Real Piety (Mat. 6:1-18)

Publié le 23 janvier 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Aurelien Duperchy, apprentice pastor

In today’s passage, Jesus is talking to believers, that is people living out their faith. He is not talking to people who know nothing about God’s Word, but to those who do charitable giving, who pray and who fast.

The general subject raised here is our attitude before God. And I will address the three examples given here, charitable giving, praying and fasting –three strict practices of the Jewish religion– which Jesus presents as something different from mere prescriptions to be followed.

Our motivations for charitable giving, praying, and fasting need to be pure, and the text we are looking at shows us how to be pure and authentic, without hypocrisy. Jesus shows us that being a disciple is not about following religious prescriptions, but about being committed to God without hypocrisy, and to have an intimate relationship with Him.

Let’s read Matthew 6:1-18:

“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward! But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward! But whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.

“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward! When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Introduction

The text begins with « BE CAREFUL »

The verb is in the imperative mood. The Sermon on the Mount is full of verbs in the imperative mood because it is imperative to refrain from doing good things just to be seen by others. Those who work in a hypocritical way will have their reward.

If you have trouble conjugating, this is a good way to memorize the imperative mood:)

1. The generosity that God loves to see – vv2-4

We tend to read these verses as an absolute law; that it is necessary to do charitable giving without anyone around. But this text is not an absolute rule, otherwise it would be legalism.

The text actually refers to helping the needy wholeheartedly.

V2: « Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. » 

Charitable giving is by definition helping the needy.

At that time, the « trumpet » was a cow’s or ram’s horn used for several purposes, from gathering the people of Israel to Israelite worship. v2 refers to that, mentioning both synagogues and streets.

In today’s culture, blowing the trumpet means something different. For example, it is to tell a friend in a neutral tone for the sake of appearing good, « Guess what… last Thursday, I gave 5 € to a homeless, and I also offered him a kebab. »

The hypocrite will help the poor one month during the year, or even one or two days a week, but the poor will have to manage on their own the other 11 months of the year or 6 or 5 days of the week. « I did my charitable giving, after all; it’s all good; now I’m approved by God… »

But helping the needy is not merely giving something to a beggar every now and then. It goes well beyond that! It may be to support a single mother/father, or a student who has to pay his rent and bills, and who only has a very low salary because of the few hours he can do besides his classes. There are many forms of poverty, and we do need the Spirit of God to give us a better insight into the different types of poverty that depend on social contexts and times.

When we give something to a needy, we do it for his sake, for his well-being, because he needs help. And this is done in secret, between us and God as shown in v4.

« It is more blessed to give than to receive. » (Acts 20:35).

When we give something to a beggar, we should be able to remember something of him, for example the color of his eyes. What we can bring to the poor in addition to money is a form of wealth that is way beyond the small coin or the mere bank note that we have given him. We can bring him our presence, a time for sharing and discussing. Taking time with the poor is essential as they are too often alone and despised by the rest of the world. When we give ourselves to others, we do it for them, and not for us.

It is an attitude that is constant and active towards the needy!

Charitable giving according to Jesus or according to the Gospel is beyond the prescriptions of the time and of any religion in general.

If we do charitable giving to be seen by others, we actually receive more than what we give to a poor person because we already feel the gaze of approval of the others.

So it becomes a « commercial » act, an act of profitability in the wrong sense of the word but it is no longer charitable giving. I give 5 € to a poor person, and then I make a fuss about it so that many people will speak well of me, or so that I may be seen and recognized by others. It will facilitate interaction and endear myself to others.

If we do so, charitable giving is no longer a grace for the benefit of our neighbor, but an investment in our own interest.

We must seek to satisfy the hunger of the other and not our hunger for recognition.

If we are devoted to helping others to be seen by others, it’s hypocrisy. It’s religion because we are seeking our own glory rather than God’s.

Being religious induces lies but being dedicated to others requires authenticity before God.

God calls us to invest in Him and in His Kingdom. Generosity brings a much better reward that will be projected into eternity. This is why Jesus said, « But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.. » (v.3)

In Haggai 2:8, God says, « The silver and gold will be mine. »

The Earth belongs to God, this is a truth repeated over and over again in the Bible.

All our wealth belongs to God. We are stewards, and not owners.

So let’s be good stewards of what God gives us so that we will give our wealth to works that meet needs.

Likewise, we are also stewards of our prayer life.

2. The prayer that God loves to hear – v5 to 14

The Sermon on the Mount is a passage that struck me when I was not yet a Christian. The text I most hated the first time I read Matthew is the Lord’s Prayer because it brought back bad memories.

When I was young, I attended a few Catechism classes where we had to say prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, make the sign of the cross, and so on and so forth.

We had to obey religious formulas that were presented to us as magic formulas and were supposedly approved by God…

A few years later, convinced that the Bible was definitely God’s Word, and that the Catechism classes I followed were not faithful to the Bible, I realized that the Lord’s Prayer was more valuable than I thought, and I fell in love with this prayer.

