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Our passage this morning is Ephesians 5:15-20. And the title is “What are you full of?”

Let me say first of all that there are lots of things we could look at in chapter 5. Before our verses there’s great teaching on:

  • Imitating God in our love and grace toward one another
  • Sexual purity and integrity
  • Righteous speech
  • And walking in God’s light in the midst of a dark world

And the verses after ours deal with the relationships of wives and husbands under the heading of the words of v. 12, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

But I want us to dig into vs. 15-20 and see what God has to say to us in these verses. 

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

I want us to start in the middle of our passage, in v. 18, and then we will go to the verses before it, and then the verses after it. Let’s begin with v. 18’s admonition –

“Do not get drunk with wine”

 With these words Paul forbids the abuse of alcohol. Now he says “wine,” but, of course, the point is drunkenness – which would include any kind of substance or drug abuse; anything that gets us high or intoxicated.

We get a hint at why Paul teaches this in the next phrase of the verse, “for that is debauchery.” This isn’t a word that we use much anymore, so let’s see what else we can come up with.

The Greek word (ασωτια) has as its root idea – ‘wastefulness.’ And a good definition of it is senseless or reckless behavior. It’s associated with drunkenness, as in our verse, and also with sexual immorality (1 Peter 4). It can also be translated as ‘wild living.’

And that makes sense, because once you’re drunk or high and lose control, who knows what you’ll do, or for that matter what will be done to you?

I would put it like this, drugs and alcohol are sin magnifiers. They amplify whatever sinful desires you have and take away whatever restraint you might normally have – so that you act recklessly. From a Christian point of view the bottom line is that it’s impossible to love God and love your neighbor while you’re drunk. In other words it’s impossible to be a Christian. And it’s even hard to love and take care of yourself.

A portrait of drunkenness as senseless and reckless is found in Proverbs 23:29-35:

29Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. 31Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. 32For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper. 33You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. 34You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. 35And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT)

This passage speaks to how drunkenness causes harm to the person who is drunk. It also notes the element of addiction at the end. After all the harm, the question is, “When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?” But more broadly it presents a picture of a life that’s truly getting wasted.

Next we move to vs. 15-17. And I want to suggest that we are to read them in light of verse 18 and what Paul says about not getting drunk. And specifically that the language of “wise” and “foolish” in these verses is connected to the critique of drunkenness as foolish in Scripture. So –

There’s a contrast in vs 15-17 between wise-sober living and foolish-drunken living

The foolishness of drunkenness is talked about, for instance in Proverbs 20:1. This verse says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (or “will not become wise.”)

And so when Paul says in v. 15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” this language of “wise” and “unwise” is a reference back to passages like Proverbs 20:1.

And when in v. 16 he says, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” Paul is saying,  life is short. Don’t waste the precious gift of life with drugs and alcohol.

And in v. 17 when he says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is,” he’s saying, drunkenness keeps us from acting with wisdom or from growing in wisdom.

Paul’s making a contrast in vs. 15-17 between living foolishly by giving ourselves to drunkenness and living wisely by being sober so that we can walk according to God’s will.

Next, I want to show you that –

There’s a contrast in vs 19-20 between drunken speech and righteous speech

That is, just as vs. 15-17 before v. 18 are connected to its admonition against drunkenness, so vs.19-20 are also connected.

This becomes apparent when we realize that Paul is actually quoting a scripture in v. 18. And it comes from Proverbs 23:31, from the passage we’ve already read, the portrait of drunkenness as reckless.

Now, you probably didn’t notice this and that’s because Paul’s quoting the Greek version of the Old Testament which says something a little different than the Hebrew version, which is behind our Bibles. The Greek version of Proverbs 23:31 says in part, “Do not get drunk from wine”

And in Proverbs 23:33 it talks about drunken speech when it says “you will say crazy things” when you’re drunk. The Greek Old Testament says “your mouth will speak perversely.”

 In contrast to this Proverbs 23:31 says, “rather converse with righteous people, and converse in public places.” (NETS). So the Proverbs 23 passage is contrasting drunken speech and righteous speech.

And by quoting from this passage, Paul is connecting back to all this context. And he’s saying, yes, don’t get drunk and say crazy things like Proverbs talks about. Rather say righteous things to fellow believers and to God.

This is why he moves in v. 18 from talking about drunkenness to suddenly talking about “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks . . .” (v. 19-20).

Paul is developing what Proverbs 23:31 says about righteous speech. And he’s saying, when you’re drunk you talk one way. When you’re filled with the Spirit you talk a different way – there’s joyful singing and thanksgiving to God.

Now drunken speech is brought on by the alcohol, but righteous speech comes from the Holy Spirit. And this leads us to one last point:

The final and foundational contrast in these verses is between being filled with alcohol and being filled with the Spirit

The NIRV version of the Bible catches the sense of this verse well, “18Don’t fill yourself up with wine. Getting drunk will lead to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul’s saying, you can be filled with “spirits” or with the Spirit; with alcohol or with the presence of God.

It’s interesting that the Spirit is spoken of in Scripture in ways that are comparable to drinking.

  • The Spirit is poured out, according to Joel 2:28.
  • We can drink the Spirit, as 1 Corinthians 12:13 says.
  • And as our verse indicates we can be filled with the Spirit, just like we can be filled with alcohol. And remember when the disciples were filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, some thought they were drunk! (Act 2)

Now notice, from this passage as a whole, that what you’re filled with is what overflows into the rest of your life.

  • When we’re filled with alcohol we’re influenced by it to say wrong things and act foolishly. We behave recklessly and end up wasting our lives.
  • But when we’re filled with the Spirit of God we’re empowered by the Spirit to speak right things and to live wisely according to God’s will.

So let me end by asking –

What are you full of?

We can be full of lots of different things, not just alcohol. We can be full of the stuff farmers spread on their fields in the Springtime. We can be full of ourselves. We can be full of bitterness or anger or lust or envy – you name it.

