By James Fire
While the Beatitudes and Similitudes have been covered in Chapter Five along with more of the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon preached by our LORD is far from complete; it continues still for another two chapters.
Thus, this constitutes the longest, continuous teaching by Jesus Christ in Scripture (It’s interesting to note that Levi Matthias whose Gospel account we are now studying was a tax collector; this would mean he would be very skilled at dictation and likely wrote these discourses from the LORD on site while He addressed the people).
We are about to begin Chapter Six now and there is much to cover.
The chapter begins with and maintains a warning against religious externalism and hypocrisy while also giving instruction on the proper method and purpose for prayer; also benevolence, fasting, forgiveness, service, and perspectives on eternal versus temporal values are considered.
We must remind ourselves that these teachings revolve around the central focus of the Kingdom of heaven, of which the LORD Himself is King; that is the Messiah of Israel. Yet these teachings are also in a profoundly spiritual sense applicable for the church as well, guiding and governing our attitudes and motivations through the power of the indwelling Spirit.
Without further ado then, let us begin the study.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Alms refers to charitable donations to the poor, something that the Jewish people were admonished to see to by the LORD Who gave such commandment (Ex. 22:25 and 23:11 for example). However, such charity was not to be paraded before others in a boastful and, or arrogant manner. In this passage the LORD clearly tells His hearers that they were not to give alms to be seen by others but only one chapter earlier, He also told them:
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Is this a contradiction? How can we not allow ourselves to be seen by others doing charitable and good works (MT. 6:1) and at the same time, allow these good works to be seen (MT. 5:16)?
I believe it has to do with the intent of the heart – for those who do such things, seeking the praise and “glory of men” (MT. 6:2) will result in no reward from the Father. Yet those who seek to truly please God will be seen of Him and receive reward from Him, and yet when seen by others, they will glorify God – not the one's doing the good works, because the doers of good works will direct attention to the LORD Who enabled them to do such.
I believe that when done with the correct motive, people will be rightly directed to give God the glory rather than to those who are simply being obedient and loving towards God. The Holy Spirit, by Whose power we are able to conduct ourselves in these godly ways, Himself always directs attention to the LORD and never Himself (JOHN 16:12-14).
Apparently as the LORD admonished people to not sound a trumpet before themselves when giving, it must have been a practice by some to do this very thing! Quite literally they were “blowing their own horn” to draw attention to how much they were donating for the cause!
Our offerings and service to God must be with the right motives, otherwise they are of no value whatsoever (1 COR. 13:1-8).
We cannot assume that God is pleased by the amount that we give in our offerings on Sunday mornings or to charitable organizations, but by how much of a sacrifice the offering is. Two people could donate twenty dollars each. For one this sum could represent a mere 1% of their income; for another, it could represent 50% and offering it cost them far more than the other. The LORD said as much elsewhere, regarding the poor widow and her two mites (Mk. 12:41-44).
Yet giving must always be done willingly, cheerfully and from a heart of love for God (2 COR. 9:6-8; PS. 96:7-9).
Religious show in order to impress and to receive honor from others is forbidden then; it's a form of hypocrisy that leads to even deeper and more dangerous forms of pride (PS 10:4; PROV. 11:2; MK. 7:21-23; 1 JN. 2:16). We must maintain purity by none other than the Holy Spirit (1 TIM. 1:5; 2 TIM.2:22). Our prayers, charitable deeds, church attendance, Bible reading, etc. are all to be done with proper motives – for the love and worship of God, not for the love of praise and worship from men! The former will bring eternal glory, the latter only temporary praise.
It's been said before: “Reputation is only what other people think about you; character is who you really are when no one but God is watching your actions.”
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
In Eastern culture the right hand is symbolic of approval; whereas the left hand represents rejection. When the LORD told us to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, the obvious meaning is that we ought to be discreet in our ministry, not seeking the 'lime light' as it were. Yet I also see how we are to conduct any ministry and service in a manner that will receive approval of our Father and not rejection. Of course any ministry and service we do for the LORD must be by the empowerment of the Spirit and not by our own power, with the motive of love, thankfulness and obedience to the One Who has redeemed us all with His own blood!
