Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The first three requests of the Lord’s Prayer, as you can see, are all God-focused: “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,” and “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But now, with the fourth request, we begin the part of the Prayer that is “us” focused: “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts … And lead us not into temptation …”
And some have wondered why the first ‘us’ request is about daily bread and not the forgiveness of our sins or temptation. Isn’t the forgiveness of sins and being kept from temptation more important than daily bread?
But if you think about it for a moment, who hallows God’s name and obeys His will on earth better and forgives others better? A living person or a dead one? A living person.
Drive past a cemetery and you will not hear much hymn singing or see much forgiving been done.
In Psalm 30, the Psalmist prayed, “What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?”
It is the living who praise God and obey His will on earth and forgive others. And in order to remain alive, we need daily bread! So that is why the first “us” request is for daily bread.
In short then, with this request, we believers are asking the Lord to keep us alive so that we can do what He commands. Or if we look at it from the perspective of our Saviour, with these words, THE LORD JESUS TEACHES BELIEVERS TO PRAY TO GOD FOR THEIR BODILY NEEDS. And there is much we can learn as we think about the detail of this request for daily bread. But before we consider the detail of the request, let’s think for a moment about the request for daily bread’s BIBLICAL BACKGROUND.
1. And to do this we go way back to the early chapters of the Bible. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve fall into sin. And if you know that account, you will know that their sin involved food. They ate fruit from the forbidden tree. And notice that I just said FRUIT; I didn’t say an apple. I am sure you have heard people talk about an apple, but the Bible does not. It just talks about fruit. Well, after they had eaten and realized that they were now fallen sinners, God came to explain the consequences of the Fall. And I want you to listen to what God said to Adam, and to listen especially to the words I will emphasize as I read these verses. God said to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have EATEN of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not EAT of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall EAT of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall EAT the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall EAT BREAD, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” So three things to note about these words:
a. Firstly, THE PUNISHMENT FITS THE CRIME. Adam’s sin was to do with food. And so, five times in God’s word to Adam, eating is mentioned, including, specifically, the eating of bread.
b. And secondly, the curse was about THE EFFORT required to get bread. From now on, food wouldn’t just fall off trees, as it were. The ground that produced the food would not be maintenance free and naturally fertile. It was now “cursed ground.” And every gardener and Farmer among us is thinking, Yup It sure is! Mankind will now sweat for every morsel of food.
c. But that leads us into our third point, which is that even though there is “painful toil” and “thorn and thistle” and “sweat,” it will still produce Bread. Even though he is a rebellious sinner, the merciful, patient, and generous God will provide man with the bread he needs to live.
2. Now, as we think about this a little more, in the context of God’s words in Genesis 3, there is a physical reality to His promise and a spiritual reality.
a. The PHYSICAL reality is that God will provide food and drink to sustain life. And we are going to say more about this when we come to consider the detail of this request of the Lord’s Prayer.
b. But there is a SPIRITUAL reality to this promise also. For what is it that sinners, like Adam and Eve, and like you and me, really and ultimately need? It is not food and drink. Think back to God’s original warning to Adam before he sinned. God said, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” So prior to eating the fruit, Adam’s destiny was? Life. But after eating it, Adam’s destiny was death. And while physical bread could delay death, it could not prevent death. Ultimately then, what Adam needed was spiritual bread; Adam needed bread that could deal with the condition of is soul. So can you see where this is leading? In JOHN 6, as Jesus was talking to a crowd, He said, “”For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst … For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.””
The request for daily bread’s Biblical Background. Now we turn our attention to the details of the request for daily bread. And there are four things we want to briefly consider, and they are that it is a request for BREAD/BODILY NEEDS, it is a request for BASIC BREAD, it is a request for BAKED BREAD, and it is a request for BREAD FOR THE BODY.
I. So first of all, it is a request for BREAD/BODILY NEEDS. The exact words of Jesus are “give us this day our daily BREAD,” but the Catechism answer expands this to “all our bodily needs.” And so we ask Is this expansion warranted? Is it right to understand bread as meaning all our bodily needs?