But God calls us to be full of the Spirit so that the gifts, power and fruit of the Spirit overflow our lives transforming us and those around us into an ever greater Christ-likeness.

God calls us; God invites us to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

For the video version

A number of weeks ago I saw an article entitled, “The coronavirus pandemic is making earth vibrate less.” (CNN April 2013, by Harmeet Kaur). It talked about how since people were staying home and not using cars, trains and buses, that seismologists were noticing that the earth’s upper crust was actually moving less. I thought that it was very interesting that human activity can have this kind of effect on the earth, that we make it shake! But I also thought that in a way the earth is moving and shaking much more than I have ever seen it shake before. This is the kind of –

Shaking

– that Psalm 46:1-3 speaks of when it says – “1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

This kind of shaking has to do with events that happen that leave us stunned or even traumatized. When life changes in ways that we never imagined. When things happen that we thought never would.

And that’s exactly what has happened because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the stay at home order almost everything has come to a screeching halt.

  • Large cities seem deserted. Even around here, as I drove to work in mid-March through April (I work in an isolated office) there was hardly any traffic on the streets. It’s like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.
  • Businesses are closed.
  • Schools have closed during the school year.
  • Sporting events are shut down.
  • Churches have stopped meeting.

And life has changed. We have to social distance. We have to wear masks. When I drove down to Georgia in April to care for my father, I actually had to check to see if there were curfews or mandatory quarantines that would stop me from getting there.

Life has changed. Many have lost jobs. And for those who have jobs things are very different with many working from home. Many are lonely now, not being able to be with friends and family. Some are experiencing mental health issues that are heightened by the stresses of this situation. Something as simple as getting groceries is a far different experience than it was just a few months ago, as is also getting food from a restaurant.

The world economy has been devastated. And, of course, underlying all of this many have become sick or have lost their lives.

Such unprecedented change. And it came on us so quickly. It can leave us feeling dazed. It seems like the very earth under our feet has crumbled and our stability and equilibrium is gone. And the deep waters are raging all around us, as Psalm 46 pictures.

The question I’m asking is –

What is God’s purpose in all this?

Let’s turn to Hebrews 12:26-29. This is a passage that talks about God shaking things and so let’s see what we can learn about God’s purpose in shaking things.

 26At that time his (the Lord’s) voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

The writer begins with a reference to the giving of the Law in Exodus 19:18. This verse says, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.” So, when God gave the ten commandments, God shook the earth.

Next he refers to Haggai 2:6 with the phrase that begins, “yet once more . ..” This passage is taken to refer to the final judgment. And in this case God will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.

Hebrews 12:27 is the writer’s exposition of Haggai 2:6 –

27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

So, on the final day God will shake all of creation; all that God has made; heaven and earth.

And this shaking will be a kind of sorting process whereby anything that can be shaken – the old creation – will be removed. It will be no more. And only those things that cannot be shaken will remain – a reference to the new creation.

Scripture talks about this coming event in several places. For instance in Isaiah 65:17 the Lord says, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” And Isaiah 66:22 seems to be in the writer’s mind, because it says, “the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me.” The same key word and idea.

28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.

So yes, anything in this old creation, the world that we currently live in, can be shaken. But God and God’s kingdom (or new creation) cannot be shaken. God and his new creation will remain forever.

I wanted us to look at these verses because we learn here what God is up to when he allows us to be shaken. God uses shaking to show us what is ultimate and eternal – and what is not. To rephrase the last part of Hebrews 12:27, God uses shaking “in order that the things that cannot be shaken may” – it says “remain.” But since we’re not yet at the final judgment we can insert “be seen” or “revealed to us.”

When things are shaken we are enabled to see the difference between what is temporary and what is eternal. We are enabled to see the difference between what has to do with this earthly life and what has to do with God’s kingdom.

Now in the examples in Hebrews God is the one doing the shaking – in the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai and on the final day. With regard to the pandemic I cannot say that God is directly causing it. But I can say that God has allowed it, because its happening. God has allowed us to be shaken as individuals and as a people. And, as we know, whatever God allows God will use for God’s own purposes and even for our good, as Romans 8:28 teaches us.

So since this is so, let me end with what I see as –

The message for us

– in all of this. Because of the pandemic we are reminded in a big way that 1. Anything in this world can be shaken. Things do not always stay the same; there are no guarantees.

Whether it’s:

  • our daily routines of life
  • our jobs and career path
  • our health
  • our earthly relationships
  • our life goals and plans for the future

All the things that we take for granted and so often give us a sense of comfort and stability – all these can change so quickly and even disappear. So this shaking shows us that they are not ultimate or eternal. This is the sorting or revealing process I’ve been talking about. The pandemic makes this clear to us.

2. We shouldn’t be overly focused on or attached to these earthly things. All of the things I’ve mentioned – jobs, plans, earthly relationships, comfortable routines, health – they are all good things, even blessings of God.

But like with all created things we can turn them into idols that we put in place of God. We become overly devoted to them; excessively absorbed with them. We orient our lives around them. We live our lives for these things and not for God. We can get so caught up in these things that 20 years pass by without a thought. It’s like where did my life go?

What I’m saying is that we can love them more than God, or instead of God. And the shaking that’s going on can reveal this to us. It can be a wake up call. It can give us an opportunity to make some hard choices to rightly order our lives once again – or maybe for the first time.

So let’s not just rush ahead to try to get through the pain and suffering of this shaking. There is pain and suffering. But in the midst of the shaking:

  • Let God challenge you.
  • Let God sort through some things in your heart and life.
  • Let God reveal some things to you about where your true loves are. 

And then finally, 3. We should supremely be focused on and love what cannot be shaken. As Christians we know God. And in the words of Hebrews 12:28, “we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” We have this now! The world doesn’t have this. But we do. And this should be the foundation and center of our lives.

