A. The Exhortation – 6:1
B. The Examples – 6:2-18
The first example to which Jesus appealed was giving (vv. 2-4). We now turn to the second: praying (vv. 5-15).
1. the warning – v. 5a
It really isn’t prayer that they love, but themselves and the opportunity that public prayer gives them for self-adulation. Jesus mentions the synagogue and street corner as their favorite locations. Why? a) The synagogue service was led by one man who prayed publicly in front of all. The temptation was to pray to the people rather than to God through the use of cliches, appropriately timed sentiments, sonorous tones, pious platitudes, well-pitched and well-timed fervency. Jesus has in mind the kind of prayer which is designed to have more of an effect on the audience than on God. b) Prayer in the streets often occurred if a person planned it that way: at 9:00 a.m. when the morning burnt offering was made, again at mid-day when the afternoon sacrifice was offered, and at sunset when the Temple gates were closed. Loud trumpets were sounded from the Temple to signal the afternoon prayer. If a person timed it just right, the trumpet would call would find him/her on the busiest street corner in town, providing the individual with an excellent opportunity to parade his/her piety for all to see.
2. the guarantee – v. 5b
Remember: there is no reward from God for those who seek it from men.
3. the exhortation –v. 6a
Jesus is not prohibiting public prayer. He himself prayed in public (John 11:38-44), as did the early church (Acts 1:24; 3:1; 4:24-30; 1 Tim. 2:8). But be careful. Even here hypocrisy can raise its ugly head. God knows how prone we are to take advantage of the situation in order to impress others with our eloquence and passion. Jesus’ recommendation of privacy was to provide us with an alternative to ostentatious and self-seeking prayer. When purified of selfish designs and focused on the glory of God, public prayer would certainly have met with his approval.
4. the promise –v. 6b
The Lord’s Prayer – 6:7-15
We begin with several important observations.
· First of all, the prayer may properly be called “the Lord’s Prayer” only in the sense that he is its source. Jesus authored the prayer on behalf of his disciples, not himself. The one in whom no sin exists does not need to pray, “forgive us our debts.” And although Jesus is in one sense our “brother” (Heb. 2:11-13), it is also true that God is “Father” to him in a way that he is not “Father” to us. In the light of what we know about his divine sonship would it not be inappropriate for Jesus to join with us in saying, “our Father in heaven”?
· The question has been asked whether this prayer should be used in corporate worship. As noted above, there is nothing wrong with praying in public. But the form and content of this prayer may make it inappropriate for corporate use. Jesus evidently intended this prayer to be something of an outline or sketch of the principal themes that should occupy us when we pray. Our prayers are to be concerned with the glory of God’s name, the advance of his kingdom, and the implementation of his will. But that does not mean that in praying for such things we need only to repeat those three brief utterances. The petition “your kingdom come,” for example, is something of a topic statement. It provides us with a general theme for our prayers but hardly with all the particulars. Jesus was saying: “When you pray, make the kingdom of God one of your primary concerns; it is one of the central issues to which you should devote yourselves in prayer.” Thus, if we do employ this prayer in corporate settings we must guard ourselves from thinking that repetition of it in unison with other believers exhausts our responsibility.
· Some reject the use of this prayer both in private and public, finding it inconsistent with Christian truth. For example, Nigel Turner writes,
“The Lord’s Prayer is not a prayer for Christians, but one which any good Pharisee might use, and is no more consistent with Christian truth about the Father, revealed in Jesus and re-interpreted by the apostles, than the advice of Jesus to the rich young man to win eternal life by means of good works is consistent with St. Paul’s exposition of justification by faith” (Grammatical Insights into the New Testament, 162).
· The structure of this prayer is also of importance. It is made up of six clearly defined petitions, three relating to God and three relating to us. The first three relate to God’s name, reign, and will; or again, they relate to sanctification, sovereignty, and submission. The first petition conceives of God as our Father, the second of God as our King, and the third of God as our Master. The second set of three petitions concerns our bread, our debts, and our enemy; or again, we are to pray for provision, pardon, and protection. Some even see a Trinitarian element in the last three petitions. It is the Father who provides us with our daily bread, the Son who forgives us our debts by virtue of his redemptive sacrifice, and the Spirit who delivers us from the onslaught of temptation and evil.
