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.
hallowed be Thy name. (6:9c)
At the beginning Jesus gives a warning against self-seeking prayer. God is to have priority in every aspect of our lives, and certainly in our times of deepest communion with Him. Praying is not to be a casual routine that gives passing homage to God, but should open up great dimensions of reverence, awe, appreciation, honor, and adoration. This phrase introduces a protection against any sentimentalism or overuse and abuse of Father, which is prone to being sentimentalized.
God’s name signifies infinitely more than His titles or appellations. It represents all that He is—His character, plan, and will. When Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the commandments for the second time, he “called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin’ ” (Ex. 34:5–7). The characteristics of God given in verses 6–7 are the equivalent of “the name of the Lord” mentioned in verse 5.
It is not because we simply know God’s titles that we love and trust Him, but because we know His character. “Those who know Thy name will put their trust in Thee,” David said, “for Thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken those who seek Thee” (Ps. 9:10). God’s name is seen in His faithfulness. In another psalm David declared, “I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High” (Ps. 7:17; cf. 113:1–4). In the typical form of Hebrew poetry, God’s righteousness and His name are paralleled, showing their equivalence. When the psalmist said, “Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God” (20:7), he had much more in mind than the title by which God is called. He spoke of the fullness of God’s person.
Each of the many Old Testament names and titles of God shows a different facet of His character and will. He is called, for example, Elohim, the Creator God; El Elyon, “possessor of heaven and earth”; Jehovah-Jireh, “the Lord will provide”; Jehovah-Shalom, “the Lord our peace”; Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness”; and many others. All of those names speak of God’s attributes. His names not only tell who He is but what He is like.
But Jesus Himself gives the clearest teaching about what God’s name means, because Jesus Christ is God’s greatest name. “I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world” (John 17:6). Everything the Son of God did on earth manifested God’s name. As the perfect manifestation of God’s nature and glory (John 1:14), Jesus was the perfect manifestation of God’s name.
Hallowed is an archaic English word used to translate a form of hagiazō, which means to make holy. Words from the same root are translated “holy, saint, sanctify, sanctification,” etc. God’s people are commanded to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16), but God is acknowledged as being holy. That is the meaning of praying hallowed be Thy name: to attribute to God the holiness that already is, and always has been, supremely and uniquely His. To hallow God’s name is to revere, honor, glorify, and obey Him as singularly perfect. As John Calvin observed, that God’s name should be hallowed was nothing other than to say that God should have His own honor, of which He was so worthy, that men should never think or speak of Him without the greatest veneration (cited in A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], p. 318).
Hallowing God’s name, like every other manifestation of righteousness, begins in the heart. “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” Peter tells us (1 Pet. 3:15), using a form of the word that hallowed translates.
When we sanctify Christ in our hearts we will also sanctify Him in our lives. We hallow His name when we acknowledge that He exists. “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). To the honest and open mind, God is self-evident. Immanuel Kant had many strange ideas about God, but he was absolutely right when he said, “The law within us and the starry heavens above us drive us to God.” (See William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 1:208.)
We also hallow God’s name by having true knowledge about Him. False ideas about the Sovereign One are irreverent. Origen said, “The man who brings into his concept of God ideas that have no place there takes the name of the Lord God in vain.” Discovering and believing truth about God demonstrate reverence for Him; and willing ignorance or wrong doctrine demonstrate irreverence. We cannot revere a God whose character and will we do not know or care about. But acknowledging God’s existence and having true knowledge about Him are not enough to hallow His name. We must have a constant awareness of His presence. Spasmodic thinking of God does not hallow His name. To truly hallow His name is to consciously draw Him into every daily thought, every daily word, and every daily action. David put the focus of his life where it should always be—“I have set the Lord continually before me” (Ps. 16:8).
The Father’s name is most hallowed when we behave in conformity to His will. For Christians to live in disobedience to God is to take His name in vain, claiming as Lord someone whom we do not follow as Lord. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ ” Jesus warned, “will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). When we eat, drink, and do everything else to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), that is hallowing His name. Finally, to hallow God’s name is to attract others to Him by our commitment, to “let [our] light shine before men in such a way that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Psalm 34:3 sums up the teaching in this phrase with a lovely exhortation: “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.”
