May 17 – Knowing God as Father

Our Father who is in heaven … —Matt. 6:9b

Only those who have come to God through Christ can call God “Father.” He is the Father of unbelievers only in that He created them (cf. Mal. 2:10; Acts 17:28). It is only those who trust Jesus who have “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12; cf. Rom. 8:14; Gal. 3:26).

In the Old Testament, faithful Jews saw God as the Father of Israel, the nation He elected as His special people. Isaiah proclaimed, “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name” (Isa. 63:16b; cf. Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9). Many of them even saw God in an intimate way as their spiritual Father and Savior (Pss. 89:26; 103:13).

But because of their disobedience toward God’s commands and their embracing of false gods around them, most Jews of Jesus’ time had lost the true sense of God’s fatherhood and viewed Him as only the remote Deity of their ancestors.

These six words at the beginning of the Disciples’ Prayer reaffirm that God is the Father of all who trust in Him. Jesus Himself used the title “Father” in all His recorded prayers except one (Matt. 27:46). Although the text here uses the more formal Greek patēr for Father, Jesus likely used the Aramaic abba when He spoke these words. Abba has a more personal connotation (cf. Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15), equivalent to the English “daddy.”

Because saints belong to Jesus the Son, they can come to God the Father (“Daddy”) as His beloved children.

Certainly in our decadent day and age, many are increasingly growing up in homes where “father” is a person to be feared, a person who rejects, a person who demeans and devalues. How does God’s identity as “Father” fill the holes left by even well-meaning dads who fall short of what their role requires?[1]

God’s Paternity

Our Father who art in heaven. (6:9b)

God is Father only of those who have come to His family through His Son, Jesus Christ. Malachi wrote, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10), and Paul said to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, “As even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring’ ” (Acts 17:28). But Scripture makes it unmistakably clear that God’s fatherhood of unbelievers is only in the sense of being their Creator. Spiritually, unbelievers have another father. In His severest condemnation of the Jewish leaders who opposed and rejected Him, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). It is only to those who receive Him that Jesus gives “the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12; cf. Rom. 8:14; Gal. 3:26; Heb. 2:11–14; 2 Pet. 1:4; etc.). Because believers belong to the Son, they can come to God as His beloved children.

Faithful Jews had known of God as their Father in several ways. They saw Him as Father of Israel, the nation He chose to be His special people. Isaiah declared, “For Thou art our Father, … Thou, O Lord, art our Father” (Isa. 63:16; cf. Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9). They also saw Him in an even more intimate and personal way as their spiritual Father and Savior (Ps. 89:26; 103:13).

But over the centuries, because of their disobedience to the Lord and their repeated flirting with the pagan gods of the peoples around them, most Jews had lost the sense of God’s intimate fatherhood. They saw God as Father only in a remote, distant, faded figure who had once guided their ancestors.

Jesus reaffirmed to them what their Scripture taught and what faithful, godly Jews had always believed: God is the Father … in heaven of those who trust in Him. He used the title Father in all of His prayers except the one on the cross when He cried “My God, My God” (Matt. 27:46), emphasizing the separation He experienced in bearing mankind’s sin. Though the text uses the Greek Patēr, it is likely that Jesus’ used the Aramaic Abba when He gave this prayer. Not only was Aramaic the language in which He and most other Palestinian Jews commonly spoke, but Abba (equivalent to our “Daddy”) carried a more intimate and personal connotation than Patēr. In a number of passages the term Abba is used even in the Greek text, and is usually simply transliterated in English versions (see Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

To be able to go to God as our heavenly Father first of all means the end of fear, the fear that pagans invariably had for their deities. Second, knowledge of God’s fatherhood settles uncertainties and gives hope. If an earthly father will spare no effort to help and protect his children, how much more will the heavenly Father love, protect, and help His children (Matt. 7:11; John 10:29; 14:21)?

Third, knowing God as our Father settles the matter of loneliness. Even if we are rejected and forsaken by our family, friends, fellow believers, and the rest of the world, we know that our heavenly Father will never leave us or forsake us. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21; cf. Ps. 68:5–6).

Fourth, knowing God’s fatherhood should settle the matter of selfishness. Jesus taught us to pray, Our Father, using the plural pronoun because we are fellow children with all the rest of the household of God. There is no singular personal pronoun in the entire prayer. We pray holding up to God what is best for all, not just for one.

