Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #5)

sciptura

This is the final article on my series of the scriptures being the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and practice. The entire series is attached as a PDF here. 

Summary

The question is whether the Scriptures are sufficient. Are they the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life, or is something more needed?

First, it has been shown the Scriptures themselves are very clear that neither Christ nor His apostles tolerated or sanctioned the use of tradition for religious faith and life.

Second, Matthew, Luke, Paul, Peter and Jude relied on Scripture alone for their theology. As Armitage stated, “Christ and his Apostles always appeal directly to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and to their co-relative sentiments, facts and precedents, where they are applicable; and where they are not applicable, a new revelation was granted.”[1]

Third, an exposition of several critical Scripture passages demonstrate that (1) Christ condemned the use of tradition, even if derived from Scripture, (2) Scripture is divinely inspired by God and profitable to make the man of God complete, (3) Scripture is the very product of the Spirit of God.

Fourth, the New Testament alone is the only source of authority for church polity

Fifth, in summary, “it is clear that Jesus, his disciples, and the Jewish people in general presupposed Scripture to be not only the infallible record of God’s revelatory acts, but the authoritative, objective link between the prophetic nature of revelation and its fulfillment.”[2]


[1] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1886), 116.

[2] King, “Holy Scripture,” 42.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3b)

10reasons

This is Part #3b on my series about the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Parts #2a and #2b examined what several books in the New Testament had to say on the subject. Part #3a, along with this post, examine several critical passages which teach the doctrine of sola scriptura.

2 Peter 1:16-21

In this passage, Peter shows great concern that Christians “confirm their calling and election,” (2 Pet 1:10). He listed several traits (2 Pet 1:5-7) which should be the practical outworking of a fruitful life in Christ (2 Pet 1:8). Peter endeavored to constantly remind Christians of these points (2 Pet 1:12-15), and then set out to demonstrate the validity of the truth he preached.

Peter made it very clear that he and the other apostles “did not follow cleverly devised myths” when they preached of the second coming of Christ, and reminded his readers he was an eyewitness of His majesty! (2 Pet 1:16). Once again, deviation from a concrete, propositional truth is a negative thing to the NT evangelists. Peter is stressing the legitimacy of the doctrine he preached, and he did so by affirming that it was truthful and in accordance with actual events. Peter recounted what he saw on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he saw the glorified Christ and heard the voice of God the Father issuing His seal of approval on His Son’s ministry. His Second Coming will happen. Peter assures his audience he knows this to be true because he witnessed God’s approval on His Son (2 Pet 1:18).

Implicitly, then, the whole of the Gospel message is also true and correct. Peter makes this very connection when he remarks, “and we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,” (2 Pet 1:19a). Peter’s eyewitness testimony confirms the validity, accuracy and above all the sufficiency of the OT Scriptures – the transfiguration confirms the eventual fulfillment of the prophesies.[1] Peter uses the authority of the OT Scriptures alone to confirm the new mystery of the church age and the Gospel of Christ. This is progressive revelation once again; the new revelation in perfect accord with the old.

Meanwhile, as Christians wait for that blessed day (Titus 2:13), Peter calls his readers back to the sacred Scriptures, encompassing both the Hebrew Scriptures and the new revelation of the apostles. He tells them to “pay attention” to them, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” (2 Pet 1:19b). “As a light, God’s word has validity and authority.”[2]

It is significant that Peter directs his readers only to God’s unshakable word for comfort and guidance in Christian life. Calvin remarked,

His object only was to teach us that the whole course of our life ought to be guided by God’s word; for otherwise we must be involved on every side in the darkness of ignorance; and the Lord does not shine on us, except when we take his word as our light.[3]

Peter continued onward and emphasized the source of Scripture; “no prophesy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation,” (2 Pet 1:20). Again, it is not a cunningly devised fable. It is divinely inspired. It is propositional truth. No true prophesy “was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:21). “To bear” or “to guide” translates the Greek word phero.[4] As Scripture authors penned their works, they were impelled, borne along and guided by the Spirit. “The metaphor here is of Prophets raising their sails, the Holy Spirit filling them and carrying their craft along in the direction He wished.”[5] This, along with 2 Tim 3:16-17, is clear testimony to the divine nature, authority and absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures.

The next post will establish that the New Testament is the sole, infallible authority for church polity. It comes from a distinctly Baptist perspective because, well . . . I’m a Baptist! 


[1] Edwin A. Blum, 2 Peter, vol. 12, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 274.

[2] Roger M. Raymer, 2 Peter, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J.F. Walvoord and R. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 868.

[3] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 388.

[4] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Logos Bible Software, 2011.

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 95.

Discerning God’s Will for Our Lives

gdswl

This message is directly specifically at teenagers, but just for kicks, I’ll post it here anyway! It was preached for teen Sunday School at my church this morning. 

There are three basic, looming decisions facing any Christian teenager as their high school days come to a close and they face the prospect of escaping from home (at last!) and starting life on their own.

  • Am I a Christian? Do I live out my own faith or have I just been borrowing from my parents?
  • What career will I choose?
  • Who and when will I get married?

For a Christian teenager seeking to be true to God, each of these life-altering decisions are (hopefully) seen in the context of what God’s will for his life is. Questions such as these will naturally swirl through the mind:

  • What God want me to do?
  • Should I go to college? Which college?
  • Who does God have for me to marry?
  • Will I ever get married? 

We all probably remember wrestling with these issues in our own lives. In this lesson, I take a brief look at what a passage of Scripture has to say about (1) God’s universal will for every Christian and (2) discerning God’s will for our individual lives. The important takeaway is this:

  1. God’s specific will for our lives is predicated on His universal will for Christians. Basically, if we aren’t interested in fulfilling our most basic responsibility as Christians and walking worthy of God, then we’re wasting our time praying to God and asking for guidance and help on specific issues. First things first, after all!
  2. God does not reveal His specific will for our lives in a comprehensive, direct revelation. We frequently can only see God’s providential hand in our lives after the fact, years later, as we look back on life events. He does not provide us with a PDF instruction booklet outlining His specific plan for our lives! We have to make important decisions day by day as we (1) search the Scriptures, (2) pray earnestly for guidance, (3) weigh the counsel of other Christians we respect and finally (4) simply doing what we believe is best in light of all these factors. God will work through these situations to work things together for good.

We may not always appreciate or like what God has in store for us! However, if we can truly call ourselves children of God who have repented of our sins and trusted in Christ as Savior, we can trust God and live by faith as we await His glorious return!

I honestly wish I had much more time to flesh this out. Hopefully it was a blessing to our teens in church, and perhaps even to you. The Gospel of Mark continues next week.

