God Honoring Piety

Matthew 6:1-8

SS Lesson for 02/09/2020

 

Devotional Scripture:  2 Cor 9:1-15

Lesson Background and Key Verse

Background from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

In a church I served for several years, we once had a “burn the mortgage” campaign. The leaders launched the campaign to raise the $100,000 needed to retire the congregation's only debt. Several members were capable of writing a check for the entire amount, so it seemed like the project should be quick and successful. I was surprised, however, when raising the final $20,000 stalled for several weeks. Wondering why, I was told that two of the wealthier men of the church were each intending to give $10,000, but each one wanted to be recognized as the person who put the campaign “over the top.” Both men desired to be seen by the congregation as timely and generous; both believed there was room for only one person in this honored position. Eventually, the two men worked this out somehow, and neither was announced as the final giver. This was as it should have been. While this giving was not directly for relief of the poor (a context of this week's lesson), its intent to eliminate the congregation's debt would free up budget funds for international missions giving and support of the city's rescue mission. The campaign was never intended to be a contest for recognition. Today's lesson tells us how that turn could have been prevented.

 

The literary context of today's lesson is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which encompasses chapters 5-7 of Matthew's Gospel. This sermon is Jesus' exposition of what it means to live under the reign of God in the kingdom of Heaven, as Matthew calls it (Matthew 4:17; 11:11, 12; 16:19; 18:1; etc.; the other Gospels use the phrase “kingdom of God”). Early in the sermon, Jesus pronounced blessing on those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (5:6) and the “pure in heart” (5:8). A little later, Jesus warned that those who belong to God's kingdom must have righteousness greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). The middle section of Jesus' sermon explains those challenging ideas. Jesus stressed that true righteousness means righteousness not just on the outside but on the inside as well. Obedience to God means not just avoiding murder but controlling anger (Matthew 5:21-24); not just avoiding adultery but controlling lustful thoughts (5:27-30). Genuine purity is that of the heart. Those who live under the rule of God are obedient not just where everyone can see but even in places God alone can see. This leads up to Jesus' condemnation of hypocrites and hypocrisy. Today's text introduces the first of a series of Jesus' teachings regarding motives of the heart. His preferred method of teaching was to use parables (Matthew 13:34). But today's text is a picture of Jesus teaching by means of plain-spoken directives.

 

Key Verse: Matt 6:1

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven

 

Commentary from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

The Lord then turned from the Pharisees’ teachings to examine their hypocritical deeds.

6:1-4. Jesus first spoke of the Pharisees’ almsgiving. Righteousness is not primarily a matter between a person and others, but between a person and God. So one’s acts should not be demonstrated before others for then his reward should come from them (vv. 1-2). The Pharisees made a great show of their giving to the needy... in the synagogues and on the streets, thinking they were thus proving how righteous they were. But the Lord said that in giving one should not even let his left hand know what his right hand is doing, that is, it should be so secret that the giver readily forgets what he gave. In this way he demonstrates true righteousness before God and not before people, so God in turn will reward him. One cannot be rewarded, as the Pharisees expected, by both man and God.

6:5-15 (Luke 11:2-4). Jesus then spoke about the practice of prayer, which the Pharisees loved to perform publicly. Rather than making prayer a matter between an individual and God, the Pharisees had turned it into an act to be seen by men—again, to demonstrate their supposed righteousness. Their prayers were directed not to God but to other men, and consisted of long, repetitive phrases (Matt. 6:7). Jesus condemned such practices. Prayer should be addressed to your Father, who is unseen (cf. John 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17) and who knows what you need (Matt. 6:8); it is not “to be seen by men.” But Jesus also presented a model prayer for His disciples to follow. This prayer is commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer,” but it is actually “the disciples’ prayer.” This prayer, which is repeated by many Christians, contains elements that are important for all praying: (1) Prayer is to begin with worship. God is addressed as Our Father in heaven. Worship is the essence of all prayer. (In vv. 1-18 Jesus used the word “Father” 10 times! Only those who have true inner righteousness can address God in that way in worship.) (2) Reverence is a second element of prayer, for God’s name is to be hallowed, that is, revered (hagiasthētō). (3) The desire for God’s kingdom —Your kingdom come—is based on the assurance that God will fulfill all His covenant promises to His people. (4) Prayer is to include the request that His will be accomplished today on earth as it is being accomplished in heaven, that is, fully and willingly. (5) Petition for personal needs such as daily food is also to be a part of prayer. “Daily” (epiousion, used only here in the NT) means “sufficient for today.” (6) Requests regarding spiritual needs, such as forgiveness, are included too. This implies that the petitioner has already forgiven those who had offended him. Sins (cf. Luke 11:4), as moral debts, reveal one’s shortcomings before God. (7) Believers recognize their spiritual weakness as they pray for deliverance from temptation to evil (cf. James 1:13-14). Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15 explain His statement about forgiveness in verse 12. Though God’s forgiveness of sin is not based on one’s forgiving others, a Christian’s forgiveness is based on realizing he has been forgiven (cf. Eph. 4:32). Personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses (not salvation from sin). One cannot walk in fellowship with God if he refuses to forgive others.

