The Rule of Three
[03/02/97] [Wednesday Bible Study 04/03/02]
8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
13 For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;
14 As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul had been in trouble in Asia, not the continent of Asia, but the Roman Province of Asia, which was in modern Turkey. The trouble Paul is referring to may have been the great riot in Ephesus, mentioned in the book of Acts, when Demetrius and his fellow idol-makers raised a mob against Paul, because they thought that he would destroy their livelihood. They intended to run Paul out of town, perhaps even kill him. Paul might have been referring to that incident, or he might be talking about something else altogether. Paul was often in trouble for Jesus.
In any case, he writes in V8 “we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” The Apostle Paul attributes to God alone his preservation saying in V9 “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” This is a reference to the God who was in Jesus Christ and raised him from the dead. That is the only God who has the power to deliver.
Paul argues that because God has delivered him in the past, and is still his help in the present, that same God will be with him also in the future. The Apostle Paul is a master of spiritual arithmetic. He computes by the believer’s Rule of Three. He argues from the past to the present and from the present to the future. We see this in V10, which reads, “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” Because our God is, as the scripture says, “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” his love in times past is a reliable assurance of his kindness today and of his faithfulness tomorrow.
Whatever our circumstances may be, however perplexed we may be, however dark our outlook may be, if we compute by the rule of three, we have confidence not in ourselves but in God. The rule of three is “He did, he does, he will.” That rule assures us that we can depend upon God.
And every time the Holy Spirit whispers the reality of God to us, and every time God answers our prayers, we find it easier to rest upon God. Every experience we have of God’s faithfulness confirms our confidence in God.
However, note this: Although the Apostle Paul acknowledged God’s power in his deliverance, Paul did not undervalue the help that he received from people. Having first praised God, he then remembers with gratitude the earnest prayers of God’s people. The lesson is Gratitude to God must never become an excuse for ingratitude to people. It is true that God saved the apostle from some great trouble, but God did it in answer to prayer. Paul mentions those successful prayers, saying in v11 “Ye also helping together by prayer for us,” and he desires God’s people to now unite their praises with his, saying, “that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” Thus, Paul would say to us, if we have received confidence from the Rule of Three—He did, He does, He will—then that confidence should cause us to pray to God, and praise God.
The first thing we notice then about these verses is the power of prayer. Prayer is like an abounding and rejoicing river through which God’s blessings flow to us. Prayer is the golden key that unlocks for us the well-stored warehouses of heaven. The scripture teaches that those who ask receive; those who seek find; those who knock have the door opened for them.
Some people ask: "Why does God want us to pray?" Because Prayer is a natural outgrowth of the love relationship between God and his people. Just as a loving God creates and preserves us, so prayer is our loving response to God’s action.
Prayer is not the highest way to worship, for we are not told that the angels in heaven pray, yet prayer is the humblest way to worship, and, therefore, the best way for imperfect human beings.
Prayer reminds us of how much we need God. If God gave us gifts without requiring us to pray for them, we would never know how bad off we are without God. Therefore, prayer teaches us to be poor in self and rich in God. It teaches us that without God, we are weak as water, but with God, we can do mighty things.
Prayer is the major weapon of God’s warriors in the constant ongoing combat with Satan. The scripture tells us that during the Exodus, it was not the sword of Joshua that routed the Amalekites, but the hands of Moses, uplifted in prayer.
The united prayers of God’s people have special power. We receive many gifts of God because of our individual prayers, but we can receive some gifts only by the united prayers of the congregation of the faithful. Elijah and Daniel prayed alone, and God answered their prayers, but in the book of Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost because all of the disciples were praying “with one accord in one place.” Later on in that same book, we read that God delivered Peter from prison because the church was praying for him.
God answers the prayers of one who prays, but God answers better the prayers of many who pray together. We say in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the communion of the saints.” In part, that means that we believe in communal prayer--in praying together. The scripture speaks of the church as the body of Christ. When the body prays together, it is Christ himself praying, and his prayers will not go unanswered or unheard.
