Matthew 6:1- Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Again, this is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was on the mountainside teaching his followers the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. His teachings were radically different from the legalistic rules laid down by the Scribes and Pharisees. The minds and hearts of the Jews were stirred up by these remarkable teachings.
Chapter six offers some very practical advice on how to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Jesus begins his instruction with a summary statement in verse one:
The true Christian is not to perform acts of righteousness in such a way as to bring glory to themselves. If they do, they have no reward from God.
Jesus then uses the rest of the chapter to give specific applications of this principle.
Matthew 6:2 – Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Here is the historical context of this verse: In the time of Christ, there were Jews that went to the intersections of busy roads, where large assemblies were usually held. I know that sounds strange to us, but remember, there was no social media or live streaming back then. People had to actually meet in groups to exchange ideas and information!
In the midst of those crowded situations, they would give money to the poor. Their motivation was not to assist or relieve the poor, but to gain the applause and approval of others for their giving.
In essence, they were hypocrites because they claimed to be giving out of devotion to God, but they were really interested in their own glory.
There is some dispute over the phrase ‘sound a trumpet’. Scholars disagree over whether this was a literal event or whether it is a metaphorical phrase. In either case, the meaning is the same – Jesus was condemning the act of making a show or spectacle of giving to the poor with the intent of obtaining glory for one’s self.
The Bible makes it clear that it is our Christian duty to perform good works and assist the poor. It also tells us that there will be rewards for doing so. Jesus confirms that in this scripture. Now here comes the interesting part: Jesus points out that there are rewards that come from men and there are rewards that come from God.
Which rewards do we want? Which rewards are best?
I guess the answer depends on what you are looking for. The Scribes and Pharisees were definitely looking for the appreciation and praise of men and possibly a reputation for being charitable. Since they got what they wanted, I suppose they were happy with the results. As a bonus, their reward came in the form of instant gratification, which we all love. But, I can’t help but wonder…did they cheat themselves? Is the shallow, fleeting praise of men really that satisfying and fulfilling?
If we take a moment to look at the rewards of God, I think we may prefer that option!
Matthew 6:3-4 – But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
If you want to be rewarded by God, you should give generously, quietly and humbly out of obedience and love for your King. When you do, God takes notice. And he doesn’t just see the action you performed, but also the motivation and love behind it.
Contrary to what some people think, God is anxious to bless you. Unlike the rewards of men, God’s rewards endure not just for this life, but for eternity.
Psalms 41:1-2 – Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
Revelation 22:12 – And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
I don’t know about you, but I feel this is a much better blessing than the empty admiration of men!
Matthew 6:5 – And when you pray you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
The hypocrites manifested the same spirit about prayer as gift giving: it was done in public places solely for public approval. They were not communing with God; they just wanted other men to see how pious and religious they were.
Here is the historical context: The Jews of old observed specific, regular hours of prayer. You can find evidence of this in the scriptures.
They are often referred to as the ‘third hour’ which would be 9 am (Mark 15:25)…
the ‘sixth hour’ which means noon (Acts 10:9)…
and the ‘ninth hour’ which would be our 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1).
So basically, the hypocrites took great pains to be in a public meeting place such as a market or the city gates or at busy intersections at the specified times of prayer. This gave them the opportunity to stop and “perform” the act of prayer. “Perform” is the right word; they were putting on a show for their fellow man.
Obviously, Jesus is not condemning the practice of prayer. It is the clear duty of every Christian to pray. Prayer is communication with Almighty God, our creator, savior and protector. It is a like a free will offering, dedicated only to him, and given with the utmost desire to know, love and serve Him alone. Prayer is an admission that we are dependent upon God for all things. It is not a thing to be trifled with. When we sincerely come before God and offer heart-felt prayers, we are assured that God hears and answers.
Proverbs 15:29 – The LORD is far from the wicked: but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
To pray is to enter into the very presence of God. What an astonishing gift! Before the sacrifice of Jesus, the throne room of God was shut; no man or woman could enter in. Millions of people who desired intimate fellowship with God died without ever having the slightest chance of gaining access to Him. But when Jesus died, the temple veil was torn in two; the way was open for us to freely enter God’s presence.