But why did I hate and why perhaps did you hate too the Lord’s Prayer before being Christians? Because the religious have made the Lord’s Prayer an absolute rule to follow.

On the contrary, Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer to teach us how to address God, which is exactly the opposite of a prayer to say foolishly.

Christian religions have spoiled Jesus’ message.

In v5, Jesus gives us a perfect example of a bad attitude with a hypocrite who prays to be seen by others, and he continues in v6 with an example of a good attitude, starting by « BUT »: « BUT whenever you pray, go into your inner room,[h] close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. »

As with charitable giving, Jesus emphasizes the importance of praying in secret. Being devoted to someone means spending time with that person even when there is no one around us. It is in secret that we will be able to increase the quality of our relationship with God.

Praying is not boasting like hypocrites do. It is not saying, « I prayed so I am a good Christian ». It is rather a strong desire for being consecrated to God.

God wants us to pray for our needs, that He already knows, because he wants us to nurture our relationship with Him, our dependence on Him. A relationship is built up and strengthened while praying.

As we are looking at v7, we can wonder whether we can pray several times for the same subject or whether praying just once is enough.

The problem is not to pray several times contrary to what non-believers think, but the problem is what we believe. In this case, Jesus shows us that what we believe is influenced by our intelligence that is not renewed by the Holy Spirit. Then we think that to repeat the same things over and over again will have a greater impact on God to act.

In v8, Jesus says, « Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. »

If Jesus tells us not to be like hypocrites, it is to try to be like God, and spend time to pray. The more time we spend with someone, the more we assimilate their personality and their language.

The best person we can spend time with is God! This is the best way to be transformed by Him, and not to be, or no longer be, a hypocrite.

vv9-13: The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is rich in meaning. The beginning in v9 and the end of the prayer in the second part of v13 are focused on God’ sovereignty, power, holiness, omniscience –He knows everything. It is also focused on the holiness of his Name, reflected in us since He is the One who sanctifies us.

This teaches us that all prayers should be focused on His attributes. God is the central element of our prayers because He is our Father! When we pray, we need to keep in mind that God is sovereign and full of mercy, that He knows all things, and that he Has anticipated everything.

With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus provides a short prayer, which is the exact opposite of the religious cliches of the time.

Mt 23:14, « Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. »

In this rant, Jesus makes the link between charitable giving and praying. Instead of doing charitable giving, the Pharisees robbed the poor widows and said long « prayers ».

Through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us that to pray is an impulse towards God because the prayer begins with « Our Father »

An impulse towards God needs to be done out of love for Him, and not by force.

This is something that has been repeated many times in our Evangelical church culture, so we know it.

Saying the Lord’s Prayer is not a prayer when we say it in a mechanical, ritual manner, which is what the text shows us.

Jesus teaches us that the right attitude to pray is to understand that God is our Father, that we can freely address Him, and that we can freely reach out to Him to share our needs because He alone can provide for them.

Praying is the breath of Christian life, the lungs of God’s kingdom…

Birds fly, fishes swim, men pray! Praying should be our breath.

Pray without ceasing! Do we stop breathing? We don’t! Otherwise we won’t feel comfortable.

When I don’t pray, I don’t feel comfortable either.

To stay in good spiritual health, we need to pray and talk to our Father.

The disaster today is that we often pray badly… when we pray! This idea is supported by the fact that the disciples were believers and knew all the prayers said during religious ceremonies, but Jesus taught them to really pray. He taught them to pray with precision and insight.

Because we are aware of sin, we may be shy before God. To say « Our Father » breaks the shyness one might feel before God. He becomes accessible to all.

Besides, v12 shows us that when we pray, we can have the conviction that God forgives our sins: « and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. »

When we pray, we must already have an attitude of forgiveness towards our neighbor.

If I have understood the extent of my offense towards God and the extent of God’s forgiveness towards me, I will discard the offense of my neighbor and I will forgive him.

Forgiveness is not always systematic. Sometimes it takes months or years. But whatever the person who hurt us has done, the harm we have done to God, through our sin, is worse than any harm that can ever be done to us.

v14-15 comment on v12 by saying that « if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. »

I want to quote a few excerpts of a video on YouTube. In America, a mom came face to face with her son’s murderer. She watched him intently and when the killer shied away from her gaze, she told him, « Look at me, you are forgiven in the name of Jesus. I am a Christian and I will pray for you Alison […] I will not come to see you in prison because I do not have the courage to come to this place. […] Look at me, I will pray for you, one day you will find this same God and he can be as useful to you as to me

I don’t hate you Alison, I waited a year to be there and tell you […] I am sad for you because you killed a person. »

This mother’s testimony is powerful. She is still grieving her son, and has not yet recovered from his murder, but she still forgives the killer who is standing in front of her.

She is aware that she needs to receive forgiveness from God in her life and she passes it on to her son’s murderer. Forgiveness is supernatural. It is only the Holy Spirit who can give us the strength to forgive.

