The Lord’s Prayer
A Primer For Prayer
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., a regular contributor to FOCUS resides in. Dallas, Texas. A gifted expositor of the Word, he is a teaching elder at Believers Chapel in Dallas.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:9-13
There are many prayers of the saints recorded in the Word of God. We have those of Paul, and we have even more from that great Old Testament prayer warrior, King David. We have the prayers of Moses, of Daniel, of Elijah, and of others. And, of course, we have our Lord’s great high-priestly petition in John 17, together with others of His. It is doubtful, however, that there is any prayer in all of the Bible that is more misunderstood, insofar as its interpretation is concerned, than the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew six. In the first place, it is a definitely Messianic prayer, being a petition for the coming of the world-wide earthly kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be introduced at His Second Advent. In the light of the biblical force of the term kingdom in previous revelation to this point, that must be the meaning of the brief petition, “Thy kingdom come” (cf. Matt. 6:10).
In the second place, it is clear from the words introducing the prayer, “After this manner, therefore, pray ye,” that the Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, a pattern for prayer. While there is nothing wrong in making this prayer a regular congregational prayer, provided its historical meaning is fully understood, and provided it is prayed in sincerity, it does seem a little strange that we should have made it a prayer to be repeated in our congregational meetings every Lord’s Day, since the Lord has just admonished the disciples in these words, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” (v. 7)! If the use of the Lord’s Prayer in congregational worship has become ritualistic, its use should be abandoned. And, further, its model character must be remembered; there are other prayers that are acceptable prayers in our meetings.
The tendency of repetitious prayers to become meaningless is illustrated by a wager two men once made. One of them bet the other that he could repeat the Lord’s Prayer without a mistake. The other took him up on the bet and, after the terms had been arranged and completed, the recitation began, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I awake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.” The other, listening intently until he had finished, said, “Well, here’s your money. I sure didn’t think you could say it!”
In one sense the prayer may have been misnamed. It is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, largely because He is its author. That, however, seems to be the only sense in which it is His. It may just as well be called the Disciple’s Model Prayer. It certainly is not the Lord’s Prayer because He prayed it. My good friend Dr. J. Vernon McGee calls it, “The Prayer Our Lord Did Not Pray,” underlying the fact that it is a pattern for prayer. In fact, in the light of verse twelve, it is a prayer our Lord could not pray. It is a prayer He gave His disciples to pray, but it is once that He could not pray since He is the divine Son of God. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer used to tell his students that the true Lord’s Prayer was the great high-priestly prayer which our Lord prayed before His crucifixion, and which is recorded in John seventeen. That is a beautiful and significant prayer, but Dr. Chafer’s suggestion is fruitless, for the model prayer of Matthew six is too deeply ingrained in the Christian terminology for it to be changed. We will have to live with it.
There is one other point we must bear in mind before we turn to an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that was given to guide the disciples of the King during the period of time when the King was present and offering His royal empire to the theocratic nation, Israel, according to the Old Testament promises (cf. Romans 15:7-13). That is borne out by the immediately preceding verses, as well as by its content. It has, of course, important implications for us in this age by way of application. We shall seek to point them out in the exposition.
The Petitions For God’s Glory
The prayer for sanctification (6:9). The first three of the petitions have to do with God and the glory of God, while the second part of the prayer has to do with man and his need.
The emphasis of the first petition revolves around the word Father, which some have said is a compact summary of the entire Christian faith. It is a word that, for the Christian, is the right answer to Lessing’s query, “Is this a friendly universe?” It settles our relationship to the visible and the invisible worlds. The expression, “our Father,” makes this a prayer of disciples, and it reminds us of the directions in prayer that Jesus gave later, such as, “Whatever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23).
The additional words, “who art in heaven,” remind us of the infinite distance between the natures of the Father and the Son, for it suggests His holiness, His separation from the sinners of this world (cf. Heb. 7:26).
The petition itself, “Hallowed be thy name,” is an extremely important one. The word to hallow means simply to sanctify, that is, to regard as different, to set apart. And the word, “name,” referred to the nature, or the character, of a person. It does not refer simply to the word by which a person is identified or called (cf. Psa. 9:10; 20:7). The petition, then, means that the nature and character of God are to be given the unique place that they deserve in the thoughts and minds of the intelligent beings of God’s universe. A full exposition of the meaning of the petition would demand a full review of the attributes and works of the Father. A study of the names and titles of God would be most helpful in elucidating this petition.
