I distinctly remember posting the below, but it doesn’t seem to be in the blog site, so just to be complete, here it is now.
The last of the sixty-six books of the Bible, the book of Revelation, describes the war that began up in heaven, triggered by distrust regarding God’s character and government (Rev 12:4, 7-10). A lack of trust led one-third of the brilliant and intelligent angels to rebel against God. That war is further described (Rev 14:6-12) as culminating in three final messages of warning and invitation, all sent from a heavenly Father who wants none of His children to be lost. So the same Bible book that describes the beginning of the war also speaks of its end.
The final resolution of this conflict of distrust includes the second coming of Christ and the restoration of this damaged planet to its original beauty and peace. But Revelation also tells us that some great and terrible events stand between us and that full restoration. We can trust the God we worship and admire not to leave His children unenlightened and unwarned. So He gave us a picture of three angels, bringing three messages from heaven. Each of these angels proclaims a special message of warning and invitation. I share the whole passage here:
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth — to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus (Rev 14:6-12, NIV).
We have earlier discussed the meaning of Romans 3:25-26 at some length. Forgive me for putting in my own translation. I just can’t find one that does it right, in my opinion:
For God showed Him publicly dying as a means of reconciliation [at-one-ment]. This was to demonstrate God’s own righteousness . . . to show that He Himself is righteous and not as His enemies have made Him out to be. And because He is righteous and trustworthy, He sets right everyone who trusts in Jesus (Maxwell).
Paul confessed with shame that formerly he had misrepresented God. He had believed Satan’s lies to the extent that he used force, even stoning, to compel people to obey (based in part on 1 Timothy 1:12-16). But after Paul accepted the good news, he devoted the rest of his life to telling the truth. Who has written more eloquently about freedom, about love, and about trust than Paul? Who else has so clearly assured us that all God asks of us is trust (Rom 1:16-17), that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14-15), and that there is no need to be afraid of God (Rom 8:15)? Paul had learned the truth about God that sets His children free.
You may remember Jesus’ words: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32, Williams. For Jesus, in John, “the truth” is always the truth about His Father (John 1:17-18; 14:9). You see, if God were the kind of person Satan has made Him out to be, there would be no freedom. There would only be the bondage of fear (Rom 8:15). But Paul had learned the truth, and now he took it everywhere he could. He took it to the Galatians. And when he brought them the truth, he also brought them freedom. They loved it at first. Then they turned away from it. He urged them: “This is the freedom with which Christ has made us free. So keep on standing in it, and stop letting your necks be fastened in the yoke of slavery again.” Gal 5:1, Williams.
There was a time in Paul’s life when he himself was satisfied with the obedience that resulted from law and from fear. He thought it was the right thing to do, what the sovereign God preferred. But once Paul discovered the good news, the truth, he realized that God does not want the obedience that springs from law and from fear. He wants the obedience of faith; the obedience that comes from free people who agree with God that this is the right thing to do. They agree so fully, they don’t even need to be told to do so. They do what is right because they agree that it is right.
Notice Paul’s understanding of his commission in Romans 1. He begins the book by saying, “I have been called to make known God’s good news about Him and about His Son” (based on Romans 1:1). Then he goes on with these words: “Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom I have received grace and a commission for His Name’s sake to win men to the obedience that springs from faith. . . .” Rom 1:4-5, Weymouth. Not the obedience that springs from law, but the obedience that springs from faith. What produces this obedience that springs from faith? Isn’t it the good news about our God, the kind of person He is, that leads us to a willingness to listen (the definition of obedience)? Isn’t it how highly He values our freedom, and how infinitely worthy He is of our love and trust, that leads us to loyalty? “Here are they who keep God’s commandments and maintain their loyalty to Him and to His Son” (based on Revelation 14:12).
How could Paul be so sure about this good news, when it has been opposed or misunderstood by so many through the centuries? What perversion was so serious that Paul could speak as strongly as he did to the Galatian believers? Through the years, I’ve asked many Christians what they consider to be the essence of the good news. The responses have included things like the atonement, the Second Coming, and eternal life; almost every aspect of the Christian faith. But if God is the way His enemies have made Him out to be, eternal life would not be good news, would it? Whether any doctrine, even the Second Coming, is good news depends on the kind of person we believe God to be.
