Part 8 / Matt. 6:9-13
The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer reads as follows: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:13). If you read the ESV or the NIV translation you may have noticed that the conclusion is not printed as part of the text; instead, it is included in the margin. The NASB includes it, but it is placed in brackets or is italicized. The King James version and some older translations include it as part of the normal text. What gives?
The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer has sparked much debate. Believers often turn to Matthew 6:13, and other passages like it, as a litmus test for the reliability of a given translation. If the conclusion is not there, it is assumed that the translators have taken parts out of the text of Scripture. This is clearly something we should never do, right? (see Deut. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18-19) It isn’t that simple.
Translating the ancient text
Translating the ancient text into modern English begins with the study of manuscripts. A manuscript is a fragment, page, or scroll that contains a portion of Scripture. We don’t have the original documents, but we have thousands of copies. Daniel Wallace writes: “In Greek alone, there are more than 5,600 manuscripts today. Many of these are fragmentary, especially the older ones, but the average Greek NT [New Testament] MS [manuscript] is over 450 pages long. Altogether, there are more than 2.6 million pages of text, leaving hundreds of witnesses for every book of the NT [New Testament].” We also have more than 20 000 manuscripts in other languages like Latin, Armenian, and Coptic.
No other ancient text comes even close to the sheer number of manuscripts we have available for the New Testament. This means that we have a massive collection of manuscripts to study and compare. The vast majority of these manuscripts agree and there are no alternative readings. On the odd occasions where there are alternative readings, however, we must determine which reading is the most probable. The science of studying the reliability of manuscripts is called “text criticism”. Text critics have various criteria by which they measure the reliability of a text: age, place of origin, number of similar copies, to name a few.
What does this have to do with Matthew 6:13 and the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer? There are several manuscripts that include the conclusion as we know it today, or a slightly different version of it. However, the oldest and most important manuscripts that we have do not. Early Christian commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, like those of Tertullian or Cyprian, also do not contain any references to the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer. This has led most modern scholars to conclude that the conclusion was only added later in the late second century.
That explains why the ESV and NIV place it in the margin. They include it in the margin because they are honest and transparent translations. They are not trying to take parts out of the Biblical text; they want to give us the most accurate representation of the original text.
Should we pray the conclusion?
When we taught the Lord’s Prayer to our children, we decided to include the conclusion. While the conclusion was probably not part of the original, it does not contain anything that is not thoroughly biblical. Take the first part of the conclusion as an example: “yours is the kingdom”. This echoes what is said elsewhere in Scripture. In 1 Tim. 1:17 Paul praises God as “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God”. The Psalms declare: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” (Ps. 145:13). The traditional conclusion of the Lord’s prayer serves as a reminder that God is on his throne and that he rules over all. Our petitions are directed to the God who reigns. It is God’s sovereign right to govern the world in such a way that our prayers are answered. Our confidence in prayer, therefore, is not based on our position, but on the position and authority of God.
The same applies to the second part of the conclusion: “yours is… the power”. In Revelation 19:1 the great multitude of heaven cries out: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God”. Power is God’s own possession; our strength is derived from him. God is all-powerful or omnipotent. He is so powerful that he can create with a word. In the words of Psalm 33:8-9: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” Our confidence in prayer, therefore, is not based on our power, but on the power of God.
Finally, the conclusion declares: “yours is… the glory.” God is glorious. David stood in awe of God’s glory: “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.” (1 Chron. 29:11). We glorify God because God is glorious. Our praise is a response to his perfection. Our attitude in prayer, therefore, is one of grateful humility, giving God all the praise for his answer to our prayers.
The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer echoes what the rest of Scripture teaches. In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (question 107), it is a helpful reminder “to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise Him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to Him; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”
So, we pray: “yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen”
Part 7 / Matt. 6:9-13
In his classic work on holiness, JC Ryle writes: “True Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare. . . . Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.” If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that to be true. We battle “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16) every day. Sometimes we lose and fall into sin. That is why we pray: “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). In Jesus we have “the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7). This is a glorious truth and a comfort to every battle-weary believer.
Forgiveness, however, does not give us an excuse to sin. Understood correctly, it motivates holiness. We do not want to fall into our former sins. We want to become more and more like Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray: “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13).
Those who have been forgiven are not suddenly immune to their former sins and our enemy knows this. Charles Spurgeon writes: “Very speedily after the penitent has received forgiveness and has the sense of it in his soul he is tempted of the devil, for Satan cannot bear to lose his subjects, and when he sees them cross the border line and escape out of his hand, he gathers up all his forces and exercises all his cunning if, perchance, he may slay them at once.” Our enemy is a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). The watchful soul prays: “lead us not into temptation”.
When we realize the seriousness of sin we will also pray: “lead us not into temptation”. The Black Plague ravaged London from 1665 to 1666. It is estimated that a quarter of the population (which numbered around 400 000 at the time) succumbed to the disease. With the horror of the plague fresh in their minds, Ralph Venning wrote a book in which he called sin “The plague of plagues”. Listen to what he wrote: “When sin has used man to break the law, it uses the law to break man, to undo him by condemnation and death… Sin is therefore exceedingly sinful and wicked. It is most immeasurably spiteful, poisonous and pernicious, because it kills men. And not only so, but it kills them by that which is good, and was appointed to man for life; it turns food into poison.”
The Bible consistently warns believers to avoid sin, and to give temptation a wide berth. Sin is not your friend; it is a wild animal “crouching at the door” and its “desire is for you” (Gen. 4:7). Sin kills and destroys. Thomas Brooks wrote: “A little hole in the ship sinks it. A small breach in a dyke carries away all before it. A little stab at the heart kills a man. A little sin, without a great deal of mercy, will damn a man!” Paul warned young Timothy: “as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Tim. 6:11). Jesus used even stronger language. He said: “if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matt. 18:8-9).
Finally, when we are aware of our own weakness, we pray: “lead us not into temptation”. A believer’s maturity is not measured by how close we can get to sin without succumbing to it – a thrill-seeker trying to see how close he can get to the edge without falling off. Like a battle-hardened soldier, the mature believer does not go looking for a fight. Samson, the most powerful of Israel’s judges, could only resist Delilah for so long. David, a man after God’s own heart, fell into sin at the height of his power. In the words of 1 Cor. 10:12: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Therefore, we pray: “lead us not into temptation”.
Trials and temptations
The word that Jesus used for “temptation” is used in two ways in the Bible. First, it is used to describe a test or a trial. This is how it is used in James 1:2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. Later, in that same chapter, James writes: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (v. 12). These trials are tough, but they can also be beneficial. In James 1:4 we are told that they produce “steadfastness” and help believers mature so that they “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Our response to the trial determines whether it will produce sanctification or sin in our lives. The apostle Paul used Israel’s trials as an example. In 1 Corinthians 10 he reminds his readers how they responded to the tests they had to endure in the wilderness. They grumbled (v. 10) and put their trust in idols (v. 7), which led them into even greater sin (v. 8). We, like Israel, may be tempted to respond to our trials in unbiblical ways. That is why Paul reminds his readers: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13). Sin is not the only option when we go through trials.
The second way in which the word is used, is to refer to being tempted to sin. Before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples to “pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). This is most likely what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his disciples to pray: “lead us not into temptation”. We cannot escape all temptation. This is the mistake that the monks made: they believed that they could isolate themselves from the evils of the world, not realizing that they could not run from the evil within (see James 1:14). This is not a prayer for a monastic life. It is a prayer, however, for God’s grace in avoiding temptation and those situations where we are liable to fall.
Charles Spurgeon brings these two ideas together in his paraphrase of the petition: “Save me, O Lord, from such trials and sufferings as may lead me into sin. Spare me from too great trials, lest I fall by their overcoming my patience, my faith, or my steadfastness.” Every trail carries within it the temptation to respond in sinful ways. We will not be spared everything, but we can pray that we would be spared those things that would harm rather than help our walk with the Lord.
Let us pray: “lead us not into temptation”.
