What element in our faith could be described as the most familiar of all? One candidate would be a prayer, the Our Father. In fact, it is so familiar that we can miss seeing an essential and surprising message in it. We can think of the Our Father as an extremely beautiful prayer, one that condenses a lot into a very few words (as Christ always did), as one that is the central prayer in all of Christianity, without seeing one particular unusual quality about it.
It is different from every non-Christian prayer I have ever heard of in one crucial respect: the Lord's Prayer deals with one subject and with almost nothing else, and that subject is morality. It contains in summary and in outline a prescription for man's relationship to the Ten Commandments. In fact, in outline, it is the same. As the first three Commandments deal with man's duties in love to God, and the rest with man's duties in love to other men, so too with the Our Father. It starts with one's obligations to God, and continues and finishes with one's obligations, under God, to others.
"Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name"
This is a brief summary of the first three Commandments: "I am the Lord,thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me" through "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. "Hallowed be Thy Name". Man must not live by the proposition that one can ignore God throughout life in this world.
"Thy Kingdom come; Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven"
What was Christ speaking about here? What is "Thy Will"? First of all, it is obedience to God's Commandments.
"Give us this day our daily bread"
This is the only phrase in the Our Father that is not directly moral. But, indirectly, it is, and in a basic sense, because Christ was telling us to be satisfied with enough, satisfied with this day and our daily bread. In a sense, the source of all sin is dissatisfaction with enough. Sin comes from wanting more than enough and being willing to sacrifice obedience to God's Will to get it.
"And forgive us our trepasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"
Morality is everywhere here-a sense of sinfulness, a sense of the need to forgive others for their immorality against us, a sense of a severe and coming judgment based on morality.
"And lead us not into temptation"
Another phrase relating primarily to morality.
"But deliver us from evil. Amen."
Again it is moral evil that is spoken of here. We ask God to deliver us from all kinds of moral evil, and to help us remove all sin from ourselves.
The Lord's Prayer is preoccupied with morality. It gives us a further indication of how important morality and the need for repentance were in the thinking of Christ himself. If we listen to the prayers of non-Christians—Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus—we shall see how unusual the Our Father is. It is even more incisive and exclusive on this point than anything in the Old Testament. So when we pray the Our Father, we are not just using the world's most beautiful and succinct prayer; we are recalling a message that was, and still is, unique in the history of the world. And it also provides further evidence, in addition to many other New Testament passages, of what Christ placed at the heart and root of His religion; strict morality, a strict idea of the Ten Commandments and of their primary importance toward salvation.