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The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer. It is not only a prayer for us to repeat; it is a lesson in how to pray and what to pray for. It covers all our needs of body and soul, but it is also concerned about the needs of all our fellow Christians and of all the uncounted millions who do not yet know the Lord Jesus as their Savior. It is an appropriate prayer on every occasion that calls for prayer. It puts first things first, but it leaves nothing out.
Our Father in heaven. God is the Father of all people in the sense that he created them all and gave them life. But only those who know him as their heavenly Father through faith in Christ Jesus have the privilege of coming to him in prayer. Even though serious doctrinal differences may separate us from Christians of other denominations in this world, we are praying with and for the whole Christian church on earth, the invisible church, when we say, “Our Father.” We may boldly and confidently ask him for any good thing, just as children do not hesitate to bring their requests to their earthly fathers, who love them and care for them.
The seven petitions are all-inclusive. The first three ask for spiritual blessings. Only the fourth mentions material blessings. Then the last three ask for deliverance from every kind of evil of body and soul. When we pray this prayer, we can present to our heavenly Father all our cares and concerns, all our requests, as well as all our gratitude and praise. The better we understand this model prayer, the more effectively we can pray all our prayers, and the more abundantly our prayers will serve as channels of God’s blessings to ourselves, our fellow believers, and the whole world.
Hallowed be your name. God’s name means more than the various names by which we address him, such as Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit. When we speak of a person as having a good name or a bad name, we are thinking of his reputation, and his reputation depends upon everything we know about the person. Likewise, God’s name refers to everything we know about him. W know him as he reveals himself to us in his whole creation, but especially as he makes himself known in his Word, the inspired Scriptures. So the name of God and the Word of God are almost synonymous.
We hallow (keep holy) God’s name when we know and believe and obey his Word. When we pray this petition, we are asking our heavenly Father to help us obey the First Commandment. In a sense, the First Commandment summarizes all ten, and this petition summarizes the whole Lord’s Prayer. The following petitions merely elaborate on this first one. After all, if God’s Word is universally known and believed and obeyed, what more could we possibly ask?
Your kingdom come. God’s kingdom is his reign, especially his ruling in people’s hearts through the power of his saving gospel. God will rule with or without our prayers. In this petition we are asking our Father to strengthen his gracious rule in our hearts. At the same time, we are praying that he will use us in the work of his kingdom, that he will bring others to saving faith through our testimony and our support of the work of his church on earth. This is a prayer in behalf of missions all over the world.
Those who pray this petition with sincerity will want to do all they can to promote and support this all-important work. God doesn’t need us for this work, but he gives us the privilege of being involved in it. In this petition we acknowledge that privilege and thank God for it.
Your will be done. God’s will is, above all, that everybody should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. In other words, God’s will is that his name be hallowed and that his kingdom come. In all his dealings with us, he keeps those goals in mind. We cannot always understand why God works in our lives the way he does, and we often imagine that we could be much more effective as his servants in this world if he would be more generous in showering us with material gifts and intellectual power and physical health and strength. But when we make faithful use of the various gifts he has given us for the service of our Lord and Savior, we submit to his will, and his good and gracious plans are accomplished.
Give us today our daily bread. Our daily bread includes everything we need for this body and life. God provides for all his creatures, and he will provide for our bodily needs whether we pray for this or not. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (chapter 5, verse 45). When we pray for our daily bread, we also recognize that God normally provides for us through natural means. He gives most of us the ability and the opportunity to earn our daily bread, and he tells us that anyone who is able but unwilling to work does not deserve to be fed.
In this petition we also recognize the needs of the poor and the aged and the disabled. When we pray for our daily bread, we are including them. Is it not self-evident that we will then share our abundance with those who are in need? “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James chapter 2, verses 15 and 16). If we say to the needy, “I’ll pray for you,” but refuse to help them directly, what good is our prayer? It is no better than the prayers of the hypocrites that Jesus condemned.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Our debts are our sins, or trespasses. We recognize that we are miserable sinners who fall short of the perfection God demands and who deserve nothing but punishment from him. But we know that Jesus died for all our sins and that he offers us full and free forgiveness. We sin daily, so we seek God’s forgiveness every day, and we know that when God forgives, he forgives all sins. If he were to forgive all but one, what good would that do us? One unforgiven sin would still condemn us to the eternal torments of hell.