Sermon notes

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3a)

bible alone

This is part 3a of my series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Part #2a and #2b examined what several New Testament books had to say on the matter. This post and the next will take a look at several critical passages in the New Testament on the subject.

Mark 7:1-13

Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem have come down to see Jesus once more (Mk 7:1; see also Mk 3:22-30). It is doubtful they were merely curious about Christ; they likely came specifically to investigate and condemn Him. “The scribes and Pharisees, who had come from Jerusalem, were doubtless sent as spies, to watch and to report in no friendly spirit the proceedings of the great Prophet of Nazareth.”[1]

They soon find something to take issue with; “they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed,” (Mk 7:2). The Pharisees had developed the custom of ritualistic washing before meals, along with many other inventions (Mk 7:3-4). Mark takes pains to mark these customs as the “tradition of the elders.” In their zeal to preserve their Jewishness in a distinctly un-Jewish world, [2] the Pharisees had elevated ritualistic tradition to the same level as the OT law. [3] Edwards remarks that “by Jesus’ day, adherence to the unwritten oral tradition was as important for the Pharisees as was adherence to the Torah itself.”[4]

Here Christ issues His decree on the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Would He approve of the elevation of human tradition? The accusation from the Pharisees is not long in coming; “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mk 7:5). Christ does not mince words; he calls them hypocrites and draws from a prophesy of Isaiah to accuse them of false worship!

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,’ (Mk 7:6b-7).

Our Savior follows up this frank condemnation with a summary statement; “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” (Mk 7:8). What follows is a sad and despicable example of how the custom of Corban had been twisted and turned into a prohibition from honoring one’s parents (Mk 7:9-13). Jesus’ concluding remark on the matter is particularly damning; “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do,” (Mk 7:13).

The word is God is made void by man-made traditions. Scripture is indeed sufficient, and Christ upheld them as the sole authority for faith and life. As David King observed, “if, in their day [Christ and the apostles], there existed alongside Scripture, a legitimate God-given, objective standard of authority such as extra-biblical revelation, it has failed to surface.”[5]

2 Timothy 3:10-17

Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy, encouraging him to persevere in the midst of trials and hardships. Paul related that, though false teachers will come and persecute the brethren, “they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all,” (2 Tim 3:9). Paul reminds Timothy that he is very aware of how Paul has suffered for Christ’s sake during the course of his ministry (2 Tim 3:10-11).

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Tim 3:12-13).

Now, Paul turns to practical application for his apprentice. In the midst of this admittedly dark letter, after reminding Timothy of own trials and tribulations, Paul observes that anybody (including young Timothy) who seeks to live for God will face troubles. What practical advice will Paul give Timothy?

He tells Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,” (2 Tim 3:14). Timothy was schooled in the Scriptures from his grandmother and mother (2 Tim 1:5). He was also instructed at length by Paul (2 Tim 1:13-14) in the Christian faith, which augmented his Jewish upbringing. Paul likewise also instructed Titus in the same manner (Tit 1:9). Therefore, when Paul reminds Timothy to “continue in what you have learned,” he was speaking of his childhood and young adult instruction in the faith.[6] This is a progressive revelation; a devout Jewish upbringing rounded out by instruction from Paul concerning new revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:12; Eph 3:1-13).

Paul continues, and reminds Timothy that he has been acquainted with the “sacred writings” since childhood, which make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ (2 Tim 3:15). These “sacred writings” are the Hebrew Scriptures,[7] but the remark about these Scriptures leading to explicit faith in Christ demonstrate that Paul also had the gospel message in view here as a complete revelation.[8] Thus the complete, divine revelation of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are “sacred.” This accords very well with Paul’s command for those who preach another Gospel to be “accursed” (Gal 1:8-9). Scripture contains absolute, propositional truth which is sacred. Paul commends these Scriptures to Timothy as an anchor in turbulent times.

The Holy Spirit guided Paul to choose his words very deliberately. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” (2 Tim 3:16). The original Greek of theopneustos means “divinely inspired.”[9] This simple passage describes not only the nature of the inspiration of Scripture, but its source.[10]

The context of Paul’s statement (2 Tim 3:14-15) clearly include more than simply the OT Scriptures.[11] “Since the early church viewed the words of Jesus as fully authoritative, it would not have been a large step for Christians to accept the writings of His apostles as equally authoritative with the OT.”[12] Precisely because the Scriptures are divinely inspired, it is profitable to make the man of God complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). What more authority can Scripture ever claim, but that it was literally inspired by God Himself?

The next post will continue our look at some important New Testament passages on the sufficiency of the Scriptures.


[1] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, gen ed., The Pulpit Commentary, 23 vols. (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909). St. Mark Vol. I, 291. See also John D. Grassmick, “Mark,”  vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 132. Grassmick is more charitable and merely stated they came to “investigate” Jesus.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 205. “Rituals concerning cleanness and uncleanness reflect rabbinic developments more than actual Torah prescriptions . . . As Judaism’s encounter with Gentile culture increased in the post-exilic period, however, the question of ritual cleanliness took on new significance as a way of maintaining Jewish purity over against Gentile culture.”

[3] Grassmick, “Mark,” 132-133. “These interpretations, designed to regulate every aspect of Jewish life, were considered as binding as the written Law and were passed on to each generation by faithful Law teachers (scribes).”

[4] Edwards, Mark, 208. See also Emil Shurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, 5 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2012), 1:2.

“The predominance of Pharisaism is that which most distinctly characterized this period. The legalistic tendency inaugurated by Ezra had now assumed dimensions far beyond anything contemplated by its originator. No longer did it suffice to insist on obedience to the commandments of the Scripture Thora. These divine precepts were broken down into an innumerable series of minute and vexatious particulars, the observance of which was enforced as a sacred duty, and even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggeration even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggerated legalism had obtained such an absolute ascendency over the minds of the people, that all other tendencies were put entirely in the background.”

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 42.

[6] William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce Metzger (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson, 2000), 562-563.

[7] Thomas D. Lea, 1, 2 Timothy, vol. 34, The New American Commentary, ed. David Dockery (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1992), 234.

[8] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 563-564. “It seems doubtful that Paul would say that the OT by itself could instruct Timothy in a salvation that was by faith in Christ Jesus; this would be anachronistic. . . It may be concluded that the expression ‘sacred writings’ is drawn solely from the vocabulary describing the Hebrew Scripture, but since Paul is thinking about the culmination of the scriptural hope realized through faith in Christ Jesus, he chooses the anarthrous plural construction to develop his argument in the direction of joining the Hebrew Scripture and the gospel.” Emphasis mine.