6:16-18. Fasting was a third example of Pharisaic “righteousness.” The Pharisees loved to fast so that others would see them and think them spiritual. Fasting emphasized the denial of the flesh, but the Pharisees were glorifying their flesh by drawing attention to themselves. The Lord’s words emphasized once again that such actions should be done in secret before God. Nor was one to follow the Pharisees’ custom of withholding olive oil from his head during fasting. As a result, God alone would know and would reward accordingly. In all three examples of Pharisaic “righteousness”—almsgiving (vv. 1-4), praying (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18)—Jesus spoke of hypocrites (vv. 2, 5, 16), public ostentation (vv. 1-2, 5, 16), receiving their reward in full when their actions are done before men (vv. 2, 5, 16), acting in secret (vv. 4, 6, 18), and being rewarded by the Father, who sees or “knows,” when one’s actions are done secretly (vv. 4, 6, 8, 18).

6:19-24 (Luke 12:33-34; 11:34-36; 16:13). One’s attitude toward wealth is another barometer of righteousness. The Pharisees believed the Lord materially blessed all He loved. They were intent on building great treasures on earth. But treasures built here are subject to decay (moth destroys cloth and rust destroys metal; cf. James 5:2-3) or theft, whereas treasures deposited in heaven can never be lost. The Pharisees had this problem because their spiritual eyes were diseased (Matt. 6:22). With their eyes they were coveting money and wealth. Thus they were in spiritual darkness. They were slaves to the master of greed, and their desire for money was so great they were failing in their service to their true Master, God. Money is the translation of the Aramaic word for “wealth or property,” mamōna (“mammon,” kjv).

6:25-34 (Luke 12:22-34). If a person is occupied with the things of God, the true Master, how will he care for his ordinary needs in life, such as food, clothing, and shelter? The Pharisees in their pursuit of material things had never learned to live by faith. Jesus told them and us not to worry about these things, for life is more important than physical things. He cited several illustrations to prove His point. The birds of the air are fed by the heavenly Father, and the lilies of the field grow in such a way that their splendor is greater than even Solomon’s. Jesus was saying God has built into His Creation the means by which all things are cared for. The birds are fed because they diligently work to maintain their lives. They do not store up great amounts of food, but continually work. And believers are far more valuable to God than birds! The lilies grow daily through a natural process. Therefore an individual need not be anxious about his existence (Matt. 6:31), for by worrying he can never add any amount of time, not even a single hour, to his life. Rather than being like the pagans who are concerned about physical needs, the Lord’s disciples should be concerned about the things of God, His kingdom and His righteousness. Then all these needs will be supplied in God’s timing. This is the life of daily faith. It does no good to worry—do not worry occurs three times (vv. 25, 31, 34; cf. vv. 27-28)—or be concerned about tomorrow for there are sufficient matters to attend to each day. Worrying shows that one has “little faith” in what God can do (v. 30; cf. you of little faith in 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). As a disciple cares each day for the things God has trusted to him, God, his heavenly Father (6:26, 32), cares for his daily needs.

7:1-6 (Luke 6:41-42). A final illustration of Pharisaic practices pertains to judging. The Pharisees were then judging Christ and finding Him to be inadequate. He was not offering the kind of kingdom they anticipated or asking for the kind of righteousness they were exhibiting. So they rejected Him. Jesus therefore warned them against hypocritical judging. This passage does not teach that judgments should never be made; Matthew 7:5 does speak of removing the speck from your brother’s eye. The Lord’s point was that a person should not be habitually critical or condemnatory of a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye when he has a plank—a strong hyperbole for effect—in his own eye. Such action is hypocritical (You hypocrite, v. 5; cf. “hypocrites” in 6:2,5,16). Though judgment is sometimes needed, those making the distinctions (krinō, judge, means “to distinguish” and thus “to decide”) must first be certain of their own lives. Furthermore when seeking to help another, one must exercise care to do what would be appreciated and beneficial. One should never entrust holy things (what is sacred) to unholy people (dogs; cf. “dogs” in Phil. 3:2) or throw... pearls to pigs. Dogs and pigs were despised in those days.

