Matthew chapter six continues Christ’s instruction on the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees. Their righteousness was all external, just for show, but Jesus wanted His disciples to possess a righteousness that brings about change from within. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” When Jesus made this statement to His disciples, they knew this was a serious issue, and they had better listen and understand what He wanted from them.
Therefore, Jesus now gives the disciples several practical ways to determine if their hearts had truly been changed. In verses 1-18, Jesus taught them about worship and the motivations they needed that would be evidence of an inward righteousness. In verses 19-33, Jesus also explained the transformation in their thinking that they must have toward the material world around them. In chapter 7, Jesus instructed them concerning the heart attitudes necessary to maintain a loving personal relationship with God and with people. If they followed these instructions it would keep them from the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
How should you handle your giving, praying, and fasting? Vs. 1-18
The overall theme of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s warning concerning hypocrisy. The word hypocrite was used in the first century to describe an actor on the stage, or someone pretending to be someone else. This is what Jesus thought of the Pharisees. They were religious fakes that were play-acting for people, but Jesus was obviously not fooled.
Jesus said to His disciples, “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. 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. And when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matt. 6:1-4).
Then Jesus said the same concerning prayer. "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. 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. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:5-8).
Then Jesus repeats the same basic message relating to fasting. "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. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6:16-18). In these three passages of Scripture we see Jesus instructing how we as believers are to give and do charitable deeds toward others, how we are to pray, and how we are to fast. Notice that the central warning is to not be like the hypocrites.
So why is Jesus contrasting His instruction with the hypocrites of His day? He was making it clear that the Pharisees and scribes were only interested in the adulation of men. It was all an act with them; it wasn’t from the heart. This is a sad commentary, but it was the truth. In Matthew 23, Jesus devoted an entire sermon to the scribes and Pharisees. He called them hypocrites several times. Jesus was clear and direct. He believed they were religious phonies. Jesus did not want His disciples to be hypocrites.
Why is turning from hypocrisy so important? Hypocrisy is something that will destroy your faith, the relationships with people around you, and most importantly will guarantee you will have no relationship with the Lord. Truth and sincerity are essential. Without truth and sincerity you will turn from relationship with God to religion. This is why Jesus wanted His disciples to think about one thing. Are you doing good deeds to be seen by men? Are you praying in front of others to be acknowledged and praised by men? Are you fasting so that others will think you are so spiritual, or are you doing all these things to be seen by God? Whom are you doing it for? Jesus is challenging the motives of the heart. You may think only you know the motives of your heart, but so does God. Jesus is encouraging His disciples to stop and examine themselves.
To deal with this issue of hypocrisy you must understand the actual definition of hypocrisy. I remember talking to a lady after church one day who had just miserably failed in her own personal life. She said to me, “I'm such a hypocrite.” And then she said, “But, you know the whole church is filled with hypocrites.” I responded, “No, you have got a misunderstanding of hypocrisy. Did you intend to fail and do what you did?” She responded, “No, I was trying to do the opposite.” I replied, “Then this is not hypocrisy. Yes, you sinned, but you didn’t hypocritically try to tell everyone that you didn’t sin, or portray yourself as some perfect person. Just because you fail does not mean that you are a hypocrite.” Do you see my point? Just because you miss the mark and fail to do something you want to do, does not mean that you are a hypocrite. If the whole church is filled with hypocrites then none of us are truly Christians. That's a gross exaggeration. Are there hypocrites within the church? Yes, absolutely! But, the more important question is, are you a hypocrite? That's the only question you have to answer. Who are you behind closed doors? What are your heart motives? Are you pretending to be something you are not?
What is an actual hypocrite? The definition of an actual hypocrite is someone who acts one way in church and then purposely and knowingly lives another way at work or with friends. A hypocrite is anyone who tells others to act or live in a particular way, yet they never intend to live that way themselves. That's hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is when your beliefs do not change your work ethic, do not change your business practices, do not change your home life, you intentionally live a double life. You say one thing to believers and another to unbelievers. You use spiritual words at church and cuss like a sailor, or tell dirty jokes to the people at work. That's hypocrisy. It is a double life.
Notice what the Scripture has to say about sincerity. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:5, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” If you want to fulfill God's commands you need love, which requires a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. The Apostle Peter taught the same thing. In 1 Peter 1:22 he taught, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” You need sincere faith and sincere love to follow Christ. That is why Jesus addressed hypocrisy in these three issues with His disciples.