In Holy Baptism, God washed away all our sins, past, present, and future. In Holy Communion also he forgives us all our sins. The spoken absolution of our pastor or of another fellow Christian, which is simply a pronouncement of the gospel truth that God forgives all our sins for Jesus’ sake, also bestows on us complete forgiveness.
There is nothing we need more than the forgiveness of all our sins. When we realize that we continue to sin in spite of our best efforts, we might be inclined to doubt that we are forgiven. So God assures us and reassures us and reassures us again through the gospel in Word and sacrament that he has indeed, for Jesus’ sake, removed all our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. He has cast them into the depths of the sea. The omniscient God has forgotten our sins—even when we cannot help remembering them. When we appreciate how graciously he has forgiven us, how can we refuse to forgive anyone who has wronged us? If we refuse to forgive others, we are saying we believe people should atone for or suffer the consequences of their own sins. We are telling God not to forgive us either. An unforgiving spirit cannot coexist with humble Christian faith, and without faith we have no forgiveness or salvation.
And lead us not into temptation. Temptation means testing of any kind. Sometimes God puts our faith to the test by permitting suffering and disappointment and troubles to plague us. But he assures us that he will always be with us in our tribulations. He will strengthen us, and he will always cause our troubles to work out for our good and blessing. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans chapter 8, verse 28). Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In this petition we ask God to guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will not cause us to sin. Temptations of all kinds will assail us as long as we live on this earth, but with God’s help we will gain the victory over them.
But deliver us from the evil one. The evil one is the devil, but this may be a reference to evil in general. Either translation is grammatically acceptable, and both translations say essentially the same thing. All the evil in this world is the consequence of Satan’s work, so to be delivered from it is to be delivered from him. This final petition summarizes at least the previous two petitions (just as the third petition summarizes the first and the second). The seventh petition asks for deliverance from every evil of body and soul for time and for eternity. We recognize that God may deliver us by taking the evil from us or by causing the evil to serve a good purpose for us or by taking us from the evil to himself in heaven. We leave it to him to determine how he will answer this final petition—as well as all the previous ones.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. appears only in a footnote in our NIV Bibles. Some of the ancient manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel do not include these words. It is possible that they were added by later copyists. Whether they were originally included or not, they are thoroughly scriptural and appropriate as a conclusion or doxology to the Lord’s Prayer. They remind us that God, who rules over all things, has the power to answer all our prayers and deserves all glory now and forever. He is the one who has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us, so we can be certain that our prayers will be heard and answered. With the “Amen” we confess: I know all this is true.
All these comments on the Lord’s Prayer only skim the surface. The riches of this special prayer are inexhaustible. As we continue to use it, we do well to continue to study it and to ponder it. Only the Son of God could have provided us with such a short, simple, yet profound and all-inclusive prayer!
Matthew chapter 6, verses 16-18
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The third “act of righteousness” of which Jesus speaks is fasting. The Law of Moses seems to have required at the most only one day of fasting per year. (Leviticus chapter 16, verse 29 in the NIV speaks of denying oneself on the Day of Atonement, which is assumed to be a reference to fasting.) The Pharisees, on the other hand, fasted twice a week and boasted about it. They loved to demonstrate how grievously they were suffering when they fasted, and their performances impressed many people. But they did not impress God at all.
New Testament believers are not required to fast at all. If, however, you want to fast, Jesus says, if you feel that fasting will help you to keep your sinful flesh under control and to concentrate your attention on spiritual matters, by all means fast. But don’t even mention it to anybody. Let it be a matter strictly between yourself and your God. Martin Luther in his Small Catechism states that some Christians may find fasting helpful as they prepare themselves to receive the Lord’s Supper, but it does not make anyone worthy. The penitent sinner who trusts that in the Sacrament he receives the true body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all his sins—that person is truly worthy and well prepared to come to the Lord’s Table.
Treasures in heaven
Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-24
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
The advice Jesus gives us here is obviously reasonable and sensible, and yet we find it very difficult to put into practice. Our problem is the selfishness and greed of our sinful flesh, which we cannot completely overcome. And we cannot always distinguish properly between responsible providing for our future needs and selfish hoarding. That is why we need to be reminded that earthly treasures cannot provide us with any real security.
