How do we prepare for doomsday? When Covid first hit, it caused a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. People were quoting verses on plagues and pestilence (mostly out of context) as proof that we had entered the last days. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and recently Hamas attacked Israel as they were celebrating Yom Kippur. Thousands of lives have been lost in these conflicts and there seems to be no end to the suffering that it has caused.
Surely these are the last days, right? Listen to what Jesus said in Mark 13:7-9: “when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. "But be on your guard.”” Jesus called these events “birth pains”. They must take place, but “the end is not yet.”
These events are tragic. We mourn for every life that has been lost, especially those who do not know Christ. Jesus did not say these words to minimize the injustice or suffering that people have had to endure. He said them to comfort his disciples – “do not be alarmed” – and to prepare them – “be on your guard.”
How should we prepare? Some people have decided to sell their homes, build bunkers, stockpile food, or purchase weapons. Is that how Christians ought to prepare? The Bible clearly instructs us to be vigilant. There will be signs. Jesus said as much in Mark 13:28-29: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” There will be signs, but believers need not fear these signs. We should not be alarmed, while still being on our guard.
Beware those who try to predict the time of Christ’s second coming. Every attempt has only led to humiliation and has shaken the faith of many. Jesus said, in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Before his ascension, Jesus repeated: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7). Being prepared and predicting the coming of Christ are not the same thing.
Every generation has had to be on their guard. A quick review of history will show that our situation is not unique. Imagine being a believer in Rome under Nero. He persecuted the church and martyred the apostles Peter and Paul. Christians were burned at the stake and thrown to lions. Not long thereafter, Jerusalem fell and Christians fled Jerusalem and Judea. Read Augustine’s great work, The City of God, where he reflects on the fall of the Roman Empire and the effect it had on the world. Europe’s history is filled with tales of devastation, war, and conquest. And the plague… the Black Death, as it was called, decimated Europe in the fourteenth century. It wiped out towns and claimed an estimated 25 million lives (nearly half of Europe’s population).
The world was at war for four years between 1914 and 1918. The devastation was terrible and it was thought that it could not be matched. Then, two decades later, from 1939-1945, the world would witness the death of thousands on the battlefield and millions in concentration camps. Nuclear bombs were dropped on civilian targets for the first time and even after the war ended, the threat of the Cold War loomed over the world.
These are indeed the last days, the end times, but that has been the case ever since the ascension of Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said: “Now these things happened to them (referring to the history of Israel) as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11). When John wrote to his disciples, he said: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18). The author of Hebrews opens his letter with these words: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). And the apostle Peter wrote: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20).
Dear believer, you are in the last days. This is the final phase of human history before the return of Christ. Christ commands us to be on our guard, but he also comforts us when he says: “do not be alarmed”. In our next post we’ll look at what the Bible says about preparing for Christ’s return, with vigilance and faith.
Because of Christ,
In 2013 the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) did a survey on biblical literacy in South Africa. The study found that, while most self-professed Christians read the Bible daily, many held views that disagreed with the Scriptures. This is troubling, because it indicates that Christians who read the Bible often don’t understand it, nor do they apply it to their lives.
Christians should not only be busy with the Word, but should be transformed by it. We should not be like the women described in 2 Tim. 3:7: “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”. This void leaves people open to deception (just look at verse 6) and opens the door for movements like Hebrew Roots. One area in which the Hebrew Roots Movement exploits people’s ignorance of basic Christian truths, is their attack on the doctrine of the Trinity.
The rejection of the Trinity
We’ve already mentioned that many within the Hebrew Roots Movement reject the doctrine of the Trinity. While not all adherents do, it is telling that a significant number of the movement’s most vocal proponents do. Writers and teachers like Ken Garrison, Randy Folliarde, AB Traina, as well as organizations like Yahweh Restoration Ministries, Hebraic Christian College, and Beit Yeshua Torah Assembly explicitly reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Some embrace the Arian heresy and teach that if “the Son was the first begotten of creation, there was a point in time He did not exist.”
Hebrew Roots teachers often point to the Nicene Creed (325AD) as the moment the Christian church embraced a pagan idea about the nature of God. This is simply not true. The creed summarized biblical teaching on the nature of the Godhead. This process did not start with the Nicene council. The Scriptures gave birth to the doctrine of the Trinity, and that doctrine was summarized, not by philosophers (as Hebrew Roots proponents assume), but pastors who sought to be faithful to the witness of Scripture. What was generally assumed and agreed upon within the wider Christian church, had to be defended because of heresies that threatened biblical truth. Arius from Alexandria (318) taught that only the Father was truly God and that Jesus, his Son, was not eternal and did not possess by nature any of the divine perfections.