Our Father, Our Daddy
One of the most important lessons that a Christian must learn in life is how to pray. We already have spoken about the meaning of prayer, and we have seen that prayer is talking with God. It is prayer to God the Father, on the basis of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. Now we want to see how we should talk with God, bearing in mind that God is for us both our heavenly Father and the holy, righteous God of the universe. The text for our study is the prayer that Christ taught his disciples in answer to their request, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” It is recorded in Luke 11:2–4 and in Matthew 6:9–13.
The Lord’s Prayer
As we study this prayer it is important for us to realize that it was given to the disciples and to us as a pattern for prayer and not primarily as a prayer to be recited. Joachim Jeremias, who has written one of the major studies on this prayer, calls it a “primer” upon which our prayers should be patterned. Oh, it is used as a prayer by Christians in most churches every Sunday, and this is not wrong. If a congregation is to pray together, it must have an established text; and it is at least as wise to use the text provided by the Lord himself as to use prayers provided by men. But that is not the primary reason for his giving it. Luke tells us that the disciples had been watching Jesus pray and wanted to learn to pray as he did. He was not reciting prayers or they could have learned to pray as he did merely by memorizing them. He was communing with God. And thus, when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus answered by giving them the so-called Lord’s Prayer as a pattern.
The same thing is evident from the way the longer version of the prayer appears in the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus said, “After this manner … pray” or “Pray like this.” He did not say, “Pray these exact words,” but “Pray like this.” Hence, the so-called Lord’s Prayer is a pattern.
Christians have always called this the Lord’s Prayer, and it is his in the sense that he gave it. But it is far more accurate to call it the disciples’ prayer, or even our prayer. Jesus gave the prayer. But Jesus himself could not pray it, for it contains a prayer for the forgiveness of sins; and he was sinless. He gave it for us. Thus, it contains, as Samuel Zwemer once wrote, “every possible desire of the praying heart; it contains a whole world of spiritual requirements, and combines in simple language every divine promise, every human sorrow and want and every Christian aspiration for the good of others.”
The greatest minds of the Christian church have always known this, and as a result the Lord’s Prayer has been used throughout the centuries as an outline for countless expositions of the nature of prayer and Christian doctrine. In the early church, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian all wrote substantial expositions of the prayer. Augustine did the same. Dante expounded its significance in the eleventh canto of his Purgatorio. Meister Eckhart summed up the principles of scholastic theology by the categories that the prayer suggests. Luther gave countless expositions of the true meaning of the Lord’s Prayer to the heirs of the Protestant Reformation. And in the Presbyterian churches an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer forms the last nine questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Andrew Murray said that it is “a form of prayer that becomes the model and inspiration for all other prayer, and yet always draws us back to itself as the deepest utterance of our souls before God.”
The first words of the Lord’s Prayer are an address to God as our heavenly Father. Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven.’ ” These words tell us who can pray and what the privileges of access are for them.
If we are to understand the full importance of these words, we must realize clearly that no Old Testament Jew ever addressed God directly as “my Father” and that, as a result, the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer would have been something new and startlingly original to Christ’s contemporaries. This fact has been documented beyond any doubt by a late German scholar, Ernst Lohmeyer, in a book called Our Father (a study of the Lord’s Prayer), and by the contemporary biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias in an essay entitled “Abba” and in a booklet called The Lord’s Prayer. According to these scholars three things are indisputable: (1) the title was new with Jesus, (2) Jesus always used this form of address in praying, and (3) Jesus authorized his disciples to use the same word after him.
It is true, of course, that in one sense the title “father” for God is itself as old as religion. Homer wrote of “Father Zeus, who rules over the gods and mortal men,” and Aristotle explained that Homer was right because “paternal rule over children is like that of a king over his subjects” and “Zeus is king of us all.” In this case the word “father” most simply means “Lord.” The point to notice, however, is that the address was always impersonal. In Greek thought God was called “father” in the same sense that a king is called a father of his country. Zeus was imagined to rule over men.
In contrast to such sweeping statements, the Old Testament uses the word “father” as a designation of God’s relationship to Israel, but even this is not very personal. And it is not frequent either. In fact, it occurs only fourteen times in the Old Testament. Israel is called the “firstborn” son of God (Exod. 4:22). David says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13). Isaiah writes, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father” (Isa. 64:8). But in none of these passages does any individual Israelite address God directly as “my Father,” and in most of them the main point is that Israel has not lived up to the family relationship. Thus, Jeremiah reports the Lord as saying,
how I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
a heritage most beauteous of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me.
Surely, as a faithless wife leaves her husband,
so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel,
says the Lord.
