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Matthew 6:7-15 Part 1

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Introduction

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

10  Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11  Give us this day our daily bread,

12  and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13  And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

This week we’re going to hone in on Jesus’ teaching concerning prayer. However, he started in chapter six with a warning to his disciples saying, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” and then he went on to give three examples of practicing righteousness, including giving to the needy, prayer and fasting, but in verse 7 of chapter 6 Jesus takes the time to digress with the intent of teaching his disciples how they ought to pray, which is what we’re going to look at primarily today.
The assumption that we ought to give, pray and fast
But before we do that I want us to notice something first. I want us to see one if the underlying assumptions throughout verses 1-18. As Jesus addresses all three subjects of giving, prayer and fasting he begins each admonition with a phrase like this, “Thus, when you give to the needy” or “And when you pray” or “And when you fast”. Each of these phrases includes the word ‘when’.
Spiritual disciplines
The significance of this should be obvious, Jesus explicitly assumes that his disciples will be regularly giving to the needy, that his disciples will be regularly engaging in prayer, and that his disciples will be regularly fasting. Therefore, the first and foremost admonition within these texts is this, as a follower of Christ you ought to be regularly practicing these things. You ought to be engaging in prayer, you ought to be giving and you ought to posses a life that consists of fasting. So before we move on to Jesus’ teaching concerning prayer I want us to consider whether these 3 three things are present within our lives. Are we disciplining ourselves to make time for private prayer on a daily basis? Do we make it a priority to give to the needy? Are we doing that? Are we practicing that? Are we making a point to integrate fasting into our lives? Maybe you don’t even know what the point of fasting is.
Spiritual disciplines for our spiritual welfare
Now the reason I bring this up is because firstly Jesus brings it up, and that, in and of itself, should be enough for us to take notice, but the other reason is because I suspect if most of us in this room were to take a brief assessment of our lives we would find that our lives are largely devoid of most of these practices (or these disciplines). And as present day professing disciples of Jesus this ought to concern us, because the purpose of these spiritual disciplines is our spiritual welfare. God has ordained certain, seemingly ordinary, disciplines for the spiritual health of his people.
Therefore, we ought to pursue these disciplines, we should pursue a lifestyle that includes these practices. Our concern for God’s glory and for our very own souls ought to be enough to compel us. So today as we look at Jesus’ teaching concerning prayer take the opportunity to be compelled anew to grow in this discipline of prayer. And take heart, because we’re not left to ourselves to know how we ought to pray, Jesus gives us instructions.
Heaping up empty phrases like the Gentiles
So let’s start by reading again verses 7-8,

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

What Jesus is ultimately going to do here is compare the typical prayers of pagan Gentiles with how his disciples ought pray to their heavenly Father. When Jesus says, “do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” he’s referring to a combination of mindless babble and empty words typically offered up by the Gentiles to their god (or gods), and he’s telling his disciples that their prayers should not look like the mindless babble of the Gentiles who think that in order to garner the attention of their gods that they must in essence pester them with a multitude of words.

7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

And that’s why Jesus goes on and says, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." The specific contrast here is between the impersonal and limited nature of the Gentile gods and “our Father” who is both intimately compassionate toward his children and omniscient (all-knowing). This is the significance of Jesus calling God “our Father”. You see a father cares for and listens to his children, whereas the gods of the Gentiles did not relate to their subjects in this same way. The idea that God could be personal and fatherly was a radical concept that was largely foreign to the Gentiles, and even to the Jews in many respects.
The significance of God’s omniscience
The significance of God’s omniscience is reflected in the second half of verse 8 where Jesus says, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” He isn’t saying that we shouldn’t ask God for what what we need, what he’s saying is that God is all-knowing and since he already knows what you need, then you don’t need to be concerned with pestering him with your needs in the same way that the Gentiles pester their gods, as if their gods are otherwise unaware of their needs. Jesus is assuring his disciples that God is intimately aware of their needs even before they ask. So what we ought to learn from this is that God is a compassionate father who has our needs in mind before we even ask him.
Quantity vs. quality
While the Gentiles thought that the gods were impressed by the quantity of their words, Jesus is teaching his disciples that their heavenly Father is concerned instead with quality of their words. Which is why Jesus goes on to teach them how to pray. He says, starting in verse 9,
So Jesus goes on in verse 9 then to describe what prayer ought to look like for his disciples. He says,
So Jesus goes on in verse 9 then to describe what prayer ought to look like for his disciples. He says,

9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

10  Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11  Give us this day our daily bread,

12  and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13  And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

The intended use of the Lord’s Prayer
Now what we’re going to do is look at each of these components one at a time, but first I want us to take a moment to consider how Jesus intends for us to pray this prayer. What I mean is does Jesus intend for us to merely recite this prayer or does Jesus intend for us to see this prayer as a model for more extended prayer. I think the answer to that question is both, or maybe I should say both are warranted and permissible uses of what we read here. The reason I say that is because of what we read in , where Jesus again teaches some of his other disciples how to pray,

11 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

3  Give us each day our daily bread,

4  and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.”

