Chapter 9: The Prayer of the Disciples

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by Tom Wilson, Scotland

 

THE CONTEXT OF THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER

THE CONTENT OF THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER

PETITION 1 - "Hallowed be Thy name"

PETITION 2 - "Thy kingdom come"

PETITION 3 - "Thy will be done"

PETITION 4 - "Give us this day our daily bread"

PETITION 5 - "Forgive us our debts"

PETITION 6 – "Lead us not into temptation"

PETITION 7 - "Deliver us from evil"

AN INCOMPARABLE PRAYER


It is often called the Lord’s Prayer, but it is a prayer the Lord never prayed, for reasons we shall note. It is the prayer He taught His disciples that they might understand how to approach the Father and how to frame their petitions. On many occasions the Lord underscored the need for prayer; and on at least three occasions the great Teacher set out for His disciples principles that were to mark their prayer exercises. Twice the evangelists record the Lord setting out the disciple’s prayer, Matthew chapter 6 and Luke chapter 11; and on the very eve of Calvary in the course of His upper room ministry, the third outline of underpinning principles was delivered, the record of which we have in Jn.16.23-27. Matthew records how during the first year of His public ministry somewhere in Galilee the Lord "went up into a mountain," and sat down to teach His disciples. Matthew calls it "the mountain," 5.1 (R.V.). To many who heard that teaching, it would always be "the mountain." How could they forget the mountain? Those disciples that followed Him up that mountain were amply rewarded, as the Lord began His teaching with a number of memorable beatitudes and concluded with His telling parabolic illustration of houses built on either sand or rock, 5.1-7; 7.24-27. In Matthew chapter 6, in the middle of that great sermon, we find the disciples’ prayer.

Luke also records the Lord teaching His disciples to pray. During the Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem, the journey that began in Lk.9.1, the disciples, probably some who had been John’s disciples, having heard the Lord pray, asked that the Lord might teach them to pray. They recalled how John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. (Herod’s sword had ended that noble prophet’s life before this request had been made, Lk.9.9). In Lk.11.1-4, we find the account of that occasion, when for at least the second time, the disciples were taught to pray.

This paper will consider mainly Matthew’s account of the disciples’ prayer. Matthew’s account is longer than Luke’s; in the Received (Greek) Text 73 words against Luke’s 60 words; in the A.V. 67 words against Luke’s 58 words.

THE CONTEXT OF THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER

From the opening pages of his Gospel Matthew confronts his readers with the claims of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham, 1.1. Clearly his task is to present One to Whom belongs the throne and the land. The remarkable acknowledgement of Gentile wise men and the immediate response of the Edomite king Herod to the birth of One "born King of the Jews" sets the stage for the forthcoming scenes of conflict. The following scenes feature John the Baptist and the penitents drawn to his ministry, a ministry endorsed by the Lord initially, although sinless, by being baptized of John and later by words of commendation, 11.7-15; 17.10-13. Not until Herod had arrested John and closed the public ministry of the great man, did the Lord Jesus begin to preach, using language men had heard from John’s lips: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". Our Lord was ad­dressing the nation on the very ground they claimed to occupy: that they were awaiting Messias and the kingdom. Soon they were to hear Him speak of seeking the kingdom, in stark contrast to the food and clothing that were the priorities of the Gentiles, 6.32,33. Seeking the kingdom was evidently part of their vocabulary in contradistinction to the Gentiles around them.

The first great address the Lord delivered as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel was the Sermon on the Mount. That long sermon may have taken about 40 minutes to deliver initially, yet after many years the earnest among those first hearers would still be grappling with the radical teaching they had heard that day. For the first time, there was being unfolded many of the fundamental principles of His kingdom that they could never detect in Herod’s kingdom. The listeners heard of good in the presence of evil, indeed of persecution "for righteousness’ sake" 5.10,44, of enemies to be loved, 5.44, of swine and ravening wolves they would confront, 7.6,15. They heard too of their Father’s dealing with "the evil and the good … the just and … the unjust" 5.45. However, no mention was made of the mystery of iniquity or of the restraint and Restrainer that hindered its development, 2Thess. 2.6-8. Nonetheless, they were reminded that claims that Jews made to be guides to the blind, a light to them in darkness, instructors of the foolish and teachers of babes, Rom.2.19,20, laid upon them responsibilities to be salt and light in their generation, 5.13-15. Undoubtedly when the Wicked One is revealed of whom Paul wrote in 2Thessalonians chapter 2, Jewish saints in the period of the great tribulation will find both consolation and guidance in the Lord’s teaching and in the disciples’ prayer that He taught in a context with which they will be able to identify – one of conflict and corruption and compromise.

