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.
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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
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. 6 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.
7 “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. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Why do you do what you do—to gain the approval of God or of others? Jesus taught his disciples to be careful to not practice their righteousness for the praise of man but instead for the glory of God as they give, pray, forgive and fast.
1. Giving that Glorifies God
2. Praying that Pleases God
3. Fasting that Focuses on God
Truly righteous deeds proceed from a heart that is humble before the Lord and seeks to please him only. A soul gets humbled by seeing its pitiable state and clinging to Christ’s work on his behalf. Therefore, righteous giving, praying, and fasting are fruits present in those who have been counted righteous for Christ’s sake. Those who are God’s will desire to obey God’s word and their progressive transformation into Christlikeness will be sure and steady.
When God draws people to Christ so that they might repent of sin and believe the gospel, he graciously justifies them, declaring them not guilty. He also mercifully adopts them, giving them the right to become children of God. The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ powerfully saves people from death and sin and separation from God. It also powerfully transforms people from self-centered, sin-seeking rebels into God-centered, good-loving worshipers.
There are fewer things more distasteful than hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in religion is repugnant. On the other hand, humility and sincerity in religion is compelling and attractive. That’s especially true in Christianity because gracious, merciful living is a vivid picture of a gracious, merciful work that has been done in them by God. Jesus’s humble, devoted life is the backdrop of the humble, devoted life of believers. The glorious gospel is the diamond. That diamond is beautifully displayed in the pure gold fitting of our good works. In short, humble, sincere acts of devotion are compelling testimony to a lost world.
Did you have a pet goldfish as a child? Do you still have it? What happened to it? We don’t want to bring up any traumatic childhood memories, but many of us have had the experience of discovering a childhood pet goldfish dead. It’s doubtful that any of us were trained veterinarians as children, but we knew immediately that something was wrong. We had enough sense to know that what used to be alive had no more life in it. How did we know that the fish was dead? Well, the evidence was clear. It was floating upside down. It didn’t swim anymore. It didn’t eat or move. That’s the difference between dead fish and live fish. Dead fish move only in response to outside forces. Live fish, however, move and swim.
In our passage today, Jesus commands his listeners to obey his words, giving them instructions on giving, prayer, and fasting. What we have to understand is that not only is Jesus strengthening the faith of those who love him and trust him, but he is also outing those who do not love him and trust him. True spiritual life is always accompanied by obedience. Those who are spiritually dead don’t care about God’s Word, they float carried along by the world and sinful desires. Charles Spurgeon put it like this: “Living fish may go with the stream at times, but dead fish must always do so. There are plenty of such in all waters: dead souls, so far as the truest life is concerned, and these are always drifting, drifting, drifting as the current takes them. Their first inquiry is — what is customary? God’s Law is of small account to them, but the unwritten rules of society have a power over them which they never think of resisting.”
Followers of Christ must be careful to practice true righteousness by being obedient to God for his sake alone. Many non-believers and immature Christians do good works so that they might have glory and praise from man. But, the mature, faithful Christian has left that sinful way of doing good works behind. The growing Christian repents of hypocritical righteous deeds and seeks only God’s face, not the praise of men.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, we see a recurring formula. It goes like this:
- DON’T do good works unto God in public
- so you will be seen by man
- man’s recognition is your reward
- so you will be seen by man
- DO do good works unto God in secret
- so God will see you
- and he will reward you
- so God will see you
1. Giving that Glorifies God (Matthew 6:1–4)
Jesus said, “when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you” (v. 2) He didn’t mean that people were literally blowing trumpets every time they made an offering. He was using hyperbole to describe the intentions of their hearts. Giving tithes and offerings was an integral part of the religious life of ancient Israel. Today, we are familiar with the weekly passing of the offering plate, which can give us somewhat of an idea of the practice of giving in Israel. Both are regular opportunities to give and both are public in nature and can be manipulated by the giver in order to garner the applause of men.