[9] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). (Oak Harbor: WA, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[10] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 566.

[11] Ibid, 567-568.

[12] Ibid, 568.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #2b)

sola_scriptura

Part 2b on my series on the sufficiency of the Scripture as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 was an introduction to set the stage. Part #2a was the first part of what different books of the New Testament have to say on the matter.

Romans

Paul grounded the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the authority of the OT Scriptures. He tied the Gospel to that which God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,” (Rom 1:2). The Book of Romans is literally saturated with references to OT Scriptures to make theological points,[1] far more so than a brief biblical theology here can hope to demonstrate. Once again, Paul does not base his arguments on philosophy or tradition – he bases them on Scripture.

It is not the hearers of the law who are justified, but the doers (Rom 2:12-29). None are righteous (Rom 3:9-18); “there is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Rom 3:18). Knowledge of the OT law brings about conviction and knowledge of sin (Rom 3:19-20; 4:15; 7:7-25). The Law and Prophets bore witness to Christ (Rom 3:21-22). Abraham was justified by faith (Rom 4). We are dead in Adam but alive in Christ (Rom 5:12-21). God’s sovereignty in election is grounded in His corporate election of Israel and the individual, single election of individuals (Rom 9).

Israel refuses to respond to the present provision of salvation through Jesus Christ (Rom 10), and Paul bolstered his argument by citing examples of Israel’s previous rebellion (Rom 10:18-21). Gentiles have been grafted into the promises given to Abraham (Rom 11), “so as to make Israel jealous,” (Rom 11:11). Her rejection is not final and her restoration is assured. Paul’s appeal for Christians to present themselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) is rooted in the OT concept of a sacrifice to God. Christ came to the Jews in the form of a servant “in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,” (Rom 15:8-9).

Paul presents the new doctrine he received from Christ (Gal 1:12) as explicitly progressive revelation. This gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ, in complete accord with all which has come before it, is a “revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God,” (Rom 16:25-26).

1 Peter

Peter writes his epistle to Jewish Christians (1 Pet 1:1 – “elect exiles of the Dispersion”), demonstrating a clear connection in his mind between the OT and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He stated that Christ fulfilled the OT prophesies.[2]

The prophets prophesized about the grace of God in salvation in Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:10). These OT prophets sought to discern when the prophesy of Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories would come to pass (1 Pet 1:11). It was revealed to these great men, presumably through the Spirit, that these prophesies were intended for a future time. Peter identified that time period as “now,” or the dispensation of grace in the church age.[3] The OT prophesies take on clearer, concrete and unmistakable meaning in light of the progressive revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:12).

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Pet 1:12).

The context of 1 Pet 1 is that his readers could rejoice in their sufferings even though they could not see exactly how or when their present trials would end. Just as the OT prophets had limited understanding of their own prophesies, they trusted God to sovereignty work out all things according to good (Rom 8:28). God’s answer to Habakkuk’s plea for understanding of God’s ways was to live by faith (Hab 2:4). In the midst of suffering (1 Pet 1:6), it is very significant that Peter points his readers to Scriptures as the source of assurance. Several conclusions can be drawn:

  1. God has spoken propositionally to His people in a concrete fashion.
  2. Peter points to the Scriptures as the sole source of God’s revelation to men. He bases his subsequent call to be holy in a decidedly unholy world (1 Pet 1:13 – “therefore”) on the assurance of salvation and glorification in Christ, which was prophesied of in the OT and disclosed more completely by Peter and the other apostles.

Peter quotes the OT to make theological points, underscoring the authority of the OT.[4] He quoted from Isaiah 40:6, 8 (1 Pet 1:24-25) and stated “the word of the Lord remains forever.” He concluded by noting “and this word is the good news that was preached to you,” (1 Pet 1:25b). Peter describes the role of the Christian in terms of Israel’s covenant responsibility similar to Ex 19:5-6 (1 Pet 2:9).

James

James also writes his epistle to Jewish Christians (Jas 1:1). His theology is steeped in the OT Scriptures. Without his unwavering reliance upon them as an infallible revelation from God, James could not have written his epistle. His theology of God’s character is one of holiness (Jas 1:13), and perfectly in tune with the OT description of His character (Lev 11:45, 19:2; Ps 99:9).

Pure religion, or piety,[5] consists of proper conduct and character. James’ example of proper religious conduct is to “visit orphans and widows in their afflictions,” (Jas 1:27), an admonition which is soaked in the context of the OT law regarding social justice (Ex 22:22; Deut 14:29). His exhortation to proper character is to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” (Jas 1:27), which likewise has its roots in the OT command for Israelites to remain separate and uncontaminated by the pagans round about them (Lev 18:24-19:2).

James’ overarching point is to contrast mere ritualistic observances with actual reverence for God; to illustrate what “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” (Jas 1:27) really is. It is merely a stepping stone from here to a contrast between mere outward circumcision and a true circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:12-16).

James quoted repeatedly from Scripture to condemn the sin of partiality (Jas 2:8, 11). James used the example of both Abraham and Rahab to make the point that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:14-26). He quoted Proverbs 3:34 to emphasize the need for humility and separation from worldliness (Jas 4:1-6). He pointed to the example of Job and exhorts his readers to have patience in the midst of suffering and trials (Jas 5:10-11). James cited the fervent prayers of Elijah as he exhorted his readers to pray diligently for one another (Jas 5:16-18).

Jude

Like his brother James, Jude’s theology simply would not exist without the OT Scriptures. Jude wrote of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” (v. 3). This faith Jude spoke of was the body of truth taught by the apostles.[6] This underscores the progressive nature of God’s revelation, and is perfectly harmonious with Peter’s (1 Pet 1:10-12), Paul’s (Eph 3:1-13) and the writer to the Hebrew’s (Heb 1:1) comments in their own epistles on this point.

Jude noted the presence of false teachers who “long ago were designated for this condemnation” (v. 4). This refers to previously written prophesies regarding the doom of apostates (e.g. Isa 8:19-22; Jer 5:13-14).[7]

Jude notes God’s righteous pattern of punishing those who apostatize from the true faith, such unbelieving Israelites, angels and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities (v. 5-7). These “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire,” (v. 7). Jude then moves to his present day and condemns contemporary false teachers of these very sins! (v. 8). He mentions the archangel Michael, compares the false teacher’s way to that of Cain and Balaam, and compares their eventual end to that of Korah (v. 11). Jude also accurately puts Enoch as the “seventh from Adam,” (v. 14).[8]

The next post will be a discussion of several critical passages that focus on the sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures for the Christian life.


