LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART IX)

Praying HandsIn our brief study through the Lord’s Prayer we now come to the sixth request, which is “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13) . Sometimes the first half of that verse is thought to be a separate request from the latter half, and so “deliver us from evil” would then be the seventh request. Either way you slice it, the two parts are very closely-related. Simply for the sake of space, we will consider each half separately.

I must confess that I grew up reciting and praying the Lord’s Prayer in church from as far back as I can remember in my childhood. But in all that time I don’t think that I ever gave it enough thought to ask the obvious question – why do I need to ask God not to lead me into temptation? Does God ever actually lead his people into temptation? If not, is this request in the Lord’s Prayer superfluous? If so, then in what way can it be said that God does that? And why?

First things first – this request is not redundant; it is there for a reason. So we must conclude that in some way God may at times lead us into temptation. But the Scriptures are very clear that God tempts no one. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (ESV). No ambiguity there – God tempts no one. Period.

The account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness may prove helpful here. Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (ESV). So the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the place of temptation. But who did the tempting? The devil. To be led into temptation is to be tested. To actually tempt is to try to cause someone to commit sin. There is a big difference between those two things. God’s goal in testing is never to cause sin. Satan’s goal in temptation is always to cause sin.

The Lord Jesus Christ passed the test in the wilderness that Adam failed in the garden of Eden (Genesis chapter 3), and that we all fail on a regular basis. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). That is why sinners can be saved by the “precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot ” (1 Peter 1:19, ESV).

If we would sincerely pray, “Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12), then we must also ask the Lord to keep us from temptation so that we do not just keep on committing those very same sins. A.W. Pink writes,

” . . .past sins being pardoned, we should pray fervently for grace to prevent us from repeating them. We cannot rightly desire God to forgive us our sins unless we sincerely long for grace to abstain from the like in the future.” (The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, p.117)

To desire forgiveness of a sin while not also desiring to be kept from that sin is nothing short of hypocrisy. And so the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness of our debts or trespasses, and also to pray for God to keep us from the temptation to sin as well.

WHAT IS REQUIRED IN THE 4TH COMMANDMENT? (SHORTER CATECHISM Q.58)

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Both the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms follow a pattern in their treatment of each of the Ten Commandments. That is, each commandment is unpacked and explained in terms of what is required, as well as what is forbidden in it.

As Larger Catechism Q.99 points out, one of the rules that we should keep in mind in order to have a right understanding of the Ten Commandments is that “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is required.”

And so, of course, the Shorter Catechism’s treatment of the 4th commandment is no exception to that rule. It starts by asking what is required in it:

Q.58. What is required in the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment requires the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself.

So what is positively required by the Sabbath commandment? Keeping a day holy to God. Even the wording of the commandment itself (found in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15) makes this clear. We are there commanded to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Thomas Watson writes,

“This word, ‘remember,’ shows that we are apt to forget Sabbath-holiness; therefore we need a memorandum to put us in mind of sanctifying the day” (The Ten Commandments, p.93).

Frankly, such a reminder (or memorandum, to use Watson’s term) is sorely-needed in our day, is it not? How many believers now practically live as if we had only nine commandments, and treat the day (with some minor exceptions) as if it were just another day? How many professing believers choose to skip public worship altogether, and refuse to set aside even an hour or two, much less the whole day?

Granted, part of how we are to keep it holy is expressed negatively (i.e. in the form of prohibitions), but the commandment itself should be understood first and foremost in a positive manner. We should be mindful of the day, remembering to keep it as holy unto the Lord.

God has set aside one day in seven for Himself. He has “appointed” it in His Word. The very next question (Q.59) deals with which day that was originally, and which day it is now (a topic for the next post in this series), but for the time being we should settle it in our minds and convictions that part of God’s moral law has to do with our time. Another way of putting it is to say that part of how we are to love God involves giving Him our time.

While, of course, every day of our lives belongs to the Lord, we are to set aside one day in seven as belonging in a special way to the Lord.  There is one day in seven that we are to treat in a distinctly different manner than the other six days. In essence, we are commanded to give God His day.

FORGIVING OUR DEBTORS (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART VIII)

Praying HandsThe fifth request found in the Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). It is all too easy to focus our attention on the first part of that request (i.e. “forgive us our debts”), while giving little or no thought to what follows (“as we forgive our debtors”). We looked at the first part in our previous post, and so it is the latter part of this request that we will consider together here.

The Bible repeatedly reminds us of the need to forgive one another. There must be a reason for that! And so this part of the Lord’s Prayer serves as a reminder that forgiveness will be necessary. And it will be necessary because we all still sin against each other. Sometimes we will be the one sinned against; sometimes the shoe will be on the other foot and we will be the offending party. (Frankly, each of us probably fits the latter description more often than we might care to admit.)