 

Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Honoring God through Giving (Matt 6:1-4)

 

1 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

 

The wrong way to give (1-2)

Do not put trust and hope in wealth (1 Tim 6:17)

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Not using God's provisions wisely (Matt 25:24-27)

24 "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'  26 "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

Not being a trustworthy good steward (Luke 16:10-13)

10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? 13 "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." 

By being tightfisted in giving to the poor (Deut 15:7)

7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.

By only giving out of wealth (Luke 21:4)

4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." 

By giving sparingly (2 Cor 9:6)

6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

 

The right way to give (3-4)

Give generously (1 Chron 29:14)

14 "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

Give sacrificially (1 Kings 17:12-16)

12 "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread-only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it-and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'" 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Give self first (2 Cor 8:2-5)

2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.   5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.

Share with God's people (Rom 12:13)

13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Give cheerfully (2 Cor 9:7)

7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Be sure to give to the support of family (1 Tim 5:8)

8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

 

Honoring God through Prayer (Matt 6:5-8)

 

5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

 

Praying in Sincerity (from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary)

You can find odd and interesting place names all over the United States. Every state has them. In North Carolina, for example, you can find Friendship, Bridal Veil, Blowing Rock, Kill Devil Hills, and Sincerity. One supposes that people who pray in Sincerity are no more in earnest than those who pray in Raleigh or Charlotte. Wherever we live we should pray in sincerity. If we are thinking of public prayers, sincerity means that we do not pray to be praised by people for the eloquence of our prayers nor for their length. Lee Carter Maynard once noted that when Jesus prayed in public he was very brief; when he prayed in private he prayed all night. Maynard said, “We usually reverse the process.” If we are thinking of private prayers, sincerity means that we do not pray simply out of habit, but rather pray from our hearts. Certainly we ought to have the habit of prayer. We need a definite time and place to pray. But when that time comes and we go to that place, our prayer must not be routine. To pray in sincerity means that we go beyond some memorized prayer repeated over and over. Sincerity in prayer also means that we look for ways to enrich our prayer time. The remembered verses of a hymn may help. It may help us to read the prayers of others—not to repeat them, but to learn from them new depths of devotion. And, of course, sincerity means we truly believe God hears our prayers and responds to our prayers. We trust that he answers in his own way and in his own time.

 

The wrong way to pray (5)

Don't pray filled with pride  (Luke 18:10-14)

10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Don’t pray to be seen and heard by others  (Luke 20:47)

47 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." 

Don't pray thinking that we know how to pray or what to pray for (Rom 8:26)

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Prayers are hinders when there are broken relationships with others (1 Peter 3:7)

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Disobedience of God's word causes prayers to be detestable to God  (Prov 28:9)

9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.

 

The right way to pray (6-7)

Pray for those who persecute you  (Matt 5:44)

44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt 26:41)

41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." 

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions (Eph 6:18)

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Pray continually (1 Thess 5:17)

17 pray continually;

Pray for others  (James 5:16)

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Pray with a mind that is clear and self-controlled (1 Peter 4:7)

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

Pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 1:20)

20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

 

God knows our needs (8)

God knows everything about us (Ps 139:1-5)

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.

God can answer and fulfill before the call to Him  (Isa 65:24)

24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.

God meets needs according to the riches in Jesus  (Phil 4:19)

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

 

Conclusion and Other Thoughts

Commentary Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh

Putting Prayer in Its Place

Jesus’ instruction on prayer in Matthew begins this way:

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

Jesus develops two basic kinds of prayer. The first is “showcase prayer” by which the person praying actually draws attention to himself. He wants to be known as spiritual and holy. His religion gives him status, and by public prayer, he maintains and feeds it. The second kind of prayer is “relational prayer.” This is prayer that seeks time with the Father. Jesus, for teaching purposes, draws a distinct line between the two, but we must acknowledge that most people will fall somewhere between the two extremes. It is also important to understand that no one can read the mind and intentions of another heart. What might seem to be the height of arrogance may only reflect upbringing. Or gentle, quiet prayers may come from one who has no private prayer life at all. Jesus’ instructions are for us to know and personally apply His words and to let the Holy Spirit guide and train our hearts in these matters.

