Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prayer and Fasting

Matthew 6:5-18

23 June 2013

The Model Prayer

5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


Fasting to Be Seen Only by God

16 "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.


Last week we began chapter 6 of the Sermon on the Mount as it addressed the major theme of the chapter of not practicing our righteousness before others. From 6:1 to 6:33 we are given the examples of seeking God's Kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus illustrates how we go about "practicing our righteousness" through giving, prayer, fasting, money, and worry. Today we will look at two of these topics: prayer and fasting

This past year we have discussed both of these topics in our classes, and have spent several weeks on the topic of prayer (even using this passage). These two disciplines of the Christian Life are intended to be practiced consistently, so it is imperative that we come across them from time to time.

Motives matter! As we have gone through this sermon defeating self-righteousness, Jesus has consistently shown that actions alone are not enough to reflect the holiness of God. He is exposing unholy attitudes that will nullify righteous works, and erase heavenly rewards.

Prayer and Fasting are Assumed

Beyond the larger context of the practicing of righteousness in this passage, one should immediately notice that Jesus says, "when you pray" and "when you fast." There is an assumption from Jesus of His followers that they will be a people that fast and pray. These were all common practices among his Jewish audience and were often practiced in the early church

In the context of the sermon this clause, "when you" is placed to point out the different ways that Christians are to act compared to those who seek self-righteousness life the Pharisees. Prayers are essential to the Christian life and fasting is used for fervent prayer, a total emersion in seeking God. So every one of us will participate in prayer and fervent prayer with fasting; and when we do the good and righteous works it's important to examine ourselves, so that no selfish motive will turn us into seekers of earthly honor and praise for ourselves.

Both prayer and fasting are disciplines of the faith set down from the Old Testament. Like giving, prayer and fasting are things that we are supposed to do. They are assumed in the Christian life. With this stated, the larger question is, "Why don't we do them?"

To not pray is to not communicate with God, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Healer, etc. It is through prayer that we are connected to God, the giver of Life and sole source of power. In any other arena we would find it foolish to cut off our power source, but we often do so in the realm of prayer. Communication is important in any relationship and Jesus died to reconcile us to God, to give us that personal relationship as a gift of grace.

Fasting, also, is the way in which we find our dependence upon God. In our society we are ever striving for more independence, but through the discipline of fasting we are able to find ourselves dependent upon God reminded of our position to Him.

Both of these disciplines are essential to the Christian Life, we must move from having a flippant attitude toward prayer and fasting to seeing them as essential, assumed practices we follow.

Prayer is to the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Spirit

With so many studies on prayer, and with this prayer being one of the most memorized in the world, we must not miss out on the teaching found here and gloss over the simple truths of prayer. For this lesson we will look at prayer from the basis of the trinity, the Father, Son and Spirit.

First of all prayer is to be offered to God, and specifically here to the Father. Many of us know this by heart, "Our Father…", yet we must note that it is addressed to God the Father. Now much can be made about the Fatherhood of God here, but we want to highlight the direction of our prayers are to solely go to God the Father.

When we pray to God the Father we must remember we are not praying to anyone else. Not to Mary, or any official Saints; our prayers belong to God. The self-righteousness Jesus highlights here are the prayers of other religious types who are trying to impress people with their personal piety. We have all heard these prayers before and perhaps are even cynical about them. Here is a test to see if your prayers are self-righteous or directed to God: when you finished praying do you feel like you have worshiped or do you feel like you did a good job. When we rightly pray to God we understand our position before Him and are left thankful and worshipful, all thought of pride is gone.

Second, we must pray in the Son. The ability that we have to communicate with God comes through the work of Christ in our lives. In this passage we have the Son, Jesus, teaching us how to pray, but it is only for those who have "ears to hear." In John 8:48 Jesus also says, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God." Though unbelievers can pray to God, prayer is most operative for those who believe in Jesus as Lord. When an unbeliever prays he is seeking the position and relationship we have in Jesus, reconciled to our Father in Heaven. In this Model Prayer Jesus mentions that we must forgive others so that God can forgive us, but any forgiveness from God has to come solely through Jesus Christ, who paid the price of our forgiveness. When we pray we need to be mindful of our position to God because of our unity with the Son.

Third, we must pray in the power of the Spirit. Jesus tells his disciples the last week of His life that he must go so that the Spirit may come. John 16:13 says, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." This guiding of the Spirit in all truth is also true of our prayer lives. We need to make sure that we are praying in the power of the Spirit and not just offering up our thoughts alone. For when we pray in the Spirit we are able to worship, we are reminded of sins that we need to ask forgiveness, we are even able to pray things "too deep for words"
(For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26).