Should Christians give? Why?
Yes, Christians are commanded to give their resources directly to the work of the Lord. We need not debate whether or not Christians continue to be held to the rule of a tithe (10%) or not. The question does matter, but the motivation behind this debate is often wrong. For some, the 10% question matters to them because they want to figure out how much of the money in their bank account is God’s and how much is theirs. This is a Pharisaical, hypocritical religion. The fact of the matter is that every bit of all that we have and are is God’s. We are stewards, not owners.
There are numerous passages in the NT that make it clear that the faithful Christian life is characterized by generous, joyful giving. The question of whether or not a follower of Christ should give isn’t even on the table. Jesus doesn’t bother with it. He jumps straight to how we ought to give.
What should a Christian’s posture toward giving be?
Christians are givers because they have been and continue to be the most blessed of receivers. Christians have a terminal degree in the school of generosity. They have received a pardon for sin, adoption as sons, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a secured and hopeful future in heaven with their God. Those good gifts are a Christian’s treasure. Christ is their joy, hope, and peace and it will never be lost. What earthly possession that is susceptible to rust and moth could ever be held so tightly by a Christian that they would refuse to offer it up to their Redeemer for whatever purpose he sees fit?
Application Question: How have the good gifts that you receive in the gospel of Jesus Christ shaped your perspective on and habits of giving.
2. Praying that Glorifies God (Matthew 5:5–15)
Just as the grace and mercy shown to us in Christ Jesus are the ground of our giving, this is also what undergirds and sustains our praying. Prayer is a precious gift to us. It is the primary vehicle by which we direct ourselves to God. God speaks to us through his Word by his Spirit, and we respond to God through prayer by his Spirit. John Piper wrote, “Prayer is the way you walk by the Spirit. Prayer is the way you walk by faith. In other words, it’s the breath of the Christian life all day long. Just breathe in, breathe out. It’s the way you live.”
We should note that all three of the disciplines that Jesus mentions in this section are designed to be “unto God.” That is, they are meant to be directed toward God. But, of the three, prayer is most Godward in that it is the very act of coming to God and addressing him directly. Thus, Jesus gives it more time of explanation. Jesus’s main point is that prayer is about God, not us.
What kind of praying does Jesus tell his listeners to avoid?
He warned his listeners against falling into the habit of praying as hypocrites who do it so that they would be seen by men. They “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (v. 5) The common thread we see in all three of the disciplines that Jesus mentioned is the desire to “be seen by others.” Jesus condemned praying that is re-purposed to bring glory and applause to the one who was praying. He condemned it because it is a distasteful perversion of the true purpose of prayer. We are meant to love God above all and seek his glory above all. However, this kind of praying turns that on its head. When we pray to be seen by others, then we are loving ourselves above all and seeking our own glory above all.
People love themselves more than God and seek their own glory instead of God’s glory all the time, but there is something especially sickening about someone doing that by manipulating a gift from God that is as precious as prayer. The person who is truly born again won’t stomach praying for their own profit for long. The Spirit of God won’t let them.
How does the model prayer help us understand what prayer is really all about?
The Model Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer is a template by which we can pray in our own words. We should be careful of two pitfalls. One is to assign some sort of magical power to the repeating of this prayer word for word, as though we could manipulate God by chanting it. The second mistake is to disregard it altogether. This is an important lesson on prayer given to us by our Savior, but we must keep the proper perspective on it. Jesus gave us this prayer as a guide or model for us that can serve to shape our priorities and posture in prayer. We ought to pay close attention to it and learn from it.
Notice what our priority should be. First, we address God as our Father. We look to him as children recognizing his tenderness, nearness, and authority. Then, the first two petitions set the tone for this prayer and, if we will allow it, our whole lives. Jesus tells us to pray for God’s name to be honored as holy and for his will to be done. These petitions are direct attacks on the attitude of anyone who is praying for their own glory. Can you see the dissonance between praying these petitions while praying to be seen by men to get their praise? Again, the truly born-again person can’t continue in that disharmony for long.