· Surely, though, the primary focus of the prayer is not man but God. It is no accident that we begin with God and his name, his power, his purpose. See Mt. 6:33. This does not mean that we are to neglect the final three petitions. Stott reminds us that,
“a true understanding of the God we pray to, as heavenly Father and great King, although putting our personal needs into a second and subsidiary place, will not eliminate them. To decline to mention them at all in prayer (on the ground that we do not want to bother God with such trivialities) is as great an error as to allow them to dominate our prayers” (148).
· In vv. 7-8 we are told not to babble on with meaningless and repetitious phrases, as if God were impressed by such mindless verbosity. The reason is that God knows what we need before we ask him. But if God knows all our problems and needs before we ask, why ask at all? We must remember that, generally speaking, God has determined not to fulfill our needs unless we ask him to. Principle: we must not presume that God will provide for us apart from our prayers what he has ordained to provide for us only through our prayers. Our petitions are the means by which God has purposed to give us what he already knows we need. There is something important to God about our asking him for things he knows we need. It would seem, on the surface, to be quicker and more efficient, and obviously less strenuous on all concerned, if God were simply to bypass prayer and get on with the giving! But that is not his way. He finds particular honor and glory in being the One to whom we must humbly come to receive that which we need.
· A related issue is found in the question: “What can I possibly tell a God who knows everything?” Some answer: “Nothing.” Jesus answers: “Anything!” The doctrine of divine omniscience compels us to be totally honest with God in prayer. When dealing with someone whose knowledge of you is limited, you can pretend, manipulate, deceive, even lie. In other words, ignorance often generates hypocrisy. Omniscience, on the other hand, demands honesty. What good is it to pretend or play-act with someone who already knows your heart and motivation? Thus, we need never worry about finding ourselves in a desperate condition and discover that God was caught short. “It is as silly as asking for bananas in a hardware store,” says Bingham Hunter, “to ask God for something he doesn’t have. Because your Heavenly Father knows before you ask, he never gets surprised by your request and finds it necessary to send you a form letter saying your answer is back-ordered. He already has everything you will ever need. If God does not answer your petition, it is not because what you asked for is out of stock” (The God Who Hears, 41-42). Augustine once said, “God does not ask us to tell him our needs that he may learn about them, but in order that we may be capable of receiving what he is preparing to give.”
· Is our Lord’s denunciation of repetitious prayer in Mt. 6:7 a contradiction of his exhortation that we pray without ceasing and that we persevere in bringing our petitions to God (as, for example, in Luke 18:1ff.)? Carson replies: “In the particular example before us, if we absolutize Matthew 6:7 [babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words], the logical conclusion is that followers of Jesus must never pray at length, and seldom if ever ask for anything since God knows their needs anyway. If instead we absolutize Luke 18:1-8, we will reason that if we are serious with God we will not only pray at length, but we may expect the blessings we receive to be proportionate to our loquacity. However, if we listen to both passages with a little more sensitivity, we discover that Matthew 6:7f. is really not concerned with the length of prayers, but with the attitude of heart which thinks it is heard for its many words. Likewise, we find that Luke 18:1-8 is less concerned with mere length of prayers than with overcoming the quitting tendency among certain of Christ’s followers. These Christians, finding themselves under pressure, are often in danger of throwing in the towel. But they must not give up” (60-61). According to Calvin, Jesus does not “forbid us to persist in prayers, long, often, or with much feeling, but requires that we should not be confident in our ability to wrest something from God by beating upon his ears with a garrulous flow of talk, as if he could be persuaded as men are” (Institutes, III.xx.29).
· Finally, we take note of the preface to the prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Here we find what appear to be two mutually exclusive ideas. On the one hand, the One to whom we pray is “in heaven”, i.e., transcendent, lofty, far above all earthly circumstance. But this God is also “our Father.” He is not simply “God”, but our “Father,” Abba. He is both powerful and passionate, both transcendent and immanent, both lofty and loving.