We see this very thing in MATTHEW 25:31-46 at the LORD's judgment between the sheep and the goats (note in vs. 33 that the sheep are at His right hand, and the goats are on His left). Likewise we also must seek approval in our ministry to the LORD and the only ministry He will approve of is that which is in accordance to His will (and performed by the anointing of the Spirit) and with a right heart (love, gratitude, obedience; see also 1 COR. 13:1-3; 2 COR. 9:11-13; ROM. 6:16).
We cannot allow our 'left hand' – the flesh which can never be approved by God, much less received – be involved in ministry as we walk in the Spirit, as it were with our 'right hand'. God promises to reward us “openly” for such quality service accomplished in a humble, Spirit-led manner.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Prayer is very much the same idea as alms; to be done with right motive and purpose; not for show and to put one's supposed spirituality on display to be admired by others (thus the need for prayer closets and doors to shut us in for privacy).
I was recently asked whether or not it was right to pray over meals in public, at restaurants. Of course it's absolutely acceptable to pray over meals in public (we have a little tradition when my fellow saints and I go out to eat, that the first one served gets the honor of saying the grace), just so long as one's intent is indeed to glorify God and not to impress others with one's facade of spirituality. Attitude is everything in prayer – which must be conducted by the saint with a heart of humility, sensitivity, contrition and seeking to please God and not oneself.
An excellent example of this can be seen in the parable between the publican and the Pharisee:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
The two extremes in the social spectrum of Jewish life in the days of Jesus' earthly ministry: the lofty and extolled position of the Pharisee – the professional 'Law Keepers' who were believed by the people to be in God's 'inner circle' as it were; and the publican who was despised as the lackeys of the Roman Empire, collecting taxes (and then some!) for the government (with a little extra on the side for themselves).
Both men go into the Temple for the purpose of prayer. Take special note of vs. 11!
vs. 11: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself . . .”
His prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling! He wasn't even really praying to God (as he no doubt thought he was) but only “with himself”. Notice the boasting that follows in vs. 11 and 12 and how he denigrates others who don't live up to his own hypocritical standards! By vs. 13 we switch to the publican and I get the idea that if we had stayed with the Pharisee, we would have heard more of his boastful listing of all the ‘good’ things he did.
The publican merely asked for mercy, knowing his own heart and understood that he was not worthy of even lifting his eyes to heaven. The LORD underscores that it was this 'despised publican' rather than the self-righteous Pharisee who was justified before God.
The stiff backed pride of the self-righteous and self-esteem will always find them cast down into the dust, whereas the humble, on bent knees shall know the heights of God's grace and mercy as no other can! This is an essential truth for those who desire to be heard of God and to please Him.
Rather than groveling in the mud and being humiliated until God is smugly satisfied with such and then deigns to perhaps answer a prayer, to be of a humble heart is simply to acknowledge the truth that God in His supreme holiness is Someone we are wholly unworthy of, that we are by nature sinners and if we are to have any dealings with Him, it cannot be based on justice (because if God enacts justice upon a sinner like me, I am doomed!) but on His grace and mercy.
Humbleness is truthfulness by which I admit that I am a sinner worthy of hell, and entirely unworthy of God. By the same token, I can also admit in total truthfulness that I am a saved saint, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, a child of the King and by Jesus Christ's work, one who is wholly acceptable at the throne of God and incredibly honored to address Him as Abba.
And as I spend time in secret, praying to Abba Father, He in His tender generosity “rewards [me] openly”.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
“. . .vain repetitions . . .” is an interesting phrase, particularly in light of the current resurgence of contemplative prayer.
The words “vain repetitions” means “to stutter, to prate tediously, to repeat over and over, to use many idle words, to babble.”
In the Contemplative Prayer/Spirituality Movement and the broader association of the Spiritual Formation Movement*, the repetition of key words and, or phrases is the very means by which one enters into an altered state of consciousness, an emptying of one’s mind (“vanity”) and in so doing, receive visions, inspiration, knowledge from 'God'. It is Hindu-style meditation practices dressed up in Roman (“desert fathers”) Catholic clothes and by no means is it contemplative (which involves thought) nor is it prayer (which is communication with God). It is a dangerous occult technique which can actually invite demonic influences, oppression or even possession or at the very least, spiritual deception.
* See this article by AMOS37 ministries on how Spiritual Formation books and practices are becoming mandatory on Bible college campuses and seminaries!