Jeremiah 3:19–20 rsv
Actually, in the time of Jesus the distance between men and God seemed to be widening, and the names of God were increasingly withheld from public speech and prayers.
This trend was completely overturned by Jesus. Jesus always called God “Father,” and this fact must have impressed itself in an extraordinary way upon the disciples. Not only do all four Gospels record that Jesus used this address, but they report that he did so in all his prayers (Matt. 11:25; 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 23:34; John 11:41; 12:27; 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). In fact, the only exception is one that enforces the significance of the phrase, for it is the cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That prayer was wrung from Christ’s lips at the moment in which he was made sin for mankind and in which the relationship he had had with his Father was temporarily broken. At all other times Jesus boldly assumed a relationship to God that was never assumed by his contemporaries and which would have been thought highly irreverent or blasphemous by most.
This is of great significance for our prayers. Jesus was the Son of God in a unique sense, and God was uniquely his Father. He came to God in prayer as God’s unique Son. But now he reveals that this same relationship can be true for those who have believed in him and whose sins were soon to be removed by his suffering. They were to come to God as God’s children. God was to be their own individual Father. Thus, Jesus could announce to Mary in triumph after his death and resurrection, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ ” (John 20:17). Today it is as God’s children that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ come to him.
This first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, properly understood, cuts to pieces that false doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God that has been so popular in this century. According to the Bible, God is most certainly not the father of all men. He is uniquely the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he becomes the Father only of those who believe on Christ and who are united to him in faith through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus did not teach this only by implication. On one occasion he said it directly to those who thought they were God’s children but who were, according to Jesus, actually children of the devil. In the eighth chapter of John we are told that Jesus had been teaching in Jerusalem and had made the statement, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (v. 32). The Jews answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (v. 33). “I know you are Abraham’s descendants,” Jesus responded, “Yet you are ready to kill me … If you were Abraham’s children, … then you would do the things Abraham did” (vv. 37, 39). At this point the people grew angry and accused him of being illegitimate. In righteous anger the Lord replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (vv. 42–44). Thus, he put to an end forever the misleading and totally devilish doctrine that God is the Father of all men and that all men are his children.
Let us submit to the Word of God, and let the truth of the Word sweep the mind clean of all such false ideas. There are two families and two fatherhoods in this world. There is the family of Adam, into which all men are born, and there is the family of God, into which some men are reborn by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These latter were once children of darkness; they are now children of light (Eph. 5:8). They were dead in trespasses and sins; they are now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1). They were once children of wrath and disobedience; they are now children of love, faith, and obedience (Eph. 2:2–3). These are God’s children. These and only these can approach God as their Father.
We still have not seen everything there is to see about this word “Father,” however, for when Jesus addressed God as Father he did not use the normal word for father. He used the Aramaic word abba, and abba means “daddy.” Mark states this explicitly in his account of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, “ ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you’ ” (Mark 14:36). And Paul tells us clearly that the early Christians adopted the Lord’s own mode of praying: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Rom. 8:15). “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Gal. 4:6).
What does abba mean? Well, the early church fathers, Chrysostom, Theodor of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyrus, who came from Antioch (where Aramaic was spoken and who probably had Aramaic-speaking nurses) unanimously testify that abba was the address of a small child to his father. And the Talmud confirms this when it says that when a child is weaned “it learns to say abba and imma (that is, ‘daddy’ and ‘mother’)” (Berakoth 40a; Sanhedrin 70b). To a Jewish mind a prayer addressing God as “daddy” would not only have been improper, it would have been irreverent to the highest degree. It was something quite new and unique when Jesus taught his disciples to call God “Daddy.”
Do you know the God of the universe as your “daddy”? It is your privilege if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know there are times when you must come to him sadly, like a child who has just broken the living-room window. But there are other times when you can come to him snugly, as a child curls up on his father’s lap at the end of the day. However you come, you can never change the relationship. He is yours. He is your daddy.
Is he my daddy? If he is, then he will help me in the days of my infancy. He will teach me to walk spiritually, picking me up when I fall down and directing my steps securely. That is why Hosea can report God as saying,
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms; …
I led them with cords of compassion,
with the bands of love, …
and I bent down to them and fed them. …
How can I give you up, O Ephraim!
How can I hand you over, O Israel!
Hosea 11:3–4, 8 rsv
Surely such a God will keep me from falling and will present me faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24).