And that we have what is unshakeable in our lives should lead us to praise God. As Hebrews 12:28 also says, “thus (since this is so) let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

   Many are suffering right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. It may be due to the disruption of our normal life patterns and relationships, or economic distress and even the potential of financial ruin. We may be grieving for lost loved ones, or we ourselves may be sick and fearful of whether we will live or not. As I write the global death toll is approaching 100,000. 

   These experiences of suffering are, of course, not new. Such suffering goes on all around us. The global scope and near simultaneous experience of this situation, however, is unique.

   Whenever we endure suffering we need others to love and care for us; a network of good and strong relationships around us. We also need categories to think about our experiences; to help us process and sort through what’s going on. How are we to think about all this? And what’s a Christian way of understanding our suffering? The following are some reflections on this topic. And we start with –

Some basics

   Yes, the world is broken. It doesn’t function the way God originally intended and so there are things like sickness, plague and death. It’s broken because of human sin. Passages like Genesis 3 and Romans 5:12 highlight the connection between sin, suffering and death. And sin doesn’t just affect us as individuals. It impacts everything including social structures and, in our case, the creation itself.

   In Romans 8:20-22 Paul says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Not just people suffer, even the creation is groaning under the effects of sin and is eagerly waiting for God’s salvation.

   As Christians we have hope. And that’s because suffering is not a necessary part of God’s creation. When God’s kingdom comes to earth all things will be made new (Matthew 19:28). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13). This is when “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” (Revelation 21:4. Also Isaiah 25:6-8). We look forward to this in hope.

   But until that time, we live in the tension of the “already” and “not yet.” Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God has begun with his coming (Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:20-21). But it’s not all the way here yet. That won’t happen until he returns.

   So we exist in an in-between time. We live in the “already” of the kingdom where God has begun to make things right. This was evidenced in Jesus’ ministry of healing, nature miracles and exorcisms. And is still evidenced today when God answers prayer to heal and help those who suffer.

   But we also live in the “not yet” of the kingdom. As Paul says to Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:13, we still go through the same testing and trials that are “common to everyone” (NRSV). That’s because Jesus hasn’t returned. The resurrection and complete redemption of our bodies has not yet happened. And Satan is still alive and active. So we still experience the realities of sin, suffering and death. Although these realities have been decisively defeated through Jesus, we will not experience the fullness of this victory until the final day.

   In the meantime, we have –

Questions upon questions

   We turn to these now. 1. Should I assume I’m suffering because of my personal choices? You know, “Is God judging me for something I’ve done?” The answer is, “No, you should not assume this.” This is not to say that there can’t be a connection. God can specifically cause suffering in relation to our choices to sin. For instance in Acts 5:1-11 God immediately judged Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. (See also 1 Corinthians 11:29-32).

   But the idea that every time I suffer it’s because God is punishing me for something I’ve done is just not the way the world works in its brokenness. Scripture makes this clear. The wicked prosper (Psalm 73:3-5) and the righteous suffer. Job suffered, but not because of sin (Job 1:8). And Jesus suffered, but was sinless. This shows us that there is no one-to-one connection between a person’s sin and consequences in this world. So short of God making a connection clear to us, we should not assume that our suffering means God is specifically judging us.

2. Is it God’s will for the world to suffer through this pandemic? As I said, God does sometimes directly intervene to judge sin in this world. So is that what’s going on? Well, since it’s happening, we can say for sure that God has allowed it. God is the sovereign creator and overseer of all things. But that God allows something doesn’t mean that God specifically caused it. Not everything that happens in the world is an expression of God’s preferred will (Acts 7:51; Ezekiel 18:31-32; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 7:30).

   So like with question #1, short of God telling us this is God’s own work, perhaps through trusted messengers, we should not assume that God is causing this pandemic. We’re simply experiencing, yet again, the current brokenness of the creation.

3. Why did God make the world in such a way that we could mess things up so badly? If human sin causes such pain and suffering, why did God take such a risk? Simply put, God wants us to freely choose to love and serve him. God doesn’t want robots as servants. God wants people, made in God’s image, who will be his partners in his plans for the creation. And this can’t happen without allowing the possibility of our choosing to hate and rebel against him, which we have done. The possibility of love, even in human relationships, involves the risk of suffering.

4. Is all the suffering worth it? According to Scripture, it will be. That’s because our suffering is temporary, but our blessings will be much greater and eternal. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “. . . no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul, a man who knew about suffering, said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18. Also 2 Corinthians 4:17)

   This doesn’t take away the pain of our current suffering, but it does give us comfort and encouragement.

5. Can God bring good out of our suffering? Scripture talks about this quite a lot (James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:10-11). For instance, Joseph was sold into slavery and was also put in jail. But God used his suffering for good. As Joseph said to his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Also, Paul’s life was in danger due to persecution, but God used this experience to teach him to “rely not on himself but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

   Although it was not God’s will that we choose sin and thus suffer, God can nevertheless accomplish his plan by using our suffering for his own ends. As Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God can redeem and transform our pain and suffering to bring good into our lives and into the lives of others.

   This also doesn’t take away the pain of our suffering, but it encourages us to endure and to keep moving forward.

6. Can we show how God brings good out of every example of suffering (question #5) and that it will be worth it (question #4)? No, we cannot. We say this all by faith. We are simply not in a position to know how God orchestrates everything and why God allows things like pandemics.

   This, in part, is what the book of Job teaches us about suffering. It never tells us why Job suffered. It simply teaches us that God is in control and that what he does is beyond human understanding. As the Lord says to Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” We will not understand why and how God does all that God does, at least in this life. And so we have to trust God in all this. We have to trust that the God we know to be just and merciful is doing what is right and good.

7. Where is God when we suffer? God is with us in our suffering. It doesn’t always feel like this is so. It can seem like God is absent. As the psalmist says in Psalm 10:1, “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

   Yet we are taught that God is with us. As the Lord says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God is with us to watch over us, to encourage us, to comfort us and to strengthen us.

