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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