Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

61. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:1-4)*

It was the Lord’s own prayer in more senses than one. In Gethsemane, in his hour of greatest need, its phrases were on his lips and its petitions fervently spoken: “Abba, Father...Thy will be done” (Mk. 14:36), and to his disciples: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (14:38). Only a little while earlier in his high-priestly prayer the simple meaningful phrases were echoed: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil...sanctify them through thy Truth...Holy father, keep in thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (Jn. 17:15, 17).

But it could never be completely his own prayer. “Forgive me my trespasses” was a petition never spoken by him. Instead: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”

It is almost to be expected that Jesus would derive his Prayer from the Old Testament. In fact, the problem here is why there are some phrases which are not already made familiar by the Old Testament.

Our Father
Dt. 1:31; Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1; lsa. 63:16.
Which art in heaven
1 Kgs 8 (8 times); Ps. 115:1, 3.
Hallowed be Thy Name

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth as in heaven
Dt. 11:21; Ps. 103:20.
Daily bread
Pr. 30:8; Ex. 16:16.
Forgive us our trepasses As we forgive
1 Sam. 26:34.
Lead us not into temptation Deliver us from evil
1 Sam. 26:24; Pr. 2:12.
Thine is the kingdom etc.
1 Chr. 29:11; Dan. 4:30, 34.

Two considerations suggest that Luke’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer is the true origination of it:
  1. “It came to pass that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples (who was it?) said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Lk. 11:1).
  2. The shape of Matthew 6, where v. 7-15 clearly forms a parenthesis interrupting the tidy structure of v. 1-18.
The Ten Commandments were also given twice.

A Prayer used by Paul

It was Paul’s prayer also. The man who prayed as he wrote could hardly help but employ these phrases already familiar in the early church. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Gal. 1:4, 5).

Here three, perhaps four, allusions to the Lord’s Prayer cluster together, to be followed soon offer by “Abba, Father” (4:6), the cry of God’s adopted sons. And similarly in the last thing Paul wrote: “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Tim. 4:18). It is hardly possible to believe that Paul was not adapting the familiar well-loved words when he wrote this.

In Col. 1:9-16 also Paul’s mind seems to have been running on the Lord’s Prayer: “pray...his will...the might of his glory...the Father...delivered us from the power of darkness... into the kingdom...the forgiveness of sins... in heaven and in earth.”

Abuse and Neglect

Here, then, is apostolic evidence, which early church history confirms, that from primitive times the Lord’s Prayer became an integral part of Christian devotion. The early church taught this prayer to converts who had been carefully instructed and were now ready for baptism. The contrast with more modern times when little children -- and not only little children -- have been taught to gabble the words in meaningless unintelligent fashion morning offer morning, could hardly be greater - unless one excepts the phenomenal neglect of the Lord’s Prayer by Christadelphian congregations. No doubt this, traditional abstention began as a sharp w reaction to the gross abuse of precious holy words, but it is a matter of question whether perhaps the reaction has itself created a problem of a different sort.

“For the sake of Jesus Christ”

“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn. 14:13). The words have often been interpreted as a requirement that every prayer uttered by a child of God must include the words “for the sake of Jesus Christ”, or their
equivalent. Indeed some go so far as to deem it necessary to include such words at the very beginning of every prayer. To such the Lord’s Prayer presents a problem. Surely it is not outmoded by the fact that, being taught to the disciples before Jesus died, it could not include allusion to his mediatorial work? Such an unconvincing view carries its own limitations on the surface.

The fact is that the routine mention of the name of Jesus in every prayer is by no means necessary. The idea has sprung from a misunderstanding of the expression “in my name”. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (Jn. 15:7). These words interpret the others. It is impossible for any true disciple to pray to God other than “in the name” of Jesus, whether the actual name be employed or not. When the apostles prayed for guidance in the choice of a successor for Judas, the name of Jesus was not specifically used. And Stephen’s prayer: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” was another which only tacitly recognized the unceasing mediatorial work of Jesus.

The beginning of the Prayer- “Our Father” - itself carries with it the clear implication that this sublime relationship has been established through the unique work of Jesus. When the Jewish leaders, in controversy with Jesus, boldly asserted: “We have one Father, even God”, the Lord’s retort was: “If God were your Father, ye would love me” (Jn. 8:42). The two facts are not to be separated. Those who love Christ have God for their Father. Those who know God to be their Father know also that their adoption is only through Christ, and that apart from his sacrifice there could be no acceptance.

This thought is implicit even in the brevity of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The prayer: “God be propitiated to me, the sinner” (Lk. 18:13), clearly implies an understanding of the need for propitiatory sacrifice offered specifically for the one who prays. All this is wrapped up also in the words: “Our Father...forgive us our sins.”

Pattern or Example?