[1] Rom (3:4, 10-18); (4:7-8, 17); (8:36); (9:25-29, 33); (10:5, 18-21); (11:8-10); (12:19); (13:8-9); (14:11); (15:3, 9-12); (16:21).

[2] 1 Peter (1:10-12); (2:6-8).

[3] See also 1 Pet 1:20 – “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.”

[4] 1 Peter (1:16, 24-25); (2:9); (3:5-6, 10-12); (4:18).

[5] William D. Mounce, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2006), 1170.  Θρησκεια, or “religion,” may better be termed “piety.”

[6] Edward C. Pentecost, “Jude,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 919.

[7] Edwin Blum, Jude, vol. 12, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 389.

[8] See 1 Chr 1:1-3

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #2a)

sola scriptura

This is the second of a multi-part series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 laid the groundwork and gave some brief summary statements. This and the next post will present a brief look at several books of the New Testament and what they have to say about the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. 

Biblical Theology

There is not sufficient space to devote to a Biblical Theology of the entire New Testament. Selected books will be covered which represent a broad spectrum of New Testament documents and authors.[1]

Matthew

The genealogy implicitly recognizes the authority of the OT to prove Christ’s deity (Mt 1:1-17). Matthew is also very careful to point out fulfilled prophesy.[2] The chief priests and the scribes whom Herod consulted also appealed to the Scriptures (Mt 2:4-6). Herod later gave the Scriptures their due authority in his attempt to destroy the Christ child (Mt 2:16). John the Baptist also gave due weight to OT prophesy in his query about Jesus (Mt 11:2-3). John based his condemnation of Herod’s marriage to his half-brother’s wife on OT law (Mt 14:4b).

Christ quoted Scripture alone to refute Satan’s devices during His temptation in the wilderness.[3] He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt 5:17). Jesus had implicit respect for the OT, quoted it frequently[4] and affirmed that all the OT will be accomplished (Mt 5:18; 13:17; 26:53-54, 56). Christ instructed a leper He healed to present himself to the priest in accordance with OT law (Mt 8:4). Christ upheld the OT divorce laws (Mt 19:1-12). He also instructed the rich young ruler to keep all the commandments (Mt 19:16-22).

Christ’s ministry was interpreted by contemporary believers within the context of the OT.[5] They knew of no other source of legitimate authority. Peter, for example, related that some people believed Christ was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another OT prophet (Mt 16:13-14). It is clear the people were searching the OT for the proper interpretative context about Jesus. The demons themselves certainly interpreted Christ in this fashion! (Mk 5:1-13).

During the Sermon on the Mount, Christ applied OT law to everyday life in the areas of anger (Mt 5:21-26), lust (Mt 5:27-30), divorce (Mt 5:31-32), uttering oaths (Mt 5:33-37), retaliation (38-42), love for your enemies (Mt 5:43-48) and social justice (Mt 7:12). Christ appealed to the OT to rebuke the Pharisees’ erroneous views of the Sabbath (Mt 12:3-8) and to Jonah to illustrate the three days between His death and resurrection (Mt 12:40).

Though not in the Gospel of Matthew, the clear testimony of Christ on the road to Emmaus cannot be neglected. Two dejected disciples were traveling home, their hope in Christ lost. Jesus, in a disguised state, asks what troubles them. The disciples, astonished, relate the details of Christ’s ministry. They admit they are perplexed and confused by the empty tomb, and lament they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21a). Christ’s response underscores the authority, validity and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Moreover, He chastened His disciples for not searching the Scriptures more diligently. Their answers were there!

And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk 24:25-27).

Christ proved Himself from the Scriptures. There is nothing done by Christ which contradicts prophesy which had come beforehand. He emphasizes this point to His disciples shortly thereafter; “these are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,” (Lk 24:44).

Acts

Luke also appealed to fulfilled prophesy,[6] most significantly the fact of Christ’s crucifixion (Acts 3:18) as part of God’s larger plan for restoration of His creation (Acts 3:21).

It is significant that Christ’s apostles looked to the OT Scripture as the interpretative key for present-day events (Acts 2:30-31; 7:1-51). They continued to rely on the OT as they experienced miraculous visions (Acts 10:9-16), deliverance from prison (Acts 12:6-19) and preached to Jews that Christ was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:13-52).

Peter tied Christ definitively to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling Jesus God’s “servant” (Acts 3:13), the “Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) and the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15). He based his initial objection to eating unclean foods on Jewish dietary laws from the OT (Acts 10:14).

The Jerusalem Council was called due to disagreement over whether Gentile converts had to be circumcised (Acts 15:1-2). This is an explicit statement about the authority the Hebrew Scriptures had to the early Christians.

Paul’s “reasoned” with Jews from the Scriptures in Thessalonica (and in Athens – 17:17), “explaining and proving” Christ from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3). Paul did not base his theology only on the new revelation he received from Christ (Gal 1:12); he argued that Christ fulfilled the OT prophesies from the Scriptures. This is very clear in Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill, a masterful exposition and synthesis of doctrine (Acts 17:22-34)

Devout Jews in Berea examined “the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” (Acts 17:11) as Paul preached Christ in the community. Paul expressed regret for unknowingly speaking harshly to the high priest in Jerusalem (Acts 23:4-5) in violation of OT law. Stephen’s opponents used the benchmark of the OT to condemn Stephen to be stoned for blasphemy – “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God,” (Acts 6:11). They did likewise to Paul (Acts 18:13), “this man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”[7]

In Caesarea, Tertullus accused of Paul of profaning the temple by His doctrine at a hearing before Felix (Acts 24:5-7). In his own defense, Paul firmly anchored his doctrine on the OT Scriptures (Acts 24:14-15).[8] The Ethiopian eunuch was convicted in his heart by a reading of Isa 53:7 (Acts 8:26-40).

Apollos’ credential to preach the Gospel was that he was “competent in the Scriptures,” (Acts 18:24b). After the way of God had been explained more accurately to him (Acts 18:26), Luke spoke glowingly of how Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus,” (Acts 18:28).


[1] For sake of space, Hebrews and the writings of John are not covered. Likewise, space did not allow for an examination of all four Gospels. Matthew therefore stands here as broadly representative of the four.

[2] Mt (1:22-23); (2:14-15, 17, 23); (3:3); (4:14-16); (8:17); (11:10, 13-14); (12:17-21); (13:14-15, 35); (15:7-9); (21:4-5); (27:9-10).

[3] Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13.

[4] Mt (21:13, 16, 42); (22:32, 37-39, 43-47); (24:15, 37-39).

[5] Mt (16:13-14); (17:4, 10); (21:9-11); (22:34-40); (the reaction of the Sanhedrin – Mt 26:63-66).