Is he my daddy? If he is, then he will care for me throughout all the days of this life and bless my days abundantly. The laws of the United States recognize that a parent must care for his children. So does God. He has set down the rule that “After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor. 12:14). And if this is true on the human level, it is also true of the relationship of a man or a woman to God. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? … And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 28–33).
Is he my daddy? If he is, then he will go before me to show me the way through this life. That is why Paul can write, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).
Is he my daddy? If he is, then I shall know that I belong to him forever; and I shall know that while I am being led, taught, and educated for life’s tasks, nothing shall interfere with his purpose in Christ concerning me.
The Names of God
The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer teach us who those are who can pray and what the privileges of access are for them. We say, “Our Father in heaven,” implying that God may be approached as a father by those (and only those) who have been reborn into his spiritual family. It is entirely possible, however, that a person may be a member of God’s family and know this and yet know very little about praying. Consequently, six petitions follow, the purpose of each being to instruct us in general terms what we are to pray for and how we are to do it.
The petitions say, “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9–13).
The most important thing that can be said about these sentences is that the first three clearly are concerned with God’s honor while the second three are concerned with man’s interests and, moreover, that this is not coincidental. Andrew Murray says, “There is something here that strikes us at once. While we ordinarily first bring our own needs to God in prayer, and then think of what belongs to God and his interests, the Master reverses the order. First, Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will; then, give us, lead us, deliver us. The lesson is of more importance than we think. In true worship the Father must be first, must be all. The sooner I learn to forget myself in the desire that he may be glorified, the richer will the blessing be that prayer will bring to myself. No one ever loses by what he sacrifices for the Father.”
Many people think of prayer as something that brings God into line with their own desires instead of something that brings them into line with his will. They learn that sometimes from the prayers of others, and they do it naturally themselves. As children, many persons were once taught to pray:
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Thus, the idea that prayer consists of presenting a list of personal requests becomes entrenched early in their thinking.
As a person grows older the pattern repeats itself on a more sophisticated level. The person finds himself offering some small thing to God in return for the things that he wants from him. It is the idea of a deal. Jacob did this the morning after he had run away from home to save his life and had seen the vision of a ladder extending up to heaven and of angels ascending and descending upon it. He was worried about his future at that point. So he prayed: “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth’ ” (Gen. 28:20–22). How noble of Jacob!
Unfortunately, we often pray first for things (that might take us from God), for friends (that might compete for his friendship), or for an ordering of events (that might accomplish our plans, but not his). Instead, we must learn to begin our prayers with thoughts of God’s honor and the advancement of his purposes in history.
Hallowed Be Thy Name
The first of the six petitions in this prayer establishes the proper order, for it is a prayer for God’s honor. It is “Hallowed be thy name.” The word “hallowed” is a word that has lost much of its meaning today simply because it has dropped out of common speech, but it is related etymologically to other words we do know. The Greek word translated here as “hallowed” is the word from which we also get our English word “holy.” It is translated in other places as “saint” or “sanctify.” Usually it refers to setting something apart for God’s use. Objects that were used in the temple were holy or sanctified because they were set apart for God’s use in the temple worship. Christians are called holy for the same reason.
I know of only one major text in the Bible in which the word is used of God. But this one text gives us the slightly different meaning of “hallowed” in the Lord’s Prayer. First Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify [that is the word] the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (nsb). Here Peter means, “Give God the place in your heart that he deserves.”
It is the same in the Lord’s Prayer, only here the scope of God’s rule is much broader. In fact, it is as broad as the first of the Ten Commandments upon which it may be patterned. In Exodus 20:2 and 3, we read, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” In the same way, we are to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (that corresponds to the words “I am the Lord your God …”), “hallowed be your name” (that corresponds to the command that there might be no other God before him). If I were to rephrase this first part of the Lord’s Prayer, I believe I would say, “My Father in heaven, my first desire is that in everything you might have preeminence.”
All these thoughts naturally become more pointed when we move from the word “hallowed” to the word “name.” For we can ask ourselves, “What is the name of God?” and “What does it mean to hallow it?” Actually, when we do this we soon find that there are many names of God—hundreds, in fact—and we learn that each describes some aspect of God’s nature. When we “hallow the name” we are therefore honoring God in relation to some aspect of his character.
Let me put this in terms of a question. Do you hallow the name of God? For instance, do you honor him in his name of Elohim, the name that acknowledges God as Creator? It is the third word in the Bible, the name that heads the account of creation. We are told in that passage that “God [Elohim] created the heaven and the earth.” He was responsible for the sun, moon, stars, and planets. He created the trees and the mountains, the flowers of the field and the plains. He formed all living things. He formed man of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the divine breath of life. Do you honor him as the one and only Creator? The eighteenth-century poet Isaac Watts was one who did this. He wrote:
I sing the mighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the goodness of the Lord
That filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word,
And then pronounced them good.
