Matthew 6:1-13 sermon
Nobody likes a show-off. No matter what area of life, nobody likes a show-off. Nobody likes when a person shows off his wealth. Nobody likes when an athlete shows off on the field. Nobody likes when a smart person shows off his knowledge.
The same is true when it comes to religion. Nobody likes when a person shows off how good or obedient he is. According to our passage, God does not like show-offs either; especially when it relates to Christianity.
Remember, in ch. 5 our Lord described how you should live now that Christ died for you and brought you into his kingdom. You are to be a giving people; you are to love your brothers and sisters in Christ; you are to be sexually pure; you are to be honest and dependable; and you are to love those who do not love you.
Now in ch. 6 our Lord addresses the proper motivation for these good works. When it comes to Christian obedience, the “why” is as important to God as the “what.” God is concerned with why you do what you do. Yes, going to church is important, but why you go to church is just as important.
In v. 1 Jesus warns you about wrong motivation for Christian duty. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…” Some people go to church only because their family or spouse wants them to; they go to impress others. Some people go because they think by going they are doing just enough to impress God. Jesus warns us that performing religious duties for selfish reasons does not please God.
Christ gives three examples of how hypocrites perform religious works to impress others; three examples of improper motivation. The first example concerns giving. V. 2; do not give to the needy, blowing a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets. The religious leaders of Israel wanted everybody to know how much they gave.
The next time the news media praises a famous actor for donating a large amount of money to a charity, ask yourself, who called the media and let them know about this donation? Often times the one giving had his agent call the media to improve his public image.
The Lord’s second example of improper motivation concerns prayer. V. 6; When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and the street corners to be seen by others. Jesus is referring to the Pharisees who prayed loud public prayers so the people would think they were holy.
Not only are you not to use prayers to impress others, in v. 7 Jesus warns you not to even use prayers to impress God. When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. The pagans would recite long prayers to ensure that their gods would hear them.
Jesus warns you not to approach God this way. This verse warns against the Roman Catholic practice of repeating many prayers over and over so that God will forgive you of certain sins. God will not be manipulated this way.
Protestants sometimes fall into this same trap. How often we hear certain Christian leaders praised for spending a long amount of time in prayer. That man spent three hours a day in prayer. The assumption is that God regards that man’s prayer more than the one who prays five minutes a day. But Jesus warns that long prayers in themselves do not impress God, nor does praying certain words you think will gain his favor.
The third example of improper motivation is found in 16. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces, that others may see their fasting. You certainly get the point with these illustrations. God does not like religious show-offs. These three illustrations represent all Christian duties. The point is; do not show off your Christianity to impress others.
Each of these examples comes with repeated warnings. If you are only acting religious to impress others, you will not be rewarded for that work in heaven. Many who thought they were great Christians will stand before God on judgment day, and the Lord will say to them, “I never knew you.” These people will insist upon all their good works, that they went to church; they gave money to the church; they even told others they were Christians. But God saw that they only did these things for selfish reasons. They will not enter heaven.
So why do we pray? Why do we come to church? What is the proper motivation for these things? As Christians, the reason we do any of these things is the gospel. Through the work of Christ God has become our Father.
That is why we do what we do; to please our heavenly Father who has saved us. Note all the references in our passage to God as our Father. The awareness that through Jesus God is now my Father motivates all that I do.
Our Father is always present; he never leaves us. Because of Jesus, the Father always loves you. The reason he is your Father is because Jesus paid the penalty on the cross that you owed him. Jesus obeyed the Law that you were required to obey. Only Christians can call God their Father. For unbelievers God is a judge.
How does this awareness that God as our Father affect your Christian duties? V. 3; when you give to others, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give in secret and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you. In other words, do not seek to make sure others know of your service to God. It is enough that your Father in heaven is watching, and that he is pleased. It doesn’t matter who else notices.
When you pray, go to a private place and pray alone. Your Father who sees you will reward you. It is not wrong of course to pray in front of others; Jesus did that often. But you should never pray to impress others.
Some of you are very uncomfortable praying in front of others. That’s fine. You do not have to pray publicly if you don’t want to. You pray to God on your own; he hears you fine.
In the same way you do not need to impress God with your many words in prayer. Because of what Jesus did for you, God is now your Father; he knows what you need, just ask him.