Part 6 / Matt. 6:9-13
We have been studying the Lord’s Prayer as it is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13. We have also referenced Luke’s version of the prayer in Luke 11:1-4, which differs slightly from the Matthew’s version. This difference does not mean that Luke somehow got it wrong, but rather that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer (or versions of it) on multiple occasions.
Why is it called the Lord’s Prayer? I’m not suggesting that we change the name. This is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples after all. Yet, in one sense this is not the prayer that Jesus himself would have prayed. Notice the next petition: “forgive us our debts” (v. 12). This is not something that Jesus would have prayed, because Jesus did not have any debts to forgive. We, however, are a different story. We have debts, and they are debts that we could not possibly repay. So we join the disciples as we plead: “forgive us our debts”.
Debts and sins
You may have noticed that Jesus used different terms when he instructed his disciples to pray for forgiveness. In Matthew’s version we ask for the forgiveness of our “debts”, while in Luke’s version we ask for the forgiveness of our “sins”. Why the difference?
In Matthew’s version the word translated as “debts” refers to a financial or moral obligation. We have the moral obligation to worship, honour, and obey God. Listen to how it is phrased in Deut. 10:12: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul”. Israel’s obedience and worship are things that God “requires” of them. In the same way, Eccl. 12:13 says that fearing God and keeping his commandments is “the whole duty of man.” In the New Testament we are told that we should “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
When we do not render to God the worship and obedience that he is due, we owe him a debt. Can you see the problem? We have never fully rendered to God the praise, love, worship and obedience that he is due – that he is worthy of. We are in his debt and this is a debt that we could not possibly repay. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus describes a man who owed the king an unpayable debt. He pleaded with the king for more time to repay him. The king knew that he could not possibly pay of his debt, but had mercy on him and forgave him – he wrote it off (Matt. 18:21-27). We’ll get back to the rest of the parable in a moment. For now, it is important to understand that we owe God a moral debt that we cannot pay. Our only hope is that our debt would be forgiven.
Luke’s version does not refer to a debt, but to sin (Luke 11:4). Sin is a transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4 says that sin is “lawlessness”). This is also sometimes described as rebellion (Joshua 1:18). We know that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This is the price we must pay for our rebellion against God’s revealed will.
Luke’s version does not leave out the idea of debt, however. The petition in Luke 11:4 continues: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Here we see that, because of our sin, we are indebted to God and to one another. Something must be done about the debt that we owe. Sin cannot be brushed off or overlooked. Only fools “mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9, NASB).
Forgiving and being forgiven
Remember the parable of the ungrateful servant? After being forgiven by the king, the servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him some money. The amount was much smaller than the amount he had owed the king. Instead of showing mercy, as he had been shown mercy, he seized the man, and “he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” (Matthew 18:28-30).
This did not sit well with his co-workers and they reported him to the king. Jesus describes the scene like this: “Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” (Matt. 18:32-34). His response revealed that he did not appreciate what the king had done for him. He did not understand the seriousness of the debt that he had been forgiven. By refusing to forgive his fellow servant, the ungrateful servant revealed a heart that made light of his sin and was filled with contempt for his master.
Forgiveness is one of the most glorious gifts of the gospel. A Christian is someone who understands the crushing weight of the law, and who knows what it means to be weighed down by the burden of his sin. In his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes it like this: “I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, ‘What shall I do?’”
The gospel meets us in our despair and points us to the cross of Christ, where we can be freed from our burden and forgiven our debt. In the words of The Pilgrim’s Progress: “He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and little below in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”
If you’ve experienced the joy of forgiveness, you cannot withhold it from others. That is the point of Christ’s parable. Peter asked Jesus: “’Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Matt. 18:21-22). Why so many times? Because God has forgiven us our unpayable debt against him, we can forgive others their small debt against us.
We owe God a debt that we could not possibly repay. Our only hope is for that debt to be forgiven. Praise the Lord, for he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” (Ps. 103:8-13). As we have been forgiven, let us forgive others also.
Let us pray: “Forgive us our debts.”
Part 5 / Matt. 6:9-13
One sign of a true, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the desire to learn from him. A disciple is, at heart, a learner. Those who follow Jesus soon find that our Saviour is a wonderful teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29). Through his words and example, Christ teaches his disciples what true godliness is. A true disciple applies those words and follows that example. It is no wonder then that the disciples asked Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
What did he teach them?
Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. So far we have seen how a true disciple should address God (“Our Father in heaven”) and that true prayer puts our heavenly Father’s priorities before our own (“hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done”). Next, we will see how we should pray for our needs and it starts with a request for “our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
More than bread
The first petition seems simple enough, “Give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11), but what does it mean? Am I only allowed to pray for bread? What kind of bread should I be praying for? What if I am allergic to bread? A bit of historical background should clear up any confusion.
In Scripture “bread” is often used as shorthand for all our nutritional needs because bread was a staple of the Israelites’ diet. For example, when Joseph settled his family in the land of Egypt we are told that “there was no food in all the land” (Gen. 47:13). The key word here is “food”, which could also be translated “bread” (in fact, it is translated that way in the KJV). The passage is not just telling us that there was no bread, but that there was no food because of the famine.
We find something similar in 2 Sam. 9:6-7 when David cared for Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. David assured him: “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” This last phrase can also be translated: “you shall eat bread at my table always”. Again, the implication is not that Mephibosheth was only allowed to eat bread, but rather that David would take care of all his physical needs.
God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, both physical and spiritual. We were created as embodied beings. God not only formed Adam from the dust of the earth, giving him a physical body, but also planted the Garden of Eden, providing for his physical needs (see Gen. 1:29; 2:8-9). We can ask our heavenly Father to provide for our physical needs.
Isn’t this unspiritual? Some object by pointing out that Jesus called himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35). This request is then reinterpreted to mean that we should pray that God would enable us to “feed spiritually” on Jesus. While this is an admirable sentiment, there is nothing in the passage (or the rest of Scripture) that would indicate that we should read it like that. God is interested in every aspect of our lives, not just the spiritual. For example, when Jesus told his disciples that even the hairs on their heads were numbered (Matt. 10:30), he did so to assure them of God’s care for them (v. 31). No detail escapes their heavenly Father’s notice, no matter how trivial.
Isn’t this just lazy? Aren’t we commanded to work and so provide for ourselves? It is true that God has commanded us to work (2 Thess. 3:10), but prayer and work are not mutually exclusive. God does not intend for our prayers to replace our obedience, or for our obedience to replace our prayers. In Phil. 4:6 the apostle Paul writes: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The text says that we are to pray “in everything”, which certainly includes our work.
Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray for their “daily” bread? There is some uncertainty about the term that Jesus used, because it is only used twice in the Bible (here, and in Luke’s version of the prayer in Luke 11). The term has been translated as “daily” or “necessary for each day”. Both ideas fit the context and our common experience. Job, for example, said that he treasured God’s words more than “my portion of food” (Job 23:12). The King James translated it as “necessary food” and the NIV as “daily bread”. In other words, praying for our daily bread means that we ask God to provide what we need for each day.
How much do we need? Instead of counting calories and referencing a BMI chart, let us turn to the wisdom of Scripture. Prov. 30:8-9 gives a wise perspective on this: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 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.” This is a prayer for “our daily bread”.
Praying for our daily bread does not mean that God won’t give you more than you need. We see this in the lives of Old Testament saints and even in the life of Jesus (see Matt. 11:19). Abundance is a blessing from the Lord, but such an abundance brings certain temptations. As we have seen from Proverbs, it might tempt some to deny the Lord. Paul also warned young Timothy that such abundance could also lead to pride and a misplaced trust in riches (1 Tim. 6:17).
Ultimately, the petition is directed to the God who knows what we need. Sometimes God disagrees with us on what we need, how much we need and when we need it. On such occasions we have to trust the goodness and wisdom of our heavenly Father. He always has a good reason for saying no. When the apostle Paul asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, God denied his request. Paul later learned that it kept him humble and made him more useful in the kingdom (2 Cor. 12:7-8). God did not deny his request because he was unkind, but because he is wise.