[6] Acts (1:16, 20); (2:16-21, 25-28, 34-35); (3:17-26); (4:25-26); (7:42-43, 49-50); (13:33-35, 41, 47); (15:16-17 – this author believes James was merely arguing that Amos’ prophesy agrees with what was happening. He was not arguing Amos’ prophesy was being fulfilled); (28:26-27).

[7] See also Acts 21:20-22, 27-30.

[8] See also Paul’s defense of himself before Agrippa (Acts 26:4-8, 22-23) and among fellow Jews at Rome (Acts 28:17-24).

Laying Aside the Commandments of God (Mark 7:1-13)

Sermon notes – Mark 7:1-13

Here, we see the tragic and disgraceful results of legalism imposed upon a people. Some Pharisees and scribes come down from Jerusalem once more to hear and investigate Christ. They soon accuse Him of violating the commandments of the elders by eating bread with unwashed hands (Mk 7:5). Note, they took issue with Christ’s violation of the traditions of men, not of God! There is no OT command for everyday men to ritualistically wash before a meal!

I want to take a moment to emphasize a point – it is far too simplistic to simply call the Pharisees legalistic, evil men and move on to the next Scripture passage. Why were they so legalistic? The answer is that they were seeking to preserve their Jewishness in a distinctly un-Jewish world. The destruction of the temple and the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. completely decimated the social, cultural, political and religious structure of the Jewish state. Their national identity as a people of God had been abolished in one fell stroke. Even later, after the return from exile, the Jews existed as a mere vassal state of the Persian, Greek, and now Roman Empires. Even today, the modern state of Israel has not been reconstituted as it was before the fall of Jerusalem. The times of the Gentiles are still ongoing.

Consider these very important points:

“Rituals concerning cleanness and uncleanness reflect rabbinic developments more than actual Torah prescriptions . . . As Judaism’s encounter with Gentile culture increased in the post-exilic period, however, the question of ritual cleanliness took on new significance as a way of maintaining Jewish purity over against Gentile culture.”[1]

“[T]he defeat and exile faced the surviving Hebrews with the loss of their central national and religious institutions. They were without a unifying center of influence. They were forced to rethink the nature of God, his relation to them, and the viability of Old Testament religion. They were thrown into close contact with other cultures, and their traditional way of life became difficult or impossible. They, in a new way, confronted the relation between religion and culture. In every area the Hebrew race and its political and religious systems encountered a constant threat to survival.”[2]

Much like the erroneous and dangerous teaching of Roman Catholics who believe in two well-springs of divine authority, Scripture and tradition, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day fell into the very same error.

“The predominance of Pharisaism is that which most distinctly characterized this period. The legalistic tendency inaugurated by Ezra had now assumed dimensions far beyond anything contemplated by its originator. No longer did it suffice to insist on obedience to the commandments of the Scripture Thora. These divine precepts were broken down into an innumerable series of minute and vexatious particulars, the observance of which was enforced as a sacred duty, and even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggeration even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggerated legalism had obtained such an absolute ascendency over the minds of the people, that all other tendencies were put entirely in the background.”[3]

To bring this to a modern context, how do we fall into the same legalistic traps today? We are commanded to be in the world, but not of the world (Jn 17:15). Do we impose legalistic restrictions in our own circles? Consider what Christ has to say on this very important matter.


[1] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 205

[2] J. Julius Scott, Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 108-112.

[3] Emil Shurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, First Division, vol. 1 (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2012), 2.

Nominal Christianity?

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The phenomena of “cultural Christianity” is not a new one. The label “carnal Christian” has been bandied about regularly in literature and in the blogosphere. Christians of every theological stripe know “carnal” or “cultural” Christians. Pick whichever label you like best, or even invent your own – you know these people. They claim repentance from sin and salvation through Christ alone. They come to church more or less regularly . . . sort of! They sit more or less attentively in the pews and may even tithe faithfully. They go through the motions. And yet . . . there is no discernable joy of Christ in their lives. There is no growth. To borrow a phrase from Paul Tripp (2008), there is a “gospel gap” in their lives. Their FaceBook pages abound with worldliness; perhaps you’ve even secretly hid them from your news feed! Their children walk and talk like everybody else. There is no concept of separation, holiness or imitation of God in their lives. They are indistinguishable from normal, everyday, unsaved “good people.”

These folks are legion. Some are undoubtedly saved, others are undoubtedly not. I’m not interested in debating that issue right now. What is significant is that too many Christians have little conception of who Christ is, what they were saved from and what their calling as Christians is. We’ll look at what Paul had to say on this very matter:

We Were Once Dead (Eph 2:1-3)

Christians sometimes seem to lose sense of both (1) what they were saved from and, (2) the grace of God in performing this marvelous work. We lose focus on the gift of salvation and our attentions turn inward, to temporal matters. Paul, writing to the faithful saints at Ephesus (Eph 2:1), emphasized the grace of God in salvation in very powerful, stark terms.

Christians were once dead in the trespasses and sins they walked in (Eph 2:1-2). This is a spiritual death, a sinful nature we all inherited from Adam (Rom 5:12). In this sinful state, there is absolutely nothing meritorious in us that God can find pleasure in or accept as grounds for salvation.

“Now in this dreadful disordered condition, are all of us brought into the world: for as the root is, such must the branches be. Accordingly we are told, “That Adam beget a son in his own likeness;” or, with the same corrupt nature which he himself had, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit. And experience as well as scripture proves, that we also are altogether born in sin and corruption; and therefore incapable, whilst in such a state, to hole communion with God. For as light cannot have communion with darkness, so God can have no communion with such polluted sons of Belial,” (Whitefield).

Paul went on to describe the nature of this spiritual death, observing that we followed the “course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2). We were completely different prior to salvation by Christ. We served a different master, as it were, and that master was Satan. We once lived as “sons of disobedience,” mimicking the ways of our former master.

“. . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Eph 2:3).

We were by nature the children of wrath (see also Jn 3:36). Paul paints a very frank picture of a Christian’s former state. “These verses picture the hopeless unbeliever as a part of the world system, controlled by Satan, indulging the flesh, and destined to experience God’s wrath,” (Constable, 2013, 28). This is what we were saved from and, moreover, it is what we deserve. God was not obligated to save anybody. He chose to.

We are transferred from the realm of Satan to the realm of God upon repentance of our sins and saving faith in Christ. We did belong to Satan but now belong to God. The chain which once bound us to sin has been broken!

