Simon Bowkett's Podcast

1 John 5:13-15 Prayer - it works! (But not like a slot machine)

July 09, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
1 John 5:13-15 Prayer - it works! (But not like a slot machine)
Show Notes Transcript

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 

14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

1 John 5:13-15


         •        Introduction – (does prayer work?)

Prayer.

Does it work?

I mean, many try it!

But … does it actually ‘work’?

I was with a group of men who have served with distinction in the armed forces over long careers a while ago and we were talking about Jesus … the way you do … and one was describing how he’d had a bit of a battle with senior ranks because he’d put down he was an atheist and they changed it to C of E.

I suspect others there had had similar experience and it seemed a bit to me anyway as if this had hurt them … there was general affirmation of this friend of mine’s position in the room, and as it developed I think they became a bit conscious of my presence again.

Either that or they’d said all they wanted to and were searching out the next topic for conversation when I heard myself say, ‘but there’s not many atheists in a scrape’.

I don’t THINK they were just humouring the Rev. in the room when a short pause was followed with sounds of quiet agreement.

But I have to say, if God wasn’t a God Who actually does answer prayer, in a scrape or elsewhere, I strongly suspect I’d still be the atheist I was raised to be.

He does answer prayer.

But He isn’t a slot machine.

And John is clearly making a point about this in our passage today in 1 John 5:13-15. 

         •        The point is: assurance, v. 13

The point of what John’s saying is this:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life ...”

1 John 5:13

John has used lots of non-literal, illustrative language in his book and (just as at the end of his Gospel) he now explicitly states and clarifies the point he is trying to make.

The over-riding point of his book is so that those who believe in the Name of the Son of God (and we’ve been going through what believing in the Name of the Son of God amounts to throughout the book so far) 

… so that those may KNOW that they have eternal life.

John has gone round and around reiterating and developing the tests of faith … this believing in the Name of the Son of God of which he speaks.

Those tests … or rather, ‘authentication factors’ … have been the faith-fruits of love, faithful obedience to the God Who speaks in His Word and sound doctrine.

(The acronym ‘OLD’ spell out Obedience, Love and Doctrine).

So, if you have those features GROWING in you, they are affirming signs of Biblical faith … and if you have that Biblical faith you most assuredly DO have eternal life.

These are the fruits of faith and faith brings assurance of eternal life.

Let’s face it, in a world full of fine-sounding falsehood, seducing sin and the compelling confusion of compassion … the fruits of faith can get fatally squashed in the very aisles of the supermarket!

The world around us squishes the fruit of faith in the bud and we need to know and recognise what it is that goes on.

Losing the assurance of faith accompanies failure to fortify our faith.

That happens both at the rational and subjective level.

There is OBJECTIVE assurance that identifies the evidence - forensically as it were - that matches the descriptions in the Word of God and attests that our faith is real.

It identifies and analyses signs of faith in the decisions and choices we make … in terms of choosing to trust God, acting to love as (and because) He loves us, choosing God’s revealed truth from His Word over error in our decision-making and so on … and then having conducted this analysis it concludes rationally that those are the features of the life of true faith that indicate reliably that eternal life lies there.

Then there is a more subjective assurance (insecure, of course, without the presence of the more tangible fruits of faith) which is really important nonetheless for motivating us in a warm walk with God.

What am I talking about?

Humanity, as created by God, is not just a collection of brains on sticks.

Our rational faculties ARE really crucial.

But if we want to get people walking with God we pick up His Word the Bible and what we do with it is that we inform the mind in such a way as to MOVE the heart to MOTIVATE THE WILL!

(That’s not my way of putting it … it’s Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s formulation of the situation … but it illustrates the importance for a walk with God of hearing truth, warmed and directed towards the will of the believer).

If you want people informed (and we do), we must address the mind with the sound doctrine of God’s Word.

But we do it to move the heart … because there lies the passion that moves the will to act in the truth of God’s Word

And if we do not feed faith so that its fruits come to light then the assurance of faith isn’t going to warm and comfort our hearts so as to move the will.

And if we don’t move the will … where’s the walk away from the broad road that leads to destruction through the narrow gate and the way that leads to life … without a moved heart where’s that going to come from?

Look, our Christian assurance isn’t simply a comforting thing that makes us feel better.

Firstly, it is something based in observable, much more objective realities than that … things that you can see in a life as the fruit that God cause to grow on the tree of the faith He has given us which demonstrates that we have been born again and His Spirit is at work changing our hearts.

Secondly, recognising that makes us FEEL assured - subjectively, as it were - and that subjective emotional response and encouragement MOTIVATES our human will to want God’s will in our lives and to personally work to co-operate with the indwelling Holy Spirit to love and serve Him more.

Thirdly, (and this cuts close to John’s purpose in this particular 1 John context) this assurance in the genuine helps us to discern the true from the false in the field of faith because we know the true, have seen it and recognise it from the way in which God is Himself assuredly at work in our own hearts as we recognise by our personal experience of the growth in Obedience, love and sound doctrine that authenticate a genuine faith.

