Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to Pray

Part 19 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:9-15

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (v. 9). 

What's the Purpose of Prayer?

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer [1] by saying, “Pray then [2] like this” (v. 9). Jesus intended this prayer to be a model for our prayers, not a prayer to mindlessly repeat. In Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). [3] What does the Lord’s Prayer teach us about the purpose of prayer?

Prayer should be more about honouring God than helping us. 

This is seen in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. The first half is about God (“your name,” “your kingdom,” “your will”), and the second half is about us (“Give us,” “forgive us,” “deliver us”). [4]

Our Father 

The Lord’s prayer is addressed to “Our Father in heaven” (v. 9). [5] Our prayers should be characterized by both love and reverence. “We address God intimately as ‘Father,’ but we immediately recognize his infinite greatness with the addition ‘in heaven.’” [6]

In the Lord’s Prayer, there are three requests about God’s honour. (1) “hallowed [7] be your name” (v. 9); (2) “Your kingdom come” (v. 10); and (3) “Your will be done” (v. 10). The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” probably applies to all three requests.
Prayer is not first and foremost an exercise to vindicate the disciple’s causes, meet the disciple’s needs, fulfill the disciple’s desires, or solve the disciple’s problems. Rather, one’s priority must be the promotion of God’s reputation, the advancement of God’s rule, and the performance of God’s will. These three petitions are essentially one expression of burning desire to see the Father honored on earth as he is already honored in heaven.” [8]

Our Needs 

There are also three requests about our needs: (1) “Give us this day our daily bread [9]  (v. 11); (2) “forgive us our debts [10], as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12); and (3) “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (v. 13). Verses 14 and 15 offer a comment on the request about forgiveness: “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.”

A couple of common questions emerge from the last two requests. Does this mean that God will only forgive the forgiving? No, we don’t earn God’s forgiveness. But “If we don’t forgive, it is evidence that we haven’t experienced forgiveness ourselves.” [11]

Would God ever lead us into temptation? No. The Greek word for “temptation” (perirasmos) can mean either testing or temptation. [12] Any circumstance that tests us can also tempt us to sin. God does allow us to be tested, but he doesn’t tempt us. “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin.” [13]

Seeking God's Honour in Our Prayers 

What can we do to make God’s honour a priority in our prayers?

1. When we pray, we should ask ourselves, “How will God be honoured if he grants this request?”

Sometimes getting the things we ask for from God would result in God being dishonoured. For example, we might think that God would be honoured if we were wealthy, but Proverbs 30:8-9 says that both poverty and wealth can lead us away from God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [i.e., daily bread], 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.” [14]

2. When we pray, we should remind ourselves that sometimes God is most honoured and we are most helped when God denies our request. 

In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul writes that he once prayed that a “thorn” would be removed from him, but God denied his request. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). By not removing the thorn from Paul, God would be more honoured and Paul would be kept from pride. Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; rather, it is seeking his agenda for our lives.

[1] Some Christian prefer to call this prayer “the disciples’ prayer.”
[2] “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[3] Scholars often debate whey there are many differences between Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. D. A. Carson suggests, “The reasonable explanation is that Jesus taught this sort of prayer often during his itinerant ministry and that Matthew records one occasion and Luke another” (“Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 168).
[4] In the KJV, verse 13 ends with a doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” This doxology is not found in the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts, which suggests that it was added later.
[5] The plural pronoun “Our” indicates that this prayer was intended to be prayed with other children of God, not in isolation.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 144.
[7] “To hallow God’s name means to hold it in reverence” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 276).
[8] David Turner, Matthew, 187.
[9] “Daily bread” is “a metaphor for a person’s daily needs” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 227).
[10] “Debts” are our sins against God.
[11] Wilkins, 279.
[12] See James 1:2-5, 13-15.
[13] ESV Study Bible.
[14] “The Old Testament prayer for daily bread comes in the context of a believer asking to be kept from temptation” (Bryan Chapell, Praying Backwards, 41).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Not to Pray

Part 18 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:5-8

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (v. 8).

Praying to Our Father in Heaven 

Before Jesus tells his followers how they should pray (vv. 9-13), he tells them how they should not pray. How can we avoid praying in a wrong way?