Lord! how thy wonders are displayed
Where’re I turn mine eye!
If I survey the ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the sky.
Creatures as numerous as we
Are subject to Thy care;
There’s not a place where we can flee,
But God is present there.
When we pray “hallowed be your name,” we ask that God might be honored as the Creator by ourselves and by others.
What about the related name El Elyon? This name means “God the Most High” and refers to him in relation to his rule over the heavens and the earth. Do you honor God in that?
The name El Elyon occurs first in the Bible in the account of Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek, the king and high priest of Salem. Abraham was returning home after his battle with the kings of the plains and the deliverance of Lot. We read in the account, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High [El Elyon], and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth’ ” (Gen. 14:18–19). This verse defines the title, for it refers to God’s sovereign rule over his creation. Exactly the same meaning occurs in a great hymn of praise to God by Moses, in which Moses says, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:7–8).
We need to ask whether we honor God as ruler of heaven and earth. We do not honor him as ruler of earth when we doubt his sovereignty in our lives and in the lives of others. We do not honor him when we complain about the state of the world or ask how we are ever going to get through this week, this month, this year. We honor him when we acknowledge him as the one who does all things well, who cares for us, and who continually works (as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says) to preserve and govern all his creatures and all their actions.
Perhaps you have come to hallow God as Elohim and El Elyon. Well, then, what about his great name Jehovah, the name by which God reveals himself as Redeemer? Do you know him as the One who has redeemed you and who has saved you from sin?
A verse from the early chapters of Genesis makes this saving relationship clear. We read that God had determined to destroy the earth with a flood because of the great wickedness of men, but we also read that with equal determination he had planned to save Noah and his family within the great ark. God gave Noah the plans for the ark. As God the Creator, he told him to take into the ark two of every variety of animal. Then, as Jehovah the Redeemer, he also told him to take in seven of every clean animal, many of which would later be used as blood sacrifices for sin. The story continues, “The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord [Jehovah] shut him in” (Gen. 7:16). Who saves? Jehovah saves. This is the meaning of the name “Jesus.” It is Jehovah who promised redemption to the fallen Adam and Eve in the garden. It is Jehovah who spoke to Noah. Jehovah appeared to Abraham promising a redeemer through his seed. Jehovah even taught Abraham the new name Jehovah Jireh, which means “the Lord will provide.” All this we experience personally when we enter into Christ and are sealed into him by God.
Do you know God as your Redeemer? Do you know him as the One who came in Jesus Christ to die for you, to lift you out of slavery to your sins, to draw you back to himself in love? You can never honor God properly until you honor him in this great aspect of his character. In Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, we see the fullness of God’s love.
How about the name Adonai? This name means “Lord.” Is he your Lord? Is he the One to whom you give your highest allegiance? Is he the One who directs your life? You cannot hallow him as Lord unless you do so practically.
What about that greatest name of all, the Lord Jesus Christ? In him all other names are combined. In him the characteristics of God are made manifest. One hymn writer has written:
O could I speak the matchless worth,
O could I sound the glories forth
Which in my Savior shine,
I’d soar and touch the heav’nly strings,
And vie with Gabriel while he sings
In notes almost divine.
I’d sing the characters he bears,
And all the forms of love he wears,
Exalted on His throne:
In loftiest songs of sweetest praise,
I would to everlasting days
Make all His glories known.
If we do that, then we shall be truly hallowing God, and we will be giving him that place in our lives which he deserves.
None Like Him
Do these names and their content describe your own feelings toward God? They do not exhaust him, but they remind us that there is none in the universe like him. We have called him Elohim, El Elyon, Jehovah, Jehovah Jireh, Adonai, the Lord Jesus Christ. But he is also the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Ancient of Days, seated upon the throne of heaven. He is the child of Bethlehem, lying in a manger. He is Jesus of Nazareth. His titles are Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is the righteous judge of the universe. He is our rock and our high tower.
What more can we say of our God? Can we say that he is the Way? Certainly, for he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the source of our life, the sustainer of life; he is life itself. He is the light of the world, the bread of life. He is the good shepherd, the great shepherd, the chief shepherd. He is the Lord of hosts. He is the King of kings. He is the faithful One. He is love. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses, David, Isaiah, Elizabeth, Anna, Simeon, and John the Baptist. He is the God of Peter, James, John, Timothy, Apollos, and Paul. And he not only is their God, he is my God.
