Back in February I posted a teaching outline on Jesus’ model prayer contained in Matthew 6:9-13. In it I presented an overview of the Lord’s Prayer and examined some lessons we could learn from the context and overall content and structure of the prayer. This outline was well received and the post has consistently been in the top ten posts read by visitors to the blog. So I have decided to offer a series of teaching outlines that take a closer look the prayer. I will follow the original overall outline point by point for each post in the series. In this post, we will focus our attention upon the opening address of the prayer.
Illustration: We often address others in a way that demonstrates respect for them. For example, when I was in the U.S. Navy, I and my fellow sailors were always required to address officers as “Sir.” But we discovered that it was sometimes difficult to call certain officers “Sir” if they were not very easy to respect because of their actions or attitudes.
Another example would be the way most parents expect their children to address them with respect and thus do not allow them to call them by their first names. They do not think that such a collegial manner of address would properly express the kind of respect children should have for parents.
This is because the way we address someone often indicates what we think of them. So it is with God. How we address Him, and what is in our hearts when we address Him, reflects what we think of Him. This is why it is appropriate for us to spend some time here focusing our attention upon how Jesus taught us to address God in prayer.
NKJ Matthew 6:9b “Our Father in heaven ….”
There are three observations to be made about this opening address, namely 1) that God is our Father, 2) that God is Our Father, and 3) that God is our Father in Heaven.
I. God is our Father
Addressing God as our Father in this way is definitely a new emphasis that came with Jesus’ teaching.
Quote: As D.A. Carson correctly notes (EBC, Vol.8. p.169):
The fatherhood of God is not a central theme in the OT. Where “father” does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, not direct address (Deut 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10)…. [N]ot till Jesus is it characteristic to address God as “Father” (Jeremias, Prayers, pp. 11ff.). This can only be understood against the background of customary patterns for addressing God.
The overwhelming tendency in Jewish circles was to multiply titles ascribing sovereignty, lordship, glory, grace, and the like to God (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty pp. 45ff.). Against such a background, Jesus’ habit of addressing God as his own Father (Mark 14:36) and teaching his disciples to do the same could only appear familiar and presumptuous to opponents, personal and gracious to followers.
So, Jesus brought a new emphasis upon God as our Father, but it is also noteworthy that He did so using a particular word for father that stressed the intimacy of our relationship with Him as such.
Quote: From the NET Bible notes:
13sn God is addressed in terms of intimacy (Father). The original Semitic term here was probably Abba. The term is a little unusual in a personal prayer, especially as it lacks qualification. It is not the exact equivalent of “daddy” (as is sometimes popularly suggested), but it does suggest a close, familial relationship.
I agree that the term most often used by Jesus with respect to our heavenly Father would have been the Aramaic word abba. I think this is a certainty given Mark 14:36 and the later teaching of the Apostles, who derived great comfort and confidence from this term of affection for God and its implications for our relationship with Him. For example, Paul wrote:
NKJ Romans 8:14-16 “14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God….”
Illustration: From 2000+ Bible Illustrations (e-Sword):
A missionary was teaching a Hindu woman the Lord’s Prayer. When he got to the end of the first clause, “Our Father which art in heaven,” she stopped him. “If God is our Father,” she said, “that is enough. There is nothing now to fear.”
Application: When we feel the strong desire to call out to God as our Father, and to love Him as His children, it is evidence that we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and truly are His children by adoption. Sometimes we may struggle to obey the Father’s will and to follow the Spirit’s leading, but if we still possess a deep desire in our hearts to call out to Him as our dear Father in Christ, then that is the Spirit’s witness to us that casts out fear. This is an important way in which the Holy Spirit brings us comfort.
NKJ Galatians 4:6-7 “6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
Application: So the fact that we may cry out to God as “Abba, Father” also reminds us that we are His heirs, and that a great inheritance awaits us in Heaven!
But the fact that God is our Father also reminds us of His love for us:
NKJ 1 John 3:1a “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
Because God loves us as a father, His love for us precedes our love for Him.
