There are many ways to study the Sermon on the Mount. However, I want us to focus our attention on the prayer Jesus taught us in chapter 6. I think I can demonstrate that here we will discover some foundational truths that connect to the broader sermon and to our subject at hand.
So – how are we supposed to relate to our culture? As I have already answered – I think we are to penetrate culture as representatives of Christ and we are to create culture as agents of restoration.
Now – that sounds good on a grand scale. But how does that look in the life of an individual Christian, living today in the 21st century?
Let me paint a portrait of the kind of believer who can be an influential Christian in their sphere of responsibility by connecting us to the prayer in Matthew 6. Here are the qualities of that influential Christian who can be strategic in their cultural engagement:
An authentic person, dependent upon God, in personal relationship to God, reverent in spirit, desiring to see God’s Kingdom on earth, trusting God for provision, honest about shortcomings, gracious in relationships with others and focused on Godly living.
Now – let’s connect that description to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:5-15.
Jesus begins this section by warning His followers. Any act of piety can become a “show” and be practiced just so that others will notice. Some people in Jesus’ day enjoyed the public acclaim of practicing their religion in such a way as to attract attention. Jesus condemns that. His followers are to be authentic.
Go to an “inner room” (v. 6) – most people did not have a private room in their homes. Jesus seems to be speaking metaphorically here. Don’t be pretentious! Be authentic. Pray in private. Deal with God in such a way that does not draw attention to yourself.
Jesus also condemns the mindless “babbling” of pagans. This practice was exhibited by prophets of Baal who just babbled on for hours in meaningless rituals of prayer. Jesus is not condemning “long prayers” – he is specifically addressing meaningless prayers.
The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-13
In this very familiar prayer, Jesus offers instruction about praying. I recognize this is a section where we are taught about prayer. However, I want us to focus on the type of person who is being cultivated through this prayer.
First – a person who is dependent on God – That is the type of person who will be equipped to engage the culture. A person who prays consistently will be better equipped to strategically live in the broader culture.
Second – a person who is in personal relationship with God – Notice, Jesus taught us to refer to the God of the universe as “Father” – v. 9. God is not some distant Spirit, disconnected from His creation. We are to approach Him as our Father. This signals the closeness of our relationship with God. It is familial and familiar. We call upon God and seek His counsel just like we do as children who love their parents on earth.
Third – a person who is reverent in spirit – “hallowed be your name” – this is a petition of praise. We are to acknowledge that our God is truly glorious and majestic. He is our Father – but He is also God! We are to support and bless the holiness of His name. We are to exercise reverence in our approach to Him.
Fourth – a person who desires to see God’s Kingdom on earth – “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – expresses a desire to see the Kingdom of God on earth. This means we truly embrace the truth that God is establishing His Kingdom on earth today. Jesus came to set things right. We live in a broken world. We want to live in such a way that people can see what is possible.
The many examples in the Sermon on the Mount offer ways that the Kingdom of God is being established and displayed on earth in the midst of a broken society. In the face of what surrounds us – we are to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us (5:43-48). We are not to seek revenge (5:38-42). We don’t engage in lustful behavior that results in adulterous affairs (5:27-30).
How do we accomplish this? By humbling ourselves before the Lord and seeking His Kingdom on earth. We want to see His priorities lived out in and through us!
Fifth – a person who trusts God for provision – “give us today our daily bread” – as followers of Jesus, we trust God to provide for our needs. We are in partnership with Him. We don’t just trust our own ingenuity and ability. We seek His provision for us. We take our needs to Him. This hearkens back to the days of manna in the wilderness and reminds us of a daily dependence on God.
Sixth – a person who is honest about their shortcomings – “forgive us our debts” – Kingdom people are not perfect people. And they know it. They know to confess their sins to God. We are not to act as if we are above sin. We are not. We are often wrong!
If we are going to be used by God to create culture and engage culture – we must be pure in heart. We must know that we are not perfect. We fall short. We need His grace. We need the refreshment of forgiveness.
Seventh – a person who is gracious in relationships with others – “as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Effective people in God’s Kingdom are people who can forgive. We are not to hold grudges. We have to receive grace and dispense grace. Grace flows through us. Who better to forgive others than those who are forgiven themselves?
And – notice vv. 14-15 – our own cleansing is directly connected to our willingness to forgive others! We can’t expect God to grace us if we are going to seek to exact revenge in our personal relationships.
When we engage our culture – we discover it is not an exact science. It is not an even enterprise. There will be bumps and bruises along the way. The effective emissaries for the Kingdom are those who can move on and forgive when necessary.
Eighth – a person who is focused on Godly living – “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” – life is characterized by a spiritual battle. We need God’s direction. We need His wisdom. We don’t want to succumb to the temptations and tricks of the evil one.
The person who is aware of the pitfalls available in the broader culture has a greater chance of success than those who act like they are above temptation. If we are going to be effective in service to God in our society, we must recognize the call to holiness in our own lives first.