When we pray, we must always remember that we are praying to a loving Father.

We know God loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). If an imperfect father “know[s] how to give good gifts to [their] children, how much more will [our] heavenly Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). 

Praying Wrong 

When we forget that we’re praying to a loving Father, we will pray in wrong ways. Jesus gives us two ways we should not pray.

1. Don’t pray to impress others (vv. 5-6). 

Jesus declares, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (v. 5). They “love to…pray,” not because they love prayer or because they love God, but because they love themselves. It wasn’t their posture (“stand”) or their location (“in the synagogues and at the street corners”) that was wrong; it was their motive (“that they may be seen by others”). [1]

Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 5). Their reward is the applause from others. People might be impressed by this kind of prayer, but God isn’t. Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 to describe the religious hypocrites of his day: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matt. 15:8-9).

Then Jesus states, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6). “Your room” probably refers to an inner storeroom, the only lockable room in an ordinary Palestinian house (Matt. 24:26; Luke 12:3; 2 Kings 4:33; Isa. 26:20). Jesus isn’t saying that public prayer is wrong since he himself often prayed publicly (Matt. 11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42). [2] Again, Jesus is addressing the motive of prayer.

2. Don’t pray to badger God (vv. 7-8). 

Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (v. 7). [3] The “Gentiles” refer to “people who don’t understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father. So instead of trusting a Father to fulfill their needs, they think they must badger a reluctant Deity into taking notice of them.” [4]

Jesus isn’t condemning long prayers or persistent prayer since he himself once prayed all night (Matt. 14:23-25) and taught that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). He’s saying that when we prayer we must believe that God cares about us. He’s not an indifferent god who won’t listen to our prayers unless we get his attention with our “many words.”

Jesus states, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). So why is pray necessary? It’s true that God doesn’t need our prayers, but “he chooses to work through the prayers of his people to demonstrate his care for us, our value to him, and the significance of our lives in his kingdom.” [5]

Don't Hesitate to Call 

A good father desires what is best for his child. Often, when a son or daughter needs help, they call their father. If imperfect fathers are willing to help their children, how much more is our heavenly Father willing to help us? When we pray, we pray to our heavenly Father who loves us and desires to hear from us.

[1] As stated in my sermon on 6:1-4, there isn’t a contradiction between 5:16 (“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them”) and 6:1 (“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”). Jesus is addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride.
[2] The pronouns are singular in 6:5-8 but plural in 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer can’t be prayed privately (“Our Father in heaven”).
[3] The prophets of Baal cried out to Baal for hours, even cutting themselves with swords and lances (1 Kings 18:25-29; cf. Acts 19:34).
[4] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 240.
[5] Bryan Chappell, Praying Backwards, 114.

Monday, July 13, 2015

God on a Cross

A communion sermon

Text: Philippians 2:1-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (v. 8).

Feeling "Humbled"

Last year, Lebron James was named the National Basketball Association’s MVP. It was the fourth time James had received the league’s highest honor. What was his response? He said, “It’s very humbling.” Humbling? I don’t think “humility” means what Lebron James thinks it means.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an NBA player. In those dreams when I was named the MVP, I didn’t feel humbled; I felt honored. Now every time an award is handed out, the recipient talks about how he or she is “humbled.”

To me, that always comes across as fake humility. In contrast to today’s fake humility, there is the humility of Jesus.

Selfish Ambition

Based on what the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Philippi, it appears that the Philippians struggled to maintain unity.

  • “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). 
  • “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). 
  • “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14). 
  • “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (4:2). 

The Philippians needed to be people of humble service, and so do we. How can we be people of humble service?

If we are to be people of humble service, we must think about who Jesus is, what he chose to do, and why he chose to do it. 

We are naturally self-centered people. (Have you noticed that when someone shows you a photo that you’re in, you always first check for yourself first? Everyone else in the picture could have their eyes closed, but if you look good, it’s a great picture.) Humility doesn’t come easy for us.

The Attitude of Christ

Paul writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (v. 5, NIV). In verses 6-8, we discover that the attitude of Christ is a mindset of humble service.