A. Well, as a general rule, they say that if you are without air for three minutes, you will die, if you are without water for three days, you will die, and if you are without food for three weeks, you will die. So at a very basic level, it would appear that air to breathe and water to drink are even more vital for life than bread! You don’t give someone who is struggling to breathe a nice piece of toasted Vogel bread with peanut butter! What they need is air! So we need more than just bread to survive.
B. But we see that all our bodily needs are in view from the Bible if we look ahead a few verses to v33, where Jesus urges believers there to “seek first the kingdom of God.” And that phrase reminds us of the first three requests of the Lord’s Prayer. As forgiven sinners, who have spiritual life through Jesus, the bread of life, we are to hallow the name of God, we are to advance His kingdom, and we are to obey His commandments. That is basically what it means to seek first His kingdom. Well, immediately before the command to seek first the kingdom of God, Jesus has told believers not to be anxious about what we eat and drink and wear, for “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all,” to seek first His kingdom. So this request clearly is a request for all the things that are necessary to sustain life. This is a request for bread/all our bodily needs.
II. But secondly, let’s note that it is a request for BASIC bread.
A. Jesus surely could have said, Give us this day our wine and cheese and long-filled cream donuts and medium-rare fillet steak. But He didn’t. Instead He said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this is because bread is one of the plain and ordinary staples of our diet. And Jesus also could have said, Give us bread. But again, He didn’t. He said, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” He urges us to seek just what is needed for today.
B. So let’s conduct a little thought experiment for a moment. Do you think this request of the Lord’s Prayer is prayed the MOST of all our requests or the LEAST?
1. You see, on the one hand, if you listen to many people pray, the answer would seem to be the most. And this is because our prayers are usually full of things we are asking of the Lord – a nice day, safe travels, pass this exam, good health, secure employment, help with this task, etc… Our prayers often have long lists of physical or material things we seek from the Lord.
2. But on the other hand, thinking back to what we have just said about this request being a request for basic bread – just what is needed for today, a good case could be made for saying that this request is one we pray the least. Can you remember the last time you prayed with any urgency for enough bread for today? Oh, to be sure, we pray with urgency when tragedy or trouble comes into our life, but days can go by, can’t they, when, because most of us have plenty, we do not pray for our daily bread.
a. In one of the handouts in the newspaper this week, there was an advertisement for the Global Food Shopper Tour. You pay $195 a person, and a well-known chef takes you to the food shops where she gets her favourite ethnic food stuffs, with each month’s tour focusing on a different region of the world. And the tour ends with lunch and a glass of wine.
b. Contrast that with the account of the group of malnourished children were rescued from a camp after WWII. They were washed and fed very well, but they had trouble sleeping. Well eventually, the problem was solved by giving the children a piece of bread at night time, not to eat but to hold on to. And from that day on the children slept well. Why? Because after going to bed for so long not knowing if there would be food the next day, now they knew that they had at least that piece of bread to eat tomorrow. Do you have trouble sleeping because you do not know where tomorrow’s food will come from? Probably not.
c. In Proverbs 30:8-9, we find this prayer, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” And I suspect that most of us, if not all of us, are probably in that first category of having plenty of food, which means we are in danger of disowning the Lord; of not seeing it as necessary to ask Him for our daily bread.
C. Well, believer, the Lord Jesus has promised that He will give you what you need in order to carry out His work. So with this request, your Lord and Saviour is teaching you to point to that promise and to pray that your Father would give you what you need. It is a matter of trust and obedience to come to God and request your basic bread.
III. But note thirdly that it is a request for BAKED BREAD.
A. And don’t get too caught up here on whether bread in NT times was actually baked or not My purpose with the title of this point is that we are not being taught to pray for Manna that miraculously falls from the sky! We are being taught to pray for the bread that someone needs to spend time and use their skill to bake and that you can only afford if you have been working and have money to buy it! OK? If you are going to pray this request with sincerity, you must be willing to work!