The terms the Lord used were, in the main, particularly Jewish. They heard of respect for the law and the prophets, 5.17, of altar and God’s throne, 5.24,34; of judge, officer, prison and council, 5.22,25, and obligations to brother and neighbour, 5.22-24,43; 7.4; all of these they would interpret in the national context as no Gentile would. They also heard terms that are not to be found in the New Testament epistles: "inherit the earth"; "the kingdom of heaven" – not to be confused with "His heavenly kingdom" 2Tim.4.18; "Jerusalem … the city of the great king," which is not "Jerusalem, which is above … the mother of us all" Gal.4.26; and "your heavenly Father" 5.5,10,35; 6.14,26,32.

Some of that teaching the Teacher’s own disciples would hear from His lips on other occasions; possibly 34 out of the 107 verses were later repeated by the Lord. The Evangelist tells us that there were three kinds of reaction to the Lord’s teaching that day: wonder, 7.28; an awakened awareness of His authority, 7.29; and of the distinctiveness of His teaching, 7.29. None of the scribes, the nation’s acknowledged teachers, taught as He did.

Matthew chapter 6 begins with a simple imperative: "Take heed," v.1. That imperative is aimed in particular at those who had been carefully catechised by the scribes. They had been taught the importance of alms-giving, prayer and fasting. The Lord acknowledges the value of these practices, by saying: "when thou doest thine alms" vv.2,3; "when thou prayest" v.5, and "when thou fastest" v.17. He does not say, "if thou doest alms or prayest or fastest"! These were three important activities of Jewish piety, none of which our Lord undermines; indeed He deals with each of them in turn.

In each case He shows how even the noblest of exercises could be debased; and identifies the characteristics of the defilers of those expressions of Jewish piety. They are hypocrites, vv.2,5,16. They are hypocrites because they glory in appearances, whether announced by trumpet blast, v.2, or the length of loud prayer in a public place, v.5, or the dismal countenance that could only point to prolonged fasting, v.6. True piety is not intended to make celebrities out of its practitioners; true piety is acclimatised only to an atmosphere the Lord describes as "in secret" vv.4,6,18. The Lord declares that both the hypocrites and the humble child of God receive reward for their exercises in alms-giving, prayer and fasting. The hypocrite’s reward is no more and no less than whatever he gains from being noticed by men, vv.2,5,16. The humble child of God is rewarded by his "Father Which seeth in secret" vv.4,6,18, the Father Who "is in secret" vv.6,18. The nature of that reward is individualised by the omniscient Father, as only He could. The Lord’s introductory imperative, "take heed" v.1, emphasises the care that has to be taken by every concerned soul in respect of alms-giving, prayer and fasting. Without great care, even worthy exercises could degenerate. The reinstatement of true piety in the secret place is the context in which the Lord teaches the disciples how to pray in Matthew’s Gospel.

The event Luke describes in chapter 11 of his Gospel occurs as the Lord journeys to Jerusalem for the last time. Luke observes in the chapter characteristics of the Lord at this momentous time; we read:

  • v.1: "… as He was praying …"

  • v.14 (R.V. margin): "And He was casting out a demon …"

  • v.27: "… as He spake …"

  • v.37: "… as He spake …"

Three exercises are noted by Luke: His praying, His destroying of the works of the devil and His willingness to set the truth of God before His hearers. Luke’s silence about the circumstances in which the Lord had been praying would lead to the conclusion that it was not a prayer occasioned by present or future circumstances like those the Lord later faced in Gethsemane. The disciples would have noted that habitual prayer was characteristic of the life of that dependent Man. As the disciples once more observed their Master in prayer, they thought of their own limited spiritual growth and asked: "Lord, teach us to pray" 11.1. They were aware that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, and added: "as John also taught his disciples". They were really confessing that they were as needy as John’s disciples had been, when he taught them. They served a different Master from John’s disciples, but they had many similar needs.

THE CONTENT OF THE DISCIPLES’ PRAYER

As the Lord deals with the child of God at prayer, He is speaking of the individual’s personal exercise, not of collective prayer. Three times in the day the temple had its hour of prayer; we read of "the whole multitude of people … praying without at the time of incense" Lk.1.10; see also Acts 3.1. Paul also gives guidance on collective prayer in a local assembly, 1Tim.2.1-8. Here the Lord is dealing with the individual’s prayer-life. Its requirements He Himself will set out. They would be at least three:

  • Seclusion behind a closed door, v.6. In many homes only the storeroom had a door; there they should be found in prayer

  • The self-discipline that avoids much speaking, v.7

  • A submissive spirit in all who earnestly would pray the disciple’s prayer.

