The fight between good and evil—it is a common theme in books and movies, especially older movies, but there is no question that it is also a part of our daily life on this Earth. I Peter 5:8 warns us to be sober and alert. The devil is looking for someone to devour, to win over to his side, so we must be constantly aware and work to avoid being ensnared by him. Ephesians 4:27 instructs us not to give the devil a foothold, an opportunity. How can we do that? The whole message of Ephesians 4 is that we need to be transformed from our old selves to our new selves through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul encourages us to live with humility, gentleness, patience and love in order to maintain peace and unity in the Spirit. In Ephesians 4:22-24 we are instructed to put our old ways behind us and to start living as the person who was created in God’s image, striving to be like Him by knowing His truth. One specific way to do this is to follow the guidance given in Ephesians 4:26: Be angry and do not sin.
Anger is an emotion, a gift given by God, and it is impossible to avoid becoming angry. Sin, however, is an act of the will or a lack of self-control. We choose how we will act when we are angry, either consciously or by failing to exercise self-discipline. Some Bible scholars state that because the verb in the original language is in the imperative form, we are commanded to be angry, and they discuss the value of righteous anger. God gets angry at sin, and so should we. Of course, God is sinless and we are not, so we are in much bigger danger of doing the wrong thing with our anger. Other scholars say that yes, it is the imperative form, but it is a permissive imperative. In other words, go ahead and be angry if you must, but be careful what you do with it. Whichever interpretation you believe to be true, the rest of the sentence is clear: do not sin. Make sure that you are controlling your emotions rather than allowing your emotions to control you.
The second half of Ephesians 4:26 should be taken symbolically rather than literally. It doesn’t mean that if you get angry in the morning you have a longer time to fume and stew than someone who didn’t get angry until later in the day. It means that you should resolve the disputes between you as soon as possible, and you should do it in the light of day. Darkness symbolizes deceit while daylight symbolizes truth. Work out your differences with pure motives. Forgive each other as we talked about last week. If we can control our anger and keep from sinning in the midst of this intense emotion, we will succeed in keeping unity and peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we will not give Satan a chance.
Last week, when we were talking about the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples, I made quick mention of Matthew 6:14-15. I think these two verses warrant a little further discussion. As I said last week, Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, and His gift of forgiveness is freely available to us; all we have to do is accept it. Our request for daily forgiveness helps us to be aware of our own sins, and helps to keep us in a right relationship with God—one where we depend on His love and grace.
Matthew 6:14-15 says that God will not forgive our sins unless we forgive others. We must be careful not to interpret this in a way that will contradict other passages of scripture. Romans 3:24 tells us that we are all justified by God’s grace through the redemption that has been provided by the death of Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace through faith. It is a gift from God, and not something that we can earn. Therefore Matthew 6:14-15 cannot be referring to the matter of salvation. If you have accepted Christ’s salvation, however, and you want to be His follower, you should be willing to forgive others. Of course, our human nature is a factor, and it isn’t always easy. I know there have been many times that I have prayed something like, “Lord, I really want to forgive, because I know it is the right thing to do, but my heart isn’t quite in it yet. Please help me.”
We must also remember that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Dr. Grant Mullen, author of Emotionally Free explains. “Forgiveness involves just you and God. Reconciliation requires another person. So, just because you forgive doesn’t mean you’re reconciled or that you have to reconcile. Some people are just too dangerous to reconcile with. You just have to forgive and be separate.” Let us hope that that is not true of our fellow followers of Christ. God would like us all to be one family, His family, characterized by love for each other, but since we live in a fallen world, that isn’t always possible. We cannot always determine how others will act toward us, but we can control how we act towards them. If we want to do it God’s way, that will be with love and forgiveness.
After Jesus counsels His disciples not to make a big show of their prayers (Matthew 6:5-6) and not to babble on endlessly without actually saying anything new, (Matthew 6:7-8) He gave them an example to follow. Most of us know this example as “The Lord’s Prayer”, but it would be more accurately called “The Disciples’ Prayer” or “The Model Prayer”. It was not something that Jesus would have prayed, not completely anyway, since He had no need to ask forgiveness, and He didn’t seem too concerned about being able to find food. (Matthew 16:5-12) The prayer is an example for us to follow, so that our focus is in the right place—on God, and not only on ourselves.
Let’s take a closer look. (Matthew 6:9-13)
- First notice that the pronouns are in the first person plural form—our, us, we—indicating that this is a model for all of us to follow.
- The prayer starts by acknowledging God as our Father. (Matthew 6:9) The term that is used was much more intimate than the Jews would have commonly used before Jesus came. It establishes a loving relationship, but by adding “in heaven” it also acknowledges God’s sovereignty and majesty.
- After addressing God, the prayer gives honour to Him. (Matthew 6:9) “Honour” is the very word used in the NET version; most other versions use the word “hallowed”, which has been carried over since the time of King James. “Hallowed” means honoured as holy, revered or respected.
- Then the prayer welcomes God’s kingdom to reign on earth, so that His will would be done. In this way, we acknowledge that His ways are better than our ways, and we will put our trust in Him. (Matthew 6:10)
- We are halfway through this model prayer before we get to any petitions to meet our own needs. But God is willing to listen to our requests, and Jesus invites us to make them. Notice though, that asking for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) focuses on our short term needs rather than on long-term provisions and desires that would tend to give us a false security in worldly possessions.