Hypocrisy is also called leaven in the Scripture. In Luke 12:1 Jesus said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Leaven is always used in Scripture as a corrupting influence of evil, hypocrisy, or of pride. Hypocrisy will corrupt your love and faith in God, because it is something that works from within you to corrupt you. Jesus described hypocrisy as leaven, because it slowly works inside you until it permeates all of you, just as leaven does when put in bread dough. This is why Paul said, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Therefore, this is why you must purge out the leaven of hypocrisy in your life, or it will slowly corrupt your heart. In John 5:44 Jesus explained how your faith could be destroyed, or you could be kept from faith altogether. He asked those who came to Him, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” If you are seeking the honor and approval of men, or to be seen by people instead of being seen by God, you will stumble in your faith. That is a fundamental key to your faith and growing in faith. Whose honor do you seek?
Have you ever wondered why these religious leaders that Jesus spoke to would move from a real relationship with the Lord into hypocrisy and religion? Why would anyone do that? The answer is simple. They allowed hypocrisy to grow like leaven within them and did not keep a sincere and honest relationship with God. Every one of us must be concerned about this peril for our own walk with Christ. If you want real relationship and fellowship with God and don't want religion, then you must be sincere in all aspects of your relationship with Jesus.
What keeps you sincere and honest with God? Jesus gave the same solution in all three of these aspects of your practical worship. When Jesus says the same thing three times it must be important. Why does He do that? So we won’t miss the point. What does He say? In verse four, Jesus said, “That your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” The same thing is taught in verse six. “Pray to your Father who is in the secret place.” Also in verse eighteen concerning prayer and fasting Jesus declared, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” How do you stay sincere? Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord, which means to do it for His eyes only. Do what you do, say what you say, serve how you serve – and when you do, do it for the Lord. If you do not want to be a hypocrite, do it for Him, for Him to see, for Him to know, and you'll stay sincere. As soon as you start to think, I want them to see me do this, my friend, know you are in trouble. Acting for His eyes only is what will keep you doing the right thing for the right reason. This is how you will be kept from seeking the approval of man.
Notice also how Jesus makes His point about doing things in secret when He said this truth in verse three, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” What did He mean? This is simple hyperbole. Jesus used hyperbole quite often. Hyperbole is a figure of speech that is an obvious exaggeration to make a point. We all use hyperbole throughout our day. We say, “Your suitcase weighs a ton.” Or, “I have had a million problems to deal with today.” These are obvious exaggerations. What Jesus is teaching here is, do your giving without thinking about who is observing; do it without any display for others. Don’t let the person on your left know what you are doing with your right hand. Whatever you do, as much as is possible, do it in secret or a secretive way so as not to draw attention to you. This is why at our church we pass a bag and not a plate for offerings, because this allows no one to see what others are giving.
Remember, Jesus said that God sees in secret. He sees what in secret? He sees everything that is done in secret. He sees your heart and your motives for all the things that you do. He sees and tests your heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart.” Who can know your heart? God says, I do. He knows everything about me. The incredible thing is He knows everything about me, and He still loves me. That’s truly amazing. He goes on to say, “I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” Therefore, knowing that God knows your heart and that your heart is easily corrupted, examine your motives on a regular basis. Ask yourself, “Why am I giving? Why am I doing what I'm doing? Why am I praying this way in front of others? Why am I fasting? Why am I giving in this manner? What is my motive for doing this? Is it to gain the approval of others, or for God alone? You should always ask yourself, “Would I still do this even if no one sees and no one ever knows? If you say yes, then you have the right motive and a sincere heart. If God tests our heart, then we should test our own heart as well.
Another question people ask about this issue of giving in secret is, “Can my giving ever be truly anonymous?” The answer is, no it can’t. Why? Because the bookkeeper knows what you give, or the organization that you give to knows, because they send you a tax deductible receipt. But, that is not what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about your motive in giving. That is all you must be concerned about.
One last point from this passage that is important is when Jesus used the term charitable deeds. The Greek word literally means alms-giving. It is important that you understand what alms-giving is. There are three different types of giving referred to in the Scripture. One is called tithe, which is a tenth of your income that is given to the church, or it was given to the Temple in the days of Christ. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus reiterated His encouragement that tithing was good, and that it should be continued. Second, there is what is called an offering. An offering is above your tithe and is to be given to individuals, to missionaries, or some special work that you feel is worthy for the kingdom of God. Third, alms-giving which is referred to in our text, is giving to the poor and to the needy. It is important to note here that Jesus didn't say, if you do your alms-giving, if you do a charitable deed, or if you pray. He said, “When you do.” Jesus is assuming that we will be givers, and men and women who pray and fast. Are you a man or woman who gives often and prays fervently and fasts regularly?