Let us pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Part 4 / Matt. 6:9-13
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray for what God wants first, before turning to their own needs and wants. Their, and our, priority in prayer should be to “ask… according to his will” (1 John 5:14-15). This raises an important and perplexing question: what is God’s will?
Whether you are a frustrated student struggling to decide what to study, a young adult wondering who you should marry, or a businessman weighing different investments, we have all wondered about God’s will for our lives. We search the Scriptures for answers and find that a list of university courses or the name of my future spouse just isn’t there. In these situations, believers often turn to impressions, hope for visions, or take verses out of context. That is not what Jesus had in mind when he taught his disciples to pray: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)
Aspects of God’s will
To understand God’s will, we must differentiate between God’s sovereign will and his revealed will. God’s sovereign will, also called God’s decretive will, is that which always comes to pass. This is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Everything that happens is according to God’s sovereign will, or it would not come to pass.
Our plans are subject to God’s sovereign will. Proverbs 19:21 reminds us: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” And again in Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” James warned his readers that they should plan with humility, because ultimately we are not in control – God is. We have to acknowledge that our plans will only work out “if the Lord wills” (Jam. 4:15).
How do we know God’s sovereign will? As we’ve mentioned before, God has not revealed everything to his children. Deut. 29:29 says: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God”. We only know God’s sovereign will because God has chosen to reveal it to us (through biblical promise of prophesy) or because it has already taken place.
What about God’s revealed will? God’s revealed will is also called his moral will. This is what the rest of Deut. 29:29 is all about: “but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God’s will is revealed in the commands, promises, and prayers of God’s Word. When we search the Scriptures we find that God’s revealed will includes our “sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3), being thankful (1 Thess. 5:18), and sometimes even going through trials (Phil. 1:29).
God’s revealed will calls for submission, trust, and obedience. It is this aspect of God’s will that Jesus had in mind when he said: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). To do God’s will believers have to understand it: “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17). This is only possible if we prayerfully search the Scriptures.
Praying for God’s sovereign will to be done
Both God’s sovereign and revealed will come into play when we pray for God’s will to be done. In praying for God’s sovereign will to be done, we are saying that we acknowledge God’s sovereignty and that we submit ourselves to it. David expresses this kind of confidence in the Lord in Psalm 37:7-8: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” Submitting to God’s sovereignty means that we give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
Praying for God’s sovereign will to be done does not mean that we can’t pray for a change in circumstances. The apostle Paul, for example, asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:8). We can pray for healing or deliverance for trials. However, we should be willing to accept God’s answer without grumbling or complaining.
Also, God’s sovereign will does not absolve us from responsibility. Prayer and obedience are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Which brings us to praying for God’s revealed will.
Praying for God’s revealed will to be done
Praying for God’s revealed will to be done means that we are asking God to enable us to do what he has commanded. Knowledge is an important element in this. The apostle Paul often prayed for the churches to be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:9-10). Elsewhere he prays that believers may have “discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10). Praying for God’s will, therefore, includes praying for knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and discernment.
When we pray for God’s revealed will to be done, we are also asking God to give us a sincere desire to do his will. Knowing God’s will and having the desire to do his will are two different things. In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus told a parable of a father telling his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son said yes, but never went. The second son said no, but regretted his decision later and did what his father had asked. Both sons knew their father’s will, but only one had the desire to do it. As servants of Christ, we should do the will of God “from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). Praying for God’s will also means praying for a heart that delights in doing God’s will.
Finally, praying for God’s revealed will to be done means that we are asking for God’s supernatural enabling to do his will. Augustine famously prayed: “Give what you command, and command what you will.” It is this divine enabling that lies at the heart of true obedience. In the words of Philippians 2:12-13: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” When we pray should echo the benediction at the end of Hebrews: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” (Heb. 13:20-21).
Praying for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) is not limited to the individual believer. We should pray that God’s will would be done all over the world. Psalm 67:2-4 captures this picture beautifully: “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” This is what it means for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us pray: “Your will be done”.
Part 3 / Matt. 6:9-13
Why do we do what we do? Why do we pray what we pray? Paul Tripp writes that everything we do in life is “done in allegiance to, or pursuit of, either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of self.” At any given moment we are tempted to usurp the throne and seek first our own kingdom. Even our outward acts of service “for God” could inwardly be motivated by personal gain. How do we fight this tendency to prioritize self over our Saviour? One good place to start, is prayer.
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven
When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (v. 10), what did Jesus have in mind? The kingdom features very prominently in Jesus’ teaching. It is first mentioned in Matt. 3:2 when John the Baptist called Israel to repent, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus preached the same message when he started his public ministry (Matt. 4:17). In fact, in Matt. 4:23 we are told that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom”. The gospel, or good news, that Jesus proclaimed had the kingdom as a central theme. We may not make much of the kingdom in our modern gospel preaching, but Jesus clearly did.
We also see this in his Sermon on the Mount, of which the Lord’s prayer forms a part. For example, when Jesus describes the blessedness of the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3) or those who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10), he says: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. A few verses later Jesus explains that our reputation in the kingdom of heaven depends on our obedience to his commands (Matt. 5:19: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”). And entrance into the kingdom of heaven requires a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20). Finally, Jesus reminds his disciples that they should not be anxious about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Our heavenly Father (same phrased used in the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer) will take care of us (Matt. 6:31-32). Instead, we should be focussing on God’s kingdom: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
A careful reader would have picked up that these passages sometimes referred to the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God”. Is there a difference? There are some who have suggested that there is, but taken in context it is clear that they refer to the same reality. The phrase “kingdom of God” is used throughout the New Testament (68 times, in fact). The phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs only 32 times and only in the Gospel of Matthew.
Some take this to mean that Matthew refers to Christ’s millennial kingdom, while the other New Testament writers refer to God’s universal kingdom. Within Matthew’s gospel, however, the two terms are used interchangeably. In Matthew 19:23 Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” He then elaborates in the next verse: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24). These two verses refer to the same reality.
The present and future kingdom
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, therefore, are synonyms for what FF Bruce called “a spiritual sovereignty”. The rule of God is, in one sense, absolute. God is the Sovereign over the entire universe and there are no powers who can rival him. The apostle Paul explains that the power of God, working in the believer, is the same power “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20-22). This has been called God’s providential kingdom or God’s kingdom of power.
There is also a sense in which God’s rule is made manifest or visible in the world through the believer. Again, FF Bruce says: “those who believed in Christ there and then entered His Kingdom. The divine rule knew no national bounds; it was received wherever Christ was accepted as Lord and Saviour.” The church and the kingdom are not synonymous, but they are related. The church is the people of the kingdom; as believers we are kingdom citizens. In the words of Col. 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. This is a present reality for every true believer.
It is also true that the current manifestation of the kingdom is not its final one. The kingdom will be fully revealed in the “age to come”. Much of Christ’s teaching focussed on this future realization of the kingdom. For example, in Matt. 25:31 Jesus speaks of the Son of Man coming in his glory to sit upon his glorious throne. Our current citizenship is a foretaste of what will be revealed when Christ establishes his kingdom in glory.
Praying for the kingdom
When we are instructed to pray, “Your kingdom come,” we aren’t told to pray for a political or earthly kingdom. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world. Before Pilate he said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36).
We are also not instructed to pray for God’s absolute and sovereign rule. His providential rule cannot be thwarted and is already a present reality. In the words of Thomas Watson: “The kingdom of God’s providence rules over all. Kings do nothing, but what His providence permits and orders. The kingdom of God’s providence we do not pray should come for it is already come.”
So, what do we pray for? We pray that God’s kingdom of grace, his spiritual sovereignty over the believer, would be set up in individual lives and increase. This is a prayer for personal piety and a deepening appreciation for the grace that is ours in Christ. It is the recognition that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13) and that our primary concern in this life is to live as citizens of the next.
