The Lord’s Prayer: First Petition
Matthew 6:9b| Rolf D. Preus| July 17, 2011
“Hallowed Be Thy Name” St. Matthew 6:9b
Hallowed be Thy name. What does this mean? God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also. How is this done? When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead a holy life according to it. This grant us, dear Father in heaven. But he that teaches and lives otherwise than God’s Word teaches, profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, Heavenly Father.
Prayer is an act of worship. Worship means to assign worth. God is worthy of praise. To pray is to give glory to God. We adore him. We glorify him. As the Church sings:
We praise Thee, O God;
We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship Thee,
The Father everlasting.
To Thee all angels cry aloud,
The heavens and all the powers therein;
To Thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry.
It brings great joy to the Christian to pray to God. To sing praises to God is the most natural expression of faith. The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Hallowed be thy name.” Before we ask anything of God we ask him to keep his name holy among us. To honor and glorify God’s name is the greatest desire of faith, for the name of God is his very identity.
The first petition sets the tone for the petitions that follow. We pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” The name of God is holy because God is holy. We cannot make holy what is already holy. But we can be a part of the hallowing or sanctifying of God’s name. The name of God is not to be mixed together with the names of idols. The name of God is put upon us when we are born from above and become children of God. In Holy Baptism we hear the name of God: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are confessing that there is no other god but the God in whose name we are baptized.
There is a close connection between the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer and the Second Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” To call on God as our Father is how to use God’s name. It is a misuse of God’s name to use the name of God or of Christ as an expletive as if the name of God’s only begotten Son should be used along with dirty words as an expression of surprise or annoyance. When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name” we are promising that we will speak God’s name with reverence and that we will not misuse his name. We are promising to honor the Second Commandment every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Prayer is not how we get God to do what he doesn’t want to do. Prayer is not a means of manipulating God to do this or that. Prayer is how we participate in the hallowing of the holy name of God. Prayer is far more precious than just a means to an end. I want this so I’ll say that. Prayer is laying claim to much more than good health, more money, or more satisfying relationships. Prayer is laying claim to God himself! “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We can speak words and we can do deeds that come before the presence of the holy God and are pleasing to him. Just think of this! We, who were conceived and born in sin; we who cannot lift ourselves up to heaven no matter how we try; we who have failed to be what we must be in order to be pleasing to God; we may boldly call God “our Father” and presume to ask him to make his name holy among us.
When God justifies sinners he’s not pretending! God doesn’t just act as if he forgives us all of our sins for Christ’s sake. He actually takes our sins off of us and lays them on Jesus who suffers and dies for them to take them away. And he takes the obedience of Jesus who never failed to pray in perfect submission and purity and he reckons to us that obedience and clothes us with Christ’s righteousness. The Bible says this clearly. “By the obedience of the One, the many shall be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
This is made clear by the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus invites us sinners to ask God to hallow his own name. That name is holy in and of itself with the pure sinless holiness that belongs to God alone. That we sinners can participate in this means that we are forgiven of our sins and have become saints. We must be holy if we can pray that God’s name be hallowed. Only the holy can expect anything to be hallowed. For those who are bound by sin, everything they touch becomes sinful and unclean. But we are invited to touch God because we have become holy through the blood of Jesus.
The word of God is what brings us to faith. That is, God brings us to faith through the preaching of his word. St. Paul writes, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Without faith we remain in our sin. This is why the pure teaching of God’s word is necessary. Unless we have the right faith we cannot hallow God’s name. Those who teach false doctrine do the very opposite of hallowing God’s name. They profane it. To profane something is to take what is essentially holy and treat it as if it is not. To deny the truth of what God teaches us is to profane God’s name.
On this point there is much confusion in the church today. People hear the word “doctrine” or the word “teaching” and they immediately think of human beings who teach a certain doctrine. They don’t consider that God is our Teacher. It is God’s doctrine that the church has received. It isn’t the doctrine of men. Jesus is called Rabbi, or Teacher. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be one who is taught by Jesus. The pure doctrine doesn’t come from the church. It doesn’t come from clever theologians. It doesn’t come from seminary professors. It comes from God. And it is taught in the words of the Bible. You can know the pure teaching that God Himself teaches by reading the Bible. Concerning the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body, Jesus said that they erred in their doctrine because they didn’t know the Bible.
To hallow God’s name is to teach according to the Bible. To profane God’s name is to teach in his name what is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Pure doctrine comes from God. False doctrine comes from the father of lies. St. Paul warns about false doctrine repeatedly, especially in the Pastoral Epistles where he gives instructions to Timothy and Titus. In 1 Timothy 4:1 we read, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Nowadays “doctrines of demons” are given equal rights with God’s word. Those who are unwilling to condemn the false doctrine cannot confess the true doctrine and they cannot hallow God’s name.
If I deny that a sinner is saved by grace alone, I profane God’s name. If I deny that God wants all sinners to be saved, I profane God’s name. If a man teaches that the Bible contains errors, that baptism doesn’t regenerate us by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord’s Supper is not the true body and blood of Jesus, that women may be ordained as pastors in the church, that homosexuality is not a sin against God, this man profanes God’s name no matter how pious he may sound when he prays, “Hallowed be thy name.” God’s name is hallowed when his word is taught in its truth and purity, not when false doctrine is taught and tolerated and defended.
God’s name is hallowed when we who call ourselves Christians live holy lives. What is a holy life? It is a life lived by a holy person. You don’t become a holy person by living a holy life. First God makes you a saint and then you can live a holy life. God makes you a saint by forgiving you all your sins and he does this by his gospel that brings Christ to you and makes him your own. Then, a saint lives a holy life. This is what hallows God’s name.
When you respond to a cruel comment with friendly words, you hallow God’s name. When you do the job that is given you to do without complaint, you hallow God’s name. When you give to those who cannot repay you; when you keep your promises; when you listen with sympathy to the troubles of others; when you defend the reputation of someone being maligned; you hallow God’s name. The Christian who in baptism bears the name of the Holy Trinity hallows the name by which he was sanctified whenever he lives as God has called him to live. It may not look impressive. It may not seem as exciting as naming and claiming all sorts of material blessings from God. However, to know that your Christian deeds, sin-tainted as imperfect as they are, are used by the holy God to hallow his holy name is to know an honor that all the material blessings in the world cannot bestow. The privilege of praying, “Hallowed be thy name” and knowing that God sanctifies his name in our midst is pure joy.
So we ask God to keep his word taught purely among us and to keep us living holy lives. When false doctrine is taught, we ask God to uproot it and silence it. When we bring shame on God’s name by unholy living, we ask God to bring us to repentance, to forgive us our sins for Christ’s sake, and to lead us in the paths he has called us to live. Amen