As we turn our attention to Matthew 6, it’s important I remind you of two things. First, we are in the middle of an incredible dissertation Jesus gave to His disciples on a hillside in Galilee called The Sermon on the Mount. Secondly, while our Bibles document this sermon over the course of three chapters, there were originally no chapter and verse breaks.
The reason this simple detail is important to remember centers on the reality the subject matter Jesus transitions to in chapter 6 intends to build off a fundamental idea He’s spent chapter 5 establishing. While the Jewish people had come to see the religious leaders as being the standard for righteousness, Jesus closes the chapter raising the bar much higher. In verse 48, He declares, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect!”
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s critical to your understanding of this section of Scripture that since nothing shy of perfection is God’s requirement for righteousness, your performance, best attempts, and most sincere efforts fall so woefully short, in the end, they’re pointless. You see in and of yourself, you simply cannot live up to the lofty moral standard Jesus establishes in this sermon! It’s impossible!
As I noted in our last study — and it will be even more important regarding the subject matter we’ll be examining this morning, as Christians, there will be a natural compulsion to take a moral ideal Jesus presents in this discourse, examine yourself accordingly, and, in the areas you’re lacking, seek to scheme out a way you can do better. Don’t do this!
Not only is such an approach not Jesus’ intention, but tragically it only leads to needless condemnation and, worse still, legalistic remedies. Never forget, in The Sermon on the Mount Jesus was not giving His disciples a list of things He wanted them to do but was providing a description of the kind of people He was going to make them into.
Please don’t misunderstand that if you consider yourself a Christian you should want to be the type of disciple the Lord is describing in this sermon. And yet, the pressing and most relevant question to think about is how exactly do you become this type of person?
To this crucial question, the Bible is crystal clear across multiple passages that while it’s true you cannot better yourself, you can be made better! The God who spoke into existence all things out of nothing is more than able to transform you into the person you’re not. You see the ideals established in this sermon can be realized in your life, but only as they manifest through a working of Jesus by His Holy Spirit in you.
As such, when you come across a moral instruction you’re failing to live up to — a part of this righteous description you currently don’t see manifesting in your life — a component of this ethic you presently aren’t emulating — or an element of the ideal you may be lacking, resist the compulsion to do anything other than coming to Jesus, acknowledging where it is you’re falling short, in order to ask that He’d specifically work on that area in your life!
Matthew 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.”
In the original Greek language, these two words “charitable deeds” is actually one word best translated as alms or giving. Though in a very broad sense the word can speak to one’s good works, in this case, Jesus is using the word to describe the practical act of a person demonstrating pity or mercy towards those less fortunate through their charity.
The first observation that must be acknowledged is the obvious assumption made by Jesus that His disciples were to be charitable people. I hope you know generosity isn’t optional for the child of God. A person blessed by God should respond by blessing others.
In his first letter to his protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote in 6:17-19 that he should “command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
The second observation you can’t escape is this backhanded acknowledgment that being generous on earth indeed yields a real reward from our “Father in heaven.” It’s interesting the word we have translated as “reward” referred to the wages paid for one’s work. The word literally spoke of a fruit that naturally resulted from a person’s toil. Understand, you cannot expect heavenly rewards apart from charitable deeds.
Beyond this, the word also implied a measure of proportionality. You see Jesus is affirming the rewards we receive from our Father in heaven will be proportional to the measure of our generosity. Logically, we can surmise a greater gift will yield a greater reward.
In Luke 6:38, Jesus would speak with greater clarity to this point… “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Paul builds on this particular idea. He writes, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
Allow me to share a couple of Proverbs relevant to what Jesus is discussing… Proverbs 11:24-25, “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” Proverbs 19:17, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given.”
With these things in mind, it’s clear the focus of this particular exhortation of Jesus towards His disciples isn’t focused on our generosity or even the reward we’ll receive (both of which are a given), but rather the way in which our generosity should manifest to others as well as how that ultimately affects the reward we received from God.
Jesus’ caution here is pretty straightforward… “Take heed” or literally always be attentive that your acts of generosity are not done “before men, to be seen by them,” because, if they are, it will eliminate the reward you would have been given by your heavenly Father.
Jesus continues… Matthew 6:2-4, “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.