Did Jesus frame his prayer as an example, or is it to be used as given? The introductory phrase: “After this manner pray ye” simply means “Thus”, and might refer either to its form or to the very words. The examples cited from the epistles of Paul imply the validity of either use. Certainly Paul sometimes made use of the exact words, but he also varied the phrases and the order of them. It seems a pity that the formal recitation of the Lord’s Prayer should be shunned just because of abuse by others. “A king who draws up the petition which he allows to be presented to himself, has doubtless the fullest determination to grant the request.” Provided this comparison is not taken in too rigid a fashion, its point is a good one.

“Our Father”

The address to God as “Father” immediately implies a close relationship and a confident approach - a true mean between the formalism of early Victorian days when sons addressed their parent as “Sirl” and the sloppy familiarity of the moderns with whom “Old dad” and “Pop” are some of the more respectful soubriquets. But “Our Father which art in heaven” properly preserves the balance between a confident close relationship and a sense of awe at the majesty of God. The words are an appropriate reminder to the child of God as he prays, and also a needful acknowledgement, that “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth.” There is confidence in a God who, being in heaven, is All-Good. There is also respect because He, being in heaven, is the omnipotent Maker of all. Both are necessary.

In the Old Testament God is not infrequently spoken of as the Father of the nation or Israel (lsa. 1:2; 63:16; Mal. 1:6), but only in the sublime Psalm 103 is there any real approach to the close confident relationship Jesus taught: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him” (v. 13).

Corresponding to that plural – “children” - there is the uniform use of the plural pronoun in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father” does not mean “Father of man and wife praying together” (though indeed the prayer could well be used thus), nor does it imply “Jesus and the individual disciple.” It must signify “Father of my brethren and me.” Before the throne of God especially the redeemed are a family with deep concern for one another as much as for themselves. Job prayed for his friends, and so found healing for himself (42:10). “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).

There is necessarily a difference between the way in which disciples pray “Our Father” and the way in which Jesus prayed “Holy Father.” Time and again he spoke of “my Father”, “my heavenly Father” but never of “our Father”. It is a distinction which needs no explaining - except by Unitarians and Trinitarians. Specially pointed was his word to Mary Magdalene: “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend onto my Father, and your Father” (Jn. 20:17). Such details quietly forbid approach to God through “our elder brother”. That Jesus does stand in this wonderful personal relationship to his disciple is a fact to be recognized with unremitting thankfulness, but it is a thing for him to insist on in his priestly mediation, rather than for his brethren to assert out of their status of undeserved privilege.

Personal petitions

It would be a mistake to infer from the plural pronouns in this pattern prayer that the Lord would have his people exclude petitions on all matters of personal concern. From the very nature of things a pattern prayer for general use could hardly cover such items. But there are examples enough in Scripture of men of God taking their own personal problems and difficulties to the throne of God’s grace with confidence. Paul prayed concerning his thorn in the flesh. Even though the answer was not the one he sought, there was evidently no doubt in his mind that it should be prayed about. Abraham interceded for Lot in Sodom, David for his sick baby son, Hezekiah for himself at death’s door.


All such emergencies are right and proper subjects for heartfelt sustained petitions to the Father, provided always that the motive is right. If self- interest dictates the plea, it were better not spoken. David and Hezekiah both provide examples of the best possible attitudes. Psalm 6 reveals a David laid low with what seemed to be an incurable disease. His impassioned prayer for recovery climbs to this climax: “Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”

Hezekiah’s request for annulment of his death sentence has the same unimpeachable ground: “For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down unto the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day” (ls. 38:18, 19). When a man’s outlook is completely taken over by considerations such as these there is no limit to what he may ask.

Accordingly, the first three of the seven petitions in the prayer are concerned, not with self but with the glory of God. It is like that also in the Ten Commandments and in the Two Great Commandments, let the praise and love of God come first and last, so the Lord’s Prayer insists.

Here there is an impressive example of envelope form - three petitions all governed by the phrase which concludes them. Thus the meaning is:

Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven.
Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
The words: “which art in heaven” set the tone of proper reverence. There is no implication here of a Deity resident among sun, moon and stars, for they are His creation, obeying Him fully and accurately. Nevertheless the Old Testament (eg. Ez. 1) encourages God’s servants to think of Him not as lost in a vague unknowable unattainable fourth dimension, but as having specific location, enthroned above all that He has made. Yet Ezekiel’s awestruck repetition of “appearance” and “likeness” (11 times in 3 verses) shows how completely the heavenly vision beggared his vocabulary. Such Old Testament descriptions are doubtless an accommodation to human limitation. But they evidently set out a concept that it is best for God’s servants to have in mind. We must learn from them as best we may.

The Father’s Name “holied”

But how is the Lord’s Name hallowed, that is, “holied”? Certainly the avoidance of any taking of His Name in vain is included here. But this is to be content with the most superficial meaning of the words. In scripture the name of a man is much more than the conventional label which he wears in society. It signifies his personality, character and purpose in life. There is something of this in modern usage when, for example, the police demand: “Open, in the name of the law” -- that is, because I have the authority of the law of the land behind me.

