the kind of general prayer that is the best we can offer is in Luke 18:13 NASB "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'" He can't even go beyond that, all he wants is God's mercy. Sometimes that is the bets we can do in a prayer because we just don't know we ought to pray. Paul has the same kind of prayer in Romans 1:10 NASB "always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you." He tried to go to Rome several times and hadn't gotten there. He still wasn't sure when he would get there but was convinced that God would eventually get him there. But we just pray, Lord if it is your will hopefully someday we will accomplish this but it is in your hands.

Here though, in Acts chapter four, they are praying for something specific and it is in terms of what the Lord Jesus Christ commanded them in Acts 1:8 and what God had promised in terms of Old Testament principles. Now here is the answer. Acts 4:31 NASB "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and {began} to speak the word of God with boldness." Where else did this shaking happen? In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. This is the same kind of thing. They are praying in terms of Acts 1:8, God give us boldness and confidence in the midst of opposition. So God answers their prayer. The place is shaken just like on the day of Pentecost and they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not the word for filling that we have in Ephesians 5:18—different Greek word; different preposition; different grammatical construction. Here "they were all full of the Holy Spirit." It is a genitive of content. When this Greek word pimplemi [pimplhmi] is used it is almost always followed by some kind of speech event—with Zachariah the father of John the Baptist, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, with Mary the mother of Jesus, with Peter in Acts 2. This is not normative in any spiritual life, either in the spiritual life under the dispensation of Israel, with Elizabeth, Zachariah or Mary, or with our dispensation; it is a supernatural act of God. So they are all full of the Holy Spirit, and what is the result? They spoke; they spoke the word of God with boldness. What was the prayer request? That they would all speak the Word with boldness. They have the confidence to witness and to go out into the community around them and continue to explain the gospel, the truth about Jesus' resurrection, even though they know that the powers of the Sanhedrin are against them. 

See how this works itself out. Acts 4:32 NASB "And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one {of them} claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them." They were unified in their motive to serve God and in their mission to fulfill the command that Jesus gave them.

The promised kingdom would not come until the Jewish people have turned to Christ. That can't be forced; it is going to happen on God's timetable. But these first century, first decade, first year believers were so convinced that the times of refreshing were right around the corner that they understood that when the kingdom came personal possessions and property rights were going to be all redefined in terms of the Mosaic Law and in terms of the redistribution of the property designations to the twelve tribes of Israel. So property ownership to them was something that when (in their thinking) a few years from now Jesus was going to come back, everything is going to be different, and it didn't matter what they owned or didn't own. Because of their sense of the imminency of Christ's return and the coming of the kingdom they recognized it was not about them and their stuff, it is about the mission. Let's make the mission happen. It was something that was motivated internally by each individual. The church didn't say everybody needed to do this. This isn't socialism. Socialism is when the government taxes people to do things. In the Old Testament it is not the government's responsibility to take care of the poor, it is the people's responsibility. The issue is genuine individual motivation. If it isn't coming from the individual, to motivate them to help other people, the government is a sad, sad substitute for the inner integrity and virtue of the citizenry.

Notice the answer to the prayer. Acts 4:33 NASB "And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. [34] For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales…" Not because they had to but because they wanted to. [35] "and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need." This not Marxism, it was all done voluntary by these individuals in a small community because they thought Jesus was coming back any moment.