While Roman Catholic churches are picking up this practice from its ancient shelf and dusting it off for modern use, Evangelicals are shockingly accepting and participating in these spiritual exercises!
For more on this, reserve some time later on and see the following four articles:
IS THIS CHRISTIANITY TODAY? ANCIENT-FUTURE HOLY WAYS OR HERESIES?
BEWARE OF PRAYER – Of the Contemplative Kind: Part One
BEWARE OF PRAYER – Of the Contemplative Kind: Part Two
MYSTICISM IN THE CHURCH: CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER And Her Evil Sisters
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
On the issue of prayer, I have often pondered the functionality of prayer. Many have asked before, If God already knows our needs, then why do we need to pray? Others bring up the fact that if we all exercise our free will, then how do our prayers affect them as we direct our intercessions to God for the purpose of repentance and salvation?
While we may uncover some answers from the Scriptures to these and other questions relating to prayer, there are many other things about this legitimate and God-ordained spiritual exercise that we will never know in the course of this life time; perhaps once we arrive in heaven, in our glorified state we shall have the wisdom to understand the finer, more mysterious elements of prayer.
For now, we know that we are obedient to God by praying to Him on all things. Prayer is a form of worship in that we are giving something to God, namely our attention, our petitions, our submission and our acknowledgment of His supreme and almighty power.
After our LORD told us what prayer should not be (“vain repetition”), He then goes on to tell us what it should be by giving us a model to follow. Note in vs. 9 the LORD says, “After this manner therefore pray ye . . .” This is not (necessarily) a prayer that we should pray verbatim, but a guide to show us how to pray.
It's perplexing to me that right after the LORD told us not to pray in vain repetitions that people have turned this model prayer into that very thing (here I am addressing the tradition of the rosary and how they will repeat this and other prayers with persistent redundancy)!
9 "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name."
Prayer should always be prefaced with worship. Our hearts and minds should be wholly directed to the One with Whom we have to do, and be uncluttered of the daily baggage of our routines so that our focus is not distracted in any way. Worshiping God prepares our hearts and minds for this holy duty and privilege, and so as our LORD stated: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed (holy) be thy name...”
This is not some abstract 'God' as a kind of impersonal force; nor is this a tyrannical pagan god that demands the sacrifice of the proverbial virgin to be plummeted down an angry volcano, until It is sated in the blood of the victim.
This God we worship is a Father to us. The very nurturing, caring, providing and protecting nature of a father is amply and best demonstrated by God Himself. The very best of fathers ever found anywhere on this planet offer mere glimpses of the perfect Fatherhood of God.
It's in this very spiritual truth: “Our Father Who art in heaven” that should bring to us a settled, restful and powerful peace of mind, knowing that any need or even crisis that we will ever face is something that we can bring to the attention of our Father (Who loves us supremely) Who art in heaven (the domain where God visibly demonstrates His almighty power over all His creation).
This God as the Almighty and Holy and Wise and Loving Father has both the motive and ability to care for us in the best way that He knows (and Father knows best!) – growing us up with spiritual maturity, stamina, faith, integrity and a heart that reflects His own.
“...hallowed be Thy Name.” Names have often reflected the nature and character of a person in biblical history. The Name of God is holy, and this is His essential nature. His nature is one which is the very opposite of evil and sin (EX. 3:15; 20:7; 33:19; DEUT. 16:2; 1 SAM. 17:45; 2 SAM. 7:26; PS. 20:1, 5, 7; PS. 29:2; PS. 96:8; 102:5 and many other references).
This is why sins are not merely 'mistakes' but heinous crimes against the very Sovereign, Holy and Almighty Throne and Government of heaven. Sin is spiritual treason which will not and can not be tolerated by the God of holy justice.
Any and every crime against His throne must meet with justice and due penalty and as the Scripture states, “the soul that sins it shall surely die” (EZEK. 18:4). Scripture clarifies this kind of death that the unsaved shall suffer, namely “the second death”:
REVELATION 20:6, 14
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Ray Comfort of Living Waters ministry often asks people on the street in his interviews: “Have you ever once in your life told a lie?” To which he invariably hears “Yes” in answer. “What does that make you?” Ray asks. Answer: “A liar.”