A defense of the doctrine of the Trinity falls beyond the scope of this article, but it should be noted that the council assembled to defend biblical teaching, not to redefine it. The Trinitarian formulae of passages like Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Cor. 13:14 present the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as equally God, while not confusing their Persons. It is tragic that ancient heresies, which the church has confronted and refuted countless times throughout church history, is making a comeback. The Hebrew Roots Movement threatens this fundamental Christian doctrine, even if there are proponents who do not reject it entirely.
The Hebrew Roots hermeneutic
Hermeneutics is a big word for the rules of interpretation. If we compare studying the gospel to a sport, hermeneutics would be the rules of the game. The Hebrew Roots movement subtly changes the rules of interpretation, thereby changing the way we read the Bible. For example, the Christian maxim has always been that that “the new is in the old concealed, the old is in the new revealed.” This phrase, first found in the writings of Augustine of Hippo (fourth century AD), is taken from Ephesians 3:5. There Paul explains that the gospel and the subsequent inclusion of the Gentiles “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
The Hebrew Roots Movement turns this on its head by insisting that we cannot understand the Old Testament in light of the New, but should instead interpret the New Testament in light of the Old. There is no denying that we cannot make sense of the New Testament without the Old. It would be a fatal mistake for believers to ignore or set the Old Testament aside. However, the New Testament illuminates the Old, while the Old is the foundation for the new. As John 1:17 says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
This is not the only hermeneutical error that the Hebrew Roots movement makes. In private correspondence with Hebrew Roots proponents, I’ve had to correct errors such as:
These are, admittedly, varied examples. Not all proponents of the Hebrew Roots movement make these same mistakes or make them in the same way. There have also been non-Hebrew Roots teachers who have made these mistakes. The point, however, is that much of what the Hebrew Roots movement teaches rely of exegetical fallacies and hermeneutical gymnastics. It is not light, but darkness.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is not a return to biblical Judaism, but to Talmudic Judaism at best and “pop-Judaism” at worst. It ignores the clear teaching of passages like Acts 15, which addresses the relationship of Gentile believers to Judaism. There we are told: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” Hebrew Roots proponents believe that the council just corrected what was missing in the Gentiles’ obedience, but the letter that the council wrote destroys that notion. Look at verse 24: “Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions”. What were these false teachers preaching? That they had to keep the law and be circumcised. Later, the letter adds: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements” (v. 28). They clearly did not expect these Gentiles to keep the whole Mosaic Law.
It is telling that the majority of Jews who come to faith do not join Messianic Synagogues, because of the unbiblical impositions placed on those who convert to Christianity. Most of these Synagogues are filled with Gentiles trying to be Jews. Fisher warns: “This imposition of Jewish practice on non-Jewish believers really does constitute a serious issue that promotes elitism, unnecessary division, wide confusion, and unbiblical practices. We can almost understand Jews who convert to Christ who still try to keep some of the cultural aspects and celebrations of their familial heritage. If their intentions and motives are not legalistic, and if these things are not done for salvation or out of religious elitism, there may be some minor benefit. Yet to impose them on Gentiles (as is the case, more often than not) is a direct violation of Paul’s words to the Colossians: “So let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (2:16-17).”
Finally, the Hebrew Roots Movement cannot agree on which version of Judaism it should follow. There were different streams of Judaism in the first century. Should we emulate the religious Pharisees? And, if so, should we follow the school of Shammai or Hillel? What about the Sadducees, the Zealots, or the Herodians? Did John the Baptist capture the true essence of Judaism? There were purist movements, like the Essenes, who withdrew from society for fear that their faith would be corrupted. Should we follow their interpretation? We cannot return to the Judaism of the first-century: there is no temple, no priesthood, and no animal sacrifices.
Some in the Hebrew Roots Movement seem to be enamoured with modern Orthodox Jews. This doesn’t solve the problem either, because we would have to decide between the Ger Hassidic Dynasty, the Belz Hassidic Dynasty, and many others. It just causes more confusion.
You cannot belong to the Hebrew Roots Movement without making the most crucial mistake of all: believing that Jesus is not enough. Therefore, beware of the Hebrew Roots Movement and those who hold to it. It is a very real danger to your soul, your family, your church, and the glory of Christ.
Because of Christ,
Rico Cortes was raised in a Christian community in Puerto Rico, but in the 1990s he began researching his family history. He found that he was a descendant of medieval Spanish Jews. After devoting himself to the study of Scripture, he came to a surprising conclusion: “When I kept reading the Bible, [Jesus] kept Shabbat, he ate kosher, he kept the faith.” He decided that the best way to understand and follow Jesus was to live the way Jesus had lived, which meant he too would observe the Torah. Is that what it means to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?
Of course, true Christians should want to be more like Jesus. After all, we are called to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is our ultimate example. He “suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21). Every true believer strives for Christlikeness. But what does “being like Jesus” mean?
