Matthew 6:1-8 Part 3

By way of the example of the Pharisees, Jesus has taught His disciples obedience to God’s holy Law.  Rather than distorting it for one’s own ends, the believer is to have the Law written in his heart.  And he is to delight in it.  The Lord uses six examples of Pharisaical lawlessness – each of which were perversions of the Law to accommodate their own sin.

And then, in chapter six, Jesus uses the Pharisees again, along with the pagan Gentile barbarians, as He begins to teach His disciples about personal piety.

And there are three examples of Pharisaical and pagan impiety about which we are warned.  These three cover the full range of personal duty before God: works of mercy and compassion, the high privilege of prayer, and the mortification of the flesh.

And the central theme running through all three is the fact that man is full of iniquity, and he has turned everything into a lie, and he has turned all of life upside down!  Instead of loving God and doing all for His glory, man loves and deifies himself!  God has made all of creation, including man, in order to glorify Himself, so man’s very purpose for existence is to glorify and enjoy his Creator!  His being was framed for that purpose; he was designed to fill that role.  His very makeup was wonderfully and gloriously made, says the psalmist, for the Father’s glory!

 But man has fashioned another role for himself!  He puts himself to the task of esteeming and extolling himself – a role which he was not designed to do.  So, in setting about to worship and glorify the creature, rather than the Creator, man has turned the purpose and meaning of his existence upside down and backwards!

And having been made to do one thing, and ultimately doing another, man’s whole existence is futile and purposeless!  All of his speech, his actions and his thoughts are in rebellion to his true purpose for existence, and that, by the very nature of the case, leads to degradation and deterioration!

Now, I’m going to use a mechanical example here, and pleas do not carry the example too far.  Suppose you buy an electric knife – a piece of electrical and mechanical ingenuity, which was designed to cut meat and bread – and you used that knife for exactly what it was designed.  It’s usefulness under those conditions will be long and fruitful.

 But if you decide to use it as a hammer to build a house, it will quickly deteriorate.  It probably wouldn’t survive the first nail!  It wasn’t designed for that!  Now, without pressing the example any further than that, let me just say that, even without the consideration of God’s righteous and judgmental intervention against rebellion, man’s void and empty self-glorification is out of character and leads only to chaos and dissolution.

But a world without God’s judgment cannot even be considered or conceived!  This isn’t a world with just mechanical existence!  It’s a world with God’s moral perfections, and He is its Judge!  So man doesn’t just break down into purposelessness by his rebellion, he actually comes under the temporal and eternal wrath and anger of a just and holy Creator!  He’s not just thrown away into a void, he’s thrown into purposeful punishment.  And what is the purposeful punishment for?  It is for the glory of God!  So, either way, God receives the glory!

That’s why God laughs!  He laughs at the rebellion.  At the gathering at the tower of Babel; at the gathering to crucify His Son; at the gathering to destroy His Church!  He laughs at the nations gathered together for the glory of humanity.  He laughs at the philosophies and theologies of self-esteem and self-determination.  He laughs at the elevation of the creature above the Creator!  He’s not laughing because it is funny.  These are laughs of derision!  Although man is (almost) comical in his intense struggle to make himself something he is not!  And he’ll do anything to avoid the purpose for which God made him.  The strutting and displaying and bragging – and public displays of self-glorying – are sometimes humorous – and strangely tragic. 

The very definition and center of this thing called depravity, as we have seen, is this desire for self-glory.  To replace God with self.  To be admired, to be honored, to be elevated and followed and obeyed.  To have power over men and to be esteemed highly by them.  When others see us and praise us for who we are and what we do, then that bolsters the self-image.  It fires up the “me”.  It’s the intense need to be the one to be honored – rather than God.

And that’s what the Pharisees were doing.  As verse one says, “Beware doing your righteousness before men, with a purpose of being seen by them….”  The Pharisees were sounding the ram’s horn of mercy to call attention to themselves – trying to elevate themselves in the eyes of the people and in the eyes of God!  They were especially fond of being seen as the instruments of mercy as they went out into the side streets to find the beggars and give to them in public!  And they loved to be known in the synagogues as compassionate and caring people!  They wanted the distinction of being the ones from whom all blessings flow.

And, as much as they hated the Roman Caesar, whose very name means lord, they were just like him in every way.  The only difference was the number of people who gave honor and devotion!

But Jesus says to His disciples, “When you do compassionate things, such as giving to the poor, do not let your left hand know what the right one is doing….”  Don’t let self get involved.  Keep your compassion and mercy a secret from self.  Show the compassion and mercy of God in His Son Jesus, and stop the self from rearing its ugly head and desiring the honor!

