Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount’

Unlearning and Relearning Some Things About the Lord’s Prayer

January 27, 2011 Comments off

S. Lewis Johnson in his Matthew series (1975) has some interesting points concerning the well-known “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-15), including corrections to popular notions and uses of this text.

First, this prayer really should not be called “The Lord’s Prayer” — seeing as how our Lord himself never prayed it.  SLJ observes that John 17 would be a more appropriate passage to call the “Lord’s Prayer.”  The prayer in Matthew 6 could be called the “Disciple’s Prayer,” but as Johnson concedes, popular tradition will never leave and so we must refer to this as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Next, this prayer was never intended to be prayed as such, but rather was intended as a model for prayer.  Note verse 9:  “Pray then like this” (ESV), or “After this manner therefore pray ye” (KJV).  It certainly was never intended to be recited, week after week in endless repetition as is done at so many mainline churches.  S. Lewis Johnson experienced that at his church growing up — and the same was done at the church I attended as a child (during the same time period when he preached these messages).

Also, this prayer is a Messianic prayer — a prayer that anticipates our Lord’s return to establish His kingdom upon the earth.  But as SLJ noted, in the church age this has become confused, and “kingdom” has become a church word.  In S. Lewis Johnson’s words:

Now of course, when we think of the statement, Thy kingdom come, now it is usually colored by the fact that the term, kingdom, has become a church word.  And, often, it is identified with the church.  The church and the kingdom are confused in our thinking as a result of this common misconception.  But when this petition was first given by Jesus Christ, and he said, “Thy kingdom come,” he understood that word kingdom – as did those who heard him offer this model prayer – in the Old Testament sense of the Messianic kingdom that had been promised through many, many centuries of prophetic teaching.  They looked forward to the time when the Messiah would come and establish an earthly kingdom.  The length of that kingdom is not given in the Old Testament; it is given in the New.  But they spoke of the grandeurs of the time when God would reign upon the earth.

Now words in the New Testament are often interpreted in the light of the sense that they had in the developing revelation of God – that is, in the sense in which they had in the Old Testament.  So when we read here, Thy kingdom come, we are to understand that this is a petition for the coming of our Lord’s rule and reign over the earth.  Now I dare say that in most of our congregations in which this Lord’s Prayer is repeated Sunday after Sunday all over this land (just to mention the United States), that petition is not understood.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven:   Here we ask regarding God’s preceptive will, which is now done in heaven.  God’s preceptive will, the things that please God, is not now being done on earth; His decretive will is what is now done on earth.  In the future millennial kingdom, God’s preceptive will is what will be done, as evidenced in several of the Psalms that describe that age.

Forgive us our debts:  this speaks of “paternal forgiveness” rather than judicial and eternal forgiveness — the forgiveness of a father toward his children, to restore them into communion and fellowship.  The union is there, but forgiveness is needed to restore the relationship.


I realize that a great deal can be said on the other hand, but in my opinion, from the study of the Scriptures, there is such a thing as the paternal forgiveness, the forgiveness that a father renders to a child.  It is to be distinguished from the judicial and eternal forgiveness that we receive when we believe in the Lord Jesus.  When we see Christ as the one who has died for our sins, and when we have put our trust in him and receive the forgiveness of sins, that forgiveness of sins covers the past, the present and the future.  But, it has to do with the guilt of that sin; it has to do with that which destroyed the relationship that existed, and it makes it possible for the relationship to be restored – the relationship of union with God.

But within the family of God, just as within our own families – our own children – our own children may do things that displease us.  Now, this does not destroy the relationship, but it certainly destroys the communion.  It destroys the fellowship, and that, I think, is what is taught in the word of God, that when Christians disobey the Father, it destroys the fellowship.  It does not destroy the relationship.  It destroys the communion; it does not destroy the union.

What I continue to appreciate from S. Lewis Johnson is the depth of teaching — teaching that looks past the obvious surface level and draws out distinctions to help our understanding.  Many people get tripped up concerning God’s will, for instance, and fail to see the difference between God’s decretive will and preceptive wills.  Study of Samson (Judges 14-16) is a good case in point, as I noted previously concerning that topic.

The different types of forgiveness, judicial/eternal versus paternal, also help for understanding this model “Lord’s prayer.”  As with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, this prayer is for believers in this age, those awaiting God’s kingdom  — and so the prayer starts out with our addressing God as “our Father.”  The phrase “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” is thus in the context of a family, with a father and children, as well as how we as believers forgive each other — brought out more clearly in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18: 23-35.  I also can relate this to 1 John 1:9 and other passages  which talk about believers in fellowship with God.