Please bear in mind that John writes this to people who are being caused confusion by the false faith of the false teachers that John is warning of here.

Can you SEE how important that genuine Christian assurance is (not presumption but evidence-based assurance) to living by faith and persevering in a hostile world along the Christian way?

John is in these verses identifying this assurance of which he speaks as the main purpose of his book and the main thing that needs to be safeguarded in situations where false teaching and its fake behaviour trouble the church.

If you are the authentic Christian John has been describing, you need to keep hold of your confidence that YOU have eternal life.

It bears thinking about!

John moves on to describe the faithful fruit of this assurance …

         •        The faithful fruit of this assurance, v. 14

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:14

I’m just telling you the reference to that verse so you KNOW that’s ACTUALLY what it says in the Bible!

As believers we spend so much time verbally confessing this truth that God hears our prayers, but actually … not staking our life on believing it.

Now, you will be delighted to know, I’m sure, that there’s a bit of Greek going on in the background here.

For the third time in 5:9-14 the author uses the construction αὕτη ἐστίν (hautē estin; 5:9, 11, 14). 

Here, as in the previous instance in 1 John 5:11, the ὅτι (hoti) clause which follows is epexegetical (which means ‘explanatory’) to the pronoun αὕτη and explains what the “confidence” (παρρησία, parrēsia) consists of 

Which means to say that we should translate something like THIS to convey what John is saying:

“And the confidence which we have before him is this, namely, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

So, first of all …


            •          We have confidence in approaching God

These false teachers are, of course, pressurising those believers in the small gatherings in homes around the edges of the city of Ephesus.

It is the false teachers these believers are having to deal with face to face, and they quite probably feel a bit on the back foot in dealing with the confrontation.

After all, if they were handling it just fine, why would John be needing to write to them like this?

He wouldn’t need to … but he has written to them like this about their assurance and he really seems to have put a lot of thought and hard work into it … so there’s clearly something going on that they’re not managing to deal with.

But John does NOT address the confidence they have in approaching the false teachers and troublers of the churches to sort them out.

John deals with the confidence we have as genuine (if struggling) believers to approach God.

There’s a lesson here.

If I can put this reverently, we do have responsibilities to do certain things when confronted with these pressures being brought to bear on the Church but actually, it really is HIS Church and HIS problem to deal with!

And then secondly, of course, this does indicate the way we approach doing the things we need to do about false teachers who are troubling the church and peddling a fake faith in Christ in this manner.

Paul counsels Timothy (2 Timothy 2:23-25)

“ Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels …”

Well there’s something to think about in that sort of situation …

And Paul goes on …

v. 24 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth …”

We should not in our hearts be thinking that what we need to do is simply trying to beat the false teachers in argument and show them up, or even (as we might say) ‘put them right on a thing or two’.

Not at all.

We are seeking to use the means of grace – by which I’m referring to prayer and the ministry of the Word of God - to bring about the Lord’s primary Gospel aim: “that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth”.

THAT is the background context to what is going on here in 1 John 5:14 when it says:

“And the confidence which we have before him is this, namely, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

So what about the ‘promise’ in this verse?


            •          What exactly IS God promising here?

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

What is His will in 1 John?

That His people would be equipped and motivated to recognise and to walk consistent with those three authenticating ‘legs’ on the stool of genuine Christian faith that leads to life:

Obedience (to God).

Love (for the Lord and the people He has set His heart on in the Gospel).

Sound DOCTRINE (the truth that sets individuals amongst mankind free).

So whatever we ask in harmony with those over-arching principles in 1 John of what God’s will for humanity is … asking according to these big Gospel principles and applying them correctly to the things that we see before us … He hears us.

Did you get that?

Did it sink in?

He hears us.

         •        So is prayer like a slot machine? V. 15

You know what ‘a slot machine’ is?

It’s one of those gambling things you get at the seaside and in motorway service stations where you put some money into a slot, pull a handle and the machine spins some dials and … takes most of the money you put in it but occasionally spits some of the money back at you.

Which is fine so long as you quit while you’re ahead and don’t push your luck too much.

Well, funnily enough, although people can fall into the trap of thinking that prayer is a matter of saying your prayer and the result automatically dropping out the rear end of the process … no it isn’t!


            •          Consider the text

What the text is saying here is this:

V. 15 “And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

This knowing that he hears us gets picked up again from v. 14.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Oh … hello … this thing about Him hearing us is the confidence the authentic Christian believer has in approaching God because that person (asking anything ACCORDING TO HIS WILL) gets heard by God.

Now, let’s leave aside that ‘I hear you’ in our society is often used to just deflect something we disagree with or don’t want to hear at all and means ‘I can hear what you’re saying but … NO chance!

The context rules that out here because in v. 15 that first ‘if’ there is not talking about a situation that is in doubt.

Here ἐάν is used instead of ἐι to introduce a first-class condition: “if we know (οἴδαμεν) that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests which we have asked from him.” 

The reality of the condition in the first part of the verse is assumed for the sake of argument; and given that first part (‘And if we know that He hears us whatever we ask), the second part follows (‘we know that we have what we ask’).

