Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Sixth Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: Illustration: “In a Frank and Ernest cartoon the two characters are standing before a priest and Frank asks, 'How come opportunity knocks once, but temptation beats at my door every day?'” (Swindoll's Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes, p.562).

“Temptation beats at my door every day” the character says, and we find it amusing not because it is foreign to our experience, but because it is so common to our experience. And this is the very thing that Jesus assumes about us as well. We have seen that He teaches us to pray daily for our physical needs and for forgiveness of sin, but He also wants us to pray daily for deliverance from temptation because He knows it beats at each of our doors every day.

NKJ Matthew 6:13a  “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

In order to understand Jesus' meaning here, let's consider the meaning of the Greek noun translated temptation. The Greek word peirasmós has two primary meanings:
1) It is used in a good sense to describe “God's examination of man” and has the meaning test or trial.

2) It is used in a bad sense to describe an “enticement to sin, either from without or within” and has the meaning temptation (Friberg Lexicon #21267, BibleWorks).
The related Greek verbs peirázō and ekpeirázō are also used in Scripture in both this positive and negative sense.

In order to understand how Jesus intends the word to be understood in the Lord's Prayer, we must remember several important points that become clear as we examine passages which use this terminology in both the Septuagint (or LXX, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and the New Testament.

First, God does test us.

Let's examine several of the many Scripture passages that demonstrate this truth:
NKJ Exodus 20:18-20 “Now all the people witnessed the understandings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, 'You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' 20 And Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear; for God has come to test [LXX peirázō] you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.'”
We see here that God tests His people in order to help them to learn to trust Him in order to keep them from sin. So His testing is for our good.
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 16 “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test [LXX ekpeirázō, “to test thoroughly”] you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD…. 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test [LXX ekpeirázō] you, to do you good in the end....”
Again we see that God tests His people thoroughly for their good. He knows what is best for us in the end, and His tests are designed to bring it about.
NKJ James 1:2-4 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [pl. of peirasmós], 3 knowing that the testing [dokímion] of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Although James does not specifically say here that these trials come from God, he appears to assume it as he speaks of the way in which they are designed in order to do the same thing the Old Testament teaches that God's tests are designed to do by helping us to grow in our faith. James certainly knew the Old Testament well, and I cannot imagine he would say such tests come from anyone else! In addition, when we return to this passage later, we will see that James seems to think that his readers will themselves assume such tests are from God, which is why they might mistakenly be led to think that, when they are tempted in the midst of testing, the temptation also comes from God. This leads to the next important point we need to consider.

Second, God does not tempt us.

After Adam fell, he seemed to forget this fact – as fallen human beings often forget it! Notice how he essentially blames God for having given Eve to him, through whose influence he succumbed to temptation:
NKJ Genesis 3:12 “Then the man said, 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.'” (Italics mine.)
But it wasn't God who tempted Adam to sin, for He never tempts anyone to sin! James makes this point quite clearly:
NKJ James 1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted [peirázō], 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
Notice how James has shifted to using the terminology in its negative sense. He was using the terminology in a positive sense when he was teaching about testing, but he knows that frequently, in the midst of testing, we may also find ourselves tempted to sin. When this happens, he wants us never to think that God – who tests us for our good – is Himself responsible for the temptations we may experience in the process. No, James says, all such temptation has has its source our own evil desires (as well as satanic or demonic influence, which, as we shall see further on, Jesus has in mind in this model prayer)But this leads to another important point to consider.

Third, God does allow us to be tempted.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jesus' temptation in the wilderness:
NKJ Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [peirázō] by the devil.
The Apostle Paul also teaches that God allows us to be tempted:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation [peirasmós] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [peirázō] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [peirasmós] will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
When Paul says that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear, does he not also indicate that God will allow us to be tempted within what we are able to bear with His help?

Quote: Someone has said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Whoever said this got it right!

Fourth, God does sometimes test us by allowing us to be tempted.