Speaking of which, we also pray that God’s kingdom of glory would hasten in its coming. We long for the future fulfilment of God’s kingdom and say with the apostle John: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Thomas Watson summarizes this petition of the Lord’s Prayer as follows: “When we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ we are praying that God would help us to know Him better and to love Him more. We are praying that God would give us more strength to resist temptation, to forgive our enemies, and to suffer affliction… We are praying that God would make us different in our callings, that He would establish us in the believe of His truth and in the love of his truth, and that God would grant that our labours would be instrumental in setting up the kingdom in others.”
Let us pray, “Your kingdom come.”
Part 2 / Matt. 6:9-13
What do you want most? What do you desire above all else? When we are asked those questions, we almost instinctively know that there are right and wrong answers. We know that there are things that we are supposed to want, but if we are honest, we would rather have something else. Like a beauty pageant princess, we say that we want world peace, but we would rather have the crown.
Our prayers reveal a lot about our priorities. Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34). Our hearts are idol factories, the chief idol being “self”. Our prayers often reflect a concern for our own interests more than it does a reverence for God. We ask God to serve our idols and then we are surprised when God says, “No!” No, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he showed them where every true prayer starts.
Where true prayer starts
After addressing his heavenly Father, assuming the proper posture of respect and trust, Jesus prays: “hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10). This is not how we usually start our shopping list of prayer requests!
What do these requests have in common? Their primary concern is God’s glory, kingdom, and purposes. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples first focusses on what God wants, before it turns to our needs and wants. This is foreign to our modern minds. We live in a world that constantly tells us that we deserve to have our every need met and our every desire fulfilled. We approach our spiritual lives in much the same way. We look for churches where our felt needs are met. We volunteer only the surplus of our time, talent, or resources. Our prayers sound more like a reading from our Christmas Wishlist than fellowship with our heavenly Father.
Something has to change. We need to reprioritize. The apostle John helpfully points out what our priority should be: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15). One of the reasons why our prayers seem so powerless, is because we do not “ask according to his will”. Maybe we need an armband that says “WWJP”: What Would Jesus Pray.
Praying according to the will of God
What is God’s will? I have often heard believers say that it is impossible to know the will of God without a voice from heaven or a vision. It is true that God has not revealed everything to his children. Deut. 29:29 does say: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God”). But he has revealed enough; the rest of Deut. 29:29 reads: “but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” If this were not true, then Paul’s admonition would make no sense: “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17).
God’s will is revealed in the commands, promises, and prayers of God’s Word. For example, 1 Thess. 4:3 tells us “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality”. That is pretty clear. How often do we pray for our sanctification and purity? Our problem is not that God has hidden his will, but rather that we have not paid attention to what he has revealed. So let me ask again: What Would Jesus Pray?
Hallowed be your name
The first request or petition is found in Matt. 6:9: “hallowed be your name”. We do not put much stock in names nowadays. We rarely think about what they mean or represent. Maybe you’ve read about actors naming their children strange things like “Pilot Inspector” or “Moon Unit”. I shudder to think of the playground insults that their kids will have to endure.
Biblical names meant something. This does not mean that some of them weren’t strange. Isaiah called one of his sons Maher-shalal-hash-baz after all, but even this strange name meant something: “hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey” (Isa. 8:3). This name was chosen to symbolize Assyria’s mad lust for conquest. Even here the name had meaning.
Think of how many times the Lord changed someone’s name to signal a significant change in their lives: Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Jacob became Israel; Simon was called Cephas or Peter. These new names came to represent a new identity, or if you want to use gospel language, a new person: “he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Similarly, God’s name is significant. For example, in Acts 4:12 we are told that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Later we are told that the disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name (Acts 5:41). God’s name represents God as he has made himself known. Herman Bavink wrote: “There is an intimate link between God and his name... We do not name God; he names himself… The name is God himself as he reveals himself”.
This means that when Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, “hallowed be your name,” he has God’s person, being, character, and work in mind. God’s name, as a revelation of God, is great (Ezek. 36:23), holy (Ezek. 36:20), and awesome (Ps. 111:9). That is why it must be “hallowed”.
But what does “hallowed” mean? The word means to regard as holy or set apart. In asking for God’s name to be hallowed, we are asking that God’s name would be set apart from every other name. Wayne Mack explains: “we pray for God to be regarded in a different way from everyone else”. When Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them. Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” (Lev. 10:1-3).
God should not be approached or regarded like pagan idols, nor should he be treated as though he were just one of us. That is why God’s name should be hallowed – it is to give God as he has revealed himself respect, honour, and glory. Praying for his name to be hallowed means that we implore God to help us honour him and that other’s would do the same.
Commenting on the Lord’s prayer, Martin Llyoyd-Jones wrote: “The word hallowed means to sanctify or revere, to make and keep holy. Why does He say, ‘Hallowed be Thy name’? What does this term ‘Thy name’ stand for?... ‘Thy name’, in other words, means all that is true of God, all that has been revealed concerning God. That means that God in all his attributes, God in all that He is, in and of Himself, and God in all that He has done and all that He is doing.”
What would Jesus pray? He would pray that his Father would receive the glory that is his due. It is this desire that moved Jesus to pray: “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39), in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is this same desire for God’s glory that moved the disciples to pray for boldness even under threat of persecution (Acts 4:29). That is the first thing that Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “hallowed be your name”.
Part 1 / Matt. 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-13
Few biblical prayers have attracted as much attention as the prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples. “The Lord’s prayer” (as it has become known) has also been called the “Pater Noster” (which is Latin for Our Father). The prayer is recorded in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11. There are slight differences between the two and the setting seems to be different as well. This would suggest that Jesus taught this prayer (or a variation of it) to his disciples on several occasions.
The setting recorded in Luke 11 is particularly interesting. Luke 11:1 tells us that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."” The Incarnate Christ prayed… a lot. This was not particularly unique. The Pharisees prayed a lot as well, and they did so in public. Jesus warns against turning prayer into a public spectacle right before he teaches his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:5. So what was it about Jesus’ prayers that prompted the disciples to ask: “Lord, teach us to pray”?
Jesus’ prayers were private moments of intimate communion with his Father. Jesus did pray out loud and in public on the odd occasion (for example, at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11:41-42). Most of his prayers, however, were private. Mark describes Jesus’ normal pattern like this: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). The disciples, who were close to Jesus, were aware of this. They saw something in Christ’s prayer-life that they did not see with the Pharisees. They heard something in the prayers of Jesus that they had not heard before. And they wanted in… they wanted to pray like that. They wanted fellowship with the Father like Jesus.
What did Jesus teach them? Jesus taught them a pattern for prayer. The differences between Matthew and Luke’s versions remind us that this is not some magic spell. There is nothing particularly powerful about reciting it word for word. Crocheting it on a pillow does not make you spiritual. You can pray the Lord’s prayer verbatim, but if you don’t pray with a sincere faith the words are meaningless. If you do not have a relationship with the Father, you have no right to address him as such.
Which brings us to the first part of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). That is where we will be spending the rest of our time today.
Addressing our Father
Quick question: was Jesus the first Person to call God Father? Jesus’s assertion that God was his Father first occurred in a debate about the Sabbath. Jesus claimed that it was proper for him to perform healings on the Sabbath because, in his words: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). In other words, although God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, his work of preservation and ultimately of redemption was still ongoing. Moreover, Jesus associated his own ministry with that continuing work of the Father, raising the question of their relationship in a way that antagonized his fellow Jews. As the Gospel records: “That was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Was their reaction justified? The Old Testament seldom uses the word Father as a description of God, but there are a few occasions where it does so. For example, Isa. 63:16-17 reads: “You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from old is your name”. And in the next chapter of Isaiah we read: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever” (Isa. 64:8–9).
At first it appears that Isaiah was calling God Father because he was Israel’s Creator, but it is not that simple. God is the Creator of every human being, not just of Israel, but he had not established a covenant relationship with everyone. Israel’s connection to God was something special, and different from what could be said about the entire human race. For Isaiah to call God Father was to acknowledge a particular relationship with him. In these verses, God is addressed as Father, not because he is Israel’s Creator, but because he is its Redeemer.