I think, therefore, that the most fitting and truest answer to that question is one that a good friend gave me years ago: “The good news is that God is not the kind of person Satan has made him out to be.” Coming back to an earlier text, Paul related the good news to the issues in the Great Controversy when he suggested that if even an angel from heaven should come with a different version of the good news, we should not believe him. Instead, let him be outcast or accursed (based on Galatians 1:8-9).
It seems, at first, incredibly dogmatic, almost arrogant, for Paul to speak like that. What if your pastor, at the end of the sermon this weekend, should say, “If anyone of you in the audience should disagree with my sermon, let Him be condemned to hell!” Would we think that perhaps the pastor was in need of a vacation? What do we make of Paul talking like this? Let’s not forget that it was an angel from heaven who began the circulation of misinformation about God. And that same angel from heaven masquerades as an angel of light in order to deceive you and me and turn us against our God (2 Cor 11:14-15).
Throughout this book we have spoken about Satan’s charges; that God is arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. He even charges that God has lied to us when He says that sin results in death. He says that God is selfish, not worthy of our love and trust, and not respectful of our freedom. At some length we have considered the way God replies, not in claims, but in demonstration. Remember how humbly God took His case into court, the court being the family of the universe? The good news is that God has won His case. The whole universe now agrees that Satan has lied about our God. “It is finished,” Jesus said (John 19:30).
By the life that He lived and the unique and awful way He died, Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness, answered all the questions, and met any accusations leveled against God. Paul said he was proud to be a bearer of this good news. He also links the good news with the cross in 1 Corinthians:
Christ did not send me to baptize. He sent me to tell the Good News. . . . For the message about Christ’s death on the cross (emphasis supplied) is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God’s power (1 Cor 1:17-18, GNB).
Note how he combines the good news with Christ’s death, and also God’s power to save. He uses similar language in Romans 1: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel [the good news]: it is the power of God for salvation. . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed. . . .” (Rom 1:16-17, RSV). The good news, power, God’s righteousness, and the cross are all tied together. And there’s nothing new about this. This was the everlasting good news in Old Testament times as well:
Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord (Jer 9:24, NIV).
Let’s combine them all together now. The good news is about God. It’s about His righteousness. It cost the death of Christ to prove it. This good news about God’s righteousness has great power to move people, if they’re willing to listen. It has great power to win them back to repentance and faith. It has great power because it is the truth. It has great power because it is such good news.
What is this eternal gospel, this eternal good news? Surely, no one was more confident that he knew the content of the gospel than the apostle Paul. On one occasion, when his version of the good news was being seriously challenged by some of his own colleagues, Paul made this extraordinary claim:
If anyone, if we ourselves or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel at variance with the gospel we preached to you, he shall be held outcast. I now repeat what I have said before; if anyone preaches a gospel at variance with the gospel which you received, let him be outcast! Gal 1:8-9, NEB.
Now if the apostle’s language should seem too strong, this rendering in the New English Bible is the mildest I could find. Gentle J. B. Phillips translates, “May he be a damned soul!” The Greek is anathema esto. May he be “anathema.” The Good News Bible, produced by the American Bible Society, translates, “May he be condemned to hell!” The Living Bible states, “Let God’s curse fall upon him!” The King James Version translates, “Let him be accursed!” When do we say that about our fellow human beings? The New International Version translates, “May he be eternally condemned!” To say the least, Paul was profoundly convinced of the rightness of his version of the good news and the dire consequences of turning to another gospel. You recall how Romans 1 describes the dire consequences of turning away from the truth (1:20-32).
Paul was stunned to observe the willingness of so many early Christians, who had recently been set free from the meaningless requirements of false religion, to go back once again to the fear and the bondage of their former ignorance and misinformation about God:
I am astonished to find you turning so quickly away . . . and following a different gospel. Not that it is in fact another gospel; only there are persons who unsettle your minds by trying to distort the gospel (emphasis supplied) of Christ (Gal 1:6-7, NEB).