There are, however, some warning signs to which we might want to pay attention.

·         Do I have an “I am speaking to God” voice? This may be a matter of upbringing. Nevertheless, none is needed, and such a change in voice can draw attention to the one praying—unless one is in an environment that expects it, in which case not changing the voice can draw attention.

·         Elegant words and lots of them. This may be a matter of gifting and natural oratory, but again none are needed.

·         Personal agenda. It’s hard to excuse this one. You pray according to what you want done and what others need to do to help it along.

·         Gossip. “Please God. Help Jane resist the temptation to keep seeing that guy.” Such public prayers are only fruitful if Jane is there and has asked for intercession on that subject.

·         Public prayer of any kind without a private prayer life. It is a given that if you are not speaking to the Father when you are alone, there is no good speaking to Him publicly.

So Jesus advises us to go into our rooms and shut the door. This is the “normal” opposite of standing on a street corner. If He had used a phrase like “pray in private” or “pray alone,” all kinds of extreme ideas may have developed. How private do you need to be? Must we become hermits or monks to have a prayer life? Jesus simply meant that there are places and ways to pray that are between the Father and us. By entering such places, we demonstrate that we “believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). In such a place:

·         We can have an “I am speaking to God” voice if that helps us connect with Him and give Him honor.

·         We can use elegant words as a way of offering Him our best.

·         We can have a personal agenda, because it is now between the Father and us, and He can open and close doors as He sees fit.

·         We can pray for Jane. Since it is just between the Father and us, we are more likely to be showing genuine concern for her welfare.

·         And, of course, we now have a basis for praying in public.

We can be in our own rooms or in public and still pray privately. As Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

The private life is one measure of who we are. Too many times I have seen good public families suddenly come apart from within. It became apparent that the life behind the closed doors of the home was far different from the public family persona. If we believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him, it will affect our most private of lives, because we will know that He is there. We then know that there is, in fact, no private life. Lest this cause you great fear, guilt, and concern, remember that Jesus says that, “… your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” Showcase prayer has the single reward of public acclaim. The rewards of relational prayer is that it can:

·         Direct the heart

·         Receive answers and close or open doors

·         Strengthen the character and spirit

·         Increase faith and spiritual gifting

·         Bring a deeper sense of the Father’s presence and care

These are good things and worth having

Putting Prayer in Perspective

Jesus’ instruction on prayer in Matthew continued with this admonition:

“When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

Jesus contrasts prayer to the Father with the prayers of the Gentiles. He describes Gentile prayer as the repetitious babbling of many words. What might this mean, and how do we relate this to our prayers?

·         Like the Gentiles”. The Gentiles did not worship the true God.

·         “Repetitious babble” connotes a lack of real content.

·         “Many words to be heard” suggests rituals, incantations, and technique.

Gentile prayer is about the manipulation of spiritual forces and entities that do not generally care about you as an individual.

We can, of course, now give Jesus’ words a Christian spin:

·         Like the Gentiles”—Praying to God in Name, but not in knowledge. This is similar to what Paul wrote to the Romans about the Jews who did not accept Jesus as their Messiah, “For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth” (Romans 10:2).

·         Repetitious babbling—Praying without real content. Perhaps this would be like reciting liturgical prayers without connecting to their content.

·         Many words to be heard—Praying with an attitude that God is not listening and must be manipulated to answer.

In answer to this, Jesus says that our Father knows what we need even before we ask. We are praying to our Father, which means that we are in a family relationship. We are part of His life, and He anticipates what we need. We can, therefore, come to Him as transparent people. We can come before Him glad, sad, or mad, and He will be there in full understanding. Manipulation is not required.

If our Father knows what we need before we ask, why should we pray? There are two reasons. The first is because of the rewards of prayer that go beyond just meeting our needs. The second is that there are many other things for which to pray such as the needs of others and the advancement of the Father’s Kingdom. We do not need such things, but they should have a place in our prayers.

So Jesus has given instructions about the place and manner of our prayers. We are to have a private life of prayer, and we are to pray to a real Person. This Person is interested in our needs and in us and does not need to be manipulated.

