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“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:12-15
Forgiveness should be a top priority in our prayer life. When we first come to Christ, we do so with a penitent heart in order to be set free from the life of sin that has consumed us.
But as we continue to grow in Christ we should also be asking forgiveness in prayer because none of us is perfect. Even saved we regularly commit sins. Hopefully these are either unwitting or at least not premeditated. Many will be left over habits that we will need the Holy Spirit to help us conquer. But our desire should to be overcome the sinful nature, to become less and less like sin and more and more like Christ with each passing day.
God never tempts us to commit these sins, they are the result of our own evil desires at work within us [James 1:13-15].
Now, many people today refuse to think of themselves as evil. Understandably. In the scheme of history, we have seen overwhelming evil in the world and we’re not anywhere near that bad.
But remember, evil in scripture is anything contrary to the perfect and holy goodness of God.
Our desire to be our own god, to choose right and wrong for ourselves–patterned after Satan’s lie in the Garden–is itself evil [Genesis 3:5]. And we ask God in His wisdom, never to lead us into paths where the desire to live contrary to His will can take root. Moreover, we ask Him to completely deliver us from Satan–the progenitor of evil. To deliver, literally means to liberate or to set free from. We pray so that God can completely set us free from the enemy whose only desire is to steal, kill and destroy us [John 10:10].
It’s interesting that Jesus notes temptation and evil in conjunction with forgiving others. When we refuse to forgive others, we are giving in to the temptation of our own evil–contrary to God–desires. We are living as though we were captives of the evil one rather than liberated by Christ.
When we refuse to forgive others, we are setting ourselves up as finite gods, taking matters into our own hands. And we have the free will to choose to do it too. But the result is not good. When we withhold forgiveness, we deny God’s image in us, we deny God’s sovereignty and trample the mercy He so freely gave us [Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13].
If we can’t forgive, then we can’t be forgiven [Mark 11:25-26].
Do you have something against someone else? Does someone have something against you? Both are your responsibility to resolve. In the case of the other person’s bad feelings, as far as it depends on you restore the peace [Romans 12:18]. Forgive them and love them and wait for the time their heart is ready to reconcile.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11
Again, Jesus reaches back into the Old Testament and produces a heavenly gem for His hearers to reconsider. They would’ve know the Proverbs, studied the wisdom sayings to apply in their everyday life as was their practical purpose. But did they really think about the heart-level meaning of them?
Maybe some did, but Jesus knew what these listening hearts needed. He spoke to the gap in their understanding.
And He quoted from a man named Agur, who was, like Job, a wise man though probably not an Israelite. The full context of the phrase, Give us today our daily bread, is worthy of consideration. Agur prayed:
“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9
When Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, it is so that we will learn to depend on God once again. In the Garden of Eden, God provided for everything that Adam and Eve needed [1:29]. When sin–the decision to be their own gods–entered the world, they had to begin to provide for themselves, and the ground didn’t cooperate because humans do not have the power of God to control the earth as He does [Genesis 3:17-19].
But He didn’t leave them without sustenance [Genesis 8:22]. God desired to reconcile them to Himself and to be their provider–if only they would trust in Him. And He desires the same for us.
Ironically, so fallen is the sinful nature that even God’s provision can become a stumbling block to the life of faith. As Agur notes, when times are tough we might turn to God or we might turn to self-as-god and steal our needs for ourselves. Yet, when times are plentiful and God provides in abundance, again we get cocky and pat ourselves on the back–Look how good I’ve done for myself. God warned the Israelites that they would face the self-same temptation when they entered the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 6:10-12] and assumed the homes, vineyards and riches of the people they drove out.
Both extremes, poverty and riches, turn our hearts from God. Instead, Agur prayed that God would keep him on the straight and narrow path that leads to life [Matthew 7:13-14]. And Jesus said that we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4].
In the scheme of temptations, Satan doesn’t care which extreme he lures you to accept. So long as he keeps you off the path that leads to life. His only desire is to steal from you, kill you and destroy your eternal life [John 10:10].
Are your prayers filled with requests for abundance or provision of wants rather than basic needs? Ask the Holy Spirit to tune your heart to God’s. Trust Him to provide exactly what you need at exactly the time you need it. In all things, seek the advancement of His kingdom first, then trust God to provide the rest [Matthew 6:33].
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
Prayer is an intimate relationship building time with God. It is talking to Him daily just as we would with our closest friends and family.
But many Jews in Jesus’ earthly day had turned this very important practice into a self-righteousness show-off contest. It was for reputation building alone and missed the whole point of spending time with God. Maybe it gave them political advantage, or extra points with their boss, or maybe even the bride of their choice, but it was a spiritually bankrupt pursuit.
Just like with giving to the needy for social gain, so taking the time to pray for others to notice is a waste of time. This is not a sincere petition of faith brought before a loving God, it might as well be a fashion show or a popularity poll passed among peers.
Most people today wouldn’t dream of praying out loud on a street corner for everyone to see, not in our political climate. It can be hard enough bowing our head to mutter a silent prayer in the school cafeteria or the workplace break room before lunch. And this is what many unbelievers consider hypocrisy today. Saying if we really believe, then we should be bold enough to publicly live out our prayer life and our prayers should be effective.
But what about at church?
At church, people expect to see the fruit of Godliness in our lives. They expect to see us praying fervently and praising and worshiping with eyes closed or hands lifted. Corporate prayer, praise and worship can be a spiritual, mental and emotional struggle because the temptation to do outwardly what everyone else expects from us can make our church time with God just as meaningless as the pious Jews of Jesus’ time on earth.