You find something similar in Deut. 14:1-2: “You are the sons of the Lord your God … For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” And again in Psalm 103:13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him”. God was their Father through redemption. They were brought into this unique relationship with God because of God’s saving work.
Israel, as a nation, did call God “Father” on occasion because of his covenant relationship with his OT people, but this was not something that the individual claimed, nor was it the way common Jews addressed God. So, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he was instructing them to relate to God in an intimate and personal way. This was new!
Relating to God as Father
Christians know God as Father. In the words of JI Packer: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all… “Father” is the Christian name for God.”
We are encouraged to pray to the Father and enabled to do so because, through faith, the Son has united us to him in his death and resurrection (Gal. 2:20). This union with Christ means that God has made us Christ’s “brothers” (Rom. 8:29). Of course, we are not like Jesus in every respect. He is the divine and sinless Son of the Father by nature, whereas we are sinners who have been adopted by grace through faith in him.
After his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”” (John 20:17). We are not children of God by nature, but we are by grace. To help us understand, experience, and live out this new relationship which is ours in the gospel, God has given his children the Holy Spirit. Paul describes it like this: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6–7).
The opening line of the Lord’s prayer sets the stage for what follows. It frames the whole prayer. For the believer, prayer means approaching your heavenly Father. Jesus explained it like this: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). Even fallible human fathers want to do good to their children; how much more our perfectly good heavenly Father!
Question 120 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: “Why did Christ command us to call God ‘our Father’?” The answer? “To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.”
This is where true prayer starts: “Our Father in heaven”
Yesterday we saw that the apostle Paul admonished the Ephesian believers to “walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Eph. 5:15-16). Time is precious. We have a wonderful illustration of this in antiquity. Kairos was the Greek god “of the fleeting moment”. There was a well-known bronze statue of Kairos by a Greek sculptor named Lysippos. It depicted Kairos with wings on his feet, a bushy lock of hair on his forehead and a bald spot on the back of his head. The epigram on this famous statue explained its meaning: “Who are you? Time and opportunity… why do you have a pair of wings on your feet? I fly with the wind… why does your hair hang over your face? For him who meets me to take me by the forelock… why is the back of your head bald? Because none whom I have once raced by on my winged feet will now… take hold of me from behind.” Some opportunities come by only once in a lifetime; we should, in the words of the apostle Paul, make “the best use of the time”.
This brings us back to Ephesians 5:15-20. How should we redeem the time that we have been given? We have already seen that wisdom will “understand what the will of the Lord is” (v. 17). This calls for time in God’s Word. We have also seen that wisdom will “not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (v. 18-19). This calls for worship. The final component that Paul points out, is gratitude.
Verse 20 explains that a Spirit-filled life will not only worship, but also give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Dr. Paul Hartwig highlights three essential elements of Christian gratitude found in this passage: it is perpetual, universal, and evangelical. Let us look at each of these in turn.
Verse 20 says that we should be “giving thanks always”. Gratitude should be our constant, consistent, and continuous response to the providence of God. Giving thanks to God should not be an event, but a lifestyle. 1 Thess. 5:18 puts it beautifully: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Verse 20 continues by explaining that such perpetual gratitude is only possible if we understand that God should be thanked “for everything”. Some might object and say that God should be thanked in everything, but not for everything. The text, however, is clear: God should be thanked for everything. Nothing is excluded, good or bad, desirable or undesirable. How can we thank God for everything? Consider this: if God is in control, and if God is good, whatever God ordains will be for our blessing and his glory. Romans 8:28 says: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This does not mean that I understand all of God’s purposes, nor does it mean that I immediately experience the blessing. Giving thanks for everything means that I trust my sovereign heavenly Father, even when I don’t understand his ways.
This is what makes our gratitude uniquely Christian: “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, the gospel, gives us the perspective and the basis for such gratitude. It is because we know that God used the tragedy of the cross to bring hope to sinful men, that we can be grateful for everything. God took Jesus to Calvary and he, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Moreover, we bring our gratitude to God the Father in the “name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. We cannot do this on our own. Our thoughts need to be shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our prayers need to rest on the grace of Jesus Christ. Our gratitude needs to be empowered by the glory of Jesus Christ.
This is how Christians respond in adversity. The apostle Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to do this while he was imprisoned in Rome. He wasn’t a fair-weather Christian, but a believer who knew how to walk in wisdom, making the best use of the time, worshiping and thanking God in the power of the Spirit and in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What will you do with this opportunity?
Because of Christ,
When the president announced a 21 day national lockdown starting on the 26th of March 2020, many people panicked. Stores were swarmed with anxious buyers and travellers hurried to get home as the country prepared to effectively shut down. Immediately people began counting the days, myself included. The initial lockdown would have ended on Friday, the 17th of April 2020, but on the eve of Good Friday the president announced that the lockdown would be extended to the end of April.
How should Christians respond? I’d like to take you to Ephesians 5:15-20. For the next two days we’ll look at this passage together. It won’t answer all our questions, but it will help us make wise decisions and to respond in a God-honouring way.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The apostle Paul began Ephesians 5 with a simple, but profound call: “be imitators of God” (v. 1). How could we possibly imitate God? In most respects we can’t, but Paul does mention three things in this chapter that we can imitate. The first is love – God’s love being made visible in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1-7). The second is holiness – God’s holiness being made visible in a life of light (v. 8-14). The third is wisdom. Verse 15 says: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise”.
Wisdom, God’s wisdom, is not something that comes naturally to man, because we are born separated from God and our hearts are naturally inclined against him (Eph. 2:3). We are born fools. In chapter 4:17-18 Paul describes the unconverted as walking in “the futility of their minds” and says that they are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God”. Outside of God’s redeeming grace in Jesus Christ humanity is foolish.
So where do we get the wisdom we so desperately need? Wisdom is found in the Lord, who is himself the Author of wisdom. To gain such wisdom, and to grow in it, we must fear the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), study his Word (Psalm 119:99) and pray (James 1:5). And we now have the time to do it.
Note what Paul says in verse 16: “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Wisdom understands that time is precious and that we only have a finite amount of it. In Psalm 90:12 Moses prays: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Let’s do that. We have 168 hours in our seven-day week. Roughly a third of those 168 hours should be devoted to rest and sleep – around 8 hours a day. That leaves us with 112 hours. With many of us either working from home or not working at all, balancing those 112 hours becomes very difficult. By now many of us may have run out of projects that needed to be done around the house. You can only Spring clean your house so many times. What should we do with the remaining hours?
If we are to be imitators of God (v. 1) and if we should “walk… as wise” (v. 15), our priorities will be shaped by the Lord and his Word. Verse 17 says: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” To know what the will of the Lord is, we need to spend time in the Word. One of the complaints I hear often is that people don’t have the time to really study God’s Word. They squeeze it in here and there, but they don’t have time to really read and meditate through God’s Word. But we do now.
Another priority that you’ll pick up is worship. Verse 18-19 contrasts the drunken revelry of the world with the Spirit-filled worship of the church: “addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. When we spend time in God’s Word, where God speaks to us, it moves us to respond. When the Word convicts us of sin, we respond with prayerful contrition and repentance. When the Word reveals the glories of God, we respond with praise and adoration. The Psalms are a wonderful refuge in this time, as are those songs and hymns that have stood the test of time. Let them be the “background music” of your lockdown.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the last part of this passage. For now, remember to “walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time”.
Because of Christ,
What is wisdom? Believers often struggle to define wisdom, because to many the concept of wisdom seems abstract and mysterious. Biblical wisdom, however, is concrete and practical. It is the ability to make godly choices in life. Wisdom is not something you are born with, but something that you should pursue, attain and develop throughout your life.
Where do we get wisdom? The world has its own ideas of where to find wisdom. James warns us against wisdom “from below” (James 3:15). This is worldly wisdom and is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic”. It is motivated by “jealousy and selfish ambition” and leads to “disorder and every file practice” (v. 16). True wisdom cannot be found “below”. True wisdom comes “from above” (v. 17), because God is the source of wisdom.