   And not only this, God has come to be with us through his Son. He sent him to this earth, whose name is Immanuel or “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God did not stand far off and aloof from us. Jesus suffered with us and for us in his life and in his death on the cross. God knows first-hand what we’re going through.

   God has not left us alone. He is with us as we experience the pain of suffering. And he suffers with us, until that day when all things will be made new.

   A final thought –

We can have joy even while we suffer

   Even though we will continue to suffer in various ways, Christians can experience victory in the midst of it. Paul says in Romans 8:35-37, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

   A part of this victory is the experience of joy even while we suffer. We can have joy because God is working in us. As James 1:2 says, “count it all joy.” God is working in us that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4. Also Romans 5:3-5). We can also have joy because, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” We can “rejoice and be glad, for (our) reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). There is a new world coming and we have a part in it.

   We can have joy because, even though we cannot always understand our suffering or explain it, by faith we know that God is working in our lives and we know that God’s promises are true.

William Higgins

April 9, 2020

Each of us, I think if we’re honest, have things we fear. I know for myself I really dread needles – things like getting shots, having blood drawn and IV’s. I understand it’s all in my head, but you know what? It’s still difficult for me.

I was looking at some lists of people’s greatest fears online and here are some of the most common: Fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of spiders and fear of snakes. Given what’s going on in the world right now, we can add to the list fear in relation to the coronavirus: health concerns for ourselves and those we love, stress over changes to our life patterns and certainly financial worries.

I’m talking about fear today, because fear’s the opposite of faith. I suppose if you’re thinking of faith as our set of beliefs then doubt can be seen as the opposite of faith. But with regard to the core of faith, which is trust in God, fear is indeed the opposite of faith.

Remember what Jesus said to the disciples after he calmed the sea? They thought they were about to die, but he said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” – Mark 4:40. You can see how he counters fear vs. faith. And instead of fear Jesus calls us to faith; to trust in God. And to that end let me share with you today seven reasons why you can always trust God no matter what your circumstances are or what your fears may be.

1. We can trust God because God knows our situation.

God is not far off, distant and unaware. God truly knows what’s going on in our lives. As the psalmist says in Psalm 139, “you know when I sit down and when I rise up . . . Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” – vs 2, 4

And Jesus tells us that “The hairs of our head are all numbered” – Matthew 10:30, which is pretty amazing! He also teaches us – “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” – Matthew 6:6.

God knows what’s going on in your life and he knows your concerns and fears.

2. We can trust God because God cares for us.

It’s not that he knows what’s going on but is neutral about our situation. God loves us deeply and wants what’s best for us.

Jesus tells us in Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”

We know this is God’s heart because he has shown us his heart of love for us on the cross. As Paul says if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32

God loves you deeply and will take care of you.

3. We can trust God because God is able to care for us.

God is all-powerful. God is almighty. As the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” – Jeremiah 32:27. And our Lord Jesus tells us that “All things are possible with God.” – Mark 10:27.

There’s no lack on God’s end. There’s no limitation. God is able to take care of you.

4. We can also trust God because God has a plan for us and for this world.

Yes, God allows us to choose and there is much evil in the world. And yes, the world is broken right now, waiting to be made new when Jesus returns (Romans 8:20-21; Matthew 19:28).

But things are not out of control. Even when things seem crazy God is overseeing and active to work to make sure that in the midst of the craziness his plan comes to pass.

As the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” – Isaiah 46:9-10

And this is what God says about his people, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

God has a plan for you and as you trust in him and walk in his ways God will bring it to pass.

Next, and this is where things get interesting –

5. We can trust God because even if God allows us to go through our greatest fear, God will go with us.

You might be thinking, “Wait a second, isn’t God supposed to deliver me from my greatest fears?” And the answer is “Not always.” Sometimes, but not always. But when God allows us to go through what we fear most what God will do is go through the trial with us.

God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . .. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:1-3

And as God goes with us God will help us in the midst of our trial and even work to bring good to us out of the experience. Paul says this in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

Even if God allows us to die in our trial “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) – for our death is transformed by God into the means of our entrance into God’s presence, and eventually our resurrection to life eternal.

6. We can also trust God because faithfulness is a defining characteristic of who God is.

God describes himself in Exodus 34:6 in this way, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .”

This is who God is. And God doesn’t change! Which is why Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

 What I’m saying is that God is trustworthy. You can trust him in all circumstances and situations.

And then finally –

7. We can trust God because God has a track record of being trustworthy.

 We see this in the Scriptures.

  • God kept his promise to Abraham for a son
  • God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt
  • God gave them the land of Canaan
  • God brought them back to the land after 70 years of exile
  • And God sent his promised Messiah, our Lord Jesus.

We also know about God’s history of faithfulness from hearing the testimony of others today and how God has worked in their lives. And if we have walked with the Lord for any amount of time we know this from stories from our own lives.

This is why Psalm 9:10 says, “those who know your name (or you could say, your reputation) put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”

God has a track record that demonstrates that God is worthy of your trust.

—————————-

So for these seven reasons, we can say with the writer of Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Even when everything is falling apart around us God helps us, so we don’t need to be afraid.

We can also make the words of Psalm 56:3-4 our words, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.”

 

We’re finishing up our series on the Lord’s prayer this morning. As we saw when the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:2). And we have also now sought to learn how to pray by learning the Lord’s prayer.

Let me begin today by asking, “How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer?” Or, “How often do you think Jesus intended us to pray it?” Ever thought about this? One way to answer this is to ask: How often do you need forgiveness? Or, how often do you want to be spared difficult times of testing? Or even more specifically,  how often do you need daily bread? Hint – “daily.” The answer for all these questions is every day. Now we could leave it here and have an early morning of it.

