Matthew 6:1, 5-15
6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“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 this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We are toward the end of a study on the Bible and what the Bible is and why we believe the Bible is so important for a person who wants to live best. Without going through the whole study, here is the problem: God is invisible, Scripture tells us it is the fault of mankind that this is true. Sin has separated us from Him and from the best life that He had set up for people. Long story short, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He has made God known, if you have seen Him, you have seen God. Apostle Paul, and Apostle John. John calls Jesus the Word of God, full of light and life. And this is what God’s Word is meant to do. It is full of light, that is, it shows us how to live. And it is full of life, when we obey Jesus’ teaching as the Word of God, we will be full of the best life we can have. Jesus said He came to give us life and that more abundantly.
And that is why we are working our way presently through the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel is unique in that Matthew has interspersed large sections of Jesus’ teaching with sections of narrative that show what He did. The very first section of Jesus’ teaching is the Sermon on the Mount. Here in Matthew 5-7 we have what I believe Matthew wants us to see as typical of how Jesus taught people to live.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus begins by speaking about attitudes of life that attract the blessing of God. If we have these atttitudes we will be blessed.
Then He moves on to the law. And the interesting part about this is that in the Old Testament, the people are told they will be blessed if they keep the law, and cursed if they don’t. The emphasis is on doing what the law says. But they don’t do a good job keeping the law. And Jesus is pointing that out in His teaching. His focus is especially on the Jewish leadership and the reason they are not going to experience God’s blessing and the best life that they can is because they will not trust Jesus’ teaching and follow Him. Presently, often their “good works” are for the benefit of people seeing them. Because of this their good works are not making them good. And this is a problem. And that is where we find ourselves today. This is what Jesus is teaching the people about the Kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, the goal of good works is to teach us to be good and they won’t do that if we do them for the wrong reasons.
- We need to recognize our need to be good.
- We need to define goodness strictly in the light of what God says is good. There is an actual standard of Goodness that never changes, and that standard is the character of God.
- And so we need to practice doing good so that we might discover where we do not meet God’s standard of goodness and how we can.
This dovetails very nicely with Scouting. In the Scout oath, you commit to working to keep the Scout law and to being a helpful member of your community. And the Scout law is really a list of character qualities that reflect what it means to be a responsible, mature person:
TRUSTWORTHY, LOYAL, HELPFUL, FRIENDLY, COURTEOUS, KIND, OBEDIENT, CHEERFUL, THRIFTY, BRAVE, CLEAN, AND
If you were to summarize you might say that Scouting intends to make good people of all who participate! Even the merit badges work this way. Merit badges teach skills. But the service aspect of Scouting is what causes those skills to be brought to bear for the good of others.
In our passage today we see three kinds of good works that direct our hearts and actions toward the kingdom of God and His goodness.
They are giving, which we covered last week, prayer, which we will look at today and fasting which we will cover when we are done with prayer. But the first thing we can see is that just doing these things is no guarantee that our character will be improving.
- A Bad Job of Doing Good
- To be noticed by people
This reinforces pride. We need humility.
God is opposed to the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Pride is what keeps us from submitting to God’s Word in the first place. Pride wants God to submit to us instead of the reverse.
So, for instance, in this example these folks gave money to help the poor because they had a culture that told them that it was good. But before they did it, they sounded a trumpet in the temple to draw people’s attention so that they could be sure that they were seen doing so.
If they were praying, (and they prayed several times a day at the same time, everyone together) they would make sure that they were in a public place and when it is time to pray, they hit their knees where people can see them praying. We saw last week that prayer specifically is a prescription against pride and this kind of behavior, that prays to be seen by people is a reinforcement of pride. And so, as Jesus says, in Matthew 23 about the Pharisees:
24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
So, it is important that when we do what is good we do it for a reason that actually is making us good! We give to learn to be a giver because God is a giver. We pray to connect us in humility to God so we might embrace His will and ways in our lives. And we fast in order to fight against self-indulgence.
- Not doing good does not make us good
Being reactionary and not giving or praying or fasting does not make us good either. What we need to do is do these things until we share in the goodness that they are meant to produce.