The prayer for sovereignty (6:10a). The second petition is for the coming of the Messianic Kingdom, the kingdom promised in the Scriptures. It is important to notice that the Lord does not redefine the term kingdom. That means we are to give it its common Old Testament force, that of the Messianic kingdom. Further, it could not be a reference to the eternal kingdom of God, His rule in the hearts of men throughout the ages, for that is always present. What our Lord refers to is that referred to by John the Baptist, when he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (cf. 3:2; 4:17). Its historical coming is future to us, and John the Apostle refers to that coming when he writes in the Revelation of the sounding of the seventh trumpet of judgment, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” .(Rev. 11:15).
In the light of this, how ludicrous is the use of the Lord’s Prayer as a liturgical exercise by unbelieving professing Christians in our churches! And how pathetic that they are not taught the meaning of their petitions by their ministers. An example of this failure to understand is seen in Professor William Barclay’s contention that the next statement of our Lord, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” is a petition parallel with “Thy kingdom come” and means the same thing.
The tense of the verb translated, “come,” is aorist in Greek, and this suggests that the coming is a definite event, which is in harmony with the view that the Lord is speaking of the Second Advent and the divine inauguration of the kingdom of God (cf. Dan. 2:1-45).
The prayer for submission (6:10b). The final petition of the first part of the prayer has to do with the will of God. There are two wills in theological thinking, God’s decretive will and His preceptive will. His decretive will has to do with His decree by which He determines all that is going to come to pass. Daniel refers to His decretive will when he writes, giving the enlightened words of Nebuchadnezzar, “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and HE DOETH ACCORDING TO HIS WILL in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35). Paul refers to the decretive will when he writes that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own WILL” (Eph. 1:11). There is no way that men can frustrate the accomplishment of God’s decretive will. He is a sovereign God.
His preceptive will is that which pleases Him, and His preceptive will is recorded for us in Holy Scripture in its account of the things that please and displease our Father.
In the light of this it is evident that the petition has to do with the preceptive will of God. By it we pray that God may hasten the day of the advent and the consequent kingdom, in which the citizens shall obey the will of the Ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a prayer that righteousness and peace may come to this troubled globe, and it is a prayer that it may come accompanied by the joy and submission of the disciples of the King. A man may utter the words, “Thy will be done,” in a mood of bitterness and rebellion, but that is not the spirit of this petition. “Swineburne,” Barclay comments, “spoke of men feeling the trampling of the iron feet of God. He speaks of the supreme evil, God. Beethoven died all alone; and it is ‘said’ that when they found his body his lips were drawn back in a snarl and his fists clenched as if he were shaking his fists in the very face of God and of high heaven. A man may feel that God is his enemy, and yet an enemy so strong that he cannot resist. He may therefore accept God’s will, but he may accept it with bitter resentment and smouldering anger.”1 It should be evident that this is not the spirit of this petition.
To sum up this opening part of the prayer, there is a request, made to the Father, that His Name be given its rightful place in the hearts of men and angels, that His Kingdom come, with its submission of men’s wills to His one perfect will. What wonderful and encouraging petitions! And especially encouraging is our Lord’s affirmation of the Fatherhood of our great God, a fatherhood over the spirits of those who belong to the family of faith. And how wonderful to realize that our Father is also the sovereign God, separate from us in His holiness and in His omnipotence. I am reminded of a story of a man who was offering a lengthy prayer to God, but going all around Robin Hood’s barn in expressing his requests. Finally, an elderly female saint, exasperated at his failure to come to the point, called out, “Call Him ‘Father,’ and ask Him for something!” That’s not a bad practice at all, and in the light of the character of our God, we’re sure we’ll have an answer.
The Petitions For Man’s Need
The prayer for provision (6:11). If the emphasis in the first set of petitions is upon the Father, the emphasis in the second set is upon the family. And the first of the second set is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Someone has said, “It is “daily bread’, not daily cake,” and it is true that this promise is not that we shall have the luxuries of life, but that we shall have the necessities of life. The Apostle Paul refers to this when he writes the Philippians and says, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19). The God who met Elijah’s needs through the ravens (cf. 1 Kings 17:6), and then through the widow (cf. 17:16) supplies the needs of His people, although by means opposed to human reason upon occasion.