Remember in regards to giving that you can never out give God. If you could out give God, then He would be your debtor. But that will never happen, because He is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). The reason He even wants you to become a giver is for you to experience the greatest blessing you will ever have in life. If you give, God will make sure that you receive back a blessing you cannot contain. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). Does that promise sound like you are going to be blessed as you give? It sure does! Scripture also tells us in Proverbs 11:24-25, “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” Also in Proverbs 19:17 Solomon teaches, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.” As I said before, God will never be your debtor. He will always give back more than you ever give. If that is not a reason to give to the poor, I don't know what is. He says again Malachi 3:10, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” These are the words of God, and He means what He says. If you are a giver, you will not only bless others, but He will bless you. Remember that. This is what is meant in all three of these teachings on giving, praying and fasting, that your heavenly Father will reward you openly. The Lord declares that He rewards you today, and He will reward you eternally for the giving, praying, and fasting you do. Jesus is declaring, make a choice. Do you want people rewarding you, or do you want your reward eternally from God? If you get your reward from a person, that is all you get, you're done. Yet, if God sees the correct motive in your giving, you will get an eternal reward. That is the reward that I want!
Praying Vs. 5-8
Now let’s look what Jesus had to say about prayer. In chapter 6:5-8, Jesus said, “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. 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. But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things that you have need of before you ask Him.” Jesus is talking about how you pray and how you can be effective in your prayer life. His point is that if you are praying to be heard by other people, it will not be effective prayer. If you are praying to be heard by your heavenly Father, it will be effective. Again Jesus is dealing with your motive and heart. Jesus is also encouraging non-ostentatious praying. Now, for those of you who have been in church for any length of time, I’m sure you have all come in contact with ostentatious prayer. People who pray on, and on, and you think, When are they ever going to finish? I heard them say the same thing five different ways. This is why Jesus said you won’t be heard because of your many words. God understood the first time you said it. I have prayed with pastors like this. When pastors preach for 15 minutes in their prayer, they are talking to people, not to God! This kind of prayer meeting won’t be very effective, and you won’t want to go back to it again. In addition, you won’t be heard by how many times you say, Lord, or Lord God. Remember, God knows who He is. You don’t have to continually address Him over and over again. Don’t use His name as a pause word. Keep your prayer as short and as concise as possible. Don't preach to people! Talk to God, and people will agree with you. That's what sincerity of heart means.
What did Jesus mean when He spoke about vain repetitions? What are these? The best example of vain repetitions would be when you hear, Our Father or Hail Mary prayers at a Catholic funeral, or similar prayers at an Eastern Orthodox Service – these are vain repetitious prayers. A prayer or words that are said over and over again are simply vain repetition. People think that if they say the prayer long enough and often enough, that it will get them off the hook for their sins. Jesus declares in this teaching on prayer that this is not the kind of prayer that He will answer, because it doesn’t come from the heart. It is just a ritual. Jesus said in verse 8, “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask it.” God knows everything about what is going on in your heart and everything that is going on in your life. We don't have to give Him every detail of every circumstance. He has all the information. He knows exactly what's going on. You don't have to inform Him. He is completely informed already. Say what you want to say and get to the point. This is why when we look at the Lord's Prayer; it is such a short prayer. It gets right to the heart, right to the point. This is what you should do; get to the point before God. There are no magic words that bring answers to your prayers. I remember as a young Christian, I heard a man pray over another for healing. The man got healed. I concluded that those were the magic words that caused this healing. So, I must say those same words over every one I pray for healing. But, that is vain repetition too. There are no magic words that you can pray. It is your heart of faith that He hears, not some magic words. You are talking to the One who knows your heart, and He knows whether you are calling out to Him in faith or not. Don't put your faith in words; put your faith in God! That is how your prayers will be answered. Let your prayers and motives be for His ears only.
Does that mean you can’t pray out loud in church or at a prayer meeting? No. Scripture reveals often that people prayed out loud in many places and times when the church gathered together for prayer with one another. They prayed together so other people could hear and agree. But, they were praying to God. Notice in Acts 4:24 when the church was being persecuted it says, “They raised their voice to God with one accord.” Then Scripture records the prayer that they prayed. In Acts 12:12 when Peter was released from prison it says that “He came to the house of Mary . . . where many were gathered together praying.” There is nothing wrong with group prayer or praying out in public. What Jesus is concerned with is your motive when you are praying!
