Who are you trying to impress?
From Matthew 6:1-15
I spent my younger days on a farm near Forbes in central NSW, Australia. My mother had seven brothers who liked to play cricket. The eldest one played first grade cricket at St George Cricket Club with Don Bradman. When my mother and dad were young, they watched Don Bradman play at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). When I was young my dad took me to the SCG on a day when Neil Harvey scored 231 not out in his last Sheffield Shield game. I played cricket at Forbes and in the Protestant Churches Competition in Sydney. My 9-year-old grandson plays junior cricket for Lisarow-Ourimbah on the Central Coast. The club’s most famous player is Alan Davidson who died recently. On Saturday mornings I leave home at 6am to get him to the oval by 7:30am to be ready to play by 8am.
The book of Matthew was written to Jewish believers and presents Jesus Christ as their King. As the early church was mainly Jewish, the teachings in this book would have been particularly relevant to them. In chapters 1-10, Christ reveals Himself as the long-awaited King. And in the sermon on the mount, He teaches about the principles of the King’s kingdom (Ch. 5-7).
Matthew 6 addresses three areas in the spiritual life of the disciples: giving (v.2-4), prayer (v.5-15), and fasting (v.16-24). These three spiritual disciplines were important in Judaism.
The main point was – don’t be a hypocrite in these three areas of life. In particular, don’t participate in these just to earn the praise of others.
Give with sincerity (6:1-4)
Ananias and Sapphira sold some property to help the needy and brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount (Acts 5:1-2). They were hypocrites.
Jesus said, “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” (Mt. 6:1NIV).
This introduces the topic – The motivation for what we do. There is a warning about doing things to be seen by others.
Then there is a wrong way of giving for us to avoid.
Jesus said, “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” (Mt. 6:2).
Giving to the needy is an example of generosity. “Announce it with trumpets”, is a metaphor for putting on a show. That’s being a hypocrite. The Greek word for “hypocrite” originated in the Greek theater where an actor wore a mask to portray someone else. He pretended to be someone he wasn’t. Hypocrites give “to be honored by others”. Their only reward is the human reputation they gain while on earth. They get what they want—human applause and praise. Calling attention to self is the opposite of giving glory to God. Jesus called them hypocrites because they were pretending to be something they weren’t.
This is followed by a right way of giving for us to imitate.
Jesus said, “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” (Mt. 6:3-4).
Giving should be done in private and not to be noticed by others. Not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing is an idiom for not seeking public recognition. No believer is to let this control their giving. We are to glorify God, not ourselves.
The idea of giving in “secret” is private. God knows our actions and that is all that is necessary. God knows what we do in private. He will reward us for right motivation at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Matthew refers to reward three times in this section (6:4, 6, 18). Our good deeds should be for God the Father, not for our personal praise.
This doesn’t mean that all giving must be anonymous. But that there shouldn’t be a blatant display of giving.
In the context of revealing the next king of Israel, the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his [Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son] appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam.16:7).
Our motivation should be to help those who need it, not to draw a spotlight to ourselves. Our motivation for giving should be based on what Christ did for us. When Paul was encouraging the believers in Corinth to give generously, he said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). And “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).
Why do we give? Is it to support needy believers and the proclamation of the gospel, or is it to be recognized by people?
Pray with sincerity (6:5-6)
In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, they went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed, “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income” (Lk. 18:11-12). He was a hypocrite because he made out that he was better than he actually was.
Jesus said, “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” (Mt. 6:5-6).
Jesus mentions “hypocrites” again. Hypocrites pray to be noticed and approved by others. Their motivation was wrong. Once again, they are rewarded on earth, but not in heaven. Prayer expresses our dependence on God. It is not to bring attention to ourselves.
Instead, it says to pray privately. Then you will be rewarded by God. This may include answered prayer. By the way, this is not a prohibition of public prayer. The New Testament shows that there is a place for public prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:12; 13:3; 14:23; 20:36; 7:35;2 1 Tim. 2:1).
Why do we pray? Is it to be heard by God, or is it to be seen by people?
Avoid repetitive prayer (6:7-8)
On Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal cried out, “Baal, answer us” for about 12 hours (1 Ki. 18:26-29)! And a mob in Ephesus shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two hours (Acts 19:34). That’s one way to pray.
Jesus said, “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” (Mt. 6:7-8).
Jesus says that they don’t need to keep repeating their prayers like unbelievers. We can’t influence God by bombarding Him with repeated requests. God is ready to answer prayer. He willingly answers prayer. Repetitive prayer does not impress God. Repetition does not force God to answer our prayers.
Pagans used long lists of the names of their gods in their prayers, hoping that by constantly repeating them they would call on the name of the god that could help them.
Although God knows our need before we ask Him, He wants us to trust Him in prayer. Prayer expresses our dependence on God.
Do we bombard God with repetitive prayers?
A model prayer (6:9-15)
Then Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray:” (Mt. 6:9a). He gave the disciples a model prayer to establish a pattern for prayer. It was not given to be recited word-for-word. And it was given to Jews living under the Old Covenant, not Christians living under the New Covenant.
Focus on God
It begins by putting God’s interests first.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9b-10).
It’s addressed to God the Father in heaven. And it asks three things: hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, and your will be done.
“Hallowed be your name” means that God is holy or set apart. He deserves to be honored, praised and worshipped because He is separate from the created world. The prayer is that He be regarded as holy.
Then it anticipates Christ’s kingdom on earth. That’s when His will “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, but it was rejected. The King does not offer the kingdom today because He is in heaven. But in a coming day Jesus will fulfill the promise of His earthly kingdom.
