Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 6:7-15

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

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I’m using the King James Version today because the prose is more traditional and beautiful than the modern translations of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount continues. It encompasses Matthew 5 through Matthew 7.

Luke 11 also features the Lord’s Prayer but in a different context. In Luke’s account, the disciples saw Jesus praying and one of them requested (Luke 11:1):

Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.

The disciple was referring to John the Baptist.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus gave instructions to His audience, the disciples — and us — on how to pray.

He tells us not to use the ‘vain repetitions’ of the pagans (verse 7). Modern translations use the word ‘Gentile’. Essentially, the connotation means non-Jew.

Matthew Henry recalls that the Old Testament recounts pagan prayers:

Baal’s priests were hard at it from morning till almost night with their vain repetitions O Baal, hear us O Baal, hear us and vain petitions they were …

Lip-labour in prayer, though ever so well laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour.

John MacArthur cites the pagans of the ancient world:

in the New Testament it says in Acts 19 that for two hours the multitudes stood in theater and screamed “great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians.”  They kept saying it over and over for two solid hours. 

Our Lord tells us we have no need to engage in such lost labour, because God our Father knows our needs (verse 8).

Jesus gives the crowd an ancient Jewish prayer, to which He adds only one new line. Henry explains (emphases mine):

Most of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer had been commonly used by the Jews in their devotions, or words to the same effect: but that clause in the fifth petition, As we forgive our debtors, was perfectly new, and therefore our Saviour here shows for what reason he added it, not with any personal reflection upon the peevishness, litigiousness, and ill nature of the men of that generation, though there was cause enough for it, but only from the necessity and importance of the thing itself. God, in forgiving us, has a peculiar respect to our forgiving those that have injured us and therefore, when we pray for pardon, we must mention our making conscience of that duty, not only to remind ourselves of it, but to bind ourselves to it.

Why did our Lord repeat a prayer the Jews already knew?

So many were the corruptions that had crept into this duty of prayer among the Jews, that Christ saw it needful to give a new directory for prayer, to show his disciples what must ordinarily be the matter and method of their prayer, which he gives in words that may very well be used as a form as the summary or contents of the several particulars of our prayers.

We do not need to rely solely on what Christians call the Lord’s Prayer, however, as Jesus presents it, it is a perfect prayer for the following reasons.

I am giving but brief extracts from Henry’s commentary below, which is an excellent exposition of what is the world’s best known prayer. I recommend reading it in full.

In verse 9, Jesus tells us how to begin. ‘Our’, not ‘my’, Father is said because we are acknowledging that God created not only us as individuals, but all of humanity. We are bound together in this commonality:

Intimating, that we must pray, not only alone and for ourselves, but with and for others for we are members one of another, and are called into fellowship with each other.

The word ‘hallowed’ is part of the prayer because of God’s infinite greatness, holiness and majesty:

We give glory to God it may be taken not as a petition, but as an adoration as that, the Lord be magnified, or glorified, for God’s holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We must begin our prayers with praising God, and it is very fit he should be first served, and that we should give glory to God, before we expect to receive mercy and grace from him. Let him have praise of his perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.

We then acknowledge our present, temporal location, which we hope improves through our obedience to God’s will, as well as His heavenly kingdom (verse 10):

that it might be done on earth, in this place of our trial and probation (where our work must be done, or it never will be done), as it is done in heaven, that place of rest and joy. We pray that earth may be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will (this earth, which, through the prevalency of Satan’s will, has become so near akin to hell), and that saints may be made more like the holy angels in their devotion and obedience. We are on earth, blessed be God, not yet under the earth we pray for the living only, not for the dead that have gone down into silence.

We ask for provision of our daily needs — ‘bread’ (verse 11). This is a short yet significant petition because:

Every word here has a lesson in it: (1.) We ask for bread that teaches us sobriety and temperance we ask for bread, not dainties, not superfluities[,] that which is wholesome, though it be not nice. (2.) We ask for our bread that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread out of other people’s mouths, not the bread of deceit (Proverbs 20:17), not the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27), but the bread honestly gotten. (3.) We ask for our daily bread which teaches us not to take thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:34), but constantly to depend upon divine Providence, as those that live from hand to mouth. (4.) We beg of God to give it us, not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread, (5.) We pray, “Give it to us not to me only, but to others in common with me.” This teaches us charity, and a compassionate concern for the poor and needy. It intimates also, that we ought to pray with our families we and our households eat together, and therefore ought to pray together. (6.) We pray that God would give us this day which teaches us to renew the desire of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed as duly as the day comes, we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without meat, as without prayer.