Now We Are Alive! (Eph 2:4-9)

God is rich in mercy because of the “great love” He has for us. Even while we were yet dead in our trespasses and sins, He made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). The initiative here is clearly with God, underscoring our complete inability to come to Him on our own or claim merit in any fashion. We are saved by grace, or unmerited favor (Eph 2:5). He has given us heavenly citizenship (Eph 2:6). This was done so that, in the coming ages, He might demonstrate the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7). The supreme demonstration of this grace is salvation, which is “not your own doing” (Eph 2:8). Paul wrote that this salvation was “not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” (Eph 2:9). The entire thrust of this passage is the surpassing grace of God in salvation.

What’s the Point? (Eph 2:10)

We were saved for a purpose, not to glory in our own election and while away our lives in idleness. This is the root of the issue with nominal Christians – they claim but Christ but display no urgency to live for Him in any discernable way! There is no power of the Gospel in their lives. It is merely a cultural thing.

I like baseball. I like the Blackhawks. I like CSI: New York. I’m a Christian. God Bless America.

Too many Christians have lost any real sense of what it actually means to be a Christian. They have no Christian identity. How different this is from what Paul wrote:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10).

Christians who have been saved in ages past, are being saved today and will be saved tomorrow are His workmanship. This election to salvation is not a call to privilege but a choosing of service to God (Rom 12:1-2). We were created in Christ Jesus specifically for good works. There is no way to get around this statement from Paul. A fervent desire to serve the Lord should be the practical outworking and fruit of our salvation. If we Christians can wrap our heads around this fact, then Paul’s call to present ourselves as “living sacrifices” takes on a whole new significance. It should change our lives. It should compel us to serve Christ in whichever way we can, in accordance with the various talents, gifts and abilities He has seen fit to bestow upon us. Too many Christians are not fulfilling their calling but are on spiritual autopilot.

We know these people. They are our friends and neighbors. They worship together with us in church. Perhaps they were once living for the Lord, but have fallen on hard times. Maybe they were always nominal and tentative in their faith. Regardless of the circumstance, we have a duty to exhort and encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith, stirring them up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). God is not pleased by lukewarm Christians (Rev 3:16).

We all need to grasp what the “grace of God” really means, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age as we wait for Christ’s return (Titus 2:12-13). There is no place in our lives for a complacent Christianity. Let us resolve to not allow this complacency and nominalism to characterize our own lives, and to encourage and exhort our brethren to not allow it to come to pass in theirs either.

“Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun on earth: you have already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see and admire you, though, alas! at so great a distance from you: your life, I know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing world knows nothing of. Christ’s yoke is not become easy to you, and his burden light. You have passed through the pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is spiritually formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ in you. Like Jacob’s ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your souls and hearts are in heaven: and by your faith and constant recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of your Father which is in heaven,” (Whitefield).

Works Cited:

Constable, Thomas. Ephesians. Dallas: Soniclight, 2013.

Whitefield, George. Marks of Having Received the Holy Ghost. Sermon. Retrieved from http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=/documents/Whitefield/WITF_042.html.

Tripp, Paul D. and Timothy Lane. How People Change. Greensboro: New Growth, 2008.

Their Hearts Were Hardened (Mark 6:45-52)

Here, we see the disciples’ complete failure to appreciate or acknowledge who Christ was after the clear and unmistakable miracle of feeding the 5000 (actually, more like 15,000 – 25,000!). There is a limit to how much they could have understood of Christ before His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, but still – why did these many miracles not make them understand?

Amidst the disciples’ confusion, Christ is faced with a large crowd which likewise misapprehends who He is, or more likely, simply doesn’t care. They only want a solution to a political problem, not the Kingdom He was preaching and offering. They wanted no part of this Gospel of repentance and belief (Mk 1:15). As they finished their meal, miraculously provided by Christ, their only thought was to seize Him by force and make Him their King (Jn 6:15). Here we see only one of three instances where Christ retreats alone to pray, disconsolate and beset with a very human need to speak to His Father.hardened-heart

This is a very powerful message of faith; it is about understanding who Christ really is. The disciples were not ready for ministry and had a long road ahead of them, for Scripture tells us they did not apprehend who Christ was “for their heart was hardened,” (Mk 6:52).

Do you have a true and full appreciation and understanding of Jesus Christ today?

I preached this message for teen Sunday School at my church this morning.

Sermon notes – Mark 6:45-52

Patterning the Kingdom – An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer

Introduction

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most famous portions of Scripture. It is known throughout the world, and can perhaps be counted along with Jn 3:16 as one of the handful of Biblical passages that non-Christians will recognize. It is also a very misunderstood passage. Some take it as a literal prayer that should be repeated verbatim periodically. This author, as a newly saved Christian, recited the Lord’s Prayer every night for several weeks, and felt closer to God as a result!

There are any numbers of ways to interpret the Sermon on the Mount. This paper takes the interim approach, which sees it as an ethic for believers before the inauguration of the kingdom.[1] The original audience were Jews who expected Christ to establish His millennial reign, as He had been preaching (Mk 1:14-15). The fact that His kingdom was not inaugurated at that time does not negate the Sermon as a whole; it merely means it is still applicable to Christians today who still await the kingdom God promised Israel (2 Sam 7:16). “The sermon is primarily addressed to disciples exhorting them to a righteous life in view of the coming kingdom.”[2]

It may more properly be termed “The Disciples’ Prayer!” If any prayer may be associated with Jesus Christ, surely it is John 17. It is not a literal prayer, but a model prayer. Christ teaches Christians how to pray, how to approach our Holy God and the proper heart attitude a believer must have before participating in the marvelous honor of intercessory prayer.

False Prayer

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

 

Christ presupposes His disciples will pray. “And when you pray,” not “and if you pray.” This tells us that prayer is an assumed component of the Christian life. Matthew Henry’s observation is a pointed rebuke to all Christians who reject this vital element of worship; “You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray . . . If prayerless, then graceless.”[3]

Prayer must be entered into with the right attitude. Christians seek to glorify their Father in heaven and never themselves (1 Cor 10:31). The triune Godhead planned and decreed everything in eternity past (Ps 139; Eph 1:11, 3:11), created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2), died for the sins of wicked men (Jn 3:16) and is at work convicting humanity of sin and His own righteousness even now (Jn 16:7-11). He alone is deserving of praise, honor and worship.

Prayer, and all worship in general, is an issue of the heart (Deut 10:16). “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him,” (Jn 4:23).

Authentic Prayer

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

Prayer is an intimate conversation, between the believer and his Lord. There is no place for ostentation here. It is a private worship where sinful men can bring their cares, worries and petitions before the Holy God who saved them from sin and darkness.