The Lord’s Prayer ought to be recited and used as a model for extended prayer
Notice verse 2, “When you pray, say”. In other words while I do think that Lord’s Prayer is certainly a guide and a model for more extended prayer, Jesus here finds nothing wrong with reciting the Lord’s Prayer verbatim. In other words, I think we’re free to recite the Lord’s Prayer together corporately, as part of our liturgy during worship, or privately, but I also say that with some reservation because I know that the human tendency is often to render good liturgy dead liturgy. We can easily turn the reciting of a certain prayer into a perceived meritorious work, as if simply reciting a certain compilation of words necessarily pleases God. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer, in and of itself, is not pleasing to God any more than Satan’s reciting Scripture from memory in the desert with Jesus was pleasing to God.
God’s concerned with the heart
If you’ll remember during our last time together we took time demonstrating that God is chiefly concerned with the heart, and not merely our external actions, and that if our actions are not undergirded by a heart of faith and love toward God then our righteousness is as filthy rags. So let’s press on keeping these things in mind.
Read again with me verse 9,

9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Our Father
We’ve looked already at the significance of the phrase “our Father” in contrast to the relationship that the Gentiles had with their gods, but I want us to think again for a moment of the depth of these words. Jesus says that we ought to address God in our prayers as “our Father”. What this assumes is that we are his children, and this also demonstrates that prayer is intended exclusively for the children of God, and not everyone on planet earth is a child of God by biblical standards.
Who’s your father?
The Bible’s definition of those who can legitimately claim God as their father are those who are united to him in faith and who obey his words. All we have to do to see this is to look back at chapter 5 verses 43-48 where Jesus says this,

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In order to be considered a son of God, or to call God your father, you must be a person who seeks to obey God’s commands, and in this particular instance that means loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. There are texts like this all throughout the Scriptures. Let’s look at another one in , starting in verse 39 where Jesus is interacting with some of the Pharisees,

You Are of Your Father the Devil

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Jesus makes it crystal clear that the identity our father is directly linked to the works that we do, that our works give evidence of who our father really is. In this case the Pharisees claimed that God was their father, but because they did not receive the words of Jesus this was manifest evidence that their father was actually the devil.
The privilege of calling God father
So the Lord's prayer is designed for the child of God who by faith in God’s son has the privilege of calling God their father. And my emphasis here is that we have the privilege of calling God our father. That God has come near to us and made us his own, that we’ve been adopted into the family of God. And that reality should blow us away, because we do not deserve or merit our relationship with God, we’re not entitled to call God our father. What a beautiful thought to think that we as sinners, because of the blood of Christ, can call the one who dwells in unapproachable light our father. So again, our initial reaction at the outset of reading the Lord’s Prayer ought to be astonishment and gratefulness that we have the privilege to call God our father.
Significance of the pronouns “our,” “we,” and “us”
And I want you to take notice of one last thing before we close. Notice Jesus doesn’t begin the prayer like this, “My Father in heaven, hallowed by your name.” Instead he says “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” He uses the word ‘our’, and not just in verse 9, he says in verse 11, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and in verse 12, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” and finally in verse 13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” My point is that we’re not only a son or daughter of God but we’re born into a family.
Now obviously Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the plural so it would only be natural for him to speak in a plurally inclusive manner like “Our Father in heaven” or “Give us this day our daily bread”, but I still think there’s something to be said of the absence of first-person singular pronouns like ‘I’ or ‘me’. It’s important for us to remember that we’re a part of a family, especially when we live in such an individualistic culture like our own here in the West. “To be a Christian is to be a part of the church.” “Our most fundamental spiritual identity is not “I” but “we.” (Albert Mohler, The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down)

Conclusion

Now, Lord willing, during our next time together we’ll continue looking at the other components that make up the Lord’s Prayer, but today I want us to remember that first it’s assumed of every Christian that prayer is an integral part of our spiritual life, second that it is a remarkable comfort and privilege to call God our father, and third that we must always bear in mind that we live and breathe in the context of the church, in the context of a family whom God has given us.
Let’s pray.
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