So, to hallow God’s Name is to give Him the reverence and honour due to Him as Maker and Sustainer of all. More than this, it is to glorify Him by an intelligent understanding of His revealed Purpose, a Purpose which His memorial Name embodies.

This aspect of the prayer -- glorifying God as the Holy One of Israel and as the God of wondrous irrefragable covenants - does not go by default amongst “the Israel of God” in these days. But, strangely enough, as L.G.S. has very incisively pointed out in “The Teaching of the Master”, the same people are capable of a practical disbelief in His very existence! The Name of God is hallowed best of all by an unceasing recognition that He is Lord of all, the One to be acknowledged in all the activities of life, big and small.

A Neglected Practice

Yet, in fact, few know “the practice of the presence of God” (as it has been called). Much the biggest part of each day goes without conscious acknowledgement of God. Not only is it true that “God is not in all their thoughts”: He is in hardly any of them. Such is the weakness of human nature. It is the most saintly of the saints of God who are most aware of this besetting sin of “atheism”. Many go blithely about their affairs day by day, content to pay to God just a tithe (or less) of time and effort in Bible reading, prayers and religious duties. Yet this prayer, properly prayed, implies not only: we will never cease to regard Thy Name as holy; but also: we will do all in our power to make it known as holy; and we will seek holiness in every aspect of our daily living.

Alas! for one who would be “a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master’s use”, this “holy-ing” of God’s Name must remain at best a conscious ideal (ls. 8:13), a discouraging but not discouraged pursuit of “righteousness, , faith, charity, peace, with them that calf on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:21, 22). And individual consecration will make a sanctified community, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but...holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). A holied ecclesia means the Name of God is hallowed (Jn. 17:17, 19).

Future Fulfilment

This was David’s ideal in his day: “Let thy name be magnified for ever, saying, The Lord of hosts is the God over Israel” (2 Sam. 7:26). But, alas, in his day there was only meagre realisation of such an aspiration, and even less thereafter. Notwithstanding, the great Purpose does not falter. The ultimate fulfilment will put all in perspective: “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the Gentiles, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the Gentiles, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the Gentiles shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes” (Ez. 36:22, 23).

So, most of all, “Hallowed be Thy Name” is a prayer for the open manifestation and vindication of the Holiness of God in a world which has written Him off.

“Thy Kingdom come”

And similarly with the next petition. Prayer for the coming of God’s kingdom may be an expression of a personal eagerness to take part in a heavenly prize-distribution, or it may have as its springboard an intense zeal for the honour of God. L.G.S. has well said concerning the former emphasis: “To desire the kingdom merely as an end for ourselves is to desire not God’s kingdom but our own.” Yet assuredly personal participation and blessing should be, can hardly help but be, a vital part of the thinking of those who truly seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. Hezekiah’s prayer when the invincible Assyrians were at his gate was for personal deliverance and that or his people, but the ground for his irresistible petition was that this proud Assryian had “reproached and blasphemed...had exalted his voice and lifted up his eyes on high against the Holy One of Israel” (ls. 37:3, 23). Therefore God must assert Himself. The rabbis were right in principle, if extreme in enunciation, when they declared: “The prayer wherein there is not mention of the kingdom of God is not prayer.”

What then, exactly, is the force of this petition? Is it a prayer which in some way actually influences the time of the bringing of God’s kingdom? Or is it no more than an expression of personal involvement: “We should like the kingdom to come”?

A Prayer with Power

Those who are wedded to the view that God has put a ring round a date on His calendar, and that nothing in heaven or earth can change that decision are necessarily committed to the latter view, which reduces “Thy Kingdom come” to a petition so milk-and watery as to be hardly worth praying at all: “We would like the kingdom to come, but we know that nothing we say or pray can alter what is already settled.”

Yet the Greek aorist tense imparts a real sense of urgency to the words. And even if it did not, it is unthinkable that the steadfast importunities of countless saints of God should be as though they had never been spoken. “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that are the Lord’s remembrances, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth ‘ (ls. 62:6, 7)

This is also the apostle Peter’s exhortation: “Looking for and hastening (by your holy way of life and your godliness; v. 11) the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12). The A.V. reading here: “hastening unto the coming of the day of God” is possible as a translation but is meaningless in this context. But if godliness can hasten the coming of the kingdom, then so also most assuredly can fervent prayer for it.

This is surely the main point of the Lord’s parable about importunate prayer. The story of the widow and the unjust judge is the continuation of a long discourse about the coming of the kingdom; and it concludes with the solemn words: “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” The faith which is not content to wait passively for the coming kingdom but storms the citadel of heaven with prayer for the vindication of God’s righteous remnant, will be a rare commodity in the last days. It is!