Understanding these distinctions keeps us from error and confusion.  Knowing about the two wills of God, decretive versus preceptive, we can answer those who might suggest that Samson was obediently doing God’s will when he married a non-Israelite, or that David was just as much in God’s love and will when he sinned against Bathsheba as when he fought Goliath.

The distinction between judicial forgiveness and paternal forgiveness helps to avoid another misunderstanding:  that the Lord’s Prayer is one in which we continually lower ourselves to worse and worse points of despised wretched sinners worthy of God’s eternal wrath.  That is certainly the message needed for unbelievers, but not for those in God’s family (and not from this text at any rate) — but it distorts the Lord’s prayer while missing what the prayer does say about the love of God and our relationship to Him as His children.

The Believer’s Rewards: Matthew 5

January 20, 2011 1 comment

I have interacted with professing believers who are uncomfortable with the idea of Christians getting rewards.  It seems to them that such an idea implies works, or that some believers are higher ranked before God than others — and of course that can’t be true because we are all sinners and equal in the sight of God.  I’ve noticed too, that those who most emphasize our equality before God (and hence no rewards) also have a problem with several other biblical teachings — including the future of ethnic Israel and our Lord’s future kingdom of God upon the Earth.  I think of, for example, the pastor who denies any teaching concerning rewards, who even thinks that believers will be judged according to their works at the Great White Throne judgment (supposedly, to show that we’re just as unworthy as unbelievers, except for Christ’s imputation of us in the book of Life)– and the same one who denies the believer’s rewards also denies biblical creation, the future salvation and kingdom for Israel, as well as less obvious teachings such as the Angel of the Lord and the (election) salvation of infants who die.  Others I know that deny the teaching on biblical rewards are consistent in also rejecting at least some of the above doctrines, with special emphasis on how we’re all equal before God.  Reference also my recent blog, concerning those who profess belief in the basic doctrines yet emphasize their salvation and that “it’s not necessary to believe such-and-such doctrine.”

I’ve been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, and chapter 5 (starting the Sermon on the Mount) has a lot of good material including the matter of rewards.  Consider Matthew 5:12, or  Jesus’ strong words upholding the importance of scripture in Matthew 5:17-18.

I like how S. Lewis Johnson explained the nature of the Christian’s rewards:

Now, a reward in the Christian faith is not a prize.  Rewards in the Christian faith are quite different.  There is a reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and it’s quite foreign to the desires which ought to accompany these things.  Money is not the natural reward of love.  And so if a man marries a woman because she’s a wealthy woman, then what do we call that man?  Well, we call him mercenary, to use a nice word.  Now, marriage is the proper reward of a real love, and so when marriage takes place between two individuals who love one another, then we do not say those individuals are mercenary for desiring to be married.  There are rewards, and then there are rewards.

… Now a general who fights and fights well in order to become a lord is mercenary.  But a general who fights for victory is not mercenary.  In other words, when we talk about rewards, true rewards are the activity itself in its consummation – in its natural consummation.  So, in the Bible, when we talk about being given a reward, it’s not like a man who tries to marry a woman for her money, and he gets something entirely different from that which he’s been doing.  But it’s the natural consummation of everything that he has been doing.  So just as marriage is the natural consummation of true love, and is the reward of true love for both of those who are involved, so Christian rewards are not something tacked on like a prize because we’ve learned all of Beethoven’s sonatas, or because we have done this or that, but because it is the natural consummation of the Christian life.  And so rewards are those things that are the natural end of faithfulness in Christian life and ministry.

Just a few messages later, Johnson again mentions the difference between salvation and rewards.  It does play a part in the issue of how we respond to and accept the various teachings of the Bible:

But there are individuals who say, I can accept the Bible, but I can’t accept that.  I don’t know if you really believe the Bible.  That is so plain and so clear.  And when we read in the very next verse about the inviolability of Scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,”—I grant that that’s not as important as the atonement.  I grant that’s not nearly so important as the doctrine of unconditional election.  But nevertheless, it is one of the least commandments of the word of God at least, and he said, (Matthew 5:19) “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Salvation may not be at stake, but your place in the kingdom of heaven, the rewards that Christians have, is at stake.