- The word “debts” (Matthew 6:12) refers to our sins against God. Yes, Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, and we accept the gift of forgiveness at the time of salvation, but to continue to ask forgiveness keeps us in a right relationship with God. It is understood that we will have already forgiven those who have sinned against us, before we ask God’s forgiveness of ours. The reason why is clarified in Matthew 6:14-15.
- We know that God does not tempt us, (James 1:13) but He knows that Satan will. Matthew 6:13 is a request for protection from the evil one. God has promised that He will provide a way out when we face trials. (I Corinthians 10:13) It would be wise for us to ask God to help us see it.
- The closing of the prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” is only included in a few versions. It is almost certainly not a part of the original text of Matthew, but one shouldn’t worry about including it in a worshipful repetition of the prayer. To seek to give God the power and the glory is a worthy goal.
Considering that only two verses before this passage, Jesus told His disciples not to use vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7-8), I am sure that Jesus did not intend for us to thoughtlessly recite this model prayer by rote. Not discounting the value of repeating it as an act of thoughtful worship, I believe Jesus wanted us to use this prayer as a pattern. Follow the principles it teaches by example, but use your own words. Express your own heart. Jesus wants our worship of God our Father to be sincere, not forced. Put Him first, attempt through your life to bring Him glory, and feel confident that you can also bring Him your requests. As a holy God, He is worthy of our worship. As a loving Father, He wants to be our provider. This prayer shows us that He is both.
Do you ever wonder if your prayers are too short? If you don’t pray enough? Do you especially wonder that when you are asked to pray out loud? Do you try to add some extra words, or particular words, so you sound more righteous or more devoted? Last week we talked about praying in solitude, but also that God is not against public prayer. There are times when it is necessary and beneficial. But the good motives we need for praying in solitude should not change when we are called on to pray in public. We should still be focused on God, and not on how good we sound to our audience. We should think of God as our audience even if many others can hear us.
The verses immediately following last week’s passage (Matthew 6:7-8) tell us not to babble repetitiously. Some have taken this to mean that we should only pray for something once, but that would contradict other scripture such as the parable of the persistent widow. (Luke 18:1-8) Others wonder why we should pray at all. Doesn’t God know everything we need before we need it? Yes, but it is important to understand the purpose of prayer. Prayer gives God permission to act in our lives. Choosing to follow God is a matter of our free will; He will not force Himself on us. By praying, we acknowledge that He is all-powerful and that we are placing our trust in Him, rather than depending on our own strength. God does not mind if we do that more than once. I Thessalonians 5:17 suggests that we should do it constantly.
So what does Jesus mean when he tells His disciples, and by extension us, not to babble repetitiously? I think that the word to focus on here is “babble” rather than “repetitiously”. Babble is onomatopoeic. Onomatiopoeia is the use of words that sound like what they mean. Babble is repetitive sounds that are incomprehensible; they have very little, if any, meaning. The King James Version says, “use not vain repetitions”. Purposeful repetitions are a different matter. Repetitions that focus on God, His glory and power, rather than whether we sound righteous and devoted, will not be objectionable. God invites us to come boldly when we need grace or mercy. (Hebrews 4:16) Speak to Him honestly and forthrightly, and do not be afraid to do so often.
Do you “say grace”? Ask the blessing? Give thanks for your food before you eat? Do you do it when you go out to eat in restaurants? What is your reason for doing so? Do you feel pressured by the people with whom you are dining? Do you feel like you are denying Christ if you do not pray before you eat in a public place? Even if the server is waiting to set down your plate while your bowed head is in the way? In Matthew 6:5, Jesus warns His disciples not to be like the hypocrites who like to make a big show of their prayers.
In Matthew 6:6, He tells them that they should pray in a private place. The King James Version uses the term closet, and there are still people who talk about praying in their prayer closet. The word in the original language referred to a room that was separated or partitioned off from the living quarters. The people who were listening to Jesus would have probably thought storeroom. Some people today make themselves a prayer closet that is set aside for that purpose only, which may actually defeat the purpose of Jesus’ instruction if others know where it is and when you are in it. The point is to pray when it is just you and God involved in the conversation. Christ went to a mountain, (Mark 6:46) to the wilderness, (Luke 5:16) as well as to a quiet place in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36) when He wanted to speak to His Father. The reason He recommends this solitude is so that you won’t be distracted by others, you won’t be trying to impress others, and you won’t be inhibited about talking to God frankly and honestly. If you take the time to talk to God as your Father, rather than as a performance for other church folk, or unchurched folk, your prayers will be more sincere.
That is not to say that God is against public prayer. Other passages in the New Testament clearly show that it was accepted practice in the gatherings of Christ’s followers. (Acts 2:42, Acts 12:12, Acts 13:3, Acts 14:23, Acts 20:36) Christ Himself gave thanks for food in front of thousands of people. (John 6:11) What concerned Jesus in Matthew 6:5-6 was the condition of His disciples’ hearts. He didn’t want them to be influenced by the religious leaders whose actions may seem pious, but whose motives were less pure. Because they were the teachers of the law, the ones who were supposed to have the answers, people were apt to trust them and follow them, but their hearts were focused on the wrong things. That can just as easily happen today. I used to teach in a Christian school where the rules and dress code were strict. The students spent so much time pushing the rules to the very limit, that they completely missed the point of them. So much time was spent focusing on the external that the internal was neglected. God wants us to spend time with Him alone, so that we can know Him and learn to depend on Him, and so that we can become holy from the inside out.