It is only after those fundamental petitions that Jesus taught us to ask for our personal needs. Notice how simple they are: daily bread and forgiveness of sin. Our praying should prioritize God’s glory (both our words and our intentions) and they should be marked with a posture of humility. We should also note that these petitions serve the first. We need daily bread so that we would live and labor for the glory of his name.
Application Question: Are your times of prayer about you and what you want or are they about God and his glory?
3. Fasting that Glorifies God (Matthew 5:16–18)
Our giving, praying, and fasting ought to be unto God both in our exterior actions and the motivation of our hearts. All three of these disciplines are good gifts that the Lord has given Christians as a means by which they can relate to him and grow in faith and grace. But, as Jesus pointed out, they can also be weaponized by unbelievers and immature Christians to extract praise and glory from man for themselves.
Fasting is the most uncommon discipline of the three in our time. In Christian churches, members give regularly and they pray regularly, but fasting is practiced very little, if at all. We ought not to turn fasting into a law that is forced upon the consciences of Christians. However, fasting is a good gift that is useful in the Christian’s process of sanctification. When it is properly understood, then Christians will be attracted to it because they will see it as a means to grow in godliness and worship of the one true and living God. In this passage, Jesus recaptured these useful disciplines that had been corrupted, abused, and misused. They were originally intended for the good of man to help him draw near to God, but they were now being used by many for self-promotion.
How should the Christian approach fasting (and the other disciplines)?
That sort of self-promoting approach to the disciplines has no place among born-again followers of Christ. Christians can rightly practice the disciplines by doing them with a soul that is clinging to Christ, in secret, unto God, seeking no other reward but God’s good gifts.
What is the reward that Jesus promises in his teaching?
When a follower of Jesus Christ practices these disciplines with a humble heart and with God’s glory in mind, then there is great joy and peace and communion to be found, but only for those whose hearts are clean, humble, and redeemed.
The reward isn’t worldly riches, fame, or health. The reward isn’t a successful business or advanced degree in your field. Christians may experience those things, but they understand their greatest treasure isn’t anything that this world offers. No, the reward of the Father is joy in suffering, peace in persecution, and his own faithful love. The reward of the Father is a heart and mind that are being conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Application Question: What sorts of rewards and blessings do you most seek from God?
Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount by giving assurance to his true followers that they were blessed because of a sure and future hope no matter their present circumstances. He then emphasized just how high of a standard a person is expected to meet in order to live a life pleasing to God. Christians respond to this impossibly high standard with repentance of their sin, a deeper conviction of their need for Christ, and gratefulness to Christ for his perfect obedience that is credited to them.
In the passage we are studying in this lesson, Jesus emphasized the orientation of the soul of a redeemed person. A person who has experienced the power of the gospel continues to cling to Jesus and will be first and foremost focused on the one whom their soul loves: God. Thus, their giving, praying, fasting, and any other discipline will be Godward. Further, if the Lord graciously brings to their attention that they are in opposition to his will, their response won’t be stiff-necked rebellion, but humble repentance.
- Why are Christians blessed no matter what their external circumstances happen to be?
- How does the Law of God serve those who are not Christians?
- How does the Law of God serve Christians?
- In what way does the Law reveal those who are truly Christians and those who are not?
- What was the key theme running through the instructions that Christ gave?
- Do you struggle with this kind of hypocrisy?
- Do you find yourself more worried about impressing those around you with your religious devotion than you are about pleasing God?
Prayer of Response
Worship God with a humble and fervent heart. Recount his attributes, especially his holiness. Give him thanks for saving your soul and for shepherding you as his child. Give thanks for the good teaching of Jesus that helps us see our hypocrisy so that we can repent of it and avoid it. Ask for strength to walk in obedience.
 Charles Spurgeon, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden.
 John Piper in The New City Catechism Devotional.