This holds true in marriage. One of my favorite books on marriage is titled, When Sinners Say “I Do”, by Dave Harvey. The title alone speaks volumes, and is instructive. Even the most godly marriage imaginable is still a marriage between two sinners (even if forgiven, redeemed sinners). And so forgiveness will often be necessary. Harvey repeats one statement a number of times throughout the book: “Forgiven sinners forgive sin.” In some ways that is a good summary of this part of the Lord’s Prayer.

This also holds true in churches. Do you expect to find a perfect church? A church that is without sin? Good luck with that. In fact, the church this side of heaven is made up entirely of sinners. In this life every believer in Christ is a forgiven sinner, even a sanctified sinner (!), but still a sinner nonetheless. Put enough of those sinners in close proximity for long enough, and some sparks are bound to fly! And so we pray together as the Lord Jesus taught us, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

So when (not if!) we are sinned against, we must learn to forgive. And we must forgive as Christ has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Likewise when we sin against someone else, we must be quick to repent, and seek out forgiveness and reconciliation with them.

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, may the joy of being freely forgiven of all of your sins, lead you more and more to freely forgive others as well.

THOUGHTS ON THE 4TH COMMANDMENT (SHORTER CATECHISM Q.57)

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It may surprise you to learn that the Westminster Shorter Catechism contains a rather lengthy section (Q.41-81) dealing with the ten commandments. That is more than 40 total questions!.  In other words, well over 1/3 of the Shorter Catechism is spent focusing on this summary of the moral law of God.

That alone should be instructive to us. How much time do we as believers spend considering God’s law or meditating upon it?  Psalm 1 calls us to delight in “the law of the LORD, and so to meditate upon it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Frankly, how many of us meditate upon the law of God at all, much less day and night?

It may further surprise you to know that the Shorter Catechism spends no less than 6 of those questions (Q.57-62) dealing with the 4th commandment in particular. That being the case, the Westminster divines clearly saw great importance in having a thoroughly biblical understanding of God’s will for our lives as expressed in this commandment. There must be a great deal that is important for us to learn about the 4th commandment.

For starters, what does Q.57 have to say about it? It reads as follows:

Q.57. Which is the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment is, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

You will notice that this question essentially just gives us the text of Exodus 20:8-11. (The 4th commandment is also found, albeit with slightly different wording, in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.) And the temptation for those reading or studying through the catechism might be to move right along to the next question. But that would be a mistake. For starters, we must remember (no pun intended) that the Shorter Catechism was intended, not only to be read and studied, but also to be memorized. And it was intended to be memorized by children as well as adults!

That being the case, the Westminster divines, wise pastors and theologians that they were, saw great value in having God’s commandments (including the 4th commandment) committed to memory. It is difficult to keep God’s will in mind during our daily lives if we fail to keep His Word in our minds and hearts at all in the first place. How many of us can even list the ten commandments (in order!), much less recite them from memory? If we if do not know them, how likely are we to meditate upon them or apply them? Not very.

May the Lord Jesus work in us by His Holy Spirit, that we may read and even memorize the 4th commandment, meditate upon it, and be better equipped to follow His will in obedience to it. May we learn to give the Lord His day, and may we find that in remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy, that the day really is given to us as a blessing, not a burden.

Thoughts on the 4th Commandment (Keeping the Sabbath Holy)

Chantry SabbathIn his book, Call the Sabbath a Delight, Walter Chantry makes a simple statement that should go without saying, but actually serves as a much-needed and timely reminder in our day:

“Whether or not people keep the Sabbath holy is not an incidental or insignificant matter.” (p.12)

How do we know this to be true? Simply because it is included in the 10 commandments! (It is in God’s top 10, so to speak.) The 10 commandments contain a summary of God’s moral law (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.41), so remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy is still just as much our moral duty before God as any of the other nine commandments. And the fact that the 4th commandment is located in the first table of the law (as commandments 1-4 are often referred to) means that it has to do particularly with love for God. In other words, remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy is to be an expression of our love to God.

And yet even among many of those who claim to affirm and uphold the continuing relevance and binding nature of the 10 Commandments, one easily gets the impression that keeping the Sabbath holy really is somewhat “incidental or insignificant” (to borrow Chantry’s phrase). Certainly this is true, if judged by the actual practice (or lack thereof) of Sabbath observance on the Lord’s day.

The 4th commandment (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15) has fallen on hard times in our day. While you could argue that the same could be said of all of the 10 commandments, it should be plain to any reasonable observer that in recent years the 4th commandment in particular has been the subject of more than its fair share of ignorance, neglect, and downright disobedience, and that even among professing believers in Christ.

For one reason or another many seem to assume that there is little or no continuing relevance (much less obligation to obedience) inherent in this particular commandment. At least functionally, even if not necessarily theoretically, many believers seem to live as if we now had only 9 instead of 10 commandments. This should simply not be the case.

The Westminster divines certainly thought much of the 4th commandment, as the Shorter Catechism devotes no less than six (6) questions to the subject (Q.57-62). I plan to spend some time going through these questions in future posts, and hope that will find them helpful and edifying.

