In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord’s Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog’s readers will find it helpful.
Introduction: In our previous examination of the first three petitions of this prayer – that God’s name be hallowed, that His Kingdom come, and that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven – we focused upon praying for the glory of God. Now we will begin to look at the last three petitions of the Lord’s prayer, which are focused on praying for our good. And the first of these petitions is centered specifically upon our physical good.
NKJ Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Although this request seems very simple, it actually has more depth than many realize. So, we will take some time to examine each of the parts of this prayer in order to bring out its significance more clearly. We will focus our attention on four distinct emphases of the prayer.
First, when Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, He is referring to the basic necessities of life, not to luxuries.
Quote: As D.A. Carson puts it, “The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds” (EBC, Vol.8, p.171).
Application: Since we live in such an affluent society and possess so much more than just what we need, we can easily fall prey to the kind of materialism that mistakes wants for needs. For example, we can find ourselves praying for another car or for a bigger house or for better clothes because the culture we live in makes us think we need such things when we really don’t.
Illustration: Paul demonstrates the attitude that Jesus wants to be in us when praying this prayer:
NKJ 1 Timothy 6:7-8 “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
To be sure, praying for our daily bread – our basic needs – and no more is a prayer of contentment!
However, there have been those who have felt that a plea for our daily bread – and thus for our basic physical needs – is too mundane a concern to be included in such a prayer. They have thus sought to spiritualize the meaning. For example, some of the early Church Fathers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, all interpreted our daily bread as meaning “the invisible bread of the Word of God” (John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 148). Some also interpreted it as a reference to the bread of the Lord’s Supper, as did Jerome, when in his Latin Vulgate translation he rendered the meaning as “super-substantial bread – that is, as bread that is more than just physical bread” (Stott, p.148).
But there is no good reason in the context to think that Jesus is referring to either the Word of God or the Lord’s Supper. These interpretations are simply examples of eisegesis rather than exegesis. That is, they read into the text a meaning that is not there rather than reading out of the text the meaning that is readily apparent to any without a preconceived agenda.
Application: Such misreadings of the passage also miss a very important point, namely that God truly cares about such things as our most basic physical needs. These are not mundane, trivial things to God! And they certainly aren’t mundane or trivial to one who lacks food or clothing!
Quote: Kent Hughes drives home the same point when he writes in his commentary on this verse:
God wants us to bring our everyday needs to him, even if they seem trivial. He does not demand that we approach him only when we have raised ourselves to some kind of spiritual elevation above the everyday things of life. The greatness of our God lies in his descending to meet us where we are. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 183)
Second, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us this day our daily bread, He is giving us a daily reminder that we are a part of a family of believers who also have the same needs as we do.
Jesus does not want us to be selfish in seeking only our own needs from the Lord, but to be mindful of our brothers and sisters in Christ as well.
Remember also that Jesus also commends those who help provide for others who are less fortunate:
NKJ Matthew 25:31-36 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me….’”
Jesus identifies true believers as those who care not just about their own needs, but also about meeting the needs of others, and He wants us to remember this in prayer every day.
Quote: Kent Hughes offers a similar insight on this aspect of the prayer:
Every time we pray this prayer from our heart, we are affirming our solidarity with our brothers and sisters. When we pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are also making an implicit commitment to help provide bread for needy friends. The prayer is a stretching, broadening petition. We not only depend on God for practical provision – we commit ourselves to be part of God’s answer for others in need. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 183)
Third, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us our daily bread, He wants us to remember that – although we may work to meet our basic needs – all we have ultimately comes as a gift from God.
Jesus does not want us to become self-dependent but to be mindful every day that we are dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything. Such humble dependence upon God runs directly counter to the so called “rugged individualism” and self-sufficiency that our culture prizes so highly!
Of course, the fact that we are to be dependent upon God in no way diminishes our responsibility to work to meet our own needs and the needs of others. For example, Paul admonishes us to work:
NKJ 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”
So, the way we can typically expect God to answer this prayer to meet our basic needs is through the provision of work.
Fourth, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us this day our daily bread, He wants us to learn to trust God for each day without giving in to worry about the next one.
This becomes clear as we examine the meaning of the two Greek terms He uses in this context.
First, the Greek word sēmeron means “today,” “this day,” or “this very day.” It clearly focuses upon the very day one is praying the prayer.
Second, the Greek word epioúsios is a more difficult word, with only three undisputed occurrences in known ancient Greek literature, one here in Matthew 6:11, one in Luke 11:3 (recording another teaching of the Lord’s Prayer by Jesus), and one in a late first century Christian writing called The Didache (which is quoting the Lord’s Prayer, 8:2).
The two primary meanings proposed for this Greek word are 1) for the current day, which means that it refers to “today’s bread,” or 2) for the coming day, which means that it refers to “tomorrow’s bread.”
In my opinion, Jesus is referring to the food we need on the current day, given His emphasis on “this day” and His admonition later on in the same sermon:
NKJ Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Quote: Thus I agree with D.A. Carson, when he writes that the prayer “is for one day at a time (‘today’), reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time and for whom a few days illness could spell tragedy” (EBC, Vol.8, p.171).
Application: Jesus wants us to live one day at a time rather than to let the concerns of tomorrow cause us to fail to trust God fully for today… and for each and every day. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with making plans for the future, there is something wrong with being so driven by such concerns that we begin to put our trust in our own plans rather than in God. And there is definitely also something wrong with giving in to worry about tomorrow.
Conclusion: I hope that this time spent thinking together about the meaning of this simple petition – “Give us this day our daily bread” – has been a helpful reminder to us all. May God grant us the grace to pray with such a heart every day!