– God will be worshipped, “on earth as it is in heaven”,
– His kingdom will come, “on earth as it is in heaven”, and
– His will will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven”.
Focus on people
Then it addresses the physical and spiritual needs of people.
“Give us today our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11).
Physical needs. These are daily physical needs. Believers are to live one day at a time. God provides for our basic physical needs. We are to trust Him to meet our present needs. We shouldn’t worry about the future.
This is followed by, “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” (Mt. 6:12-13).
Spiritual needs. A “debt” is something we owe. Matthew uses it here figuratively for sin (Lk. 11:4). Acceptance of forgiveness from God implies that we extend forgiveness to others. This is parental forgiveness that is necessary to maintain fellowship with God, not judicial forgiveness from the penalty of sin. The Father forgives us on the basis of Christ’s death for our sins. Because we have been judicially forgiven by God, we are able to forgive others (Eph. 4:32). Those whom God forgives are to forgive others.
God does not lead us into temptation to sin. The word “temptation” here refers to trial. The idea is, “Do not allow us to be led into trial”. We do not want to be carried into or caught up in the trial so as to crumble under pressure. This is a prayer for the ability to stand up under pressure. God allows trials to come into our lives in order to build us in the faith.
The “evil one” is Satan. Satan uses trials to entice us to sin. This is a prayer for protection from Satan’s schemes.
Verses 14 and 15 are an addendum to and explanation of verses 12 and 13.
“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” (Mt. 6:14-15).
Our forgiveness of others takes incentive from God’s forgiveness. Non-forgiveness affects our daily fellowship with God. If we forgive others, then our Father will forgive us and if we do not forgive others then He will not forgive us (Mt. 5:7; Jas 2:15). So, the parental forgiveness from God in v.12 is conditional on us forgiving others. Do we need to forgive someone in order to restore our daily relationship with the Lord?
How do we know this is an accurate account of what Jesus said? There is evidence that the books of Matthew and Mark were written within 20 years of the death of Christ (Appendix). If Matthew was written this early, in the region where the events took place, it would have been difficult for them to include obvious lies, given that they would have been written to people who were alive during the events recorded in the Gospels.
In this chapter Jesus addresses three types of religious hypocrisy, when: giving, praying, and fasting.
Elsewhere, Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. They put tradition above scripture and honored God with their lips, but not with their hearts (Mt. 15:3-9). They did not practice what they preached; everything they did was for people to see; and they were like painted tombs – beautiful on the outside but dead on the inside (Mt. 23:1-32). It’s not a pretty picture. There were hypocrites then and there are hypocrites now.
We all can be hypocrites sometimes, like when we commit a sin of omission (Jas. 4:17). For example, the Priest and Levite when they walked past the man who was half dead in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:30-37). Or when we fail to share the gospel with an unbeliever. That’s walking past someone who is spiritually dead. How many people or situations do we walk past?
It’s been said that “if Christianity is true, why are there hypocrites in the church?”. Until all believers are glorified, there will, unfortunately, be hypocrites in the church. What’s important to remember, however, is that this does not negate Christianity or the claims of Christ. Accusations of hypocrisy assume that there is a moral standard that hypocrites break. But where does this standard come from? It assumes a moral lawgiver (that is, God), rather than arguing against Him.
We should evaluate ourselves and our own motivations. Jeremiah said that the “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). We should know that our heart is deceitful. Do not mislead yourself about your own motivations. Pray and ask God to reveal your motivations to you and give you sincere motivations. Do not live for popularity or recognition. Do not delight in the praises of people. Instead live to please God.
On Boxing Day, our extended family went to a Big Bash cricket game. Driving home late at night I was caught going up to 10 km/hr over the speed limit by a hidden speed camera at a traffic light at Eastwood. Likewise, God is watching us all the time even though we are often unaware of it.
Who are we trying to impress? Is it God or is it people? God is the only one we need to impress. Live to please God, not others. After all, our character is more important than our reputation.
The main point was – don’t be a hypocrite when giving, praying or fasting. In particular, don’t participate in these just to earn the praise of others.
In this passage Jesus asks us, why we do the things we do? What is the motive behind our actions? Jesus is encouraging us to be like our Father who is generous and gives to us, to enjoy spending time with our Father in prayer and desiring the things He desires, and to trust in our Father by trusting Him to provide and sustain us.
Don’t be a hypocrite! Obey God instead.
Appendix: Dating the book of Matthew
For the following reasons, J Warner Wallace believes that the books of Matthew and Mark were written within 20 years of the death of Christ.
Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter. The apostle Paul was martyred in the city of Rome in AD 64, and Peter was martyred shortly afterward in AD 65.
Luke also said nothing about the death of James the brother of Jesus (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3) and elder in the early church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18). James was martyred in the city of Jerusalem in AD 62, but like the deaths of Paul and Peter, the execution of James is absent from the biblical account, even though Luke described the deaths of Stephen (Acts 7:54–60) and James the brother of John (Acts 12:1–2).
This gives the following probable dating:
– AD 57-60 Luke writes Acts
– AD 55-57 Paul quotes Luke
– AD 50-53 Luke writes his Gospel
– AD 45-50 Mark (and Matthew) written as Luke quoted Mark (and Matthew) repeatedly
“This early dating is helpful in assessing their truth status. If the Gospels were written this early, in the region where the events took place, it would have been difficult for them to include obvious lies, given that they would have been written to people who were alive during the events recorded in the New Testament. These people would have been available to vet the content of the Gospels and call them out as lies if they contained fallacious information.”
Wallace J W, “Why I know the Gospels were written early”.
Written, February 2022