Sermon on Mount 6
Sermon on the Mount
"Motives for Giving, Prayer, and Fasting"
As we begin chapter 6, Jesus is going to be dealing with motives. His concern is not so much over WHAT we do, but WHY we do what we do. He deals with three of the most spiritual things we can be involved with--giving, prayer, and fasting. I'm going to skip over the Lord's prayer found in verses 9-15, and will deal with that next time by itself.
Jesus' target is the hypocrisy displayed by the Pharisees. He has no problem calling them by that name repeatedly. The Greek word for hypocrite was originally used to describe "a performer acting under a mask, as in a theater." It eventually evolved into the meaning we now use for "a two-faced person, a phony."
Jesus vividly described the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. "So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach" (Matt. 23:3). In verse 5 He said, “Everything they do is for show..."
Jesus pointed out that the true motive of the Pharisees was the "glory they would receive from men." With their charitable giving, He points out the way they "sound a trumpet in the synagogues." When they pray, Jesus says they "love to pray in the open to be seen of men." And with their fasting, Jesus rather comically says they wear a "sad countenance" and "disfigure their faces" so that others would know they were fasting.
Of all the people Jesus encountered in His ministry, the Pharisees received His most scathing rebukes. In fact, they were the only people He really criticized. It was the Pharisees who relentlessly hounded Him, always searching to catch Him in some verbal error whereby they might condemn Him.
And so Jesus warns His own disciples not to fall into this Pharisaical trap. In dealing first with giving, Jesus tells His followers:
6:1-4 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly."
First, Jesus warns not to give for the sole motive of being seen by men. He exaggerates to make a point by saying they "sound a trumpet" when they give. The Lord's point is that they do all they can to be noticed. They broadcasted their giving to gain the admiration of others.
This, of course, happens all the time. People give tens of millions of dollars annually in America for various charitable causes. And many of them do it with one eye peeled on others, that they would notice what they did. There are wealthy philanthropists who give huge sums out of their riches who always make certain their deed is trumpeted.
Jesus discourages this motive. He says that when we give to be seen by men the only reward we will get is the praise of men. The Greek is more expressive here. It means, "They have to the full, and so exhaust. There is nothing more for them to look for." No reward will come from heaven. "Otherwise" said Jesus, "you have no reward from your Father in heaven."
This is the way the world gives. But we are not of this world. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. "Therefore," says Jesus, "when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets...But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret..."
Jesus advises that we give in secret, as unto the Lord. "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." And then He delivers an amazing promise. "Your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly."
It doesn't say when this reward will come. God blesses in the here and now, but He also blesses later, at the Judgment Seat of Christ when all of our works will be tested by fire. No doubt, the motives that drove us in this life will be scrutinized. Did I do what I did for MY glory, or for the glory of God?
Next, Jesus tackles the subject of prayer. The very same consideration is made concerning motive. And again the Pharisees are in view.
Matt. 6:5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward."
The Pharisees loved to pray, not to be heard by God, but to be heard by men. They chose places that were heavily populated so as to be certain to gain the admiration of men. They would stand on intersecting street corners while secretly glancing round to watch the impression they might be making on others who were looking on.
Jesus said, "They have their reward." Go ahead, the Lord seemed to say, soak up the admiring glances and words of adulation because that's all you're going to get!
Then Jesus gave the same command and promise He did regarding giving. Let your prayer be in secret. "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 5:6).
As He did in chapter 5, Jesus is going to the heart of the matter. The motive of our heart should be to spend time with the Heavenly Father, and to genuinely bring petitions to Him. The admiration of men should be as far from us as is Pluto from Earth. He says, "And when you pray, go into a room by yourself" (6:6).
As to genuinely praying to God with requests and petitions, no one guaranteed results for praying more than Jesus. He will say later in Sermon on the Mount...
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (7:7-11).
Jesus promises that "...your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." In the prayer closet, God is watching and listening. He is there with you. The Greek reads, "And the Father of you, the One seeing in secret" will relinquish what is His and give it to you.
So both with giving and with prayer we have a choice--do I do what I do for the recognition and praise of men? Or do I do what I do as unto the Lord that I might receive His reward? As for me and my house, I choose to please the Lord!
Next, Jesus tackles fasting. This subject is very humorous because of the way Jesus describes the Sadducees' and Pharisees' attempts to gain the praise of men...
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (6:16).
Fasting is the humbling of the soul before God. It is the denial of food in order to fully concentrate on the things that pertain to the kingdom. It is also done in the context of spiritual warfare. God's saints often fasted for spiritual breakthrough. Daniel, for instance, experienced some of his greatest answers to prayer while fasting.
But the Pharisees fasted for none of these reasons. They would disfigure their faces by not washing themselves as usual. They wouldn't comb their hair and went out into public looking filthy, squalid, and haggard.
It is said that they were often in the habit of throwing ashes on their heads and faces; and this, mixing with their tears, served still further to disfigure their faces.
What were they after? The admiration of men who would comment on how disciplined and godly they were. Once again Jesus said "They have their reward."
This one gets me. Think about it. All of those meals they turned down for nothing! There would be no reward from God. It's not worth it. If I'm going to turn down food, it's not going to be for a few kudos from people.
What did Jesus say to do? "But you (children of the Kingdom of God), when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting..." Put on your best face, smile, and act normal. You are fasting as unto the Lord!
Jesus went on to say, "...but (fast) to your Father who is in the secret place..." The "secret place" Jesus mentions here is not a physical place. It is the inner sanctum of the soul. It is that place within us all where we fellowship with God. Your Father is there, in your inner soul. He sees your sincerity and will honor it.
We go into a room alone to pray, but the place God really meets with us is in our soul. This is what Paul meant when he said, "May...the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14). The Holy Spirit fellowships with us in the secret place of our soul.
And as with the practices of giving and prayer, Jesus promises concerning fasting, "...and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." My experience has been that it is usually a few days after I have broken the fast that answers and breakthroughs are seen. God is faithful to His Word!
In summary: Just as Jesus was concerned with the condition of our hearts in chapter 5 regarding anger that leads to murder, lust that leads to adultery, and pride that leads to making unwise vows, He has once again in chapter 6 dealt with the motives of our heart for giving, praying, and fasting.
You might say the Sermon on the Mount so far has been rather like spiritual heart surgery for our own good. This most famous Sermon in the world fine tunes our hearts for the greatest blessing and the greatest good.
NEXT TIME: How to Pray The Greatest Prayer of All Time