  • Jesus was “in the form of God” (v. 6; cf. John 1:1). The NIV reads “in very nature God.” 
  • Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). This is the opposite of “selfish ambition” (v. 3). 
  • Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” (v. 7). He declared, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He acted as a servant when he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5). 
  • Jesus was “born in the likeness of men” (v. 7; cf. John 1:14). 
  • Jesus “humbled himself” (v. 8). In other words, he chose humility 
  • Jesus became “obedient to the point of death” (v. 8). He “gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4). 
  • Jesus died “on a cross” (v. 8). Crucifixion was an excruciating and humiliating way to die. Jesus once said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

If we are to be people of humble service, we must think about who Jesus is, what he chose to do, and why he chose to do it.

Who is Jesus? He is God in human flesh. What did he choose to do? He chose to die on a cross. Why did he choose to do this? To save us. 

If God served us to the extent that he died on a cross for us, who are we to refuse humbly serving others?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Doing Right Things for Right Reasons

Part 17 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:1-4

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (v. 1). 

Living for the Applause 

Comedian Jerry Lewis, in an interview with GQ, admits that his act “is fueled by an unquenchable thirst for attention. He says, “I need the applause.” [1] Lady Gaga performs a song called “Applause.” The song says, “I live for the applause.” Many performers live for the applause. As followers of Jesus, we must be very careful not to perform acts of righteousness for the applause of others.

The Best Reason to Do Right Things 

The word “righteousness” (v.1) refers to types of religious acts, such as giving to the needy (vv. 2-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18). Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (v. 1). But earlier he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16). Is this a contradiction? 

No, Jesus isn’t contradicting himself. He’s addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride. We are to “show when tempted to hide” and “hide when tempted to show.” [2] Jesus doesn’t merely want us to do right things. He wants us to do right things for right reasons.

The best reason to do right things is to bring glory to God. 

As the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Those who do religious things “in order to be seen by [other people]” (v.1) desire praise from those people. [3] Their motivation is their own glory. [4]

Religious Hypocrites 

Jesus declares, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 2). Jesus calls these religious show-offs “hypocrites.”

“A ‘hypocrite’ originally was an actor who wore a mask in a Greek play, thereby pretending he was something he was not. So it came to be used for a person who looked one way on the outside but was something else on the inside.” [5] In this context, “hypocrites” refers to people who “are not so much deceivers as disastrously self-deceived.” [6] They think they’re impressing God when in reality they’re only impressing other people. [7]

The Heart of Worship 

We can hide our true motivation from other people, but we can’t hide it from God. Trying to hide what’s in our heart from God is like a little child trying to hide by covering his eyes. “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

God said about the people of Isaiah’s day, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13; cf. Matt. 15:8). God isn’t pleased by religious acts that aren’t motivated by a love for God. If we live for the applause of people, we “will have no reward from [our] Father who is in heaven” (v. 1).

The Applause of God 

Jesus says, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vv. 3-4). “The references to ‘Father’ rather than to ‘God’ in both verses 1 and 4 are intentional and probably allude to the fact that just as a child seeks the approval of his parents above all others, so the approval of the heavenly Father will matter more to the child of God than the approval of other people.” [8]

There should be nothing more satisfying than receiving the approval of the God who loves us. [9]

If you’re a parent, can you remember a time when you were really proud of your child? Now imagine your heavenly Father feeling like that about you. Isn’t the approval of God more satisfying than the approval of others?

To please God, we must do right things for right reasons, and the best reason is to bring glory to him. 

[1] http://www.gq.com/story/jerry-lewis-interview-gq-august-2011
[2] A. B. Bruce, Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 116.
[3] The same Greek word (doxazo) is used in both 6:2 (“praised”) and 5:16 (“giving glory”).
[4] This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t praise people who do good. This is a way we can encourage others. But we must always acknowledge that the ultimate praise belongs to God, who gives us the ability and opportunity to do good.
[5] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 219.
[6] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 237.
[7] “They were not giving but buying. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it, and they have got it. The tran-saction is ended and they can claim nothing more” (Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 91).
[8] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3682-3685.
[9] This doesn’t mean that we can gain God’s approval in the sense that we can earn salvation. But when we enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, God is pleased when we obey him because we love him.