Wisdom is an attribute of God. As Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.” (Dan. 2:20-22). In his distress Job had to acknowledge: “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.” (Job 12:13).
What is the difference between God’s knowledge and God’s wisdom? When God’s knowledge is applied and governed by God’s character, that is called wisdom. God’s wisdom is practical. JI Packer explains it this way: “God’s wisdom is seen in His works of creation, preservation and redemption”. Let’s unpack that for a moment.
Packer explains that God’s wisdom is first seen in “His choice of His own glory as His goal”. This is wise, because there is no greater goal than the glory of God. If God were to serve any lesser goal, he would not be wise. Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”.
Second, God’s wisdom is seen in His decision to achieve his goal “by creating a marvellous variety of things and people”. Creation is a testament to God’s wisdom. Ps. 104:24 says: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
Third, God’s wisdom is seen in “kindly providences of all sorts”. The way in which God guides, governs and cares for creation displays his wisdom. Paul, preaching in Lystra, said: “[God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17).
And finally God’s wisdom is seen in “the redemptive ‘wisdom’ of ‘Christ crucified’”. The gospel proves the wisdom of God and humbles the so-called wisdom of man. In the words of 1 Cor. 1:23-25: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Even the church, which is born from the gospel, displays God’s wisdom: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 3:10).
Let’s make it personal. How should we respond to the wisdom of God? You can start by submitting to it. Charles Spurgeon said: “Our Creator is infinitely good, and his will is love: to submit to one who is ‘to wise to err, too good to be unkind,’ should not be hard.”
You should also pursue wisdom. We need wisdom to live lives that please the Lord. Even so, we need to be careful where we go looking for that wisdom; as we’ve seen, wisdom from below leads to disaster. We need to pursue wisdom “from above”. How do we do that?
First, fear the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge”. Second, receive God’s Word. Psalm 119:98 says: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” And third, pray for wisdom. James 1:5 encourages us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” God is perfectly wise and worthy of our trust and obedience.
Because of Christ,
One of the lessons that the lock down has taught us, is that we are not as independent as we would like to believe. We need each other. This was evident right from the beginning: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). There are numerous “one another” commands in the New Testament. These all imply relationships within the body of Christ. Even believers need one another. Above all we need God, because in “him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
God, however, is different. God does not need anyone. He is completely self-sufficient. This is sometimes called the aseity of God. The word aseity means “from oneself.” As RC Sproul explained: “God has the power of being in and of Himself. He does not derive it from something else. God is not dependent on anything outside of Himself. God has never needed us to survive or to be, but we His creatures are totally dependent.”
When God revealed himself to Job, God said: “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” (Job 41:11). Psalm 50:10-12 says something similar: “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.’” The apostle Paul also preached God’s independence to the Athenians: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25).
Even the name that God chose for himself, “I AM”, implies that God is uniquely independent and self-sufficient (Ex. 3:14). Wayne Grudem helpfully points out: “God’s existence and character are determined by himself alone and are not dependent on anyone or anything else.”
If God doesn’t need anything, why did he make man? Some believers assume it was because God was lonely, but the Bible contradicts this false assumption. God isn’t lonely, because God has existed in Trinity for all eternity. That means that within the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit God has perfect fellowship, glory and love. Jesus prayed, in John 17:5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Earlier, in John 14:31 we read that Jesus not only shares in the Father’s glory, but in his love: “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father”. Perfect glory, love and fellowship – God does not need anything or anyone outside of himself.
What does this teach us? First, it reminds us that we are dependent beings. Revelation 4:11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We need God and our feeble attempts to live without him are not only delusional, but insulting. We are alive because of the gracious will of God. Acting as though we don’t need God is naïve and foolish. We need to cultivate the kind of attitude that Paul had: “I can do all things…” Don’t stop there, “through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). We need to learn to depend on God.
Second, God’s independence teaches us that our worship and adoration does not meet God’s need, it recognizes his sufficiency. Allow me to explain. If we understand that God doesn’t need us, we might be tempted to think that we don’t matter. We might wonder whether our worship and service are significant. They are, not because God needs us, but rather because God has created us and determined that we would be meaningful to him. That is what makes us significant: that God wills it so. God has chosen to create us for his glory (Isa. 43:7) and God has decided to delight in what he has made. In the words of Isaiah 62:5: “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” That is where we find our significance: recognizing that even though God does not need us, he delights in us with a perfectly free, sovereign, and independent love.
God doesn’t need us, but he delights in those who delight in him.
Because of Christ,
We’ve been inundated with fake news. With new government regulations threatening fines and even imprisonment for those who spread false or misleading news stories, questions of truth have again taken centre stage. Like Pilate in John 18:38 we find ourselves asking: “What is truth?”
The Bible answers emphatically: “God is truth.” Jer. 10:10-11 declares: “the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King…. The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish”. John Gill explains: “Whatever is said of human beings, God is truth itself… God is true, real, and substantial, the living God in opposition to fictitious deities.”
When we say that God is truth, we first acknowledge that God is the true God. As we just heard from the prophet Jeremiah, God is the living God and all other deities are mere figments of our imagination. When Jesus prayed to his Father he said: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).
Because God is true, God’s knowledge is also true. Louis Berkhof says that God “knows things as they really are”. God’s knowledge, therefore, is not only true, but the final standard of truth. God is “perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16). This means that God is never wrong, never mistaken, never confused or perplexed. God has the correct understanding of the nature of reality. Our knowledge is only true insofar as it conforms to God’s.
Finally, because God is true his words are also true. This means that God is reliable and faithful in all that he says. He is a “God of faithfulness” (Deut. 32:4). God will always do what he has said and will always keep his promises. Numbers 23:19 says: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” The Scriptures are God’s truth revealed to man. As Jesus said in John 17:17: “your word is truth.” Because God can be trusted, his Word can be trusted as well. Proverbs 30:5 assures us: “Every word of God proves true.” God “never lies” (Titus 1:2).
How does this apply to us? Knowing God is true and faithful encourages us to trust him. His Word becomes a solid foundation for our understanding of ourselves, the world and our place in it. It tells us who we truly are, who God truly is and how we can have a relationship with him. It is filled with precious promises that are as true and dependable as God is. In the words of Psalm 37:3: “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”
The second part of that verse also tells us that we should strive to be trustworthy and faithful. If God is the God of truth, as his children we should be people of truth. Those who have been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should not lie. Col. 3:9: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices”. We should love truth and despise falsehood. In the words of Zech. 8:17: “do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD.”
God is true and faithful. His Word can be trusted, because He is trustworthy. And if our God is trustworthy, we should be as well.
Because of Christ,
When was the last time you sang a hymn about God’s justice? It is not a theme that we talk about, much less sing about, but the Psalms often celebrate God’s justice. Psalm 103:6: “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Psalm 129:4: “The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.” Righteousness is an attribute of God which is celebrated in the Psalms.
What is righteousness? Righteousness can refer to someone who is acquitted in a trial (Deut. 25:1 speaks of acquitting the innocent and punishing the guilty). It can also refer to someone who, outside of the court setting, is in step with the law. Psalm 15:2 describes such a person as “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart”.
To truly understand righteousness, however, we should not look to man, but to God. Righteousness is first and foremost an attribute of God. As Wayne Grudem explains, righteousness means that God “always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right”. Louis Berkhof defined it like this: “It is that perfection of God by which He maintains Himself over against every violation of His holiness, and shows in every respect that He is the Holy One.”
God’s righteousness is manifested in different ways. First, we see God’s justice manifested in his righteous rule. In Isa. 33:22 the prophet assures God’s people: “the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us.” God’s righteousness is revealed in the way that God governs the world, imposing a law that promises blessing for the obedient and threatens punishment for the wicked.
Second, God’s justice is manifested in his gracious rewards. We don’t think often think about rewards when we consider God’s justice, but God promises: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9). Psalm 58:11 rejoices: "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.” In this way God’s justice is also an expression of his love. Interestingly, this aspect of God’s justice is more prominent in Scripture than his retribution. It does not mean, however, that retribution is absent.
