A Bible Study on the Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:9-13 (cf Lk. 11:1-4)

The Lord's Prayer is recited word for word, week after week, in many churches. However, that was not the Lord’s intent in teaching it. We read of no one in the New Testament ever offering this prayer. Also, Luke records a slightly different version of it--which would be a problem if we were always to use these exact words. Rather than words to recite over and over, it seems to be a suggested pattern showing the kind of things that ought to be included. To simply repeat these words over and over could become an example of the kind of “vain repetition [mindless babble]” the Lord condemns (Matt. 6:7-8).

For Jesus’ listeners, there was nothing particularly new in the prayer . All of the basic truths in it can be found in the Old Testament. However the teachings of the rabbis had encrusted the subject of prayer (and many other topics) with unbiblical traditions and practices (cf. Matt. 6:5). No wonder one of the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). His answer gets us back to the essence of what prayer is all about.

ABOUT THE MUSICAL VERSION. Flickering images danced across the screen in the darkened projection room as the musician watched. During his time at the Disney Studios, it was Al Malotte’s job to compose background music for the antics of characters in the “Silly Symphonies” and other animated features. But he had a more serious side. Albert Hay Malotte (1895-1964) was also a virtuoso on the organ. And though he remained in Hollywood, occasionally writing music for films, he soon focused on his first love, playing and teaching the organ. A Presbyterian layman, Mr. Malotte also wrote sacred music.

One day in 1934, the composer sat listening to the radio--the weekly broadcast of hymn selections by an extraordinary singer named John Charles Thomas. The son of a pastor, Mr. Thomas went on to star on Broadway, and at the Metropolitan Opera, giving concert performances across America and in other countries as well. A music critic once stated he had one of the three greatest voices he ever heard. He was also the vocal coach for a young, up-and-coming gospel soloist named George Beverly Shea.

As Malotte listened to the radio, deeply impressed by the singer’s God-given gift, he made a decision. He would write a piece of sacred music especially for John Charles Thomas to sing. The text he chose was from Matthew’s Gospel. And the result is a piece many of us have heard from time to time at weddings and other special events. It is Albert Hay Malotte’s beautiful setting of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Though the Bible passage is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, it has been pointed out it could more precisely be labeled the Disciples’ Prayer. It is intended for His followers, not for Christ Himself. (Jesus had no need to ask for forgiveness of sins.) In fact, this prayer seems especially suited to God’s people gathering together to pray. Each of the personal pronouns is plural (our, us). We would be less likely to pray that way in our personal devotions (cf. Matt. 6:6).

And we should also note the time and the audience of the prayer. It was given to the believing Jews, before the cross. This does not make it inappropriate for Christians to use. However, there are many things the prayer does not contain which have become relevant now. There is nothing here about the death and resurrection of Christ, nothing about the birth of the church at Pentecost. Nor is the prayer offered “in Jesus’ name,” as we now are to pray (cf. Jn. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24). The latter only became appropriate after Christ’s ascension to take up His work as our great High Priest. Nonetheless, there is a great deal here which can be instructive for us.

1) Looking an outline of the prayer (below), what do you notice about the order of things?

Introductory AddressI. Prayer for God’s GloryA. The Reverence of His NameB. The Coming of His Earthly KingdomC. The Accomplishment of His WillII. Prayer for Human NeedsA. Daily SustenanceB. Forgiveness of SinsC. Protection from the Evil One Concluding Doxology

INSIGHT: The pattern is similar to that of the “Ten Commandments” which introduce the Law of Moses (Exod. 20:1-17). It begins with a focus on the honour and glory of God, and then moves on to the practical concerns of human beings.

2) What lesson is there in this for our own prayers?

3) To whom should prayer be addressed, according to vs. 9?

INSIGHT: This is in keeping with God’s instructions to the church as well. “For through Him [Christ], we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). Since both the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ are fully God, it is not necessarily wrong to pray to them. But that is not the pattern God has given us. We should address our prayers to our Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name [His authority], depending on the aid of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:26-27). God is spoken of as our “Father” in every New Testament book but one (the little book of III John).

4) Who are the ones who can rightly call God “our Father”?

INSIGHT: We are able to draw near to God because of the “new and living way” opened up for us “by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19-22). This does not mean God may not graciously respond to the prayer of an unsaved person, but that is the exception. If we have not trusted in the finished work of Christ, we are not on praying ground, because we are not part of the family of God (Jn. 1:12; Gal. 3:26).