And I also hope that (if you have not done so already) you will take the time to pick up and read Chantry’s book on this subject. It’s helpfulness far exceeds its brevity (only 112 pages long)!

 

Forgive Us Our Debts (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART VII)

Praying Hands 2The fifth request found in the Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). There is so much packed into that one seemingly-simple request, that we will need to unpack its meaning and application over the course of more than one study. (So consider this as part one of a two-part study of this particular request in the Lord’s Prayer.)

Perhaps the first thing that we should learn from this request and its inclusion in the model prayer that the Lord Jesus taught us to pray is that we actually need forgiveness. If we need to ask for forgiveness, that necessarily means that we are sinners, doesn’t it? In fact, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (KJV). How many have sinned? All. How many have therefore “come short of the glory of God”? All. Every last one of us.

And in this request our sins are referred to as “debts.” Sin puts us in debt to God. Being in debt to another person is bad enough, but being in debt to God should be a sobering thought for anyone! What every person owes to God as his or her Creator is obedience – perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience. But ever since the fall of mankind in Adam’s sin (Genesis chapter 3) we have all failed to obey God, and have transgressed his holy law in more ways and more often than we can even begin to comprehend. Our debt of sin is un-repayable by us. It makes our ever-mounting national debt seem like chump change in comparison. And so we desperately need forgiveness.

What is forgiveness? The word “forgive” in Matthew 6:12 has the idea of sending something away or removing it. It brings to mind the imagery of the “scapegoat” found in Leviticus 16:7-22. There we are told that two goats were to be used as a sin offering – one goat would be killed as a sacrifice to the Lord (v.15), while the other goat (the scapegoat), after having the sins of the people confessed over it, would be sent away into the wilderness (v.21), bearing the sins of the people far, far away, never to return.

Those two goats together picture for us the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in both making atonement for sin, and in carrying our sins far away from us. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (KJV). The reason that we can ask God for forgiveness of our sins is only because the debt of our sin has been paid in full by the only one capable of paying it – through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And forgiveness is not something that we just need to ask for from God at the beginning of the Christian life, but will continue to be an ongoing (even daily!) need in the lives of all believers. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that in this life we will never outgrow our need to continually ask God for forgiveness. (And so the Lord’s Prayer clearly rules out any idea of perfectionism!)

Praying for the forgiveness of our sins should also be a regular part of both private and corporate prayer (i.e. praying with other believers in groups as well as in public worship). After all, it does say, “forgive us our debts,” not just ‘forgive me my debts.’

I sincerely hope that you know the joy and peace that only come through the forgiveness of sins, and which is freely offered to you through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing else in this world that can relieve a troubled conscience like the knowledge that, in Christ, a holy God has freely forgiven all of your sins!

OUR DAILY BREAD (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART VI)

Praying Hands 2We now come to the fourth request found in the Lord’s Prayer, which is “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). In this part of the Lord’s Prayer we are instructed to pray for the provision of our daily needs, the necessities of life (i.e. food, clothing, shelter, etc.). Bread represents the most basic staple of food needed in order to sustain life.

The idea of the Lord providing “daily bread” brings to mind the manna (or bread from heaven) that the Lord miraculously provided to the children of Israel for 40 years during the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:35).The manna was not only miraculous provision, but it was also provided daily, with the exception of the Sabbath (Exodus 16:26). A double-portion was to be collected the day before the Sabbath. Think about that. What a picture of dependence upon the Lord!

And so by instructing us to pray for our daily bread, the Lord Jesus is clearly teaching us that we too are dependent upon God, even for our daily needs. If truth be told, everyone is still just as dependent upon God for their daily needs as those Israelites were during those 40 years in the desert, and in our prayers we should acknowledge that dependence.

It is all too easy to overlook this simple truth. When things are going well, and you are living comfortably, it is easy to forget that all that you have is a gift of God. No matter how hard you may work, no matter how successful you may be, at the end of the day, you are still utterly and completely dependent upon God for everything. But do you pray that way?

Likewise, even when things are not going so well, even when you have no earthly idea how you are going to make ends meet, it is surprisingly easy to forget that you are entirely dependent upon God to meet your needs. You might think that being in need would make it much easier to acknowledge one’s dependence upon God, but how many of us in those situations fail to pray, or treat prayer as a last resort? It is not without reason that the Scripture says, “ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2, KJV).

And notice that there is nothing inherently “unspiritual” (whatever that means) about praying for your daily needs. The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, given to us so that we might better understand how to pray, and one of the main things that we are taught to pray is for our “daily bread.” To be sure, it is not the first thing or the top priority on the list (that is that the Lord’s name would be “hallowed” or revered – Matthew 6:9), but it is certainly included.

So let us learn to pray for our daily bread, and may we be quick to give thanks to the Lord for providing for our daily needs, whether we have a little or a lot.