Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a double pleasure; I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.
As long as we live in this age—with its sin and pain—our contentment in God should always be a dissatisfied contentment. Paul said in another place, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Philippians 3:12). Christ has made us his own! Our text today (in verses 21–22) says that God himself establishes us, anointed us (the Greek behind the RSV "commissioned"), sealed us, and gave us his Spirit as a guarantee. God means for us to have a deep contentment and security in Christ.
But Paul does not say, "Because I am secure, I coast." He says, "Because he made me his own, I press on to make it my own." He longs for perfection. He longs for fullness. He is dissatisfied with his present state. His contentment is a dissatisfied contentment. He knows that in Christ he has every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). But he also knows that his experience of these blessings is not as full as it could be. Paul knows that there is more to experience of the hope of our calling and the glory of our inheritance and the greatness of the power at work within us (Ephesians 1:18–19). He knows that there is more strength of the Spirit for the inner man, there is more to know of the indwelling Christ, there is more breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love to discover, and there is more of the fullness of God than he or any of us has experienced (Ephesians 3:16–19).
Therefore every believer, whose contentment is really from the Spirit of God, is a dissatisfied believer. And therefore every true believer is a person who prays. Prayer is the heartfelt expression of holy dissatisfaction. The more satisfied you are with yourself the way you are and with the world the way it is, the less you will pray. But the more you desire all the fullness of God, the more you desire to know the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, the more you desire to be strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit according to the riches of God's glory, the more you desire to know the hope of your calling and the riches of the glory of your inheritance, and the more you desire to be holy and pure and compassionate and patient and kind and tenderhearted and bold and fruitful, the more you will pray and the more passionately you will pray. Little prayer signifies little desire for God. Perfunctory prayer signifies a perfunctory relationship with God.
Prayer at the Dawning of a New Decade
We come to the end of a decade today. And I pray that we are looking back with a proper mingling of great gratitude and deep contrition. Contrition for our unbelief and sin, and gratitude for God's all-surpassing grace.
Tomorrow we enter a new decade, the last decade of the last century in this millennium, and O how I pray that we will enter it with a proper mingling of deep contentment in the unspeakable, electing, predestining, calling, justifying, glorifying love of God for us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:29–30)—a mingling of that deep contentment with a strong dissatisfaction. O that God might give us a great, holy dissatisfaction with the level of our experience of his fullness (Ephesians 3:19)!
And with that great desire burning in our hearts, we begin the decade with a week of concerted prayer—the heartfelt expression of holy dissatisfaction. And I invite you—I plead with you—to consecrate yourself to God in some extraordinary way as this new decade begins. Tomorrow morning, as the new decade begins, give notice to your old nature and to the devil and to the world, by an act of holy consecration, that you belong to God and that you desire all the fullness of God more than you desire anything in the world.
The Question Before Us
The question that God asks us in our text this morning is this: Are you living in the fullest enjoyment of God's YES to you in Christ Jesus? Or to put it another way: Have you said yes to all of God's YES to you? Is there any of God's YES to you to which you are saying NO or MAYBE or NOT NOW? Let our consecration to God at the beginning of the 1990s be this: This is the decade of my YES to you, O God. I consecrate myself to forsake the NO and the MAYBE and the NOT NOW of my unbelief. And I say YES to everything in your YES to me.
Let's look at the text together so that you can see this word from the Lord the same way I do.
Was Paul's Heart Divided Toward the Corinthians?
According to verses 15–16 Paul had made a plan to visit Corinth twice to give them a double blessing. He was going to cross the Aegean Sea to Corinth on his way to Macedonia, and then come back by Corinth. This was his plan, and they heard about it. But then something happened that made him change his mind (see 1:23 ff.). Evidently the rumor starts to circulate that Paul's heart is divided. YES, he loves them and wants to see them and bless them. But NO, maybe not as much as he loves his own convenience or some other church. Is Paul's heart YES and NO toward the Corinthians?
He answers passionately in verses 17–18: "Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No."
In other words, our planning and our preaching are not fickle; they are not double minded; they are unified; they are YES to you. We live for your good. We are for you and not against you. Our life and ministry is a resounding YES, YES, YES! Yes to your joy! Yes to your holiness! Yes to your faith and hope and love and peace and power!
And then in verses 19 and 20 Paul shows why his own life is YES to the Corinthians: namely, because God has spoken his final decisive YES to them in Christ.
(19) For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always YES. [Literally: "The (decisive) YES has happened in him"—God's heart is not divided in Christ. Christ means YES!] (20a) For all the promises of God find their YES in him.
So Paul is saying: My heart is not divided toward you because God's heart is not divided toward you. If you belong to Christ by faith, then everything God could possibly give you for your good he has signed over to your account in Christ. You hear the same answer at every point: Is this promise in my account? Yes. Is this promise in my account? Yes. Is this blessing in my account? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. All the promises of God are YES in Christ.
God's Heart Toward Those in Christ
In Galatians 3:29 Paul wrote, "If you are Christ's then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (See Ephesians 3:6; Galatians 3:14, 22; Hebrews 9:15; Romans 15:8.) All the promises of God for the good of his people focus in Christ. He confirms them and secures them and, as it were, purchases them for all who belong to him—for all who believe (Galatians 3:22). Every sinner who comes to God in Christ, with all his needs, finds God coming to him in Christ, with all his promises. When a sinful person meets the holy God IN CHRIST, what he hears is YES. Do you love me? YES. Will you forgive me? YES. Will you accept me? YES. YES. Will you help me change? YES. Will you give me power to serve you? YES. Will you keep me? YES. Will you show me your glory? YES.