There is a very delightful story concerning God’s provision for one of John Wesley’s friends. One of his associates, Samuel Bradburn, was a very fine preacher, an excellent man, and highly esteemed for his work. At one time when he was in desperate need, Wesley sent him a five pound sterling note, with the following letter: “Dear Sammy: ‘Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.’ Yours affectionately, John Wesley.” Bradburn promptly replied: “Rev. and Dear Sir: I have often been struck with the beauty of the passage of Scripture quoted in your letter, but I must confess that I never saw such useful expository notes on it before. I am, Reverend and Dear Sir, your obedient and grateful servant, S. Bradburn.”
The word translated “daily” was until recently of doubtful meaning. Until just a short time ago, there was no other occurence of this word in the whole Greek literature, so far as we knew. Not very long ago, however, it turned up on a papyrus fragment, which was a woman’s shopping list. And against an item on the list was the word epiousios, the word found here. It was a note to remind her to buy supplies of a certain food for the coming day. Thus, the text means, “Give me what I need for this coming day,” and the implication is that that is just what God will do.
The prayer for pardon (6:12). The first petition of this second section of the prayer had to do with the present and the Father. This one has to do with the past and the Son. “Give” is followed by “forgive,” it has been said.2
The petition has raised a question due to the apparent conditional nature of the petition. The solution suggested by the notes in the New Scofield Reference Edition of the Authorized Version is generally acceptable, it seems to me. The note reads, “The problem raised by the conditional nature of this petition for forgiveness may be explained as follows: In the fully developed doctrine of Christian salvation there are two areas of divine forgiveness. The first area is that of the forgiveness that comes to the sinner at the time of justification, and deals with the guilt of his sins in a total sense (Eph. 1:7). To this forgiveness there is attached but one condition, i.e. to receive it once for all by faith in Christ (Rom. 4:5-8). The second area of forgiveness covers the relation of the divine Father to those who have become His children and deals specifically with the matter of fellowship whenever it is broken by sin. To obtain such forgiveness we must confess and forsake the sin (1 Jn. 1:9; cp. Ps. 66:18 and Prov. 28:13). The forgiveness mentioned here in verse 12 belongs in this second area, because it occurs in a prayer given to disciples of Christ (5:2) who could call upon God as their Father (6:9, 26). The ultimate motive for forgiving our debtors is based upon the grace of God, and appears later in the progress of revelation (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).”3 In other words the text has to do with paternal forgiveness, not judicial forgiveness (cf Acts 10:43).
The prayer for protection (6:13). This petition has to do with the future, and perhaps with the Spirit of God since guidance is mentioned. The word translated “temptation” really means trial, or testing. It is a request to be delivered from testing. In addition, the word translated “evil” is probably masculine in gender instead of neuter (the forms in the original language are the same) and, thus, it should be rendered, The Evil One. The reference is to Satan.
The petition, then, is a request that one not be brought into testing, and particularly into that which concerns Satan. No Christian should desire to be tested by the power of evil, although it often falls his lot to experience it. One of the famous incidents of testing is described in Genesis 22:1, where we read, “And it came to pass that God did tempt (the word is really test in the original text) Abraham.” Cf. Matt. 3:1.
Fortunately for us the Apostle Paul has something very comforting to say about testing in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation (the same word as is that found in Matt. 6:13) taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make the way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” That is very comforting for saints who are experiencing the fiery darts of the Evil One, as well as the other types of trials that come upon mortals.
The Apostle also speaks of a specific case of deliverance in his swan song, 2 Timothy, for he writes, “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, that by me, the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord SHALL DELIVER ME FROM EVERY EVIL WORK, and WILL PRESERVE ME until his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (4:17-18).
There are two simple lessons that stand out in this model prayer. In the first place, it is a prayer characterized by brevity and shortness. It is not one full of “vain repetitions” (cf. v. 7). In fact, it can be recited in a matter of seconds.
And, second, its fitness is impressive. The interests of God come first, and the interests of man come second, which is as it always should be. In a moment the idea will be expressed specifically, for we shall soon read, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (6:33).
1 Barclay, I, 213-14.
2 Plummer, p. 101.
3 The New Scofield Reference Bible, PP. 1000-1.