Announcement. For those who read here and might be in the area, I will be preaching at Lehigh Valley Baptist Church in Emmaus, PA next Sunday, August 3. I will be out East for the David Warner-Julianna Wilhite wedding on Friday, August 1, then at Calvary Baptist Church in Carrboro, NC, Sunday, September 21 to Friday, September 26 for a conference, and finally at Mid-Coast Baptist Church in Brunswick, Maine, Thursday, October 23 to Sunday, October 26. I mention this so you will come if you are in the area. For the latter two, people from other churches and pastors might attend, since they are during the week too, not just the Lord's Day. If you have any questions, I would think that the folks at these churches could answer them.
We know biblical faith must be preceded by knowledge, but what is the knowledge? Is it the knowledge that God can answer the prayer or that He will answer the prayer? The model prayer of Jesus in Luke 11 and Matthew 6 contain requests that God both can and will answer -- none that He merely can answer.
"Will" has various meanings. For instance, God is not willing that any perish (2 Pet 3:9), but that obviously doesn't mean that no one will perish. More will perish than will not (Mt 7:13-14). "Will" has the sense of "wish" in 2 Peter 3:9. Because we pray for someone to be saved doesn't mean that God "will" save that person. God is not willing that any should perish. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez 18:32). And yet they do perish and do die. We don't know who God will save and who He won't.
So what is it that we know God wills? We know He wills what He says He wills. He wills what He says He will do. For instance, He will conform every believer to His image (Rom 8:29). We know that. So when we pray for someone's love to abound more and more (Philip 1:9), which Paul prayed, that fits with Romans 8:29 and what we know God will do. "Will" is what God will do, which is sovereign will.
Jesus said about prayer in Mark 11:24, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." I've looked at it in the Greek. It's a good translation, so nothing there for anyone to rest his hopes that Jesus meant something different than how it reads. When you are praying, to have what you are asking for, you have to believe that you will receive it. It seems to me that one person provided an argument against Jesus teaching there, and, that is, the conclusion must be tempered by what Jesus said in vv. 22-23:
22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
The argument, as I would assume it, since it had not been enunciated, is that since God doesn't move mountains, that is something we can't be sure He'll do; therefore, we can pray for those things we're not sure about, and that must be taken into consideration next to v. 24. The idea introduced here, it seems, is that we pray for things we're not sure we're going to receive, like we're not sure that mountains will be moved.
The context of Mark 11:24 doesn't change the meaning that I proposed above, the obvious meaning. "Have faith in God," Jesus says in answer to Peter's comment about the fig tree withering. Parallel to this Mark passage in Matthew 21, we know that the power on the fig tree from Jesus was a power of judgment, representative of Jesus' judgment on the nation Israel. Jesus has that kind of power in His judgment. No one should doubt His power. He can do this.
The moving of mountains that Jesus talks about is a figure of speech, hyperbole really. It was in common language of that day, like it continues today -- "mover of mountains." Whatever it is that you confront as a problem, God has the power to deal with it. But that's not all there is in this instruction. It is followed by verse 24.
Prayer is not a way to bend God around our will, but it is for us to bend around His. We've got to believe that we will receive it. The kingdom coming is a pretty sizable request along the lines of mountains moving, especially in light of what we know will lead into the kingdom, actual mountains moving. God will do what He says He will do. The fig tree withered because Jesus has that kind of power. Israel would be judged because Jesus has that kind of power. You can count on what He says He will do. That's the basis of our faith.
The Church of Christ approaches the doctrine of salvation from the perspective of proof texts about baptism (cf. Acts 2:38). A proper understanding comes from seeing everything the Bible says about prayer, especially the classic, propositional passages and primary examples, and then fitting the proof texts into those. This is rightly dividing the Word of Truth. We should assume that the praying of the New Testament will conform to all the teaching in the New Testament on prayer. The baptismal regenerationists go the opposite direction, conforming the rest of the New Testament to their baptism passages. We shouldn't reflect their hermeneutic.