Jesus was a Jew, obviously. He was born a Jew and perfectly obeyed all the requirements of the Law. He fulfilled the demands of the Law for us (Rom. 8:1-4). Should those who follow Jesus become observant Jews like Jesus was? Should Gentile believers try to be Messianic Jews? In the words of Richard Fisher: “Should they don a yarmulke, worship in a synagogue, blow a shofar, wear a prayer shawl, call Jesus Yeshua or Yeshu, keep the Old Testament feasts and dietary laws, and give their pastors the title of Rabbi, even though Matthew:23:8 says otherwise? Are Jewish ceremonies and practices efficacious? … Is Jewishness next to godliness?”
The Hebrew Roots Movement seems to think so. Here is our first summary the Hebrew Roots Movement’s erroneous teachings. In this article we will focus on the Torah, dress code, and their view of Israel.
The Hebrew Roots Movement teaches that believers should live a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must kept and should be a major focus for believers today. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals (refer Leviticus 23), keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the "paganism" of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset.
The Hebrew Roots Movement teaches that those who belong to Christ will keep the law, not out of legalistic bondage, but because of their love for Christ. The reality, however, is very different. They teach that to please God, a Torah-observant walk must be part of a Christian’s life. If we do not observe the Torah, at least not in the way that they believe most agrees with ancient practice, we cannot please God and therefore cannot be his children.
What many in the Hebrew RM don’t seem to realize, is that it would be impossible to return to the practices of the early church. Dr. Stephen Katz of Jews for Jesus helpfully points out that much of what the Hebrew Roots Movement espouses today is based on later Jewish and rabbinic tradition. They are actually following the Jewish Talmud, which was completed some 500 years after Christ. Few within the movement even know that there are two Talmuds, a Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud, with some serious differences between them.
Men in the Hebrew Roots Movement cover themselves with the Yarmulke (in Yiddish) or Kippa (in Hebrew). They also use the Tallit (Prayer Shall) to cover their heads. Most wear tassels, called tzitzit, though they aren’t always visible. These, again, are worn in obedience to the Torah, specifically Numbers 15:38-40. The context makes it clear that these tassels were supposed to be a reminder to Israel to obey the law. The Pharisees were known for their adherence to these external requirements, but the tassels themselves did nothing for their hearts. Hebrews 8 makes it clear that such a reminder is no longer necessary, since the law resides in the heart of the believer through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is understandably obsessed with Israel. In extreme cases they claim to be descendent of the 10 Northern Tribes and claim land rights in Israel. Some claim the right to make "Aliyah" (Law of return to Israel by Jews). They even consider themselves to be as much Israelites as Israel of this age.
Israel, then, becomes the lens through which God looks to us. It also becomes the lens through which Hebrew Roots proponents look at others. Your support for and identification with Israel will determine whether you are acceptable or not. This is clearly false. Even more concerning, is the teaching of some HR proponents that Israel will be saved even apart from Christ.
The New Testament teaches that the Father looks upon his children through Jesus Christ, his beloved Son, “whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Gentile believers are grafted into the people of God (Rom 11:16-24). What the Hebrew Roots Movement fails to realise, is that the root of the cultivated olive is not the law, but the faith of Abraham. Israel itself is not.
Listen to what Paul writes in Galatians 3:7-11: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."”
Not all Israel (ethnically) are truly Israel (spiritually), and the distinction is not law, but grace (Rom. 9:6-16).
In our next article we will focus on the names of God and the Hebrew Bible.
1. O’Neil, Lorena. 2014. Hebrew Roots rising: not quite Christians, not quite Jews. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/ozy-hebrew-roots-movement/6373671/ Accessed: 5 February 2015.
2. Fisher, G. Richard. 2014. Bewitching believers through the Hebrew Roots movement. https://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots Accessed: 25 June 2023
Tangled in Roots
In the 1970s the ‘messianic movement’ sought to reach ethnic Jews with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The hope was to show them that Jesus truly is the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures and that by believing in Him they can receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Practically speaking, it meant sharing the gospel with ethnic Jews.
Turn the clock ahead 30 odd years and the landscape has changed considerably. Jews who believe in Jesus are not the only ones claiming to be ‘messianic’. One movement which has laid claim to the title is the so-called Hebrew Roots movement.
What is the Hebrew Roots movement?
It is a difficult movement to pin down, as Menachem Kaiser explains: “It’s a loose identity. There isn’t a church, there isn’t a leader. It gets very fragmented.” Kaiser wrote an in-depth article on the Hebrew Roots movement for Tablet magazine. In it Kaiser describes what seems to be the common denominator in the various branches of the movement: “The movement’s central belief is that the Torah is still binding—that God, or Yahweh, or Hashem, did not intend for Yeshua’s appearance to render irrelevant the lessons of the Old Testament, whose rules and instructions remain valid. The Brit Chadasha, or New Testament, which most Christians believe superseded the Torah, is understood as a sort of extension of the Torah.” Stephen Katz, North American Director of Jews for Jesus, gives this succinct definition: “The Hebraic Roots or Jewish Roots movement refers to various organizations with a common emphasis on recovering the original Jewishness of Christianity.”
