Teach Us How to…Live? The Early Churches Take on “The Lord’s Prayer” Part 2

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

You would have reacted the same way, I suppose. The disciples had seen Jesus do incredible miracles. They also watched him pray a lot. They put two and two together and surmised that Jesus’ power was a result of his prayer. Now, every first century Jew knew how to pray. But nobody could do the miracles that Jesus was doing. The disciples wanted to know how to do that!

So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. That inquiry resulted in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” A short lesson on how to pray that the church has held dear ever since.

But is it a lesson on how one should pray?

“Yes, but”, is how I think I would answer that.

Yes, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray here. But if you look closer at what Jesus taught, I think He was actually teaching them, and us, how to live.

Rather than sharing my thoughts on this, I think if far more productive to read an early church Fathers take on the Lord’s prayer. How did the early church understand it? To do this, we turn to Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who lived in the early 3rd century. This will be a three part post. In today’s post, Cyprian takes us through the first four phrases of the Lord’s Prayer. May his words encourage you to follow ever faithfully after the Savior…Jim

Cyprian on The Lord’s Prayer

Chapter 7

But the publican standing afar off would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his breast, saying: “O God be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.’ Learning these things most beloved brethren, from the sacred reading, after we have learned how we should approach prayer, let us learn also, with the Lord as our teacher, what to pray. ‘In this manner’, He says, ‘Pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

Chapter 8

Before all things, the Teacher of peace and Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually and privately as one would pray only for himself when he prays. We do not say: ‘My Father, who art in heaven,’ nor ‘Give me this day my bread,’ nor does each one ask that only his debt be forgiven him and that he be led not into temptation and that he be delivered from evil for himself alone. Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we, the whole people, are one. God, the Teacher of prayer and concord, who taught unity, thus wished one to pray for all, just as He Himself bore all in one. This law of prayer the three children inclosed in the fiery furnace observed, united in prayer and harmonious in the agreement of the spirit. The faith of the divine Scripture so declares, and, when it tells how such did pray, gives an example which we should imitate in our prayers, that we may be able to be such as they. It says: ‘Then those three as from one mouth were singing a hymn and blessing God.’ They were speaking as from one mouth, but not yet had Christ taught them to pray. And so their words were availing and efficacious as they prayed, because a peaceful and simple and spiritual prayer deserved well of the Lord. Thus also do we find that the Apostles with the disciples prayed after the ascension of the Lord. Scripture says: ‘They were all with one mind continuing steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, who was the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.’ They were with one mind continuing steadfastly in prayer, declaring alike by their constancy and unity in prayer that God, who makes men of one mind to dwell in a home, does not admit into the divine and eternal home any except those who are of one mind in prayer.

Chapter 9

Moreover, of what nature, most beloved brethren, are the sacraments of the Lord’s prayer, how many, how great, collected briefly in words but abounding spiritually in virtue, so that nothing at all is omitted which is not included in our petitions and in our prayers in a compendium of heavenly doctrine! Scripture says: ‘Thus pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven.’ A new man, reborn and restored to his God by his grace says in the first place ‘Father,’ because he has now begun to be a son. ‘He came,’ He says, ‘unto his own and his own received him not. But as many as received Him, He gave to them the power to become the sons of God, to those who believe in His name.’ He, therefore, who has believed in His name and has become the son of God, thereafter should begin to give thanks and to profess himself the son of God, when he declares that his father is God in heaven, also to testify in the very first words of his new birth that he reverences his earthly and carnal father and that he has begun to know and to have as father Him only who is in heaven, as it is written: ‘Those who say to their father and mother: I do not know you, and who do not recognize their children, these have kept thy words, and observed thy covenant.’ Likewise the Lord in His Gospel has bidden us to call not our father upon earth, because one is our Father, who is in heaven. And to the disciple who had made mention of his dead father, He replied: ‘Let the dead bury their own dead.’ For he had said that his father was dead, when the father of believers is living.