This is a very good illustration of today’s passage. We forgive others because their sins make us sad. Forgiveness is the fruit of piety and consecration to God. It is not to show that « I am a good person who does charitable giving, prays and fasts ». But it is to really understand our own sinful nature as well as the sinful nature of others. It is to become aware of the reality of sin that plagues every human being on earth.

God grants us forgiveness, and it is through forgiveness that one can enter His presence. It is through forgiveness that one can enter the holy place of the temple that is pure…

We also need to ask forgiveness from others and it is so gracious and liberating for our soul to receive their forgiveness.

3. The fasting God loves to reward vv16-18

v16: »When you fast, DO NOT LOOK SULLEN » 

The religious of Jesus’ time fasted twice a week, and they knew how to show it by pulling a long face. They showed they were suffering because they were « fasting » to gain the favor of others. But Jesus presents fasting differently. When we fast, we must continue to talk to each other as if we were not fasting, wash ourselves, and anoint ourselves so that no one can see we are fasting. Fasting is not done to be seen by others but to be on an intimate level with the Father as v18 shows it, « your Father who sees in secret… »

When one really seeks piety and devotion to God, one moves away from hypocrisy because it is between oneself and God. Even if we are hungry, we try not to show it! If we skip meals, it is also because spiritual food is more important than physical food. Therefore, it is between us and God, but it is not someone else’s business.

Jesus is not saying here that we must absolutely conceal the fact that we are fasting, because as a matter of fact other people will see that we are fasting, especially at work since we do not eat.

In this passage, fasting is done in secret, but it is obvious that like praying, we can fast within the community just as the disciples practiced the fast of Esther. Jesus rather means that when we fast, we must first do it for ourselves, and not to be seen by others.

Jesus wants to reward fasting done in a pious way, consecrated to God!

The word « reward » is used sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way throughout the text. This word also gives structure to the text, saying how important it is.

If we try to be seen by men, God sees it and will take away the reward. Jesus proclaims woe to the hypocrites in Mt 23:27, « Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. »

God likes to reward fasting that comes from a pure heart dedicated to Him, in the same way as He likes to reward praying with the right attitude.

In our society, the Gospel is classified among other religions, but the Gospel is not a religion or a list of prescriptions to be followed. It is not like the Jews with long prayers, precise rites and fasts to follow or the Muslims with five prayers a day, the Ramadan and the six-day Chawwâl fast. When Muslims do the Chawwal fast during six days, it is as if they have fasted throughout the year.

But the Gospel is more glorious than a calendar, and human or mathematical considerations.

The Gospel of the Glory of God’s Kingdom shines forth and shows its light in fasting, praying and charitable giving.

Applications

In this passage, all of Jesus’ words point to the true piety of the Kingdom, highlight the importance of not compromising with the sin of pride that corrupts charitable giving, praying and fasting.

Piety is to seek to live with gratitude and do good works because they are good, and because God is good.

And when we do good works, it is not because we are good as we are bad by nature.

But we do good works because God is good and because in his goodness he gives us his grace to do them, and in addition He rewards us.

Jesus tells his disciples to give to widows who are among the poor, and He also gives them a short prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Quite the opposite of how the Pharisees prayed.

If we want to live in the kingdom and do God’s will, we need to be authentic, without hypocrisy.

Charitable giving means to serve the needy and discern who needs what. It is to serve the others.

To pray is to seek the face of God, of our Father and to recognize that we depend on Him just as the needy depend on God, and on all those who are wealthy enough to take care of them.

To fast is to deprive ourselves of food for spiritual reasons, to ignore ourselves as much as possible, which teaches us to discipline ourselves.

These three elements partaking of our Christian life must be a real impetus towards God.

These elements, when they are applied according to Jesus’ teaching, can lead to real personal worship. The goal of worshiping God is to live according to Him who loves us and whom we love.

We need to set our own selves aside to help the needy, pray and fast before God.

Let’s take care of the others and of our faith in God as God takes care of us.

Are we really dedicated to God to do that?

Our lack of strength to forgive should make us realize how much we depend on Our Father to do it…

The Gospel transcends religious prescriptions and one who is truly animated by the Gospel lives at all times to help the needy and have a full relationship with their Father.

We give to others what God has given us because we cannot give anything to God. Besides, God has given us everything, even his own Son on the cross who reconciled us with Him.

2 P 1:5 « For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge… »

Questions

What is charitable giving according to Jesus?

What is praying according to Jesus?

What is fasting according to Jesus?

Why do you do these things? Are your motivations holy?

How do you understand the Lord’s Prayer? How does Jesus teach it?

How do you pray?

According to the text, what do you understand by « reward »? Why is this reality present in every part of the text (v1, 2, 5, 16)? Is it a merit or a supererogatory grace?

If you have rarely or never helped the poor, prayed or fasted, what is it that prevents you from moving forward in one, or more, of these three areas?