But I want to set this question against the background out of which the Lord’s prayer comes, which is the practice of –

Daily prayers

This was an ancient Jewish pattern of devotion to God. Daily prayers are set times of prayer in the morning and evening. Here are some examples of this in Scripture –

  • Psalm 22:2 – “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
  • Psalm 88:1-2 – “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!”

These times of prayer coincided with the routine of the Temple sacrifices. The Temple was, after all, the house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17), and prayers were offered up with the sacrifices. And, indeed, the prayers themselves were also seen as sacrifices to God or as a part of the sacrifice. Here are some examples:

  • Morning sacrifice: Psalm 5:3 – “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”
  • Evening sacrifice: Psalm 141:2 – “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”

So prayers are being offered at the times of sacrifice in the morning and evening. It may well be true that the temple routine is the root of this practice of set times of prayer in the morning and evening.

There is also a threefold pattern in Scripture with an afternoon time of prayer added on. Here are a couple of examples –

  • Psalm 55:16-17 – “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.”
  • Daniel 6:10 – “Daniel . . . got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.”

This afternoon time of prayer, when it was observed, was usually shorter. (See also Psalm 119:164)

The actual times of prayer are as follows:

  • Morning prayers – 9:00 AM (the 3rd hour)
  • Noon prayers – 12:00 PM (the 6th hour)
  • Evening prayers – 3:00 PM (the 9th hour)

There was some flexibility here as to morning and evening prayers. It was more casual, perhaps, outside of Jerusalem and the Temple routine. It was more like early morning and sunset, perhaps related to the work schedules of the common person (see Jesus’ practice below).

Now let’s look at –

Jesus and daily prayers

We see this pattern of daily prayers in Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Luke 18:1 says, “And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In Luke 18:7 this means praying “day and night” – a reference to daily prayers.

We also see daily prayers in Jesus’ example of praying, for instance –

  • He practiced early morning prayers, as we see in Mark 1:35 – “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
  • He also practiced later evening prayers, as we see in Matthew 14:23 – “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” (It was already evening before the feeding of the 5,000 began – 14:15, so this is even later in the evening.)

Let me also share this, because it’s interesting, and it ties in with Jesus’ example. These times of prayer are connected to the cross:

  • During morning prayers (3rd hour) – Jesus was crucified
  • During afternoon prayers (6th hour) – there was darkness
  • During evening prayers (9th hour) – Jesus died

But not only this, in Luke there is a prayer connected to each one:

  • At the time of morning prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” – Luke 23:34
  • At the time of evening prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – Luke 23:46

So Jesus observes daily prayers, in shortened form, on the cross.

 And then at the time of afternoon prayers – the thief prays to Jesus – Luke 23:42. He prayed, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Now, let’s look at –

The apostle Peter and daily prayers

Just going through the book of Act in order, three examples:

  • Morning prayers in Acts 2:15 – Peter and the rest were in the upper room in morning prayers when the Spirit fell at Pentecost.
  • Evening prayers in Acts 3:1 – Peter and John were on their way to evening prayers in the Temple when they healed the paralyzed man.
  • Afternoon prayers in Acts 10:9 – Peter was observing afternoon prayers when he received the vision of the acceptance of the Gentiles.

Peter and the early Christians in the book of Acts observed daily prayers.

And then we have –

The apostle Paul and daily prayers

Paul practiced daily prayers. For example:

  • In 1 Thessalonians 3:10 he said, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you.”
  • In 2 Timothy 1:3 he said, “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day

Also, with regard to teaching Paul’s calls to constant prayer should be seen against the background of daily prayers.

  • Colossians 4:2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”
  • Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer” that is, be constant in your prayers every day.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing” which is to say, don’t cease to say your daily prayers. I don’t think that this is a call to a figurative kind of prayer – ‘to be in a spirit of prayer.’ It’s a call to real prayer at set times during the day.

Bringing this home, let’s look at –

The Lord’s prayer as a daily prayer

Daily prayers are the context of the giving of the Lord’s prayer. In Luke 11:2 Jesus said “when you pray . . .” pray the Lord’s prayer. In this Jewish context this could only be taken as a reference to daily prayers. The background here is that John the Baptist had taught his disciples a set prayer for their daily prayers and now Jesus is saying when you say your daily prayers, say this prayer. That is, during your set times of prayer offer up these five petitions of the prayer of Jesus.

This was understood in the early church, even among Gentiles. In The Didache, a book written for Gentile Christians instructing them how to be Christians, parts of which may be from the late first century, teaches us to pray the Lord’s prayer three times each day (chapter 8).

Disciplined praying

 So we’ve answered our question. How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer? Once, twice, or maybe even three times a day.

We’re not talking about some dead routine or lifeless ritual here. We’re talking about discipline in our prayers. And it’s certainly possible to be both disciplined with set times for prayer and Spirit led, as Jesus and the apostles model for us. After all, who knew more about the Spirit than they? And they observed the discipline of daily prayers.

Now, of course, this doesn’t exclude spontaneous prayer at any time during the day and night, but our focus today is planned times of disciplined prayer.

If you already have a good pattern, I want to encourage you in it and to work in the Lord’s prayer in a way that’s meaningful to you. If you don’t have a disciplined pattern of prayer, I encourage you to try daily prayers with the Lord’s prayer as a focus, remembering that it only takes a minute or two to pray it.

However you want to do it, let’s remember Paul words in Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer.” And that’s the message for today. Be disciplined in your daily devotion to God and utilize the prayer that Jesus gave us for this purpose.

We’re finishing up the second set of requests of the Lord’s prayer today, which have to do with our needs and concerns.

As we’ve seen we need the food, clothing and shelter necessary to sustain us day by day. We also need regular forgiveness and grace to maintain our relationship with God – and as a part of this we also need to give forgiveness and grace to others.

