The Lord's Prayer
Hallowed be Thy Name (Mat. 6:9c)
by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith
The first of the six petitions of the Lord's prayer is the most general
and basic. In it we pray that God's name may be honored. What this means,
simply stated, can be seen through the simple illustration of the way
the "name" of a great man is treated. Einstein, for example,
is usually spoken of with "reverence" in our world and to
quote him is to invoke a virtually infallible authority, "Einstein
said . . ." being, for many modern men the equivalent of "the
Scripture says." The name of Christ, however, is not treated with
this kind of honor even among the nations which, at least in the past,
professed Christianity. The name of Christ is used in movies and in
everyday life as a word for cursing and venting wrath. At the surface
level, then, we see the need for this prayer and its most obvious meaning.
But, of course, there is much more involved than this.
Elements of the Petition
The first of the six petitions of the Lord's prayer is, literally,
"May your name be sanctified." The word here rendered "sanctified"
is the same Greek word that was used in John 17:17 when Jesus prayed
for us: "Sanctify them by thy Truth." The prayer, then, is
that God's name be "sanctified." But what does that mean?
It does not mean that we somehow "make God's name holy." It
means that we recognize the holiness of His name and that we treat His
name with the honor that is due to it. We "set His name apart"
(to "sanctify" means "to set apart") by treating
it as special.
We must also understand that when we speak of the name of God, we are
not simply speaking of the words we use to identify Him. His name includes
His character; it represents Him. How we treat His name is how we relate
to Him. To honor His name is to honor Him, to love and serve Him.
It should be evident, then, that a prayer for God's name be "sanctified"
is synonymous with a prayer to "glorify" Him. The parallel
between these two notions comes out clearly in the incident of Aaron's
sons, whom God slew in the temple because they did not honor His name.
Note how the expression "I will be glorified" is parallel
to "I will be sanctified".
"Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake,
I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me,
and before all the people I will be glorified.
And Aaron held his peace" (Lv. 10:3).
Thus, too, the angels of God who stand before His throne glorify God
by crying "Holy, holy holy" day and night without rest (Isa.
6:3; Rev. 4:8).
The first petition is grounded in two beliefs fundamental to the Christian
faith. The first is that the name of God is worthy of honor and glory.
God is the Creator and King of the world. His holiness and majesty are
such that anything other than the most profound honor and praise are
unfitting, and perverse. In the first petition, we are seeking only
what is right and proper, what ought to be.
Second, that we pray for this reflects the fact that we live in a world
in which this most basic duty is not rendered unto God. The sinfulness
of man was expressed by Paul in the words "For all have sinned,
and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). All men, in other
words, fall short of their God-created duty of glorifying their Creator.
Rather than manifesting love and righteousness, sinful men are swift
to shed blood, their hearts rage against God and one another.
We come to God and pray that His name may be honored because we know
that His name ought to be honored and because we are grieved that His
name is not honored, that His name is not being glorified in the world
that He has created. If we love Him, this prayer should be our deepest
burden and our most burning desire.
What We Seek
Concretely speaking, what we are seeking can be illustrated through
the first three of the ten commandments. First, we are praying that
all men may believe in God, for no one can honor His name rightly unless
they trust in Him as their God. In the words of Isaiah: "Sanctify
the LORD of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be
your dread" (Isa. 8:13). The first commandment is that we have
no other gods, which means that we should have the Lord truly as our
God. We earnestly seek in this first petition that we ourselves and
all other men may truly love and honor the Lord as our God because we
know ourselves to be sinful and in need of grace that we may trust in
Him and live for Him.
Second, we pray that He may be worshipped rightly by all men. It is
especially in worship that we glorify Him and give Him the praise that
is due to His name. When Malachi rebukes the Jews for their sinfully
half-hearted worship, offering to God the lame and the sick rather than
the best (Mal. 1:6 ff.), he reminds them that someday the Gentiles will
turn to God: "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going
down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every
place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for
my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts"
Worship is our highest duty and our greatest privilege. To devote ourselves
to the worship of God and to glorify Him in song and prayer is the most
important single act of our lives. Apart from the fact that it has a
transforming power that we cannot fathom, that it remakes us and exalts
us, it is the fundamental responsibility of man as a creature in His
image. When men neglect this responsibility or fulfill it like the apostates
amont the Jews, offering God "lame" praise, they fail at the
most basic level of human life. They degrade themselves into something
less than truly human. But we, too, even after we have trusted in His
saving grace, are still so sinful that unless He hears our prayer and
helps us, we cannot worship Him as we should.
Third, we pray for ourselves and for all men, that His name may be
honored in our daily lives. When Israel worshipped God, the Aaronic
priests blessed them with a threefold blessing (Nm. 6:24-26):
The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
This was described in the following words: "And they shall put
my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them" (6:27).
When the priests blessed the children of Israel, they were "putting"
God's name upon them. Israel through worship is officially recognized
as God's own people. This means that everything they do in their daily
lives they do as His representatives. They "wear" His name
as they go about everyday business. To not use God's name in vain means
far more than to avoid improper speech about God; it means to honor
His name in all that we think, say and do, because His name is placed
upon us. We are His people and we wear the name of our Savior. We beseech
Him, in this first petition, that He would enable us, and all men, to
treat His name rightly in our words and deeds.
Ultimately the first petition is grounded in an even deeper theological
truth for it reflects the fact that God created man from the beginning
to share the covenantal fellowship of the Triune God. The Father, Son,
and Spirit seek One another's glory and praise always, as we see in
the Gospel of John (Jn. 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4; 14:13; 16:14; 17:4, 5,
10, 22, 24). When we pray that God would enable us to honor His name,
we are praying that we may take our proper part in the fellowship of
love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have enjoyed from all eternity.
Since this is a fellowship of love, seeking glory goes both ways. When
we seek the glory of God as those that love Him, He seeks our glory!
(cf. 1 Cor. 4:5).
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