Matthew 6:1-18

Jimmy JoMatthew, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read the passage here.

Our passage today continues our study of the sermon on the Mount. Before delving into the passage, there are a couple of preliminary things I’d like to consider. 

Firstly, I think this passage is familiar mostly because it contains the Lord’s Prayer.  And there are some textual questions about this – namely, was this a later insertion.  This question is raised because of how the verses containing the Lord’s prayer, and the comments about forgiveness, seem to stand apart from the rest of the passage.  And while this is interesting, it may lack relevance to us because the text that we have (in its final form) is the text that we’re intended to have.

However, I bring this up because of the frequency with which I have heard sermons talking about how the main point of Jesus’ discussion regarding the Lord’s Prayer is the form. 

Specifically, I’ve heard a number of sermons talking about how Jesus’ intent in teaching the Lord’s Prayer is to give us a form, a structure, of how we should pray.  Typically, this follows something along the lines of (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – i.e. ACTS). 

I’m not saying that this is wrong.  And I’m definitely not saying this is bad.  I’m simply saying that, in my opinion, this is not primarily what’s going on in the passage that we’re looking at.  In this passage, Jesus spends more time talking about prayer than he does about the two other examples – giving to the needy and fasting – and this deserves consideration. But I think we must still understand prayer as one example in the larger argument Jesus is making. 

Secondly, and following this, let’s take a look at the structure of this passage.  Firstly, Jesus once again gives us a kind of introductory statement to the discussion which will follow.  He tells us,

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.

Matthew 6:1

Then, by way of providing elaboration, Jesus gives us three examples to show us what he means:  Giving to the needy (i.e. charity), prayer, and fasting.  And in each case, he give us the form:  Do not … as the hypocrites do… but (do this…). So we have:

“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.

“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.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:2, 5, 16

So, returning to the earlier comments on the Lord’s Prayer, though I don’t think it’s excluded, Jesus’ primary concern is not about the way we pray (i.e. form or structure), but about why we pray (i.e. the motivation).  Or, to put it another way, Jesus’ concern is not that the hypocrites pray with the wrong form, but with the wrong heart. 

Again, there’s nothing wrong with deriving a form or formula for prayer from what Jesus is saying here – but I also think it’s important that we don’t miss the main point that Jesus is making.

But more to the point, the passage is fairly straightforward I think in that Jesus’ concern is about hypocrisy.  He’s concerned about the appearance of piety versus true piety.  Specifically, Jesus is criticizing those who practice their spirituality in such a way that their main concern, or their primary concern, is gaining standing before others.  I think that it’s relatively clear that he’s targeting the religious leaders though the criticism doesn’t stop there.  We might say that he’s particularly targeting a religious sub-culture – that he’s criticizing those whose desire it is to gain standing, to gain position or reputation and use the appearance of piety – religiousness – in order to achieve this in their community (which was religious). 

I think that most of us can understand this and relate to it quite easily.  But there’s more to the passage.  In particular, I want to highlight another element of repetition in this passage.  Along with the repeated use of “Do not…as the hypocrites do…”, we also get a repetition of the phrase, “for they have received their reward.”  In each example, we see that those who practice their righteousness in order to be seen by others, they will have received their reward in full – that is, by being seen by others.  In contrast, those who practice their righteousness in the ways that Jesus describes will be rewarded by the Father.  So, we get: 

“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.

“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.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6: 2, 5, 16

If we move past the particular verses for today, understanding that there is both unity and structure in the sermon, the very next verses of the sermon read: 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

So what I want to suggest is that the rewards that we see in our passage today are closely related to the treasures either on earth or in heaven that we read about in the following passages.  To be a little blunt about it, the hypocrites of which Jesus is speaking, have chosen earthly rewards (to be seen and honoured by others because of their so-called piety) as opposed to Kingdom rewards which can only be given by the Father: 

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.

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.

17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:3-4, 6, 17-18

And at this point, I want to remind us all of what we saw in our discussion of the Beatitudes.  What we saw in the beatitudes is that, in the kingdom, the very notion of what it means to be blessed or happy is different.  So it’s not just the timing of rewards that we’re talking about here.  It’s not that we’re merely putting off rewards now so we can get more rewards later.  Maybe, it’s the very quality of the rewards that we’re talking about. 

So, once again, not to put too fine a point on it, what exactly are we hoping to get from God?  What exactly are we hoping to get from our faith and our faithfulness?  Are we hoping for rewards from the world? Or are we hoping for rewards from the Kingdom?

I think it’s a question we have to ask, I think we have to examine ourselves (with grace, and with love) because what Matthew seems to be telling us throughout his gospel account is that the kingdom that we think we want (or deserve, or have earned) may not be the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. 

And I think that Jesus, through the sermon on the mount, of which our passage today is a part, is really challenging us with the question of, “of what kingdom do we want to be a part?”  And I think that’s worth thinking about because it’s something that we can’t take for granted. 

At a recent bible study, several of us were discussing the book of Romans, and the subject came up of the glory that will be revealed.  Making a very long story short, we talked about how, in the new earth, everything will be more – that everything will be more real, more as it was meant to be. 

Maybe, in our desire to be recognized, to find a place and position, to find acceptance, what we are really looking for is the more.  We all want to be known – to find our people.  But we do that in all kinds of wrong ways.  Even in the midst of a genuine Christian community, where we try to live after and live up to the kingdom that Jesus is talking about, on this side of eternity, we can only know shadows and pale reflections.  But we keep striving, we keep living, because we are assured that in Jesus, there is and there will be more. 

So we wait, we keep walking, and we keep living towards the kingdom, the true reward, that the Father is bringing. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.