And then today we have before us what I’m calling the testing request; the final petition of the Lord’s prayer. It comes to us in two forms:

  • “And do not lead us into testing” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” – Matthew 6:13

Now, these are the same, except for the additional phrase that Matthew has, which is really just saying the same thing in the opposite way (antithetical parallelism). As we’ll see, to not lead us into testing is to deliver us from the evil one, who tests us.

Let’s begin with –

Three clarifications about this request

And first, we deal with a matter of translation. You are no doubt used to hearing this request with the word “temptation” in it, that is, “lead us not into temptation.” So, should it be “temptation” or “testing”?

Well, the Greek word here (πειρασμός) can mean temptation. But more broadly it means a test or trial. The reason I prefer the translation “testing” is that it refers to the whole process of faith testing.

You know how it works – we find ourselves in a difficult situation and then we have to make choices about whether we will be faithful to God or not. And this request doesn’t just refer to the moments of temptation, but to the whole situation of difficulty; the trial we’re going through.

A second clarification, God does allow us to be tested. We wouldn’t need to pray this, if God didn’t. So God may or may not lead us into times of trial, and we ask that he not do this. Here are just a few examples of God’s testing:

  • God tested Abraham. Genesis 22:1 says, “after these things God tested Abraham,” referring to when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.
  • God tested Israel in the wilderness – Deuteronomy 8:2, specifically with regard to being hungry and relying on God for daily food.
  • And God tested Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry – Matthew 4:1-11.

As Proverbs 17:3 says more generally, “the Lord tests hearts.”

Why does God test us? God wants to know what’s in our heart; whether we will be faithful or not. This is what Deuteronomy 8:2 tells us.

Also Hebrews 12:10 tells us that God tests us – “for our good.” It’s not that we’ve done something wrong, although God can discipline us in this way. It’s that God wants to train us and help us grow in our faith and in our relationship with him.

And as he tests us, God is on our side. He wants us to succeed. And God is with us and helps us by his Spirit when we go through difficulties.

Third, in Matthew’s extra phrase, “deliver us from the evil one” should it be “evil one” referring to Satan or simply “evil/harm”?

 It’s true that tests always involve some kind of difficulty or suffering – so there’ harm to us. Faith testing does involve going through a hard time. The reason I prefer the translation “evil one” is because it’s broader. It includes both ideas. In a test we suffer hardship and the evil one is the instrument of the hardship.

For although God allows us to be tested, it’s actually Satan who tests us. He is called the “tester” – in Mark 1:13. It’s one of his names. And how was Jesus tested in the wilderness? “Jesus was . . . tested by the devil” – Matthew 4:1.

Satan asks to test us and God either allows it or doesn’t.

  • This comes out clearly in Job 1-2 – Satan asked permission to test Job.
  • And In Luke 22:31 Jesus says that “Satan demanded” to test the apostles when Jesus was arrested.

Why does Satan test us? He wants us to fail. He wants us to sin so that he can condemn and judge us (Hebrew 2:14). Peter tells us that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8

So faith testing is a high stakes situation. God wants us to succeed and grow, but Satan is ever lurking to destroy us.

What this request means

It’s a bit strange, really. Even though we’re promised in Scripture that we will be tested (1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22), and even though God uses testing for our own good, what Jesus is teaching us to pray for here is “spare us  testing!” Spare us trials, spare us suffering, spare us pain. “Father, have mercy!” “Deliver us from the evil one who wants to test us.”

When we understand how this works, we understand that to be delivered from Satan is to be delivered from testing.

So this is what’s going on: Satan comes before God to seek permission to test us. And we pray that God not allow it. “Don’t listen to Satan!” We’re countering his petition to test us.

Why pray this?

1. Because hardships are painful and distressing. And if you’re anything like me you should be highly motivated to pray this request. For, I firmly believe, when we pray this God does hear us and spares us testing that we would have otherwise undergone, if we didn’t pray it. So, unless you just like trials, you should have every incentive to be faithful in praying this request!

2. Because we’re weak and might fail God. This prayer is based in a sober awareness of our weakness and vulnerability to fall. In the context of encouraging his disciples to pray this prayer request just before his arrest, Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38.

Yes, God gives us his Spirit to help us, as Jesus also said to them, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 14:38. But our request comes from humility. So we call out, “Have mercy on us in our weakness.” “God, we might fail the test and bring condemnation on ourselves and dishonor to your name. Spare us!”

Now, God will not always grant this request. He told Jesus no in the garden of Gethsemane and he will tell us no at times also. But even in this situation, we know that we have at least reminded God of our weakness and we can know that God will have mercy on us in the test. He will not allow us to experience the full assault of the evil one that would surely overwhelm and destroy us (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Some final thoughts

1. You can also pray this when you’re in a test, that it might end. So the sense is, “Do not lead us into further testing.” The request is not just preventative. “This test is very hard, God, please let it stop. I’m barely hanging on.” I have prayed this many times. (See Philippians 1:19)

2. The Lord’s prayer is “circular.” We pray to be spared testing – the last request, but also we go back to the first two petitions – Your name be hallowed, Your will be done. The end loops back around to the beginning. “God, if this test honors your name and is your will – may it be so.”

What I’m saying is that sometimes the first two petitions trump the last one, and we’re tested nevertheless.

  • When facing the cross Jesus prayed “remove this cup from me” in Mark 14:36, which is another way of praying “lead me not into testing.” But he also prayed the first petition, “your name be glorified” in John 12:28 looking ahead to the cross.
  • Jesus prayed to be spared in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he also prayed right after this, “yet, not what I want, but what you want” in Mark 14:36, which is another form of the second petition, your will be done.

We ask to be spared, but we submit this request to the first two requests – “your name be honored, your will be done.”

3. This is a corporate request. We pray “don’t lead us into testing,”  not just “me.” As we pray this we’re also praying for fellow believers in our congregation and throughout the world, many of whom are suffering greatly in times of testing – through poor economic conditions and political and religious persecution.

4. We should pray this diligently. We need to understand that we’re in a spiritual battle. Through baptism you declare yourself for the kingdom of God in a war between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of darkness. And so you become a target of Satan’s wrath.

