Having a Right Focus in Connection with Spiritual Things
The Importance of Having a Right Spirit. Perhaps the overarching lesson in the sermon on the mount is that the Lord wants the subjects of the kingdom to be real. Many would focus on the outward appearance, but God insists that the heart be right. The Lord takes up this subject of a right spirit in regards to three spheres: (1) spiritual things, (2) material things, and (3) in social things.
Having a Right Focus in Connection with Spiritual Things. There is a great temptation to have a wrong spirit in Christian service and ministry by focusing on the outward appearance and that which can be seen by man. The Lord takes up three areas: alms (vv.1-4), prayer (vv.5-15), and fasting (vv.16-18). Those who live by faith live before the eye of God, not men. As Psalm 51:6 says “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts.”
- Introduction: Righteousness Before God’s Eye, Not Man’s (6:1)
- Almsgiving – A Heart of Mercy Toward Others (6:2-4)
- Prayer – A Heart of Communion with the Father (6:5-15)
- Fasting – A Heart of Devotion to the Father (6:16-18)
Introduction: Righteousness Before God’s Eye, Not Man’s (6:1)
¶ Take heed not to do your alms [‘righteousnesses’] before men to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. v.1 The word “alms” in v.1 should be translated “righteousnesses” or “kindnesses” according to William Kelly.1 In that case, v.1 serves as a heading over the three areas that follow. The overarching exhortation is that Christian ministry should be done for the eye of God, otherwise, it has no value to God.
Almsgiving – A Heart of Mercy Toward Others (6:2-4)
2 When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may have glory from men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. v.2 In Palestine at this time “almsgiving” or “acts of compassion” would include giving money. Here it is in a religious context. The exhortation is to not do acts of kindness for the eye of man. We see this today, Christians everywhere walking in a vain show, engaged with philanthropy only if it can be recognized by others. We need to be careful of using the sphere of mercy as an opportunity to further our own glory. That is repulsive to God. If we do it, there will be no eternal, lasting reward from the Father. Our only reward will be the momentary reward of men’s praise. “Sounding a trumpet” is the opposite of secrecy.
3 But thou, when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand does; 4 so that thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father who sees in secret will render it to thee. vv.3-4 Alms are to be done without a consideration for the eye of man. There should not be any kind of calculation when it comes to showing mercy. It should be quiet, and spontaneous, from the heart. If you think about it too much, pride comes into play. The contrast is drawn between small temporal and no eternal reward (public alms), and no temporal and great eternal reward (secret alms). But even if we do manage to do something good or kind by the grace of God, we need to have the attitude that it was nothing (Luke 17:10). We must void ways of notoriety and self-commendation.
Prayer – A Heart of Communion with the Father (6:5-15)
Warnings Against the Abuse of Prayer (vv.5-8)
¶ 5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets so that they should appear to men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. v.5 The Pharisees would arrange their day “accidentally – on purpose” to be in the marketplace at 3:00 PM, just in time for the hour of prayer (Acts 3:1). They would make a point, so great was their zeal, to interrupt their business activities and stand right there on the street corner for the hour of prayer. Of course, it was a self-glorifying sham. They would use the sphere of communion – a blessed privilege – to advance their own glory. A long, public prayer is often not a real prayer. A short, private prayer is real. Yet the Lord is not condemning public prayer, only the kind of prayer that should have been private, but was carried out publicly. There is a proper sphere for public prayer, and principles that accompany it (see 1 Cor. 14:15-16).
6 But “thou”, when thou prayest, enter into thy chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who sees in secret will render it to thee. v.6 Secrecy. We can see from this verse that the context of these exhortations is private prayer. Private prayer does not need to be polished! It does not need to be understood by others, because it is intended for the ears of the Father only. If it is done that way, there will be a reward from the Father.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as those who are of the nations: for they think they shall be heard through their much speaking. v.7 Brevity. As to prayer, Christ taught not only secrecy but brevity, which lies at the heart of reality. A person who asks with intense reality and earnestness, inevitably goes straight to the point with the fewest words. The Lord does not forbid all repetition (e.g. Matt. 26:44), but vain repetition. Vain repetition doesn’t add anything; e.g. saying “the Lord have mercy” over and over like the Catholics. The Gentiles were known for vain repetition in their idolatrous worship.
8 Be not ye therefore like them, for your Father knows of what things ye have need before ye beg anything of him. v.8 The cure for vain repetition is to realize that God knows what we need, and He will give it to us in His time.
The Model Prayer (vv.9-13)
The model prayer. The Lord gives a model prayer exactly suitable to the disciples as subjects of the kingdom. It doesn’t rise up to the prayer of one in the full Christian position (e.g. Eph. 1 and 3) but is very helpful in the subject of prayer. This is part of “the principles of the doctrine of Christ” (Heb. 6:1), which is “square one” of Christianity. There are six petitions in the model prayer. The first three have to do with God; His name, His kingdom, His will. The second three have to do with us; our bread, our debts, our deliverance. The heavenly Father and His claims must be first, and our needs second. The blessing of men on earth depends upon God’s will being done on earth, and that will only come to pass when His kingdom is established.
