On Not Wandering Like a Verbal Amoeba

God made limits for increased glory. The size of the canvas frames the image and shows off how much the artist can fit in a small space (for example, have you seen the pencil-tip sculptor? It is more impressive how much he can do with so little to work with). A poetic convention restricts the impression or feeling to a form rather than letting it meander like a verbal amoeba. And the glory of man includes not running 60 mph, not flying without mechanical aid, and not working without sleeping.

Many limits we take for granted, that’s how we’ve always known life on earth. But we ought to give thanks for only 24 hours a day—though we’re tempted to complain when we have a lot to do, we ought to give thanks for not having eyes in the back of our heads—do we really want to see that, and we ought to give thanks for only having two hands. These are gifts, chosen for us by our Father.

There are other personal limits for which we should be thankful, certainly not bitter or envious. These are also unchosen by us, but chosen by God specifically for us. You don’t get to be 7’ tall, you don’t get to make a billion dollars an hour, and half of you don’t get to avoid the way it is with women. Are you humble enough to delight in your constraints?

Some limits are universal for the glory of mankind, some are for the glory of kinds of men, and then some limits get changed for a particular man. New lines are drawn by aging, an accident, a diagnosis, a relative’s diagnosis, a financial gift, a job loss, et cetera. I’m talking about the things that God gives you now that maybe you didn’t have yesterday. The page turned and God is writing for your glory in a new genre, and run-on sentences aren’t allowed like they were yesterday.

If it is from God, then what is the grace to you in it? Are you ready for Him, not to change the rules per se, but to change your restrictions per diem? Are you ready to give thanks for the personally chosen limits? Or are you fighting the limited givens of glory?

A Bucket Worth of Behavior

Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?

Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.

John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)

There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.

It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).

The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.

Beholding Him Better

Based on how the calendar works this year, Easter Sunday and Tax Day in the United States fell within two days of each other. Jesus often used economic vocabulary and asked some critical questions about our accounting categories. What is the price tag on your soul?

In Matthew 16 Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem and would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised. They didn’t understand this. Peter even tried to argue Jesus out of it. Following that conversation, Jesus told His disciples how they too must take up a cross and follow Him. While that might sound difficult, He asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (verse 26)

This is a rhetorical question based on accounting principles. There is not one possible gain, but two, and likewise there are two possible losses. One can gain the world and lose his life or one gain gain his life and lose the world.

Only those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it (verse 25). Only those willing to count everything as loss for sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord understand the gain. Only those who die will get a return.

On Sunday I asked our church, “What would make today a profitable Easter Sunday?” As Christians we can do many things for Christ’s sake. But by way of testing our hearts, could everything else be counted loss if you gained more of Christ? Would you give up your new Easter outfit, your family traditions? Would you give up your theological library for simple trust in Christ? Would you give up your job, your reputation? Are there any good things are keeping you from beholding Him better?

On Not Sponsoring Stupidity

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.

One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)

The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.

Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.

If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)

Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.

On Not Being a YAC

I’ve heard it said that if you want to memorize another person’s name, try to say it three times the first time you meet them. That exercise certainly won’t hurt, since the more we work a muscle the stronger it gets, including the brain. I really like a phrase that one of our elders uses frequently, but I was having trouble remembering it. We talked about it again at a leaders meeting last Saturday, and I’m going to talk about it now to burn it in my brain.

For over six years Jim has both asked how we can avoid becoming, and has passionately proclaimed that he did not want us to become, a Y.A.C.: yet another church. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that our local body should seek to be preeminent over every other local body, nor does it mean that we just think we are better than all the other churches. In one way, we want to be just another church making angelic beings wonder at the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10) as God in Christ by the Spirit has built up many local bodies over the generations. We’re not trying to innovate the gospel, we’re trying to be faithful to it.

But we do not want to be yet another church by maintaining the status quo in terms of our discipleship and image-bearing. We do not want to be yet another church where attendees punch their Sunday morning service card and show little transformation in their lives.

In our discussion on Saturday Jim also asked how we can avoid becoming a Y.A.C., and Ryan answered that, among a few things, we must confess our sins. We must not get comfortable with our sins. We must be willingly convicted by the Word and Spirit, we must be humble to acknowledge our disobedience, and then we must turn away from our sin, not just those of the culture or country or superficial Evangelical churches.

Are you bitter? Are you envious? Are you gossiping? Are you self-righteous? Are you unthankful? Are you tolerating impatience or anger? We may not change Marysville by our confession, but we will not change Marysville without being changed ourselves.

A Longer Prayer

This will be the last exhortation to confession based on the Lord’s Prayer, and my goal is to wrap up this series with an extra-biblical bow.

I grew up in a King James Version only church. Because of that, the prayer of Jesus I memorized as a kid is a little longer than what’s found in the ESV and, for that matter, in the accepted Greek New Testament. There are some later, meaning less old so less likely to be original, manuscripts that include a final phrase after “deliver us from evil” in Matthew 6:13. That final phrase is: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

These words aren’t original to Jesus, but they are biblical, just not in the Gospel of Matthew. Consider this prayer offered by King David in the presence of the assembly:

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. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11–13, ESV)

Every prayer made by faith, and each petition that Jesus taught His disciples to make, is a desire for God’s praise. When we ask for and hope in His future reign, when we ask for and trust in Him for today’s provision, when we ask for and extend His forgiveness, when we ask for and live in His sovereign protection, we are acknowledging His majesty and we are back at the beginning: hallowed be Your name with glory forever.