Normally, we should spend one-on-one time with God. This isn’t an easy habit to develop, but it is vital to Christian life. And when we are at church, the ability to close out everyone around us and just be with God will flow from the personal time we’ve spent with Him when we’re alone. Sincere prayer comes from the heart in love with God and the wisdom gleaned from His Word and His Holy Spirit in our lives.
Do you spend time alone with God daily? Do you feel pressured to participate at church to maintain others’ perception of you? Or do you have a well-developed relationship with your heavenly Father? Wherever you are along this path, keep pressing on and daily pressing in to know Him more.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.
In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.
Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.
So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.
Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.
God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].
You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.
Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.
We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?
“Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Remember that the seeds of self-superiority, bitterness and anger can grow into full-blown murder if not repented of and removed from the heart.
But also, when we don’t forgive others the sins or wrongs they have committed against us, God doesn’t forgive our sins [Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:16].
More important than fulfilling religious rituals–like giving offerings, taking communion or even regular church attendance–is that we love God and love our fellow human beings.
So when it doesn’t seem like our prayers are being answered, when we feel far from God, when our worship seems to bounce back at us from brass heavens, when the Holy Spirit convicts us and we remember that we’ve done something to upset someone else, then we need to go make things right with that person before trying to get ourselves right with God again.
Here we see that it is not just the responsibility of the offended to freely give forgiveness, but it is up to us to know when we’ve done something to offend someone. To be self-aware of our words and deeds and how they effect others’. God’s grace isn’t a license to walk around willfully or even inadvertently offending others.
We are responsible for making sure that we live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us [Romans 12:18]. And we are also responsible not to put stumbling blocks–like thought seeds that can lead to murder–in other people’s lives [Romans 14:13].
When we do our part, no matter how others respond, then God’s blessings will flow freely, unhindered, in our lives. Because God’s kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit [Romans 14:16].
Have you offended someone? Can you think of anyone who holds something against you? Have you done everything you can to bring peace and forgiveness to the matter? Have you yourself forgiven the offended person?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Our good deeds can never save us–works without faith leads to death. But our good deeds might save others.
God is good. And we were made in His image to do good [Ephesians 2:10].
And God is light [1 John 1:5]. He sent His fully God Son, Jesus, as a fully human life to be a light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [John 1:4]. But the sin-darkened world did not understand the light of Christ [John 1:5].
Yet we are made in God’s image to be light. To do good–according to God’s standard of goodness–so that others may see and come to recognize the truth of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The good we do, we do not do of our own spiritual ability. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us [Philippians 2:13]. Without such deeds, our faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see–is dead [James 2:17]. It is not a living tree that can produce the fruit of the spirit and bring glory to God in heaven [Matthew 3:19, 7:19 & 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; John 15:1-4].
When we first come to know Jesus as our savior, His Word is like a fire shut up in our bones [Jeremiah 20:9]. It burns within us, a light yearning to spill into everyone around us, so that they too may know the truth and be set free from sin.
But if we are embarrassed or ashamed of the light within us, if we keep the truth of God to ourselves, it’s like sticking a lamp under a bowl. No one will see the light, and eventually, the lamp burns up all the oxygen under the bowl and snuffs itself out.
So living as a Christian who never does what God’s Word commands is like living dead in the shadows. We walk around like spiritual zombies, suppressing the life of the spirit within us so that we can blend in with the truly spiritual dead all around us.
Do you live as light? Does God’s goodness shine through all you say and do? Or are you holding back the truth in an effort to fit in with the lost and dying?
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3
Jesus was not looking for the notoriety of the crowds. On the contrary, he knew that small group instruction was more effective. So before he speaks here, he goes up on a mountain–which create a natural amplification for his voice–and teaches his personal disciples. His attention was focused on them, though his words were not kept from the nearby crowds.
It is important to note here that the gospel writers didn’t use quotation marks in their original texts. Nor does any claim that they are quoting Jesus verbatim–or word for word. Rather, they are like a student recalling a class lecture that has preserved all of the integrity of the message substance.
Jesus opens the well known Sermon on the Mount with a series of nine somewhat contradictory admonitions known as the Beatitudes. Beatitude simply means extremely blessed or joyful. And clearly, just as today, many were longing for blessings and joyfulness in their lives.
So how do we live a life of blessing according to the Son of God?
We start with recognizing the poverty of our spirit. We are all sinners [Romans 3:23]. Therefore, we all need–not just any savior but–Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to redeem us from our sins.
The devout Jewish leaders had become so filled with their own self-righteousness that they were blind to the truth of their eternal station. Later, Jesus called them whitewashed tombs–all spiffed up on the outside but dead souls on the inside [Matthew 23:27]. They kept the Law of Moses to the letter but they missed the point. They didn’t recognize the transcendence of the Almighty God or the fact that none of their deeds–no matter how earthly law abiding–attained to the glory of God.
But for those who weren’t so spiritually self-absorbed, they would find it much easier to come to the truth of their sin and repent. These so-called poor in spirit will find the gates of heaven open wide because they have accepted the riches of God’s grace on their behalf instead of trying to do the impossible work–to earn their own way in.
Do you desire a life of blessings and genuine joy? Live in contradiction with the world’s wisdom. Let the Holy Spirit examine your spirit and show you where you are wanting–because only God is perfect. Recognize the poverty of your own spirit man. And be made eternally rich.