As we continue our walk with Calvin through the Lord’s Prayer, we come to the second round of petitions. The first round dealt squarely with God’s glory and his majesty in heaven and on earth (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”). Of primary importance in the Christian life is the recognition of God’s kingdom over our own and the promise that his kingdom will be established upon Christ’s return.
But as our Father, the Lord is not unconcerned with the regular, physical needs of his children. In the second round of petitions, Jesus Christ teaches us how to go before our Father and make our requests known to him. In teaching us how to pray, Christ also teaches us what we need. Calvin elucidates the meanings behind each of the following petitions.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Within the request for daily bread are “all things in general that our bodies have need” and “everything God foresees to be beneficial to us.” How often do we trust God for our priceless salvation but worry over whether or not our stomachs are full, or our cars start in morning, or we’ll be able to make our student loan payment this month? Calvin reminds (and reprimands) us, “So much more does the shadow of this fleeting life mean to us than that everlasting immortality!”
But let’s not pretend that our daily concerns are not real and true. As finite creatures, we do not know what tomorrow holds. And since history proves that tremendous changes can take place from day to day, it is little wonder that we have equally tremendous anxiety. But while our salvation takes great faith in a great God, so does the materialization of our daily bread. “It is, then, no light exercise of faith for us to hope for those things from God which otherwise cause us such anxiety.”
Within this petition is the tacit recognition that if God gives us something or provides in some way, it is because we have need of it. If God removes something or does not provide, it is because it is better for us that we do not have it. Why do we at times have every need met and an abundance of kindnesses bestowed to us? Because it is for our good and for God’s glory. Why do some Christians suffer in more visible ways that others? Because it is for their good and for God’s glory.
In asking for “daily” bread, “we are taught not to long with immoderate desire for those fleeting things.” In an age of affluence and expeditious technological advancements, we can feel entitled to what we don’t currently have. In our psychological age, we base personal satisfaction off of our feelings. And when we get a dopamine hit because of something new and shiny, we can no longer feel satisfied with our daily bread.
But Calvin reminds us that pray to God with “this certain assurance, that as our Heavenly Father nourishes us today, he will not fail us tomorrow.” We do not need to hoard and store in barns out of selfishness or anxiety. “What is in our hand is not even ours except insofar as he bestows each little portion upon us hour by hour, and allows us to use it.” Hour by hour! Fleeting moment by fleeting moment!
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Why the use of the debtor language? “We call sins ‘debts’ because we owe penalty or payment for them to God, and we could in no way satisfy it unless we were released by this forgiveness.” We cannot overstate the debt we owe to the One who is holiness in and of himself, free completely from the stain of sin. And he requires no stain of sin in his creatures.
We have no merits in ourselves apart from those imputed to us from Christ by the Holy Spirit in our new birth. In our futile attempts to please God on our own or to earn our salvation by our deeds and behavior, we mock him. “Therefore,” says Calvin, “those who trust that God is satisfied with their own or others’ merits, and that by such satisfaction forgiveness of sins is paid for and purchased, share not at all in this free gift.” Our best good deeds and our lifestyle are as filthy rags before the one, true, perfect holy being.
Now what does Christ mean by “as we forgive our debtors”? Are we only forgiven by God to the extent that we forgive those who have harmed us? Calvin reminds us that forgiveness is granted only by God; humanity’s forgiveness of each other is yet different. “Not that it is ours to forgive them the guilt of transgression or offense, for this belongs to God alone!”
Instead, the forgiveness that man offers to man is the “willingness to cast from the mind wrath, hatred, desire for revenge, and voluntarily to banish to oblivion the remembrance of injustice.” Why should we seek forgiveness from God if we hold the guilt of those who’ve harmed us against them? Is this not the intended message of the servant whose massive debt was forgiven who then refused to forgive a lesser debt owed to him?
And neither is it that we deserve our Father’s forgiveness because we have forgiven others in this way. “Rather, by this word the Lord intended only to comfort the weakness of our faith. For he has added this as a sign to assure us he has forgiven our sins just as surely as we are aware of having forgiven those of others, provided our hearts have been emptied and purged of all hatred, envy, and vengeance.” Forgiving others is a sign of our own forgiveness, as well.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” We are tempted by both the enemy and our own “inordinate desires” as well. Calvin uses the warning of Proverbs 4:27 to guide his interpretation, which says, “Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
The right might be considered “riches, power, and honors, which often dull men’s keenness of sight by the glitter and seeming goodness.” And the left might be considered “poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions and the like. Thwarted by the hardship of difficulty of these, they become despondent in mind, cast away assurance and hope, and are at last completely estranged from God.”
These two extremes often pull the true believer into times of despair. However, the Father always provides a way out of these temptations. While we might think of temptations more in terms of adultery, pornography, or financial greed, we must not come to think we are immune from other temptations. But our hope is that we “may by the Lord’s power stand fast against all hostile powers that attack us.” Overcoming sin is simply not in our power, especially when we so often are unaware of what tempts us and why.
To those who think themselves able to fight sin in their own power, Calvin writes, “Obviously those who prepare for such a combat with self-assurance do not sufficiently understand with what a ferocious and well-equipped enemy they have to deal.” Satan is all too real of an adversary. And he is unrelenting. Even if he cannot steal your salvation, he will do what he can to make you stumble. But, “For let it be enough that we stand and are strong in God’s power alone.”
Amen and amen.
Next week, we’ll look at both the end of the Lord’s Prayer and a little bit of the history of manuscript transmission. You’ll notice that some Bibles are missing “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.” Why is that?
Stay tuned to find out!