If You Really Want It, Give It (Part 1)

Today we are going to look at a short passage from the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon, recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7, is Jesus’ longest recorded sermon. It is a very practical—focusing not on explaining doctrine but on directing practice. Let me give you a quick summary of it so we can get a clear idea of the context of 6:14-15.

Chapter 5 begins with Jesus describing the characteristics of those who have God’s blessing: the Beatitudes. He explains that this blessedness is revealed in their obedience to the Law, and makes them like salt and light in the world. Jesus then illustrates what He means with some pictures of how those who incarnate the beatitudes in their everyday life will live them out using the commands do not murder, do not commit adultery, taking oaths, retribution, and love for enemies as examples.

In chapter 6 He switches gears, and addresses two major roadblocks to this blessed life: hypocrisy and worldliness. He warns against hypocrisy in giving to the poor, and in prayer and fasting; and warns against worldliness in striving for treasure and success here over the much more valuable treasure gained by living a godly life that God will reward in heaven.

In chapter 7 He warns of the dangers of being judgmental, and encourages His disciples to look to God for all that they need. He ends the sermon with an illustration (a tree is known by its fruit) and a parable (the parable to the wise and foolish builder) each highlighting the central point that those who are blessed by God will bear it out in their life.

Matthew 6:14-15 is at the end of Jesus’ talk on prayer at starts back a verse 5.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Verses 5-6 tell us we need to be wary of our motives when we pray in public. Are we praying mainly to look good in front of those with whom we are praying, or are we praying because we love God and want and need His help? Jesus advises that a sure way to keep pride and hypocrisy at bay is to pray alone in secret.

Verses 7-8 tell us we should not think that what makes a prayer good is its length, or eloquence. Long and articulate prayers do not earn extra points with God. God knows our needs before we ask Him to meet them, there is no need to try and convince Him of our need with wordy arguments or justifications. We do not need to entice God to favor us. He does favor us! He is our Father, and He loves us. And because He loves us will listen to us and answer our prayers.

Verses 9-13 contain the Lord’s Prayer. It might be more accurate to call this the Disciple’s prayer than the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins by recognizing God as our Father, that He is holy, and that we want Him to be recognized as being holy. Along with His holiness we are to recognize His kingdom and His lordship over His kingdom by submitting to His will, and that His will might be done as completely and purely as it is in heaven. The next three petitions articulate how we are to live that out: by looking to God for our daily needs, by forgiving one another as He has forgiven us, and by looking to Him to protect us from our sinful nature’s natural desire to seek out temptation.

Now we come to the verses I want us to really focus on, verses 14-15. In these verses, Jesus makes an interesting closing comment on His teaching on prayer. He goes back and highlights the petition on forgiving one another saying,

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Why does He highlight that one?

First, I think it is because it is central to the goal of Jesus’ sermon—Christian practice. Forgiveness encapsulates the Beatitudes.

  • When we are living the truth that we are poor in spirit we know how precious the grace of forgiveness is.
  • When we mourn with those who mourn we will be moved to give the comfort of forgiveness.
  • When we are living a life of meekness and humility, we see how much we need forgiveness ourselves and therefore we will be moved to forgive others.
  • If we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness we will be forgiving because that is one of the things God calls the righteous to do.
  • Certainly being merciful will drive us to be forgiving.
  • To be pure in heart as God is pure in heart will give us a forgiving spirit because He is also forgiving.
  • If we would be known as peacemakers, we will be forgiving.
  • Forgiveness is so contrary to a world which looks to revenge and vengeance that it invites persecution.

Second, we need to remember the context in which we find this teaching on prayer. Jesus is addressing hypocrisy in prayer. To pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven necessarily means we need to be forgiving because forgiving is His will for us. To live otherwise is to be hypocritical. In effect Jesus is saying there are three ways people show hypocrisy in prayer: praying to impress others, praying to impress God, and praying without living in submission to His lordship.

It is on that last point that I want to focus on in my next post: You cannot honestly pray the Lord’s Prayer while deliberately choosing to withhold forgiveness. To do otherwise is hypocritical. That is the pain meaning of verses 14-15.

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