The Lord’s Prayer and Forgiveness

How does the Lord’s prayer, and the following two verses relate to the concept of forgivenss?  Is forgivness earned?  I will break a Fresh Read rule and drop in an extended quote from Martin Luther’s sermons on the Sermon on the Mount.  (Luther’s Works, vol 21, P. 149-150)

“In this passage, similarly, the outward forgiveness that I show in my deeds is a sure sign that I have the forgiveness of sin in the sight of God.  On the other hand, if I do not show this in my relations with my neighbor, I have a sure sign that I do not have the forgiveness of sin in the sight of God but am still stuck in my unbelief. You see, this is the twofold forgiveness; one inward in the heart, clinging only to the Word of God; and one outward, breaking forth and assuring us that we have the inward one.  This is how we distinguish works as outward righteousness from faith as inward righteousness, but in such a way that the inward has precedence as the stem and root from which the good words must grow as fruit….Whoever lacks the inward righteousness does not do any of the outward works.  On the other hand, where the outward signs and proofs are lacking, I can not be sure of the inward, but I am deceiving both myself and others.  But if I look and find myself gladly forgiving my neighbor, then I can draw this conclusion and say: ‘I am not doing this work naturally, but by the grace of God I feel different from the way I used to be.’”

Context and the Lord’s Prayer

So if you go to a bookstore or to Amazon and look for treatment of the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-13, you will find a ton.  Have you been to church recently, then you have probably heard a sermon or sermons on the subject.  Have you been to a funeral, then you probably recited it, as the crowd said “debts” and “trespasses” at the same time.  (Both are OK since Luke uses the word for “trespass” and Matthew for “debt”).

Here is a thought.  What if you read the prayer it it’s setting.  In Matthew it is in chapter 6, which has at the start the theme of religion, piety or spiritual disciplines.  The verses cover giving to the poor (a surprisingly common theme in scripture if you take note of it), prayer and fasting. 

What is interesting and what we are pondering this week is the prevalence of the phrase “our/your father/in heaven”.  (5:14; 6:1; 6:4; 6:6; 6:8; 6:9; 6:14; 6:15; 6:18; 6:26; 6:32; 7:11 – see also 5:9 “sons”; 7:3 “brother’s eye”; 7:9 “son”;  7:11 “children”)

Some call “the Lord’s Prayer” the “Our Father” as those are the first words.  so then here is the question.  How does this theme of God as Father permeate and flavor the Lord’s Prayer?

  • “Hallowed by thy name” – Familial honor and love.
  • Kingdom – are Kingship and Fatherhood related?
  • Daily Bread – don’t we eat with our families?

Consider this a lead, not a conclusion.  It could be a red herring.  However, I think that the idea of piety or spirituality in Jesus’ teaching is very personal.  The focus is on God, with whom we have a relationship.  It is not on the processes we use to gather power or merit. Do we need to repeat our prayers incessantly when God is our Father – rather like those kids at the grocery story who plead, cry, hold their breaths and kick until they get that candy bar…..


Matthew 5 Sandwich

Verse 17 and verse 48 form an inclusio in Jesus’ teaching on the law.

Matthew 5:17
    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 Matthew 5:48
    You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The ideas are that Jesus did not come to overthrow the OT law and that the standard of the law is not the minimum standard, but the absolute maximum standard – the perfection of God.

Six examples are marked off with the expression, “you have heard it said….but I say to you.”  These examples cover the topics of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, non-resistance and treating your enemies.

Is it fair to say, “you have heard it said” set a traditional standard?  And that the “but I say to you” elevates the law to a different, new and more complete level?  We think so.

The attitudes of the heart are as important as the actions we can see.  For the sources of evil and good are internal and spiritual by nature.

 As you read through these examples, it seems best to take the examples not as regulations, but illustrations of the fulfilled and perfect moral requirement for a disciple.  It is easy to get hung up on such questions as how many times can you turn the other cheek?  However it is better to ask, “”what point is being made?” and “how could I follow this teaching?”