Most of those who associate with the movement are not ethnic Jews. They are Gentiles who have no intention of converting to Judaism yet follow Jewish laws, customs, and practices. This has caused no small amount of confusion and trouble for those ethnic Jews who do believe in Jesus. Rich Robinson, who serves as Senior Researcher at the Jews for Jesus headquarters in San Francisco, wrote a series of articles on the challenges that the Jewish messianic movement faces. He writes: “Some ministries and groups exhort all followers of Y'shua—Jewish or not—to observe Jewish holidays. Many teach the importance of recovering the first-century faith of believers in Jesus and rejecting the pagan notions they feel have corrupted faith in the Messiah.” Exactly what pagan notions they reject is not always clear; it ranges from the rejection of worship on Sunday to the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the movement is united in its rejection of modern Christianity as a perversion of the pure, first century version of their religion.
The history of the Hebrew Roots movement is as opaque as its teachings. Because it has no structure and should be considered a “grass-roots” movement, determining its origin is very difficult. Earlier movements, like the Sacred Name Movement and the World Wide Church of God from the 1930’s have definitely influenced the perspectives of the Hebrew Roots Movements. For example, Herbert Armstrong – leader of the World Wide Church of God – taught that Christians had to observe parts of the Jewish law, including keeping the Sabbath, adhering to Jewish food laws, and celebrating the Jewish festivals. He also believed in British Israelism, which teaches that British, American, and many European peoples were descended from the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of the Northen Kingdom of Israel. Most alarming, however, is Armstrong’s rejection of the Trinity, which many proponents of Hebrew Roots also do.
Even though Hebrew Roots takes many of its cues from Armstrong, the movement really took off after his death in 1986. In the mid-90s Dean Cozzens of Open Church Ministries published a supposed prophecy titled “The Hebrew Movement”. In it he claimed that God had foreordained four movements in the 20th century. Pentecostalism would be the first, then faith healing, leading to the Charismatic movement and finally, the Hebrew roots movement. Others joined the movement and in 1998 Dean and Susan Wheelock began publishing Hebrew Roots Magazine. They also started a website, Hebrewroots.net, which still operates today. With the help of the internet the movement started to grow and spread.
Not all Hebrew Roots proponents will agree with this characterization of their origins. Richard Fisher explains that the movement has many other influences and has branched into numerous streams. He writes: “It’s hard to define the HRM because it is so diverse and made up of so many disparate groups and individuals. It’s a moving target. It’s a vast smorgasbord of everything from scholarship, as in the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, to so-called Third Questers, to individuals practicing subjective pop (make-it-up-as-you-go) Judaism. It can even include the medieval mystical Kabbalah, with its esoteric numerology. More often than not there are no distinctions made between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant or between the Bible and the Talmud. This movement can impose legalism with a vengeance or in some instances may simply suggest Jewish practices that they say will give us deeper insight and understanding as well as make us more “authentic” believers.”
Even though the movement is varied, there are common traits that has the potential to do great harm to the church and its witness to the lost.
1. Quoted by O’Neil, Lorena. 2014. Hebrew Roots rising: not quite Christians, not quite Jews. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/13/ozy-hebrew-roots-movement/6373671/ Accessed: 5 February 2015
2. Kaiser, Menachem. 2014. For some believers trying to connect with Jesus, the answer is to live like a Jew. http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/161086/observing-torah-like-jesus?all=1 Accessed: 5 February 2015
3. Katz, Stephen. 2001. The Jewish Roots movement: flowers and thorns. Havurah 4(1).
4. Robinson, Rich. 2003. The challenge to our Messianic movement, Part One. Havurah 6(2): 2-3.
5. Fisher, G. Richard. 2014. Bewitching believers through the Hebrew Roots movement. https://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots Accessed: 25 June 2023
In a previous blog post I explained how the development of artificial intelligence has not reached the level of systems like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the 1968 movie, HAL is an the artificial intelligence that controls the systems onboard an exploratory space craft. During the mission, HAL makes a mistake and the human crew decide to disconnect it. This leads to all kinds of disaster as the AI decides to fight back to preserve itself and the mission.
These are the kinds of scenarios most people fear when they think about artificial intelligence. Even though we aren’t anywhere near this level of AI yet, the possibility is troubling. “What if we lose control? What if it turns on us? Will we be able to stop it?” These and similar questions have been discussed and debated on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms. I won’t rehash those discussions here. Instead, I would like to reflect on some of the dangers our current AI capabilities hold.