The Lord was not forbidding public prayer. Our Lord prayed both in private1 and in public where His prayers could be heard.2 The problem was not praying aloud. France comments: "Just as even private reading in the ancient world was done aloud, so, too, people generally prayed audibly."3 The problem was not standing to pray (the normal Jewish stance, Mk.11.25; Lk.18.11,13) but standing to be seen; and praying loud and long to be seen and heard!

1 Mk.1.35; 6.46 et al.
2 11.25; 14.19; 26.39, 42; Lk.11.1.
3 France, R. T. “The Gospel of Matthew”. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans: p.238.

The Lord is setting out a model from which His disciples would learn; it would unfold how they should pray, not what they should pray. The repetition of words the Lord taught was not to become "vain repetition" v.7. Nor did the Lord command them to recite this prayer, either as individuals or a congregation. On other occasions He would speak more of prayer, particularly as He anticipated His departure to be with the Father, from which point His disciples would ask in His name, Jn.16.23-27 constituting a notable aspect of a Christian’s prayer that dates from the moment of the Lord’s ascension. Asking in Christ’s name was not to be the immediate privilege of those disciples to whom the Lord first taught the disciples’ prayer.

The disciples’ prayer is elegantly structured. In the A.V. it includes a closing doxology at v.13, which is omitted by J.N.D. and the R.V. The R.V. notes: "Many authorities, some ancient, but with variations, add, ‘For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever, Amen’." It was common for Jewish prayers to end in a doxology.

The Address  "Our Father which art in heaven"

The Petitions  "Hallowed be Thy name"; "Thy kingdom come"; "Thy will be done"; "Give us this day our daily bread"; "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"; "Lead us not into temptation"; "Deliver us from evil".

The Doxology "Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen."

The disciples’ prayer has rightly been commended for its "simplicity, comprehensiveness and brevity" (A. B. Bruce). Its language is a model of simplicity, offering assistance to any disciple, struggling to express himself before "our Father". The prayer is comprehensive: its scope embraces the worship of the Father and the needs, both of the individual praying and the needs of others; indeed its scope extends beyond the petitioner and others to take account of earth’s inarticulate cry for righteousness to reign. It is also strikingly short – 67 words in English, half a minute long if prayed aloud. Later the Lord pronounced "Woe" on scribes and Pharisees, who "for a pretence make long prayer" Matt. 23.14 et al. Ecclesiastes chapter 5 had earlier forbidden the Jew from being verbose in prayer: "… let thy words be few" Eccl.5.2, for the man using a "multitude of words" might be loose-tongued, and as a result, vow a vow he could not keep; "Be not rash with thy mouth … Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin" Eccl.5.2,6. Solomon, the preacher of Ecclesiastes forbad long prayers that committed a man or woman to a vow he could not keep; the "Greater than Solomon" condemned long prayers that spoke of a devotion the man had never intended to live up to. The disciple’s prayer is a model in brevity and relevance.

What are the fundamental principles the Lord unfolds in this model prayer? They are at least four:

  • Unqualified reverence in approach to the Father:

    • in their use of the name "Our Father;"

    • in the first petition, "Hallowed be thy name."

  • Due recognition of the primacy of His will:

    • in the second petition, "Thy kingdom come;"

    • in the third petition, "Thy will be done;"

  • The immediate requirements of daily living:

    • in the fourth petition, "Give us this day our daily bread;

    • in the fifth petition, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;"

    • in the sixth petition, "Lead us not into temptation;"

    • in the seventh petition, "Deliver us from evil."

  • Fitting responsiveness in the light of His greatness:

    • in the A.V.’s benediction, "Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen."

As noted above, this is a prayer the Lord Jesus never prayed. He never said "our Father," when He addressed His Father, as the Gospels testify. He did hunger and thirst, for which needs He received daily bread as a dependent Man here below, but He never needed to ask His Father for forgiveness, as each of His followers does. With great care we guard the truth of His impeccability, so we discern that the sentiments of v.13 reflect only the disciple’s liability to fail. When the prince of this world did come, he found nothing in Christ to provide the foothold he had once found in Adam, Jn.14.30.

HOW THE DISCIPLE ADDRESSES GOD

Both in the language by which the disciple would enter the presence of God and the first petition he would utter there is evidence that the Lord of those disciples was conveying to them the need for unqualified reverence in their approach to "our Father".

