Halfway through the Disciples [Lord’s] Prayer in Matthew 6, we come to the fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We turn from prayer for the advancement of God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will to prayer for our personal needs: (1) life’s necessities, (2) forgiveness of sins, and (3) deliverance from temptation and the devil.
It should be obvious that prayer for “daily bread” is not for mere bread alone, still less the bread of the Lord’s Supper, which is what Jerome suggested. It is prayer for real food and for whatever else we need to sustain ourselves physically. Therefore, the meaning of the fourth petition is what has been assumed by most people all along, namely, give us the necessities of life for this day (or the day immediately ahead). We need to pray this day by day, of course. But then, when we receive what we need for our daily living, we also need to thank God from whom these and all other good gifts come (James 1.17).
“Forgive us our debts,” is not only provision for daily living that we need, of course. We are not only creatures, we are sinful creatures. Hence, we also need forgiveness for our many sins, which God provides on the basis of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. It is why Jesus came. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v.12).
What is the connection between the two parts of this petition? We do not earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. We know that because of the Bible’s teaching elsewhere. This prayer is so brief that the prayer “forgive us our debts” should embrace the forgiveness of all sin in all relationships, and it is this that is somehow linked to our own forgiving attitude or lack of it.
We must have a profound change of heart, expressing itself, among other ways, in a willingness to forgive others if we have experienced God’s forgiveness ourselves. It is similar to having saving faith. We are not saved by our faith; salvation is by grace. But faith must be present if we are to be saved. In the same way, forgiveness in us must be present if we are to receive forgiveness. Moreover, both the power to believe and the ability to forgive are from God.
This is not something to be taken lightly, for we cannot help but notice that this is the only one of the six petitions in this prayer that is picked up again and amplified by Jesus. “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This should impress us with the importance – even more, the necessity – of forgiving others. This point is also made strongly in Christ’s parable of the unforgiving steward in Matthew 18.
Last of all, we should pray for deliverance, “Lead us not into temptation”: first, that we might be kept from trials or temptation (“lead us not into temptation”) and second, that we might be delivered from the devil (“but deliver us from evil [‘the evil one’]”).
The last three petitions are joined by the word and, showing that they are three constant needs of God’s people: provision for our daily needs and forgiveness of sins and deliverance from evil. The petitions for deliverance from temptation and from the evil one are not linked by and, which means that they belong together as parts of one request, that is, deliverance from temptation and from the evil (or evil one) that stands behind it. The word for “evil one” can be translated as “evil” only because the Greek word is either masculine or neuter, but the difference is slight. Obviously, we need God’s deliverance from evil from any source or in any form.
The final “act of righteousness” Jesus discusses is fasting. In the Old Testament, fasting had been commanded only on the Day of Atonement, but during the Babylonian exile, regular fast days for remembrance of past disasters had been instituted and had become a major part of Jewish religion. A question about whether these fasts should continue after the return to the land of Israel was raised and answered in Zechariah 7 and 8. Significantly, Jesus answers it the same way here! The issue is not how often we should fast, He implies. It is how we fast and why.
As far as the “how” is concerned, we are to do it privately before God and not to seek attention from men, exactly what Jesus said about giving to the poor and prayer. If we fast before other people, we will have a reward, but it will be from them only. There will be no reward in heaven.
For most of us, the greater issue about fasting is why we should fast. Or should we? Here we are assisted by examples found in the New Testament. Two are conspicuous. First, Peter was fasting in Joppa prior to receiving the vision of the great sheet let down from heaven, which led to the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Second, the Christians at Antioch were fasting when the Holy Spirit directed them to send Paul and Barnabas on the first great missionary journey. Those were probably the two most significant moments in the history of the early Christian Church, and in each case, the believers involved were seeking God and His will and were answered by strong, unmistakable, and historically significant directions.
I do not know how this applies to your situation, but I assume there will be occasions when you will want to set aside time to fast and seek God. I am fairly confident that God will answer directly.