He goes on to ask how they could possibly be so foolish, comparing the good news they had received with what they had given up. Look at Galatians 3:1: “You foolish Galatians! Who put a spell on you? Before your very eyes, you had a clear description of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (emphasis supplied)!” Gal 3:1, NEB. He continues reasoning with them in Galatians 4:8-9, GNB: “In the past you did not know God, and so you were slaves of beings who are not gods. But now that you know God (emphasis supplied) . . . how is it that you want to turn back. . . ?” Notice how the same turning point for the Galatians is related to the knowledge of God (Gal 4:9), to the good news (Gal 1:6-7), and to the cross (Gal 3:1). All three of these texts address the same subject. The good news of the cross is the truth about God.
Paul is sympathetic with the Galatians, in spite of his strong words. After all, what could be expected of new converts when some of the leading Christians in Jerusalem were themselves contradicting and compromising the gospel of Christ (as described in Acts 21:15-28)? Even Peter, after his broadening experience with Cornelius, reverted to some of the narrow views that he used to hold. According to Galatians 2:11-14, Paul was moved to correct Peter to his face and in public. How could Paul feel right about doing that? In 1 Corinthians 13 he wrote that love is never rude. Love never insists on having its own way. This is also the Paul who wrote Romans 14. He was so respectful of other people’s freedom that, when there was disagreement over this or that religious matter, he would say, “Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind,” and, “Who are you to criticize one another?” Rom 14:5, 10.
But when people suppressed or perverted the good news about God, gentle Paul spoke out with almost frightening conviction and power. He even went so far as to suggest that these legalistic agitators were confusing the new saints about the good news of truth and freedom. They were upsetting the new converts by urging them to re-adopt the rite of circumcision and other legalistic details. He said, “I wish they would go the whole way and make eunuchs of themselves” (Gal 5:12). You know that Paul must have been deeply moved to say that about those legalistic agitators.
As you look over those three messages, there are many terms that call for explanation. But they are all discussed elsewhere in the Bible. That is why we really need all previous sixty-five books to understand the sixty-sixth. You may recall our discussion of one of these terms in Chapter Nine (“There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God”), the word “fear” (Greek: phobêthête), as in “fear God” (Rev 14:7). In contexts like this, the word does not mean terror. It means reverence. Since this angel brings good news (Rev 14:6), he must not mean that we should be terrified of God. A number of versions have ventured to clarify this, for example: “Honor God” (Rev 14:7, GNB) and “Revere God” (Berkeley). Words like that can also express the meaning of “fear.”
Still, there is much fearsome wording in these three angels’ messages. If this is God’s last pleading with His children, would it not have been better to have just the first angel’s message, and then the last sentence of number three? If God is pleading with us to trust Him, wouldn’t that have been better? The message could then say, “Honor God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the seas, and the springs of water” (Rev 14:7). And then go straight to, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (Rev 14:12). Why do we need all that fearsome wording in between? Wouldn’t the shorter version have seemed more like pleading?
In answering these questions, it is important to note what has gone before, particularly Revelation 12, 13, and then 14. Chapter 12 describes the war between Christ and Satan, and all the efforts of Satan to deceive both angels and men. Then Chapter 13 describes Satan’s final effort to deceive, which is the subject of the next chapter in this book (“Satan’s Final Effort to Deceive”). In his final effort, Satan is primarily seeking to deceive the people living on this planet. Revelation 13 describes his almost complete success. The whole world worships him, except for a certain few. The chapter even describes the powers and the organizations that Satan works through in order to accomplish his deceptive purposes. They are represented by biblical symbols drawn from the other sixty-five books of the Bible. More than that, near the end of Revelation 13, his loyal followers are pictured as bearing a mark of their preference for and trust in Satan’s end-time emissary—that mark is notoriously known as the “mark of the beast” (Rev 13:16-18).
Then comes Revelation 14, God’s last pleading with His children, the three final messages of warning and invitation that are the subject of this chapter. Knowing the whole history of earth, one is not so surprised at the fearsome words of warning in the second and third angel’s messages (Rev 14:8-11). But we should always read these in light of the first angel, who comes with good news, the everlasting gospel (Rev 14:6). That’s what the word gospel means; good news. The first angel doesn’t come with new information. He brings the everlasting good news. This good news has always been the truth. It will always remain the truth. It will always remain the basis of our faith and trust and freedom for eternity.
Lou: I have heard a fairly well-known minister talk about how God speaks to him. Now what about that? How do you judge that kind of thing? When you speak about prayer as conversation with a friend, is that ever a two-way conversation? What about God speaking back to us? Can we talk more about that?