On that mountain the seated Lord Himself authorised the disciple to use the relational term "Father". Was such language normative among Jews at that time? Would other Jews address God as "Father"? Let us be reminded that in the Old Testament Scriptures the people of God do not normally address God as Father. The relationship of son and Father is never used in the Old Testament of an individual and God Himself. Only occasionally is their relationship as a nation with God described as that of a son whose Father was God. We recall:

  • Ex.4.22,23 - "Israel is My son, My firstborn … Let My son go that he may serve Me"

  • Deut.32.6 - "Is not he thy Father?"

  • Isa.63.16 - "Thou art our Father"

  • Jer.31.20 - Is Ephraim My dear son?"

  • Hos.11.1 - "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt"

Who are these to whom the Lord speaks on that unnamed mountain? They are those who engage secretly in the pious exercises of righteous deeds, prayer and fasting. The Lord has also described them as those who love their enemies and bless them that curse them, that they "may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" 5.44,45. The Lord instructed those disciples to use the plural possessive pronoun and address God as "our Father". But He never included Himself in the pronoun "our" in respect of His relationship with the Father. When we pray, we never say, "my Father," because we gladly confess that grace has placed us on the same ground as every other saint; we say, "our Father". Although the place grace has given us allows us to share with Christ, we never stand where only He could stand, Who is the only begotten Son of God. What intimacy was in those simple words He alone could utter: "My Father", Matt.7.21; 10.32,33; 11.27; 12.50; 15.13; 16.27; 18.10,19,35; 20.23; 24.36; 25.34; 26.39,42,53 et al. Across the spirit of the saint of God, a sense of awe falls when we hear the Lord use that most intimate of names, "my Father". That phrase "my Father" separated Him then, and separates Him still, by an infinite interval from His own. It unfolded at once how distinct His Sonship was. To the Jew the way He addressed His Father was blasphemous; to the disciple it is the unveiling of His identity, that later Peter would articulate more fully as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" Matt.16.16. It is also the continuance of a communion that had no beginning.

Here, too, "our Father" is appended by the relative clause "which art in heaven" 5.16,45,48; 6.1; 7.11,21. The phrase "our Father" draws us into the warmth shared by every child of God, but the qualifying clause cautions against the irreverent spirit that fails to realise that this One we approach is the self-existent One, as "art," the present tense of the verb "to be," declares. He is "in heaven": this One is transcendent: the Creator and not the creature, the fount of blessing and not one of those who come to drink from that fountain. He draws us to Himself, for He pities us as a father does his children, Ps.103.13; yet it is with awe that we approach One "glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders" Ex. 15.11. We may whisper in His ear what we would not tell our nearest and dearest, but we need to guard against thinking we may address Him as if He was our natural kith and kin. Sometimes Christians are criticised for using language in prayer which some consider archaic. Where such language is deliberately chosen to guard the petitioner against careless familiarity that might engender inappropriate attitudes to a holy God, let the critics remain silent.

The term "our Father" is only fitting on the lips of the redeemed. W. W. Fereday comments: "A moment’s reflection could convince us that it is perfectly shocking to teach a mixed multitude to say ‘our Father’." The disciple glories in his relationship with the Father; in the privacy of his room, he delights to utter that now-familiar term, "our Father". Prayers in the New Testament epistles do not append the relative clause, "… which art in heaven," nor include the term "Heavenly Father". The calling of the saints being addressed in those epistles was not that of Jews still bound in spirit to an earthly temple with its carnal sacrifices, before whom the Lord set out His Sermon on the Mount. Since the day of Pentecost, the child of God has received the indwelling Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" Rom.8.15. Unlike those first hearers, we are those who can pray "in the Holy Spirit," Jude 20. Clearly the disciple’s prayer opens with words of striking intimacy, "Our Father". Had the Lord Himself not authorised their use, the Christian would have feared to use them, lest with frequent usage intimacy became irreverence. Only on the lips of those who are Christ’s could such intimacy remain uncontaminated.

We pause and note that the inestimable value of this prayer is based on "a relationship never before made known in its true character, between Him (the Father) and the true disciples of this blessed Teacher" (F. W. Grant). It is based on the unfolding, the declaration, of that name "Father". Later that Teacher will speak of why He revealed that name to His disciples and say: "that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" Jn.17.26. To the Jew, God was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the God of their fathers. To us He is known in more intimate terms than they ever knew. He is our Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory. It is not ours to use the language of the disciples’ prayer as we address the Father. Before the Lord came, men did not call this One "Father"; that could not be until the Son came. During His earthly sojourn He revealed the Father: "I have declared unto them Thy name" Jn.17.26. He added, "… and will declare it;" and in the epistles there are fresh revelations of the hallowed name.