Let's begin again with a couple of Old Testament examples:
NKJ Deuteronomy 13:1-3 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' -- which you have not known -- 'and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing [LXX peirázō] you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Here God's desire is to test the Israelites by allowing them to be tempted by a false prophet. We find a similar situation when we read about God's reason for allowing the pagan nations to remain in Canaan to test the Israelites:
NKJ Judges 2:20-23 “Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, 'Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test [LXX peirázō] Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.' 23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.”
God knew these nations would tempt Israel to sin, but he allowed such temptation to remain so that He might test them. God Himself did not in any way tempt them to sin, however, but only allowed them to be tempted. Remember our earlier reading of James, in which he emphatically asserted that  “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” In fact, let's take one more look at James 1:
NKJ James 1:12-13 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation [peirasmós, or better “under trial” as in ESV and NASB]; for when he has been approved [dókimos], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted [peirázō], 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
James is relying upon the dual meaning of the word peirasmós in order to make the point that the very testing of our faith (mentioned earlier in verses 2-4) which God brings about and that leads to our being proved/approved may also become a time of temptation for us. But we should never make the mistake of thinking that this temptation comes from God. God may test us, but if such tests become temptations for us, this is not God's doing!

What does Jesus intend in the Lord's Prayer? Is He referring to testing or temptation?

There are those who think that Jesus is telling us to ask the Father not to lead us into times of testing, but this seems unlikely since we know that God will do so for our own good. However, it may be possible to understand this as a request not to lead us into times of testing that are so severe that we may be tempted to stumble.

On the other hand, there are those who think that Jesus is telling us to ask the Father more specifically not to lead us into times of temptation. This option is reflected in most translations (such as the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB) and is the most likely option given the second half of the petition: "but deliver us from the evil one."

In other words – although God may allow us to be tempted – we are taught by Jesus to ask Him not to let us be tempted such that we might be overpowered by the evil one. But this last part of the petition brings up another question:

Does Jesus teach us to ask God to “deliver us from evil” or to “deliver us from the evil one”?

That is, does Jesus refer to evil in general or to a specific and personified worker of evil, namely the devil. I think He intends to refer to the “evil one” (Satan) for a couple of reasons:
1) He used the article – the evil – as well as the masculine form of the word and thus most likely refers to an evil person or being.

2) Earlier in the context Jesus used a similar Greek construction in a clear reference to a personal evildoer:
NKJ Matthew 5:39 “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Italics mine.)
This understanding also reflects other Biblical teaching. For example:
NKJ Ephesians 6:10-18 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints....”
NKJ James 4:7 “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

NKJ 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (All italics mine.)
So we can see that it makes perfect sense for Jesus to teach us to pray that God will deliver us from the evil one, which is Satan. But He doesn't want us to finish praying on this note. He wants us to finish praying with another reminder of the ultimate goal of our lives, which is to bring glory to God.
NKJ Matthew 6:13b “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Some manuscripts do not include this last part of the verse, but I think it is best taken as genuine, and it certainly does reflect other Biblical teaching. In fact, it is similar to other doxologies in Scripture. For example:
NKJ 1 Chronicles 29:10-11 “Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: 'Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all.'”

NKJ Revelation 5:13 “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: 'Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!'”
I think Jesus wants us to finish our prayers with such a focus on God's glory because this focus is what should characterize the motives and desires of all true believers. So we don't ask Him not to lead us into temptation but to deliver us from evil simply for our own good. We do it because this is the way we best glorify Him and acknowledge His Lordship over all things.

Conclusion: Quote: As C.S. Lewis once wrote:
No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is …. Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means. (As quoted in Today in the Word, November, 1998, p. 24)
This is why I want to conclude with an encouragement to take all our struggles with temptation to Christ, for He knows how to help us:
NKJ Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16 “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. 4:14 -16 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Fifth Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: When tempted by Satan, Jesus reminded him that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, citing Deut. 8:3). In the Lord's Prayer, He reminds us that man lives not only by daily bread, but by daily forgiveness from God.

Quote: As D.A. Carson has put it:
The first three petitions stand independently from one another. The last three, however, are linked in Greek by “ands,” almost as if to say that life sustained by food is not enough. We also need forgiveness of sin and deliverance from temptation. (EBC, Vol.8, p.172)
Quote: Thomas Watson elaborates on this same point:
As soon as Christ had said, 'Give us daily bread,' he adds, 'and forgive us.' He joins the petition of forgiveness of sin immediately to the other of daily bread, to show us that though we have daily bread, yet all is nothing without forgiveness. If our sins be not pardoned, we can take but little comfort in our food. As a man that is condemned takes little comfort from the meat you bring him in prison, without a pardon; so, though we have daily bread, yet it will do us no good unless sin be forgiven. What though we should have manna, which was called angels' food, though the rock should pour out rivers of oil, all is nothing unless sin be done away. When Christ had said, 'Give us our daily bread,' he presently added, and 'forgive us our trespasses.' Daily bread may satisfy the appetite, but forgiveness of sin satisfies the conscience ….

