Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Forgiven Forgive

We closed the previous lesson with an observation that the last two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13) are related to forgiveness of debts (v. 12)—temptation and deliverance from evil (bad things, trouble, or pain) or the evil one, Satan (Matthew 13:9). The evidence for this is the word for (gar, a primary particle showing cause or reason for something), beginning verse 14; thus, verse 13 must relate to verse 12.
The subject of verses 14 and 15 explains why forgiving others their debt obligations is necessary. The significant difference in the admonition between verse 12 and verse 14 is the change from debts to trespasses. Some English translations have variously translated the Greek as sin, transgression, offense, or wrongdoing. The immediate context clearly warrants understanding of debts to be wrongdoings that cause offenses. The question before us now is why forgiving offenders is necessary to being forgiven by the Father?
An offense is a debt that the offender owes to the offended. We are indebted to the Father as He forgives our trespasses against Him. This grace should then be reflected in our forgiveness of those who trespass against us. Indeed, our ability to forgive others comes only as we seek grace from our Heavenly Father. This forgiveness, enabled by grace, is more an emotional release to love the offender than actual forgiveness, which requires confession. This explains the need to ask the Lord to protect us from the temptation to harbor grudge, hate the offender, and seek retaliation, which allows the evil one to gain advantage. This freedom also provides the grounds for reconciliation.
Still, we struggle with forgiving others, especially if there is no effort on their part to seek restoration. How do we obey the Lord and continue to love them? What if the offenses are very grievous and beyond the pale? We are to love them as enemies (5:38–48). Although we are still in the flesh, tend to protect self, and get carried away by our emotions, we must forgive others because we are unconditionally forgiven by our Heavenly Father.
A powerful truth that underlies this prayer is largely ignored by most who read or repeat the prayer. That truth is that a forgiven person loves (Luke 7:47). He loves Christ to such an extent that forgiving others is almost automatic. Here Jesus lays down hard facts: a forgiving heart is a forgiven heart. One who refuses to forgive knows nothing of the love and forgiveness of God (Matthew 18:21–35).
Finally, can one really forgive another unless repentance and confession is made to the offended? In Matthew 18:21 Peter’s apparent frustration over repeated forgiveness reveals another issue, trust. The offender was given opportunity to repeat offenses most likely because he was trusted when he should not have been. When we forgive but continue to feel troubled, it may not be a lack of forgiveness but of trust. Even if one is forgiven an offense, that person cannot be trusted without repentance and observable change. Peter reveals the emotional strain associated with this problem, and Jesus informed him that his responsibility was to release the offender emotionally.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Clear Duty

The U.S. debt-based economy makes it possible for people to have more but to owe more on what they possess. Under normal circumstances people manage their finances adequately. However, when something catastrophic occurs, many are ruined in a heartbeat. Wisdom argues that it is better, if possible, to have little or no debt. In fact, Scripture instructs Christ-followers to “owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8).
Paul connects loving others with financial responsibility. It is loving to “pay to all what is owed to them (Romans 13:7). Keeping up with one’s financial obligations is a moral duty, but believers also have a greater obligation to Christ’s new commandment: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Paul shows that this duty fulfills the law (Roman 13:8).
The more relevant question is how this information connects with the fifth petition, “Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12). The Greek noun (opheilema), translated debts, simply refers to what is owed to another. Jesus takes a financial term and uses it metaphorically of trespasses (lapses of uprightness) or offenses. “For [to explain this] if you forgive others their trespasses [lapses in uprightness], your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14, 15). To forgive someone is to release them from their debt obligation. We have plenty of debt to God of which we are mostly unaware due to our ignorance of what God expects of us.
In the Lord’s Prayer we are to ask God to release us from these debt obligations. These offenses are, more often than not, omissions. We offend others more often by what we fail to do for them than the sins we might commit against them. Because of the flesh (that we are required to kill everyday through the Spirit, Romans 8:13), we tend to be more focused on ourselves than on others. About this Paul wrote, “So, then, brothers, we are debtors” (Romans 8:12). Debts are not so much overt sins against others as failures to glorify God as salt and light. Believers fail to “shine before others,” having no good works that may be seen to glorify the Father (Matthew 5:14–16). These omissions can be forgiven only as we forgive the offenses others have committed against us.
Why would the Lord condition forgiveness in that way? First, this request is not for salvation and forgiveness leading to eternal life. This request is family business between brothers and sisters in Christ. These “saints” are duty-bound to “hallow” (make holy) their Father’s great Name and so glorify Him in the earth as kingdom citizens doing the will of God.
Second, the last two petitions connect to this debt. This is seen by the explanation of verses 14 and 15. Thus, we must not misread the sixth petition as suggesting that God tempts or causes temptation (James 1:13), but see it, rather, as rhetorical, asking protection from failure to love others and, so, cause them harm (evil). “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Debts Forgiven