Is he your God? If so, you can raise your voice with those of all generations of the Christian church and sing to his honor:
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.
Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
9 By contrast with ostentatious prayer (vv. 5–6) or thoughtless prayer (vv. 7–8), Jesus gives his disciples a model. But it is only a model: “This is how [not what] you should pray.”
The fatherhood of God is not a central theme in the OT. Where “father” does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, not direct address (Dt 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10). One can also find occasional references to God as father in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Tob 13:4; Sir 23:1; 51:10; Wis 2:16; 14:3; Jub. 1:24–25, 28; T. Levi 18:6; T. Jud. 24:2—though some of these may be Christian interpolations). There is but one instance in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 9:35); the assorted rabbinic references are relatively rare and few unambiguously antedate Jesus (b. Taʿan. 25b; the fifth and sixth petitions of the Eighteen Benedictions). Pagans likewise on occasion addressed their gods as father, e.g., Zeu pater (“Zeus, Father”; Lat. Jupiter). But not until Jesus is it characteristic to address God as “Father” (Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 11 ff.). This can be understood only against the background of customary patterns for addressing God.
The tendency in Jewish circles was to multiply titles ascribing sovereignty, lordship, glory, grace, and the like to God (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, 45 ff.). Against such a background, Jesus’ habit of addressing God as his own Father (Mk 14:36) and teaching his disciples to do the same could appear only familiar and presumptuous to opponents, personal and gracious to followers. Unfortunately, many modern Christians find it difficult to delight in the privilege of addressing the Sovereign of the universe as “Father” because they have lost the heritage that emphasizes God’s transcendence.
Jesus’ use of Abba (“Father” or “my Father”; GK 5, but see also GK 10003; Mk 14:36; cf. Mt 11:25; 26:39, 42; Lk 23:34; Jn 11:41; 12:27; 17:1–26) was adopted by early Christians (Ro 8:15; Gal 4:6), and there is no evidence of anyone before Jesus using this term to address God (cf. NIDNTT, 1:614–15). Throughout the prayer the reference is plural: “Our Father” (which in Aram. would have been, ʾabînû, not ʾabba). In other words, this is an example of a prayer to be prayed in fellowship with other disciples (cf. 18:19), not in isolation (cf. Jn 20:17). Striking is Jesus’ use of pronouns with “Father.” When forgiveness of sins is discussed, Jesus speaks of “your Father” (6:14–15) and excludes himself. When he speaks of his unique sonship and authority, he speaks of “my Father” (e.g., 11:27) and excludes others. The “our Father” at the beginning of this model prayer is plural but does not include Jesus, since it is part of his instruction regarding what his disciples should pray.
This opening designation establishes the kind of God to whom prayer is offered: He is personal (no mere “ground of being”) and caring (a Father, not a tyrant or an ogre, but the one who establishes the real nature of fatherhood; cf. Eph 3:14–15). That he is “our Father” establishes the relationship that exists between Jesus’ disciples and God. In this sense he is not the Father of all people indiscriminately (see comments at 5:43–47). The early church was right to forbid non-Christians from reciting this prayer as vigorously as they forbade them from joining with believers at the Lord’s Table. But that he is “our Father in heaven” (the designation occurs twenty times in Matthew, once in Mark [Mk 11:25], never in Luke, and in some instances may be a Matthean formulation) reminds us of his transcendence and sovereignty, while preparing us for v. 10b. The entire formula is less concerned with the proper protocol in approaching Deity than with the truth of who he is, to establish within the believer the right frame of mind (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 146).
God’s “name” is a reflection of who he is (cf. NIDNTT, 2:648–56). God’s “name” is God himself as he is and has revealed himself, and so his name is already holy. Holiness, often thought of as “separateness,” is less an attribute than what he is. It has to do with the very godhood of God. Therefore to pray that God’s “name” be “hallowed” (the verbal form of “holy,” recurring in Matthew only at 23:17, 19 [NIV, “makes sacred”]) is not to pray that God may become holy but that he may be treated as holy (cf. Ex 20:8; Lev 19:2, 32; Eze 36:23; 1 Pe 1:15), that his name should not be despised (Mal 1:6) by the thoughts and conduct of those who have been created in his image.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 375–379). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 165–176). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 203–204). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.