Sometimes when my children want something they beat around the bush before getting to the big question. While they are talking, I say, “just ask me; I know you want something.” When you pray, simply come to God and ask. Your Father hears because Christ has opened heaven for you. Just ask.
Not only is the gospel the proper motivation for good works, but also receiving a future reward in heaven is also proper motivation. God rewards our service in heaven. The question is, which reward do you value, the temporary reward of others being impressed with you, or the eternal rewards from God in heaven? Jesus wants you to value heaven’s rewards. God promises to reward you in heaven for your service to him, even though you get to heaven by Christ’s work alone.
When you think about it, the Christian life is fairly simple. If I am ever asked why I do what I do, why I pastor a church, why I seek to follow God; my answer is simple. I am convinced that there is a heaven and a hell. I want to go to heaven. I know I am a sinner. I am convinced that the Bible is true; the only way to go to heaven is to trust in Jesus’ work on the cross. Now that Jesus has saved me, I want to please him. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. He gave me eternal life; I just want thank him by serving him. And I want to be found faithful on that Day. It’s really that simple.
This brings us to what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. I am not going to spend much time on this prayer. This prayer is sandwiched in the middle of this passage for a reason. This prayer is given as a sample prayer of proper motivation. There is nothing magical about this particular prayer. Jesus prayed lots of prayers in the gospels. But this prayer summarizes how we as Christians should approach God.
What jumps out immediately is how easy the prayer is to pray. As Christians, you do not need a long or eloquent entrance to pray to God; Our Father is even enough. You are to approach God knowing that through the gospel he is your Father. Approach God thankfully for what Christ has done for you.
This prayer is a reverent prayer; Our Father, who art in heaven. Though God is your Father, he is the God of heaven and earth. That respect is seen in the phrase, Hallowed be thy name. In other words, may your holy name be praised and glorified by many people.
Compare this prayer with the attitudes of the hypocrites in the three examples. The hypocrite wants his own name to be praised. You are to ask for God’s name to be praised. The hypocrite wants glory. As a sinner who has received grace, you want God to receive glory.
The hypocrite has one concern; how religion helps me look good. You are to pray, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The kingdom you pray to come is the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of grace. You are praying for more people to receive the same grace you have received. Hypocrites do not care whether others receive grace.
The hypocrite trusts in himself. He thinks he’s just fine. He thinks he is a strong, holy person. But you are to pray; give us this day our daily bread. You are to admit your dependence upon God for everything. You need daily spiritual strength from God.
The hypocrite says, I am not that bad of a sinner. You pray, Father, forgive us of our sins. There is a reason that we have a confession of sin in every worship service. How can we approach God honestly without admitting that we are sinful?
The hypocrite says, look at me, I’m a stronger Christian than others. You are to pray, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. I am not stronger than others. I am weak. Lord, do not let temptation overtake me; deliver me from evil.
The hypocrite is an island unto himself. The hypocrite says, I do not need others. But did you notice the first person plural throughout the prayer? “Our” Father, who art in heaven; give “us” this day “our” daily bread, Forgive us “our” debts. Deliver “us” from evil.
Christians are to approach God with awareness that they are not alone; they are part of his family, that in Christ we are connected. Lord, do not only forgive my sins, forgive my brother’s sins. Do not only deliver me from evil, deliver my brothers and sisters from evil.
Now, do not think that every time you pray that you need to cover all these elements. At times you will only be praying for one thing. The point is that you do not need to impress God or others with your religious talk. God is not impressed with how spiritual you think you are. Be yourself. Come to him as needy people. God only accepts you because of what Christ has done for you. Believe that when you pray.
There is great freedom in the gospel. There is a great freedom in knowing that I do not have to impress others of how spiritual I am. I know I am not spiritual. I know that I need God’s grace every day or I am nothing. I do not need to impress God either. He accepts me because he accepted my Savior.
Beloved, do not practice your righteousness before others to be seen by them. Trust in Christ; remember your sinfulness and your utter dependence upon God. Because of Christ’s work, God is now your Father. Serve him in thankfulness.
Your service to him is imperfect, but God accepts it because your service is offered through faith in Christ, not offered to impress God. Do nothing to impress others. Value the rewards God will give you in heaven for your faithfulness. He himself is our greatest reward through the gospel. Amen