Daily bread may make us live comfortably, but forgiveness of sins will make us die comfortably. (The Lord's Prayer, first published as part of A Body of Practical Divinity, 1692)
While keeping in mind that daily forgiveness is just as important as our daily bread, let's examine more closely the way Jesus wants us to pray for this forgiveness.

NKJ Matthew 6:12 "And forgive us our debts [opheílēma], as we forgive our debtors [opheilétēs].

Several questions come to mind as I read this verse: 1) What are the debts Jesus says we need to have forgiven? (What does this term debts mean?) 2) In what sense are our debts forgiven as we forgive our debtors? (Does this imply that we earn forgiveness by first forgiving others?) We shall seek to answer each of this questions in our attempt to understand what Jesus is teaching us.

I. What are the debts Jesus says we need to have forgiven?

As most of us are no doubt already aware, the Bible can sometimes describe sins as debts and the forgiving of sins as the forgiveness of a debt. It is figurative language that was well understood by first century Jews. This is why Jesus uses it in this passage and also why – on another occasion when He taught His disciples to pray in a similar fashion – He could refer to debts and sins interchangeably:
NKJ Luke 11:4a “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted [opheílō] to us.” (Italics mine.)
This metaphorical way of picturing sins as debts is also reflected in one of Jesus' better known parables:
NKJ Matthew 18:21-35 “Then Peter came to Him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' 22 Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, “Pay me what you owe!” 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.'”
Quote: Thomas Watson asks the question, “Why is sin called a debt?” and offers this helpful answer:
Because it fitly resembles it. (1) A debt arises upon non- payment of money, or the not paying that which is one's due. We owe to God exact obedience, and not paying what is due, we are in debt. (2) In case of non-payment, the debtor goes to prison; so, by our sin, we become guilty, and are exposed to God's curse of damnation. Though he grants a sinner a reprieve for a time, yet he remains bound to eternal death if the debt be not forgiven. (The Lord's Prayer, first published as part of A Body of Practical Divinity, 1692)
Watson also goes on to ask the question, “In what sense is sin the worst debt?” to which he gives several answers that are worthy of consideration:
(1) Because we have nothing to pay. If we could pay the debt, what need to pray, 'forgive us'?....

(2) Sin is the worst debt, because it is against an infinite majesty....

(3) Sin is the worst debt, because it is not a single, but a multiplied debt. Forgive us 'our debts;' we have debt upon debt....

(4) Sin is the worst debt; because it is an inexcusable debt in two respects; [1] There is no denying the debt. Other debts men may deny. If the money be not paid before witnesses, or if the creditor lose the bond, the debtor may say he owes him nothing; but there is no denying the debt of sin. If we say we have no sin, God can prove the debt.... 2] There is no shifting off the debt. Other debts may be shifted off. We may get friends to pay them, but neither man nor angel can pay this debt for us. If all the angels in heaven should make a purse, they cannot pay one of our debts. In other debts men may get a protection, so that none can touch their persons, or sue them for it; but who shall give us a protection from God's justice?
Indeed, who “shall give us a protection from God's justice”? We know that it is Jesus Christ alone who can pay the debt, “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14).

II. In what sense are our debts forgiven as we forgive our debtors?

At first glance, one might be tempted to think – as some have thought – that Jesus is teaching that we can somehow merit forgiveness from God through our forgiveness of others, especially given Jesus' explanation of this petition in verses 14-15:
NKJ Matthew 6:14-15 14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
But does Jesus really intend to say that we merit God's forgiveness through our our forgiveness of others? That our forgiving others is somehow the cause of God's forgiving us? Four considerations militate against such an an understanding of Jesus' teaching here:

First, the form of request the petition for forgiveness takes rules out merit, so that our forgiveness of others cannot be the cause of God's forgiveness of us.

When Jesus tells us to ask the father to "forgive us our debts," He uses the Greek verb aphíēmi, which means “to remit a debt” and also “to forgive a sin” (i.e. in the same manner as one would remit a debt). But to remit a debt is to show grace! No payment is required! If God were dealing with us in accordance with works righteousness, He would demand payment of the debt from us.