Note the list above and observe how “all liars” are also going to suffer this second death. Perhaps now we can see how any chance of gaining approval from God and the blessedness of heaven are IMPOSSIBLE by our own human efforts. Our salvation is in JESUS CHRIST ALONE, BY HIS GRACE (EPH. 2:8-9)!
It's really a profound truth that we have no idea what its like to live in a totally holy environment, completely pure of any sin, or corruption or evil, but this is not only the domain of God, it is the very essence of His being!
We saints long for holiness (or we should at any rate!) because it’s as we grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 PET. 3:18) we grow in holiness and are then able to have more intimate fellowship with our LORD and Savior.
It's a prayer that's worthy of our time to petition God in bringing the church back to a conviction, yearning and walking in holiness and purity because without it, we will never see His face (MATT. 5:8; HEB. 12:-15). Thank God that we are positionally imputed the holiness of Christ in His righteousness and salvation (ROM. 4:4-11, 20:24); may we yield to His work in us and grow in what saints of old have referred to as 'practical holiness', that is, holiness for every day living!
10 "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
We the church are kings and priests to our God and so it is entirely suitable to pray that His kingdom would come and fill this fallen world, taking the reign back from the god of this world (Satan) and establishing His domain of righteousness. This is what it’s all about: God dwelling with us, having fellowship with us and governing this world with us, His bride at His side. For Israel, this kingdom represents the kingdom of David, or the kingdom of Israel (“the kingdom of/from heaven”) and it shall see its fulfillment (See 2 SAM. 7 and PS. 89 for Scripture on the Davidic Covenant, covered previously in this study) once the Messiah returns and replenishes the earth with reborn splendor.
The kingdom shall NOT be established by the church that would take power away from the nations, compelling them to follow the ways of the LORD in some form of utopian, ‘Christianized’ society as the Dominionists* and Emergents** believe. The kingdom shall be established when the Messiah (“the stone cut without hands” arrives and decimates the one world order ruled by the Beast of Revelation; see DAN. 2:34, 44). Instead, the kingdom established by the Messiah shall be freely given to His saints (DAN. 7:27).
* Dominionism Exposed by Deception in the Church ministry
** See Lighthouse Trails ministry for information on Emergent Church and New Spirituality information; also look at articles here on TTUF using the search engine.
For the church the kingdom is represented by the kingdom of God, which includes the kingdom of heaven, but also all other aspects other than those that involve the Earth. Once the Earth and Heaven of the present (old) order are passed away and a New Earth and New Heavens are created, all shall be submitted to the kingdom of God just as the Son will then be subject to the Father in all things (1 COR. 15:28).
Once God's will shall be done perfectly in the Earth with no variation or distinction from His will being accomplished in heaven, the manifestation of His Kingdom will be realized. The very fact that rebellion and evil are still very much among us means that God's perfect will is not accomplished here, but once Satan, and sin as well as evil and corruption are done away with, such perfection will be unimpeded! Thank You LORD!
11 "Give us this day our daily bread."
Daily provisions are petitioned for here; note it is not weekly or monthly, but daily. Why is this so? Perhaps because the LORD desires for us to keep uppermost in our minds how very dependent we are upon Him. We cannot even breathe but by His Divine provision. Our needs represent more than merely the physical, but the spiritual as well: thus “bread” here may connote “the bread of Life” (JN. 6:35 – the Word of God – as much as or even more so than physical bread.
Consider the words of Job:
12 Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
Just as the children of Israel were commanded by the LORD via Moses to go out in the morning and gather manna for their daily provisions (See EX. 16:1-36), so too we are to gather in the Word of God for our daily spiritual nourishment. It’s vital that this partaking of God’s Word be on a daily basis, for the Word is all in all to us: our Light and Love, our Bread and Water, our Milk and Meat, our Refuge and Strength, our Counsel and Comfort and so much more!
Who doesn’t need these things on a regular, daily basis? What saint among our ranks can prosper without feeding on this truly heavenly manna? Never mind if you cannot understand everything you read in the pages of Scripture – the LORD will provide understanding in all that you are required to know in order to conduct yourself among the days challenges and opportunities. Understanding of the Word, if followed by obedience, will lead to greater and deeper understanding.
Daily then let us subsist on the Bread of Life, seeking first God’s Kingdom for our lives and our loved ones, and all other provisions shall be added to us by our LORD’s omnipotent Hand.