“Thy will be done”

Since the next petition: “Thy will be done/ is more closely linked with “on earth as it i; in heaven” than its predecessors, it is inevitable that it should be thought of chiefly as adding emphasis to the prayer for the kingdom. This it certainly does, yet the very fact of its use by the Lord in Gethsemane should teach its value as a marvellously simple expression of a basic philosophy of life-that there is no higher achievement in this age than to be content with what God appoints as one’s lot in life. Certainly in Gethsemane this was the case. “Not my will, but thy will be done” was the ultimate spirit of complete resignation reached by Jesus, yet it was not achieved without the sweat which was as great drops of blood.

The Muslim mutters his “Kismet! it is the will of Allah”, and makes this resignation, which could be altogether admirable, into a blanket excuse for indolence, both physical and spiritual. But with Jesus, complementary to “Thy will be done” was the Scripture written concerning him: “Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Ps. 40:7). Accordingly his short ministry was one ceaseless surge of godly activity, as Mark’s often-repeated “straightway” eloquently testifies. It therefore ill becomes any disciple to squat on his haunches (or, more likely, loaf in an armchair), the while murmuring: “Thy will be done (by somebody else)”. “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven , the same is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50).

A Prayer without Power?

There is another mistaken acceptance of the will of God which can be equally devastating in its effect on one’s prayers. This springs from a misunderstanding of the familiar words: “If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us” (1 Jn. 5:14). Very often this is taken to mean:

“If we ask according to what the omniscient foreknowledge of God has pre-determined.”
How often are the words used in this way in communal prayer-and privately also, no doubt. Yet if this really is what is meant, where is the power of prayer, what point is there in praying? The child of God is reduced to pious hopefulness that peradventure what he asks before the throne of grace may happen to coincide with what the Almighty has already made up His mind to do anyway. Either way, the prayer has achieved exactly nothing.

The error lies in a misunderstanding of the key word “will”. It does not signify “that which God has pre-determined and will inexorably carry out”. The meaning is: “that which God is willing to do.” The clear implication is that there are many things which God is willing to do. There are also many which He is not willing to do, because they would involve denying Himself or working harm to His children. (Consider the experience of Paul - 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

It stands true then, that “Thy will be done” means “my will be done”, when motive and outcome are alike according to God’s mind. This is also emphasized by the qualifying clause: “on earth as it is in heaven”.

A high ideal

Here, in the thinking of most, the tendency is to put the emphasis on the idea of fulfilment of the will of God in the lives of His children as perfectly, promptly and completely as in the service and obedience of the angels. Thus repetition of the prayer holds constantly before the mind an ideal of godliness so lofty and far-reaching as to be sadly discouraging by its very impossibility to the earnestly striving child of God.

Yet this is only half the story. The angels in heaven serve the Creator with a will, which is wholly, and entirely His. In them there is no inner conflict, no split personality, but only a happy whole-hearted devotion to the fulfilment of the Almighty’s purpose. Then how far-reaching is the plea: “Thy will be done (in me) on earth, as it is done by the angels in heaven.” It is the biggest thing a man can ask this side of the kingdom of God: “Lord, take this poor self-centred sin-cursed nature of mine, and change it even now to be wholly godly, spiritual, Christ-centred.” But the first requisite in such a prayer is faith - faith to believe that such a thing can happen.

Those who in this spirit dedicate themselves to doing the will of God are brother, sister and mother to Jesus (Mt. 12:50). Thus, to pray this prayer in all sincerity is to aspire to true kinship to the Son of God.

Daily Bread

The Prayer switches now, apparently, from the biggest things to the smallest. After ranging forward to the grand realisation of God’s great redemptive Purpose and after daring to ask for present fulfilment in one’s own pathetic present experience, there comes in the petition for daily bread. Here, if it is, is the only phrase where the Prayer comes away from wholly spiritual aspirations.

The answer to the often-canvassed issue: Does “daily bread” mean that which sustains physically or spiritually? - must surely be: Both. Philosophers and early church ascetics, alike misguided by a doctrine of innate immortality independent of the body, find no encouragement in the Bible for their despising of the marvellous body God has given them. The teaching of Christ concerns the whole man, both now and hereafter. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you...therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). So a man has a responsibility to keep himself physically as fit as he can in order that his body may be a good efficient instrument in the service of God. And accordingly he has a right to ask his Father’s help and encouragement in such self-dedication. Hence “give us this day our daily bread.”

Physical and Spiritual Food

But let there be a due sense of perspective. Physical fitness and efficiency are relatively unimportant compared with the things of the Spirit. In nearly every place where the Bible talks about food for the body it invites further meditation on the appropriateness of its words to spiritual food. Even without the Lord’s own lengthy commentary in John 6 on the giving of manna to Israel in the wilderness, it would be evident that everything written about that wondrous providence of God has, and was intended to have, a higher spiritual meaning. The gracious words of- Isaiah when read properly, sum up this truth in matchless fashion: “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, break (bread), and eat; yea, come, buy wine and fatness (marrow) without money and without price” (55:1). Here the water and bread which men need become wine and marrow for their greater blessing (compare 25:6). And if a man is bidden look to God for the satisfying of his material needs, how much more may he
confidently look for the providing of the food of the Spirit.