Christ was not literally instructing His disciples to find themselves a convenient closet. This author ministered to well-meaning teenagers who returned from a “mission’s institute” of questionable reputation and doctrine, where they were instructed to actually pray for hours in closets or darkened rooms!

The Greek for room, ταμεῖον, means chamber, closet or a place of retirement and privacy.[4] It also means inner room.[5] The word itself is used to denote a small storeroom attached to a Jewish house. The context here does not suggest Christ wanted His disciples to seek out unoccupied storerooms; it merely suggests privacy – the very opposite of ostentation. As one scholar explained, “it would have been the only room provided with a door, and at least one commentator observes that it had become almost a proverbial expression for a place where one could go and not be seen.”[6]

It is not the location of the prayer offered; it is the heart of the humble petitioner who offers the prayer that Christ was concerned with. Believers have the privilege of working with God through intercessory prayer; it is shameful to come before Him with anything less than a humble and contrite spirit. Those who pray more often in public than in private before the Holy God are typically less interested in God’s approval than human praise. Frequently, prayers and petitions are offered in public worship services. There is nothing wrong with public prayer, (it is encouraged!), but when aspirations for flattery gain ascendency over a heart-felt petition before God a Christian is in trouble.

“All display should be avoided in devotion: He who addresses God must be wholly engrossed with thoughts of his own wants, and of Him whose grace he entreats. Such abstraction will convert the most public place into a ταμεῖον.”[7] As John Phillips noted, “since God is omnipresent, we can transform any corner into a cathedral and pray.”[8]

A Christian who prays for the vain glory and honor of men will receive little to no reward. God abhorred the sacrifices and offerings of sinful Israel, because their heart was absent (Isa 1:10-20). Even the Israelites’ prayers were in vain (Isa 1:15). God’s people are characterized by a circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16; Rom 2:29). Christians who pray in this spirit will be rewarded according to His sovereign will. Those who seek the praise of men will not be. God’s people must keep their hearts set on Him (Pr 4:23), for “what will it avail us to have the good word of our fellow-servants, if our Master do not say, Well done?[9]

Vain Repetitions

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 

God knows His children’s struggles and needs, yet He granted His people the honor of working with Him anyway. Prayer does not become more efficacious with fancy phraseology or eloquent speech. Rote formalism and false piety are nothing more than unnecessary and “empty phrases.”

Blomberg suggests Christ is cautioning against endless repetitions of the same prayers; “God wants to give us good gifts; therefore, we need not badger him with our requests.”[10] This is not the case. Rather than discouraging “excessive” prayer, Christ is discouraging the wrong approach to prayer – one characterized by false eloquence and flowery speech, as if God would be moved by such feeble piety.

The word for “empty phrases” or the more familiar “vain repetitions” is βαττολογεω, which means to babble.[11] It also means to prattle, speak much, or use many words.[12] Therefore, when Christ tells His followers to not “heap up empty phrases,” he is referring to vain and endless prayers – prattling done with the intent to be heard more. Again, this is a heart issue. “His point is that His disciples should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that mere length will make prayers efficacious.”[13] Prayer need not be a prescribed length, done in a prescribed place or be fashioned from prescribed words – it simply needs to be heartfelt and honest. With the right heart, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” (Jas 5:16b, KJV). There is no such thing as “excessive prayer” uttered in the correct spirit before God.

Reverence for God

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

 

Christ was not demanding a recitation of this prayer, but offered it as a model for prayer. The KJV (“After this manner therefore pray ye”) and NASB (“Pray, then, in this way”) seem to capture the force of this meaning more clearly than the ESV. Carson explained that Christ meant, “this is how [not what] you should pray.”[14] The context itself demonstrates the prayer was never meant to be repeated literally, especially in light of Christ’s admonition against vain repetitions and empty phrases (Mt 6:7-8).

The first thing Christ teaches Christians is an awareness of who they are speaking to. Believers ought to speak honestly with God but always remember they are speaking to God. Prayers must never be offered with careless informality, as though He were merely a friend. At the same time, the privilege of knowing God and addressing Him as “Father” implies relationship, familiarity and trust. There is a fine line between a relationship with God through honest prayer, as a child to their heavenly Father, and the careless familiarity and contempt of presumptuous prayer. God is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Pr 18:24). “The phrase ‘in heaven; balances this intimacy with an affirmation of God’s sovereignty and majesty.”[15]

God’s name will be hallowed in the end, when He receives all the worship due His name. Indeed, this entire model prayer forces Christians to put things into the proper perspective of the kingdom that is to come. “There can be no doubt that the first request looks to the time when all nations shall worship God in the millennial age.”[16]

Submission to God

10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Our attitude in prayer, indeed in all things, must be humility and submissiveness to God. His kingdom will come. His will shall be done. Are Christians willing to see His will done? Are Christians keen to offer themselves as living sacrifices for His work (Rom 12:1)? Are believers trusting in the grace of God to train them to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ? (Titus 2:12-14). Do God’s children fully appreciate that their salvation was done with a specific purpose? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10).

It is a privilege to be used of God in His unfolding plan for His kingdom. Christ was emphasizing the vital necessity of a submissive spirit, anchored on the foundational truth that God is sovereign. Prayer to Him simply must reflect this; “prayer is to include the request that His will be accomplished today on earth as it is being accomplished in heaven, that is, fully and willingly.”[17]

This verse, like the last, is clearly eschatological. All God’s people struggle in this present, evil world all while waiting for their blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). Meanwhile, He is purifying believers for His own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

“We make Christ but a titular Prince, if we call him King, and do not do his will: having prayed that he may rule us, we pray that we may in everything be ruled by him.”[18] Prayers must reflect a humility and reverence for God’s program for the ages.

Physical Provision

11 Give us this day our daily bread

 

Too often, requests for physical provision occupy an unbalanced proportion of a Christian’s prayer life. Christ’s model prayer contains but one small verse on this issue; He expands on this principle later in the chapter (Mt 6:25-34). John Phillips’ point here is especially illuminating;

Analysis of our own prayers will often reveal preoccupation with the material side of life; we pray mostly about how we are to be fed, where we are to live, what we are to wear, Aunt Suzy’s illness, Uncle Joe’s need for a better job. We should not stop praying for these topics. The Lord taught us to include them in our prayers; but material requests are to be kept in their right place and proportion.[19]

Christ also teaches His children that all daily provisions are from God. It is easy to become complacent, comfortable and lazy in prayer. All blessings are from God. “It is a lesson easily forgotten when wealth multiples and absolute self-sufficiency is portrayed as a virtue.”[20]

Imitators of God

12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

It is “natural,” in man’s fallen, sinful condition to harbor anger, bitterness and ill will towards others. However, Paul specifically called believers to shed the old way of life and put on the new self, created in the likeness of God.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:20-24).