A few Features of the model prayer. There are a few things that we can learn from this prayer that can help us know how to pray. First, it is individual. Even though the Lord says “our Father”, it is still an individual prayer. William Kelly remarked; “a soul in his own closet still would say ‘Our Father,’ because he thinks of other disciples.”2 Secondly, this prayer is addressed to the Father, the source of all good. It is important to directly address the Person we are talking to when we pray. We need to realize whose presence we are in! Thirdly, it puts God’s claims first, before our own needs. Fourthly, it is brief, in that it contains only six petitions.
9 Thus therefore pray “ye”: Our Father who art in the heavens, let thy name be sanctified, 10 let thy kingdom come, let thy will be done as in heaven so upon the earth; 11 give us to-day our needed bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors, 13 and lead us not into temptation, but save us from evil. vv.9-13 The prayer is addressed to “Our Father which art in heaven”. A distance implied by the expression “which art in heaven”. It isn’t the expression of someone in the full Christian position. As Christians, we are seated in heavenly places. You wouldn’t say “John in California” when you are in California speaking to John. It would imply a distance that didn’t really exist. Perhaps it is for this reason that we never hear of this prayer employed after the sending of the Spirit, whereby they could cry, “Abba, Father.” (Compare Gal. 3:23-26; Gal. 4:1-7.) This is why the term “Heavenly Father” is not really an intelligent expression for Christians who are indwelt with the Spirit of God.
- 1st Petition: the Father’s Name (v.9). The petitions begin by expressing a desire that God be given His proper place; that His Name would be sanctified.
- 2nd Petition: the Father’s Kingdom (v.10a). Next the disciple confesses that he is waiting for the Father’s kingdom (Matt. 13:43) when the heavenly saints will be displayed in glory (the Millennium).
- 3rd Petition: the Father’s Will (v.10b). Next, the desire and looking forward to universal subjection to God’s will on earth, even as it is done now in heaven; i.e. the eternal state.
- 4th Petition: Our Daily Bread (v.11). Now the manward petitions begin. First, expressing full dependence on the Father for all our daily provisions, spiritual (John 6) and material.
- 5th Petition: Our Debts (v.12). Next, the habit of self-searching and confessing our failures to our Father. Note that it is impossible to merit eternal forgiveness by works. This is governmental forgiveness (see vv.14-15). Read more…
- 6th Petition: Our Deliverance (v.13). Finally, an expression of confidence in God in proportion as we have learned that in our flesh there dwells no good thing. We pray that the occasions for sin to act (temptation) would not arise, and that, if they do, that we may be delivered from evil (John 17:15).
The doxology given in the KJV and other translations (‘For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.’) is not supported in the best manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, which are among the most reliable.
The Connection between Personal and Governmental Forgiveness (vv.14-15)
14 For if ye forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father also will forgive you yours, 15 but if ye do not forgive men their offences, neither will your Father forgive your offences. vv.14-15 As we have already noted, it is impossible to merit eternal forgiveness by works. This is governmental forgiveness. We all have committed offenses against God, and those offenses have governmental consequences (Gal. 6:7; 1 Pet. 3:12). Most often, in His mercy, our Father forgives us in a governmental way so that we do not bear the consequences. He looks for two things: (1) a contrite spirit about our own failures, and (2) a forgiving spirit towards those who have offended us. This is because forgiveness is the foundation of our relationship with God. If we can’t “learn” that lesson, God will not let us “graduate”, so to speak. He will even deliver us up to a life of torment if we refuse to forgive others (Matt. 18:34).
Fasting – A Heart of Devotion to the Father (6:16-18)
¶ 16 And when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, downcast in countenance; for they disfigure their faces, so that they may appear fasting to men: verily I say unto you, They have their reward. v.16 Fasting is one of those things in which the body shows its sympathy with what the spirit is passing through. When my spirit is fully devoted to a season of prayer, I may neglect the natural things of the body. We sometimes must set aside the claims of nature to be before the Lord about certain issues or matters. It is broader than abstaining from food. The thought is self-denial in every way. The hypocrites would put on the appearance of humility (intentional disfigurement) in order to glorify themselves. The Devil would cheat us into losing our reward.
17 But “thou”, when fasting, anoint thy head and wash thy face, 18 so that thou mayest not appear fasting unto men, but to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father who sees in secret shall render it to thee. vv.17-18 To wash your face and anoint your head when fasting is to take special precautions, so no provisions are made for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). The flesh loves to take advantage of an outward show. We are to let our devotion to God remain between us and Him alone. Our Father who sees in secret will value our devotion, and one day there will be a reward for it all. It isn’t that we are to put on a false front if there is some deep trial going on in our lives. This is a warning against pretending to be more spiritual than we really are.