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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.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
Ten commandment number two in the Sermon on the Mount: Do not commit adultery [Exodus 20:14]. Again Jesus cautions against the seed sin–lust.
Adultery is what we would call an affair in our culture. When someone who is married is intimately involved with someone other than their own spouse. And the Bible forbids it.
But Jesus recognizes that the practice of adultery starts long before the physical action. Adultery roots in our hearts when we look at someone with strong desire or attraction. And our American culture likes to exploit this human weakness in advertisement and other media for their own financial gain.
Meaning, commercials sell attraction and promote the development of lustful eyes. So does TV, movies, social media, magazines and the like. From a young age, we are bombarded with seductive images of people that we are not married to, that we are supposed to desire to either be like or to be with.
Everywhere we look, our society is offering us the seed sin of adultery.
And these images lodge themselves in our minds. They replay themselves in our idle moments. And eventually, we might find that we replay the thoughts on purpose, deepening our imaginary love for or fantasizing about a relationship with these people that we have never even met. And the Bible forbids it.
So how can we combat this social perversion that literally surrounds us?
- We become aware of what the Bible says about lust, pornography and the immorality that it leads to.
- We avoid inappropriate images and written descriptions whenever possible. Turn the channel, filter web searches, x out of search pages that bring up unbiblical results, don’t buy the magazine or book, stop reading, research movie ratings and reasons before choosing to go watch them, listen to Christian music instead of worldly music, etc.
- We take captive every thought in our mind and bring it under obedience to Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5], rather than lingering and reveling in empty, lustful imaginations.
And why does it matter when we are not married if we look at an attractive person with desire?
The Bible tells us that the heart of a wayward person is a deep pit rooted in the grave and leading to death [Proverbs 5:1-23 & 23:27]. The habits of the eyes and mind that we develop in our youth are the habits that will be deeply rooted in our hearts and driving our adult pursuits.
It’s not easy to turn off lustful eyes. If you start the habit as a young person, it will continue with you into adulthood, and it won’t limit itself to your spouse. It’s not easy to turn off a fantasizing mind. If you start indulging in pleasurable imaginations now, they will continue to seduce you in adulthood.
Lust that leads to adultery is the only sin that we commit in our own body [1 Corinthians 6:18]. But it is also a sin against our spouse–whether present or future–against the person we lust after and against God.
Is there a person or people that you fantasize romantically about? Whether as seemingly innocent as hand-holding or a first kiss, don’t give the devil a foothold in your heart and mind. Are you attracted to internet and magazine images? Flee the temptations. Get an accountability partner and ask God to replace this lust with a growing love and respect for Him and for your future spouse.
Image: By Japanexperterna.se from Japan – Person looking at smartphone in the dark, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47395025
“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 have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22
Immediately following Jesus’ proclamation that He would fulfill the Law, He begins citing some of the commandments in question. Do not murder, for example [Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17]. Murder is a crime punishable by human law. But it is, first and foremost, a manifestation of sin prosecuted by God Himself.
But Jesus takes the forbidden fruit–murder–and traces it back to its root–anger. When we allow anger to seed itself in our heart–root, grow and bear fruit–the result is a murderous rage capable of snapping at any moment.
We deceive ourselves when we think that we can control our anger. That it doesn’t control us. And the world offers many cooling-off techniques so that we don’t do something rash when we get upset.
But God’s standard transcends–it rises above what humans think is possible. God calls us to love one another [John 13:34]. He calls us to keep the bitter root from taking root to begin with [Hebrews 12:15]. He calls us to be joyful when people mistreat us and persecute us and lie about us [Matthew 5:10-12]. He calls us to leave revenge in His careful hands [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-19].
We must guard our hearts from anger, because out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks [Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45]. The Sanhedrin–basically the Jewish Supreme Court–deliberated over matters of profanities like calling someone Raca, possibly meaning empty-headed or good-for-nothing. But Jesus says that even just calling someone a fool is the sinful heart fruiting from the lips. Because we’re thinking of self as superior and/or thinking poorly of someone else in frustration.
Our words betray the seed of anger rooting in our heart. Meaning, as we sow so shall we reap. If we sow disgust, bitterness and anger in our heart, then we set our lives up to eventually bear the fruit of murder unless we repent of the seed sins.
Cain was all of those things in turn. Disgusted with his brother. Bitter at God’s approval of his brother’s offering. And angry at the whole pride-wounding situation.