Fasting is Beneficial

Finally, we must see the benefits of fasting. As we look around the churches in America, and especially Baptist churches, it is not an overstatement to say that this discipline has almost been lost. It is true there are people who regularly fast, but it is not common. This is not what Jesus intended, nor is it the practice of the early church. Twice a week the early church members would fast as a part of their spiritual life. So in our contemporary setting where this discipline is lost we need to address two important questions. 1. What is fasting? 2. Why should we fast?

The first question is What is fasting? The dictionary definition is: "an abstinence from food, or a limiting of one's food, especially when voluntary and as a religious observance." In short, fasting is not eating for the sake of religious reasons. Most religions have fasts as part of their rituals. In particular a time period is chosen for a person to abstain from food (and other drinks). So one would perhaps not eat from sunup to sundown and only drink water; one could take a 24 hour fast; one could take a fast of a week. The human body can go 30-40 days without food (so a fast is not detrimental to the average person's health, though some cases should confer with a doctor). There are other "types" of fast (from TV, Facebook, etc.) and these are in the similar spirit and are beneficial, but should not replace the fast from food.

The second question is, why should we fast? The answer is for spiritual benefits. Not only is it assumed that we should fast, but there are quite a few benefits from fasting. First, it places us in the correct relationship with God. By removing food, a necessity for life, from our routine we are able to focus on the main necessity for life: God. During these times of fasting one could take the normal meal time and use it for fervent prayer relying on God to sustain us, both disciplines that are also spiritually beneficial. Second, it allows us to remove dependences in our lives. Though the main thing we abstain from is food, it teaches that not only can we do with less food, but we can do with less _______. When we find our sole dependence on God we release ourselves from other dependencies, fasting greatly aids this process. Finally, fasting can help us find clarity from God. Many times we are uncertain what God wants us to do: a move, a job promotion, dating and marriage, legal matters, etc. When these times occur a period of fasting can help clear the mind and seek God's will in our lives.

Life Group Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you regularly pray?
  2. What does your prayer time look like?
  3. Do you regularly fast?
  4. What benefits have you received from fasting?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Yes, No, and the Truth

Matthew 5:33-37

2 June 2013


Jesus continues his commentary on the law defeating self-righteousness, pointing to law-keepers who do not reflect the holiness of God, and calling us all to repentance. If you escaped the judgment of anger and lust; perhaps deception is the source of your self-righteousness.


We have covered much thus far, some very difficult passages, this week we cover another area that we need to make sure that we are both righteous (see Matt 5:20) and perfect (Matt 5:48). The topic for this week in many of your Bibles may say "Oaths" or "Vows," and this is true, but the major topic of concern is the topic of Lying and the Truth.


"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)


The Legacy of Lies


This particular passage is one of six examples, or illustrations, of what Jesus has for the Christian Life. The particular rule of the Jews that He is addressing concerns oaths, but the underlying issue is truth and deception. We will address the passage in particular shortly, but it is beneficial for us to see the larger problem underneath the text of the heart's desire to cover up truth, or to lie. From the very beginning the temptation was to distort truth and hide from truth. We see this in Genesis 3:4 where the serpent says, "But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die.'" Following this Adam and Eve eat and then hide themselves from God. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." (Gen 3:8-10) From this day onward it has been a part of humanity to distort and hide the truth. We see this in Cain (Gen 4:8-9), Abraham (Gen 12:10-20; Gen 20:1-7), Jacob and Laban (Gen 29). We also find it in the New Testament in Acts 5:1-11 where Ananias and Sapphira lied about the money they had given to the church. Lying is a big deal for God.

The Bible is replete with commands to not lie, here are but a few:


  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exod 20:16)
  • You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. (Lev 19:11)
  • There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
    haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
    a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
    a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers. (Prov 6:16-19)
  • Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Prov 12:12)
  • No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. (Ps 101:7)
  • Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3:9-10)
  • Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Eph 4:25)


Even in Revelation 21:8 liars, those who practice deception are numbered among the worst of all sinners being cast into the lake of fire.


It is clear that we are not to be liars and are to be people who seek after the truth, but we cannot come to that place of truth and honesty without acknowledging that we battle against our flesh and its desire to tell lies and cover up truth.

Most of the time people lie to deceive others to think better of us than we deserve. "Oh, I wanted to come to your party but my husband (or wife) had to work late". Translation – there are other things I'd rather do.


The Result of Rules

"A liar is always lavish of oaths." ― Pierre Corneille


Knowing that we are indeed in a world of lies and liars we need to see what it was in particular that Jesus was addressing in this passage. At first glance it appears to be solely about oaths and vows, "Do not take an oath at all." But if we look closer at the passage there is much more to it that First Century Jews would recognize immediately.