It is noteworthy that twice in the immediate context of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 material food is used as a symbol of man’s higher need. There is the parable of the neighbour seeking to borrow three loaves (it is a parable of preaching, if ever there were one). And there is the apostrophe: “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?” leading on to: “How much more shall your heavenly Farther give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

In John 6 the Lord’s exposition of the giving of manna leaves no room for doubt that he intended his disciples to see both that marvel and his own miracle of feeding the multitude in the wilderness as parables of God’s Providence for the satisfying of another more serious hunger.

Other words of Jesus suggest a yet wider scope to this simplest of petitions. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of...My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:32, 34). The context is the Lord’s conversation with the woman of Samaria. He began that discussion tired and hungry. When the disciples returned, they found him alert and refreshed, so that they were constrained to ask: “Has anyone brought him food?” Comparable experiences are possible for any who attempt the same kind of personal evangelisation.


There remain for discussion two problems, neither of which are evident to those who read the common version. What is the exact meaning of the word translated “daily”? And why the different form of the verb “give” in Matthew and Luke (in the original text)?

A great deal of very scholarly ink has been used up on the first of these.

Until Deissman found this word in an Egyptian papyrus, Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3 were its only known occurrences in all Greek literature. So the grammarians and philologists had a field day, producing all manner of guesses as to its meaning. And even now Deissmann’s find does not allow of any degree of certainty.

In such circumstances the Old Testament is probably the best aid, as it nearly always is. There is the familiar prototype of the manna. Also, Proverbs 30:8, 9 is remarkably close in idea: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Here the Hebrew word is, literally: “bread of my statute”, which might mean either “the food decreed for me by God’s Providence” (cp. Dt. 8:3), or “my food, which is God’s statutes” (cp. Ps. 119:103). The unusual phrase was probably chosen to carry both ideas, as seems certainly to be the case with this petition in the Lord’s Prayer.

The switch of tenses from Greek aorist to imperfect-in crude English translation, from “Give us right now”, to “Keep on giving us” - is readily seen to be appropriate to the change of emphasis between the two versions (Mt. Lk). In the former the stress goes on immediate need: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Abraham forgot this (Gen. 12:10) and as a result faced the most humiliating experience of his life. In the later form of the petition there is also recognition that always, without intermission, there must be dependence on the lovingkindness of God: “Give us day by day our daily bread.” Each emphasis has its proper place. It is right to lean hard upon God for due provision for any immediate need. It is right also to cultivate always the attitude of mind which recognizes how inevitably God’s Providence will be needed day by day, however long life may last.

“Forgive us our Sins”

One thing especially a man is constantly in need of if he is to remain integrated in the family of God -- he needs to have his sins forgiven. Nothing is more fundamental. But Jesus speaks of debts. In the later version in Luke, where the petition is: “Forgive us our sins”, the apodosis is “for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” The word is valuable as emphasizing aspects of sin which tend to be lightly regarded. A sin of omission-failure to care for aged parents, neglect of one’s personal prayers-is as much a sin as any direct transgression of the law of God such as getting drunk or speaking spitefully of another. More than this, with all debts, even when there is no formal agreement, there is clear acknowledgement of an obligation to pay. So this word chosen by Jesus also involves frank recognition that much is owing in service to God and to one’s fellows which, sometimes with the best will in the world, goes undone.

God is a forgiving God

There is no phrase in this pattern Prayer which offers part-payment of the “debt”. Instead there is implicit in the four simple words: “Forgive us our debts”, the profound assumption that God is a forgiving God. Some of the Old Testament’s
most eloquent passages underline this grand truth. Nevertheless, their truth is realised only very slowly. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (every kind of wrong!)” (Ex. 34:6, 7). “Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Is. 1:18). And there is the constant refrain of Solomon’s eloquent prayer at the dedication of the temple: “then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and when thou dearest, forgive”. That, more than anything else, was what the temple was for.

But how slow men are to believe this truth! And the more sensitized a man’s conscience is, the greater the shame of his own sin, and the harder it is to believe that God is so gracious as to forget all about it. Always there is the vague feeling that forgiveness must be earned. Yet this cannot be. In the forgiveness parable it was when the servant had no means of repayment of the massive debt that his lord

“was moved with compassion,
and released him,
and forgave him the debt” (Mt. 18.27).
Earning Forgiveness?

There are conditions attached to forgiveness, to be sure, but earning this grace of God is not one of them: If we walk in the light... the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin...If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7, 9).

A famous Frenchman once said: “Le bon Dieu il pardonnera; c’est son metier” – “The good Lord will forgive us; that’s the thing He’s good at.” Both the French and English might have been better expressed, but the idea is right.

There is nothing a man can do to merit the forgiveness of God. Else there would have been no necessity for Christ to die. Sinners could have been left to get on with it by effort, self-denial and hard discipline. Instead, the redeeming work has been wrought for them. It is offered freely to the man of faith, who pays with all the loyalty and devotion he is capable of, not in order that his sins might be forgiven but because they have been forgiven.