So often, however, the exact opposite is true. How can men approach the Holy God, who forgave and continues to forgive the sins of His elect, while at the same time refusing to forgive others for real or perceived wrongs? Christians are called to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1). Christ commands Christians to have the right spirit when they pray. His words here act as a subtle rebuke to all believers, past, present and future. He presupposes His children will come before Him with a clear conscience, holding ill will toward nobody.

There are clear eschatological overtones here. “It is impossible for one to be in fellowship with God as long as he harbors ill will in his heart. The disciples were to be always spiritually prepared for the coming of the kingdom.”[21] God’s standards for conduct have always been predicated on His holiness (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). The kingdom is not yet here, and Christians cannot somehow inaugurate the kingdom through a pattern of holy, righteous living. Rather, all believers are commanded to live holy lives as a witness for Him in this present age, while waiting patiently for Christ to return. Disciples must pattern the kingdom in their own individual lives as a light for the lost (Mt 5:14-16). This carries over to prayer life.

Dependence

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

If Christians are not talking with God, they will not stick with God! “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” (Gal 5:16). Men cannot stand against Satan alone; they need the help of the only One who resisted Satan’s temptations (Mk 1:12-13; Mt 4:1-11). He accomplished what Adam and Eve could not – He triumphed over Satan when tempted.

God cannot tempt anybody with evil (Jas 1:13); but He is sovereign over all. He sends false teachers, “who long ago were designated for this condemnation,” (Jude 4) to test believers. Moses also warned Israel that false teachers assess true love for God; “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Deut 13:3b). This touches on the distinction between God’s direct and indirect providence in working His will in believer’s lives.[22]

“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). He will not allow Christians to be tempted above what they are able to bear. Trials bring about a positive change in character (Jas 1:2-4). Strength to endure these trials and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ is possible only through Christ. Believers are commanded to pray for their walk with the Lord; for strength to resist the devil (Jas 4:7b), for courage to avoid temptation and perseverance to struggle daily – to discipline their bodies (1 Cor 9:24-27). Only by steadfast prayer can Christians overcome the temptations of Satan.

It is easy to forget this is a spiritual battle, not a physical one (Eph 6:12). In this context of dependence on God, Paul spoke movingly of his own struggles;

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (1 Cor 12:7-9).

God allowed this trial, this “thorn in the flesh,” to harass Paul so as to keep him humble (2 Cor 12:7a). It was a teaching tool, part of His purifying a peculiar people for Himself (Titus 2:14). God is magnified and exalted in His children’s weakness (2 Cor 12:9). As Thomas Constable noted, “[i]t refers not so much to solicitation to evil, as to trials that test the character.”[23]

Christians are not alone; when they sin they have an advocate with God the Father (1 Jn 2:1). Believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, chosen from before the foundations of the world (1 Pet 1:2; Eph 1:4; Jn 6:65). They are saved by faith in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ in their stead (Jn 3:16) and convicted of sin and righteousness by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:8). The whole of the triune Godhead is active in every aspect of our lives; as John Frame observed, the Father plans, the Son executes and the Spirit applies.[24]Taking refuge in this glorious truth, Christ teaches believers to not lean on their own understanding and power in this present world, but to lean on the everlasting arms of God instead. His model prayer teaches believers to reflect this reality in their own prayers to God – all too often it does not.

Conclusion

The Lord’s Prayer teaches Christians many things, each of them vital to a successful prayer life.

  1. It presupposes that believers will pray, as a practical component of the Christian life (Mt 6:5a).
  2. God does not honor or accept false prayer, characterized by hypocrisy and vain, empty repetitions in an attempt to impress God or men (Mt 6:5, 7-8).
  3. He desires heart-felt, authentic communication with His children (Mt 6:6).
  4. Christians must approach God with reverence in prayer (Mt 6:9).
  5. Christians must have a submissive spirit to God’s will in prayer (Mt 6:10).
  6. Physical provision should be a matter of prayer, but in due proportion. God has promised to take care of His children (Mt 6:11, 25-34).
  7. Christians must be imitators of God and forgive others, just as God forgave them.
  8. Christians must cultivate a dependence on God and pray for deliverance from evil, which is the only way to have victory over any sin.

In every respect, Christians are to pattern Christ’s kingdom on earth before an unbelieving world. I shall repeat something I mentioned earlier:

The kingdom is not yet here, and Christians cannot somehow inaugurate the kingdom through a pattern of holy, righteous living. Rather, all believers are commanded to live holy lives as a witness for Him in this present age, while waiting patiently for Christ to return. Disciples must pattern the kingdom in their own individual lives as a light for the lost (Mt 5:14-16). This carries over to prayer life.

Prayer is a critical, vital part of the victorious Christian life. Christ’s model prayer illustrates just how crucial proper prayer is for all believers; in past times, today and in the days to come until Christ establishes His kingdom.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barbieri, Louis Jr. “Matthew,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1985.

Blomberg, Craig. “Matthew,” vol. 22, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

Carson, D.A. “Matthew,” vol. 8, The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Constable, Thomas. Matthew.Dallas: Soniclight, 2013.

Frame, John. The Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964.

Lange, John Peter and Philip Schaff. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew. Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Logos Bible Software. The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. OakHarbor: Logos Bible Software, 2011.

Mounce, William. Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Newman, Barclay Moon and Philip C. Stine. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1992.

Phillips, John. Exploring the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. OakHarbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Toussaint, Stanley. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.


[1]. See Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 85-94 for a comprehensive discussion on the various views of interpreting the Sermon on the Mount.

[2]. Toussaint, Behold the King, 94.

[3]. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Mt 6:5–8.

[4]. William Mounce, Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1287-1288.

[5]. The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, Logos Bible Software, 2011.

[6]. Barclay Moon Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1992), 164.

[7]. John Peter Lange and Philip Schaff, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 123.

[8]. John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 111.

[9]. Henry, Commentary, Mt 6:5–8.

[10]. Craig Blomberg, vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 118.

[11]. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 597.

[12]. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[13]. D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” vol. 8, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 166.

[14]. Ibid, 169.

[15]. Blomberg, Matthew, 119.

[16]. Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 108.

[17]. Louis Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 32.

[18]. Henry, Commentary, Mt 6:9–15.

[19]. Phillips, Matthew, 114.

[20]. Carson, Matthew, 172.

[21]. Toussaint, Matthew, 111.

[22]. See Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 356-362. Horton’s entire Chapter 7 on God’s providence is simply excellent.

[23] Thomas Constable, Matthew (Dallas, TX: Soniclight, 2013), 116.

[24]. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 694.