|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part two of an nine-part series. Read part one.
The Biblical order, and the reasons for it, are quite specific: We are to pray to the Father, through the mediation of the Son, and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
In our first article in this series, we saw that Christ's purpose for the prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 is not to provide a "set prayer" to be repeated, but to provide a model for Christians' praying. We also saw that in His preamble to this prayer, the Lord Jesus gives four over-arching principles: 1.) Prayer is primarily a private matter between the individual Christian and his God. 2.) It is to be extemporaneous. 3.) It is to focus on quality of communion more than quantity of words. 4.) We must keep the person and nature of the Father at the forefront of our thinking.
Our Approach: Phrase-By-Phrase, Key Words
In this article and those to follow, we shall examine Christ's model prayer phrase by phrase. I am going to use the text of the prayer from the Authorized King James Version, since this is the wording which most English speakers are accustomed to hearing.
As we examine this prayer, I want to draw out the theme of each phrase, to help focus our thoughts on the instruction the Lord is giving us. This method is certainly not new with me. I am indebted to other men whose sermons I have heard and read, who used this approach in a beneficial way.
Key Word Number One: Relationship
So we begin today with, "Our Father which art in heaven..." Let me suggest that an appropriate theme or key-word for this phrase of the prayer is relationship.
The Greek word for Father in this phrase is pater. This is, first and foremost, a term evoking the relationship of father to child. It is also the Greek word for father that was used as a term of respect. We are also reminded that we are addressing God the Father "in heaven." This relationship spans a cosmic distance.
How Did God Become Our Father?
How is it that God, the condemning judge of sinners, has become God our loving Father? It is because those who have been justified by grace through faith in Christ have also been adopted as sons. One of the key passages that presents this wonderful truth is Galatians 3:26-4:7 -
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ [this speaks of Spirit baptism, not water baptism] have put on Christ. 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. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" [A term of familial endearment.] Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
(For a more detailed exposition of the glorious privileges and responsibilities that are every believer's by right of Divine adoption, see our series, Adopted By God.)
Why Pray Only to the Father?
Jesus' instructions in Matthew six, in connection with other passages, tell us that the Biblical order for approaching God in prayer is quite specific: We are to pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. In John 16:24 Jesus said to His disciples, "Until now you have asked nothing in My name." And there He instructs them to start praying to the Father, in Jesus' name. In Ephesians 6:18 we are told to pray "with all prayer an supplication in the Holy Spirit." In Jude verse 20 we are told to build ourselves up in the most holy faith, "praying in the Holy Spirit."
This is the very definition of prayer: the believer coming before the throne of our Heavenly Father, through the person and finished work of the Son, and in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Everything else the Bible says about prayer hangs on that framework.
Nowhere in Scripture are we told to pray to Jesus. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to pray to the Holy Spirit. We are told that we are to pray to the Father, through the intercession of the Son, and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
Our Two Great Intercessors
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the two greatest prayer warriors on behalf of believers. Hebrews 7:25, among other passages, tells us about the intercessory work of Christ. He "is able also to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to make intercession for them." 1 John 2:1 tells us, "If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Romans 8:26-27 tells us of the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit on our behalf:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
The Son and the Spirit are our great intercessors, but it is the Father to whom intercession is made. (For more material on these vital points about the work of the Son and the Spirit, see our article, Are There Two Paracletes?)
A New Covenant Privilege
We should note also that "Father" as a name for God is a New Covenant term. The veil has been rent, we come to God the Father directly and confidently - boldly, as Hebrews 4 tells us - because of what Christ has done and where He now is, seated at the Father's right hand.
In the Old Testament God is spoken of on a few occasions as the Father, but it is always in relationship to the nation of Israel. "Father" as a name for God in the Old Testament is never a term applied to His relationship with the individual believer. God had many names in the Old Testament. But a Jew of the old dispensation did not call God, "my Father" or "our Father" or pray to "the Father." The revelation of the relationship of God the Father to the individual believer is something new as we come to the New Testament. It is something that is unveiled at the first coming of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always refers to God as "the Father" or "my Father" and in prayer He always addresses God the Father. This is the pattern Jesus establishes for the New Testament believer.
Jesus tells us to ask of the Father, to make our requests known to the Father, and that is because a new relationship has been established through the coming of Christ. In the Old Testament the way of approach was always through a Levitical priest and bloody sacrifice. The individual believer had no direct way of approach to God. Only the High Priest could go behind the veil into the very presence of God, and only once a year. But now, with the coming of Christ, that has changed. We have been reconciled to God, we have been adopted as sons, and the way of direct approach to the throne of grace has been opened. It is the Father to whom we have been reconciled through the work of the Son.
The Father Only Hears Two Kinds of Prayer
We are on solid Biblical ground when we say that God the Father truly only hears two kinds of prayer: The prayer of the one who calls on His name to be saved, and the prayer of the one who is saved. Unbelievers think they will be heard, but are not - Jesus has made that clear in His preamble, back in verse seven of Matthew chapter six.
The privilege of prayer is a privilege of grace. The privilege of prayer is the greatest privilege the Christian has. The privilege of prayer is at the very heart of what salvation is all about - that through the death, burial, and resurrection of God the Son, we hopeless sinners have been reconciled to God the Father for eternity. God the Father is no longer the condemning judge; because of Christ our substitute He is now our loving Father.
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