But that promise of answered prayer comes in the context of an authentic and consistent Christian life that seeks first God’s will and prays accordingly.

Of course there is MUCH more that can be said about how that applies to a huge range of situations we might encounter but the main thing is this …

If you don’t pay attention to the totality of what John is saying here you end up with this ‘put your penny in the slot, pull the handle and you get money out of the bottom’ sort of approach to prayer and faith.

But even with a slot machine the preconditions (when it pays out and how much) is preconditioned by the man who comes round, sets the machine up inside to pay out at set amounts and intervals and takes the money away in his canvas bag.


            •          Consider the preconditions

The preconditions of this promise to faithful prayer relate to:

1. Authentic believers as John has defined them (see v. 13)

2. Praying in accordance with His will, as John has thoroughly defined that in the previous nearly five chapters (see v. 14)

3. Praying without doubting as they exercise confident assured faith in the God they relate to personally as they pray (see v. 15 “And if we know that he hears us …”)

This is NOT about any Tom, Dick or Harry (apologies to Thomas, Richard and Harold) BOWLING up to God and reeling off their shopping list as if that’s going to work the ‘magic’, line up the matching symbols on the slot machine and send the coins clattering down the chute.

John has spent five chapters and three careful verses in the immediate co-text describing and setting out the sort of ongoing, specifically Biblically Christian context in which the promise he then finally sets out holds true … and logically of course it would!

So NOW we can consider this tremendous promise itself


            •          NOW consider the promise

V. 15b “whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

·       Being in a both 

‘righted’, and 

right 

relationship with God.

(Prayer is relationship not automatic slot machine)

·       Aligning yourself with His will so thoroughly that in praying you are asking according to and in harmony within His revealed will. 

(Walking with Him heart to heart not simply putting your hand out to Him when you want something … His will not mine).

·       Placing full, confident, assured trust in His ability and willing delight to answer your prayer … asking not doubting.

In those conditions, “whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

No limits.

None.

So let me ask you.

Are you sure?

John is writing to these people whose problems seem so real but whose problems the Lord will DELIGHT to step in and solve (if they turn to Him in the context of the sort of life of realistic faith John’s been describing).

And John is saying … ANYTHING.

No limits in this situation, under these atmospheric conditions, ANYTHING is possible.

Right?

Are you sure?

James writes (James 1:2-8) to a bunch of believers similarly up against distressing, high pressure, almost impossible challenges explaining this a bit:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Now get this bit, because it seems to be very important:

James 1:6 “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

Are you (as we might say) ‘in deep’ at the moment?

Up to your neck in some challenging issue or situation?

ASK!

James says ask because without favouritism (and favouritism was just one of the problems amongst the congregations James was writing to) WITHOUT favouritism God gives generously to all His people without finding fault, BUT… there’s a ‘but’!

Do not ask doubtingly.

Such a sort of asking reveals instability … drifting in and out of faith.

And drifting in and out of trusting God isn’t trusting God.

That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

What?!

V. 7 “That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

As Hebrews 11:1-2 puts it “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.”

Are we even NEARLY there yet … near to the confident assurance to rest all on God as we

 walk faithfully with Him as John has already described things to us?

If so, that assurance is a POWERFUL thing in the hand of God Who graciously hears and ANSWERS the prayers of such people … HIS people.

 

         •        Conclusion

There are too many people around in our era treating our gracious, God … our friendship, loyalty, and warm relationship-seeking God … like the big celestial cookie monster handing out the goodies.

As if He were a cuddlier version of some great celestial slot machine.

·       Some of it is self-indulgent … telling people what their itching ears are longing to hear to please people, to whip up excitement, to appeal to the masses and be the big guy.

·       Some of it is to exploit people by promising ‘stuff’ to donations that fund a ‘ministry’ … which actually looks like more of a lifestyle for a preacher.

But none of it is Biblical or honouring to the God Who speaks in His Word.

What honours Him is the grace, mercy and covenant love He is going to demonstrate to the genuine faith and life of the child of God.

What honours Him is the assured and faithful prayer that leads to the direct Divine intervention … His response of evident and visible LOVE to hard-pressed but utterly dependant faith.

This thing that we call ‘an answer to prayer’.

So to get back to where we started from …

Does prayer work?

Yes!

Yes it does.

It ‘works’ when GOD works.

And He works to answer the prayers of people perfused with Gospel life … living by His Word in His Spirit.

And John’s purpose in re-iterating this is to boost the confidence and assurance of the people in these house churches around Ephesus.

They have been thrown into a bit of a turmoil by false teachers and fake livers-out of what they purport to be Christian faith and life.

Their need is assurance and to go confidently to God to resolve their problems.

And, let’s face it, there are PLENTY of those false teachers and fake livers-out around here and now to distract us too.

So, my friends, we have lessons here to learn.

 


Table of Contents

•       Introduction

•       The point is: assurance, v. 13

•       The faithful fruit of this assurance, v. 14

•       So is prayer like a slot machine? V. 15

•       Consider the text

•       Consider the preconditions

•       NOW consider the promise

•       Conclusion