The second request (of four, Matthew 6:9–13) having to do with the petitioner’s needs is a request to have one’s debts forgiven. Debt is defined as something owed or due, and becomes a problem, a failure, when it is not paid. Since one’s sinful flesh makes full obedience impossible, a debt to God is incurred. The only thing one can do is to ask acquittal for the failure. The Bible defines sin in terms of guilt, not failure. So, the reference here is to failure, not sin.
All God’s creatures owe Him sincere and perfect worship, which is evidenced by earnest and perpetual obedience to His Word and will. None can ask to be released from these obligations. Since one’s sinful flesh makes the full payment of this debt impossible, the only thing one can do is to ask acquittal for failure.
Paul argued, “So then, brothers, we are debtors” (Romans 8:12). How so? Paul explains, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13, ESV). Paul’s discussion here (Romans 8) ties it to the Lord’s Prayer by the principle that underlies both. The principle is expressed in the first petition, “Hallowed [to cause to be revered and respected] be your name,” a request instituted by the divine/human connection in creation. Humans were created to glorify God by doing His will in the earth.
Jesus previously addressed the blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:10, 11). He then stated the cause of the persecution: “You are the salt of the earth. ... you are the light of the world. ... Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 13, 14, ESV). In other words, earnest and perpetual obedience to the heavenly Father by His children is the means whereby they reflect His holiness and hallow His name; and, for which they will be persecuted by those who love sin and darkness.
Believers fail to glorify God when they live according to the flesh, by which they incur debt to God. Therefore, they must ask forgiveness. This failure also involves sin, as is clear in Luke’s version: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). To sin is to “come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) through violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4); debt is what one owes another due to the failure of obligation. Jesus took on Himself the wrath incurred by the sins of His people and, in so doing, He canceled their debt also. God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses [offenses], by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:13, 14, ESV).
Paul gives a fuller development of the means whereby believers can hallow His name. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14–16, ESV). Is there not a clear correlation here with the Lord’s Prayer?

Friday, May 1, 2020

Daily Bread

Returning our attention to the model prayer, we note that it consists of seven petitions; the first three relate to their God (three being the divine number) and four concerning the personal needs of the ones praying (four being the number of creation). The fourth petition briefly addresses the believer’s concern about daily needs: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11a).  This brief statement is the only part of the prayer that relates to one’s physical needs. It does not ask for weekly or monthly bread. It does not seek permanent security for life. Later in the passage, Jesus developed the folly of unwarranted concern over these necessities (vv. 25–34). “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?” (v. 25). Christ-followers are to leave the concerns about their daily needs in the hands of their loving Heavenly Father.
Bread is used symbolically of what is necessary to sustain life, both physically and spiritually. Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 51). John 6 records the miraculous multiplication of a boy’s simple lunch of five biscuits and two sardines by which a hungry multitude was fully satisfied. Afterward, the people sought Him out again, but He rebuked them, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs [proof of my Messianic office], but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). In other words, the people were not seeking Jesus to be their Savior and Lord; they just wanted the food He could provide for their empty stomachs.
People generally tend to be far more concerned about their physical wellbeing than their status with God. The gospel is about eternal life. Although one needs food, raiment, and shelter in this life, these things have only temporary value if one does not have eternal life. “Our daily bread doth but fatten us as lambs for the slaughter if our sins be not pardoned” (Matthew Henry). Therefore, Jesus urged, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).
The will of God, for which we are to pray in the third petition, was the driving consideration of the Savior’s life. He said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). God’s will must likewise be the motivation of all He creatures. Jesus concluded, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). Eternal life is the greatest need and Jesus is the Bread that satisfies that need. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50, 51).

