In Jesus’ Name

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1 Tim 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. NIV

John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it NASU

There is a general principle in Christian prayer that it is usually directed to the Father in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself taught the apostles that after his departure they would ask in his name, and their requests would be granted (John 14:13-14, 15:16, 16:23-24, 26). Jesus himself prayed to the Father and taught the disciples to do so (Matt. 6:9-13), and generally the apostles did so (Eph. 3:14-15 for example).

However, Jesus did speak of the disciples asking him (John 14:13-14) and Paul spoke of giving thanks to Christ (1 Tim. 1:12). We know that Stephen, in his last breath, spoke to the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:59-60) and that John in his excitement for Christ’s return did likewise in a prayerful expression (“come Lord Jesus,” Rev. 22:20). The apostles’ prayer in Acts 1:24-25 seems to have been directed to Jesus, whom they regularly called Lord, and who had the authority to choose an apostle. The apostles’ prayer in Acts 4:24-30 is directed to God, “Sovereign Lord.” So while it is generally appropriate to address prayers to the Father, especially public prayers, not all Christian prayers are so directed. Since Jesus is at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33), and there is no jealousy or competition but only perfect cooperation in the Godhead (John 17:10), there is no reason to doubt that the Lord Jesus and the Father are quite capable of understanding any and all of the requests and prayers of Christians.

The New Testament doesn’t provide scripted prayer examples of what it means to ask “in Jesus’ name.” The prayer in Acts 4:24-30 does mention Jesus’ name in the final recorded phrase, but this is in the context of a request for miracles rather than a formal closing expression for the prayer. The prayer of Paul in Eph. 3:14-21 also mentions the name of Jesus toward the end, in the context of praise, and not seemingly as a formula of closure for the prayer. In fact, if we consider other things that are to be done “in Jesus’ name” it seems clear that the phrase conveys the idea of doing things “by Jesus’ authority” rather than a verbal formula.

Disciples of Jesus were to do mighty deeds in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17-18, Acts 4:30). We have examples of verbally invoking the name of Jesus to perform miracles (Acts 3:6, 16:18). We also have examples of miracles performed without a word (Acts 5:15-16, 19:11-12) and miracles in which the words spoken did not include the name of Jesus (Acts 14:8-9). Since the mighty deeds were to be done in the name of Jesus, those done silently or without verbal mention of his name must have been “in his name” even though there was no verbal formula. This is because “in his name” is a matter of being “in him,” a matter of having authority from him, rather than the technicality of a verbal formula (see 1 Pet. 4:14-16). It is always appropriate that the name of Jesus be mentioned when acting by his authority, but a Christian can act by his authority without necessarily mentioning his name. On the other hand, one who is not a Christian can mention Jesus’ name and still not be acting “in his name” (Acts 19:13-16, for example).

The New Testament instructs us to do many things in Jesus’ name, including welcoming a child (Matt. 18:5), assembling together (Matt. 18:20, 1 Cor. 5:4), being baptized (Acts 2:38, 10:48), giving thanks (Eph. 5:20), and indeed “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV) These instructions cannot be about stating a particular formula when doing each of these things, although again it is always good to affirm the name of Jesus, but are about doing things because we ourselves as Christians bear the name of Christ and act in his name.

For the sake of recognition and understanding, it is always appropriate that a public prayer should mention the name of Jesus, invoking his authority for all to hear. Not because God needs to hear it, but because those hearing the prayer may need to hear it. Likewise, it is always appropriate that a public prayer be concluded with an “amen” so that those who hear understand that the prayer is concluded. This is not a rule or law, but an appropriate device for concluding public prayer. Since the Lord “knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19) and we have a living way of access to the throne of God by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19-22) telling God that we come in Jesus’ name is not needed, but sometimes telling men that we have approached God in Jesus’ name is important.

Since the Lord “knows those who are his” and we have one who speaks to the Father in our behalf (1 John 2:1) and the Holy Spirit himself presents needs we can’t even verbalize to the Father (Rom. 8:26), we should, as Hebrews 10:19-22 urges, approach the throne with confidence and full assurance. It is not a verbal formula, but God’s grace in Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit that makes this possible.

Jesus told his disciples that those who do what he commands are his friends (John 15:13-15). We are also called his brothers (Heb. 2:11) and children (Heb. 2:13). Friends, brothers, and children can speak to their friend, brother, or parent in all circumstances, without needing a formula or formality. Conversing with a friend can be very free and move quickly from topic to topic, since friends know one another. Conversations can be interrupted and resumed easily. Surely the Lord is not going to be confused or offended where even a human friend could handle such conversations. When there are guests, additional formality may be called for in a family, and so also with public prayer when others hear, but in personal intimacy direct speech is usually appropriate. This is the sort of approach Stephen made to Christ as he was being stoned, brief and urgent. It is also the sort of prayer Nehemiah raised silently to God when before the king (Neh. 2:4-5). Prayer, as personal conversation with the Father or with Jesus, does not have to be aloud or formal (1 Sam. 1:13, 1 Cor. 14:28). Since this is the case, moments of conversation with God are possible, and really commanded (pray without ceasing, 1 Thess. 5:17; pray in the Spirit on all occasions, Eph. 6:18). The prayer life Paul commanded only makes sense if we can talk to God anytime, anywhere, without formality, and without supposing that an interruption (precluding a closing formality) would invalidate our prayer. A Christian saying “thank you, Lord” or “Lord, save me” will be heard by God. God hears his people when they speak (Mal. 3:16) and knows the very thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13, Matt. 9:4). Christians can and should speak to God with a thought, when driving down the road or lying down in bed, and our intent should be to do “all things” in the name of Jesus, which calls for a way of life under his authority, and not just a formal phrase imposed upon public prayers.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. NIV

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