Graham: When someone comes and says, “God spoke to me last night,” I mustn’t be rude enough to say, “I think that’s a lie.” But I must remember verses we considered in earlier chapters. One of these is about the prophet who said, “The angel of the Lord has told me thus and so, but he lied to him” (based on 1 Kings 13:18). So if this person says, “God spoke to me last night and I bring you this message,” I must take that message to the Scriptures and see if it measures up. For no matter who it is that comes to me with a message from the Lord, though he may say, “The Lord spoke to me last night,” I still must take that message to the Scriptures. But if I’m taking that message to the Scriptures, then what is the highest authority? Isn’t it the Scriptures? Then why not go straight there? I believe God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures.
God has certainly spoken to individuals from time to time. And we’ve taken some of those messages to the Bible, and they’ve measured up. There is one such person you and I know especially well; what she wrote measures up magnificently. That’s where the authority lies. I test what she wrote by the Scriptures.
Lou: A couple more questions. Should we pray to the Father, the Son and/or the Holy Spirit? Should we pray to all three?
Graham: I would say all three, as in the Doxology. There we praise the Father, we praise the Son, and we praise the Holy Spirit.
Lou: What about praying in the name of Jesus? What is the significance of that?
Graham: I think it is significant that Jesus said, “Pray to the Father in My name, and the Spirit will help you do it” (based on John 14:13-14, 26; 15:26). I think that’s for historical reasons. You see, the Son is the One who came to reveal the truth about the Father. The Spirit gives us the record and brings the confirmation. And so to be in tune with the whole history of the revelation, He says, “Pray to the Father, but in My name.” “In My name” is not a magic formula, it’s simply saying, “I recognize that if Jesus had not come, I would not know You, I wouldn’t have the courage to come. I wouldn’t know how to pray.” So, “in His name” is a statement of gratitude and worship.
Lou: Can you say just a word about prayers that God says He won’t hear? For example: “You spread forth your hands. I will hide My eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen” (Isa 1:15). What kind of prayers does God refuse to hear?
Graham: In the letters of John it says a similar thing (1 John 4:6). God doesn’t listen to the prayer of hypocrisy, the prayer that really isn’t asking for any help, the prayer that is cheating with God. Now He loves the cheater and He loves the hypocrite. He simply cannot help them, and so He says, “I will have to give you up.” Prayer must be honest. We must walk humbly with our God and tell the truth. It’s the same way with a physician—a physician cannot help a cheating patient who won’t tell the truth.
Lou: The next chapter will be number sixteen in our series. What’s our topic?
Graham: “God’s Last Pleading with His Children.” As some might guess, we will be reviewing the Three Angels’ Messages in the setting of the Great Controversy.
Lou: What about intercessory prayer, praying for others, does that really do any good?
Graham: That’s a very good way to put the question. One reason we pray is because we don’t want to miss out on any good thing that God might have for us. We want to get our money’s worth, so to speak. But that doesn’t sound to me like conversation with God as with a friend. Let’s take an example, a mother with a son who has chosen to go his own way. She loves her son, so every night she talks to God about her son. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be normal. She talks with God about the things that are on her mind. She doesn’t say, “God, force my boy back.” She knows that if God would pour out His Holy Spirit with one hundred-fold greater intensity on her son, that alone would not make him a Christian. He could still say, “No.” So she prays, “God, You choose the time. You choose the way. Help me to be patient. Help me to do what I can do, and maybe bring every influence possible to bear, but I know my son can still say ‘No,’ just as Lucifer said ‘No’ to Your very face.” I’m not going to say it does no good for her to talk to God. She’s going to talk to Him anyway. This is her son. She’s going to talk to Him about her son.
Lou: But what if there is a particular need? I remember years ago there was a situation in one of the countries of Europe where people were suffering persecution and doors were being closed to churches. And we had a day of fasting and prayer. Did all of us joining together in a special movement of prayer bring about a decision by God to intervene? Did it bring extra power into the situation?