This is the great lesson of the anointing of the feet of Jesus by the woman of the streets. She showed her act of great love for the Lord as an expression of inexpressible gratitude for sins forgiven. The Lord’s parable (Lk. 7:41, 42) proves
this. No wonder he said to her: “Thy faith hath saved thee.” It was faith far beyond the ordinary which could recognize and thankfully accept that, her sordid life notwithstanding, this humble preacher from Nazareth was the means of her acceptance before God. No wonder Jesus rejoiced in her discernment.

On what conditions?

This gracious forgiveness which God holds out to men is given on conditions. There are strings attached. No quid pro quo, but simply a right attitude of mind in the forgiven sinner-a right attitude of mind which shows itself by:

faith in Christ as the Saviour;
walking in the light;
confessing one’s sins;
forgiving others- “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”.
From the very nature of the transaction, it is only those who fulfil these conditions, or, rather who are in this condition who can be forgiven.

Jesus evidently regarded the forgiving of others as so vital that he made it the subject of a special comment. It is the only clause of the Prayer which he elaborated on at all and this he did both positively and negatively: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (compare also Mk. 11:25, 26).

“As we forgive”

The very obviousness of this simple principle would surely make emphasis superfluous. But Jesus knew human nature. How often there is need for pointed reminder that if a man comes to the Lord’s Table seeking forgiveness of his own sins he must rid his mind (even as he “stands praying”; Mk. 11:25) of any resentment against any. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). Yet it is not unknown for long-standing resentments to be cherished in the hearts of those who deem themselves to be members of the family of God in Christ. It constitutes not only a strange anomaly but also a shameful tragedy.

By their Law the people of Israel were bidden release all slaves and cancel all debts in the Year of Jubilee. The Lord’s words: “as we forgive our debtors”, bid his disciple live as though in an endless Year of Jubilee. As “debts” are contracted, so they are to be cancelled. The very idealism behind such an approach to the problems of human relationships often precludes its practical application. Yet there must be at least some sort of attempt to reach out towards fulfilment. To shrug off this exacting teaching of Christ as too remote from the brass tacks of ordinary daily living is to pass a vote of “No confidence” in him, as well as in one’s fellows.

Rather remarkably, Paul enunciated this forgiveness principle the other way round: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Not only must the Lord’s people forgive in hope of forgiveness, but also because of it. The conviction of the grace of God extended to oneself should beget a like graciousness towards others. Could anything be more far-reaching in its influence on all human associations, and especially in the family of God.


It is useful at this point to note how the three main petitions have present, past, and future reference-daily bread,
forgiveness, and trials yet to come.

“Lead us not into temptation” is a petition fraught with considerable difficulty in the minds of some. It seems to carry the plain implication that God can and does designedly bring His children into situations where their integrity and survival as members of His family are in peril. The problem is pin-pointed by the excruciating experience of Abraham when bidden offer up his only-begotten son: “And it came to pass that God did tempt Abraham” (Gen. 22:1). Yet over against this is the explicit declaration of James that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (Jas. 1:14).

It is needful to recognize that the Bible uses the word “tempt” in two closely related but distinct senses. An illustration may help here. On one occasion when I was considering buying an oldish house I took an expert to inspect it. One of the first things he did was to go into each room, jump in the air and bring his two hundred pounds heavily down on the floor. That was a fair test to apply in order to assess whether the timbers were sound. Since they were, there was no harm done, but only satisfaction from the result of the test.

Now contrast what happens when automobile manufacturers are considering a new type of latch for a car door. With one of these new latches installed a mechanisn is rigged up which opens and slams the door time after time until at last the device wears out or breaks down. This test is deliberately designed to find out what is the breaking point, the absolute limit of endurance or service.

God “tempts” or tests His children in the first sense illustrated here, but not in the second. “The Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no...he fed thee in the wilderness with manna, that he might humble thee and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end” (Dt. 8:2, 16). “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas. 1:2, 3). And specially valuable here is Paul’s explicit assurance that “God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Confession of Weakness

Thus, “lead us not into temptation” is no protest against unfair treatment by God, but a humble confession of human weakness such as even Jesus would fain acknowledge in himself. In Gethsemane his exhortation to the disciples was: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt.26:41). The words were more an expression of his own desperate conflict and need than of theirs.

Yet how difficult it is to be honest in the praying of this prayer. The fact is that there are very few who do not have their own favourite sins which they are too much in love with to want to be for ever rid of them. It is written concerning Jesus that he “loved righteousness, and hated wickedness.” For those in Christ also the first of these is true, but not the second. With ruthless honesty Augustine’s famous prayer put the problem in a nutshell: “Lord, make me chaste-but not yet!” God can save a man from his sins only when he desperately and with utter sincerity wants to be saved from them.