But God told Cain that he could master the sin, he could nip the bitter root in the bud, uproot it and choose to do right [Genesis 4:7]. He didn’t tell him to manage his anger or deal with his frustrations. He didn’t tell him to count to four and take deep breaths. No, Cain needed a heart change–a banish-anger-and-replace-it-with-love-heart-change–just as we all do [Romans 3:23].
Have you examined your lip fruit lately? What does it show is growing in your heart?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Matthew 5:10-12
It seems a contradiction to be extremely joyful while being persecuted. Yet, despite the trials of life and the adversity of fellow human beings, when we are filled with righteousness and living it, the joy of the Lord is our strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. We know by faith that the righteousness of Christ redeems us from death, reconciling us to God.
But those who deny God, don’t understand this joy in all things, this peace that passes understanding. It perplexes and incenses them, incites them to mistrust, and even hate, those who live by faith in Christ.
Even in this we can be extremely joyful, understanding that this life is temporary. And that by trying to save and promote ourselves in this temporary life, we lose out on eternal life [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24].
It’s not just a cliche saying about sticks and stones. When we are persecuted, sticks and stones may truly break our bones. But we don’t have to let the insults and lies and persecution hurt us spiritually. We can find rest in Christ. We can accept the peace He gives. We can fix our eyes on the Lord our salvation. And we can take extreme joy in knowing that we join a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–who lived and died by faith [Hebrews 12:1].
Are you facing difficult times because of your faith in God? Do others insult you or give you a hard time because you live by God’s Word? Take heart, Jesus has overcome this world [John 16:33]. Cast all your cares on Him and find rest [1 Peter 5:7].
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:8-9
Purity of heart. Not exactly easy to accomplish, considering that sin makes, every inclination of the human heart…only evil all the time [Genesis 6:5b]. Precisely why King David acknowledged the need to, hide [God’s] word in [his] heart so that [he] might not sin against [God] [Psalm 119:11] and why God prayed for the steadfastness of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29].
You see, the word of God is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12] which only God can see [1 Samuel 16:7]. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. So it is only by God’s grace, through our faith in Him that we can be made righteous through Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]. We can be being made pure in heart.
Seeking God in His Word, seeking His purity in our heart, will truly bless us. No greater joy will we know than knowing our Lord.
One fruit of the pure heart is peacemaking. As Christians, we should be so filled with peace that we can speak peace into those around us–even without using our words! And when others know us as as peacable, then they will also know us as God’s own children. What an amazing testimony!
So seeking to purify our hearts through God’s Word will bring us great joy and renew God’s peacemaking image in us, which will, again, bring us more joy. It’s an up-spiral. A positive progression instead of the world’s downward spiraling depression.
Start a new cycle. Reverse the sin feedback loop.
Which way do your emotions spiral? Earthward? Or heavenward?
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 4:12-17
When Satan didn’t succeed in tempting Jesus, it appears he turned his attentions to attacking Jesus’ cousin, John. Maybe now he could force God’s Son to out Himself as the Messiah. Surely the Savior of the world would storm the prison and miraculously overthrow the government, decimating its army to free one of His beloved human beings.
But it’s still not God’s appointed time.
It was, however, God’s time to send His Son as a light to all nations.
So instead, Jesus moved to Capernaum from which most of His earthly ministry was soon to be based. This is the promised blessing for these two tribal territories whose trade routes connected Israel to the Mediterranean.
Capernaum was a sizable town in the Galilee region. Because of the Assyrian captivity, the people there were of mixed-culture descent–returning Jews and the pagan peoples that moved into the area during the captivity. Influence from all of the Gentile religions greatly diminished Jewish worship in Galilee.
They had become spiritually dark.
But Isaiah had foretold that God would send His Son as a light into this spiritual darkness [Isaiah 9:1-2]. The reason? Because it was always God’s intention to redeem the whole world, not just Israel [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Acts 3:25].
Satan intended to silence John’s message, but God’s purposes prevailed. Jesus took up the torch of John’s message, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near [Matthew 3:2], and stepped into the way prepared by John’s ministry.
A torch that he passed to His disciples. A torch that has passed down through the generations and come to us. God’s light is still for everyone on the planet. His redemption for everyone who has, does and will ever live. The way has been prepared for you and I to take up the message.
Will you embark on the journey of the eternal torch? Making disciples of all nations? Teaching them to obey God’s Word? And baptizing them in the name of the Triune Godhead [Matthew 28:16-20]?