We go on to ask for God’s forgiveness and pray that we forgive each other in the same generous, compassionate manner (verse 12):

This is connected with the former and forgive, intimating, that unless our sins be pardoned, we can have no comfort in life, or the supports of it. Our daily bread does but feed us as lambs for the slaughter, if our sins be not pardoned. It intimates, likewise, that we must pray for daily pardon, as duly as we pray for daily bread ...

Note, Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord’s prayer. Our duty is to forgive our debtors as to debts of money, we must not be rigorous and severe in exacting them from those that cannot pay them without ruining themselves and their families but this means debt of injury[;] our debtors are those that trespass against us, that smite us (Matthew 5:39,40), and in strictness of law, might be prosecuted for it we must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace

We conclude by asking to be delivered from temptation and sin (verse 13):

Negatively: … It is not as if God tempted any to sin but, “Lord, do not let Satan loose upon us chain up that roaring lion, for he is subtle and spiteful Lord, do not leave us to ourselves (Psalm 19:13), for we are very weak, Lord

Positively: … “Lord, deliver us from the evil of the world, the corruption that is in the world through lust[,] from the evil of every condition in the world[,] from the evil of death from the sting of death, which is sin: deliver us from ourselves, from our own evil hearts: deliver us from evil men, that they may not be a snare to us, nor we a prey to them.”

The King James Version concludes with the Doxology, not in many of the modern translations:

… these are encouraging: “Thine is the kingdom thou hast the government of the world, and the protection of the saints, thy willing subjects in it ” God gives and saves like a king. “Thine is the power, to maintain and support that kingdom, and to make good all thine engagements to thy people.” Thine is the glory, as the end of all that which is given to, and done for, the saints, in answer to their prayers for their praise waiteth for him. This is matter of comfort and holy confidence in prayer.

And, let us not forget ‘Amen’:

Lastly, To all this we are taught to affix our Amen, so be it. God’s Amen is a grant his fiat is, it shall be so our Amen is only a summary desire our fiat is, let it be so: it is in the token of our desire and assurance to be heard, that we say Amen. Amen refers to every petition going before, and thus, in compassion to our infirmities, we are taught to knit up the whole in one word, and so to gather up, in the general, what we have lost and let slip in the particulars. It is good to conclude religious duties with some warmth and vigour, that we may go from them with a sweet savour upon our spirits. It was of old the practice of good people to say, Amen, audibly at the end of every prayer, and it is a commendable practice, provided it be done with understanding, as the apostle directs (1 Corinthians 14:16), and uprightly, with life and liveliness, and inward expressions, answerable to that outward expression of desire and confidence.

Our Lord concluded His lesson in prayer with the exhortation to forgive others so that God will show us the same mercy (verse 14), because if we do not forgive others, He will not forgive us (verse 15).

It is worth remembering Matthew 6:6, included in the Lectionary:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

John MacArthur says:

And I believe if you pray in those terms, the end of verse 6 says, “He will reward you.”  He will reward you.  You know, E. L. Moody once said, that he got so many blessings from God that one day he prayed a very short prayer.  This was it, “Stop God, Amen.”  That was it.  Too much, too much.  Maybe that day would come when we might say stop God, because we’re drowning in His blessing if we learn how to pray as Jesus teaches here. 

MacArthur also gives us the origin of the word ‘barbarian’:

when the Greeks spoke the Greek word wanted to speak of one who was not cultured, they used the word barbaros because all of the uncultured people with foreign languages were unintelligible to them and it sounded like all they were say was bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar.  And so barbaros became the word for barbarian.

Interesting!

Let us pray the Lord’s Prayer with renewed fervour now that we know more about its petitions!

Next time: Matthew 6:22-23

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