Every time we do righteous acts in the Name of Christ, and for God’s glory, we blow the horn of the substitute sacrifice – for it was God’s mercy that sent Him in the first place!  And blowing that ram’s horn for ourselves shows a heart that’s rebellious and idolatrous.  It’s upside down!

Then, after Jesus finishes with acts of charity and compassion, He moves to the second major area of Godly piety – the high and privileged act of speaking to God. (verses five through eight)  And in this one, He not only uses the impious praying practices of the Pharisees, but the praying of the heathen Gentiles, as well!

But let’s start with verse five: 


“And when you pray you shall not be as the hypocrites in the respect that they love standing in the synagogues and the street corners to pray, that they can be revered by men.  Amen I say to you, they have their reward in full.”


Now, again, we have that public plural in verse five - “and when you pray” - as Jesus makes this public pronouncement against the public practice of self-aggrandizement!  And as He begins verse six, Jesus deliberately changes to the private and secret singular – for His disciples – “but you, when you pray, enter into your chamber….”

But verse five is almost identical to verse two.  There are only three differences.  The first is that the subject matter is changed from giving alms to prayer.  The second difference is that, in verse five the word “standing” is inserted.  “The hypocrites love standing in the synagogues to pray.”  Now, there’s nothing all that unusual about standing to pray.  That’s the normal position for public prayer.  The point here is that the Pharisees loved it!  They loved it because other people could see them and hear them!

They weren’t being mediators or intercessors for the people; they weren’t pleading with God for His mercy; they weren’t even speaking to God!  The personal honor of self had moved in and taken over, and the “praying” was being done so the people could hear it!  So the people would give them the honor!

And the third difference is much the same – only it doesn’t show up in English.  The Pharisee hypocrites love to pray on the street corners.  This word “street”, verse five, is different than the one up in verse two, where the Pharisees sought out the beggars on the side streets.  But this word for street means major thoroughfare!  And it’s at the corner of another major thoroughfare!

And the situation was this:  The Pharisees had set aside specific times for prayer during the day.  And the religious leaders especially would go to the temple and the synagogues for public prayer.  But these hypocrites, many times, would plan to be caught at a busy street corner at the time of prayer, pretend that they couldn’t make it back to the temple, and use the street corner as their prayer place – so they could be seen by a lot of people!  They would look toward the temple and display themselves for all to see and admire!  The Greek word here is to shine.  To be revered – to be shined upon by men.  And, as verse two is imitation charity, this in verse five is imitation prayer.  And the public acclaim is their full reward.

But as Jesus turns to the private singular, verse six, He says, “But you, when you pray, enter into your chamber and, closing your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father, seeing in secret, will recompense to you.”

There is a very beautiful aspect to this verse.  And there’s something terrible about it, too.  The beauty is that Christ’s people, to whom He’s speaking here, have the high privilege of going into the very Presence of God, in the heavenlies, whenever we so desire, to meet with Him, and to speak to Him; and our Lord Jesus Christ will be there with us as our Thank Offering, and our satisfaction, and our covering – our Advocate.  And because of Jesus, God will welcome us, and hear us, and bless us!

But, as I said, there is something terrible about it.  As this verse implies, the essence of our depravity – which is self-glorification – follows us even into the heavenlies and into the Presence of God!  And I don’t really think that we can have a true understanding of our sin until we understand that our sinful self assails us relentlessly – even to the Throne of God Himself!

We tend to think of sin as we see it in the gutters of this world – the drunk or the junkie in the grip of his addiction; Satan himself standing between the legs of a young girl in an abortion clinic; the tyranny of torture and mass killings; the ritual killings in Satan worship.  We have the tendency to look at those things and say – “There it is.  There’s the essence and fullness of sin.”

But that’s not it.  Although those things are vivid and graphic, they don’t convey the core of the iniquity which is ours.  They don’t really expose it in all its ugliness.  You can’t see it as its acme by looking at the dregs of society!

Sin is most profound, and most virile, and is seen the most clearly, when a person is in his chamber speaking to God.  Right there is when we can begin to understand our condition.  It follows us even into the presence of God!

Prayer is our noblest activity, and our highest privilege – and even there we have to do hand-to-hand combat with the sinful self!  Even there, before God, with Christ as our witness and advocate, our strong tendency is toward self-glory!  Just as Satan’s strongest attack upon Christ was during His forty days of wilderness prayer and fasting, our most difficult time of putting self away is when we’re speaking to God in prayer!  When we’re doing this greatest of all things is when we have the most trouble with sin!

