May 26 – Asking for God’s Provision

Give us this day our daily bread.—Matt. 6:11

“Give” reminds us of our need to ask God for His provision. In recognition of His past and present provision we ask Him, and trust for His future furnishing of all our needs. We can ask confidently because God has richly promised. “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.… The humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity” (Ps. 37:4, 11). God does not pledge to always meet the physical needs of everybody, but only of those who trust in Him. In Psalm 37:25, David is speaking about believers when he says, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.”

It is clear that the “us” who can expect provision from the Father are believers. Paul echoes the same principle: “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:10–11; cf. Luke 18:29–30).

God mercifully supplies our needs daily, meaning simply our ordinary, day-by-day provision of food, clothing, money, etc. The primary means by which we receive these things is through work, but isn’t it the Lord who provides even the strength for that? To accept God’s provision for today without undue concern for tomorrow is a testimony of our godly contentment (cf. Matt. 6:25, 32–33).

ASK YOURSELF
If the supply we have today isn’t satisfying to us and doesn’t seem like enough, is the problem with our Supplier or with our own measure of demand? Pray for a humble willingness to be thankful for every blessing, without focusing on the ones He seems to be withholding.[1]

6:11 Give us this day our daily bread. After putting God’s interests first, we are permitted to present our own needs. This petition acknowledges our dependence on God for daily food, both spiritual and physical.[2]


The Fourth Petition

  1. Give us this day our daily bread. What did Jesus mean by “daily”? In Greek literature the word which it translates is very rare; in fact, so rare that it used to be thought that it was coined by the evangelists. In Scripture it occurs only in the Lord’s Prayer (here and in Luke 11:3). Although it has now become clear that the word did not originate with the Gospel writers, there is no unanimity in explaining it. All kinds of guesses have been ventured, among them being “continuous,” “supersubstantial,” “ready at hand,” “for future use,” “for sustenance,” etc. The explanation “sufficient for the next day” has been strongly defended. As I see it, a good argument can be made in favor of: a. “Give us this day our bread for (or: belonging to) the current day (the day in being),” and of b. “Give us this day our needful bread,” that is, “our bread necessary for existence.” The two ideas (a. and b.) combine easily. In any case we must make sure that our interpretation does not run counter to the teaching of Jesus in this very chapter (verses 31–34), the warning against worry about food. See especially verse 34. Personally I see no reason, therefore, to depart from the translation to which many people have become accustomed, namely, “daily.” The meaning then would be, “Give us today the portion that is needed for any one day.”

What has been said so far indicates that by means of this petition Jesus teaches his disciples to be moderate in their desires and requests. This is brought out even more strikingly in the original, where the words “our daily bread” occur at the very head of the petition; hence, “Our daily bread give us this day.” Christ’s disciples must ask for bread, not for luxuries. “Neither poverty nor riches give thou me. Feed me with the bread that is appointed to me, lest, being full, I deny thee and say, ‘Who is Jehovah?’ Or, lest, being poor, I steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8, 9, taken from the prayer of Agur). It is clear, of course, that the term “bread” should not be taken too literally. Whatever is necessary to sustain physical life is meant.

Not only a. moderation is here taught, also b. trust in the heavenly Father, who loves and cares, the childlike confidence expressed so beautifully in Ps. 37:25. Yet, it is not “making provision for the future” (Gen. 41:33–36; Prov. 6:6–8) that is here condemned, but “anxiety about the future,” as if there were no heavenly Father. And well may the conviction of c. total dependence fill the heart, for all men, including even the richest, in order to have, consume, and enjoy food, are dependent upon the condition of soil, water, weather, and health of body. Moreover, in order to eat, men of slender and those of average means need to work, that they may earn their bread. Therefore, all men are dependent upon the general state of the economy, together with all its contributing factors, ecological, social, political, etc., which in the final analysis means that all are dependent upon the sovereign God, who is in control of the universe. Then, too, d. humility is required; hence, “Give us.…” Although the supplicant is making a living in the sweat of his brow and besides has even paid for his groceries, he must still accept what is on the table as a gift from God, a product of grace; for, not only is God the ultimate source of every blessing (James 1:17) but also, by reason of sin man has forfeited all! e. Willingness to work is also presupposed. Else how would one dare to pray for daily sustenance (cf. 2 Thess. 3:10)? To all this add one more quality, namely, f. generosity; hence, not “Give me,” but “Give us … our daily bread.” The needs of believers all over the world are included, for together they constitute one family (Eph. 3:14). And, in the spirit of Gal. 6:10, are not the supplicant’s horizons extended even beyond “the camp of the saints, the beloved city”?

Man has been endowed by the Creator with body and soul (Gen. 2:7). So, from a petition for the fulfilment of the needs of the body the prayer now advances to a request for the satisfaction of the soul’s requirements, that what is spiritual may be both first (see the first three petitions) and last (see the last two, or the last two plus the doxology).[3]


God’s Provision

Give us this day our daily bread. (6:11)

Although it may have been a genuine concern in New Testament times, to many Christians in the western world today, such a request may seem needless and inappropriate. Why should we ask God for what we already have in such abundance? Why, when many of us need to consume less food than we do, ask God to supply our daily bread? What would be a completely understandable request of a Christian in Ethiopia or Cambodia, seems irrelevant on the lips of a well-fed American.