To illustrate the point on a relatively trivial level (though admittedly not trivial for some) -if a smoker seeks to be rid of his bondage to tobacco, is he wise to go about with a pack of his favourite cigarettes in his pocket? And is he helping God to help him if, when the craving for a smoke is on him, he loafs around indoors, alone and bored with his own company? In such circumstances would he not do better seeking activity and the society of those who can not only distract his mind from the temptation but also provide positive help with the good spiritual tone of their conversation? It is futile to pray: “Lead me not into temptation”, if there is to be the implicit addendum: “But I reserve the right to lead myself into temptation.”

“Deliver us from evil”

Perhaps this evil within is what the Lord specially meant when he added: “but deliver us from evil”. The phrase as he spoke it has the definite article: “the evil”, but it does not follow that the received translation is defective, for in Greek abstract nouns commonly carry the definite article even when it is not to be translated. The reading: “deliver us from the Evil One”, as though with reference to a superhuman Tempter may definitely be eliminated, not only because of the over-all teaching of Scripture but because of usage elsewhere in the Sermon on the mount: “whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (5:37)...“but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil” (5:39). In the second of these especially it would be palpably absurd to read: “Resist not the Evil One”.

But there is also the evidence of Paul’s use of the Lord’s Prayer: “that he might deliver us from this present evil world (or, age)” (Gal. 1:4); and, “the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work” (2 Tim. 4:18). This interpretative usage is decisive.

Evil which is not evil

Nor is it correct to interpret “the evil” only with reference to adverse circumstance, for that which men might well regard as a great evil in their experience -- hard poverty, crippling disease, persecution, bereavement-may well be the Lord’s deliberate providential blessing, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil”, Jesus prayed concerning his disciples. Nevertheless the early chapters of Acts show them facing much hardship. God promised Jeremiah: “I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, and I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible (15:20, 21). But the experiences of that faithful prophet were such as would have broken many a lesser man.

So what may well appear to human judgement to be evil of the direst kind may actually be God’s blessing, potentially, if only there is the right reaction in His servant. Alas, it is all too easy, instead, to be dominated by less important considerations which happen to loom large in one’s own judgement. This happened to Paul, so it could certainly come in the experience of fellow-disciples of much smaller stature. He besought the Lord thrice that the thorn is his flesh might be taken away. Whatever it was - whether epilepsy, malaria, sexual desire, his personal adversary in Corinth (the guesses are many and varied) - Paul must have had a very high motive for seeking to be rid of it. Unhandicapped, how much better would be his work of spreading the gospel! But the Lord’s emphatic answer was: No! He could see, what was not so evident to Paul, that through the sheer magnitude of his achievements this great-hearted disciple was in grave danger of becoming a castaway. “Lest I be exalted above measure.” They are terrible words, but they tell a wonderful story of a divine deliverance from evil.

A telling example such as this, taken together with the close link in the Prayer between this petition and that which precedes, suggests that “the evil” specially covered by it is the temptation which not only tests but also destroys. (Many New Testament parallels could be cited for taking the definite article as demonstrative, “this evil”: the temptation that is more than a man can stand: see study 66). How many many times in life does a man need saving from himself. He is his own greatest evil. If in earnest repeated prayer Paul could seek as a blessing that which would have turned out to be his spiritual ruin it may be taken as certain that the same is possible a score of times over in the lives of others of lesser calibre. This, then, is not a part of the Prayer to be lightly dispensed with.

Doxology or not?

In Luke the Prayer ends at this point, and so also in Matthew, according to most modern versions. So the question needs to be faced: Is the doxology an authentic part of the Prayer as given by Jesus, or should it be regarded as a liturgical addition appended by the early church?

A careful investigation of the textual problem reveals that it was because the doxology was given a special place in the liturgy of the early church (3rd century and onwards) that it came to be omitted from a handful of manuscripts which have been accorded far more importance on this question than they deserve. But when all is said and done, the clear evidence of the writings of Paul (Gal. 1:4; 2 Tim. 4:18), in what are undeniable allusions to the Lord’s Prayer, and specially to its doxology, makes the entire textual controversy futile and unnecessary.

David’s Hymn of Praise

The close similarity to David’s wonderful hymn of praise to God (1 Chr. 29:11) makes it probable that the likeness was intended:

“Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine: thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head over all.”
It was near the end of David’s reign that the people, in a rarely equalled surge of zeal for the God of their fathers, fired by the infectious enthusiasm of their aged king, brought lavish gifts out of their God-given prosperity. All was freely given for the new temple, “exceeding magnifical”, which was to be built. How readily David acknowledged that what was now given in such generous quantity was only what had been so abundantly showered on them by God Himself: “for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (29:14).

Thus the doxology framed by Jesus expresses for his disciples the like recognition that all they are and know and enjoy are God-sent blessings, in acknowledgment of which there can be no re-payment but only praise and thanks.