But when you do a charitable deed (He’s contrasting His disciples to the hypocrites), do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Jesus is employing a comical figure of speech to illustrate His point), that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
In the end, with regards to generosity, Jesus is saying the way a person gives (whether it’s public or private) reveals the true motivation behind the giver which then determines the appropriate reward. The way a gift is made reveals motive and determines reward.
If the motivation behind a person’s generosity is to receive public attention and fanfare, Jesus says the notoriety they receive as a result will be their due recompense. However, if the gift is made in secret and therefore is done with a pure motive, He’s promising the act will not go unrewarded. “Your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
If we could be honest… While charity and altruism are not limited to being exclusively an expression of the Christian faith (even people who are rather godless still demonstrate such kindness), anonymous generosity is unique. You see even the sinful flesh can prove generous because the act feeds the ego. We love it when people see our benevolence. We enjoy the good feelings. We relish the attention. Self loves the obvious recognition!
In contrast, giving in secret is much more difficult because it affords the flesh and therefore ego no tangible reward. Instead of the immediate payoff of appreciation, a gift made secretly must patiently wait to be indemnified. Instead of the guaranteed glory of men, a private expression of kindness necessitates faith in the God who sees. In place of a temporary reward, charity undisclosed places a higher value on the eternal dividend.
Ultimately, Jesus is pointing out the way we give, and therefore the motive behind the charitable act itself ultimately reveals the true heart of the individual. Are you giving for the praise of men or are you giving as a way to express your thanks to all God has given? When being charitable, the question to always consider… Who is the intended audience?
Regarding the person whose gift comes with a public spectacle, Jesus refers to them as “the hypocrites.” If you’re familiar with Greek, you understand the word “hypocrite” was used to describe a stage actor who dawned a mask in order to play a part or fill a particular role. In effect, a hypocrite masqueraded around pretending to be someone they weren’t.
As it pertains to the New Testament, the word hypocrite is used 18 times. Amazingly, 15 are found in Matthew’s Gospel! It’s also worth noting when Matthew mentions “hypocrites” in every instance the word is being used to describe a very specific group of people — the religious leaders. It appears growing up in the priestly class of Levites, immersed in their culture, Matthew was so aware of their hypocrisy he chose to be a tax collector!
While it’s true a hypocrite is a person pretending to be someone they aren’t, the concept has much deeper connotations. In fact, the way many in the secular world direct this word towards Christians is not correct. You see if you possess a genuine moral standard and you fail to live up to that ethic it doesn’t make you a hypocrite — it just means you’re a failure!
In contrast, a hypocrite is an individual who intentionally pretends to have a moral standard in public when they have an entirely different one in private. A hypocrite is a person who’s knowingly crafted a misleading persona. They’ve created an outward image of themselves that doesn’t square with the reality of who they are. Their image is a mirage.
Within the context of generosity and the fact the word hypocrite is used by Matthew to describe the religious establishment, Jesus is telling His disciples an easy tell when it comes to identifying a fake religious person is to observe the way in which they give. He’ll later point to the way a person prays as being equally revealing!
Again, Jesus is affirming the way in which a person expresses their generosity will always reveal their true motivations which, in turn, unmasks their real character.
In that day, the religious leaders (the scribes and Pharisees) would give to the poor and make a public spectacle out of it in order to reinforce an image of righteousness they knew they didn’t actually possess! They were deliberately misleading and Jesus was giving the people a way to see right through the facade. It was all an “illusion Michael.”
Getting back to the secret way in which you and I are to be charitable, unlike the hypocrite… When a gift is made in secret thereby eliminating the craving of the flesh and ego for recognition, it’s much easier to know the act is manifesting from the correct place. It’s one of the main reasons we don’t pass a plate or have people pledge to give a certain amount.
In Greek, the singular word “charitable deeds” derives itself from the root translated as mercy. In the end, you can always tell when a person has truly experienced the mercy of God… They’re merciful to others! Ultimately, in the context of all God has given, it’s only natural our response is charity — not for the attention of men or a temporal reward, but as the only appropriate response to the avalanche of goodness we’ve experienced from God!
Matthew 6:5-8, “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. 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.