PETITION 1 - "Hallowed be Thy name"

How easily one could forget the words of David the prophet, words we rightly associate with Calvary: "… Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel," Ps.22.3. "He which has called you is holy" 1 Pet.1.15, Who has condescended in infinite grace to allow us to say, "our Father". The first petition recognises the need for reverence. The address that opens this model prayer owns the Father’s name to be holy. We should not restrict the meaning of the term "name" to the identifier "Father" or "God;" it carries the sense of all that He is by revelation through word and deed and the testimony of His servants. We recall that the Law demanded that none take God’s name in vain," Ex.20.7. Without a blush men use that hallowed name as an expletive, and speak lightly of His character and laws. God Himself reasserts the reverence due to His name: "Neither shall ye profane My holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord which hallow you," Lev. 22.32 et al. The petition condemns all lawless conduct arising out of failure to reverence the Father.

The Primacy of His will

The pronoun "Thy" occurs three times in vv.9b,10, where the Father’s will is in view. How rarely that emphasis marks our personal prayers! Conscious of our needs and the needs of others, so often we give little place to the Father’s explicit will at the very outset of our prayers. The Lord taught the disciples to pray to the Father about the coming kingdom and its effects. The second and third petitions, "Thy kingdom come" and "Thy will be done" are inextricably linked in the prayer, and no doubt were in the consciousness of the listening disciples. Nonetheless, the disciple has also to acknowledge the will of God in his pathway here.

Whilst Paul was at Caesarea on his last journey to Jerusalem, Agabus the prophet arrived from Judaea, Acts 21.10. Agabus’ actions on that occasion were like those of an Old Testament prophet, binding Paul’s hands to illustrate the peril that faced Paul; see, for example, 1Kgs.11.29 ff.; Isa.20.2; Ezek.4.1ff. He speaks of Paul being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, language so very like that which our Lord Jesus used of His own arrest in Mk.10.33. Both Paul’s companions and the local Christians affirmed the danger was real that Agabus announced, and tried to deflect the great man of God from his purpose. Whether imprisonment or death, he was ready to face it, Acts 21.13. But Paul was not stoically unmoved. Outwardly there were tears but inwardly there was even greater unexpressed anguish, yet all were enabled to say: "The will of the Lord be done".

PETITION 2 - "Thy kingdom come"

"Davies and Allison point out that ‘kingdom of God’ is never the subject of the verb ‘come’ in Jewish writings or in the New Testament outside the Gospels," notes Morris.4 What did the disciples understand by this unusual sentence they had learned from the lips of the faithful and true Witness? The Lord had been announcing that the kingdom of heaven was "at hand" Matt.4.17, as had John Baptist, Matt.3.2. The Lord was speaking of the universal rule, initially to be seen in the millennial reign of Christ, and an eternal feature of the new heaven and the new earth. Adolph Saphir, a Christian Jew expressed his fear that this petition might not be taken literally by many professing Christians: "On earth, (the Lord will reign) where God has been denied and forgotten; where His honour has been disregarded and His commandments have been transgressed, where nations and kingdoms … have not bowed to His authority." F. W. Grant, however, looks beyond the millennial kingdom: "For this Kingdom of the Father we must look beyond all dispensations to the sabbath of God’s own rest. To confound it with the millennium would be an entire mistake, and necessarily lower its character terribly. The millennium with all its blessedness is but a step toward this glorious consummation".5 With the less-strident Darby we might comment: "Universal subjection to God in heaven and on earth will be, to a certain point, accomplished by the intervention of Christ in the millennium, and absolutely so when God shall be all in all."6

4 Morris, L. “The Gospel according to Matthew”. Leicester 1992: p.145.
5 Grant, F. W. “The Numerical Bible”. New York: Loizeaux Brothers 1903: p.90.
6 Darby, J. N. “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible” . Volume 3. Ontario: Believers Bookshelf 1992: p.67.
 

The first expression of the Father’s will in the disciple’s prayer is no mere echo of the prayers of the godly through many centuries. Men like David and Daniel yearned for Messiah and the blessings that He would bring, but never prayed explicitly, "Thy kingdom come" v.10. What light that prayer shed along the darkened pathway so many Jewish saints trod who were present, when the Lord opened His mouth and taught on the mountain, 5.2. Christians today expect the Rapture of our Lord Jesus before the Great Tribulation engulfs Israel, at the end of which period of unparalleled suffering the public kingdom of Christ will be established on earth. For that reason they do not pray: "Thy kingdom come;" they pray: "Even so, come Lord Jesus" Rev.22.20. They know that the Lord will reign in glory in the public vindication that will bring, but they look above in the conscious knowledge that:

There, made ready are the mansions

Glorious, bright and fair;

But the Bride the Father gave Him

Still is wanting there.

