Ever since Adam, the carnal mind and heart has always sighed for just the opposite: “Where’s temptation, that I might be delivered into evil.” Thus, the prayer to be led away from temptation and delivered from evil is strange and foreign to our hearts. We rebel against it. Even so, the Spirit prays for us with unutterable cries. The seventh petition involves us in a high drama of spiritual warfare, beyond what we commonly understand by that term. “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (Rom 5:17).
Our cry to be delivered from evil is in response to the suffocating reality expressed by the sixth petition: “Lead us not into temptation!” But we are not delivered out of temptation by merely pleading for it to go away. We are delivered due to another unnatural plea placed in our hearts from Jesus’ lips: “Deliver us from temptation’s evil!” It is a plea arising from our total inability to deliver ourselves. This is not a plea for us to be given the strength to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It is our helpless cry when boots – straps and all - slip off the edge of temptation’s cliff. Arms flailing, we beat the air for support as we cry out, “Deliver us!”
The Greek verb “deliver” does not have a precise English equivalent. The closest meaning is more like: “seize, grab, pull me out and away!”
But the full meaning of the verb is not pull me and put me down in some safe spot where I can recover and try it again sometime soon. The verb includes grasp and bring me to you and for you (1). Pluck me away from evil and bring me to yourself. Then, use me for whatever purpose your infinite sovereign will has in mind for your glory!
Paul’s description of the saving power of grace carries the echo of the prayer: “Deliver us by your grace, for your service.”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
Thus, the prayer to be plucked and saved from evil is followed by the plea: “Then, let me live a life for my Savior.”
By grace, Moses was plucked from the pleasures of Egypt, for leading Israel into Canaan.
By grace, David was snatched from the fangs of beasts and Goliath’s sword, for serving as king and psalmist of Israel.
By grace, the Lord delivered the prophets from lives of oblivion for announcing the coming Messiah.
By grace, Matthew was delivered from his life as an extortionist, for serving as an apostle – and gospel writer.
By grace, Paul was delivered from his life as an assassin of believers, for service as gospel apostle to the gentiles.
By grace, Jesus delivered Mary from the stones of her accusers for becoming the first eye witness of the resurrection.
By grace, Jesus delivered each one of the disciples for a life of proclaiming the good news of salvation by grace through faith.
By grace, we are delivered from evil for declaring the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
So the prayer “Deliver us from evil!” is “Pluck me to you and for you!” But it is always in the posture of having been saved by grace through faith.
The task itself is immaterial. God delivers us to himself, for himself, and for his glory alone.
But what is the “evil” from which we pray to be delivered?
Usually when we think of some evil overtaking us, we imagine a catastrophe, great physical harm, material loss, grave illness, betrayal, relationships lost, and many other ills.
We may certainly plead for deliverance from all these evils. Yet, there is a more foreboding evil behind them when we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” The Greek word may also be translated as “the evil one.”
He is the ancient serpent, Satan, the accuser of the believers. He’s the great seducer through his appearances, but a cruel despot over his subjects. The Greek word for evil has at its root meaning, hard and painful labor, to do senseless work, to wear yourself out with useless tasks until you fall from fatigue (2). The evil one is the greatest expert in putting us to work for him until we destroy ourselves. He distorts the gospel into works of his own invention, seduces people into thinking they must be saved by them, and then enslaves them with useless tasks which will satisfy neither devil nor God. The seventh petition pleads for us to be delivered into our Lord and for his service, because otherwise the devil will enslave us into his endless and destructive tasks. When we bring our anguish, distress, and suffering as offerings to God for our sins, we have done nothing but the works of the evil one. But for that reason, we pray to be delivered from him! All the works required for our salvation were completely accomplished by our Lord’s living and dying, and are more than sufficient. And his works are ours by faith alone.
The evil one is the greatest expert in putting us to work for him until we destroy ourselves.
Thus, in the seventh petition we plead, “Pull me away from evil and bring me next to you where I may bask in your grace. Then, also through your grace, grant that I may be given a life of service where I may be kept from the evil one’s useless and futile works.”
The Lord’s prayer is the backbone of all prayer. It reflects Jesus’ own prayer life as he communed with the Father. Because Jesus gave us all seven petitions, we may confidently trust that each one will be answered according to God’s sovereign will, and for God’s glory alone.