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Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount’

If being thought generous is more important than being generous, if gaining a reputation for prayerfulness is more important to us than praying when no one but God is listening, if fasting is something in which we engage only if we can disingenuously talk about it, then these acts of piety become acts of impiety.

The fundamental way to check out how sound we are in each of these areas is to perform these acts so quietly that none but God knows we are doing them.

From D A Carson’s meditation on Matthew 6.

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A few years back I read a passing comment that the Epistle of James has a lot of similarities with Jesus’ teaching, specifically the Sermon on the Mount.  I started to make a list of connections, only to find that Donald Guthrie had already done it.  Not only that, but Dan Wallace posted Guthrie’s table in his introduction to James’ letter.  I thought I’d post it below for those who are interested.   

1:2

Joy in the midst of trials Matt. 5:10-12
1:4 Exhortation to perfection Matt. 5:48
1:5 Asking for good gifts Matt. 7:7ff.
1:20 Against anger

Matt. 5:22

1:22 Hearers and doers of the Word Matt. 7:24ff.
2:10 The whole law to be kept Matt. 5:19
2:13 Blessings of mercifulness Matt. 5:7
3:18 Blessings of peacemakers Matt. 5:9
4:4 Friendship of the world as enmity against God Matt. 6:24
4:11-12 Against judging others Matt. 7:1-5
5:2ff. Moth and rust spoiling riches Matt. 6:19
5:10 The prophets as examples Matt. 5:12
5:12 Against oaths

Matt. 5:33-37

There are more connections between James’ letter and Jesus’ teachings, but there is a particularly strong connection with the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve said multiple times that James’ letters sounds the most like Jesus of all the NT writers, and this chart provides some strong evidence of this.  Any guesses why this is so?

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Prayer is a rather large topic, one I’ve intentionally avoided writing about simply because there’s so much to say.  How in the world do you narrow down the Bible’s teachings on prayer into one post?  Or even a few posts?  That’s a lot to ask.  But last year as I was teaching on the Sermon on the Mount at church, I realized that I could at least narrow it down to cover this particular section of Jesus’ teachings.

 

In Matthew 7:7-11, we read these words of Jesus (TNIV):

 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

 

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good fits to those who ask him!”

 

I’ve often heard these words used by those in the “prosperity gospel” sector of the church to claim that we can pray for financial blessings and expect that God will grant us our requests.  After all, He loves to give good gifts!

 

However, when you look at these words in light of what precedes it in the Sermon, you’ll find that what we are expected to pray for is narrowed a bit more than many realize. 

 

Consider Jesus’ words in 6:25-34.  Here, Jesus instructs us not to concern ourselves with food and clothing, God will provide those as He sees fit.  In fact, worrying about these things is in line with the pagans, “for the pagans run after all these things…” (v32).  Instead, we are instructed to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (v33). 

 

Immediately preceding these words, Jesus instructs us not to “store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (v19).  I would think this would directly contradict the idea of praying for wealth.  And you can’t take “treasures” to be solely metaphorical, since Jesus in v24 goes on to say that you can only serve God or Money, not both. 

 

In the “Lord’s Prayer” (v9-13), we see the type of physical need that we are to pray for.  In v11, we’re encouraged to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.”  Instead of praying for riches, and all the comforts that come with it, we’re instructed to pray for enough to get through today.  This is a call to trust God to provide us with what we need, not necessarily what makes us comfortable and at ease.

 

But you’ll also notice an alternative focus that is given here, praying for God’s name to be hallowed (the NET Bible translates it “may your name be honored”) and for His kingdom to come here on earth.  Rather than riches, or even a “comfortable living”, we are to pray for God’s kingdom to be made manifest on this earth.

 

So, notice the juxtaposition throughout chapter 6 on what our focus is to be. 

 

1. Pray only for enough “bread” to get through the day.  Pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth.

 

2. Do not store up treasures on earth, because it will one day be destroyed.  Instead, have a mindset that seeks to serve God, rather than Money.

 

3. Do not worry about food and clothing, because providing those is God’s job.  Instead, we are to seek the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness of God.

 

So, when we reach Jesus’ words in 7:7-11, given above, we ought to have it in our minds already that Jesus isn’t talking about money and the luxuries this world offers.  The “good gifts” we are to seek can hardly be said to be wealth, fame, etc.  He just spent most of chapter 6 telling us not to seek those things! 

 

So what are we to pray for?  How about that God’s righteousness and justice be revealed?  How about for His Name to be honored in all that we do?  How about praying for enough to get through the day, so we can have the strength and resources necessary to live these things out?  Even stepping back a chapter earlier, how about we pray for our enemies and for those who persecute God’s people (5:44)?

 

There is, of course, so much more to be said about prayer, even within the Sermon on the Mount, but I hope this quick look gives us some perspective as we pray.  We cannot forget Jesus’ words in chapter 6 when we reach His words in chapter 7.  Jesus had already laid out limits for His followers in terms of their focus, and had already demonstrated the proper way to pray.  When we keep that context in mind, we should find it intolerable to misuse His words in Matthew 7:7-11.

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