The first three petitions
1. Hallowed be Thy name
The verb translated “hallowed” means, literally, “to sanctify” or “to acknowledge as holy.” I. Howard Marshall suggests that the form of the verb indicates that it is God, not you and I, who is the author of the action implied. In other words, “the prayer is for God to act in such a way as to lead to the hallowing of his name by men. . . . God is petitioned to bring about a situation in which men will reverence and worship him instead of blaspheming him or sinning against him” (Commentary on The Gospel of Luke, 457). Calvin contends that the petition is thus directed to this end, “that all impiety which has besmirched this holy name may perish and be wiped out; that all detractions and mockeries which dim this hallowing or diminish it may be banished; and that in silencing all sacrileges, God may shine forth more and more in his majesty” (Institutes, III.xx.41). Carson comments:
“[The petition] is framed not so much in terms of what must happen to us for the prayer to be fulfilled, as in terms of the goal itself. The highest goal is not that we be made holy; the highest goal is rather that God’s name be hallowed. This removes man from the center of the picture, and gives that place to God alone. Man --- even transformed man --- is not the chief goal of this universe. Man’s chief raison d’etre is indeed, as the theologians have told us, to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (65).
2. Thy kingdom come
The kingdom of God is both a present (fulfilled) and future (consummated) reality. It is, says George Ladd, “the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men” (The Presence of the Future, 218). He continues:
“This kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign. The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history” (218).
To pray for the coming of God’s kingdom is to pray for two things. We are to pray for the ever-increasing expansion of God’s redemptive rule in the hearts of men and women now, bringing them forgiveness and salvation. But it also means that we are to pray for the return of Christ and the consummation of God’s eternal purpose. In other words, “to pray that his kingdom ‘come’ is to pray both that it may grow, as through the church’s witness people submit to Jesus, and that soon it will be consummated when Jesus returns in glory to take his power and reign” (Stott, 147).
3. Thy will be done
This is God’s preceptive will. God’s decretive will is what he purposed and ordained to occur from eternity past. The latter can neither be known in advance, unless revealed by God in Scripture or by prophetic insight, or thwarted. God’s preceptive will, on the other hand, consists of his precepts, commandments, prohibitions, etc. that we find in Scripture and are obligated to obey. It is to be our prayer, says Jesus, that what God has declared should happen, does happen. Also, “if my heart hunger is that God’s will be done,” says Carson, “then praying this prayer is also my pledge that, so help me God, by his grace I will do his will, as much as I know it!” (67).
As for the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven,” there are three options. Jesus may be teaching us to pray “(1) that God’s desires for righteousness will be as fully accomplished now on the earth as they are now accomplished in heaven; (2) that God’s desires for righteousness may ultimately be as fully accomplished on the earth as they are now accomplished in heaven – i.e., this phrase is analogous to ‘Your kingdom come’; (3) that God’s desires for righteousness may ultimately be accomplished on the earth in the same way that they are accomplished in heaven – that is, without reference to contrasting evil, but purely” (Carson, 67).
The last three petitions
4. Give us this day our daily bread
The word “daily” is found in the NT only here and in Luke 11:3. Most believe it means that we are to petition God for whatever food and other physical needs are necessary for the coming day. But we who live in an age of grocery stores and refrigeration are inclined to take our daily bread for granted. In Jesus’ day, however, many people purchased one day’s food at a time, never quite sure if tomorrow’s supply would run short.
Stott reminds us that this petition does not deny that
“most people have to earn their own living, that farmers have to plough, sow and reap to provide basic cereals or that we are commanded to feed the hungry ourselves. Instead it is an expression of ultimate dependence on God who normally uses human means of production and distribution through which to fulfill his purposes” (149).
Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ comments here are worthy of careful consideration:
“Is there not something extraordinary and wonderful about the connection between this request and the previous requests? Is not this one of the most wonderful things in the whole of Scripture, that the God who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the God who is forming his eternal kingdom and who will usher it in at the end, the God to whom the nations are but as ‘the small dust of the balance’ – that such a God should be prepared to consider your little needs and mine even down to the minutest details in this matter of daily bread! But that is the teaching of the Lord everywhere. He tells us that even a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without our Father, and that we are of much greater value than many sparrows. He says that ‘the very hairs on your head are all numbered.’ If only we could grasp this fact that the almighty Lord of the universe is interested in every part and portion of us! There is not a hair of my head that he is not concerned about, and the smallest and most trivial details in my life are known to him on his everlasting throne. This is something you find only in Scripture. You go straight from ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,’ to ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ But that is the way of God, ‘the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy’; who nevertheless, as Isaiah tells us, dwells with him also ‘that is of a contrite and humble spirit.’ That is the whole miracle of redemption; that is the whole meaning of the incarnation which tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ takes hold of us here on earth and links us with the almighty God of glory. The kingdom of God, and my daily bread!” (2:70).