Graham: If more of us twist God’s arm, are we more likely to get what we want? Actually, I remember when that event occurred back in the 1950s. A whole group of theology majors at Pacific Union College, where I was at the time, said, “Let’s meet for lunch every Monday noon and discuss intercessory prayer until we understand this process.” And we finally agreed that, in the context of an enemy accusing God of manipulating things, our united requests set God free to do things He had been longing to do. When we all together said, “Please, will You open the churches in Romania,” or wherever it was, God could say to the adversary, “Step aside. I’m on My way.” And He could say to the angels, “Is this interference? Is this manipulation? Do you hear them all asking Me?” I think the Great Controversy is very much involved here. I believe our prayers set Him free to act, to say to the adversary, “Step aside, I’m being asked to do this.” Our prayers really do make a difference. But even if they didn’t, we should still pray, because prayer is how we talk to God as to a friend.
Lou: What if we did the same thing for that lady’s son? If we all prayed for the conversion of an individual, would God have to convert him?
Graham: If that happened, what would it say about God? If God by force can keep His family together, how did He lose one-third of the angels? I don’t believe God would ever overthrow the freedom of that woman’s son.
Lou: It really gets at the whole issue, doesn’t it?
Graham: Absolutely. God will not bring such pressure on her son.
Lou: In Romans 8 it says something about how the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words, or as the New International Version puts it: “With groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8:26). What’s happening there? What is the Spirit doing with God on our behalf?
Graham: Well, we need to consider that in line with John 16:26. If there is no need for the Son to intercede with the Father for us, there’s no need for the Holy Spirit to intercede with the Father for us either. All three of them are on our side. So this means that the Holy Spirit of truth comes and helps us to pray by bringing us the truth about God, that we might be encouraged to pray. He also brings us the truth about ourselves, so we can be honest with God and tell the truth about ourselves as well. That’s prayer that makes a difference. So the Holy Spirit, when we are struggling to find words, guides us into true conversation with God as with a friend.
Lou: We must move on. Let’s talk about the phrase, “Thy will be done.” If we really want God’s will to be done, why ask for anything? Wouldn’t it be more trusting to just say, “God, do what You’re going to do?”
Graham: Jesus is our example in almost every important area. He would say to His Father, “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless. . . .” Matt 26:39. If prayer is conversation with God, we will be honest with Him. “I do not relish what’s coming. I want You to do things Your way. I want to defer to Your wisdom. Nevertheless, may I talk to You about this? May I tell You honestly that I want this, or I want that, I shrink from this, or I shrink from that?” That’s real, honest conversation. But behind it all, we are deferring to God’s wisdom. It’s genuine, honest conversation.
Lou: But aren’t there people who feel it expresses a lack of faith to say, “Thy will be done,” when you’re praying for a loved one that you very much want to be healed? Wouldn’t it be more trusting to just say, “Lord, heal. I believe You are going to?”
Graham: We do it that way because we want to tell Him what to do. It shows much more trust to say, “God, You know best. Please do what is best for this person.”
Lou: You’re saying that it’s perfectly all right to express my will very forcibly, to tell God exactly what I want?
Graham: If I don’t, I’m not telling the truth. I want this person to be well. But “Thy will be done” expresses even more trust. I love it when the person you are praying for says, “Look, you don’t have to dictate to God. He doesn’t have to heal me for me to trust Him. I’m willing for Him to do whatever is best, and you may pray that way.” Isn’t it easy to pray around the bedside when the patient trusts God like that?
Lou: That’s true. But now let’s get down to even more practical matters. Does it do any good to pray for a safe trip? If you pray, “Thy will be done,” and then you have an accident, should you assume that was what God had in mind for that trip?
Graham: I suppose it is good to pray for a safe trip as long as it isn’t a presumptuous prayer. “Now that we’ve prayed, I can up the speed ten miles an hour. You see, I’m guaranteed a safe trip, I prayed.” A good trip prayer would be committing ourselves into God’s hands and also praying, “God, help me to drive more carefully. Help me to be more alert. And Lord, whatever comes out of this, I have confidence that all will be well.” Some people die on the way to camp meeting or church. Will they awaken in the resurrection, see all the good things of eternity and say, “Wait a minute, Lord. Am I in the Kingdom? This isn’t what I wanted.” The Lord would say, “Aren’t you really happy to be here?” God guarantees to take care of us in the larger perspective, but He doesn’t say, “No trouble, no sickness, no accidents on this planet.” That kind of thinking is spiritually dangerous.