The goal of giving is what again? To make us a giver. It is much easier to just give something than it is to be available to be a giver. The goal of acts of service is to make us a servant of others, to be available to be helpful to make other’s lives better.
The goal of prayer is to connect us to God in humility and dependence. If we pray and that is not what happens, that is not the time to stop praying. Instead it is time to stop and ask why. We need to keep praying, keep giving and keep fasting until we have them do their good work in us!
- The goal of doing good is to be good
Jesus is talking in the sermon on the Mount about righteousness. He beings in Matthew 5:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The consistent Biblical teaching from the beginning is that people are created in the image of God and are meant to reflect His good character! To fail to reflect His character is called sin. Rom 3:23.
If the goal of your life is to be like God in all that you do, then you are right where God wants you to be. And you need to study Jesus, because He demonstrated personally and taught folks how to live in this way!
- Prayer and Righteousness in the Kingdom of God
Because these folks are praying and not having it do it’s good work in them, Jesus gives them instructions:
- Don’t pray to people
Most prayer should be done in private, but some public prayer has always been in public worship.
It can be uncomfortable to pray in public. It can feel weird.
At times it is easier to pray to the people in the room, rather than to God.
We often fall into a special prayer dialect, rather than just talking normally. (Dear heavenly father, in Jesus’ name, amen)
The solution to this issue is not to stop praying, but to work to pray differently, which will require you to keep praying.
I have found that the people who are prayer experts are not people who have studied prayer extensively, but people who pray.
Get by yourself to pray. Pray in secret.
- Do not trust magic words
God is not being mean to you when you pray. He does not require you to use just the right phrasing in order for Him to hear or answer your prayers!
“In Jesus name” This does not mean using the phrase in Jesus’ name. Name denotes character or authority in their culture. When we say to pray in Jesus’ name, we really mean to pray in a manner that is submissive to Jesus’ will and character. James 4 says that people often pray and don’t get the response from God that they are looking for because they are praying selfish prayers. They are praying for what they will, or to use “Jesus name” language, they are praying in their own name.
There is however the sense that we are praying to Jesus and Jesus is able to do great and amazing things. In Ephesians 3 at the end of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians he says:
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
- Do not rely on multiple words
- God is not waiting on us to pray something enough times before He acts. But He does want us to be persistent!
- God is not waiting on us to get enough people praying for us before He acts. But He does want us to bear each other’s burdens.
There is a consistent Biblical emphasis on enduring in prayer however, this is one of the key things that Jesus teaches. And this is because often times we do not know what to pray for and we start off praying for one thing and God uses circumstances to direct our prayer in another direction. In fact, in Romans 8 Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit hears our prayers and interprets them to God in a manner that makes them super effective because we do not know how to pray!
- The Holy Spirit helps us to pray well
Romans 8: 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
- God wants us to have as normal a relationship with Him as we can. He is hard enough for us to relate to because He is invisible, we need to try and be as normal in our talking to Him as we can.
III. Proper Prayer is God Focused
Consider the “Lord’s Prayer”
- First God’s name, will and kingdom
Hallowed be THY name
THY Kingdom come
THY will be done on earth as in heaven
This means that God’s purposes are to be first in our lives.
- God’s life feeding us
OUR daily bread
Jesus is our daily bread. John 6. God will give us what we need for our lives every day in that day. That is what manna was and what God will do for us in our lives. This means that it is a part of prayer in our lives for us to discover what that is. What is God doing in your life today to give you life? That is manna. The word manna literally means “What is it?” And that is a powerful idea for our daily bread. Often times we ask God in prayer to change circumstances and God is wanting to change us. This is what James means in James 1 when he says for us to consider our trials in life to be a joy because they produce strength and faith and Godly character. And that is why we need to ask God for wisdom.
- God’s relationships guiding us
Forgiveness and peaceful relationships
- God’s power purifying us
Lead us and deliver us!
All prayer is focused around God. It starts with what we want typically, but God intends to move us to His kingdom purposes in our lives so we can have every circumstance of our lives understood in the light of God’s ability to give us life through those circumstances.