Chapter 10

And, most beloved brethren, we ought not to observe and understand this alone, that we call Him Father who is in heaven, but we join in saying ‘Our Father,’ that is, of those who believe, of those who sanctified through Him and restored by the birth of spiritual grace have begun to be sons of God. And this voice also reproaches and condemns the Jews, because they not only faithlessly spurned Christ who had been announced to them through the Prophets and had been first sent to them, but also cruelly slew Him; who now cannot call the Lord father, since the Lord confounds and refutes them, saying: ‘You are born of the devil as father, and you wish to do the desires of your Father. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth, because the truth is not in him.’ And through Isaias the prophet God exclaims with indignation: ‘I have begotten and brought up sons, but they have despised me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass the crib of his master, but Israel has not known me, and my people has not understood. Woe to the sinful nation, to a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children. They have forsaken the Lord and have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel.’ And in condemnation of these we Christians say, when we pray, ‘Our Father,’ because He now has begun to be ours and has ceased to be of the Jews, who have forsaken Him. Nor can a sinning people be a son, but to those to whom the remission of sins is granted is the name of sons ascribed, to these also is eternity promised when the Lord himself says: ‘Everyone who commits sin is the servant of sin. But the slave does not abide in the house forever; the son abides there forever.’

Chapter 11

Moreover, how great is the indulgence of the Lord, how great the abundance of His regard for us and His goodness, that He has thus wished us to celebrate prayer in the sight of God, so as to call the Lord ‘Father’ and, as Christ is the son of God, ourselves also so to be pronounced the sons of God, which name no one of us would dare to take in prayer, had not He Himself permitted us so to pray. So, most beloved brethren, we ought to remember and to know that, when we speak of God, we ought to act as sons of God, so that, just as we are pleased with God as Father, so too He may be pleased with us. Let us live as if temples of God, that it may be clear that the Lord dwells in us. Let not our acts depart from the Spirit, that we who have begun to be spiritual and heavenly may ponder and do nothing except the spiritual and the heavenly, since the Lord God Himself has said: ‘Those who glorify me, I shall glorify; but they that despise me, shall be despised.’ The blessed Apostle also in his Epistle has laid down: ‘You are not your own, for you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God and bear him in your body.’

Chapter 12

After this we say: ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ not because we wish for God that He be hallowed by our prayers, but because we seek from the Lord that His name be hallowed in us. Moreover, by whom is God hallowed who himself hallows? But because He Himself said: ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy,’ we petition and ask for this, that we who have been sanctified in baptism may persevere in what we have begun. And for this daily do we pray. For we have need of daily sanctification, that we who sin daily may cleanse our sins by continual sanctification. Moreover, what that sanctification is which is conferred upon us out of God’s esteem the Apostle proclaims when he says: ‘Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor the effeminate nor sodomites nor thieves nor the covetous nor drunkards nor the evil-tongued nor the greedy will possess the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you have been washed, you have sanctified, you have been justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’ He says that we have been sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. We pray that this sanctification abide in us, and because our Lord and Judge warned the man who had been healed and quickened by Him to sin no more, lest something worse befall him, we make this petition with constant prayers, we ask this night and day, that the sanctification and quickening which is assumed from the grace of God be preserved by His protection.

Chapter 13

There follows in the prayer: ‘Thy kingdom come.’ We seek also that God’s kingdom be manifested to us, just as we ask that His name be sanctified in us. For when does God not reign, or when does that begin in Him which both always was and does not cease to be? We petition that our kingdom come which was promised us by God, which was acquired by Christ’s blood and passion, so that we who formerly served in the world may afterwards reign with Christ as Lord, as He Himself promises and says: ‘Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Indeed, most beloved brethren, even Christ Himself can be the kingdom of God whom we daily desire to come, whose coming we wish to be quickly presented to us. For since He Himself is the resurrection, because in Him we rise again, so too the kingdom of God can be understood as Himself, because in Him we are to reign. Moreover, well do we seek the kingdom of God, that is the heavenly kingdom, because there is also an earthly kingdom. But he who has already renounced the world is greater than both its honors and kingdom. And so he who dedicates himself to God and to Christ desires not earthly but heavenly kingdom. Moreover, there is need of continual prayer and supplication, lest we fall away from the heavenly kingdom, just as the Jews to whom this had first been promised fell away, as the Lord makes clear and proves. He says: ‘Many shall come from the East and from the West and shall feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom will be put forth into the darkness outside; and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ He shows that formerly the Jews were sons of the kingdom, when they persevered in being also the sons of God; after the name of the Father had ceased among them, the kingdom also ceased. And so we Christians who in our prayers have begun to call God ‘Father,’ pray also that the kingdom of God come to us.

