Jesus ends the first third of his Sermon, Matthew 5, with “Be perfect,”
Matthew 5:48 ESV You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
He begins the second third, Matthew 6, with “Be careful.”
Matthew 5:48 ESV You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
He does so because he knows that our desire for “true righteousness,” which he depicts in Matthew 5, can be easily traded with “false righteousness,” which he depicts in Matthew 6. Jesus knows that the line between pleasing God and pleasing man is a thin one.
The one word for this clear and present danger that every follower of Christ faces is – hypocrisy. And hypocrisy is, in essence, about making the approval and praise of man our top priority.
Jesus’s warning about hypocrisy is this: What you seek is what you get. Whether it is in praying, fasting, or giving, if your motive is about getting the attention and praise of men, well, you will get that. Nothing more. Certainly not the attention and reward of God. And you shouldn’t be surprised; for you were not seeking the attention or the reward of God. What you seek is what you get.
Matthew 6:1-4 ESV "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. "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. 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.
Giving to the needy here means "righteous acts." Jesus often taught by stating a principle and then giving examples to make His intent clear. The gift of eternal life is the foundation upon which our righteous works are based. Our motivation for the works we have done will be tested
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 ESV Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Matthew 6:2 ESV "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.
Any kind of giving that draws attention to the giver and draws the praise of men is the wrong kind of giving. The right kind of giving is a private matter between God and each individual.
Matthew 6:3-4 ESV 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.
Now Jesus give a model for prayer:
Many people think that the purpose of prayer is to get our will done and to persuade God to give us what we want. The true purpose of prayer is to get God's will done when we ask according to His will.
1 John 5:14-15 ESV And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Matthew 6:5-13 NKJV “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. For they 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. In this manner, therefore, pray: 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.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr wrote a book titled “The Prayer That Turns The World Upside Down”. You may want to get a copy of it as we study this part of model prayer (Lord's Prayer).
Before he gives his model for prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus provides important context:
Matthew 6:5-8 ESV "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. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "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.
Matthew 6:1 is the key to understanding this passage.
Matthew 6:1 ESV "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.
Here Jesus says, “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.” The first and most urgent warning Jesus gives is a warning against a quality of religion or reverence that is public and ostentatious that offers nothing that is stimulating or challenging and is false. This type of reverence draws attention to the one praying, because it's designed to reveal them super religious.
Matthew 6:5 ESV "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 way we pray will reveal either the superficial, insincere nature of our faith or the glory of God. Jesus is clear that those who wish to be seen as super spiritual have already received their reward.
On the other hand Jesus commends another type of reverence one that is secret and not public evidenced by humility.
That kind of reverence will be rewarded by the Father. The difference can't be more extreme. One comes from pride the other from humility And we know which God prefers.
Matthew 23:12 ESV Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
We can pursue the glory of the Father by humbling ourselves in secret, or we can pursue our own glory by exalting ourselves before others. We can’t do both.
We want to make sure that we don't fall into the trap of thinking we have to impress others when we pray.
In other words a prayer that is offered in humility.
"Closet" here means "secret place." Jesus would sometimes go off by Himself to when He wanted to talk to His Father.
Luke 5:15-16 ESV But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Luke 6:12-13 ESV In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:
Luke 22:41-42 ESV And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."
We shut the door on the noise outside, and we shut ourselves in with God We don't have to pray with closed eyes, folded hands, or kneeling down. Prayer isn't a position of the body. Some people pray better when they are walking around.
In another book that I did a study from called “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference” by a guy by the name of Philip Yancey he talked about creating a “God Space”
It could be a literal closet, or a place in your home where it is quiet with no major distractions from outside you, But it doesn’t have to be a literal place if you are able to “create space in which God can act.”
In your God-space you can even “stop time”. I don’t mean that time actually stops. Here’s something else I learned in that study. The author Philip Yancey has a chapter section “Stopping Time”. In it Philip talks about a surgeon, Anthony Bloom, who after his conversion to Christianity, and many years as a surgeon, became a priest. He describes in his book “Beginning to Pray” , about a technique that he used for creating his God-space. He calls “stopping time”. The practice of stopping time gradually transformed Bloom’s life with God. He concentrated on living in the present, recognizing that the past is irremediably gone and the future is irrelevant, because who knows whether it will happen or not.
He started by just stopping everything that he was doing for short periods of time during the day. One minute, two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. He just shut out everything. Just a short time of quietness. It could be in prayer or just being quiet. The first thing that he noticed, and we should take note of this ourselves, the world didn’t stop. His medical practice didn’t fall apart. For us whatever it is that is waiting to be done will wait. After these quiet times he was more efficient when he went back to the tasks at hand.
Matthew 6:7 ESV "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.
We need to avoid repeating phrases or words, because it makes our minds wander during prayer. God wants our full attention when we converse with Him. We don't need to use a certain tone of voice for prayer nor do we need to use formal King James English. A normal conversational tone and plain language are fine. Speaking aloud, though not loudly, helps us to keep our minds on what we are saying. It also helps us to verbalize our feelings.
God is not looking for long words, long prayers, and mindless repetition. And he is not impressed by the length or complexity of our prayers.
In his battle of prayer with the prophets of Baal Elijah prayed a simple prayer;
1 Kings 18:25-29 ESV Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it." And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, "O Baal, answer us!" But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O Lord , God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord , answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord , are God, and that you have turned their hearts back."
Which prayer worked? The ones with many words and actions, or the simple one that Elijah prayed where he asked God to show His glory.
The Lord isn’t looking for impressive words; he is looking for humble hearts—hearts that trust him enough to work, even when our words are few.
He already knows what we need so we don't need to feel compelled to try to impress God with a lot of words trying to appear reverent. Instead, by faith we will see a sovereign God who is ready and able to answer our prayers, and who directs all things for our good and his glory.