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Powerful Church

“The Lord added to [the church’s] number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
In an article entitled, What Did They Mean, “Believe in Christ?” (April 17, 2020) on the Midwestern Theological Seminary’s resource website, For the Church, Jim Elliff wrote:
“In the early days of Christianity, scores of people believed. It is the suddenness of belief that shocks you. In a moment, before a day was over, or before a few days had elapsed, so many turned from paganism or centuries-old religious traditions to Christ. ... In all cases, it seemed that it was a sudden experience that turned them from unbelief to belief.”
The article develops what believing in Jesus meant—fully embracing His person, His values, and His vision. When one genuinely believes in Jesus, he becomes a follower, or in Elliff’s words, “Believing is buying in fully to the way of Christ, his vision for the world and for life.” This requires that believers count everything once valued as worthless because they now embrace the superior worth of Jesus.
Turn the focus now to the church. Why was the church more powerful and influential in its beginning than it is today? The Lord has not changed (Hebrews 13:8). His purpose for His church has not been thwarted (Matthew 16:18). His commission has not been withdrawn (Matthew 28:19). So, why is there such a difference between the powerful early church and her seeming fruitless modern version?
The reason is found in Revelation and the letters to the seven churches (Chapters 2 and 3). It did not take long for these congregations besieged by the enemy to succumb to serious errors. All the epistles in the NT support this fact.
The churches referenced in Revelation are typical of churches throughout the gospel age. Of the seven, only two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) escaped Christ’s criticism. The rest either failed in obedience to Christ or tolerated corruption of His doctrine. For example, cold Ephesus abandoned the love she had in her founding. Dead Sardis did not complete her assigned works. Luke-warm Laodicea did not recognize her miserable condition. On the other hand, Careless Pergamum allowed false teachers. Tolerant Thyatira encouraged shameless doctrines. Nevertheless, whatever the error or sin, there remained in each church a few saints faithful to Jesus. They had ears to hear, receiving Christ’s instruction to overcome and persevere for which they were promised rewards in the glory of the eternal kingdom (2:7, 17, 24–29; 3:4–6, 20–22). So it is today.
Thus, in Elliff’s closing words, the key to this faithfulness is “seeing the beauty and power and excellence of Christ.” A friend recently posted: “If you don’t miss the church when you miss church, there’s sure to be something missing somewhere else.” What is missing is one’s devotion to Christ. A church is a congregation of devoted Christ-followers united to enthusiastically worship of Christ, longing for Him through prevailing prayer, hungering to know more of Him in His Word, loving and serving Him and His people through fellowship, and selfless stewardship of possessions (Acts 2:42–47). Oh, that God would grant us in these last days a revival that would return His church to her original condition for His glory.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Struggle in Prayer