Satan appears before God’s throne to seek to test us; to destroy us. And it’s God’s plan that we come as well and make our counter petition, “spare us.” Satan is not lazy, but persistently seeks our demise. But how often are we more like the disciples in Gethsemane, who don’t know what’s going on, who are not alert in prayer, and we fail.

We need to be diligent in our prayers and in praying this request.

We’re continuing on in our study of the Lord’s prayer, remembering that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray in Luke 11:2 – the Lord’s prayer is what he taught them. And so as we learn to pray the Lord’s prayer we’re learning how to pray.

Last time we started into the second section of requests that have to do with our needs and concerns. And we saw how to pray for daily bread is to pray for what we need of food, clothing and shelter to sustain us day by day.

Today we have before us the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer. And it comes to us in two slightly different forms:

  • “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12

[Notice that Luke has “sins” for “debts” in the first phrase. Also Luke has “for” instead of “as” in the second phrase, although the meaning is basically the same. Finally, whereas Matthew has “we have forgiven” past tense (aorist), Luke has “we ourselves forgive” or “are forgiving” which is present tense. A different emphasis.]

Alright, let’s dig in and see what we can learn from this –

First, this request is all about relationships

It deals with our relationship with God and also our relationships with all other people. And the focus is on maintaining right relationships. So, really, every time we pray this prayer we’re checking in to make sure that we’re right in our hearts and lives with God and others.

  • Each time we can pause and examine our relationship with God. What needs to be taken care of? Is God close? Is there some barrier that I’ve erected?
  • And each time we can pause and examine our relationships with others. Specifically, am I holding a grudge? Is there bitterness? Do I have wrong feelings and attitudes toward someone else?

We need to maintain our relationships with God and others.

I’ve already told you that of all the things Jesus could have chosen as the most important things we can pray for; our most important needs – he chose this as one. So this is a real priority. First keeping up with our relationship with God and then with others. And as we’ll see in a minute the two are interconnected.

This request assumes we will not be perfect

We will fail at times in our commitment to God and in our relationships with each other.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an excuse to sin, you know, “we’re going to fail anyway, so why try?”God has given us everything that we need for a life of godliness – 2 Peter 1:3. There’s no lack from God’s end in terms of his power and grace given to us.

But, the fact that this request is in the prayer shows us that we do still fail, we still struggle, we make mistakes, we choose to do what is wrong, we often take the easy way – that is not God’s will for us. Like daily bread, we need regular grace and forgiveness in our lives. Again, we see that this prayer is supremely practical and connected to our real life experiences.

It teaches us something about the meaning of sin and forgiveness

In both versions, the word “debt” is used to talk about sin. (Luke also uses the word sin and Matthew in 6:14-15 uses the word trespasses to make sure we get that debt here means sin). Jesus is using a financial metaphor for sin and forgiveness. This was not uncommon in that day (also Matthew 18:23-35).

It goes like this – because God created us, we owe God everything. We have obligations to God. Specifically we owe God honor and obedience as his servants. When we don’t give God what we should, we incur a debt to God, which is what sin is.

This same idea is true in our relationships with each other. We owe each other to treat each other well. And when we don’t give this to someone we incur a debt to that person; we have sinned against them.

Forgiveness, then, is the release of this debt by God or another person. And indeed the word “forgiveness” in Scripture means “to release” someone from an obligation – whether legal, financial or moral. Have you ever had a financial debt you couldn’t pay? One with disastrous consequences? Can you imagine having it forgiven? Well that’s what sin and forgiveness is like. That’s the picture this request uses.

Next, even though it may appear that all we’re doing here is asking for forgiveness from God, biblically . . .

Asking for forgiveness assumes confession and repentance

In other words, asking for forgiveness is part of a series of actions that lead to finding true forgiveness from God – all of which are necessary to be forgiven.

The assumption here is that if you’re asking to be forgiven you are acknowledging that what you did was truly wrong, which is confession. And you are committing to not do it again, which is repentance.

But yet we do sometimes simply want the benefits of forgiveness – peace and relationship, without the hard work of confession and repentance. But this doesn’t work!

  • 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the connection between forgiveness and confession.
  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people who are called by my name (talking about the the people of God here or the church today) humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Notice the connection here between forgiveness and repentance – turning from our wicked ways as God’s people.

To ask for forgiveness without confession and repentance is presumption upon God’s grace, and we should not expect such a request to be received by God.

We’re not just asking for ourselves, but for all the people of God

This is a corporate prayer, “forgive us,” not just “forgive me.” This may seem a bit strange to us, but it was common in biblical times to think and act this way. They had a stronger sense of community and communal identity.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Daniel says in Daniel 9:20 – “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel . . .” He confesses his and his people’s sins.
  • Nehemiah prays in Nehemiah 9:33 – “we have acted wickedly” – talking in context about things that other Israelites have done, not what he has personally done.

So when we pray this request, we pray for forgiveness for ourselves, but also for God to forgive all of his people who turn to him in repentance. We’re asking, “God have mercy on your people. Forgive, heal and restore.”

Here I would just mention, that yes, Jesus could pray this prayer request. Some say that we shouldn’t call the Lord’s prayer the Lord’s prayer because Jesus couldn’t pray this petition since he was sinless. But he could pray this petition for us.

Finally, if we don’t forgive others, God will not continue to forgive us

Jesus makes crystal clear that our relationship with God is interconnected with our relationship with others. That’s why this request for forgiveness from God has the additional phrases:

  • as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12
  •  “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4

 The “as” and the “for” point this out. God will forgive us, but we must also forgive others who sin against us. There’s a connection. And every time we pray this we’re reminded of it.

In Matthew, this point is emphasized with an additional comment at the end. Jesus says this in 6:14-15 – “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Let’s note here that we’re not earning our forgiveness by forgiving others. Jesus doesn’t mean that if we forgive someone first, then God has to forgive us. We do something and then God is obliged to respond.