Third, God’s justice is manifested in just retribution. Romans 2:4 warns: “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil”. Romans 12:19 adds: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."”
Taken together we see that God will always act in accordance with his holiness. God is righteous.
How does this apply to us? If we take God’s moral perfection as the standard for true righteousness, we must confess that we simply don’t measure up. Romans 3:23 gives us the unvarnished truth: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. This means that we stand condemned before the righteous God and that we deserve punishment: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
How can we escape the righteous wrath of God for our sins? Mercifully Romans 3 does not end with verse 23. It continues: “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:24-25). This means that we can be declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. How is that possible? By faith Jesus Christ has taken upon himself the righteous wrath of God for our sins and died for our sins on the cross. He died the death we deserved to die. By faith Jesus Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us: his righteousness becomes ours. In the words of 2 Cor. 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is how unrighteous sinners are reconciled to a righteous God: through Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).
Embrace Christ, celebrate God’s righteousness and trust in God’s enabling power to live a righteous life. Zeph. 3:5: “The LORD… is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail”.
Because of Christ,
You’ve read Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” You’ve sung “God is good, all the time.” But what does it mean? What does the Bible mean when it says that God is good? God’s goodness means that God is the final standard of good. It also means that everything that God is and does is worthy of approval. AW Pink writes: “God…is the highest good. God is not only the Greatest of all beings, but the Best.” This means that God becomes the standard by which good is measured.
What does goodness look like? Psalm 103:8 gives us four expressions of God’s goodness – four ways in which God’s goodness is expressed towards his children: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We’ve already looked at God’s love, so let’s explore his mercy, grace and patience.
What is mercy? The great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodges, explains it this way: “Goodness … includes benevolence, love, mercy, and grace. Mercy is kindness exercised towards the miserable and includes pity, compassion, forbearance, and gentleness.” Mercy is God’s goodness towards those in distress and difficulty. David often cried out to the Lord for mercy. In 2 Sam. 24:14 David told the prophet Gad: “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great”. David was not the only one to call upon the mercy of God. In Matt. 9:27 two blind men called out to Jesus: “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”
Mercy means that God is good to those in distress. He invites us to pray for mercy. Heb. 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” God will not forget his children in trial and difficulty. Nor should his children forget others. If we have been the recipients of mercy, we should also be givers of mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7).
Back to Psalm 103:8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious...” What is grace? Again, Charles Hodge offers a helpful definition: “Grace is love exercised towards the unworthy.” Grace is God’s goodness toward those who do not deserve it. It is unmerited favour. When God revealed himself to Moses He declared: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Ex. 33:19). The apostle Peter would later call God “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10). Salvation through Jesus Christ is all of grace – it is motivated by God’s goodness towards the unworthy. Rom. 3:23-24 explains: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”.
Grace means that God is good to repentant sinners. The irony is that we often think we can earn grace. If we earned it, it would cease to be grace (Rom. 11:6). It is not the persistence of your prayers, your commitment to Bible reading or your zeal for evangelism that saves you. These are great things and you should be doing them, but you are not saved by them. You are saved by grace, which means that you and I must admit or confess that we don’t deserve God’s goodness. Similarly, if you’ve received grace, you’ll give grace as well. Eph. 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Psalm 103:8 continues: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger...” What does “slow to anger” mean? Wayne Grudem defines God’s patience as God’s goodness in withholding punishment toward those who sin over a period of time. In Rom. 2:4 the apostle Paul calls it “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience”. God’s patience means that God gives the sinner an opportunity to repent. God displayed his longsuffering goodness towards Paul: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16).
The patience of God does not mean that God simply ignores sin or that God approves of it. Quite the opposite: God knows our sin and it offends his holiness, yet he withholds judgment for a time, giving the sinner an opportunity to repent. His patience should not be used as an excuse for sin, but as motivation to repent. Also, as God is patient with us, we are called to be patient with others. James 1:19 instructs us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.
God’s goodness means that God is the very definition of good. That goodness is made visible in his mercy, grace, patience and love. God is good, all the time.
Because of Christ,
Does God really love me? This is just one of the questions we wrestle with when we go through trials and calamity. Psalm 107 opens with these encouraging words: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (v. 1). We’ve heard those words before; we may even have sung them on occasion. But how do we know that they are true?
Sometimes the words, “God loves you”, just don’t seem to make sense. They seem so out of place in our trials, or when we feel the weight of our sin. Our trials lie to us: ‘God doesn’t love you;’ our sins whisper: ‘God can’t love you’. Does God really love me?
Turning back to Psalm 107 for a moment, we see that the Psalmist reviews God’s acts of love in the past. This gives him confidence for the future. Let’s look at the Psalm for a moment. It will be much easier for you to follow along if you have your Bible open in front of you. Feel free to pause the podcast while you fetch your Bibles. Ready? Let’s dive in…
He opens with the reminder that “the redeemed of the Lord” should praise God (v. 2-3). Then he reviews God’s love and mercy to four different groups of people. Each new section opens with “some” (v. 4, 10, 17, 23). In each of these sections he describes the circumstances from which God delivered them and then tells them how to respond: “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!” (v. 8, 15, 21, 31).
The first group (v. 4-9) are those who wandered in barren places. Chances are these were Israelites in exile, with no place to call their home. But God delivered them and satisfied their longing souls (v. 9).
The second group (v. 10-16) are those who sat in darkness. They had rebelled against God and received the just penalty for their sin, yet God was merciful to them. We are told that God “brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death” (v. 14).
The third group (v. 17-22) are those who suffered for their own folly. They were fools through their sinful ways, and suffering for it. Still God was merciful, and he healed them (v. 20).
The fourth group (v. 23-32) are those who went down to the sea in ships. We aren’t certain if they were exiles, merchants or slaves (the Israelites rarely went to sea on their own), but soon disaster overtook them. Winds and waves tormented them, and they were at their wits’ end (v. 27). God delivered them and quieted the storm.
The last section reflects on how the Lord brings about a reversal of fortunes and delivers his people (v. 33-42). Why would the Lord do that? The final verse tells us: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.” (v. 43). God brings about the deliverance of his people because of his great love. Love moves God to lead his people home, to forgive sinners, to restore the foolish and to save those afflicted by nature’s fury. God does these things because God of his steadfast love.
There is one other thing I want to point out in Psalm 107. Maybe you’ve noticed it already. What did God’s people do in their affliction that opened the floodgates of God’s love and mercy? Verse 6: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress.” You see the same thing in verse 13, 19 and 28.
How does this apply to us? God’s love is not limited to the worthy – in fact, the only worthy recipient of God’s love is God himself. No, God’s love is extended to the lost, the sinner, the fool and the sufferer if they will but cry out to him. “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). This means that we will only cry out to God if we believe that he wants to help – if we have confidence in his love. That is why it is so important to consider the steadfast love of the Lord” (Ps. 107:43).
So, take the time to consider, to meditate on, to think about the love of God. There is no better place to begin your study of his love than the cross of Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). Let that fuel your prayers, shape your thoughts and calm your fears.
Because of Christ,
Isaiah 6 opens with one of the most amazing vision of God in all of Scripture. Verse 1 begins: “In the year that King Uzziah died”. Uzziah wasn’t Judah’s best king, but he also wasn’t their worst. Judah experienced relative peace and prosperity during his reign. Isaiah’s mind, however, wasn’t dwelling on the death of the king in that moment – he had bigger things to worry about.
Verse 1 continues: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” What did Isaiah see? The majesty of God. Seated upon his throne God completely displaced any thought Isaiah had of Uzziah or the nation of Judah – here, in the throne room of heaven they were small by comparison. He saw the throne, which speaks of God’s authority. He saw the train of his robe, which displays his majesty. But most important of all, Isaiah heard...
