Wednesday, October 12, 2005

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1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”

When I first heard this verse, I understood this to mean exactly what it says—never stop praying. Someone once said that "prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give but an occasional pluck at the rope; but he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might."

To borrow from an earlier illustration, I once understood that to "pray without ceasing" meant, in effect, “exhale always.” This only leads to at least one of two results: 1) God could not get a word in edgewise as one would never listen; and 2) one will reach a point where he will pass out.

Here is what other people understand what this verse means:

Fausset and Jamison hold to my former postion: “The Greek is, “Pray without intermission”; without allowing prayerless gaps to intervene between the times of prayer.”[1]

The New American Commentary helps us better understand what “pray” means: “The word chosen for “prayer” (proseuchomai) is a general one that implies a worshipful approach to God (cf. Rom 8:26). Paul encouraged his churches to make prayer a part of their personal spiritual discipline (Rom 12:12; Phil 4:6). He and his coworkers prayed together regularly (1:2; 2 Thess 1:11; Rom 1:10) and valued the prayers of the church on their behalf (5:25; cf. 2 Cor 1:11, where “prayers” are petitions, deēsei). But prayer was also a feature of the public worship of the assembly. Paul linked public prayer with prophecy in his discussion of propriety in worship in 1 Cor 11:4 and with the public exercise of gifts and giving thanks in the assembly (1 Cor 14:15–17). Clearly, Paul expected Christians both privately and in the public assembly to approach God with praise, intercessions, requests, and thanksgiving.[2]

The New Bible Commentary clarifies, explaining that “this does not mean, for example, that one prays uninterruptedly but that one prays regularly and frequently.”[3]

John MacArthur agrees: “This does not mean pray repetitiously or continuously without a break (cf. Matt. 6:7,8), but rather pray persistently (cf. Luke 11:1–13; 18:1–8) and regularly (cf. Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2,12).”[4]

The Bible Knowledge Commentary brings the general concept of prayer together with it’s frequency: “Continual prayer is not prayer that prevails without any interruption, but prayer that continues whenever possible. The adverb for continually (adialeiptōs, also in 1:3) was used in Greek of a hacking cough. Paul was speaking of maintaining continuous fellowship with God as much as possible in the midst of daily living in which concentration is frequently broken.”[5]

The Evanglical Commentary on the Bible elucidates: “If Paul had had formal, audible prayer in mind, this imperative would have been impossible to carry out. Rather, to pray constantly means that the entire life of the believer is lived in dependence on God.”[6]

Matthew Henry helps with practicality: ”We should keep up stated times for prayer, and continue instant in prayer. We should pray always, and not faint: pray without weariness, and continue in prayer, till we come to that world where prayer shall be swallowed up in praise. The meaning is not that men should do nothing but pray, but that nothing else we do should hinder prayer in its proper season. Prayer will help forward and not hinder all other lawful business, and every good work.”[7]

The Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary: “The Christian who will “keep on praying” is living in constant communion with God and is always ready to pray.”[8]

To pray without ceasing is to make prayer a way of life, not non-stop talking. Prayer is living with God in the forefront, fully aware of His presence and that He is always at work to the praise of His glory in Christ Jesus.

Someone once wrote that the more spiritual the duty, the more apt we are to tire of it. We could stand and preach all day; but we could not pray all day. We could go forth to seek the sick all day, but we could not be in our closets all day nearly as easily. To spend a night with God in prayer would be far more difficult than to spend a night with man in preaching. Oh! take care, take care, that thou dost not cease thy prayers!

[1]Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al.. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary., 1 Th 5:17. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
[2]Martin, D. Michael. Vol. 33, 1, 2 Thessalonians. electronic ed. Logos Library System; The New American Commentary, Page 181. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995.
[3]Carson, D. A. New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. 4th ed., 1 Th 5:12. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
[4]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., 1 Th 5:17. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.
[5]Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985.
[6]Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. electronic ed., 1 Th 5:17. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996, c1989.
[7]Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 1 Th 5:16. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991.
[8]Hughes, Robert B., J. Carl Laney, and Robert B. Hughes. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. of: New Bible companion. 1990.; Includes index. The Tyndale reference library, Page 623. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

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