Fasting Vs. 16-18
In verses 16-18 Jesus said, “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. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
There is an overall theme and point to all these concepts of giving, praying and fasting that you should not miss. Jesus wants you to do them all for Him and not to be seen by men. Don’t fast so that you appear to men to be fasting, but do this for your Father who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret, will reward you openly. Jesus again is encouraging non-ostentatious fasting. He wants us to come and wait upon Him. It’s also interesting that Jesus puts this exhortation after His message on prayer, because prayer always goes together with fasting. Fasting is not something you do to try and obligate God to listen or give to you. Many try to fast or give as a means to getting something they want. They think, I've done this, so now give me what I want. But, this motivation will not work with God, because He knows your heart, and He won’t play that game. Fasting is for a very specific purpose.
Let me give you several biblical examples that reveal the purpose of fasting. First, fasting is done when you see your personal sin and want to get a right heart before God. In 1 Samuel 7:6 when the nation Israel saw its sin against God, the people came in repentance and fasting before the Lord. The Scripture declared, “They gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord. And they fasted that day, and said there, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ ” See again how prayer and fasting are connected with repentance and confession of sin. The people’s fasting was to demonstrate their wholeheartedness and commitment to their repentance over their sin. Is this your motivation for why you pray and fast?
Second, you fast to demonstrate your humility before God and acknowledge your position before Him. In Psalm 35:13 David said, “I humbled myself with fasting” When you want to humble yourself before God, you should fast. By doing so you are acknowledging that He is Lord, and you are His love slave. When you put humility together with the confession of sin you will have a sincere and powerful moment before God. Don’t you want to have this kind of personal fellowship with God?
Third, fasting is an opportunity to draw near to God through prayer. In Judges 20:26, it says, “Then all the children of Israel, that is all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening.” Note that the children of Israel fasted as they sat before the Lord in fellowship and communion with Him. Fasting here is seen as a way to enhance fellowship with God. It promotes greater intimacy before God.
Fourth, fasting should be used when you set your face to seek God for direction. Probably the best example of this is when Daniel was seeking God’s direction for the nation Israel. Daniel wrote, “I Daniel understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord, given through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolation of Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:2-3). Daniel was reading the prophecies of Jeremiah, and he realized that he was at the very end of God’s judgment that He had predicted for the Jewish people. So what did Daniel do? He explained, “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplication, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:3). So he set his face to seek God. Whenever someone has come to me and said, “I don't know what to do. I have a big decision I have to make. What does God want me to do?” Or, sometimes people come that have been in a very difficult place in their life for many months and they say, “I don't know how to get out of this.” What do I tell them? I say, “You should take a day, get your Bible, and drive to a secluded place by yourself and wait upon God. You need to pray and fast and wait upon the Lord.” Do you know what happens when people do this? The Holy Spirit comes and speaks to them. It's a powerful thing when you pursue God like this. If you've never done this, and you're in one of those circumstances right now, that's what you need to do. Why? Because God wants to speak, but are you prepared to listen? Fasting has a physiological effect that occurs, and there is a spiritual result.
I believe the Holy Spirit is moving through the church at this present time and saying, it is time to get on your knees, it’s time to get in touch with Me, because this nation is in grave trouble, and the church is in grave trouble. If you want to see an awakening take place, start praying and fasting and asking the Lord for His direction for what He wants you to do. When you deny the natural desire of your flesh to eat food, God knows He has your attention, and He is going to speak to you. Fasting gives you that ability to tune in to His voice and to hear Him speak. The Pharisees used fasting to glorify themselves and to make people think that they were spiritual. God wants you to use fasting to glorify Him so He can become Lord in your life. Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you. The point that Jesus wanted to make with His disciples was to keep them from hypocrisy. God wants to keep you from hypocrisy too. How? It's a simple thing. Just stay in tune with Him. Do what you do for His eyes only. Examine the motive of your heart regularly, and you will stay sincere. This is what will keep you from hypocrisy.
Let's pray. “Father I thank You because I know that You love us. You know everything about us, and You still love us. Father, I know that You desire that sincere relationship with each one of us. I pray that You would bring each of us to that place where our conscience keeps bothering us when we are hypocritical. Reveal our hearts and our motives. Keep us in that place of sincerity with You. Reveal to us any place where that's not the case.”
If you have never committed your life to Christ, or you are not sure if you truly are a Christian, I want to give you an opportunity to be forgiven and to experience the mercy of God. God will bestow His mercy on you right now, if you will ask for His forgiveness and invite Him to take over your life. He will cleanse your heart, if you will acknowledge your sin and be willing to turn from your sinful lifestyle to follow Him. If you want to receive Him right now, I would suggest praying and say, “Lord, forgive me. I acknowledge my sin. I have broken your law. Forgive me. Jesus, come in and take over my life. I receive you by faith right now. I want to be your disciple. If you just prayed this prayer, confess your faith to someone today. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you new believer’s literature to help you get started in your relationship with Christ.