by John Mark Hicks
The Sermon on the Mount is the epitome of kingdom ethics and discipleship.
David Lipscomb, for example, thought so: “The sermon on the Mount, embraced in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew, certainly contains the living and essential principles of the religion the Savior came to establish, those which must pervade and control the hearts and lives of men, without which no man can be a Christian” (Civil Government, p.133).
The sermon opens with the Beatitudes, which begin and end with a promise that the blessed belong to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, 10). The Sermon ends with a promise that those who “do the will of the Father” will “enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). At the heart of the theology of the sermon is the call to “seek first the kingdom and its righteousness.”
While the sermon begins with beatitudes and ends with a parable, at its center is a liturgical prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Christians have typically called it “the Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” The prayer articulates a theology and ethic of the kingdom of God that shapes our lives. Beginning at least since the late first century, many Christians have repeated this prayer three times every day (Didache 8:2-3), and in the early centuries of the church, it became part of the corporate liturgy.
As a daily prayer, it is a daily pledge of allegiance.
We address the Creator as one who is both immanent in relationship with us (“Father”) and transcendent beyond us (“in heaven”).
In the first half of the prayer, we commit ourselves to the transcendent God. We pledge allegiance to the divine name, will, and kingdom. This is the heart of prayer—a covenant loyalty transcending everything else in our lives and ordering the whole of our lives under God’s sovereignty. Anything else is idolatry. We call upon God to act so as to sanctify God’s name, accomplish God’s will, and bring God’s heavenly kingdom to the earth.
Through those petitions we commit ourselves to become instruments of that work. We pursue those goals as proactive agents of the name, will, and kingdom of God. Empowered by God, we commit to cooperate and co-create with the redemptive grace of God so as to unite heaven and earth.
Consequently, we subordinate our agendas and desires to God’s kingdom. We acknowledge that God’s will rather than our own is primary. We pledge allegiance to God’s kingdom rather than to the kingdoms of this world. We seek the will of God.
The prayer, however, is not simply about our allegiance to God; it is also a testimony of God’s commitment to us. God is present to us in our daily existence. The last three petitions assume God’s benevolence for us by claiming God’s promises of daily material sustenance, reconciliation, and power against the evil one. God is for us, and God will not abandon us.
We seek God’s involvement in our daily lives—one day at a time. God feeds us, forgives us, and protects us. We need the divine gift of life (physical and spiritual), and we need the divine power that overcomes the evil one despite whatever trials befall us. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we experience the renewal of God’s promises in our lives—God will sustain us in all our needs whether it is about bread, sin, or spiritual warfare.
The Lord’s Prayer, prayed daily with purpose and commitment, will transform us.
Through this prayer, we acknowledge God’s transcendence, commit ourselves to God’s agenda, and embrace a new way of living in the world that conforms to God’s will, honors God’s name, and manifests God’s kingdom.
Through this prayer, we trust in God’s daily provision for our lives, receive God’s forgiveness as we forgive others, and embrace God’s protection against the evil one.
The Lord’s Prayer is our pledge of allegiance, a pledge of worship and first priority. I pledge allegiance to no other kingdom. And the Lord’s Prayer is God’s pledge to me—God is for me and not against me.
Morning, noon and evening, I renew my pledge and embrace again God’s pledge to me.
John Mark Hicks serves as professor of theology in the Hazelip School of Theology in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University, where he has taught since 2000. His most recent book is Meeting God at The Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery (2017). You can read his blog at www.johnmarkhicks.com.