1. And this teaching is made plain in 2 THESSALONIANS 3. There the Apostle Paul was dealing with the problem of idleness or the refusal to work in the church in Thessalonica. He said, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you … For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” There were people in the Thessalonian congregation who refused to work but who expected others in the church or the deacons to feed them. But the Spirit of the Lord through Paul says, Uh uh! No No! “If anyone is unwilling to work, let him not eat.”
a. And this highlights one of the problems with any welfare system that does not have a if you are unwilling to work, you will not eat principle underpinning it. For such a system makes it possible for people who are unwilling to work to eat. At the moment, according to many, there is a housing crisis in NZ. Well, one part of the problem is that people who are unwilling to work have a right to housing in NZ. And someone else then has to pay for it! But the Spirit of the Lord through Paul says, No No! “If anyone is unwilling to work, let him not eat.”
B. But as a necessary balancing point to the point we have just made, don’t forget that the Lord Jesus is teaching us here to PRAY for our daily bread. Yes, we are to work and to work hard. But food is not some sort of automatic compensation system for working that doesn’t involve God. Jesus did not teach us to pray to our employers for our daily food. James 1:17 says that “every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in heaven.” The Lord Jesus does not want us to see our food as something we deserve but as a good and perfect gift from our Father in heaven, for which we should be thankful. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, as the Catechism answers explains, “So that we come to know that [God] is the source of everything good and that neither our work nor our worry nor [God’s] gifts can do us any good without [His] blessing.” So the Lord Jesus would have us work and pray.
IV. So this request is a request for BREAD/BODILY NEEDS, it is a request for BASIC BREAD, and it is a request for BAKED BREAD. But fourthly and lastly, it is a request for BREAD FOR THE BODY.
A. And when I say ‘body,’ I do not mean your physical body but the body of Christ – our brothers and sisters in Christ. For Jesus did not teach us to pray for MY daily bread but for OUR daily bread.
1. So part of the way that we love our neighbour, as Christ commanded us to do, is that we pray that the Lord would provide for their bodily needs as well as our bodily needs. And this is one of the special joys of our congregational prayers and our times of gathered prayer at our Fellowship Groups and the Prayer Meeting that we hold before each Lord’s Supper, such as the one planned for this coming Friday evening.
2. But another part of the way that we love our neighbours is through generous giving to those who are in need. A few moments ago, we read from 2 Thessalonians about the problem of people being unwilling to work but still expecting to eat. Well, in Ephesians 4:28, there is a very similar command aimed at those believers who used to steal. We read, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” So we work not just so that we may have bread but so that others, who may be in a tough situation for a time, may also have bread.
3. And just in case you ever grow tired of giving to others, just remember the words of this poem penned by an author whose identity I could not track down,
“Go give to the needy sweet charity’s bread. For giving is living,” the angel said.
“And must I be giving again and again?” My peevish, petulant answer ran.
“Oh, no,” said the angel, piercing me through, “just give till the Master stops giving to you.”
So this request is also a request for bread for the body of Christ – our brothers and sisters.
I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon that the very first temptation and the very first sin had to do with food. So when God came to rebuke Adam for his sin, the consequences had a lot to do with food. But God also made Adam and Eve a very beautiful promise. He said that one day the seed of the woman would come to crush the seed of the serpent.
And several thousand years later, Jesus came to earth as the fulfillment of that promise. And do you remember the very first temptation that the devil set before Jesus in the wilderness? Interestingly, it was also to do with food. He said, “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But while Adam and Eve gave into temptation, Jesus did not.
So He truly is well qualified to be the bread of life! The physical bread we eat is useful for daily strength. But death comes to all of us, one day. But Jesus said, “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.””
So pray, regularly, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But be quick also to thank Him for providing all your bodily needs and especially for Jesus, the bread of eternal life. Amen.