Lou: You’re not saying, then, that if an accident happens it is because God planned it out that way?
Graham: He could step in at any time to prevent accidents, but He doesn’t. He’s trying to say something about the results of disorder in the universe, how there’s an enemy abroad, and how He hopes we will bear with Him and wait. And when we look back over all this, I believe we will not wish to have been led in any other way than the one He has chosen. And He hopes we will trust Him enough to wait for that.
Lou: We’ve explored talking to God as with a friend. Yet I can still remember the shock I felt when in a public prayer, a seminary student spoke to God with a familiar “You.” I wondered at the time if this young man had lost his way. But really, when we come to church, we usually put on special clothes, something that’s just a little different than other times, out of respect. Isn’t there an analogy here perhaps as to the kind of language that we ought to use when we talk to God? He is our Friend, but we still want to show respect for His majesty. What about that?
Graham: It’s true that many of us dress in a special way when we come to church. But I don’t see us wearing antique clothing. And so, when we come into the presence of God, I believe we should use the best words we know to express ourselves. We should be reverent and respectful, to be clear, but it doesn’t mean we use old-fashioned words.
Lou: But isn’t reverence and respect the purpose of the “Thees” and “Thous?”
Graham: I believe that has come to be true for many, but I think people need to realize why they are doing it. The Thees and the Thous and the wists and the wots are the way English was spoken in those days. Folks can look at the Preface to the King James Version and notice that the language there is the same. Actually, if the garbage collector came in those days, you might say, “We salute thee, thou gatherer of refuse, and we prithee that thou wouldst place yonder vessel ere.” That’s how you would speak to the garbage man. That’s the way you talked to everybody back then. But today people say about our common speech, “Well, that’s no way to talk to God.” But King James English was simply the common language of the day. It’s beautiful language, but it was not special at that time. Forty years ago I was explaining that there’s no basis in the original language for using Thee and Thou and wist and wot. Yet I still find myself saying Thee and Thou when praying in public. These words have become a symbol of something, so I’m still doing it.
Lou: What words do you use in your personal prayer?
Graham: I often say “You,” and I’m comfortable with that. But I must say, I like the way you pray. You say “You” to God, but you say it very reverently; it’s in the tone of your voice. It’s in your choice of words. So I feel it’s very reverent. I’m accustomed to Thee and Thou in public prayer, and there are a number of people I feel might be a little distressed if I switched. I don’t want words to be a barrier. But maybe I’m just getting too old to shift.
Lou: Well, I’ve gone through my own struggle with that, and it strikes me that I really made the change after I came here to Loma Linda. Even here I wondered how the congregation would feel.
Graham: I think the important thing is: “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). If the reverence is in your heart, the language is not the important thing. I want words to be my servant, and I want to use them with care. I’m ready to change as need be.
Lou: The crucial thing is that prayer is talking to God as to a friend.
Graham: Language mustn’t stand between us and our God.
Lou: It seems to me that this topic comes under the heading of what we could call “Practical Godliness.” You have been talking about our daily walk with God and practical Christianity. And people have a lot of questions about such things. These questions are not theoretical. They really address how we go about living our lives. The first question has to do with the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, the version you quoted didn’t sound familiar. “If we’re going to pray the Lord’s Prayer, shouldn’t we use the words that Jesus gave us instead of some new translation like this?”
Graham: Well, if we were to use the words that Jesus used, we would have to speak in Aramaic.
Lou: But King James English is so familiar to us, Graham. It’s so ingrained in our lives and in the worship of all Christian churches.
Graham: I think there’s a very important lesson in this. For the Sermon on the Mount, we are most familiar with the version of the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Matthew (6:9-13). But the version recorded in Luke (11:2-4) is the version He gave to His disciples when they came and said, “Teach us to pray.” The two are similar, but they have interesting differences, and that’s the point. As the Preface to the King James Version says, “The Kingdom of God is not words and syllables; it’s the great ideas.” You can translate those into any language. So it’s the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer that counts and not the precise words.
Lou: So this isn’t a prayer to be repeated over and over?
Graham: I don’t think we can pray it too often if it’s a meaningful experience. But the danger is, we can go from “Our Father” to “Amen” and not even remember what we have said in between, because we’ve done it so often.