 

        (Paul Gerhardt)

PETITION 3 - "Thy will be done"

Matthew loves to include references to the will of God. Six times he uses this noun "will," and 42 times the cognate verb.In the immediate context in which it is found, it may relate to the Father’s express will in respect of the kingdom, but need not be restricted to the kingdom. The Lord Who taught His disciples to pray, "Thy will be done," is the Lord Who, knowing all things, knew the end from the beginning. He knew He had come to do the will of God, Heb.10.7. He knew all the will of God would mean for Him; in particular He knew that in Gethsemane He would pray these very words: "… Thy will be done" Matt.26.42. The will of God for His disciples would be demanding and, perhaps at great cost, they would also be caused to say, "Thy will be done".

The contrast of earth, as the Lord’s hearers knew it, and heaven, as they conceived of it, was stark. They knew that in heaven God’s "angels that excel in strength … do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word" Ps.103.20. They also knew that, terrified by the voice they heard, their fathers had vowed that all that the Lord had said, they would "do, and be obedient" Ex.24.7. But, as they were embarking on that pathway of obedience to the God Whose thunderings terrified them, like the second son in the Lord’s parable, their fathers had said "I go, sir, but went not" Matt.21.30. Now, strengthened by the grace they have found in Christ, disciples are to say, "Thy will be done," and to do it.

Requirements in Daily Living

It is at this point in this wonderfully-complete prayer that the personal pronoun moves from "Thy" to "our" and "us." We note that it does not move to "me," "my" and "mine." The essential requirements we identify for daily living are likely to be those that others need, so in our prayers we can include others, eliminating the need for "me," "my" and "mine". Even in asking that our individual needs be met, we do so "in secret" in the clear understanding that there are other dear saints who have needs as urgent as ours. In our use of the plural they are not forgotten! Petitions 4-7 outline comprehensively the range of need a disciple might experience.

PETITION 4 - "Give us this day our daily bread"

The Lord emphasises that the disciple should have fresh exercises every day. He should take each day at a time, and on that day, pray for "daily bread". The word translated "daily"7 has to be considered carefully. It is an extremely rare word, which Origen and others think the Evangelists coined, notes Morris.8

7 Greek epioúsios, occurring here and Lk.11.3.
8 Morris, ibid: p.146.

Some take it to mean:

  • "… for the coming day" (A. T. Robertson)9

  • " food … (for) the day in question" (I. M. Marshall)10

  • "… that comes to it, i.e. that we need for today"11

  • "... necessary for existence" (Origen)12

9 Cited Rienecker & Rogers, “Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament”. Grand Rapids: Zondervan: p.18. Acts 7.26; 16.11; 20.15; 21.18 has epeimi translated “the following day.”
10 Marshall, I. M. “The Gospel of Luke”: p.459. He gives the reasons for his interpretation as Matthew’s aorist imperative “Give” (rather than a present imperative, as Luke has) and “this day” in the context.
11 Based on etymology (see Marshall).
12 Based on etymology (see Marshall and Morris).

The day-labourer received a penny a day, often with no promise of work tomorrow. His precarious position is acknowledged in this petition: "Give us the coming day’s bread today!" We recall: "… feed me with food convenient" Prov.30.8 – "food that is needful for me" (R.V.), the food I need to see me through this coming day. At vv.26-31 the Lord elucidates the statement by considering the alternative to making that positive request: "Give us this day our daily bread." He cautions the listeners: if they do not ask for "daily bread," they might ask, "What shall we eat? or, "What shall we drink?" or "Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" Such murmuring led their fathers to challenge Moses and Aaron: "… ye have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" Ex.16.3; to challenge Moses: "…thou hast brought us up out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our cattle" with thirst, Ex.17.3. Those were the reactions of their apostatising fathers, who did not pray for daily bread; these are not the terms of even the sorely-tried "children [sons] of your Father, which is in heaven," Matt.5.45.

PETITION 5 - "Forgive us our debts"

In Matthew’s record the request is for the forgiveness of debts, in Luke for the forgiveness of sins. Writing with the Jew in mind, Matthew uses the noun "debts", a concept that would be well understood by a people that had consciously put themselves under obligation to keep the Law. Later in his Gospel, Matthew records the Lord’s parable of the two debtors: one "which owed … ten thousand talents," the other "which owed … a hundred pence" 18.23-35. One had an obligation to the king he may not have met, the other to the king’s debtor. Both were debtors. Both needed mercy, and both should show mercy to others.