There is the danger of laziness
AI will tempt some to laziness and ‘cheating’. Plagiarism is not a new problem, but with AI it can be taken to new heights. With the help of AI like ChatGPT students, scholars, or pastors can write thousands of pages of content with minimal effort. I preached on AI recently and asked ChatGPT to write the introduction to the message to make this very point. It didn’t sound like me, but it wasn’t half bad. In case you were wondering, it fooled a few people, but I owned up to it immediately.
In a way, using AI to write for us is an advanced version of “copying and pasting” from your favourite website. Only now, with the help of AI, the material can be reordered so that it will appear original. Some have even compared it to ghost writing: employing another person to write on your behalf, and then taking the credit for the product. Only in this case, you won’t have to pay the ghost writer! Either way, the one taking the credit didn’t do the work.
The Bible has quite a lot to say about the sin of laziness. Proverbs warns the sluggard that “poverty will come upon you like a robber” (Prov. 6:9-11). Instead, we are called to be good stewards of the gifts, talents, and time that God has given us. We are to do “honest work with [our] own hands” (Eph. 4:28), such that would honour God (Eph. 6:6-7). Remember, AI is a tool that can assist us in our work, but it should not be used to replace our work. If AI assists us in doing our work more efficiently, this means that we’ve been given the opportunity to do more, not less.
There is the danger of fake church
David de Bruyn recently highlighted this danger here. I raised a similar concern during a recent message on the topic of AI and the church. We already have the problem of “market friendly” churches that focus on appealing to the widest audience, often at the expense of biblical truth. The rise of AI might add to this phenomenon and do away with the biblical preacher too.
Artificial intelligence can already create fake voices and faces, sometimes called “deep fakes.” These digital likenesses of real or imagined people can be disturbingly convincing. Combine this with ChatGPT’s ability to write sermons and you have the potential to create the perfect digital preacher. Just choose the voice you like listening to the most (James Earl Jones perhaps?), pair it with the face you find most appealing, and have it read a sermon written in the style of your favourite preacher… voila!
You may think that this is an overreaction, but this is exactly what a German church scholar did last week. You can read about it here. The artificial preacher, which presented as a Black man with a beard above the altar of St. Paul's Church in Fürth, Bavaria, told the packed congregation not to fear death, according to the Associated Press. The service wasn’t flawless and some congregants reported being put off by the artificial manner and tone of the “preacher,” but it is only a matter of time before these hurdles are overcome.
Many Christians are opting for online church and preaching, and this has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Worship is viewed as a passive event and even those who attend in-person services often leave before anyone else has a chance to greet or engage with them. We’ve fallen into the trap of treating our worship like a form of entertainment.
This is not what God has called believers to. The qualifications for elders describe godly men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), not robots. They will be imperfect, but they have been given the responsibility of “keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17). There is more to being a pastor than preaching. The name implies shepherding, which is impossible to do without knowing the sheep.
AI preaching would not only isolate believers from biblical oversight, but also from one another. God’s design for the church is community, which means that we have fellowship with God and with one another (1 John 1:7). There are numerous “one another” commands in the New Testament, all of which would be impossible to fulfil in isolation. The perfect church would not mean the absence of people, but would be filled with imperfect people loving and serving one another to the glory of God.
These are two very real temptations that we have to contend with in our new AI integrated world. A biblical view of work and of church will help guard our hearts against them.
Artificial intelligence is trending. News articles, documentaries, and discussions on the topic abound. What was once considered science fiction has become mainstream. Even those who’ve never heard of Isaac Asimov are suddenly interested in what shape our AI-integrated future might look like. One reason for the surge in interest is undoubtably the rise of ChatGPT.
ChatGPT or Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer is an artificial intelligence chatbot. We’ve all encountered chatbots, whether it is a “How can I help you?” pop-up on a website or an automated reply service. What makes ChatGPT unique, however, is the natural language processing it uses to create humanlike dialogue on almost any topic. It was first released in November 2022, and has only improved since then.
Many have touted the arrival of ChatGPT as another step towards a technological singularity: a hypothetical moment when technology advances so far that it will become uncontrollable and irreversible. This is the stuff of science fiction nightmares. Even though we have come a long way, we aren’t anywhere near the dystopian disaster many fear.
Artificial intelligence can be categorized into three levels. The first, limited AI, includes all artificial intelligence programs or protocols that perform a specific task. It may do that task well, but it can’t do anything else. Deep Blue, which beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, is an example of such an AI. It is very good at chess, but not much else.
The second level, general AI, would be an artificial intelligence capable of a wide range of functions. It would be able to learn new functions and improve existing ones. It would be almost human, or at the very least, to most observers it would seem human. The third and final level, super AI, would be an artificial intelligence capable of improving itself beyond our human capabilities, surpassing our intellect.
While some believe that we are only a small step away from general or possibly even super AI, the reality is very different. Currently, our most advanced AI (those that employ machine or deep learning) are nothing more than capable but very limited tools. They aren’t anywhere near the level of sophistication that would make them “almost human.”
