Living, Giving, and Praying For God: Matthew 6:1-13

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Continuing our journey in Matthew’s gospel brings us to another point in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. In this section of Jesus’ message, we discover how God values our private relationship with Him over a public relationship. It may be for this reason that Jesus challenged the religious leaders so strongly. It is likely that many of them did not have a personal relationship with God in private, and that they only acted like they had a relationship with God when in public.

In the portion of Jesus’ sermon that we are focusing in on, Jesus draws our attention onto two specific areas where He likes to see His people be more private than public.

Let’s read this section of Jesus’ sermon, which is found in Matthew chapter 6. Using the God’s Word translation and starting in verse 1, Jesus continued preaching saying:

“Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you. So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t ramble like heathens who think they’ll be heard if they talk a lot. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
    let your name be kept holy.
10     Let your kingdom come.
    Let your will be done on earth
        as it is done in heaven.
11     Give us our daily bread today.
12     Forgive us as we forgive others.
13     Don’t allow us to be tempted.
    Instead, rescue us from the evil one.

This is where we will stop reading. It is interesting that some of the oldest manuscripts stop Jesus’ prayer here, while some of the later manuscripts add the familiar closing, which goes something like “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Whether you believe Jesus ended His model prayer with a nice closing statement, or whether He left the prayer open ended to let us have the freedom to conclude the prayer in whatever way we would like, we shouldn’t miss the bigger picture of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this part of His sermon.

In this portion of Jesus’ message, He amplifies the importance of having a private relationship with God, specifically a private relationship when we give of our time and energy, and a private relationship when we pray. While both of these activities can be done publicly, and in the case of prayer, sometimes should be done publicly in certain cases, the goal of our giving, helping, and prayer must be giving glory to God. If we do anything looking for glory or praise from others for ourselves, then while we may be doing something good, we have the wrong motives, which actually undermines our relationship with God and with others.

When we do things for praise and glory from others, we subtly set ourselves up for disappointment. This is because once we have done something praiseworthy, the next time we do this it becomes less praiseworthy, and after a few times, what we once were praised for is now an expectation that we have created for ourselves. This leaves us searching and moving from one praiseworthy thing to another and trying to outdo our past selves and others expectations. Looking for praise from others is setting ourselves up for disappointment because we will not always be able to receive praise from others.

Also, looking for praise from someone else affects how we live our lives. When we are looking for praise from someone else, when no one else is around, then we are let off the hook for pleasing others and we believe we can do whatever we want. This leads to hypocrisy, which is when our talk doesn’t match our actions, and our private lives don’t match our public lives. The opposite of hypocrisy is integrity, and integrity is when everything in our public and private lives match, and when our words and our actions are in alignment. Living our lives looking for praise from others leads to hypocrisy, because we elevate others ahead of ourselves, and subtly ahead of God as well.

In contrast, when we intentionally give, help, and pray privately, the only one who knows is God, and He is willing to step in and help when we are genuinely seeking to please Him. While some might believe that it is possible to have an empty, private relationship with God, part of me wonders if the more time we spend with God privately, even if it feels like we are only going through the motions, if God is still able to use this time to actually draw us to Him.

While it’s obvious that the ideal for our private relationship with God is genuine, heartfelt, time with God that is not rushed in any way, I don’t know of anyone who decided to grow their relationship with God from nothing and have it turn into this extra close relationship and connection in less than 24 hours.

Instead, like friendships and relationships in our lives with others, a relationship with God takes time, and the time we spend with God, even if it feels weird, hollow, or empty at the beginning will grow into more when we resolve to stick with God.

Our passage challenges us to avoid doing things for praise and recognition from others, because that will be our only reward. Instead, Jesus challenges us to give, help, and pray in a way that when we are rewarded, the only possible Source of our reward is God because He is the only one who knows what you gave, how you helped, and what you specifically prayed for!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first and focus on pleasing Him in ways where only He knows what you have given, how you have helped, and what you have prayed for. Focus on growing your personal relationship with God and choose to live your life in a way that pleases God and that doesn’t chase after praise from others.

Also, as you grow your personal relationship with God, be sure to continue spending time with Him and to privately and prayerfully study the Bible with Him and with His Holy Spirit. While public Bible study is good, and while other people have good ideas to share, always take what others teach and test it against what you know and read in the Bible for yourself. God has revealed truth to us in the Bible, and He has kept the Bible safe for thousands of years.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be distracted away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 9: In the next portion of Matthew that we are focusing in on, discover what Jesus teaches us about the importance of living for God, and focusing on our personal, private connection with God over our public connection.