Colossians 2 begins with Paul’s statement of intention with respect to the churches in Colossae and Laodicea that had never seen the apostle personally (v. 1; note 1:4, 7). He expressed a great struggle (ESV; the AV has conflict; the Greek is agon, meaning “to contend” or “to fight”) for (not against) these saints. The context begins with 1:29 where Paul alludes to his intercessory prayer life in the behalf of these churches. Although prayer is not specifically mentioned, the terms he employed are used of his prayer life (Romans 15:30). His praying involved, laboring “to the point of exhaustion, agonizing [Greek; agonizomai, the participle form of agon, used in 2:1] with the energy He [God] works in me” (a literal translation). Laboring and struggling (agonizing) describe serious praying that few believers understand or experience.
Of course, this does not mean that one’s prayers are more effective if somehow one is able to “wrestle with God” in order to persuade Him to meet some need. Rather, Paul describes a spiritual striving in and with God’s power, not for personal benefit, but interceding for others. It recognizes the total impotency of efforts in the flesh to achieve the desired result. True prayer is and must be directed to the Father (Matthew 6:9), in the Son’s authority—name (John 14:13, 14), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Jude 20). When the Spirit is at work, one’s praying will be mighty and effectual.
True “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v. 3) is what Paul desired for these saints. He wanted them to have full assurance and understanding with respect to the will of God in Christ. The evidence of God’s will in them was their “being knit together in love.” Paul could see in them good order and the firmness of faith in Christ (v. 5). Sadly, this state was endangered by some who would “delude [them] with plausible arguments,” that is, specious discourse leading them into error. (The Greek term translated delude is paralogizomai, means to cheat by false reckoning.)
Thus, Paul sought to encourage (ESV; the AV has comfort; the Greek is parakaleo, meaning “to come along side” to help them (aid, counsel, or comfort, in this case, by prayer) “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” (v. 2, ESV). Absent, Paul interceded in prayer for them, enlisting the Lord to intervene and divert them from the danger threatening them. This was the will of the Lord and prayer was the means God used to help these saints.
This passage teaches us that prayer, the kind that is done in the Spirit—wrestling and striving—the kind that characterized Paul’s life and ministry—is what we need in our present hour. God requires this of us. We are duty bound as soldiers of the cross to press this warfare in the heat of battle. We must also be on guard against the enemy’s efforts to deceive and distract us. We must not despair. We must not surrender ground. We must stay strong, stand firm, and continue “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18). May we be faithful to this call.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) is commonly recited in liturgical worship services. However, the Lord Jesus gave it to His people, not as a ritual prayer, but as a model on which to base their prayers. Although I have no objection to repeating the prayer (as I have done many times), Jesus specifically stated, “pray then like this.” In other words, use this as a template and pray your own prayer. This understanding is supported in Luke 11. The chapter opens with our Lord’s disciples observing His praying. When He finished, they asked, “Teach us to pray.” It is not readily obvious how the creature is able to approach the unseen Creator to address his needs and concerns. Nevertheless, Jesus makes it very clear that His people are invited to come into God’s presence and plead their cause. In Luke 18:1 Jesus “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” He closed the parable with this assurance: “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? . . . He will give justice to them speedily” (vv. 7, 8). In John 15:7 Jesus taught, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” What a promise!
So, let us examine the model. It is basically divided into three sections. The first section honors God and provokes the need of the one praying to recognize and understand His superior and exalted status. Jesus introduced a powerful and glorious truth—the eternal God is our Father. It also elevates the importance of His will over everything.
The second section humbles the heart of the creature by acknowledging his utter dependence upon God for one’s physical needs, even life itself. Bread is the symbol what is needed to sustain life (John 6: 35, 51). Jesus is the Bread of Life—the source of one’s greatest need, life from spiritual death.
The third section extends the humbling to the greater need of the soul for forgiveness of sins, the need to escape temptation, and the deliverance from the evil one, Satan. The prayer ends in the AV with an affirmation that the kingdom, power, and glory belong to God. (Although the statement is absent in many early manuscripts, it appears very early in the first century in Christian liturgy. It is suggested the sentence comes from David: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all” [1 Chronicles 29:11]).
Prayer is hard because it requires humbling since true praying is utter dependence on God for everything. Praying is difficult because narcissistic human nature exults in self-adoration, the pride of independence, and the rush of self-confidence. Much “praying” is but a request for divine assistance in the pursuit of one’s own life plan. However, only those who do the will of God will enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21). Thus, the ones possessing this eternal life must and will focus on the priority of God’s kingdom over all personal desires by eager submission to His will. All godly beggars thankfully accept only a daily provision without worry or concern for tomorrow. These broken saints also bask in the wonder of God’s forgiveness and thus extend that mercy to all personal offenders. Lord, teach us to pray.