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do (don’t pray a prayer that’s automated or traditionalized with no true heart behind it). For they (the hypocrites) think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
Before we get into this famous section of The Sermon on the Mount traditionally known as The Lord’s Prayer, let me begin by establishing a few broad points about prayer itself. First and foremost, while the Scriptures are the primary way in which God speaks to man, prayer is the main mechanism by which human beings communicate to God.
According to the Bible, in addition to being the apparatus by which we make known our requests to the Lord — Philippians 4:6, it is through prayer we confess our sins — 1 John 1:9, make intercession for others — James 5:15, thank God for His provisions — 1 Timothy 2:1-3, and praise Him for who He is and what He’s done — Hebrews 13:15. It’s odd to consider in our religious world, but worship is really just a subcategory of prayer.
Secondly, because our communication to God is fundamentally spiritual in nature, the Bible does not mandate a specific physical posture or uniform to prayer. To this point, you will find examples of people standing — Nehemiah 9:5, kneeling — Ezra 9:5, sitting — 1 Chronicles 17:16-27, bowing — Exodus 34:8, or praying with lifted hands — 1 Timothy 2:8.
In fact, and this will come as a shock to the traditionalist, you will not find a passage mandating prayer to occur with one’s eyes closed. Additionally, contrary to what your Grandmother says at family dinner, there is also no prohibition to wearing a hat while praying. According to Jewish tradition, head-coverings were typically warranted.
Third, aside from prayer being the central way in which humanity communicates to God, prayer is important because it’s also how humanity communes with God. Mother Teresa, a woman who knew God, once said, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, to listen to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
This is why Jesus tells us not to pray “like the hypocrites.” While they projected this image of spirituality and closeness with God, the very fact “they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” revealed a complete and total misunderstanding of what prayer was really all about in the first place.
Christian, time spent in prayer should provide you with a personal, intimate experience with the God of the universe. This is why Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place.”
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul exhorted believers to “pray without ceasing.” As such, it would seem prayer was not designed to be a scheduled activity but a continuous lifestyle. You see prayer is more of an attitude than it is an action! Prayer is the mechanism by which we explore and enjoy this amazing relationship we have with our heavenly Father. Case in point, Jesus spent more time in prayer than any other person in the Bible!
This is why Jesus cautions His disciples not to “use vain repetitions as the heathen do” with regards to our prayers. In the end, God desires a genuine, real, even raw experience with His people. He wants authenticity more than anything else. He wants our hearts laid bare.
Christian, the effectiveness of prayer is not determined by its length, theology, or eloquence. Using big words no one understands or waxing poetic isn’t important. In fact, none of these things matter to God. What He cares about is a sincerity of heart and passion.
Building on this idea, scripturally there are only three requirements for prayer. First, you must approach God with a pure heart — Psalms 66:18. Secondly, you must approach Him through faith in Jesus Christ — John 14:12-14. As Christians, we pray in the name of Jesus because the Bible tells us it is through Him we are granted access to the Father. And thirdly, you must pray in accordance with the will of God — 1 John 5:14.
Never forget, as Peter sunk beneath the waves of the sea, he prayed three words, “Lord, save me!” Incredibly, Jesus not only heard his cry but instantly responded! Regarding the length of prayer in a corporate setting, David Guzik said, “The first 3 minutes we pray with you, the next 3 minutes we pray for you, but the last 3 minutes we pray against you.” I’ll add right before we eat is not the appropriate opportunity for you to have your devotional time.
With a better understanding of what prayer is and seeks to accomplish, let me quickly add to this by explaining what prayer is not… Christian, prayer is not the mechanism by which God receives status updates on what’s happening in your life!
As if the all-seeing God of the universe needs you to keep Him posted on the latest happenings in your life or the life of someone else. As if amen was a kind of cosmic hashtag where the more people we get “lifting up a request” the more likely it is that need would start trending in heaven and therefore grab God’s attention! Again, this is why Jesus reminds us of the fact “your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him!”
I should also add prayer is not the mechanism by which you somehow attempt to influence God’s sovereign plan! As if the all-wise God of the universe who “knew you before the foundations of the world” doesn’t already know what’s best for your life!