INSIGHT: The word “hallowed” is a form of a word also translated sanctified, holy, and saint. It means: separated or set apart, set apart from evil and unto what is good and righteous. The “name” of God represents His Person.

5) With the above facts in mind, what does it mean to pray that God’s name be hallowed?

INSIGHT: This is certainly done in heaven. But as with the next two petitions the desire here is to see the same thing taking place on earth.

6) What kind of behaviour represents the opposite of hallowing God’s name?

7) There is also a kind of phoney version of hallowing God’s name. What is it (Matt. 15:8)?

INSIGHT: The next petition requires an understanding of what is meant by the “kingdom.” God is absolutely sovereign over the entire universe. Nothing that exists is outside His control. In that sense the earth is already part of His universal kingdom, so that is not what is in view. In another sense, when we are born again we become a part of a spiritual kingdom (Jn. 3:3; Col. 1:12-13). Then Christ rules in our hearts. But more than that is intended here.

The reference is to what theologians call the mediatorial kingdom, God’s rule administered on earth through a human representative or mediator. In the beginning, Adam was commissioned with that task (Gen. 1:26, 28), but he failed through sin. It will be Christ, at His second coming, who succeeds where Adam did not. Thus, what is spoken of here is especially the coming earthly kingdom when Christ will reign over the earth.

8) Did the Jews want this to happen (see Jn. 6:15)?

9) What are two things many Jews did not understand about God’s program (see Lk. 24:26 and Ps. 2:6)?

10) When the earthly kingdom is ushered in, what will happen on earth that is now consistently taking place in heaven (Matt. 6:10)?

INSIGHT: Now much of the allegiance of men is mere lip service. As Jesus put it, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46).

11) What would a society be like if the Lord were to be obeyed consistently by everyone (and what would be missing from it then)?

INSIGHT: “Contrary to much emphasis in the evangelical church today, true prayer, like true worship, centres on God’s glory, not on man’s needs” (John MacArthur). Even so, we are also encouraged to bring our requests to the Lord (Phil. 4:6).

INSIGHT: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Likely this petition is intended to represent all our temporal needs–for food, clothing, shelter, health, companionship, etc. We can certainly appreciate how someone in poverty in a third world country would need to pray for bread. But perhaps we feel it is unnecessary here.

12) Why is it important for us in North America to pray this kind of prayer?

13) Why is the focus put on our daily bread?

INSIGHT: “Forgive us our debts [that which is owed, that which is legally due].” This is a reference to our sins, to how we have wronged and offended God. (“Sins” is the word used in the parallel passage, Lk. 11:4.) It is a reminder that we are not doing God a favour by obeying Him. We owe Him our obedience.

14) If we expect God to forgive us, how are we to treat others (vs. 12; and see vs. 14-15)?

INSIGHT: What is in view here is not God’s judicial forgiveness from the eternal penalty of sin. For the Christian that was taken care of once and for all at the cross. What the prayer is speaking of is God’s parental forgiveness of His child within the family. Forgiveness that is necessary if our fellowship with Him is to be unhindered here and now. How can we expect to have free fellowship with the Lord if we are holding a grudge against someone else?

15) What is the next petition of the prayer (vs. 13)?

16) Why is this petition a little puzzling (compare Jas. 1:13)?

INSIGHT: The nature of temptation is that it suggests the acceptability–or even the advantage–of behaviour that is not righteous. Being Himself fully righteous, God cannot tempt us to evil. But behind this prayer is a humble recognition of human weakness–weakness that is fully known to God. It is a plea that the Lord will protect us from those dangerous situations where Satan can take advantage of us and cause us to stumble.

17) The companion request to this is what (vs. 13)?

INSIGHT: The Greek word here can simply by translated “evil,” or “wicked.” But a number of times it is used of the devil himself (cf. Matt. 13:19) and that certainly fits. We need God’s protection against the wicked one. Note that the teaching on the Christian’s armour protecting us against the devil ends with this appeal, “Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:10-18).

INSIGHT: The prayer concludes, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Many modern versions omit this closing doxology on the basis that some ancient manuscripts do not have it. However, it is certainly biblical. Similar sentiments are expressed in a prayer of David’s (cf. I Chron. 29:11). Furthermore, out of about 500 manuscripts containing the prayer, only 8 leave this part out. It is also found in many other ancient version of the Bible. All things considered, it belongs there!

18) What does the ending show about the basic reason behind all our praying (“For [because, since]...” vs. 13)?

19) How might this study of the Lord’s Prayer affect your own praying in the future?