Examples of prayer or statements about prayer, we should assume fit all the other teaching on prayer. One of the examples explored through a challenge in the comment section was Romans 1:10: "Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you." Some argued here that Paul was uncertain of a prosperous journey, as seen in the conditional aspect of the sentence. The argument is that since he was uncertain, that means we are permitted to ask things of which we are not sure we will receive in contradiction to Mark 11:24.
Warning: Very technical paragraph. I pushed back a little by saying that the condition here, the "if clause," the protasis in a conditional sentence, was a first class condition, since it is the Greek ei (eipos) with the indicative. Does doubt or certainty reside in the condition? Those arguing for praying for the uncertain say that this clause is uncertain. Many various conclusions are made by the most scholarly from the conditions, the protasis, of conditional sentences. This is one of four samples of eipos in the protasis of a conditional sentence. The one here is followed by a future indicative, the only example of that, and the other three are followed by an aorist subjunctive (Rom 11:14; Philip 3:11) or a present optative (Acts 27:12). It is difficult to compare Romans 1:10 with those three because they are a different mood. In his Greek Grammar (p. 1024), A. T. Robertson calls Romans 1:10 a first class condition and Acts 27:12 a fourth class. There is an ellipsis of the apodosis in Romans 1:10 that some, but not all, assume uncertainty. Several Greek grammars have said that when the apodosis is merely implied in the context by ellipsis, it can be translated "supposing that," so "supposing that if..."
The Greek form is a first class condition, which would assume the condition to be true for the sake of argument. Paul is making request to come to the church in Rome with the assumption that he is coming to them. And we know that Paul does in fact make it. Did he know that? I think we should assume it, because he asked it. How certain is a conditional sentence? This is where people can make hay where they want to make it. However, one shouldn't overthrow the teaching about prayer that we know by something that is less informative, like this conditional sentence. Don't make too much about the condition. This is my point.
Do we have to prove that Paul was 100% certain to "prove" that we pray for what is certain? I'm not going to base my belief and teaching on prayer on the certainty of the conditional sentence of one verse or even the potential speculations (reaches) of other verses. Instead we should take the one verse, an example, and conform it to what we read as the teaching on prayer. This is what I've been contending. But instead, it seems, that men wish to find a verse of uncertainty to bank on uncertainty in the prayer. By "will" then, it is only a wish -- they pray in the wish of God. God wishes people to be saved, so one can then pray for an individual to be saved, even though he is uncertain God will save him. The argument for this comes from Romans 1:10, even if that contradicts Mark 11:24. This is faith in what God can do and not in what He will do. I still propose, however, that we pray for what we know we will receive, what we know God will do.
Later addition, due to some curiosity. Did Paul know he for sure would make it to Rome as a basis of Romans 1:9-10? I had read a commentary that said about this request in Romans 1:10, "probably indicates a Divine purpose revealed," and produced Acts 19:21, which says, "After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome." Concerning "I must see Rome," Joseph A. Alexander (1867) writes in The Acts of the Apostles Explained (p. 202), "Not to gratify a private wish and lawful curiosity, but as a part of the divine plan which he was engaged in executing." Henry Alford writes on p. 783 of his NT commentary: "Perhaps he speaks under some divine intimation that ultimately he should be brought to Rome." Charles Ellicott in his New Testament commentary on Acts, concerning this, wrote (p. 318): "The Greek word, however, implies a reference to something more than human volition. The spirit which formed the purpose was in communion with the Divine Spirit." David Thomas in his commentary, The Acts of the Apostles (1889), writes on "I must also see Roman" (p. 333): "Why must? It was part of the divine plan he was engaged in executing." John Gill in his commentary on Acts 19:21 writes: "[I]t was the will of God that he should go there; and this he spake by a prophetic spirit, and as being under the impulse of the Spirit of God." These men in part take this from the part of the verse that says, "Paul purposed in the spirit." He was an apostle.
More to Come.