Thus, Jesus cannot be saying that God will cancel our debt while at the same time saying we must pay it bit by bit! Such a reading of the text would be absurd.

Second, we must distinguish between the initial forgiveness of our sins when we are justified and the ongoing need for confession and forgiveness in our daily lives.
1) Jesus clearly intends this prayer for those who are already believers and thus already justified and forgiven through Christ.

Recall the opening address of the prayer in verse 9, in which Jesus tells believers to address God as “our Father.”

2) Jesus clearly intends this as an ongoing, daily prayer (sanctification), not as a once for all prayer for salvation and forgiveness (justification).

Recall verse 11, in which Jesus clearly indicates this is to be a “daily” prayer (and see also Luke 11:3, "Give us day by day our daily bread").
This distinction between initial forgiveness and our ongoing need for forgiveness may be found elsewhere in scripture as well. For example:
Initial forgiveness: NKJ Romans 3:21-24 “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus....”

Ongoing forgiveness: NKJ 1 John 1:8-2:1 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Third, we must distinguish between our forgiveness of others as the cause of God's forgiveness of us versus our forgiveness of others as the evidence of our having been forgiven by God.
NKJ James 2:14-17 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
As many Reformed theologians have correctly asserted over the centuries, “We are saved by grace through faith alone, bu the faith that saves is never alone.” Genuine saving faith always results in a changed life that produces fruit in keeping with repentance (as John the Baptist would say it, Matt. 3:8), and one of those fruits will always be a forgiving heart.

Quote: John Stott gets it right when he says:
This certainly does not mean that our forgiveness of others earns us the right to be forgiven. It is rather that God forgives only the penitent and that one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit. Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offence against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offences of others, it proves that we have minimized our own. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.149-150)
Fourth, we must distinguish between deserts and capacity. Jesus is not saying that God's forgiveness of our sins is the just deserts of our having forgiven others. Rather, He is implying that our forgiveness of others affects our capacity to receive God's forgiveness. This is also consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture. For example:
NKJ Psalm 66:18 “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”
So also, when Jesus teaches us to pray daily, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” He is also giving us a daily reminder that we need to confess our sins to God and to be forgiven by Him. And He is giving us a daily reminder that our relationships with others always affect our relationship with God! We will be hindered in our fellowship with God and will not experience His forgiveness fully if we do not forgive others. But as we see a forgiving spirit within ourselves, then we will be all the more assured of God's forgiveness. For, if God can enable us to forgive those who harm us, then we know with certainly that God Himself can and does truly forgive us!

Conclusion: I will conclude simply by repeating the admonition of the Apostle Paul, one which I hope we will now see in a new light:
NKJ Ephesians 4:32 “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day Remembrance - Every War Has An End

As both a Christian and a veteran, I look forward to the time when all war will end. Isaiah foretold that the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would usher in such a time:
NKJ Isaiah 2:4 "He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
So on this day I am grateful for the sacrifice of my fellow veterans, and I honor their service. But I am infinitely more grateful for the sacrifice of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for He has won the victory that will one day be manifested in a New Heavens and a New Earth, where there will be no more death at all:
NKJ Revelation 21:1-4 "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John1, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.'"
Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Fourth Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: In our previous examination of the first three petitions of this prayer – that God's name be hallowed, that His Kingdom come, and that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven – we focused upon praying for the glory of God. Now we will begin to look at the last three petitions of the Lord's prayer, which are focused on praying for our good. And the first of these petitions is centered specifically upon our physical good.

NKJ Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Although this request seems very simple, it actually has more depth than many realize. So, we will take some time to examine each of the parts of this prayer in order to bring out its significance more clearly. We will focus our attention on four distinct emphases of the prayer.

First, when Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, He is referring to the basic necessities of life, not to luxuries.

Quote: As D.A. Carson puts it, “The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds” (EBC, Vol.8, p.171).

Application: Since we live in such an affluent society and possess so much more than just what we need, we can easily fall prey to the kind of materialism that mistakes wants for needs. For example, we can find ourselves praying for another car or for a bigger house or for better clothes because the culture we live in makes us think we need such things when we really don't.

Illustration: Paul demonstrates the attitude that Jesus wants to be in us when praying this prayer:
NKJ 1 Timothy 6:7-8 “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
To be sure, praying for our daily bread – our basic needs – and no more is a prayer of contentment!