Anything we possess may be lost or stolen, ruined by rust or mildew, destroyed by fire or flood. It is a principle of nature that things that are not used tend to deteriorate and eventually become useless. And we also need to keep in mind that all sorts of things can happen to us that make us incapable of enjoying or even using our possessions. Injury, illness, paralysis, blindness, or other disabilities may intervene anytime, and death is always at the door.
It is much more sensible to store up treasures in heaven. There everything is secure and imperishable, and we will be there to enjoy those treasures for all eternity. But how do we store up treasures in heaven? We surely cannot send ahead any money or jewels or food or clothing. Such possessions would not be useful there even if we could somehow send them there or take them along.
We store up treasures in heaven by being good stewards of our earthly possessions, by using them in responsible, God-pleasing ways, and by doing everything for God’s glory. When we make it our main purpose in life to remain in God’s kingdom through faith in Christ and to do everything we can to share the blessings of the kingdom with people all over the world, then we are storing up treasures in heaven.
We are not earning special heavenly blessings, but God will graciously bless us with perfect happiness in heaven, the fellowship of all the saints of all times, perfect health and strength, and total freedom from pain and sorrow and suffering and all the consequences of sin. Doesn’t it make sense to concentrate on reaching that goal and avoiding whatever might interfere?
That is the kind of single-mindedness Jesus speaks about when he goes on to talk about good and bad eyes. Good spiritual eyes see and evaluate things correctly and remain focused on life’s goal. Bad eyes make for poor and incorrect judgments, decisions, and actions, and they cause us to plunge headlong into eternal disaster.
By nature, all of us have “bad eyes.” We are spiritually blind and need to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit enlightens us through the gospel of Christ, we can see things as they really are. We can realize the enormity of our sins, and we can clearly see Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sin. We can see and believe that we are cleansed of all sin and guilt by the precious blood of Christ, and we can be confident that we are heirs of the imperishable gifts of heaven. With that kind of spiritual vision, we can properly evaluate temporary and perishable earthly treasures. Without it, we walk in darkness, and “how great is that darkness!”
With that kind of single-mindedness, we won’t attempt to serve two masters, God and Money. (The King James Version speaks of God and Mammon. Mammon is money and material possessions in general with the connotation of selfishness and greed. The same thought is expressed when the NIV capitalizes “Money.”)
Money, in itself, is not evil; it is a gift of God, and it can be used in many God-pleasing ways. But we so often misuse God’s good gifts. We are inclined to imagine that a huge amount of money would solve all our problems and make us ecstatically happy. We need to be reminded that the best things in life really are free. Nothing is more valuable than fresh air and sunshine, air to breathe and water to drink, pleasant weather, friendships, the ability to see and hear and feel and think, the beauties of God’s creation, and, above all, the assurance of God’s love and full forgiveness in Christ Jesus and the guarantee of a place in the glorious mansions of heaven also for Jesus’ sake.
We must constantly struggle to keep our money in subjection as our servant and not let it become our master. What a cruel master it can be! People sacrifice health and strength, family and friends in an effort to amass as much money as possible—and then they find that their riches can be more of a problem and a worry than an asset. Hard work and ambition can be commendable Christian virtues, but we need to be constantly on guard that they do not become sinful obsessions.
The observations that Jesus makes here are obviously reasonable and sensible and true, and yet we need to be reminded of these truths again and again—even though we may hate to be reminded! We are inclined to complain anytime our pastor preaches about money, are we not? Rather than complaining and becoming defensive, let’s pay close attention to what he says. His words will undoubtedly be in line with what Jesus has to say here. How, then, can we as Christians object? Let’s realize that it is our selfish, sinful flesh that is resentful, and let’s drown that old Adam by daily contrition and repentance! Nothing is more practical or applicable to our daily lives than guidance for the proper use of our money. Our God leaves much to our individual discretion and conscience and Christian liberty, but we need to be guided by Christian principles.