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The Almost Secret Miracle: Mark 5:21-34

Focus Passage: Mark 5:21-34 (NCV)

21 When Jesus went in the boat back to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him there. 22 A leader of the synagogue, named Jairus, came there, saw Jesus, and fell at his feet. 23 He begged Jesus, saying again and again, “My daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so she will be healed and will live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed Jesus and pushed very close around him. 25 Among them was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered very much from many doctors and had spent all the money she had, but instead of improving, she was getting worse. 27 When the woman heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his coat. 28 She thought, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Instantly her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed from her disease.

30 At once Jesus felt power go out from him. So he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 His followers said, “Look at how many people are pushing against you! And you ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus continued looking around to see who had touched him. 33 The woman, knowing that she was healed, came and fell at Jesus’ feet. Shaking with fear, she told him the whole truth. 34 Jesus said to her, “Dear woman, you are made well because you believed. Go in peace; be healed of your disease.”

Read Mark 5:21-34 in context and/or in other translations on!

I am always fascinated by Jesus and how He interacted with people. In this event, Jesus is on the way to perform a miracle, which in itself is interesting, because all He needed to do was say the word and Jairus’ daughter would be healed.

But perhaps making the trip to personally visit the dying girl was intentional – perhaps not as much about the girl herself, but about providing the woman our passage focuses in on an opportunity to be healed.

This woman sneaks up and touches the edge of Jesus’ garment and in that instant, she knows she has been healed, but before she is able to get away, Jesus stopped everything He was doing to shine the spotlight on what happened.

Had Jesus simply continued on His mission to help the girl, this miracle would have never been recorded, and it would have gone down in history as “The Secret Miracle”.

Why would Jesus push pause on His mission to help a little girl in order to shine the spotlight on a miracle that wanted to remain secret?

I think because Jesus wanted to direct the crowd to pay attention to a teaching moment. It would have been so easy to keep going and then make a point to find the woman later. But if that would have been Jesus’ choice, the significance of what happened wouldn’t be so impactful.

This is because for Jesus, He wants to help draw our attention onto miracles that God has done, and onto individuals who have extraordinary faith. Jesus was incredibly aware of what was happening around Him and this woman was healed because of her great faith. Regardless of where Jesus was headed or what He was about to do, Jesus pauses His mission because He wants us to pay attention to this event.

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Rejecting Valid Testimony: Matthew 28:11-15

Focus Passage: Matthew 28:11-15 (NASB)

Probably one of the most amazing concepts presented in any of the gospels is what we can learn from this unassuming, five verse passage that is only found in Matthew. In this event, the guards who had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection were bribed by the religious leaders to spread a rumor regarding Jesus’ missing body.

The incredibly amazing part of this event is not found in a key word or phrase in the passage itself, but when looking at the culture of that time.

Firstly, it would be crazy to actually believe a group of eleven or so regular guys with no combat training to overthrow a group of soldiers. The details of what would need to happen for the disciples to sneak in, roll the large stone away without making any noise, and escape with the body while the guards slept is almost more unbelievable. Any slipup, and there is almost no way for them to overpower the group of soldiers if they woke them up.

The rumor includes pretty much a zero chance of error, and from what we know of the disciples, being error free wasn’t their strong point.

But even more amazing is that the ones to prompt the disciples to what had happened were women, whose thoughts and ideas were widely discounted by the men in that time period. However, some of the disciples believed the women enough to go check out the tomb and see for themselves. This is a profound idea, but when we place it alongside the testimony that the guards actually give to the chief priests and religious leaders who had hired them, there is almost no comparison in that time period.

The religious leaders and elders received some of the most credible eye-witness accounts about what happened on resurrection morning, and they chose to try and hide it. This simple act reveals how far they had closed their minds to Jesus as the Messiah. This also shows how human nature and prejudice can blind people who are not open to accepting the truth.

The disciples believed and spread a wildly unbelievable progression of events, where women were the first to know among their group. But in Matthew, we learn that the guards present at the tomb were the only true eyewitnesses to what happened, and there was no reason for the religious leaders to invalidate the guards testimony except for their own prejudice against Jesus.

This emphasizes the idea even the strongest evidence possible will not open a firmly closed mind. If the religious leaders ignored the guards, they really were rejecting the greatest sign God could give to validate Jesus as His Chosen One – the Messiah that they were hoping and waiting for.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Flashback Episode — God vs. Paying Taxes: Luke 20:20-26

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One thing we discover about the early portion of the week Jesus was crucified is that similar to much of the earlier part of Jesus’ ministry, we see religious leaders trying to trick and trap Him with what He said and did. However, it appears as though during the week leading up to the cross, the religious leaders intensified their efforts. Perhaps this was because Jesus had chased out the commerce and the money changing that was taking place, and this felt like a direct attack on the priests and their way of doing business as a church.