But this part of the Disciples’ Prayer, like every other part, extends beyond the first century to all believers, in every age and in every situation. In this pattern for prayer our Lord gives all the necessary ingredients for praying. We can see five key elements in this request for God’s provision: the substance, the source, the supplication, the seekers, and the schedule.

The Substance

Bread not only represents food but is symbolic of all of our physical needs. John Stott has observed that to Martin Luther, “everything necessary for the preservation of this life is bread, including food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, good government, and peace” (Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978], p. 149).

It is marvelous to understand that the God who created the entire universe, who is the God of all space and time and eternity, who is infinitely holy and completely self-sufficient, should care about supplying our physical needs-and should be concerned that we receive enough food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to rest. God obligates Himself to supply our needs.

This part of the prayer is in the form of a petition, but it is also an affirmation-which is why it is as appropriate for those who are well-fed as for those who have little to eat. Above all it is an affirmation that every good thing we have comes from the gracious hand of God (James 1:17).

The Source

That leads us to the source, who is God. The Father is the one addressed throughout the prayer, the One who is praised and petitioned.

When all our needs are met and all is going well in our lives, we are inclined to think we are carrying our own load. We earn our own money, buy our own food and clothes, pay for our own houses. Yet even the hardest-working person owes all that he earns to God’s provision (see Deut. 8:18). Our life, breath, health, possessions, talents, and opportunities all originate from resources that God has created and made available to man (see Acts 17:24–28). After scientists have made all their observations and calculations, there remains the unexplained element of the design, origin, and operation of the universe. It is unexplained, that is, apart from God, who holds it all together (Heb. 1:2–3).

God provided for man even before He created man. Man was God’s final creation, and after He made and blessed Adam and Eve He said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you” (Gen. 1:29). Since that time God has continued to provide an abundance of food for mankind, in almost unlimited variety.

Yet Paul tells us that “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, … and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:1, 3–5). The Word of God sanctifies it by way of creation, and we sanctify it when we receive it with grateful prayer.

Every physical thing we have comes from God’s provision through the earth. It is therefore the sin of indifference and ingratitude not to daily recognize His gifts in thankful prayer.

Supplication

Supplication is expressed in the word give. That is the heart of the petition, because it recognizes need. Even though God may already have provided it, we ask Him for it in recognition of His past and present provision as well as in trust for His future provision.

The only thing that could make Jesus’ instruction and our petitions valid is the promise of God. We could not expect God to give what He has not promised. We can pray confidently because God has promised abundantly. “Trust in the Lord, and do good,” David counsels us; “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. … Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; … But the humble will inherit the land, and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity” (Ps. 37:3–4, 10–11).

God does not bind Himself to meet the physical needs of everyone, but only of those who trust in Him. In Psalm 37 David is speaking to believers who “trust in the Lord” (v. 3), “delight … in the Lord” (v. 4), “commit [their] way to the Lord” (v. 5), “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (v. 7), “cease from anger,” and “do not fret” (v. 8). He says, “I have been young, and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread” (v. 25).

The Seekers

The us of Jesus’ model prayer are those who belong to Him. Speaking to believers, Paul wrote, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:10–11).

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29–30). God irrevocably commits Himself to meet the essential needs of His own.

The greatest cause of famine and its attendant diseases in the world is not poor agricultural practices or poor economic and political policies. Nor is the root problem lack of scientific and technological resources or even overpopulation. Those problems only aggravate the basic problem, which is spiritual. Only some fifteen percent of the arable land in the world is used for agriculture, and that for only half of the year. There is no major area of the world that with proper technology is not capable of supporting its own population and more.

Those parts of the world that have no Christian roots invariably place a low value on human life. The poverty in India, for example, may be laid at the feet of Hinduism, the pagan religion that spawned a host of other religions. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica and Eerdman’s Handbook to the World’s Religions, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism come from Hinduism. Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, and Taoism do not.

To the Hindu, man is but the incarnation of a soul on its way to moksha, a kind of “final emancipation,” during which trip he goes through countless, perhaps unending, cycles of reincarnation in both animal and human form. He works his way up to higher forms by good deeds and regresses to lower forms by sinning. Poverty, disease, and starvation are therefore seen as divine punishments for which the persons involved must do penance in order to be born into a higher form. To help a person in poverty or sickness is to interfere with his karma and therefore do him spiritual harm. (For a discussion of moksha, or mokṣa, see Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropaedia, VI, p. 972; for a more general discussion, see Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, vol. 8, pp. 888–908. Consult, also, Eerdman’s Handbook to World Religions [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982].)

All animals are considered to be incarnations either of men or deities. Cows are held to be especially sacred because they are incarnated deities-of which Hinduism has some 330 million. Cows not only are not to be eaten but add to the food problem by consuming 20 percent of India’s total food supply. Even rats and mice, which eat 15 percent of the food supply, are not killed because they might be one’s reincarnated relatives.

