All of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction and training in righteousness. And there are those portions of Scripture that have been taught over and over throughout the history of the church whose importance and power have sustained the church through every-day life. One of those passages is the Lord’s Prayer. Some passages, like the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, are memorized by many Christians so they are on the heart and can be recalled at a moment’s notice.
John Calvin was a Frenchman and a Reformer. One of his most enduring works is “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” It’s packed full of Christian wisdom and instruction. The Institutes are designed to be something of a systematized, conceptual guide to living the Christian life. It’s a commentary on some of the weightier components of Scripture.
In Calvin’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, he breaks it down line-by-line. He begins by addressing “Our Father, who art in heaven.” In this one line, we see the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the adoption to sonship. “If we had not been adopted to Christ as children of grace, with what assurance would anyone have addressed God as Father.” It is no small matter to address God as Father. That honor and privilege is reserved for those who he has adopted as children. We are either children of God or children of wrath.
As our Father, he is merciful to his children. As the Son of God, Christ is our mediator, pleading our case before our Father. The Christian, therefore, even with a right knowledge of his sins, must also have a right knowledge of his Father’s mercy and grace. “Let us not claim that the consciousness of our sins rightly makes us timid, for they have made our Father—although kind and gentle–displeased with us.” Our Father hears the prayers of his children and the pleading of his Son. So while we hate our sin and live in the power of the Spirit to kill it, we do not resist the mercy of our heavenly Father.
The parable of the prodigal son is also the parable of the compassionate Father. The parable teaches us that not only does our heavenly Father welcome us home but he also rejoices when he sees us coming down the walkway to return to him. The Son of God tells this parable of the Father and his compassion for his children but also “how much more abundantly we ought to expect it of him.”
But the fatherhood of God also teaches us the brotherhood of believers. Christ does not teach us to pray to God solely as individuals. “We are not so instructed that each one of us should individually call him his Father, but rather that all of us in common should call him our Father. From this fact we are warned how great a feeling of brotherly love ought to be among us who are the common children of such a father.”
In an individualistic and autonomous age, emphasizing the collective part of the church is no small matter. God is definitely my God, but he is also the God of all of his children. God is not here to satisfy my needs and desires, even though in his kindness he may do so. But he is God and we are not. We, as his children, belong to him and serve him. “All prayers ought to be such as to look to that community which our Lord has established in his kingdom and his household.”
God is our Father, and that is an intimate term of love and nearness. But God is also in heaven. That’s a piece we dare not forget. God is both immanent and transcendent. He is near, but he also fills all things. “Indeed Solomon confesses that ‘the heaven of heavens cannot contain him.’” Now if God is transcendent, then heaven by no means contains him. Heaven is his abode, “but our minds, so crass are they, could not have conceived his unspeakable glory otherwise.” Speaking of God being in heaven prevents us from minimizing God or eventually turning him like us.
“Our Father who are in heaven” is a loaded phrase, worthy of far more than a few pages of commentary. It’s a phrase that brings into worship of the God who justifies sinners and adopts them into his family. It’s a God who is a Father, not simply an aloof divinity that orchestrates from far away. And it is through Christ, our mediator, that we are able to call this unapproachable, majestic, and just God “Father.”
We’ll be back next week to learn from the giant from Geneva with the next phrase of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “Hallowed be thy name.”