What did he hear? The seraphim (six winged angels who served in God’s direct presence) proclaimed the praises of the One seated on the throne: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (v. 2-3). Such was their cry that the doorposts shook, and the room was filled with smoke (v. 4) – this was not just another Sunday worship service. In that moment Isaiah met “the Holy One of Israel” (his favourite title for God in the rest of the book).
What is holiness? Thomas Trevethan explains it this way: “Holy apparently comes from a Semitic root that means ‘to cut.’ Hence its most basic meaning is ‘to separate’ or ‘to make distinct’... most fundamentally, as a divine attribute it claims that God is other and set apart from everything else, that He is in a class by Himself.”
God is infinitely greater than his creatures. We can see this in two ways. First, he is the only truly self-sufficient Being. All His creatures depend on Him, but God depends on no-one outside of himself. Second, God is distinct, set apart from all evil. God is absolute in purity and perfection. He is the definition of what it means to be good.
Ultimately, we must confess that human language cannot capture the idea adequately. RC Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God, writes: “The problem we face is that the word holy is foreign to all languages. No dictionary is adequate to the task.” German theologian and philosopher Rudolf Otto tried to define holiness by studying the concept in different cultures and languages. His study revealed that, universally, there was an element of holiness that no language could capture. There is something about the holiness of God that we simply could not express. He called it “a Mystery inexpressible and above all creatures”. For Otto the only appropriate response would be “hushed, trembling, and speechless humility”.
How did Isaiah respond to God’s holiness? In verse 5 he cried out: “Woe is me! For I am lost”. It is only in the light of God’s holiness that we can see ourselves for who we truly are. One of the reasons we do not see our own sin, is because we are surrounded by so much of it. We do what the false teachers in Corinth did: “when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Cor. 10:12). We will always find someone who looks more evil or sinful than we are. But in God’s presence such comparisons don’t matter. All that matters is how we compare to God – the supreme standard of holiness.
He then confessed his sin: “am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). For us this might seem like a minor sin, a respectable sin, maybe even an excusable sin. Who hasn’t sinned with their lips? We are only human, after all. But in the light of God’s holiness even our smallest sins are seen for what they are: cosmic treason against the God of the universe; an act of rebellion against the Lord seated upon the throne.
How can we stand before such a holy God? The same way Isaiah could. Read the rest of the passage: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (v. 6-7). The only way sinners can stand before the holy God is through sacrifice – that is what the altar represents. And we have that sacrifice in Jesus Christ: “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12).
That is how a sinner can be reconciled to the Holy God – not by our attempts to earn God’s favour, but by faith in Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on our behalf.
Because of Christ,
There is something about the raw energy of nature that just inspires awe. Crashing waves, peals of thunder, howling winds – these all demonstrate the raw power of creation. But as powerful as these elements of nature are, they are nothing compared to the sun. The Sun releases energy at the rate of a mass–energy conversion rate of 4.26 million metric tons per second, which produces the equivalent of 38,460 septillion watts (3.846×1026 W) per second. To put that in perspective, this is the equivalent of about 9.192×1010 megatons of TNT per second, or 1,820,000,000 Tsar Bombas – the most powerful thermonuclear bomb ever built! Now think about this for a moment: God spoke the sun into being.
God is powerful and his power is beyond human comprehension. Blaise Pascal said: “The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost thinking about it.” God is all-powerful or omnipotent. That means that God has the power or the ability to do whatever pleases him.
Deut. 10:17 described God as “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God”. There is no-one like God. Just listen to how the Bible describes God:
Even after reading all these verses, and there are many more, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of God’s power. As Paul explains in Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us”. No wonder then that one of the Bible’s favorite titles for God is “the Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18 and Rev. 1:8).
At this point you might be wondering if there is anything that God cannot do? For example, some philosophers have wondered whether God can create a rock that he cannot lift, or if God can draw a square circle. These are absurd and illogical questions. I believe CS Lewis summed it up best when he wrote: “His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense.” So is there anything that God cannot do?
God cannot go against his nature, his character. If God is truth (Isaiah 65:16), it follows that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2: “God, who never lies”). God can also not be tempted to sin. James 1:13: “God cannot be tempted with evil”. In other words, God’s power is only limited by his character – he will never do anything that contradicts his holy, gracious, righteous and loving character.
Why is this important? One of the most frightening things in life is when power is wielded by evil men. The gun in the hand of a criminal or an army in the hand of a tyrant – these are frightening. But God is not like that. God’s power is governed by God’s character and God is supremely, perfectly good. Therefore his children need never fear his power, they need only rely on it.
You see the power and the perfect character of God meet at the cross. In Matt. 19 we meet a rich young ruler. He ran up to Jesus and asked Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus took in to the law, not because he could by saved by obeying the law, but because the law would expose his inability to save himself. The young man could not see his own need, so Jesus pressed him: “sell what you posses and give to the poor” (v. 21). He went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions. Jesus then said something that alarmed the disciples: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24). Jesus’ point was that it is impossible for a sinner to save himself, and the disciples understood. “Who then can be saved?”, they asked. Here is our assurance: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (v. 26).
God is omnipotent – all-powerful. All things are possible with him, even the salvation of sinners like us. Let us trust in the God who can.
Because of Christ,
Isaiah 66:1 says that heaven is God’s throne, but that does not mean that God is contained there. Thomas Brooks wrote: “Though heaven be God’s palace, yet it is not his prison.” God is everywhere. We call this attribute God’s “omnipresence”.
What is omnipresence? Omnipresence is often misunderstood or misrepresented. People often fall into one of three traps. The first is pantheism, which believes that God is everything and that everything is God. Budism, Hinduism and “mother nature” cults all hold to some form of pantheism. According to the Bible, however, God is unique and distinct from his creation.
The second trap is panentheism. This is more subtle. Panentheism doesn’t believe that everything is God or that God is everything, but that God is in everything and that everything is in God. Some theologians believe that this is what Paul had in mind when he said: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The problem with panentheism is that God and creation are seen as “interdependent”. As the philosopher Alfred Whitehead said: “It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.” In panentheism God could not exist apart from creation. In subtle ways it denies that God is truly distinct from his creation and it denies that God made the world out of nothing. According to the Bible, however, God does not need the world; we need God.
The third trap is deism. Deism views God as so transcendent, so exalted, and so distinct from his creation that he is not actively involved in it. Deists believe that God created the world, but that God then withdrew from it. Deism pictures God as a divine clockmaker, who assembles the clock, winds it up, but then leaves it alone as it winds down. This view denies any form of divine intervention, does not believe in the power of prayer or miracles. God is completely aloof from creation.
Is that how the Bible portrays God? It is true that God is transcendent. Psalm 113:4-6 proclaims: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” God is transcendent. But it is equally true that God is immanent, involved, near. Omnipresence means that God is everywhere all the time. God does not have size or dimensions, which means that he can be present at every point of space with his whole being.
Psalm 139:7-10 reveals a God who is near: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” For this Psalmist this was a great comfort, because there was nowhere he could go where God could not keep him. In Jer. 23:23-24 the Lord says: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is everywhere.
How does this truth affect us? It should encourage us as we pray. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a praying contest: they each had to call upon their god and the one who answered with fire would be declared the winner. The prophets of Baal spent most of the morning and the early afternoon calling out to Baal, but there was no answer. Elijah mocked them, saying: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (v. 27). Maybe Baal was out of town. But when Elijah prayed, he did not pray to a God who was aloof, far away or uninterested. He prayed to the God who is near: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (v. 36-37). God answered with consuming fire. God is close enough to hear us pray.
God’s omnipresence should also encourage us as we wrestle with sin. Yes, the thought that God is there when we commit our most heinous sins is frightening, as it should be. God knows our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Psalm 139:11-12: “If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” How should we respond to God’s omnipresence when we’ve sinned? By running to him, not from him. It would be pointless to try and hide form God, like Adam and Eve did. We should rather confess and repent, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15). God is near repentant sinners.
Finally, God’s omnipresence should encourage us as we go through trials. Before his ascension Jesus assured his disciples: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20). God will never lead you where his grace cannot keep you.
What a joy to serve the God who is near.
Because of Christ,