By Sam E. Stone
Jesus introduced a whole new way of thinking and living to his disciples. With the Sermon on the Mount, he contrasted life under his rule with what had been the norm. Christ explained that the righteousness of his disciples must exceed that of the Jewish religious leaders.
Everything begins with motive. The three acts described in Matthew 6 (giving, praying, and fasting) are all good—but they can be worthless if done for an unworthy motive. Those who do good things just to be recognized by others will receive no reward from God. It is “either/or.” In today’s text, we learn how the Lord views prayer.
The Spirit of Prayer/Matthew 6:5-8
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.” A hypocrite is a play actor. “They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen of men.” J. W. McGarvey said, “As Pharisees loved the standing and not the praying, so Christians should love the praying and not the standing.” Where you pray is not important; how you pray is. In fact, the only place not to pray is the place where you are praying only to be seen by others.
In contrast to praying in noticeable places, Christ told his disciples to pray privately. Jesus set the example in this, often praying by himself (Mark 1:35). The “room” where Jesus sends us to pray can be any private place. God is watching us, wherever we may be. All our thoughts are known to him. “Do not keep babbling on like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” This kind of meaningless repetition is well illustrated in Scripture (1 Kings 18:26; Acts 19:34). “They think they will be heard because of their many words.” Long prayers are not necessarily wrong prayers, however. Jesus sometimes prayed all night (Luke 6:12). He repeated his request to God three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is not repetition that is wrong, but vain repetition. Someone described it as “turning off your mind, without turning off your mouth.” The Lord reassured them, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” This wonderful assurance should encourage every believer to pray freely and faithfully.
The Content of Prayer/Matthew 6:9-13
“This, then, is how you should pray.” Lynn Gardner notes, “This prayer may appropriately be called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ because our Lord taught it. It may also be called ‘The Model Prayer’ because it is a pattern to guide our prayers. It has also been called ‘The Disciple’s Prayer’ because Jesus taught it to his disciples and only a disciple of Christ can truly pray this prayer.”
It obviously was not intended as a group of words to be memorized and repeated regularly. Instead our Lord gave general guidelines for what our prayers should be like. Luke explains that he taught this prayer in response to a request from a disciple (Luke 11:1). Because of Jesus, we are adopted into God’s family and can truly pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Let God’s name be treated differently from all other names. His name is unique. Jesus came to bring about the rule of God in the hearts of men. His will must become our will.
Asking for “daily bread” signifies requesting God to provide the necessities of life. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We must have already forgiven those who have sinned against us (Luke 11:4), before we can expect God to forgive our sins (Matthew 18:35; Mark 11:25). “Lead us not into temptation.” God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13). Ask to be kept from the temptations the devil will be sending (Psalm 141:4).
The Implications of Prayer/Matthew 6:14-15
Some ancient manuscripts add the doxology many of us learned as part of the Lord’s Prayer at the end of this verse, but these words are not included in the oldest and best manuscripts. Instead Jesus goes right on to teach about forgiveness. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” We must be willing to forgive those who mistreat us. Jesus often emphasized this principle (see Matthew 18:22). “But if you do not.” The opposite holds true. I heard of a man who was stubborn in his refusal to forgive a brother. His preacher finally told him, “In that case, I hope you never sin.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.