Lou: That leads to another question: Why is this called the Lord’s Prayer?
Graham: It’s called the Pater Noster in the Latin. “Pater” in Latin means “father,” and “noster” means “our.” Our Father. Actually, Jesus prayed other prayers that could be called the Lord’s Prayer. For example, that magnificent chapter 17 in John, when in the hearing of His disciples He prayed to the Father. Now that’s really the Lord’s Prayer. The title is just tradition, that’s all.
Lou: It might be better to say this is “our” prayer, the one He gave to us.
Graham: Yes. That’s right.
Lou: In many translations, the prayer seems to end abruptly. Those great words, “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory” (Matt 6:13, KJV) are left out (compare the ESV, RSV and NIV with the KJV).
Graham: That’s because in the early manuscripts of Matthew it’s not there. And it isn’t in any manuscripts of Luke. So apparently when the Lord actually gave the “Lord’s Prayer,” it ended with, “Deliver us from evil or the evil one.” But does that mean we should stop repeating the doxology (a statement of praise) at the end? There’s a doxology in 1 Chronicles 29 that is four times as long as this one (1 Chr 29:10-13). David prayed it himself. It’s simply magnificent. So if one wants to be a purist when doing this, you could switch to 1 Chronicles 29 when you come to the end of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s very biblical and it’s also very beautiful. Personally, I like ending the prayer with a doxology. Jesus on other occasions may well have done the same. So it’s a beautiful custom to say the whole traditional prayer, as long as it’s meaningful and we’re thinking about it.
Lou: There’s something in the Lord’s Prayer as we traditionally use it that has puzzled me. In other churches they say, “Forgive us our trespasses,” while some of us were brought up saying, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Which is right?
Graham: Actually, this was a problem in our home. Growing up in England, it was always “trespasses.” When we moved to this country, we learned “debts,” and the younger members of the family all changed, but my father never did. So even when I took my children home, they always knew, when praying with Grandpa, it was, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But in my own home it was, “Forgive us our debts,” and I don’t recall my children ever making a mistake, although I’ve heard people in church sometimes fumble over this.
Lou: Where did the word “trespasses” come from? Is that a particular translation?
Graham: The English Book of Common Prayer was quite an influence on the way some of these things are phrased. I think of Handel’s Messiah. “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” You look in vain for that in the King James Version. It comes out of The Book of Common Prayer, I believe.
Lou: So maybe the word “trespasses” was used to avoid the idea that debts had to do with a money problem, rather than sin.
Graham: I like the translation that adds “if we’ve wronged anyone.” The meaning is clear. And the variety of words helps us concentrate on the meaning. That’s the all-important thing.
Lou: Now in the New English Bible it says, “Save us from the evil one” (Matt 6:13). The familiar version of that phrase is “deliver us from evil.” What’s the difference between evil and the evil one?
Graham: The Greek is exactly the same. To be delivered from the evil one is indeed to be delivered from evil; so it makes no difference. Many versions prefer “the evil one.” It brings the Great Controversy to mind rather vividly. But either way, the point is clear.
Lou: When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” what are we really praying? Does that imply, “God, be careful; please don’t get me into temptation?” Would God really want to do that?
Graham: It helps to know that the word “temptation” here actually means trial or testing. Some versions have, “Lead us not into hard testing.” The idea that God would tempt is unthinkable; James deals with this (James 1:13-15). He tells us that when we’re tempted, we shouldn’t even blame the Devil. “You are led away by your own lusts and enticements” (based on James 1:14). Certainly don’t blame God. He wouldn’t do any such thing. So “lead us not into temptation” cannot mean, “Please, don’t You tempt us,” but, “Lead us not into difficult trials.” Jesus prayed something similar in Gethsemane. He said there: “Remove this cup from Me, if possible” (based on Matthew 26:39). I don’t think we should pray, “Lord, I’m ready for it. Bring on the trials; I feel very strong today.” I believe we should say, “Lord, in all humility, don’t bring me into trial; nevertheless, Your will be done.”
“Lead us not into testing” must be coupled with, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.” Jesus did it in Gethsemane (Matt 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36), and we do it in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10). The Lord’s Prayer and the prayer in Gethsemane are very similar in a number of respects. So I think the prayer in Gethsemane helps us to understand the Lord’s Prayer.