“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.
2 “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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is donein secret, will reward you.
5 “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. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 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 lead us not into temptation,[a] but deliver us from the evil one.[b]’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
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. 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.
Why do you do spiritual things in public? This assumes that you are? If you are not giving to the needy, praying, or fasting, why not? Some have a commendable desire to be authentic, but they are being authentically secular, if they are Christians. To be secular is to empty an area of our lives of God’s desire for us. Christians should meet together, worship together, give generously, fast, and pray. If we have no desire to do these things, we should ask ourselves why not. I think that my own motives dull when I do not see who God is and who I am. I do not see the debt, the horror of sin, and I do not see the extent of God’s grace in my life. My gratitude does not flow into religious acts when I do not see that I should have been destroyed horribly. Perhaps we need to reflect on what we think of God, man and our values first, if we are not motivated to action. If you are not motivated to action, you might want to question if you are a disciple. If you are motivated by something other than joy and gratitude (like guilt), you might want to question if you know Christ.
Jesus assumes that disciples will be marked by action. However, pharisees were very active in giving, prayer, and fasting among other things. They were striving for acceptance by God and by the people. This shows that they did not have the understanding of a disciple. A disciple knows that they are accepted unconditionally by God and so they give back to God through grateful acts of service. Without God we are in darkness, despair, and desperation. With him we have love, light, and life. Public acts by religious people often betray insincerity and dead rituals. Jesus was assuming the motives for such actions was acceptance by men. He affirms that they have received that. They are not looking to grow closer to God through the disciplines. They are acting like those who lack something rather than those who have everything. We do not practice spiritual disciplines even to be accepted by God. We practice spiritual disciplines because the whole of our lives is about moving closer to him in relationship.
Marriage is a good illustration. Do I do the dishes to be accepted by my wife? I do them with guilt in such a case and I have a strong desire not to do the dishes. I sometimes boast about doing the dishes to others because I feel they will accept me as a fine and loving husband. What if I know that I am unconditionally accepted? (Some women fear that the man will not do the dishes and only accept him on the condition of service – that is not like God). If I know that I am unconditionally accepted I will do the dishes with joy and gratitude for her. If I do not have that attitude, something about the underlying relationship needs to be fixed. My acts of love are not for others and they are not to win my wife’s acceptance. They are a right response to a true understanding of her love for me in spite of who I am. In the same way, our whole lives need to be sincerely and quietly lived out for God.
- What religious acts does Jesus highlight in this passage?
- If this is a summary of Jesus’ sermon (as some think), what other religious acts could be included?
- How were people in Jesus’ day doing good things with bad motives?
- Why do you do (or don’t do) spiritual things?
- On a scale of 1-10, how grateful would someone say you were to God if they saw the reasons behind your spiritual acts?