hallowed be your name
Matthew 6:9 ESV
Now that we have fixed our eyes upon our Father in heaven to whom we pray, we will spend the remaining six sermons studying the six petitions that Jesus instructs us to pray. The first three petitions focus on God (His name, His kingdom, and His will), while the final three shifts toward our needs of provision, pardon, and protection. God first, us second is the pattern of the Creed, the Prayer, and the Commandments, and meditating upon them should similarly shape our mind, heart, and hands as well.
The first petition is what Thomas Watson calls the great petition, since it is the only request which we will eternally make within the Lord’s Prayer. When Christ returns, the earth is renewed, and our bodies are resurrected, God’s kingdom will have come, His will shall be done on earth as in heaven, and we will no longer have need to pray for daily bread, forgiveness of sins, or deliverance from evil. Yet the cry for God’s name to be hallowed will remain for all eternity. We will continuously long to see a deeper, richer, and ever more glorious display of God’s holiness.
What then does it mean to pray for God’s name to be hallowed?
TO KNOW GOD AS GOD
First, it is a cry to know God as God, to see Him as He is.
In the Bible, a name represents the essence of an individual. In Genesis 17, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham to reinforce the security of His promise to him. Although Abram did not yet have a child, his name meant exalted father, and God then called him Abraham, which means father of a multitude. Likewise, Jacob’s name bore the notion of a deceiver, which very much reflected the nature of his early life, but God then changed his name to Israel, which means strives with God after Jacob literally wrestled with God all night in Genesis 32.
This imagery is continued in the New Testament with the two most prominent Apostles. Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, which means rock, to accent the steadfast foundation of Peter’s confession that Jesus is truly the Christ. Saul also began going by Paul (his Greek name) to mark his ministry to the Gentiles. Finally, in Jesus’ message to the churches in Revelation, He promises that the one who conquers will be given “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone” (2:17), will have his name confess by Jesus before the Father and His angels (3:5), and will have the name of God, the name of New Jerusalem, and Jesus’ new name written on him by Jesus (3:12). Names, therefore, are highly significant within the Bible.
The importance of a name extends even further in regard to God. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s name is spoken of as being synonymous with His person. For instance, the Psalms repeatedly call for God’s people to worship and praise God’s name. To know and adore God’s name is to know and adore God Himself. In Psalm 91:14, God declares of His servant, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my named.” The chiastic structure of the verse ties a direct correlation between holding fast to God in love and knowing His name. Indeed, those who know God’s name can do nothing less, while a refusal to hold fast to God in love is proof that we do not truly know His name.
God’s name, therefore, is intrinsically tied to His nature and character. What then does it mean to hallow something? To hallow simply means to set apart something as holy, to separate it from that which is common. Specifically, we hallow created things by consecrating them to God, who is Himself holy. Some call this the sacred/secular divide. That which is sacred is holy unto God, given exclusively to Him, while that which is secular is common. We, for instance, are called to lives of holiness, to be a holy people, which means that everything we do should be done for God. Our very lives should be set apart for God’s use. They are to be hallowed.
Such a command makes sense for us, since we can be either holy or profane (that is, unholy), but God is holy. Holiness is the very godliness of God. For us, holiness means being set apart for God, but God’s holiness is simply God being set apart as God. To declare that God is holy is to acknowledge God as God.
How then can God’s name, which directly reflects His nature, be hallowed? Watson rightly notes that “as the sun has its brightness, whether we admire it or not, so God’s name is illustrious and glorious, whether we hallow it or not” (51). Why, therefore, should we pray for God’s name to be holy if it already is holy?
We are praying for vision to see the holiness of God’s name.
We are praying to see God as God.
Since this prayer is coming from our lips, let it first be for us, the collective people of God who call Him our Father. God’s people should know God. How else are we able to praise Him, pray to Him, obey Him, and represent Him? By praying to our Father in heaven, we acknowledge that we know who God is, and by praying for His name to be hallowed, we ask to know Him more. We need this prayer because our sin clouds and distorts our vision of God. It prevents us from seeing Him as He truly is and turns our hearts toward vain idols. Yet God, for His name’s sake, pardons our sin, so that we may know and glorify Him. Consider Isaiah 48:9-11:
For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Because God is God, He is worthy of praise from His creation. He deserves the glory due Him. He rescues us from our sin for His own sake, that we would know His hallowed name. Therefore, we pray for God’s name to be hallowed through the salvation of the nations, the people of the earth. We long to see God exalted by people from every tribe, nation, and language because He is the almighty Creator of each and every person with all our languages and nations.
