The Model Prayer in Matthew 6
Jesus highlights principles in Matthew 6 regarding charitable acts, fasting and, in particular, prayer. If Jesus exhorts his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount to live righteous lives in view of the coming kingdom, how then should his disciples pray?
Two principles from Matthew 6 are noted. Firstly, what you do for God, do it in secret. Disciples’ primary motive is to do our Father’s will because we love Him (6:4, 6; cf. 12:46-50). If our motive is merely to be seen by men, that’s all the reward we’ll get (6:2b, 5b, 7), so we should not draw attention to ourselves but do His will ‘in secret’. Jesus notes ‘secondary benefits’, such as that we will be rewarded: what we do in secret (not for public applause) according to the Father’s will, He will reward openly (6:6). Interestingly, disciples will receive different rewards (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).
Secondly, when we pray we should not use vain repetitions or many words just for the sake of it (6:7). The Father knows what we need before we even ask (6:8). God is a loving Father who responds to his children’s petitions (cf. Constable 2016:122). In prayer, we share our concerns, have fellowship, get help, express gratitude, etc. So ask directly, simply and sincerely.
How Should We Pray?
If Jesus exhorts us in the Sermon on the Mount to live righteous lives in view of the coming king¬dom, how should we pray? The model prayer that Christ gives to his disciples is like a pattern to be used, if not privately then certainly publically (‘our Father’). If we use this model prayer, our prayers will not be too long (not that length per se is the issue), ostentatious or unnecessarily repetitious.
The prayer has two main sections (6:9-10 and 6:11-13), each section containing three petitions. The first three petitions focus on the Father and the second set of three petitions focus on us, Christ’s disciples. The prayer is concluded with a doxology (6:13). Thereafter, the Lord emphasises one aspect, namely forgiveness (6:14-15). The two main sections of the prayer can be described as praying for: (1) The coming of the kingdom and (2) Appeals in view of the coming kingdom (Toussaint 1980:107).
In the first half of the prayer, Jesus tells his disciples to address our prayers to the Father, the Ruler over all in the kingdom (6:9). Even though God the Father is the Ruler over all, we may think of him as a loving Father who responds to us, his children. We are privileged to have access to Him and what we ask we do in the name of Christ Jesus. The first three petitions focus on the Father’s Name, his kingdom and his will.
(1) The Name of the Father should be revered over all of creation. His character and attributes should be known among all. We should not take his Name in vain. Stated negatively, it is not about making a name for ourselves (cf. Genesis 11:4).
(2) We are to pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will return to come and establish the Messianic kingdom on earth in terms of the Davidic Covenant.
(3) The will of the Father should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Again, as we await the establishment of the kingdom, the Sermon on the Mount teaches us how to live today in anticipation of it. Only when Satan is bound and his world systems are taken away, only when the curse on the earth is lifted, and especially, only when Christ comes to rule, will there be a much fuller realisation of God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. In the Eternal state, of course, there will be no rebellion whatsoever against God’s will anymore.
The second half of the prayer also contains three petitions, focusing on disciples’ needs:
(1) We ask the Father to provide for our physical needs (not ‘greeds’). By focusing on the re¬quirements of each day, we declare our dependence on God and take it one day at a time.
(2) As born again believers, we have already been judicially or forensically been forgiven the penalty of our sins the day we turned in faith to Christ. The forgiveness referred to in Matthew 6:12 focuses on family forgiveness. Not that it is always easy to do so, but if we are unwilling to forgive our fellow-disciples, this will obstruct our fellowship with the Father. This is so important that the Lord repeats this injunction in verses 14 and 15. When we have sinned, remember 1 John 1:9.
(3) Regarding the third petition, God does not tempt anyone but He permits us to experience temptation via the evil one, the world and our own fallen nature. God is faithful; He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able and will also make the way of escape so that we can bear it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13).
In the doxology, Jesus teaches us to worship and fear God the Father, for His is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever (6:13).
God the Father is lovingly attentive to our prayer requests, for believers in Christ are children of the Father. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts his disciples to live righteous lives in view of the coming kingdom and this model prayer forms part of this teaching. Jesus teaches us to first focus on the Name, kingdom and will of God the Father, before turning our physical and spiritual needs over to Him. Our God rules over all at all times in His kingdom.
Constable, T.L., 2016, Notes on Matthew, 2016 edn. See pages 120-128.
Toussaint, S.D., 1980, Behold the King: A study of Matthew, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids.
If you would like to read more about prayer, see the following articles by Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum:
The Principles of Prayer
The Three Types of Prayer
The Conditions of Prayer
The Components and Contents of Prayer
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