This view of the doxology, learned from 1 Chronicles 29, goes a good way towards answering the mystifying problem: Why is it that there is no expression of thanks in the Lord’s Prayer? The answer appears to be: There is, but it comes in the form of praise and rejoicing at the surpassing goodness and glory of God. Let a man’s thanks to God take specially the form of deeper understanding of the character of God and a whole-hearted concentration of praise to His Name, and he is as near to the inner spirit of the Lord’s Prayer as he is ever likely to be.

In the context of 1 Chronicles 29 David’s prayer obviously meant: “Lord, all that I have I now gladly dedicate to Thee.” This, again, is what the believer’s doxology should mean. Here is the explanation of the mystifying present tense: “for thine is the kingdom...” In this present day of spiritual rack and ruin the words seem to be a mockery. Nevertheless they express David’s ideal. He did not see that wondrous temple in being, but he saw the site cleared for it and the people eager and earnest. His faith clothed the rest with reality. And today as the believer concludes his prayer, his faith turns into present reality the future kingdom and power and glory of the God he worships - and this “for ever”.

Paul’s fervour for the honour and majesty of God found this phrase of measureless time too inadequate for all that he would ascribe to the greatness and goodness of God. He is content with nothing less than “for ever and ever” (Gal. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:18).

The Amen

Each of the five Books of Psalms similarly concludes with an eloquent ascription of praise to God, rounded off by a mighty “Amen and Amen”-spoken, it may be, first by priest and then by the people. At first sight the fifth Book may appear to be a disappointing exception, but in reality it is not, for what Psalms 41, 72, 89, 106 say in one verse, Psalm 150 says from start to finish.

These doxologies in the Psalms also remove what might otherwise be a vague sense of mystification that the Lord’s Prayer makes no allusion to the Covenant Name of God. It is there in the words: “Thy will be done”. It is here also in the emphasis on the timelessness of God, that He is “from eternity to eternity” He is “the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).

The Amen which rounds off the Prayer is not a mere formality, nor must it ever degenerate into such. The early church said an audible unanimous Amen. “How shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say the Amen?” (1 Cor. 14:16). And there is allusion to this in Paul’s words: “That is why, when we give glory to God, it is through Christ Jesus that we say ‘Amen’“ (2 Cor. 1:20 NEB.).

At the beginning of this century it was very common in the ecclesias for each individual to add his own quiet Amen, but the custom has now almost disappeared, and our corporate worship is the poorer for the omission. Indeed, the sorry state of affairs has arisen that often there is no Amen at all, for some ministering brethren have developed the habit of leaving the Amen to the congregation. Thus each leaves it to the other, to the detriment of the praise of God. It is high time the ecclesias got back to the practice of uttering a communal Amen. Some West Indian ecclesias do precisely this, and shame their brethren elsewhere.

Ideally, the Prayer should be one long Amen, each participant mentally supplying his own Amen to each item of praise and petition. But how many can muster the concentration to be altogether sincere and fervent in their personal assent to every phrase as it is spoken?

The Prayer realised

In the kingdom of God, when all is come to pass, that assent will be more real and intense. Just as the Breaking of Bread service will find a new fulness of meaning when it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, so also this Prayer. But then its petitions will have become glad and glorious affirmations, for then all will say:

Our Father
which art in heaven,
Thy Name is hallowed on earth as it is in heaven;
Thy Kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven;
Thy will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Thou hast given us this day and for every day our daily bread, the hidden manna.
Thou hast forgiven us our trespasses,
and we have forgiven those who trespassed against us.
Thou hast not led us into overpowering temptation, but
Thou hast finally delivered us from evil.
Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory
for ever and ever. Amen and Amen.
Notes: Mt.6:9-13

After this manner. One commentator sums up the attitude of the early church: In the second century the presiding brother prayed ad lib, in his own words; in the third century the precise form of this prayer was used, as given.

Our Father. Not the spirit of bondage, dominated by fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15). Hallowed is a word much demeaned by the glib substitution of “separate”. The two are not the same.
Give us. Here “us” rules out any spirit of selfishness. This is a sharing prayer.

Daily bread...debts (v. 12) A.D. 26 & 33 were sabbath years when these needs might be special burdens.

There are those who would argue that the benefits of prayer are wholly subjective. “Give us this day...” effectively rejects this very limited attitude. It is a test of the Tightness of our desires that we can earnestly pray for them.
As we forgive means, of course, not in quantity but in kind.
from evil. The Lord intended this to include temporary calamity also; Mt. 24:20; 8:26; Ps. 18:48
If ye forgive not. Mk. 11:25 clearly looks back to this as already familiar.

Luke 11:l-4

A certain place. In the O.T. the word nearly always means “a holy place, a sanctuary”. Then which? Lk. 10:38 suggests that Jesus was near to Jerusalem. But if the temple, wouldn’t Luke have said so? One of his disciples. It is a long-range guess that this was Luke himself, for his gospel gives special attention to the prayers of our Lord.
Daily. This puzzling Greek word has been linked with a similar one meaning “the coming day”. In that case, if a morning prayer, it asks for today’s food; if an evening prayer, then for tomorrow’s.

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