One more comment: the petition is for daily “bread”, not cake! God has promised to supply us with the necessities of life, not the luxuries (although we rejoice when he throws in a few of the latter as well!).
5. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors
Of the six petitions in this prayer, this one alone is blessed with an extended commentary. At the close of the prayer Jesus returns in vv. 14-15 with additional explanation. What does this petition mean? Some have tried to restrict its relevance to the OT, but salvation preceding the cross was no more conditioned upon obedience than it is now. Salvation always has been and always be by faith alone. Furthermore, this prayer is given to and is meant to be prayed by believers. It is our heavenly Father to whom we pray. This is not the prayer of a lost sinner seeking eternal pardon. The forgiveness in view here is not that initial remission of sins that inaugurates the Christian life. Jesus is not referring to that once-for-all forgiveness that constitutes the flip-side of justification, for which we pray but once. Rather, this prayer for forgiveness is one of confession on the part of a child who seeks from his/her heavenly Father, not the creation, but the restoration of communion. The goal of this prayer is not salvation but the renewal of its joy and power and the spiritually reinvigorating experience of comfort and consolation.
We see this principle in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt. 18:23-35) where a man expects forgiveness as a matter of course but refuses to extend similar mercy to those in his debt. The point was that “God forgives only the penitent and that one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit. Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling” (Stott, 149-50). In other words, how can I expect God to do mercifully for me what I callously refuse to do for my brother?
6. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil
How do we reconcile the notion of God leading us into temptation with what James wrote: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (1:13).
If we interpret the word “temptation” to mean a trial or test to which our faith is often subjected, we must acknowledge that God does indeed lead us into such an experience (see 1 Cor. 10:13; James 1:2-4; consider the experience of Abraham). And are we to pray for escape from those tests which James said we are to consider “pure joy” (1:2), tests that the Lord employs to cultivate in us perseverance, proven character, and hope (Rom. 5:1-5; 1 Pt. 1:6-7).
The way to interpret this petition is by addressing both parts: not only the “lead us not into temptation” but also the “deliver us from evil.” The strong adversative “but” implies that what we desire in the second half of the verse is the antithesis to what we seek to evade in the first half. In other words, rather than leading us into temptation we ask God to deliver us from evil. The second half of the petition defines positively what the first half states negatively. The temptation into which we ask God not to lead us is synonymous with “the evil one” (the definite article is present) from whom we desire to be delivered.
Carson suggests that perhaps this is an example of litotes, in which a point is made by negating its contrary. He writes:
“’Into temptation’ is negated: Lead us, not into temptation, but away from it, into righteousness, into situations where, far from being tempted, we will be protected and therefore kept righteous. As the second clause of this petition expresses it, we will then be delivered from the evil one” (70).
Another possibility is suggested by Robert Stein. He believes that behind the words “lead us not” is an Aramaic expression which “rather than asking God not to lead the Christian into temptation, is asking him not to allow him to succumb to temptation” (Difficult Passages in the Gospels, 73). Thus, whereas Stein takes the word “temptation” in its negative sense, he understands the petition to be a request that God enable us to resist it when it comes. “Let us not succumb to temptation,” therefore, is the preferable way of interpreting the prayer. Stein also believes that this interpretation of the expression is compatible with the second half of the request:
“In both petitions the believer is seeking God’s aid in times of trial and the request is made for divine deliverance from trial or evil. If it is understood as a request that God not permit the believer to succumb to temptation, this petition in the Lord’s prayer no longer poses any difficulty” (73-74).
Although it is doubtful that the original text of the Lord’s Prayer ends with the words, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen,” it is certainly theologically appropriate.