Chapter 14

We also say in addition: ‘Thy will be done in heaven as it is on earth,’ not that God may do what He wishes, but that we may be able to do what God wishes. For who stands in the way of God’s doing what He wishes? But since the devil stands in the way of our mind and action obeying God in all things, we pray and petition that God’s will be done in us. That it may be done in us, there is need of God’s will, that is, of His help and protection, because no one is strong in his own strength, but is safe by the indulgence and mercy of God. Finally also the Lord, showing the infirmity of man which He was bearing, says: ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,’ and giving forth to His disciples an example not to do their own will but God’s, He added: ‘Yet not as I will, but as thou willest.’ And in another place He says: ‘For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.’ But if the Son obeyed to do His Father’s will, how much more should the servant obey to do his Lord’s will, just as John also in his epistle urges and instructs us to do the will of God, saying: ‘Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him, because all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life which is not from the Father, but from the lust of the world. And the world with its lust will pass away, but he who does the will of God abides forever, as God also abides forever.’ We who wish to abide forever should do the will of God who is eternal.

Chapter 15

Moreover, the will of God is what Christ both did and taught. Humility in conversation, steadfastness in faith, modesty in words, justice in deeds, mercy in works, discipline in morals, not to know how to do an injury and to be able to bear one done, to keep peace with the brethren, to love the Lord with a whole heart, to love Him in that He is Father, to fear Him in that He is God, to place nothing at all before Christ, because He placed nothing before us, to cling inseparably to His love, to stand bravely and faithfully at His cross; when there is a struggle over His name and honor to exhibit the constancy in speech with which we confess, under investigation the confidence with which we enter combat, in death the patience for which we are crowned; this is to wish to be co-heir with Christ; this is to do the commandment of God; this is to fulfill the will of the Father.

Chapter 16

Moreover, we ask that the will of God be done on heaven and on earth, each of which pertains to the consummation of our safety and salvation. For since we possess a body from earth and a spirit from heaven, we ourselves are earth and heaven, and in both, that is in both body and spirit we pray that God’s will be done. For there is a struggle between flesh and spirit, and as they contend there is daily conflict with each other, so that we do not do the very things which we wish, as the spirit seeks the heavenly and the divine, the flesh desires the earthly and worldly. Accordingly we ask that harmony be effected between these two by the help and assistance of God, so that, while the will of God is being done both in the spirit and in the flesh, the soul which is reborn through Him may be preserved. The Apostle Paul openly and manifestly declares this in these words, saying: ‘For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you would. Now the works of the flesh are manifest which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, murders, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, dissensions, sects, heresies, envies, drunkenness, carousings, and such alike. They who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, magnanimity, goodness, faith, clemency, continence, chastity.’ And so by daily, yes, by unceasing petitions we pray for this, that both in heaven and on earth the will of God concerning us be done, because this is the will of God, that the earthly give way to the heavenly, that the spiritual and divine prevail.

Chapter 17

And it may thus be understood, most beloved brethren, that, since the Lord orders and admonishes to love even our enemies and also to pray for those who persecute us, let us ask for those who are still on earth and have not yet begun to be heavenly, so that the will of God, which Christ accomplished by preserving and renewing humanity, may be done also with respect to those. For since the disciples are no longer called by Him ‘earth’ but the ‘salt of the earth,’ and the Apostle declares that the first man is from the slime of the earth but the second from heaven, we too, who should be like God the Father, who makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil and sends rain upon the just and unjust, worthy pray and seek, as Christ so admonishes, so that we offer prayer for the salvation of all, so that just as the will of God has been done, that is, in us through our faith, that we might be of heaven, so too on earth, that is among those unwilling to believe, the will of God may be done, that those who are still earthly by their first birth may begin to be heavenly, born of water and of the Spirit.

Stay Tuned for Part 3

Read Part 1 in this series

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on April 28, 2012, in Early Church History, Prayer, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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