Just as paganism is the great plague of India, Africa, and many other parts of the world, Christianity has been the blessing of the West. Europe and the United States, though never fully Christian in any biblical sense, have been immeasurably blessed because of the Christian influence on political, social, and economic philosophy and policy. The great concerns for human rights, care for the poor, orphanages, hospitals, prison reform, racial and slave reform, and a host of other concerns did not come from paganism or humanism but from biblical Christianity. On the other hand, the current degraded view of human life reflected in the low view of the family and growing legal and social approval of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are the legacy of humanism and practical atheism.

Without a proper view of God there cannot be a proper view of man. Those who have a right view of God and also a right relationship to Him through Jesus Christ are promised the provision of their heavenly Father. “For this reason,” Jesus says, “I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? … For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 32–33).

God has sometimes provided for His children through miraculous means, but His primary way of provision is through work, for which He has given life, energy, resources, and opportunity. His primary way to care for those who cannot work is through the generosity of those who are able to work. Whether he does so directly or indirectly, God is always the source of our physical well-being. He makes the earth to produce what we need, and He gives us the ability to procure it.

The Schedule

The schedule of God’s provision for His children is daily. The meaning here is simply that of regular, day-by-day supply of our needs. We are to rely on the Lord one day at a time. He may give us vision for work He calls us to do in the future, but His provision for our needs is daily, not weekly, monthly, or yearly. To accept the Lord’s provision for the present day, without concern for our needs or welfare tomorrow, is a testimony of our contentment in His goodness and faithfulness.[4]


11 The last petitions explicitly request things for ourselves. The first is “bread,” a term used to cover all food (cf. Pr 30:8; Mk 3:20; Ac 6:1; 2 Th 3:12; Jas 2:15). Many early fathers thought it inappropriate to talk about physical food here and interpreted “bread” as a reference to the Lord’s Supper or to the Word of God. This depended in part on Jerome’s Latin rendering of epiousios (NIV, “daily,” GK 2157) as superstantialem: Give us today our “supersubstantial” bread—a rendering that may have depended in part on the influence of Marius Victorinus (cf. F. F. Bruce, “The Gospel Text of Marius Victorinus,” in Text and Interpretation [ed. Best and Wilson], 70). There is no linguistic justification for this translation. The bread is real food, and it may further suggest all that we need in the physical realm (Luther).

That does not mean that epiousios is easy to translate. The term appears only here and in Luke’s prayer (Lk 11:3); and the two possible extrabiblical references, which could support “daily,” have had grave doubt cast on them by Bruce M. Metzger (“How Many Times Does ἐπιούσιος Occur Outside the Lord’s Prayer?” ExpTim 69 [1957–58]: 52–54). P. Grelot (“La quatrième demande du ‘Pater’ et son arrièreplan sémitique,” NTS 25 [1978–79]: 299–314) has attempted to support the same translation (“daily”) by reconstructing an Aramaic original, but his article deals inadequately with the Greek text, and other Aramaic reconstructions are possible (e.g., Black, Aramaic Approach, 203–7).

The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds. It 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. Many have suggested a derivation from epi tēn ousan [namely, hēmeran] (“for today”) or hē epiousa hēmera (“for the coming day”), referring in the morning to the same day and at night to the next (for hēmera[n], see GK 2465). This meaning is almost certainly right, but it is better supported by deriving the word from the feminine participle epiousa, already well established with the sense of “immediately following” by the time the NT was written. Whatever the etymological problems, this makes sense of Luke 11:3, where “each day” is part of the text: “Give us each day our bread for the coming day.” Equally it makes sense in Matthew, where “today” displaces “each day”: “Give us today our bread for the coming day.” This may sound redundant to Western readers, but it is a precious and urgent petition to those who live from hand to mouth.

Some derive epiousios (“daily”) from the verb epienai, referring not to the future, still less to the food of the messianic banquet (contra Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 100–102), but to the bread that belongs to it, i.e., that is necessary and sufficient for it (cf. R. Ten Kate, “Geef ons heden ons ‘dagelijks’ brood,” Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 32 [1978]: 125–39; with similar conclusions but by a different route, H. Bourgoin, “ʼΕπιούσιος expliqué par la notion de préfixe vide,” Bib 60 [1979]: 91–96; and for literature, BDAG, 376–77; Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 74–75). This has the considerable merit of meshing well with both “today” and “each day” (Matthew and Luke respectively), and in Matthew’s case it may be loosely rendered “Give us today the food we need.” But the derivation is linguistically artificial (cf. Colin Hemer, “ʼΕπιούσιος, JSNT 22 [1984]: 81–94).

The idea of God “giving” the food in no way diminishes responsibility to work (see comments at vv. 25–34) but presupposes not only that Jesus’ disciples live one day at a time (cf. v. 34) but that all good things, even our ability to work and earn our food, come from God’s hand (cf. Dt 8:18; 1 Co 4:7; Jas 1:17). It is a lesson easily forgotten when wealth multiplies and absolute self-sufficiency is portrayed as a virtue.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 155). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1224). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 332–334). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 387–391). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 205–206). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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