                                            (Adapted from URL:https://bible.org/seriespage/18-jesus-prayer-matthew-65-15)

 

Concluding Thoughts from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

How public should our religious acts be? Should we expect public/published recognition when we give to a church or charity? Professional fundraisers tell us that public recognition is important and motivating. But this seems to be contrary to Jesus' teaching. Public acts of worship are not necessarily hypocritical. The issue is motive. Are we drawing attention to ourselves or pointing others to God? Is our giving intended to draw the praise of people or to encourage others to give? Are our public prayers designed to impress or to lead others to God's throne? Jesus' teaching in this regard has not grown stale. It is still needed in the church and the lives of Christians. Jesus expects His disciples of any era to be different, rejecting the ways of the world. We should not try to impress either God or others. We all struggle with hypocrisy at some level, whether we call it mixed motives or desire for respect. However, we can examine our hearts and motives as we live to please our Lord. May we seek to eliminate our hypocrisy by focusing on a true, sincere relationship with the Lord.

 

Concluding Thoughts from the Bible Expositor and Illuminator

One aspect of Christianity that can be easily overlooked is that it is first and foremost an inward religion. That is, it involves one’s heart being touched and changed by the grace of God. A believer is a “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17). We should not think of ourselves as people who are merely being reformed. The testimony of Scripture is clear that the old person we used to be has been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). All this shows that the growing disciple of Christ is one who does not need to take pains to display his faith in order to impress others. He just needs to be genuine in public and in private. In the time of our Lord, there were certain religious persons who were very proud of their spiritual progress, at least as they viewed themselves. They loved to be thought of as spiritual and hence were prone to public displays of piety for the purpose of showing others just how religious they were. Perhaps we should pause here to consider whether or not we do some things more for show than for God. Are we governed by the applause of people? One area of life that some in Jesus’ time enjoyed putting on parade was their prayer life. They prayed in public, even on street corners, in order to impress people (Matt. 6:5). They employed lengthy and repetitious prayers too (vs. 7), and no doubt words were specifically chosen to cause people to stand in awe of the one praying and perhaps cause them to tell others just how great and pious that one was. It is worth recalling that someone has said that lengthy prayers in public most likely reflect short prayers in private. What can we take from Jesus’ teaching about prayer in our text? First, He expects us to pray, for He said when you pray, not if you pray. He said that when we pray we should seek out a private place for our communication with God. Those who pray grand prayers publicly for the purpose of impressing others are not communicating with the Father. Their minds are more on the people around them than on God. Jesus was not ruling out praying in public, for He Himself did just that on occasion (cf. John 11:41-42). He was, however, ruling out making public prayers our sole time of prayer. He certainly was ruling out the use of public prayers to demonstrate to others our superior piety. When Jesus spoke about going into a “closet” to pray, He used a word that means any private room and thus a place suitable for just the person praying. Such a place lends itself to being open and honest before God. There is no one there to try to influence. There, wherever our quiet place may be, there is no need to use grandiose words with God, even though there is something to be said for expanding our prayer vocabulary so that our repeated petitions do not become mantras uttered without thinking, The great thing about exercising one’s prayer life in secret is that it will be an effective prayer life. God takes great delight in the one who humbly comes before Him in an open and honest fashion, just wanting to be with God. It is that person’s prayers that God answers.

 

Concluding Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

Check Your Motives - When you do good deeds, who is it for? Is it to get pats on the back from your family, co-workers, or church members? If that's your goal in life, you've gotten your accolades already. This is a major lesson Jesus attempted to teach His close followers: check your motives. Make sure your heart is in the right place. It is possible to honor God and do for others without making it a public display. In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained giving, praying, and fasting in secret.

 

Giving - At times, the religious leaders would parade up in front in the synagogues displaying how much they contributed or make a great show of their giving at the temple. Jesus called those who gave in this way hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone pretending, claiming to be upright and putting on a false, holy face. Instead of proclaiming your giving, Jesus said to keep your good deeds between you and God. He judges one's heart and motives, and based on that He will reward you.

 

Prayer - Jesus also used the word hypocrite in relation to how a person prays. Jews often prayed three times a day at 9 A.M., noon, and 3 P.M. At times, someone might pray publicly, which is fine unless the person praying is doing so to say, "Look at me, I'm so spiritual!" Jesus exhorted His disciples not to pray that way, but to pray to God, who is the important one listening.

 

The Prayers God Hears - Jesus added about praying, don't be repetitive, just mouthing words with no meaning. God sees past all the big words and long speeches. As Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (KJV). God knows the inner part of your being, and He already knows everything about you and what you are about to say. Prayer should be communing with Him, a time to talk to a loving Father who cares about everything in your life.