How should Christians reflect on the advance of artificial intelligence? Perhaps it would be wise to start with the humans who create artificial intelligence. There is no way to remove the human element entirely. A human planned and programmed the processes that the AI uses. A human created the data that advanced AIs like ChatGPT are trained on. A human gives the AI the instructions that it executes so well.
This has two immediate implications. First, when we understand that humanity is central to the development of artificial intelligence, we also understand that sin is close at hand. An AI, like ChatGPT, has no way of knowing whether the information it was fed, is true. It cannot account for the biases of those who created it or the data it was trained on. It can write the lyrics to a Christian worship song or imitate your favourite author, but it does not know whether what it generates is good or true. That depends on the data, the user, and the algorithms, i.e., humans. Trusting in AI or hoping that it will be the miracle that saves the world, would as foolish as trusting in man.
The second implication is related to the first: it should make us appreciate the unique glory that God has bestowed upon humanity. Even though we are fallen creatures, we are still said to have been created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). Each attempt to create artificial intelligence, to create something “in our own image,” reminds us that we are unique. The closer we think we get to an artificial intelligence that matches our own, the more we come to appreciate the difference between us and our machines. We have a capacity for the good, the right, the beautiful. We are more than sophisticated robots, a collection of chemical reactions and firing electrons. We are image-bearers of the most High.
Like with most advances in human technology, there will be triumphs, fears, and failures. For now, at least, we can rest easy that we have not created something “human”; only God can do that.
At least once a year I try to read a book on parenting. It deepens my understanding of the task to which God has called me. It also reminds me of truths I may have started to take for granted. One such truth, for example, is that I cannot give what I do not have.
In Deut. 6:5-7 Moses instructed the Israelites: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
The basic idea is that parents should teach their children God’s Word, and that they should use every opportunity to do so. Sounds simple enough, but did you notice how Moses introduced the command to teach? Before he deals with a parent’s ministry, he deals with a parent’s heart. The first command of the passage is that we should “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 4).
Jesus called this “the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:38). Here we have the first key to an authentic and enthusiastic witness: a genuine love for the Lord. We all have things that we are passionate about. I had a high school teacher who was passionate about cricket. It was a passion that we exploited if we didn’t want to have class. “Sir, what do you think of the Proteas’ chances at the world cup?” We’d sit back and listen as he waxed lyrical about his favourite players. He was positively effervescent in his enthusiasm for the game.
It is the love of God which compels us to share his gospel with others (2 Cor. 5:14). Sadly, we often find that Christians share their faith reluctantly. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they were ashamed of the gospel, as though it wasn’t “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). If we don’t love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might, we won’t be motivated to share his Word with others. You cannot give what you do not have.
How can I grow in my love for the Lord? That is where the second command of the passage comes in: “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (v. 6). Our love for the Lord is deepened by our knowledge of him. Our love is a response to his love revealed in the Word and in his Son (1 John 4:19). For example, in Psalm 1:2 we are told of the blessedness of those whose “delight is in the law of the LORD” and meditates on it day and night. Similarly, David wrote: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11).
Have you ever joined a conversation only to realize that we have no idea what they are talking about? We stand there quietly, politely nodding our heads, but we’re just looking for an opportunity to leave. If we want to participate joyfully in Christian fellowship or share our faith effectively with family and friends, we must know what we are talking about. We cannot give what we do not have.
These are the fundamental requirements for an authentic, enthusiastic, and effective witness. We must love the Lord our God and his Word must be on our hearts. Only then are we equipped to share it with others.
Because of Christ,
As I parked my car outside a friend’s house, he walked up to me and remarked: “Do you know your front right wheel is flat?” I hadn’t noticed and awkwardly tried to turn the exchange into a joke. He stopped me and said: “That isn’t safe, man; not for you and not for your family.” I had it checked later that day.
We live in a materialistic world. This is not new. Proverbs 11:28 warns us: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall”. These words were penned by one of the richest men in the Old Testament: Solomon. Yet even Solomon understood that wealth has its limits and that it is a flimsy foundation for confidence. As Jesus explained: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:19-20).
Christians would do well to heed these warnings. Our confidence should not be in the abundance of our possessions. We must be careful that the things we own don’t own us. Jesus added: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21).
Psalm 24:1 says: “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein”. We don’t actually “own” anything; God has entrusted some of his abundance to us. How we manage this blessing will say a great deal about our priorities, desires, and spiritual maturity.
At this point you probably expect a lecture on generosity and benevolence. These are important Christian disciplines that defined the early church and should shape us as well. However (you knew this was coming), this is not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on how you take care of the things God has entrusted to you. They were given to take care of your family (or, if you are alone, yourself).
Look at Proverbs 27:23-27: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls.”