In my own mind, one of the more tricky challenges these leaders came up with was a trap that related to money, and something that most everyone hated back then. Times haven’t changed much since then in regards to this particular money topic, and most people dislike, but tolerate, this particular subject.

For this episode and our passage, we are talking about taxes, and while most of us probably dislike paying taxes, there was probably a greater dislike of it when Jesus lived.

While several gospels include this event, for this episode, we will be focusing on Luke’s gospel. This event is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 20, Luke tells us that the religious leaders:

20 [So they] watched Jesus and sent some spies who acted as if they were sincere. They wanted to trap Jesus in saying something wrong so they could hand him over to the authority and power of the governor. 21 So the spies asked Jesus, “Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is true. You pay no attention to who people are, and you always teach the truth about God’s way. 22 Tell us, is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Before continuing our passage to see how Jesus responds, it is worth pausing for a moment to analyze this trap. The trap these leaders bring to Jesus is brilliant, because on the surface, there is no easy way for Jesus to win.

If Jesus had sided with the people and with the popular opinion that resented paying taxes, He would have gained popularity among the people, while also putting a target on His head from the government. The trap in this case wasn’t that Rome would kill Jesus, but that they would imprison Him, keeping Him from facing the cross at the appointed time.

While the Roman governor could have executed Jesus on the spot to set an example regarding paying taxes, this sort of death wouldn’t have brought honor to God. God would not come out as a winner if Jesus had pressed against paying taxes as an issue.

On an equally challenging alternate answer, Jesus could have simply stated that paying taxes was the right thing to do, but then He would lose credibility with the people and with the Jews He was trying to reach. While Jesus didn’t do or say anything for the sake of growing a crowd of followers, Jesus did speak for God, and if He were to come out and say that taxes should be paid to Caesar, then it would be like Jesus was telling God’s people to pay allegiance to an empire and religion that was opposed to God.

A response supporting taxes would subtly speak against putting God first – and this challenge would taint Jesus’ influence and God’s character.

With two ways to lose and no good way to win, let’s read how Jesus responds to this trap in an unexpected and brilliant way.

Picking back up in verse 23:

23 But Jesus, knowing they were trying to trick him, said, 24 “Show me a coin. Whose image and name are on it?”

They said, “Caesar’s.”

25 Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

26 So they were not able to trap Jesus in anything he said in the presence of the people. And being amazed at his answer, they became silent.

We’ll stop reading here because Jesus’ answer is so powerful and profound that I don’t want you to miss it.

First off, Jesus knows who is trying to trick Him and the trap they are trying to use, so instead of bringing the emperor into the discussion personally, He asks them a counter question so that those challenging Jesus would bring the emperor Caesar into the discussion, instead of Him.

While the Jewish people hated the Roman Empire and all it stood for, by shifting the focus away from the Empire as a whole, Jesus sets the stage for a one-to-one comparison. Instead of comparing Rome, which appeared to stand for everything opposed to the Jewish way of life, with God, Jesus shifts the comparison to a person, Caesar, and while most Jews did not like Caesar any more than Rome, Caesar was someone who most Jews had never met – and this detail was able to work in Jesus’ advantage.

The other benefit of Jesus’ counter question is that it brought money into the discussion in a tangible way. With a coin present, Jesus was able to draw the focus onto Caesar being the owner of Rome’s currency, and this allowed for Him to answer the taxation question in a way that really didn’t answer the question.

When Jesus responds by saying to give to Caesar what belonged to him, this challenged even those who supported the taxation, because Jesus’ statement suggests returning all of Caesar’s money to him. This is like a 100% taxation, which no-one but the cruelest dictator who doesn’t understand economics would do.

The first portion of Jesus’ answer caught both those who opposed taxes and those who supported taxes off guard, but Jesus finishes by easing the minds of those who might begin to think that Jesus was placing a human ruler who claimed to be a god above God.

Jesus’ response is perfect because it takes the focus off of self and focuses it on giving. We give earthly respect and honor to the earthly governments we live in, but we give to God what He owns – and He owns our lives. We know this is true because He has loaned us breath, and when our lives are over, our breath returns to Him. Without God’s breath, we are dust blowing in the wind.

Jesus responds to this challenge by telling those present to give Caesar what was his, specifically the Roman currency present throughout the empire, and to give God what is His, which is our life, our focus, and our allegiance.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Be sure to live within the structure of the world He has placed you in while staying allied and obedient to Him.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow your relationship with God even further. When you determine to focus on learning from God personally, you will be amazed at what He will teach you through His word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, give up on, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 9: When challenged by the religious leaders about the validity of Roman taxation, Jesus shares a response that not only side-stepped the question, but it also challenged all those present on both sides regarding where they had placed their allegiance.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.