It's been a bit since our last study in Matthew, so let's reread the last few verses of that passage to reestablish context:
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus has just instructed his listeners that they are called to live a better life than others...but He is going to warn them that they must definitely not do this for the sake of appearances...
All for Appearance' Sake
[For organizational purposes, we're going to look at verses 1-8 and 16-18 together, and then return to verses 9-15.]
2 So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
5 When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray tot he Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7 And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repitition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
16 Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appeareance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face
18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
First, let's get a quick question out of the way: what is the "reward" that keeps getting mentioned? It seems clear from the passage that the earthly reward is honor and respect. While it is possible that the heavenly reward is some sort of crown in heaven (see this post for a study on crowns), I personally think it's likewise God's honor and respect. Which leads us to the entire point of this passage: Who are you living for? Are you living the Christian life because you truly want to please your Savior, or because you want others to see that you're "holy" now? Whichever you actually want, that is what you will get.
Now, there's a common excuse that pops up here: I'm not doing it so others will see me; I'm doing it so others will see how God has changed me. Now, there are exceptions: it is true that God calls a very select few Christians to a very public life (e.g. some evangelists, well-known Christian authors, famous Christian athletes), but these must be extremely humble, which we will get to soon. Most of us are called to live the quiet holiness outlined above. Why? Here are a couple thoughts: (1) Despite the excuse, people don't actually respond to in-your-face-"holiness." They will be way more impressed - and way more likely to look to God - if they stumble across your act of holiness. (2) Consider the poor person in Jesus's example - they would know that the look-at-me crowd didn't really care about them and was doing it for a reward, but if someone helped them without drawing attention, it would strike them differently.
Does this mean that we have to go to extreme lengths to hide our acts of righteousness? No, not at all - if we did that, we'd likely mess up a few occurences where God intended someone to notice by stumbling across it. We need to find a happy balance. For example, there's a big difference between, when eating in a restaurant, folding your hands and bowing your head and saying a quiet prayer over your meal, and throwing your hands up in the air and loudly proclaiming your prayer. The former will only be noticed by those who happen to glance at you, and will communicate devotion to God, whereas the latter will disgust everyone in the restaurant as they witness your obnoxious theatricality.
Also, as for the aforementioned exceptions, I mentioned great humility being necessary. Consider verse 3: "...do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." We are not even supposed to keep track of our own righteousness so as to puff up our pride.
Now, let's look at each of Jesus's specific examples in terms of the modern world:
- Charity. A few ways to follow this passage in your giving include: When giving money to a poor family you know, whether they're believers or not, have the church deliver it simply from "someone in our congregation"; when writing a check to a charity that advertises a list of its donors, ask that your name be withheld and somehow point to God. Do these always need to be done in these circumstances? No. Are there other ways? Of course!
- Prayers. We already discussed one example above. Another is, say, if you live in a house with unbelievers, excuse yourself to your room for your prayer and Bible study time - they will eventually ask what you're doing, and you'll get to communicate your faith without being showy. (Again, these are not rules, and this is by no means a complete list; this is the case with fasting, as well.)
- Fasting. There's a huge difference between pointing out to others that you're hungry, thus prompting them to ask why and thus make an opportunity to point out that you're fasting, and merely mentioning, "No, thanks, I'm on a fast right now" if they offer you food. Likewise, try to time your fasts to draw as little attention to yourself as possible - e.g., if you know you'll go out to dinner with friends Friday night, don't plan a fast for that day.
In summary, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them."
The Lord's Prayer
7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard by their many words.
9 Pray, then, in this way:
'Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glroy forever. Amen.']
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
This prayer was designed to be an example of what kinds of things to include in our prayers. Let's dig into each element.
Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
This is praise - acknowledging God's supremacy, holiness, etc.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
This is keeping everything in perspective - voicing that God's eternal kindgom and His will are what are really important in life. It also serves to subject yourself to His will.
Give us this day our daily bread.
It's totally okay to ask God for things! It's a relationship, after all.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
We are to confess our sins, and ask God to forgive us for them.
The subject of the second half pops up a lot in Scripture, and is expanded upon in verses 14 and 15. Is forgiving others necessary to salvation? NO! That would be a works-based faith. Rather, as we have discussed before, it is evidence that your heart is genuinely changed and that you are willing to follow Christ. Check out our studies in James (follow the link titled "James" in sidebar) for much more on this subject.
So what's the point of specifically mentioning this in the prayer? Because it reminds us to keep following God.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
We are to turn to God for our protection, both physical and spiritual. Prayer is a critically important weapon in the realm of spiritual warfare.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This is sort of a recap - both praising Him and stating that all your needs are under His power.
Now, does this mean that it's sin to pray the Lord's Prayer verbatim? Not at all - if you mean it. Personally, when I pray before bed, I use the Lord's Prayer as a framework. Sometimes I use phrases from it verbatim because they mean a lot specifically to me, but I also insert and adapt freely. It's supposed to be a conversation, not a recitation of magic words.
If you're interested in learning more about prayer as a part of life, and a much longer expounding of the Lord's Prayer than I provide, check out the book Soul Revolution by John Burke.
Let's Make It a Discussion!
What other ways can you think of to practice our righteousness before God instead of before men? What other meaning do you see in the Lord's Prayer? Anything else you'd like to comment on or ask?