Such exaltation of God is also the highest good for us. John Piper describes it as follows:
So for us to be loving we must exalt God, and for God to be loving he must exalt God. Love is helping people toward the greatest beauty and the highest value and the deepest satisfaction and the most lasting joy and the biggest reward and the most wonderful friendship and the most overwhelming worship—love is helping people toward God. We do this by pointing to the greatness of God. And God does it by pointing to the greatness of God. (33)
God’s name is hallowed when a sinner repents of sin and idolatry and cries out, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). Yet fearing God’s name and walking in His truth is also the highest joy. The glory of God is for our good. Praying and pleading, therefore, for others to turn from sin which ends in death to the God of life both exalts God’s name as holy and promotes their greatest good.
TO TREAT GOD AS GOD
Second, it is longing to treat God as God, to bring honor and glory to His name. To quote Watson again, “if we do not magnify his name, we contradict our own prayers” (51). We pray not only to see God as God but to actually honor Him as God with our lives. Let us consider three ways that we hallow God’s name by treating Him as God.
First, we honor the Father by also honoring Jesus as His Son. “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the radiance of His glory, and the exact imprint of His nature. It is impossible to glorify God without worshiping Jesus as God the Son.
In Colossians 1:21, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we were “once alienated and hostile in mind” to the Father yet we have now been reconciled by Jesus’ death. Indeed, as Christ declared in John 14:6, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” We cannot rightly know God apart from His Son. The Christian faith, therefore, is properly Christocentric. We seek to glorify and praise Christ in all things because the Father “has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). To hallow God’s name means confessing that Jesus is Lord.
Second, we hallow God’s name by trusting it. Proverbs 18:10 declares, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” The metaphor compares God’s name to a fortress into which someone could flee to escape an attacking force. Timothy Keller points out that verse 11 purposely follows reading, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.” The truth of these verses is that everyone flees behind the high walls of some tower or city, which they perceive to be strong. For many, money indeed is their stronghold, their trusted anchor in the storm. For some, it is status, while others hope in their own abilities, whether physical or intellectual. Many more place their security in their family, particularly a spouse or children. Regardless of the object, if we look for refuge in anything other than the omnipotent Deity, the walls are high only in our imaginations. The righteous man, however, runs into God’s holy name as his strong tower.
By such faith in God, we hallow His name. Turning to God for safety is speaks through actions what we truly believe of God. By it we declare that God is all-powerful, that He is good and gracious toward us, and that He protects His people. To hallow God’s name, we must run to it as our strong tower.
Finally, we display God’s name as holy whenever we live for God’s glory rather than our own. In Romans 14:7-8, Paul captured the core of the Christian’s lifestyle: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” And in other place, he wrote, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In Christ, God purchased us to be His people by the blood of His Son. We glorify Him as holy whenever we now live for our Lord. Consider how Calvin counsels us:
If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us… We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.
Such living runs contrary to our fallen, sinful nature. We can only do so by God’s grace. Thankfully, Jesus has taught us to pray for this help. When we pray hallowed be your name, we are crying for God’s character and reputation to be our highest aim and for the strength to put to death the need for our name to be exalted. We are pleading for God to grow our face in His name as our refuge and security. We are longing for the name of Christ to be seen by all creation as the glorious reality that it is.
In fact, we might even say that the prayer hallowed be your name is us praying to be awakened to reality. Because our hearts are sinful and idolatrous, we perpetually live in a fantasy world that centers around us. We view our lives as our own story to tell rather than accepting that we were created for a far grander purpose. A life, however, that is not lived for God is fictitious. It denies supremacy to the Author of life, and in so doing, divorces itself from reality. Within this fallen world, our vaporous existence can appear so permanent and steadfast. Yet everything before our eyes in light, momentary, and transient in comparison to the weight of God’s eternal glory, which we will one day behold in the face of Jesus Christ. On that day, when all our prayer requests have ceased, we will join with the seraphim of Isaiah 6:3 by calling out to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”