This proverb teaches a lesson drawn from rural life. There are flocks and herds, grass and vegetation, fields and milk. These imagines may be strange those of us who grew up in the city, but they are the stuff of life out on the farm. Tending to your livestock is important because they will provide wool (v. 26), milk (v. 27), food (v. 27), and yes, money (v. 26). Tending to your field is also important because it produces food for the livestock (v. 25).
We understand the concept. This is the “circle of life” stuff our childhood cartoons sang about, but there is more to it than that. Look at how the passage ends: “food for your household and maintenance for your girls” (v. 27). If you are a breadwinner or homemaker there are people who depend on you. Your family (“your household”) depends on you. There may even be people that you employ: “your girls”. This is most likely a reference to servants, which the NIV makes explicit when it translates it “servant girls”.
In both cases there are people who rely on you for “wool… milk… food”. You may not have fields or flocks, but you have a car that gets you to work, a home that keeps your family warm and dry, and other tools that enable you to ply your trade. You, and the gifts that God has blessed you with, are the means by which God takes care of your family or employees. How you manage your fields and flocks impacts them. In other words, you must take care of the things that take care of your family. The wise stewardship of the means that God has provided for you, is a blessing to your family. If you squander what God has given, or if you aren’t attentive to it, your family and your employees will suffer.
Can God provide for your family without you? Absolutely. God takes care of those who have no one else to take care of them. Just look at Psalm 68:5: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Trust that the Lord will take care of them when you can’t. But this does not mean that we can be unwise stewards of what he has entrusted to us.
Heed God’s wisdom and learn to take care of the things that take care of your family.
Because of Christ,
Part 3: A few things to remember
Sharing our Christian testimony is one of the simplest ways to share the gospel. We are essentially telling the story of how Jesus Christ saved us. This is exciting stuff, because each conversion story is a THTHTHT to the grace of God and the power of the gospel. It is an account of how light triumphed over darkness, grace over sin, and Christ over Satan. If our testimony is boring, it is not because God didn’t do something amazing, but because we don’t realize what an amazing thing God has done.
How should I tell my story? We have three accounts of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts. The first is found in Acts 9. Here Luke, the human author writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, narrates the events of Paul’s conversion as it happens. The second is found in Acts 22, where the apostle Paul shares his own testimony of conversion when the Jews level false accusations against him. The third is found in Acts 26. Again, the apostle Paul shares his testimony, only this time he shares it with a much smaller group and in a very different setting.
If you read all three accounts, you will find that there are subtle differences between them. For example, in Acts 22:8 Jesus identifies himself as “Jesus the Nazarene” (which does not happen in the first account). In Acts 9 we read about how the Lord prepared Ananias to minister to Paul, but Paul’s account in Acts 22 doesn’t mention it. In Acts 26 some details are left out, while more details of his call and his message are given. How do we make sense of these differences?
Some believe that these discrepancies prove that Paul made it all up and that his testimony was a fabrication. The opposite is true. In law, if a story remains totally unchanged when told at different times or to different people, it is more likely to be considered false. All of the details in Paul’s different testimonies are true, but weren’t included in each account. Why not?
Each of these testimonies emphasized different aspects of Paul’s conversion depending on his hearers. For example, when Paul was speaking to his fellow Jews, he emphasized his Jewishness and faithfulness to the Law. He also referred to God as “the God of our fathers”. He was trying to reach his fellow Jews with the message of the Messiah. He naturally changed his emphasis when he shared his testimony with Gentiles (see Acts 26).
This means that you, too, can shift the emphasis when you share your conversion story with different people. You don’t invent a new story, but you highlight different things. For example, the way that I share my testimony with teens or young adults differs slightly from how I would share it with someone older. I use different words (a different vocabulary), or I’ll highlight things that my listeners can relate to.
An effective testimony does not embellish or exaggerate. It recognizes that the salvation of a soul is a miracle of God’s grace. You don’t have to repeat the same rehearsed story every time; you can tailor the story to the situation while staying true to the facts. We want others to see how the gospel has changed our lives and how it can change theirs as well.
Because of Christ,
The apostle Paul has a pretty unique conversion story. It is first recorded in Acts 9, where the author gives us a spectator’s perspective of what happened. Later, in Acts 22, Paul shares his own testimony with the Jews as they were trying to arrest him. After his arrest, Paul had an opportunity to plead his case before King Agrippa (Acts 26). While the circumstances of each testimony is different, the essential elements of the story stay the same. We’ll look at Paul’s testimony before Agrippa as an example of how you can tell your conversion story.
What does a Christian testimony look like?
1. Introduce yourself (v. 4-8):
Paul’s introduction fits the occasion: he is standing before a ruler after being accused by his own countrymen. That is why he details his connection with the Jews, his strict adherence to their Law, and constantly shows deference or respect to the king.
In his introduction he sets the stage. He links his own story with the bigger story of Israel, one that the king would have been familiar with. He also introduces the theme around which he builds his story. It is in verse 8: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” The resurrection becomes a central theme in how he shares his conversion story.