Illustration: For example, when my own children were born, I already loved them. And their love for me has always been a response to my love for them. So it is with our Father’s love for us:
NKJ 1 John 4:19 “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Now, getting back to the use of the term abba, I have already stated my agreement with the NET Bible translators that it is the word that Jesus would have commonly used. But I also agree that our word “daddy” may be a bit too familiar a term to adequately capture the nuance of the Aramaic word abba – even if it is a similar word in the kind of affection it denotes. You see, it does communicate the kind of affection that our word daddy denotes, but it also carries with it a note of great respect that may sometimes be lost in our use of the word daddy. So, we are to remember that we can and should approach Him just as a little child affectionately approaches his Father, calling him “daddy,” but we are never to forget that He is a holy Father (more on this below), as Jesus also demonstrates through His own example:
NKJ John 17:11 “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (Italics mine.)
II. God is Our Father
When Jesus says that we should address God as our Father, He is not just giving us a model prayer for corporate praying. He is also reminding us that we must always remember as we pray that we are a part of a family that includes many brothers and sisters in Christ, all of whom address the Lord as their Father.
Application: 1) We must avoid both the rampant individualism and the selfishness of our culture, in which one’s own personal peace and affluence have become the primary concern. 2) We must remember that our relationship with God breaks down the barriers that we so often have with others, including ethnic barriers:
NKJ Galatians 3:26-28 “26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
NKJ Revelation 5:9-10 “9 And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.’”
Daily calling out to God as our Father should remind us of this important aspect of our lives as Christians.
III. God is our Father in Heaven
This phrase reminds us of at least two things:
1) That God is transcendent.
Quote: William Hendriksen is insightful here (Baker New Testament Commentary, e-Sword):
Note also the combination of immanence and transcendence, of condescension and majesty. “Our Father” indicates his nearness. He is near to all his children, infinitely near. Therefore with confidence they approach the Father’s throne, to make all their wants and wishes known to him, that is, all those that are in harmony with his revealed will. They need not be afraid, for God is their Father who loves them. Yet, he is the Father in heaven (literally “in the heavens”). Therefore, he should be approached in the spirit of devout and humble reverence…. Also, whereas the words “Our Father” indicate God’s willingness and eagerness to lend his ear to the praises and petitions of his children, the addition “who art in heaven” shows his power and sovereign right to answer their requests, disposing of them according to his infinite wisdom.
2) That Heaven is our real home.
Recall the words of the Apostle Paul:
NKJ Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ….”
I think Jesus wants us to think of the same thing when He teaches us address God daily as our Father in Heaven.
Application: In closing, I want to suggest a couple of ways that it seems Christians today may struggle with addressing God as Father:
1) Some may have allowed themselves to become too familiar in addressing God. They are so used to addressing God as Father that they have lost their sense of wonder that it is the all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, sovereign God of the universe that they are addressing!
Quote: William Hendriksen is again helpful here (BNTC, e-Sword):
The chumminess or easy familiarity that marks a certain type of present day “religion” is definitely antiscriptural. Those who indulge in this bad habit seem never to have read Exod. 3:5; Isa. 6:1–5; or Acts 4:24!
Quote: Or as D.A. Carson correctly notes (EBC, Vol.8. p.169):
Unfortunately, many modern Christians find it very difficult to delight in the privilege of addressing the Sovereign of the universe as “Father” because they have lost the heritage that emphasizes God’s transcendence.
2) On the other hand, some may struggle to call God their Father because they have been so disappointed by their earthly fathers. Many who have come from broken homes or who have had abusive or unloving fathers may experience difficulty here.
Illustration: In my my own experience of having come from a broken home, I found it difficult as I grew up to believe that my own earthly father truly loved me. Since then, however, I have learned much about what the love of a father is by experiencing it in my own heart toward my children. But most importantly – before I ever had any children of my own – I learned what a father’s love is like from my heavenly Father’s love for me! And I can assure you that, if we struggle to understand a father’s love because we have never really experienced it from our earthly fathers, then we need to learn from our heavenly Father what such love is really like, because He can show it to us as no other ever could! Let us begin by calling out to Him daily as Jesus teaches us to do, as “our Father in heaven.”