We began our journey through the sermon on the mount learning about the qualities and characteristics that a follower should possess. Next, we studied how we can be influencers for the kingdom of heaven by having righteous motives and actions. Then, we explored what righteousness looks like in the life of a believer as we were challenged to examine what those listening that day had heard and what Christ taught. We will consider today the deeper obedience required in acts of faith like giving, praying, and fasting.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4
These verses don’t prohibit against outward giving such as a church fund that encourages matching donations or the placing of a tithe in an offering plate at church. What they do suggest is that the inward motivation behind the giving matters greatly. These people, in the days of Jesus, were announcing their giving. They commanded the attention of others in the street to notice their piousness and praise them for it. Jesus instructs that giving should come naturally to us. So natural in fact, that our left hand takes no notice of our right hand offering the gift. This way of giving reveals a tender heart that longs to honor God. On the video, Ms. Wilkin urged us to examine our hearts. Do we give money to curry favor? Do we show off when we give? Above all, Ms. Wilkin reminded the listener that everything belongs to the Lord and we are his stewards.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8
The posture and the location in prayer wasn’t the problem. The problem was a need for recognition and praise. They were using prayer as a means to invoke God to answer and to display their holiness for others to observe. They wanted affirmation, approval, and acclaim. Jesus warns his listeners to quit being phony like the hypocrites and frivolous like the pagans. In the ancient world, the pagans (Gentiles) repeated phrases in their prayers to call upon the favor of their many gods ( see 1 Kings 18:16-39 for an example). But God doesn’t need repetitive, fancy phrases to make Him listen more. The difference between this type of prayer and persistent prayer is motive and specific focus. Ken Hemphill states in his book The Prayer of Jesus that “God’s reward is reserved for those who seek His heart, not His attention.” We should be careful and pay attention to the words we use in prayer and whether we really mean them. Otherwise, the words become babble.
When participating in public prayer, we can sometimes find ourselves walking a thin line. I constantly check myself to make sure that I’m not praying to impress others, praying to convict others of wrongdoing, or praying in a gossipy way. We also need to pay attention to what others pray out loud on our behalf before we agree with them in our spirit in prayer. On the video, Ms. Wilkin instructed us to check our prayers’ content and tone for genuineness. She offered one way that we can know if our motive for praying is off – If our public and private prayers don’t sound the same and have different content and tone. Jesus bought for us open communication with God by his sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross, therefore, we can boldly approach the throne of grace in prayer and be heard (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 5:14,15).
“This, then, is how you should 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 today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Jesus didn’t leave them or us wondering how to pray. After all, God knows what we need before we even ask him (Matthew 6:8). We call this prayer the Lord’s prayer but the early church referred to this prayer as the Disciples’ prayer. Jesus gave a very simple format for prayer consisting of these elements: worship, allegiance, submission, petition, confession, and deliverance. Many books have been written to explain, dissect, and teach the Lord’s prayer. When used, Jesus’ model of prayer places us in the proper mindset to come before God.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14,15
Although Jesus included forgiveness in his teaching on prayer, he reiterates this important practice once more. Sin blocks access to God. When we have unconfessed sin, our relationship with God is hindered. We also learned in an earlier lesson (Week 4) of the snowball effect that can happen when sin is allowed to fester and go unchecked. Forgiveness shows our love for God and our love for others.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
The hypocrites couldn’t keep anything to themselves. Their hunger and misery was displayed for all to see on their faces. We read from Isaiah 58:1-12 this week and saw a depiction in scripture of how the people fasted. Their outward appearance reflected piousness but their behavior and attitude toward others was far from godly. Ms. Wilkin instructed that fasting is a way to remind ourselves that God provides. By placing ourselves in a position of physical need, we become aware that the Lord sustains. Ms. Wilkin highlighted that combining fasting and dieting is not an acceptable fast because that action feeds our pride instead of our humility. Our strength should come from the Lord as we seek him. We can also offer to God a fast from things other than food such as types of entertainment, hobbies, activities, or spending. Nothing is hidden from God. Our inward motives matter even in our spiritual practices of faith.
Only three weeks left in our study – Hang in there! This week begin Week 7. Don’t forget to plan a little extra time for your first lesson so that you will be able to complete the reading assignment of the entire Sermon on the Mount.
If you’d like to start from the beginning, you can find all of the past lessons by clicking here.