The ministry of prayer is a ministry for every Christian. We cannot all preach or teach, but we can all pray. From the youngest babe in the faith, to the oldest saint of God, we can all pray. The prayers of God’s people are the true wealth of the church. We have offering plates to receive your offerings for the cause of God. We also have a spiritual bank account in which we deposit our prayers, and every Christian can, and should, contribute to that account.
Pray. Bring your needs before almighty God. And pray for others also. In many places in scripture, the Apostle Paul asks that the church to pray for him. In turn, he prayed for them. We should all pray for each other.
But whatever we are praying for, we need prayers of strength. We need not just prayer, but earnest prayer, serious prayer. We need Samsons of prayer who will shake the pillars of heaven and pull down those pillars, rather than be denied. We do not want featherweight prayers that only touch lightly upon our real burdens and concerns. We do not want those little, hesitant, uncertain, half-hearted, half-believing prayers that barely knock at the door of God’s mercy. We want warriors in prayer who will hammer at heaven’s gate until it opens.
Now let us talk about praise. Praise follows answered prayer. If God has been gracious to us and has inclined his ear to our appeal, then we ought to praise God. LK17:11-19 tells us a sad story of ingratitude. Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to thank him for it. Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” Where indeed? They should all have been there giving thanks and glorifying God. And when good things come to us from the hand of God, we should not be negligent in our praises.
It is good for us to praise God. Praise is the most heavenly of Christian duties. I said earlier that the angels do not pray. That is true, but they do praise God, and so should we.
To praise God for answered prayer benefits others. When others hear how God has helped us, they are encouraged in their faith. If we can say, "Yes, I was down in the pit, but the Lord lifted me up," then others will say, “Perhaps he will help me too.” That is why Christians should not be tongue-tied when it comes to praising God. Our praises may help others.
To go a step further, as praise is pleasing to God, so united praise is especially pleasing to God. United praise is like music in concert. The sound of one instrument is sweet, but when hundreds of instruments of all kinds are combined, then the orchestra sends forth a beautiful note of harmony. The united praise of God‘s people, gathered in a worship service, is the orchestra that is most pleasing to God.
In v11, Paul said, “for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” The gift is that God delivered him from death. He says that he received this gift “by the means of many persons.” That is, because many people were praying for him. His conclusion is that “thanks may be given by many.” God’s people have prevailed in united prayer; now they turn to united praise.
Let us conclude then by looking at V12: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.”
The first thing that we ought to praise God for is our salvation in Jesus Christ. The second thing we ought to praise God for is “the testimony of our conscience.” In this verse, Paul is saying that one thing that he is happy about is that his conscience is clear. He has been sincere in his work. He has had good motives. This does not mean that everyone has thought well of him, but he has intended well.
I suspect today that many people, if asked what they should praise God for, would list all sorts of material blessings. We are grateful for a new car, for a healthy body, for our food. And, we should be grateful for every blessing, but I doubt if many people would say, “Thank God for a clear conscience.” However, the Apostle Paul knows the power of innocence. A liar knows he is a liar. A thief knows he is a thief. When someone makes an accusation against a liar or a thief, then no matter what kind of big front he may put on the outside, he cowers on the inside, because he knows he is guilty. But the person with a clear conscience has an inner power. He knows he is not guilty, and this knowledge empowers him even when accusations are made against him and no one else believes him.
That is a mighty power. You might ask how it is that the Apostle Paul came to have that power. What gives him the strength to act rightly and honorably when the entire world presses him to act wrongly and dishonorably? The answer lies in the Rule of Three. The Apostle Paul believes God because God has delivered him in the past and is delivering him in the present. This foundation encourages him to believe that God will deliver him in the future. With that kind of belief, Paul can pray with confidence. Do your prayers have confidence? If they do not, you need to remember the rule of three: God did, God does, God will. God has been with you. God is with you. God will be with you. Believe in that and pray as you believe.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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