Do you enter into intimate fellowship with him through prayer? If not, why? You might want to ponder this question before you get to heaven and meet up with one of those Old Testament saints who was denied access. Your shame for spurning this gift would be monumental.
Matthew 6:7-8 – And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Empty phrases (your translation may say vain repetition), refers to idle babbling or using the same words over and over with no purpose, almost like a chant. This was a tactic often employed by the worshippers of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:26-29).
This is different from repeating yourself in true prayer; Jesus prayed multiple times in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup would pass from him but his prayers were not vain. Often times when we are moved by our circumstances we too may pray for a situation multiple times as we fervently seek the Lord.
Jesus also warns against using ‘many words’. This does not mean that long prayers are forbidden. Jesus himself prayed all night on some occasions (Luke 6:12).
Rather, this refers to another practice of the heathens. They felt that they needed to fully explain their situations and requests to their gods, so the gods would understand what they needed.
They also believed that the more they begged, pleaded or cut themselves, the more likely they were to receive a favorable answer. Sadly, they did not understand that false gods are deaf and powerless, no matter how much they might cry out!
We cannot let that kind of wrong thinking enter into our prayers. Prayer is not designed to inform God of our circumstances. Nor do we need to beg him for assistance. Jesus reassures us that God the Father is already intimately acquainted with our circumstances. He knows our needs, wants and desires. He can see the motivation of our hearts and our love for him. He already knows our weaknesses and strengths. He already has the answer to every question and the solution for every problem we will ever face. We should seek him in prayer at all times and in all seasons.
Prayer causes us to humble our hearts as we acknowledge our dependence on God. Prayer increases our faith, because in prayer we focus on the power of our God, not the difficulty of our problem. We should come to God as his children – in simple faith and words, trusting that he will answer and take care of us.
Matthew 6:9 – Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
The portion of scripture in verses 9-13 is often called the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes we pray using these exact words, although there is no record in the scriptures of Jesus or his disciples praying this verbatim. Rather than being a prayer itself, it is a pattern or a framework for the way Jesus wants us to pray.
Our first thought is that God is our Father. Just like a good earthly father, he is there to teach, guide, protect, provide and love us. He wants us to be victorious in life. He wants to have an intimate relationship with each one of us. His goodness towards us knows no limits.
Secondly, God is in heaven, which speaks of his boundless power. Heaven in his throne and the earth is his footstool. Everything in heaven and earth are subject to his authority.
So, as our prayers commence, we are quickly reminded that we can place confidence in both the goodness and power of God.
We are to ‘hallow’ his name. To hallow means to make holy, or to revere. Therefore, our prayers should start with the praise and worship of God. In fact, praise is what ushers us into his presence.
Psalm 100:4 – Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
As we praise his name, we are again reminded of his great power and faithfulness towards us. As he is exalted, our faith rises while our problems shrink! We have the confidence to approach him with our concerns, knowing that he loves us and he will work all things together for our good.
You don’t need to wait until prayer time to praise his name – you can do it all throughout the day. Try it. You will be surprised how you will feel his constant presence with you.
Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The kingdom of heaven began with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The preaching of the gospel expanded the kingdom outside the borders of Judea. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of salvation caused the gospel to spread over the known world. This kingdom is still growing and will continue to expand until it encompasses the uttermost parts of the earth. So, when we pray ‘your kingdom come’ we are praying for the gospel message to be advanced and spread throughout the world.
As a side note, we can and should do more than just pray. We can personally share the gospel with others. We can be involved in ministries that spread the gospel through radio, TV and social media. There are almost limitless opportunities to share the gospel. Are you involved?
To pray for God’s will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ is to pray for the whole world to be in perfect conformity to the will of God. What is God’s will?
The revealed will of God is that men should love, obey and desire his law. His law should become the basis for all our actions as well as our inward thoughts and motivations. God’s law is perfectly obeyed in heaven, and his true children most ardently desire and pray that it may also be done on the earth.
Obviously, this is easier said than done, so praying for our own lives to conform to his law should be a continual exercise. Here’s another thought: You can’t obey his laws if you don’t know them, so take time to read the Word!