Fifth, knowing God as our Father settles the matter of resources. He is our Father who [is] in heaven. All the resources of heaven are available to us when we trust God as our heavenly Supplier. Our Father “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).

Sixth, God’s fatherhood should settle the matter of obedience. If Jesus, as God’s true Son, came down from heaven not to do His own will but His Father’s (John 6:38), how much more are we, as adopted children, to do only His will. Obedience to God is one of the supreme marks of our relationship to Him as His children. “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50).

Yet in His grace, God loves and cares even for His children who are disobedient. The story of Luke 15 should be called the parable of the loving father rather than the prodigal son. It is first of all a picture of our heavenly Father, who can forgive a self-righteous child who remains moral and upright and also forgive one who becomes dissolute, wanders away, and returns.

Our Father, then, indicates God’s eagerness to lend His ear, His power, and His eternal blessing to the petitions of His children if it serves them best and further reveals His purpose and glory.[2]

The Invocation or Words of Address

9b. Our Father who art in heaven. It is immediately clear that not everyone is privileged to address God thus. That is the exclusive prerogative of those who are “in Christ” (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14–17; Gal. 4:6; 2 Cor. 6:18; 1 John 3:1, 2). To be sure, there is a sense in which God can be correctly referred to as the Father of all men. He has created all, and provides sustenance for all (Mal. 2:10; Ps. 36:6). But that is not the usual sense in which in Scripture the term “Father” can be interpreted. In “the Sermon on the Mount,” too, the term is used in a definitely soteriological or redemptive sense, a sense in which God is the Father not of all (though he is kind to all, 5:45; Luke 6:35, 36) but of some. He is called “your (also: your) Father” (5:16; 6:18, etc.), the Father of the peacemakers (5:9) and of those who love even their enemies (5:44, 45). Similarly, according to Christ’s teaching recorded elsewhere, those who reject him are children not of God but of the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10).

Once this is understood it becomes clear that this model prayer is for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, for them alone. It also follows that the objection of those who say that “the Lord’s Prayer” is not a Christian prayer because it does not even mention the name of Jesus, and/or because it does not end with the phrase, “for Jesus’ sake,” is groundless. The name and the atoning work of the Lord are clearly implied in the very words of the invocation. Apart from Christ no one can come to the Father (John 14:6).

As to the words of address themselves, first of all see what has been said earlier (pp. 286, 287). The striking fact, of which we should never lose sight, is that he who is King of the kingdom of heaven is at the same time the Father of its citizens. The citizens are the children. The kingdom is the Father’s Family. See N.T.C. on Eph. 3:14, 15. Note also the combination of immanence and transcendence, of condescension and majesty. “Our Father” indicates his nearness. He is near to all his children, infinitely near. Therefore with confidence they approach the Father’s throne, to make all their wants and wishes known to him, that is, all those that are in harmony with his revealed will. They need not be afraid, for God is their Father who loves them. Yet, he is the Father in heaven (literally “in the heavens”). Therefore, he should be approached in the spirit of devout and humble reverence. The chumminess or easy familiarity that marks a certain type of present day “religion” is definitely antiscriptural. Those who indulge in this bad habit seem never to have read Exod. 3:5; Isa. 6:1–5; or Acts 4:24!

Also, whereas the words “Our Father” indicate God’s willingness and eagerness to lend his ear to the praises and petitions of his children, the addition “who art in heaven” shows his power and sovereign right to answer their requests, disposing of them according to his infinite wisdom. Finally, reflect again on those words, “Our Father … in heaven.” They make the Father’s children feel that they are pilgrims here below, and that their real home is not here but in heaven. It is comforting to know that not only do the children wish to be where the Father is, but the Father also desires that his children be where he is (Ps. 73:23, 24; Jer. 31:3; cf. John 17:24). Does the child sing Ps. 42:1? With slight change of wording (“O my child” for “O God”) Ps. 42:1 can be (shall we say “is being”?) sung also by God himself.—The idea of a God who sings, rejoicing in his children’s salvation, has scriptural support (Zeph. 3:17).—Then in glory these children will forever address God as their Father, but nevermore will they have to add “who art in heaven,” for they will be with him.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 146). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 375–377). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 326–327). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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