Their Website Address

The final two petitions in the Lord’s prayer are closer in concern than any other two petitions. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” are certainly related, but standards, as defined by His will, can be obeyed by individuals without defining a whole group. His kingdom is broader and includes much more than personal observance of His law, it includes corporate ceremony and festival of His lordship.

Verse 13, though, presents two sides of the same coin. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second line clarifies the first.

If we have sinned against God, we ask Him to forgive us. He reveals the standard, and He bestows forgiveness. We also ask Him to keep us out of sin. Likewise, only He has the power to do so.

Because we have the rest of the New Testament, we know that the Lord’s brother, James, wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). However, it does not follow that we cannot be tempted at all. We are in a battle against evil. There are tempters. And God knows their website address.

We pray that He would not cause us, as His sheep, to enter into a place with devouring wolves. Instead, “deliver us from evil.” We pray for divine rescue. This assumes that we want to do His will, that we want to have fewer debts of sin, that we recognize and reject enticements to serve someone other than Him.

And it may be very personal. “Deliver us from evil” could be translated “deliver us from the evil one,” as ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ specifies a definite evil, perhaps a singular evil. Even if we are not tempted by the Tempter, by the devil himself, He is the prince now at work in the sons of disobedience. We ought to resist him, and that begins in prayer.

After the Final Amen

Of all the petitions that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the only one He clarified after the final amen, so to speak, was the request for forgiveness. There’s certainly more that Jesus could have said about the coming of His kingdom; that could have been really helpful for our eschatology. He could have said more about what things are like in heaven and how that would translate here on earth. Instead He followed up on forgiveness.

Not only is forgiveness comparative, the Father forgives as we forgive others, forgiveness is conditional. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). The key word in verse 12 is as, the key word in the clarification is if.

We believe that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. We believe that salvation is through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is not by obedience, including our obedience to forgive others. In fact, if we were actually justified by our forgiving then none of us could be forgiven. The psalmist asked, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” So also, If God should mark our resentment toward those who’ve sinned against us, who could stand?

There must be some way to understand this qualification without seeing it as a way of “practicing our righteousness before other people”; who has ever said, “No wonder God likes me so much, I always forgive”? Yet the condition in verses 14-15 is as easy to shake off as DNA, meaning, we can’t. There is a spiritual reality in place. Sons of the Father act like the Father. If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that we are sons of the Father of forgiveness? If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that He accepts hypocrites?

So, if you don’t or won’t or just can’t forgive, then why do you think you should be forgiven? If that’s the case then you don’t want forgiveness, you want acknowledgement from God that you don’t need it. But that is just what you can’t have.

The “Oh, no!” Conjunction

In the middle of the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer is a small word labeled by some Greek grammarians as the “Oh no!” conjunction. Actually the lexicons and syntax books call it a comparative conjunction, and this comparison cuts the conscience. Other names for this conjunction could be the “Conviction” conjunction, the “Are you serious?” conjunction, or the “Hypocrite’s Log-puller” conjunction.

The prayer Jesus teaches His disciples includes: “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). There are three key words: debts, forgive, and as.

Debt here is more than a financial obligation, it is a relational obligation caused by a wrong. These are debts caused by sin. We do not owe our heavenly Father any money. We owe Him thanks and obedience, but we failed to make all our payments. So we ask the Father to forgive us, to cancel the debt. We’re asking Him daily, just as we do for our bread, to remit the balance.

Even though Jesus hadn’t died yet at this point in His ministry, there is no hint that forgiveness from the Father was in question. Yet the Father is still watching for something.

“Forgive us … as we forgive.” Is it better to be forgiven as we forgive others or is it harder to forgive others as Jesus forgives us (see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13)? Both seem impossible, the latter because Jesus forgives perfectly and the former because we keep records of wrongs against us perfectly.

The Father forgives us as we forgive:

  • our fussy spouses
  • our unthankful children
  • our overbearing parents
  • our annoying siblings
  • our passive aggressive neighbors

Did the disciples have any follow up on this? Perhaps they did, or Jesus anticipated that they would, since this is the only part of the prayer Jesus returns to when the prayer itself is finished (see verses 14-15). I’ll come back to those addenda next week, but the “Oh No” conjunction should be enough of a mirror to humble us in confession before the Father.

Right Out of the Oven

Halfway into Matthew’s rendering of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus provides the most temporal of all the requests: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Bread stands for food, the kind of physical sustenance a man survives on, provided he doesn’t have celiac disease. You’d think that the Great Physician would have taken that into account. Probably He did. Bread is good, gluten and all, though some don’t have the guts to enjoy it.

We are to ask God to provide us with food, with bodily nourishment. Fasting is appropriate, see verses 16-18, but all fasting all the time leads to no life in which to fast.

The food we pray for is “daily,” bread, a “for today” bread, and we ask for it “today.” Without electric refrigerators, added preservatives, and sufficient shelf-space, quotidian bread makes sense for a 1st century petition. But even more so it reminds us that our dependence on God should be fresh. Daily as in right out of the oven is something to want, not necessarily a sign of want.

It is easy to think that we don’t need to pray this part of the prayer because we have weeks’ worth of food in the house, or to run the other direction and think that we must put ourselves in a position to only have daily food. Apathy and taking food for granted is one problem, false guilt and ascetic legalism is another.

The point is that God gives food. He must make the sun shine and the rain fall and the seed sprout. He must make yeast rise in the loaf and hold delivery trucks down on the road. He also must make cows masticate grass into milk for us to churn into butter for our bread. No stage in the process happens apart from Him holding the world together. Praying for our daily bread is a way to stay dependent and thankful.