The first thing to notice is the common phraseology of Jesus in this part of the sermon, "You have heard it said…" Here we must look back to the Old Testament and find out where they have heard this said, since this was a teaching of the religious leaders. This teaching comes partly from the Jewish Mishnah, an important religious work for the Jews second only to the (Hebrew Bible). Here you find intricate teachings and commentaries on the Law. "For example, one rabbi says that if you swear by Jerusalem you are not bound by your vow; but if you swear toward Jerusalem, then you are bound by your vow." (Carson 47) As we can see from our passage this is exactly what Jesus was dealing with for he says not to take oaths by heaven, or Jerusalem. It was a practice of the Jews to make these oaths and Jesus was addressing that practice.


Second, we need to see in this passage that Jesus is not saying that making an oath is wrong, bad or sinful. There have been many in the history of Christianity (and many Baptists are in the number) who read this passage as forbidding any oath. For example, the Anabaptist of the Reformation era, would not work for the government because it required an oath to take the office. This is why the "swearing-in" witnesses says "solemnly swear or affirm", because some refused to take any oath due to this scripture.


But we find throughout the Bible other oaths that are taken and appear to be accepted as good. "You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear." (Deut 10:20) After the Flood God made a covenant (a type of oath) with Noah in Genesis 9:9-11. In the New Testament Paul is repeatedly calling God as his witness to what he is saying, (Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thess 2:5, 10; Phil 1:8). There are appropriate ways in which we can take oaths, vows, covenants, and bear witnesses that do not violate what Jesus is teaching here in the sermon.


Third, we need to see that what is really being addressed is the Result of Rules. Though it may be exclaimed by some that the additions to the Law that were made were done so to protect the Law and keep people from violating the Law, what it did was create a new law unto itself. What once was a religion based upon a relationship became a religion based upon rules. When we live a life based solely upon rules we inevitably create new rules to bend older rules, which is exactly what was going on. Unfortunately deceptive people use oaths for the "halo-effect"; that if they swear by something important, they are presumed to be more truthful.


Think about it for a moment. Why would anyone need to clarify truth by an oath? Does saying, "I swear by my mother's grave" make a statement any more or less true? What it does is that it tries to convince a hearer that this statement is more true than other statements. By doing such we are living a life that accepts lies as a part of living. We create rules, like oaths and vows, that allow us to have degrees of truthfulness, which is just a justification for lying. The reality of Jesus' words here are that such rules only show the motive of the heart to live in lies. If we live by rules we will be run by rules, but that is not what Jesus has in mind for the Christian Life.


The Honor in Honesty


So what does Jesus want for us if we are not to live by rules? The answer is honesty and the honor that comes with it. Look at the response Jesus provides for what a Christian is to do: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil." The simple answer of "yes" or "no" or of just the truth without anything else is all that is needed, but there is more to this. In order for us to just be able to say "yes" or "no" means that we live lives that are honest.

Your personal integrity becomes your constant oath endorsing the words you say.

When we live lives that are honest people have tendency to believe what we are saying. When we live lives that are dishonest we have the tendency to disbelieve anything without further evidence, we become cynical.


What we must do is live a life that is "above reproach," a requirement for a pastor found in 1 Timothy and Titus. This means that we live in such a way that no one can have reason to doubt, or reproach us. It is living a life that is full of integrity and honesty. It is living a life where people trust every word that comes out of your mouth. This is what Jesus means when he says let your yes be yes and your no be no. It is a life of honesty, and when we live a life of honesty we receive the honor that comes with it. We must be people that strive after both of these things.


The Triumph of Truth


Finally, we are confronted again with the realization that this is indeed a difficult thing to do. We do come from a legacy of lies and often we try to cover them up by appealing to rules and loopholes in those rules. In the case of living a life of honesty and honor what we must do daily is to fall upon Jesus, who is the only Truth and in whom we triumph over every adversary in life.


We see this especially throughout John's Gospel. We are told to abide in the truth of Jesus, "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) By living in Jesus we are able to live in truth, we are able to live honesty and in honor, but we can only do so by abiding in Him. Jesus further teaches his disciples about how He is the Truth. "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. … I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:1, 6). Finally, we see Jesus even asking the Father to help his disciples (and us) to abide in truth, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17) Without the help of God and the life abiding in Christ we are unable to shrug off the legacy of lies that we have inherited. So, once again, the only way to conquer the heart issue of lying and untruth is to live in the righteousness and perfection of Jesus Christ.


Discussion Questions for Life Groups

  • Is there an appropriate time for anyone to tell a lie?
  • Have volunteers discuss how they have inherited a "legacy of lies"
  • What are some of the loopholes and bending of the rules that we use?
  • How do we know if someone is honest or not?
  • How can we become an honest, honorable person?