The narrator in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, comments disdainfully on how stern, graceless, loveless Mrs Clennam might have prayed: "‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,’ was a prayer too poor in spirit for her. ‘Smite thou my debtors, Lord, wither them, crush them; do Thou as I would do, and Thou shalt have my worship’."

He adds: "… this was the impious tower of stone she built up to scale heaven." No true disciple should build what such a professor built. We have been freely forgiven for Christ’s sake and we should readily forgive, Eph.4.32. Paul made it easy for Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but even where there is no such intervention, we are under obligation to forgive, because of how God forgave us.

PETITION 6 – "Lead us not into temptation"

Some see this expression the Lord put on human tongues, as a reference to the great end-times troubles the Lord Jesus described as "the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth" Rev.3.10, (R.V.). The Revelation and other passages of Scripture in both Testaments testify to the severity of that hour: "... such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" Matt.24.21; see also Dan.12.1; Joel 2.2. In the author’s view, the separation of this petition from the earlier petition, "Thy kingdom come" may imply that the primary import of this petition is not related to those end-times. More likely this petition takes account of the militant forces arrayed against God and Christ, and so against the children of God from that era until this present time. Its echo is clearly heard in the record of Gethsemane. Did not the Lord remonstrate gently with the weary disciples: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" Matt.26.41? Until the Lord reigns supreme, disciples will need that word of exhortation.

The word translated "to tempt" has many shades of meaning. It is used of our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness. It is used of our being tempted to sin. It might refer to "the trial of your faith" 1Pet.1.7. The Lord knew the disciples needed strengthened to withstand the pressures that commitment to Christ would bring. James leaves us in no doubt that God does not tempt us with evil, Jms.1.13,14. God tried Abraham’s faith. The tempter himself tried the Thessalonians, 1Thess.3.5. The disciple does not invite Divine testing, nor tempting with evil. Should he invite the Father to try his faith in other ways? The child of God owns the Father’s right to say to His child: "Prove Me now" Mal.3.10; but normally the child should not ask the Father to prove him! Certainly David "tired of the injustices of men"13 did appeal to Jehovah: "Examine me, O LORD and prove me" Ps.26.2. In his extremity he longed for a righteous verdict to be pronounced that would vindicate his character.

13 Flanigan, J.M. ‘What the Bible teaches - Psalms”. Ritchie, Scotland, 2001.

Whoever would pray this prayer would do so with a true sense of his weakness. He would recall that the first man (after Adam) whose testing is revealed in detail was Job, a servant of God unequalled in the world at that time. It was as God tested him that Job learned his weakness. Later, Peter’s weakness would be exposed, as the evil one tempted him; he and others benefited from that humbling experience. We might look at Job and Peter and ask: Who can stand? There is One Who is able to keep us from falling, Jude 24. Paul declares that God will not allow temptation above that we are able to bear and that there is always a way of escape, 1Cor.10.13. Such trials are painful but always profitable. James wrote of the blessedness of being tried by God: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation … when he is tried" Jms.1.12. Nonetheless, the Lord’s words caution against inviting trial. Knowing the weakness of the flesh, His disciples were to learn to pray: "Lead us not into temptation".

PETITION 7 - "Deliver us from evil"

The verse can also be translated: "from the evil one".14 Most translators recognise that both renderings are acceptable. Favouring the translation "from evil," F W Grant notes: "… the larger view includes the narrower, and is therefore more suitable."15 Both renderings are understandable to us. We recognise many features of "this present evil age" Gal.1.4, (R.V. margin); and that we have an evil adversary, well-experienced and ever-resourceful.

14 J.N.D. margin and R.V.
15 Grant, F. W. ibid: p.92.

Our adversary the devil is called "the wicked one" Matt.13.19; 1Jn.2.13,14; 3.12; 5.18. We know something of his mastery over all forms of evil and acknowledge that in his quiver is more than one arrow. Sometimes the arrowhead is sugarcoated that unsuspectingly we might be seduced into situations that could prove ruinous. Sometimes the arrowhead strikes with a force that shakes us to the core of our being, and yet we know we must resist, rather than cower in fear. Sometimes the evil one attacks our minds, sometimes our affections, but always we know his intent is evil.

The definite article qualifying "evil" requires some attention, if the Lord is not referring to the personal devil, about whose existence Jewish believers had no doubts. It would refer to the evil of which they were very much aware, whether civil or religious. Some forms of evil we recognise – the grave moral sins, the specious intellectualism of the age, the easy compromise with Christless religion and with those no longer committed to upholding the truth revealed in the New Testament. We know something of these forms of evil, but with Paul we may boldly say: "… the Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom; to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" 2Tim.4.18.