All the promises of God—all the blessings of God in the heavenly places—are YES in Christ Jesus. Jesus is God's decisive YES to all who believe.
The Challenge and Connection to Prayer
Now comes the great challenge and the connection between all this and prayer. Verse 20b: "That is why [or: therefore; so] we utter the Amen though him, to the glory of God [literally: to God for (his) glory]."
Verse 20b explains why the Christian church says "Amen." It's a word taken over into Greek from Hebrew where it meant a very strong affirmation (Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6)—a formal, solemn, earnest "I agree," or "I affirm what you just said," or "This is true." Most simply AMEN means a very earnest YES in the context of addressing God.
Now notice the connection between the two halves of verse 20. The first half says, "For all the promises of God find their YES in him." The second half says, "That is why we utter the Amen through him, to God for his glory." When you realize that AMEN and YES mean the same thing, here's what the verse means: In Jesus Christ God says his YES, his AMEN, to us through his promises; and in Christ we say our YES, our AMEN, back to God, through prayer.
Four Observations About Prayer
Notice four things about prayer in verse 20.
1. Prayer Is Through Jesus
Verse 20b: "That is why we utter the AMEN through him . . . " God's YES comes to us in Christ according to verse 20a ("All the promises of God find their YES in him.") So if God's YES comes to us in Christ, then prayer must go to God through Christ, because nobody wants to hear a NO. Everybody wants to hear a yes when they pray, and that is what we hear in Christ, and nowhere else. This is what we mean when we say, "In Jesus' name," at the end of our prayers.
2. Prayer Is for God's Glory
Verse 20b: "That is why we utter the Amen though him, to God for [his] glory." Amen is the great affirmation that God is the Giver and we are the needy. Amen affirms God's grace and goodness and power and wisdom to respond in the very best way for his glory and for our good. All prayer should have the glory of God as its chief aim. Amen is our YES to the glory of God.
3. Prayer Is Laying Hold onto Promises
Prayer is drawing on the account where God has deposited all his promises. Prayer is not hoping in the dark that there might be a God of good intentions out there. Prayer goes to the bank and draws on promises. Don't miss the connection between the two halves of the verse: "All the promises of God find their YES in him. THAT [because of the promises!] is why we utter the Amen through him, to God for his glory." Which leads to . . .
4. AMEN Is a Full and Precious Word in Times of Prayer
It doesn't mean primarily, "YES, I have said all this prayer." It means primarily, "YES, God has made all these promises." AMEN means, YES, Lord, you can do it. It means, YES, Lord, you are powerful. YES, Lord, you are wise. YES, Lord, you are merciful. AMEN is like an exclamation point of faith in a prayer for help. Or an exclamation point of strong affirmation after a statement of God's greatness.
As you come to the end of every prayer there are two AMEN's, two YES's. When you say, "In Jesus' name," that is God's AMEN. All his promises are YES and AMEN in Jesus: Jesus Christ is God's YES and AMEN at the end of your prayer. Then when you say, "AMEN," this is your YES and AMEN back to God for his. AMEN is our YES to God for his YES to us in Jesus Christ.
Have You Said Yes to All of God's Yes to You?
Which brings us back to the question we raised at the beginning: Are you living in the fullest enjoyment of God's YES to you in Christ Jesus? Have you said YES to all of God's YES to you? Is there any of God's YES to you to which you are saying NO or MAYBE or NOT NOW?
I plead with you to let your consecration to God at the beginning of the 1990s be this: "O Lord, I promise that by your grace this will be the decade of my YES to you. I consecrate myself to forsake the NO and the MAYBE and the NOT NOW of my unbelief. And I say YES to everything in your YES to me. I pledge myself to a holy dissatisfaction until I have known the fullness of your YES in Christ Jesus."
We begin the decade with a week of prayer. Let me mention the times for you to consider.
- Starting tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM we will pray each morning Monday through Friday at 7:00 AM in the chapel for 30 minutes. You can consecrate every day of the first week of the decade with united prayer.
- On Wednesday evening at 7:00 we will meet for an hour and a half in a concert of prayer focusing on the spiritual and social needs of our city and the cities of the world. Here in this room. You can consecrate yourself in this way to a larger vision than just your own personal needs.
- On Friday at 10:00 PM we begin a powerful night of going hard after God in prayer for eight hours. I believe much of the blessing we have known over the past ten years together is owing to God's calling us to nights of prayer and meeting us there in significant ways.
- The Fireside Room will be set up for Personal Prayer Retreats. You can get into the church and use the room Tuesday through Saturday from 7 AM to 9 PM.
- Finally, we have ordered 150 copies of Ablaze for God. I hope we sell them all (they are $7.00). We chose this because it does just that: it makes the heart blaze with a passion for prayer. Consecrate your mind to God with a time of reading about prayer and power this week and in the weeks to come.
Would you pray for the pastoral and ministerial staff as we take a three-day retreat for prayer and fasting and planning Tuesday through Thursday? We will come in for the Wednesday evening Concert of Prayer, but besides that, we will be in prayer and study and planning all that time. We are seeking from the Lord focus and goals for the 1990s. It is utterly crucial that you cover us with your prayer all day. We really want to meet God, and seek his heart for our church and our mission in this city and the world for the next ten years.
I close with the question once more: Are you living in the fullest enjoyment of God's YES to you in Christ Jesus? Have you said YES and AMEN to all the promises of God? Would you join us in the first week of the last decade of the last century of the millennium for an extraordinary time of consecration as we say YES to all God's promises in prayer?