“God Honoring Piety”
Sunday, February 9, 2020:
Commentary (The ISSL Curriculum)
Lesson: Matthew 6:1-8.
Time of Action: 28 A.D.
Place of Action: a mountain near Capernaum in Galilee
Golden Text: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
I. INTRODUCTION. When you do good deeds do you do them to be seen by men or in the name of Jesus to glorify God? This is a question that we all need to consider. In this week’s lesson, Jesus teaches that just doing the right thing is not enough. Not only must we do what is right, we must do it for the right reasons. The Lord also gives us a pattern that we can follow for our prayers.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON. This portion of Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount which includes chapters 5-7. The spiritual climate of Jesus’ day was full of legalism. The scribes and Pharisees imposed strict rules on others (see Mark 7:1-5), while ignoring the call for their own personal holiness and righteousness (see Matthew 15:3-6). But Jesus knew their hearts and focused on their spiritual weaknesses (see Matthew 15:7-9). As part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set forth a pattern for prayer to serve as a guide for His followers, in contrast to the false humility of the Pharisees (see Luke 18:9-14). By following His pattern for prayer, Jesus’ followers would protect themselves from religious hypocrisy. Our lesson begins with Matthew chapter 6 following Jesus’ message concerning showing love for our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-47), and a call for His disciples to “be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (see Matthew 5:48).
III. JESUS’ TEACHING ON GIVING (Matthew 6:1-4)
A. Giving like a hypocrite (Matthew 6:1-2).
1. (vs. 1). Our first verse says, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.” The words “Take heed” mean “to make sure” or “be careful.” The word “alms” refers to good deeds or righteous acts. Jesus was telling His listeners to make sure that you don’t perform any righteous acts or good deeds simply to be noticed by men. According to Judaism, the pious or religious person was devoted to three things: giving “alms” or charitable gifts to others, to prayer, and to fasting. Sadly, many people did these good deeds in order to win the applause and praise of others. Jesus went on to say that if a person does good in order to receive praise or recognition from others, he or she will receive “no reward of your Father which is in heaven.” Therefore, this kind of service is spiritually worthless.
2. (vs. 2). This verse says “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” Here Jesus continued to tell His listeners how not to give “alms” or perform good deeds. Jesus said “When you give a gift to a beggar, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you in all earnestness, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” The word “hypocrites” in Greek refers to actors who wore masks to play a certain role. Here the word is used to describe people who perform good deeds for appearances only and not out of compassion or other good motives. They were like skilled actors who were only playing a role. The “hypocrite’s” motive for doing good deeds was so “that they may have glory of men.” Their actions or deeds may be good, but their motives can’t hold water. So, Jesus declared that “They have their reward.” In other words, the praise they receive from men is the only “reward” they will receive. They will not receive any “reward” from God. Their improper motives for giving to the poor and any other good deeds will result in the forfeiture of any divine blessing they may have received.
B. Giving like a true worshiper (Matthew 6:3-4).
1. (vs. 3). This verse says “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth…” Having declared to His audience the wrong motive for giving “alms,” here Jesus prescribed the proper way to give to others. He said, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” The phrase “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” means to do our good deeds in secret. Instead of making sure that others see their generous acts, the godly person should do their best to be anonymous. Giving should not lead to self-promotion, or self-congratulation. Giving should be focused on the recipient not the giver. This type of giving may never grab the headlines or lead to applause or acclaim by others. But God will cheer it!
2. (vs. 4). This verse continues to say, “That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” When we do good deeds and not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, we are giving our “alms…in secret.” When the godly person gives “in secret” Jesus promised that “thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” God, the Father, who sees every good thing we do “in secret” will “reward…openly” the one who gives with righteous and pure motives. This means that even though no one may see our good works or deeds, they will see the “reward” we receive from God. Giving to others privately requires humility and confidence in God. It requires trust that God sees all that we do and that He will “reward” righteous deeds in His own time and way. True righteousness seeks to please God and is willing to wait for His promised blessing. Praise from others appeals to our pride. To forgo that praise requires an humble spirit that puts others before ourselves (see Philippians 2:3-5).