No. To pray this prayer is to have already first received God’s grace. That’s why we can say, “father.” We’re God’s child by grace. God’s grace always comes first. We don’t earn it. (Also in Matthew 18:23-35.)

But this petition does teach us that those who receive mercy from God, have to pass it on to others. And if we cut off mercy to others, it will be cut off from us by God.

This is a common theme in the teaching of Jesus:

  • Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” To judge or condemn is to withhold forgiveness from others. If we do this we will be judged and condemned by God (see also Matthew 18:35). But if we forgive others, God will forgive us.

 

 

We’re back to the Lord’s prayer today talking about what it means to ask God for daily bread.

As we do this we’re moving into the second section of requests in the prayer. Remember, section one focuses on God’s agenda – the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom. Section two focuses on our needs. And the petition for daily bread begins this second section of requests.

We start with the question –

What are we really asking for here?

“Bread” literally means “a baked product produced from a cereal grain” (BDAG). In Jesus’ day it could be made from wheat, like today, or for the poor from barley. The word is also commonly used as a way of talking about food in general, not just bread. Still broader it can be used to talk about our basic needs or material provisions for our lives. So not just food but also things like shelter and clothing.

This idea still persists and shows up here and there. In our culture, in the 60’s – “bread” was a way of talking about money – which we use to provide for our needs. Sometimes still today we talk about getting some “dough.” In this broader sense “bread” can also mean a livelihood or a job. So to have bread is to have your basic needs met.

The word “daily” seems simple enough. But it’s actually the first place that this word shows up in all the ancient world in all the surviving documents. And it’s not clear what it means. So there’s lots of disagreement in discussions of what this word means. But we won’t get into all that. I would just say that “daily” works, but it’s not so much a reference to time, but to amount.

Here are some texts that help us get the sense of what this is about. Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” The author doesn’t want too much or too little, but what’s needful; an amount.

Exodus 16:4 talks about gathering the manna in the wilderness. It is surely connected to our petition. It says, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day . . ..” Again, an amount is in view. Enough bread for the day.

So when we put these two words together – “daily” and “bread” – what we’re doing is praying for what we need to sustain us day by day.

Just a note here on –

The difference between Matthew and Luke

They give the request in slightly different forms:

  • Matthew 6:11 – “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • Luke 11:3 – “Give us each day our daily bread”

Luke’s present tense verb “give” and the phrase “each day” emphasizes the progressive day by day provision. Matthew’s request is more general.

Let’s look at some –

Lessons we learn from this request

1. Bread is very important. Notice that this very mundane request for material provisions comes first – before forgiveness, and for help in difficult times of faith testing. I’m not saying it’s more important, but it’s important.

We sometimes marginalize it, maybe because we have so much abundance around us. Or, we say let’s focus on the spiritual because it has priority. But the material is necessary too. And it’s hard to be focused on other things when you’re hungry.

So the very practical nature of this prayer comes out here. It’s very much connected to the reality of life around us.

2. We are to trust God for our provision. This is why we ask for it in prayer.

As Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:32-33 – we are not to be like the Gentiles who devote their whole lives to the pursuit of material provisions and trust in their own powers for this. We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and righteousness and then trust God to provide for our needs.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-26 – “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” God will provide for us if we seek him and trust him.

For many to whom Jesus taught this  they literally did depend on God for food each day. They had no reserve. They lived hand to mouth. If they worked a given day they would eat, if not they didn’t. And they had no job security. Maybe they’ll have work tomorrow. Maybe not. And this is still true today in places.

But even we who have a lot – several weeks or more of food stored up – we need to remember that what we have can perish. It really could all disappear tomorrow. The future is not in our control. We feel that nothing can touch us, but it could. Nations rise and fall and people’s lives can turn from calm to turmoil in a second.

And so we must never trust in our resources, but in God. And so we continue to pray daily for our needs.

3. We pray for bread for ourselves and for others. As we saw before, this is a corporate prayer – “give us.” It’s both petition and intercession at the same time. We pray for our material provisions and at the same time we pray for the needs of God’s people throughout the world. It’s not just about us or selfishness. And, of course, we can pray for others who have need of bread as well.

4. We are to pray for “daily” bread. This teaches us to learn contentment. Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray for more than we need. Jesus doesn’t say pray for abundance, indulgence, extravagance. So, you see this speaks against various prosperity preachers who say that God wants you to have luxury and to seek God for this. We pray for the bread we need day by day.

In our culture of more is better, and where every few seconds we are bombarded by messages that say we need more and better stuff – we need to learn once again what contentment is.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” God is our portion, not wealth and we can be content that God is with us.

1 Timothy 6:7-8 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Who among us can say this?? Content with food and clothing? Now, granted, Paul was single and a missionary, and we live in a colder climate – but this is amazing.

So this is a challenge to our abundance and our ingrained expectation of continued abundance. I hope we can receive this and truly learn to pray for our “daily” needs.

5. If we receive more than we need, we ought to share with those who have less than they need.  We live in the most affluent society that has ever existed on earth – not everyone here is rich, of course, but by the standards of history – most are. And yet all around us in the world there are those who don’t have their basic needs met.

  • More than 805 million people in the world go hungry
  • About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger related causes
  • One person dies every three and a half seconds – mostly children. How many is that just since we started our worship service?

And there are Christian families among these who cannot feed themselves.

Is God not giving enough daily bread? Well, there’s more than enough food in the world. It’s just that God distributes it in such a way that some get more and some get less  – and God expects us to share.

Paul makes this point in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 where he references the giving of the manna and gathering just what you need. He says to the Corinthians, “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” Because of this sharing all had their needs met.

So the question comes back to us: Will we who have more from God than we need, give to those who have less than they need? We need to learn contentment so that our excess can become their provision from God of daily bread.