But Jesus’ words here in verse six are singularly appropriate in at least two different aspects.  And the first is that we get away from everybody when we pray in secret.  That’s one.  And we aren’t tempted, in any way, to say or do anything before men which might be construed as hypocritical.  There are no people there to impress!  The prostitute prayer isn’t possible when there’s nobody around to affect us!  At least in this first respect it isn’t.

And the second aspect in which Jesus’ words are appropriate is that, not only are we to separate ourselves from other people, so we don’t pray for their benefit, but we also have to separate from the depraved self in our secret chamber.  Just like in the example that comes before, concerning works of compassion – not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing – this secret speech to God is not only to be a secret place away from people, but it is to be a conversation between God and His adopted son!  And the depraved, sinful, hypocritical self is to be shut out of that conversation!

Even without other people around to impress, the self will actually turn to God – to impress the Creator Himself!  It turns attention to self.  It wants to be glorified.  And what begins as an attempt to worship God, turns out to be worship of self!  And that’s what I meant earlier when I said how awful this thing is – that it will follow us into the heavenlies, before the very throne of God and seek to impress the Creator Himself – to bring self-esteem!

Jesus’ point here, though, is for His people to pray in secret.  Just like we do works of compassion in secret, we’re to pray to our Father in secret. – Your door, your chamber, your Father - And He’ll give us – not an open reward, as the King James says, but a perfect recompense for true piety.

And, having dealt with that, Jesus, now in verse seven, passes to yet another display of public piety – this one having more to do with the barbarians, the Gentiles, than with the showy, self-concern of the Pharisees.  In their great religious piety the pagans have no knowledge of an omnipotent, Sovereign, all knowing God!  To them, there’s a deity for everything out there!

Sometimes these deities have to be awakened.  Often they have to be convinced.  It certainly is the case that they must be manipulated into being sympathetic – because they’re bored.  They’re bored with the constant self-concern of humans!  Humans are always asking and begging and grappling for more!  And it’s beyond the great and holy gods out there to be always concerned with the petty petitions of these humans.

That’s kind of what the polytheistic pagans thought.  And their concern was the proper pietistic tone, and the proper volume, and the right length of time, and the repetitions of sounds.  In their praying, they had to overcome any particular god’s lack of interest.  He would give in just to shut them up!

Jesus says, “But when praying you should not babble as the heathen, for they think that in their verbosity – the loquacity, their repetitious words and sounds – they will be heeded….”

Jesus is condemning the frenzied, trance-like, emotional, repetitious pagan prayer.  It’s babbling, He says.  You can’t call God’s attention by babbling!  Why are you babbling?

This word, by the way, has no Greek or Hebrew basis.  The word, as it reads, is battalogia – found only here.  And when a word is used only once, and it can’t be derived from anything else, then we have to look for other explanations.  And I think there is only one explanation.  That our Lord was using a literary device called ana mata poiea – taking the sounds and making a word out of them!  The sound becomes the word!

The repetitious sounds of charismatic tongues, like batta, batta, batta, and making the word battalogia – “babbling words”.  It is a fact of history that the frenzied, tongues-speaking, mystical trance-worship polytheism was around long before Christ was even born!  In fact it was a mark of pagan idolatry!

That’s why Jesus says, in verse eight, “do not, therefore, become like them….”  Thoughtless, charismatic babble doesn’t impress the Father!  And Jesus uses a strong double negative in this statement in order to prohibit it in His own disciples!

God is omniscient – He knows our needs before we ask.  And to use heathen methodology in order to get His attention denies that omniscience!  Mindless babbling does not get His attention – in fact it is the methodology of idolatry.  And we must not become like them, He says.

“Therefore you are to pray like this, ‘Our Father in the heavens, hallowed be Your Name….’”  No self-interest.  No self-glorying.  No repetitious babbling.  But thoughtful, sincere, intelligent orderly speech to God – for His glory.

The example is a correction of the perversions.  And, although it can be used as a prayer, and has for centuries been used as such, it is an example.  But it is a perfect example; an example of selfless glorifying of the Father.  Next Lord’s Day we begin studying it.

Now, as the old self follows us even to the throne of grace in prayer, so we are devious enough to allow it to interfere at the table!

But this is a time in which we are to focus our full attention to the body and blood of Christ Who gave Himself for us.  That’s the true piety that’s required of us.

His Body:  the Person and Work of Jesus provides us with a new body – a new heritage, a new humanity, an eternal liberation from all that’s old, and a resurrection from death.

His Blood:  our sin is washed away in a sprinkling of blood.  The life is in the blood!  And God our Father is satisfied that a sufficient atonement has been made, and an entrance into the holy of holies is permitted.

            So, with the deepest gratitude we leave the old intruder outside and come into His Presence with thanksgiving … receiving from Him all the bounty that’s ours in Christ our Lord.