It’s sad, but for many Christians, prayer ends up being relegated to a well-crafted business proposal designed to convince God to buy into your plans! To this point, author C.S. Lewis made this observation, “In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.” We’ll get to this more in a moment…
In contrast to the public manner in which the hypocrites prayed using empty repetitions, Jesus tells His disciples… Matthew 6:9-13, “In this manner, therefore, pray (while known as The Lord’s Prayer a better branding would be The Disciples’ Prayer): Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Before we work our way through the substance of this particular prayer, keep in mind, Jesus is giving a model prayer we can pattern our own after and not a prayer we’re to emulate, replicate, or regurgitate. Again, we’re to avoid “using vain repetitions as the heathen do!”
Jesus says we’re to begin… “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Right from the jump, our prayers should first acknowledge the intended audience (“our Father”), His vantage-point (He’s “in heaven”), as well as His nature (“hallowed be Your name”). Note: We do not pray to Jesus but to God the Father in the name and authority of Jesus.
More than just being our God, our prayers intend to facilitate an interaction with our heavenly Father — a Father who, while strong and just, is also tender and merciful. Instead of creation approaching the Creator or the Hebrews standing away in fear of the awesome presence of Almighty God, we’re called to come as children to a loving Father.
With regard to our Father, in addition to acknowledging He see our lives through the prism of heaven and eternity, we should pray “hallowed be Your name.” In Greek, the word “hallowed” meant more than His name being holy or consecrated. The word indicated His name or core identity was free from sin and completely perfect. It’s not just that we’re approaching our heavenly Father, but a Father who’s without fault in everything He does.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Even before we get to our petitions, Jesus wants us to center our perspective. You see the ultimate answer to whatever problem we face on this earth is the coming kingdom. The imminent arrival of His kingdom should place the temporal into context. This world is not our home and the fact a future reality could come at any moment should fill our hearts with hope and anticipation.
As I noted before, your prayers should not focus on seeing your will accomplished in heaven (as if God was nothing more than a genie in a bottle you could rub the right way to grant your every wish), but God’s will done on earth! While God wants you to “cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), you must be willing to acknowledge God will not always do what you want and you must trust that whatever He does is perfect.
In Matthew 26:37-39, we’re given a great example of this in action. We read, “Jesus took with Him Peter, James, and John, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’ He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’”
Christian, God is much more interested in providing you with the things you need as opposed to giving you the things you want! Looking back over my life, I’ve made requests, convinced I knew what was best, that was terrible in retrospect. It’s funny, but I’m more thankful for the times God didn’t do what I wanted than the times He actually did!
After re-centering our hearts on the horizontal (God as our Father, His perspective being heaven, His nature being holy, the reality of His coming kingdom, and the importance of His will being carried forth over our own), Jesus says we’re finally ready to get to the vertical…
“Give us this day our daily bread.” In Jesus’ time, the daily provision of bread was essential for life. Because of mold, bread could not be stored making every day an adventure. Practically speaking, Jesus is saying we can bring to the Lord everyday issues and needs.
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Within the structure of what Jesus’ is saying it’s a leap to see Him tethering together these two ideas. Instead, He’s encouraging us to petition the forgiveness of God for the dumb things we’ve done — while also granting you and me the ability to “forgive our debtors” in the same way He’s “forgiven our debts.”
Jesus wraps up this prayer… “Do not lead us into temptation (or more accurately do not lead us into a time of testing), but deliver us from the evil one. (He then concludes with the salutation…) For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
The way Jesus presents this final idea I find to be significant… “Do not lead us into… but deliver us from.” Though it’s entirely appropriate to pray that God would allow you to enjoy a season free of trial, your prayers should affirm the reality trials are inevitable, you’ll have no power to endure them on your own, and that you’ll need your Father to deliver you.
It’s worth pointing out the second half of this prayer deals with all three aspects of life… The things presently in front of you (your daily bread), things that are behind (your past debts), as well as things that are up ahead (future testing and trials). When it’s all said and done, your Father in heaven is interested in your past, your present, and your future!
In closing, one scholar I read summed up the purpose of prayer perfectly, “Prayer changes things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us. As we engage in this communion with God more deeply and come to know the One with whom we are speaking more intimately, that growing knowledge of God reveals to us all the more brilliantly who we are and our need to change in conformity to Him. Prayer changes us profoundly.”
Christian, if you pray the way Jesus encouraged you to pray, one thing will always naturally result. Through time spent in communion with God, your life will slowly become more Godly!
It’s been said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Never forget this warning from John Bunyan, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”
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