However, there have been those who have felt that a plea for our daily bread – and thus for our basic physical needs – is too mundane a concern to be included in such a prayer. They have thus sought to spiritualize the meaning. For example, some of the early Church Fathers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, all interpreted our daily bread as meaning “the invisible bread of the Word of God” (John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 148). Some also interpreted it as a reference to the bread of the Lord's Supper, as did Jerome, when in his Latin Vulgate translation he rendered the meaning as “super-substantial bread – that is, as bread that is more than just physical bread" (Stott, p.148).

But there is no good reason in the context to think that Jesus is referring to either the Word of God or the Lord's Supper. These interpretations are simply examples of eisegesis rather than exegesis. That is, they read into the text a meaning that is not there rather than reading out of the text the meaning that is readily apparent to any without a preconceived agenda.

Application: Such misreadings of the passage also miss a very important point, namely that God truly cares about such things as our most basic physical needs. These are not mundane, trivial things to God! And they certainly aren't mundane or trivial to one who lacks food or clothing!

Quote: Kent Hughes drives home the same point when he writes in his commentary on this verse:
God wants us to bring our everyday needs to him, even if they seem trivial. He does not demand that we approach him only when we have raised ourselves to some kind of spiritual elevation above the everyday things of life. The greatness of our God lies in his descending to meet us where we are. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 183)
Second, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us this day our daily bread, He is giving us a daily reminder that we are a part of a family of believers who also have the same needs as we do.

Jesus does not want us to be selfish in seeking only our own needs from the Lord, but to be mindful of our brothers and sisters in Christ as well.

Remember also that Jesus also commends those who help provide for others who are less fortunate:
NKJ Matthew 25:31-36 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me....'”
Jesus identifies true believers as those who care not just about their own needs, but also about meeting the needs of others, and He wants us to remember this in prayer every day.

Quote: Kent Hughes offers a similar insight on this aspect of the prayer:
Every time we pray this prayer from our heart, we are affirming our solidarity with our brothers and sisters. When we pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are also making an implicit commitment to help provide bread for needy friends. The prayer is a stretching, broadening petition. We not only depend on God for practical provision – we commit ourselves to be part of God's answer for others in need. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 183)
Third, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us our daily bread, He wants us to remember that – although we may work to meet our basic needs – all we have ultimately comes as a gift from God.

Jesus does not want us to become self-dependent but to be mindful every day that we are dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything. Such humble dependence upon God runs directly counter to the so called “rugged individualism” and self-sufficiency that our culture prizes so highly!

Of course, the fact that we are to be dependent upon God in no way diminishes our responsibility to work to meet our own needs and the needs of others. For example, Paul admonishes us to work:
NKJ 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”
So, the way we can typically expect God to answer this prayer to meet our basic needs is through the provision of work.

Fourth, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us this day our daily bread, He wants us to learn to trust God for each day without giving in to worry about the next one.

This becomes clear as we examine the meaning of the two Greek terms He uses in this context.

First, the Greek word sēmeron means “today,” “this day,” or “this very day.” It clearly focuses upon the very day one is praying the prayer.

Second, the Greek word epioúsios is a more difficult word, with only three undisputed occurrences in known ancient Greek literature, one here in Matthew 6:11, one in Luke 11:3 (recording another teaching of the Lord's Prayer by Jesus), and one in a late first century Christian writing called The Didache (which is quoting the Lord's Prayer, 8:2).

The two primary meanings proposed for this Greek word are 1) for the current day, which means that it refers to “today's bread,” or 2) for the coming day, which means that it refers to “tomorrow's bread.”

In my opinion, Jesus is referring to the food we need on the current day, given His emphasis on “this day” and His admonition later on in the same sermon:
NKJ Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Quote: Thus I agree with D.A. Carson, when he writes that the prayer “is for one day at a time ('today'), reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time and for whom a few days illness could spell tragedy” (EBC, Vol.8, p.171).

Application: Jesus wants us to live one day at a time rather than to let the concerns of tomorrow cause us to fail to trust God fully for today... and for each and every day. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with making plans for the future, there is something wrong with being so driven by such concerns that we begin to put our trust in our own plans rather than in God. And there is definitely also something wrong with giving in to worry about tomorrow.

Conclusion: I hope that this time spent thinking together about the meaning of this simple petition – “Give us this day our daily bread” – has been a helpful reminder to us all. May God grant us the grace to pray with such a heart every day!