12 "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
Our LORD said that the one who is forgiven much is the one that loves much (LK. 7:47), and since the LORD has forgiven us ALL of our trespasses, which were nailed to His cross at Calvary, then our love for Him is great! For the sake of this LORD of ours that willingly sacrificed Himself on our behalf, we are motivated to forgive others of their comparatively smaller offences.
Now to put this in perspective, there are those who’ve been the victim of rape; others have conceived children together, and perhaps the biological mother without the consent of the father had an abortion; deep and bitter wounds are inflicted upon those who get a divorce – these and others are obviously and seriously tremendous issues. How can one find it in their hearts to forgive their offenders in such desperate cases?
Humanly speaking, this is practically impossible. Yet in the light of our own offenses against the Infinitely Holy God, these grievous acts, terrible though they be, are not to be compared to those transgressions against the Holy Throne of God. Yet through the LORD Jesus Christ, we are completely and absolutely forgiven of these trespasses, being declared “not guilty” by our Holy Judge, and beyond this, given the Spirit of God, transformed from sinners to saints, from heinous rebels to beloved children by the act of the Spirit of grace!
The Spirit of God can and will enable us to forgive even the worst of crimes committed against us and, or the ones we love. For those who tremble in weakness, unable to find it in their own will to offer such forgiveness, call upon the Name of the LORD and He shall hear your plea and grant you the power by His Spirit to render forgiveness, even to the undeserving.
Forgiveness frees the offended from shackles of bitterness and hatred, even if it does nothing for the offender; but in the best cases, such an expression of mercy has a profound effect on both.
For a real life example of this, read the story of Corrie Ten Boom and how she offered forgiveness through the power of Christ to a concentration camp guard who was personally responsible for much of the misery that Corrie and her deceased sister had endured for so long.
See also LK. 17:3-4; LK. 23:34; ACTS 13:38; ACTS 26:18; ROM. 4:6-8; 2 COR. 2:10.
13 "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."
The LORD is a strong tower and refuge for us (PS. 46:1; PROV. 18:10), He who presides over all of the affairs of our lives, observing each and every turn upon every road we will travel on. He knows every pitfall, every occasion of stumbling, every opportunity for sin – and we may petition for His protection and guidance in avoiding such temptation. The best way to deal with temptation is to ‘not be there when it happens’. That is to say, “. . . put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof (ROM. 13:14)”.
There are safeguards and blessed parameters we can establish about ourselves through the wisdom and prudence of God, and He has offered us valuable lessons for such in His Word, by the life time examples and experiences of saints who’ve gone before. Such as David of the Psalms:
Six Lethal Levels Leading Into Sin
Not only has the LORD, our Deliverer rescued us from the power of sin, death and hell, but also from the power of “the evil one” and his kingdom of darkness:
12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
The Kingdom belongs to the King; the power belongs to the Almighty; the glory belongs to God – and so it is a worthy expression that ends this model of prayer for us disciples.
In this model prayer we have the opening address to God as our Father, recognizing Him as the authority that reigns from heaven (vs.9).
We bring adoration to Him Who is Holy, for His very Name is hallowed (vs.9).
We petition Him for the kingdom to come, for we understand that until it arrives, this world shall continue further into perdition and depravity in ever increasing and destructive ways (vs.10).
God’s will is the very best, and once His will is accomplished on Earth and indistinguishable to His will as it is done in heaven, this world will indeed be a paradise (vs. 10).
Man has had thousands of years to prove his abilities of self-rule . . . and has failed miserably! Thus the kingdom and the will of God are most assuredly needed and necessary, for we are as sheep without a shepherd (MK. 6:34)!
We petition the LORD for our needs for He is the LORD Adonai – He who is Almighty in His abilities to provide for any need (vs. 11-12).
We seek His guidance and counsel through this perilous journey of life, surrendering our will for His and following where ever He leads – so that we may safely traverse this world and avoid – in as much as we are willing to die to self – the teeming and tempestuous temptations (as well as the tempter!) all about us (vs. 13).
This model prayer ends as it began – with praise and adoration for our worthy LORD (vs. 13)!
Now that we have completed the examination of this model prayer and all the blessings thus far revealed in Chapter 6, we shall stop here and continue on in verse 14 in our study of MATTHEW. Until then, the LORD Bless and Keep all of you saints in JESUS Name!