In this connection, it might be advisable to take a fresh look at the gambling mania that is overrunning our country. Why do people bet on athletic contests? Why do they like to go to the horse or dog track? Why do they drive long distances across state lines and stand in line to buy lottery tickets? In some cases, gambling for small stakes may be innocent entertainment, but gambling can so easily become an obsession, a waste that interferes with obligations to family and to the kingdom of God. We cannot love Mammon without hating God, Jesus tells us. That obviously is a warning for our good.
We have no right to judge anyone else’s Christianity on the basis of the amount he contributes to his church or to charity. But it is good for all of us to examine ourselves, keeping in mind that the way we regard and use our money is an accurate indicator of our spiritual condition. Is our money our servant to glorify God and help our neighbor, or have we allowed it to become our master? God is a much more merciful master than Mammon could ever be!
Do not worry
Matthew chapter 6, verses 25-34
“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? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “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. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
If we trust God rather than Mammon, we won’t worry about the necessities of this life. Worry about such things is sin, for it is an expression of doubt that God will do what he has clearly promised to do. Yet we frequently worry because of the weakness of our flesh. Here Jesus tells us how to deal with our worries. First he tells us not to worry about life, food, drink, or clothing, and then he tells us why we need not worry.
His first argument compares the greater to the lesser. If God has given you life, which is far greater than any material possessions, will he not provide you with the lesser gifts of food, drink, clothing, and shelter? Would it make any sense at all for God to give us life and then be unconcerned about sustaining that life? The obvious answer is No.
Then he compares the lesser to the greater. If God provides for the needs of the birds of the air, who don’t even sow or reap or store up food in barns, will he not provide for your needs? You have the advantage over the birds of being able to sow and reap and store up the fruits of the field in barns. You also have the advantage of being far more valuable in God’s sight. He created you with an immortal soul. Can you imagine that he will be less concerned about you than about the birds? Or look at the wild flowers. The lilies of the field do not labor or spin; yet God dresses them in finery that even Solomon in all his splendor could not rival. We can “labor and spin.” We have that advantage over the lilies. So why should we worry about having the necessary clothing? The grass of the field was used as fuel for cooking in areas where firewood was scarce. It was here today and gone tomorrow, and yet God also made the grassy fields a thing of beauty. Can we imagine that God has less concern for us? Impossible!
With these observations and reassurances in mind, Jesus gives us a word of advice that might well serve as our motto for Christian living day after day: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” He is telling us to make his kingdom and his righteousness the number-one priority in our lives. We are to remember that God rules the whole world in the interest of his church, his believers. He is all-powerful and infinitely merciful and gracious, and his wisdom knows no bounds.
So we want to serve him in everything we do. We want to live righteous lives because we know that we are righteous in God’s sight by virtue of Christ’s perfect life and his innocent suffering and death. God has received us as his dear children, and we want to remain his children in time and in eternity. So we want to make faithful use of the means he has provided to preserve and strengthen us in the faith, his gospel in Word and sacrament, the only means we need.
The gospel tells us of God’s love, but it is more than just a message. God’s saving power attends it. We who are heirs of salvation have the joyful privilege of serving as God’s messengers to make that powerful saving truth known to lost sinners all over the earth. That is the main purpose for which God sustains and extends our earthly lives, and we can be involved in this blessed work one way or another as long as we live.
When we let these first things be first in our lives, the secondary matters will be taken care of almost automatically. God will keep his promise to provide us with food, drink, clothing, and shelter. We have no right to expect him to do this with no effort or labor on our part. Ordinarily, he provides for our needs through the normal processes of nature. He sends sunshine and rain and causes fields, forests, gardens, orchards, and vineyards to be productive. And he normally gives us the ability and the opportunity to do useful work and thus to earn our needed share of his bounty.
Those who cannot earn their own daily bread for one reason or another have a right to expect others to come to their assistance. They have a right to expect that because God has told us we should share our goods with them. God also plainly says that anyone who is unwilling to work and earn his own daily bread does not have a right to expect others to provide for his needs.
Jesus does not promise us a life without troubles and consequences of sin. They keep us mindful of our sinfulness and unworthiness and of our daily need for God’s gracious forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. They also help us to keep our attention on the goal of our faith and to look forward to the trouble-free life in heaven that will never end. He who has provided this glorious inheritance for us is the one who tells us not to worry about the things of this life, for he will surely bring us to that goal.