There are other gospel themes, like forgiveness, eternal life, or reconciliation around which you can tell your story. A theme helps you to decide what to include and what to leave out. It also gives your story focus. What grabbed your attention when you first heard the gospel? Was it the love of God revealed in Jesus? Was it the offer of forgiveness? Were you looking for life in all the wrong places, only to find eternal life in Christ?
2. Describe your life before Christ (v. 9-11):
In verse 9-11 Paul describes the consequences of his self-righteousness and how it motivated him to persecute the church. He describes his fallenness; he tells the king what his sin looked like. Note, however, that Paul does not glorify his sin. This is not the most exciting part of his story. He does not go into the gory detail, but he shares enough to help his listeners understand that he needed salvation.
When we talk about our lives before faith in Christ, we must be careful that we don’t glamourize sin. Don’t share details that may entice or tempt others to sin, rather than pointing them to Christ. This is a confession, not a boast, and should be done with the appropriate humility (see 1 Tim. 1:15).
3. Describe your conversion (v. 12-18):
Paul’s account of his first encounter with Christ differs slightly from the first account in Acts 9. For example, he includes the words: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (v. 14). It was a common proverbial statement that meant that we cannot ultimately prevail against God’s will. Agrippa would have known what Paul meant: the Lord is in control, not Paul and not the king. In this version of his testimony he shares a lot of detail on his commission (v. 16-18). This links his story with the king’s story; the king is one of the Gentiles to whom the Lord has sent Paul!
What is most important, however, is that Christ takes centre stage. We must understand that our testimony isn’t ultimately our story, but God’s. It is about how he saved us, how he intervened in our lives. This should be the most exciting part of your testimony. This is the part where someone who was dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and lost in darkness (Col. 1:13), is brought to life and delivered into light by Jesus Christ.
How did you hear the gospel? Who shared it with you? What was your first response? When did you cry out to Jesus? What did you experience when you repented of your sin and trusted in the Saviour?
4. Describe your life after coming to Christ (v. 19-22):
Paul’s description of his life after coming to Christ is brief, but he wants to show that the gospel has made a difference. He wants to show how Christ has changed him: before he persecuted the church, but now he planted churches all over the Roman empire!
One of the elements we often neglect when we tell our conversion story, is how Christ has changed us. We are not who we used to be, and it will show (2 Cor. 5:17). Share how the gospel has made a difference in your live. What is different about you? How have your desires and plans changed? Where has God used you? What have you learned?
5. Conclusion (v. 23):
Paul concludes with an invitation: he restates the gospel clearly and simply: Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that light can be proclaimed to both Jew and Gentile. He brings his story full circle by pointing Agrippa back to the resurrection.
His story demanded a response, and our should as well. Not everyone will respond positively to your testimony (they didn’t always respond positively to Paul’s), but that is not our job. We cannot change hearts, only Christ by his Holy Spirit can. Our job is to testify to the grace of our Lord in our lives. If you know enough to be saved, you know enough to share.
Because of Christ,
Part 1: What is a testimony and why should I share it?
What is a testimony? Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the dictionary definition. I would, however, like to give you a Christian definition. A Christian testimony is a story. It is a story in which you testify about God’s character. It is your eyewitness account of how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result.
In Acts 4 the disciples were being persecuted for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. After their release, they prayed, and God filled them afresh with his Holy Spirit. What was the result? Acts 4:31 tells us: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Then, in verse 33, we read: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The disciples were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, or as the NASB translates it, they “were giving witness to the resurrection”.
In a similar way, when a Christian shares his or her testimony they are giving an account of what the Lord has done in their lives. Sometimes this means sharing the story of how the Lord answered prayer or delivered from a particular danger. In most cases, however, testifying means that we share how the Lord has changed our lives through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that we know what a Christian testimony is, we must consider why we should share our testimony with others. The apostle Peter instructed believers to: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” speaking here of those who persecuted them because of their faith, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:14-16).
If we love the Lord Jesus Christ and devote our lives to honoring him, it will elicit a response from those around us. Sometimes people respond with curiosity, not understanding why we are different or how we’ve changed. At other times they respond with animosity (enmity, opposition, or even persecution – which is what Peter highlighted in his letter). Even if people reject us, Christians are people with a profound hope. This hope changes how we endure suffering for the sake of Jesus. We should be ready to explain why we have such hope, even in suffering.
One of the best ways to do so, is to share your testimony. It is a way in which you can honor Jesus Christ, share the gospel, answer your opponents, and encourage other believers. Do you want to know the best part? Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has a testimony. True, your testimony may not be as exciting as the apostle Paul’s, which will look at next week, but you can share your unique story of how the Lord changed your life by grace through faith in the Saviour.
God can use your story to lead others into the glories of the gospel. If you know enough to be saved, you know enough to share the gospel with others.
Because of Christ,
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,