The object of the first three petitions (hallowed be they name, thy kingdom come and thy will be done) is that God’s name should be glorified, and his kingdom established. These are more important than our personal wants, and they should be first in our requests before the throne of grace. However, God graciously allows us to make requests on our personal behalf as well.
Matthew 6:11 – Give us this day our daily bread,
Daily bread refers to all that we need to sustain life, including food, shelter, clothing, etc. We are instructed to ask daily, so that we remember to depend on God and not on ourselves. We ask God to ‘give’ it, because it is not something that we can earn, but a blessing that God freely bestows upon us.
Matthew 6:12 – and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
In this verse, debt refers to sin. We must ask God to forgive our sins because we could never pay the price for them. As Christ has freely forgiven us, so we must forgive those who sin against us.
I recently posted a three part series on forgiveness. Please refer to those posts for a more detailed discussion and explanation of forgiveness.
Matthew 6:13 – And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
What is meant by the phrase ‘lead us not into temptation’? We know that God does not tempt man to sin.
James 1:13-14 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
However, God will allow us to be tempted by Satan or by our own lusts. These temptations are a form of testing for our faith and obedience. They produce many good and valuable results in our lives including humbleness, trust and dependence on God, conforming us to the image of Christ and displaying the glory of God to the world.
Temptation may also be defined as trial, affliction or anything that tests our virtue. Trials and afflictions have a fringe benefit – they draw us closer to God. In times of testing where do you automatically turn? To your heavenly Father, right? So trials actually bring us closer to God, which in turn strengthens and sharpens our faith and obedience making us even more mature in Christ.
Therefore in this part of the prayer model, the Christian is to pray for special protection and strength during heavy trials or strong temptations to sin, which are definitely going to come as a matter of everyday life.
Part of this prayer of protection should be that we are delivered from evil. Based on what we just concluded, we would not expect God to completely remove temptations and trials from our lives, because that would deprive us of needful growth. However, God can deliver us from evil by removing the temptation when it becomes too difficult for us to bear, by providing increased strength to fight against it, or by lessening its impact.
We can also take comfort in the fact that someday Jesus will remove all evil and sin from his kingdom. In that day, we will truly be delivered from all evil.
Matthew 6:14-15 – For if you forgive others their trespasses, our heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Here is a truth presented in both its positive and negative aspects. God has stated his desires twice; if he asks us to do something once we should listen, how much more attention should we pay to a command that is given twice?
In fact, this requirement to forgive others is constantly presented throughout the scriptures. At some point, it must have irritated the disciples, because Peter asked how many times he was required to forgive someone. He felt that 7 times was ample. To this, Jesus responded:
Matthew 18:22 – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
God’s free and unconditional forgiveness of our sin through Jesus is the basis of our relationship with him. How then, can we not forgive our fellow man?
When we need forgiveness, we want to be pardoned, and treated as if the offence had never happened. We do not want others to gossip about us or treat us badly. We should be willing to do the same for our neighbors.
For a more complete study of forgiveness, please consult my three prior blog posts on forgiveness.
In the meantime, let me give you some encouragement: The trials and temptations you now face are not a punishment but a gift in disguise. They draw you closer to Christ and strengthen your faith. Keep your eyes on Christ during these trials. Pray to him for deliverance and strength to stand. Remember that God will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able to withstand. You can come through this trial better off than when it began!
Let me give you some relief: I sincerely hope that you are not comparing yourself to other Christians. Sometimes we look at others and think that they are spiritual giants who are either perfect or never have struggles with family, life or faith. We sometimes put them on a pedestal and think we can never be as ‘spiritual’ as they are. This is wrong thinking! Give yourself a break! All Christians have struggles and failures, including the one that you think is perfect! You can be encouraged by their show of faith, and you can take comfort when you face the same kind of trial as they did, but you cannot feel inferior or condemned by their victory. Those feelings are a burden that Satan wants you to pick up and carry, because it will eventually burn you out. Don’t take the bait!
Let me give you some strength: Sometimes, the Christian life can be hard. Sometimes you pray, but things don’t change immediately. During those times, don’t give up hope! Galatians tells us not to be weary in doing well, because in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not faint and give up. So if you are in the midst of a protracted situation, DON’T GIVE UP! Stay the course! Praise be to God, victory is on the way.