1 "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don't sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They've got their reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don't 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 "Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They've got their reward! 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don't babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they'll be heard for their many words. 8 Don't be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him. 9 "Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.] 14 "For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don't forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing. 16 "Whenever you fast, don't be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They've got their reward! 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don't show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. — Matthew 6:1-18
Acts of Righteousness
by Marlin Keel
I can’t speak for you, but when I read this section of Matthew 6 I’m glad Jesus finally sets these people straight. Jesus lets them know in no uncertain terms that their giving of alms, praying and fasting are misguided because of their improper attitude and their desire to impress others with how devoutly religious they are.
How did their worship get so distorted? Perhaps religious leaders had taught them that obedience to the Law of God and the spiritually confining laws of man were of utmost importance in worship, or perhaps they had no mentors to teach them. A final reason might be that pride took over and they wanted others to see how perfectly ‘religious’ they could be.
It’s a good thing that you and I are not like them. We have faithfully attended Bible study classes and worship services, sung the hymns, regularly read the Bible and prayed often. We have supported missions and even gone on a mission trip or two. So, isn’t it quite obvious that you and I have learned the proper way to be religious in our giving, praying, and fasting?
But the truth is that this portion of Jesus’ teaching is part of a much larger story, the story found in God’s Love Letter, the Bible, written to mankind. This Love Letter is not addressed to ‘occupant’ or ‘current resident’—it is addressed very personally and speaks very directly to you and me. Through every red-lettered word in the Bible, Jesus is speaking to you and me. Throughout the Bible, you and I are there in the middle of the action.
You and I are out in the fields with the shepherds when the heavenly host appears and announces the birth of the long-awaited Savior.
We are sitting with the crowd on the hillside when Jesus speaks the truth about our need for an ever-growing, personal relationship with Him.
We are standing on the road to Jerusalem when Jesus comes riding into town in the name of the Lord, seated on the back of a borrowed donkey.
We are with the disciples when Jesus asks some very difficult questions while looking at us eye to eye:
- “Who do you say that I am?’”
- “Do you understand what I have done for you?”
- “Do you love Me?”
We are there with the crowd on that rocky hill where a bloodied, beaten, abused Son of Man hangs on a cross very near death, put there because of my sin and your sin.
We are there when Mary and Martha come running with the news that the tomb is empty, Jesus has raised from the dead, death and hell have been defeated and the door to eternity has been opened for each of us who will believe on the name of the Lord.
We are there on the road to Emmaus when Jesus explains to us what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself, not realizing how our hearts burn within us until Jesus has disappeared from sight.
Whenever we practice any of the spiritual disciplines, including giving, praying, and fasting, we do it all in a manner that honors Jesus as if Jesus is standing there beside us. We do it because of Jesus, to honor Jesus. Self gets out of the way.
Verses 14 and 15 present another daunting spiritual reality that Jesus simply declares: forgiveness desired requires forgiveness extended; mercy desired requires mercy extended. The words of Jesus in these two verses are very clear. Jesus re-emphasizes this point in the parable of the Unforgiving Debtor in Matthew 18:21-35.
If we desire to receive God’s mercy and grace, then we must extend God’s mercy and grace to others. Like the disciples in Luke 17:5, you and I must realize we cannot do this on our own. Dear Jesus, “Increase our faith.”
- How does being the middle of the action throughout God’s Love Letter enhance your relationship with Jesus Christ?
- In a sermon on prayer, the late Adrian Rogers stated, “The prayer that gets to heaven begins in heaven.” Have you ever thought about who or what is the genesis of your prayer life?
- Read John 15:7-8. Consider the impact of these words of Jesus on your prayer life. Are you willing to deal with the ‘if’ in order to partake of the blessings of the ‘then’?
- Jesus never says if you give, if you pray, or if you fast. It’s all a matter of when we give, when we pray, and when we fast.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.