Responsiveness in the Light of His Greatness

The closing doxology is "lacking in the oldest MSS (in Luke and Matthew), though it has considerable early attestation."16 Devout souls may have uttered sincerely: "…Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen." We, who yearn for the Rapture, saying: "Even so, come Lord Jesus" Rev.22.20, are well aware that "the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God" Rom.8.19, (R.V.). Then "shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" Matt.13.43. No longer will the faithful be companions "in tribulation and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" Rev.1.9, for the kingdom will be linked with "the power and the glory" and will redound to the glory of "our Father".

16 Morris, ibid: p.149, citing Davies, “Unknown Sayings of Jesus”. London: 1958: p.28.

AFTER THE LORD’S ASCENSION

The record of the Acts of the Apostles from chapter 1 onwards identifies fervent prayer as one of the marks of those who "had been with Jesus" Acts 4.13. Indeed, every significant event in the Acts is preceded by prayer. There are in the book around thirty references to prayer, more than any other New Testament book. As already noted, on more than one occasion the Lord Jesus had taught His disciples to pray: "Our Father, Which art in heaven …". Just prior to His crucifixion, He had also instructed them to ask in His name: "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" Jn.16.23,24. The evidence Luke presents in the Acts of the Apostles leaves no doubt that the disciples prayed. Did their prayers reflect the disciple’s prayer the Lord had taught them?

The prayer recorded in Acts 4.24-31 occurred after the confrontation at the Beautiful Gate of the temple in Jerusalem; and after Peter and John had spent a night in custody. Having been cautioned about their future conduct and let go, "they went to their own company". There they recounted the events and the assembled company engaged collectively in prayer, prayer that shook the place where they assembled, Acts 4.31. At the Beautiful Gate, they had acted in His name as the mighty deed showed; now they would ask in His name. The prayer was not a private prayer in the secret place, but a remarkable instance of collective prayer. Clearly, they prayed to the Father, as the three references to the Sovereign Lord’s "holy Servant Jesus" in Acts 4.26,27,30, make evident. They did not address Him as Father but used a more unusual word for "Lord"17 that carries the particular sense of "Master … in the sense of Sovereign Owner and disposer of all".18 Plainly at that point they had not all entered fully into the joy of knowing God as Father. We do not yet hear the lovely words "Abba Father," nor hear "our Father" described as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". However, by the time the epistles were being penned, we find Peter and Paul and the other New Testament writers addressing "our Father" in prayer and thanksgiving, Rom.15.5,6; 2 Cor.1.3; Eph.1.3; Jms.1.17; 1Pet.1.3.

17 Greek, despótes. It is used in respect of God at Lk.2.29; 1Pet.2.1; Jude 4; Rev.6.10.
18 Kelly, W. “The Acts of the Apostles”. London: C.A. Hammond 1952: p.44.

But had they learned from the disciple’s prayer? The four fundamental principles the Lord unfolded in the disciple’s prayer are noteworthy in the incident:

  • Unqualified reverence in approach to the Father:

    • in their confession: "Thou art God" Acts 4.24

  • Due recognition of the primacy of His will:

    • in their recognising, "… whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done" Acts 4.28

  • The immediate requirements of daily living as known by His children when "the kings of the earth and the rulers" oppose

    • "Thy holy child [Servant] Jesus Whom Thou hast anointed" Acts 4.25-27; as they ask, "… grant unto Thy servants … all boldness" Acts 4.29; as they seek power "that signs and wonders … be done" Acts 4.30

  • Fitting responsiveness in the light of His greatness:

    • made manifest by the Father in the shaking of the place, their being filled with the Holy Spirit and the boldness of their testimony.

Those early disciples had learned much from the Lord and those who were with Him "all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among [them] … beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that He was taken up from [them]" Acts 1.21,22. They had learned to pray the disciple’s prayer.

AN INCOMPARABLE PRAYER

William Kelly remarked on the disciple’s prayer: "… there is not, nor ever was, a formula of prayer comparable" to that prayer the Lord taught His disciples. Kelly adds: "Nor is there, to my thinking, a single petition of that prayer which is not a model for the prayers of His followers ever since; but all remains true and applicable at all times – at least till our Father’s kingdom come."19 Let us learn at the feet of the same Lord Who first said: "… when thou prayest …" as He taught His own to pray. What liberty Christ opened up to His disciples of that day and, through His servants, to us who daily in the quiet routines of life and in times of great pressure, hourly or minute by minute, can say, "Our Father"!

19 Kelly, W. “Lectures Introductory to the Study of the Gospels”. London: W.H. Broom 1867: p.606.