IV. JESUS’ TEACHING ON PRAYER (Matthew 6:5-8)
A. Praying like a hypocrite (Matthew 6:5-6).
1. (vs. 5). In this verse, Jesus said “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” Prayer was a major part of Jewish faith so there was no question that Jesus’ listeners prayed. But when they prayed, Jesus said, “thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are.” As noted earlier, a “hypocrite” is someone who pretends to be what he or she is not. In this case, “hypocrites” prayed not because they were godly or pious, but because they wanted people to think they were. Jesus said that they “love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” For the Jew, there were set times for prayer, and devout Jews were expected to pray wherever they were at prayer time. The “hypocrites” made sure that they were in a public place at the time of prayer, even on a busy street corner. There was nothing wrong with standing or praying in public, but what made these practices wrong was the motive of the hypocrites: “that they may be seen of men.” All they wanted was to show people how holy they were. The Pharisee who prayed in the temple is an excellent example of this kind of hypocrisy (see Luke 18:11-12). Jesus then concluded, “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” In other words, the “hypocrites” receive exactly what they prayed for: the praise of men. But there will be no further reward from God, no merit earned, and no prayer answered. God is deaf to their self-serving prayers.
2. (vs. 6). In contrast to the hypocrite, in this verse Jesus said to His disciples, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Jesus wasn’t condemning all public prayer, but we must admit that public prayer presents a greater temptation for pretending or showing off. The word “closet” can refer to any private room. Jesus’ point was that we should seek a private place to pray. Closing the door gives more privacy. When in the private place we “pray to the Father which is in secret.” God’s presence is everywhere, even in “secret” places. He is never absent. As we pray secretly to the Father, Jesus said, “thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” The Father seeing and hearing our sincere prayer “in secret” or privately will “reward” us. We are not told what the “reward” is, but no doubt it includes an answer to our prayers that will be best for us and will also glorify God.
B. Praying like a true worshiper (Matthew 6:7-8).
1. (vs. 7). Here Jesus warned His listeners against another hidden danger in prayer saying, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” When believers “pray,” we are to do it as God intended and not like “the heathen.” Jesus said that when “ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.” The verb for “vain repetitions” means “to ramble on and on” or “to repeat empty phrases over and over.” Every religion has those who think using many words will make prayer more effective. The scribes of Jesus’ day did this to make up for their sins (see Mark 12:38-40). Unfortunately, like the “heathen” or pagans, even some Christians “think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” or praying.
2. (vs. 8). Our final verse says, “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Still referring to the “heathens” or pagans who babbled on and on when they prayed, Jesus urged His followers to “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Jesus’ disciples were not to ramble on and on when praying because their heavenly “Father” knew what they needed even before they asked Him. God has perfect knowledge of our needs (better than we have), and He has the power to meet those needs. One might ask why we should bother to pray if God already knows what we need. Well, the answer is simple: we should pray not to give God information, but to worship Him. Our worship includes our total dependence on and trust in our heavenly “Father.” Note: Jesus was not condemning long and persistent prayers (see Luke 18:1). Neither was He discouraging all repetition, for in Gethsemane Jesus Himself was repetitious (see Matthew 26:39-44). Jesus was simply warning His followers against the fantasy that God must be informed or pacified through endless babbling.
V. Conclusion. In this week’s lesson, Jesus taught that the most important thing involved in giving is our motive. We must be sure we are doing it for the right reason—to glorify God. Jesus also had much to teach His disciples about prayer. It should be personal and from the heart. It should include the elements of worship, petition, and confession. As believers, we should be encouraged to put these principles of prayer into practice. If you are ever in doubt about what to include in your prayers, just remember the acronym “ACTS” which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
*** The International Sunday School Lesson Curriculum***