by Paul George
The subject matter in these verses focuses on giving, praying and fasting. The initial reading of the passage will show that the basic teaching of Jesus will be to avoid the seeking the praise of men and to seek to please God.
The first four verses cover the subject of “almsgiving” or giving to the poor. The general warning is not to do acts of righteousness before other people, to be seen by them, for then there will be no reward. There are times when it is necessary to do good deeds publicly. However, Jesus was speaking about intention, not to do them so that people would see and therefore think that you are spiritual. That is one form of hypocrisy, for in doing it that way you would not be seriously interested in doing the good deed, but in appearing to be doing good deeds. The motivation would be primarily self-promoting and the Lord always looks at the motives when He evaluates our works.
There is a trend today, especially in affluent societies, to let this one go. The thinking may be that the poor are just lazy and should work harder, or that it is the government’s responsibility to help them, or that it is a never-ending task and so it will not do much good anyway, and so on. There are many reasons people can come up with to avoid this spiritual duty. Prosperity theology fits into the reasoning as well, teaching that if people had faith they would have wealth, because God wants His children to be rich. What is most disturbing is to see the wealthy and the successful promoted on Christian talk shows on television or on stage in services as if they were the spiritual ones, blessed by God. Jesus said that when people give money to the poor they should not “sound the trumpet” as the hypocrites do in order to be recognized and honored by others (6:2-4). There are a number of ideas about the meaning of “sounding the trumpet” but the point is clear that the hypocritical almsgiver was more concerned about being noticed for his deed than for helping the poor. Jesus said we are not to do this. Those who do this would receive no reward from God, because their almsgiving was motivated by seeking the praise of men. Jesus calls those who seek the praise of men in their almsgiving, it is all a show of spirituality, but it is not genuine. Many people will give to the poor, but they thrive on the praise of people who perceive them to be generous and spiritual. Jesus was saying that if you give to the poor in order to receive this acclaim, then that is all the reward you will receive.
The subject of rewards is a difficult subject. The Bible warns people not to do good deeds for the praise and honor you would get from other people; and on the other hand, it instructs people to run the race for the reward. There is nothing wrong with doing a righteous deed for the sake of receiving a reward, or praise, as long as the praise you seek is of God. In the Bible, when we are instructed to do acts of righteousness there is always a mention of reward from the Father in heaven. There has to be a motivation for the righteous deeds and our chief motivation is to please God. How will we know if we have pleased God? By His “Well done, good and faithful servant.” This is very different from doing something so that others in the church will praise you or think more highly of you than they should.
Jesus said that when you give to the poor do it in a way that is secret, without the public notice and acclaim, and without the poor knowing it was you who gave. If God is the motivator of our good deeds, what people will think about us or what debt of gratitude they feel they owe us has no value.
The second point in Jesus’ instructions to the disciples is prayer. He told the disciples, the hypocrites “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.” Jesus was describing someone who may or may not be sincerely praying, but certainly wants everyone to know he prays. Jesus was not ruling out public prayer; rather, He was criticizing the motivation of the hypocrite. Once again, Jesus was denouncing any religious act that is inspired by the opinions of people. In his denouncement He used sarcasm again: “They have their reward.”
There were two principle errors in the scribes and Pharisees posture of prayer, seeking the praise of men (v 5) and meaningless petitions (v 7). The places where they prayed, in the synagogues, which was the proper place for public prayer, but not for personal, and the corners of the streets. The purpose in praying on the corners of the street was to give the impression of their devotion to keeping the appointed hours for prayer; the real purpose was to seek the praise of men
Praying in these public places revealed two things about the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees, first, they did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed. Second, they used prayer to seek the praise of men and not acceptance by God.
If we seek the approval of God when we pray we must ignore the praise of men because we do not pray to men expecting an answer, when we pray our eyes must be focused on God and not self or our fellowman. A story comes to mind of an elderly, quiet woman when asked to pray, after a few moments of silence she said “amen.” After the service, one of her friends told her she could not hear what she prayed. The woman answered, “if I was praying to you, you would have heard my pray, I was praying to the Lord.” When we pray what passes between God and our own souls must be out of sight. Public places are not the proper places for private solemn prayer. In His instructions to the disciples Jesus was not condemning public prayer. Public prayer has its place in the worship service.
Jesus told the disciples, instead of praying in public places pray in a private place. Jesus often went alone to the mountains and prayed. Peter went to a housetop to pray. The private place of prayer is a place where we can pray and not be seen, interrupted, disturbed, distracted and heard. The private place of prayer is the place where we have the freedom to pray we that do not have in the public place. In the private place of prayer, we can share with God the deepest desires of our hearts.
The second thing Jesus told the disciples to avoid was meaningless repetitions (v 7).
Jesus was not speaking against long prayers or repetition in prayers He was talking about trying to manipulate God through long and repetitious prayers. God does not need endless detailed information. Jesus said to avoid these practices, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
In his letter to the Thessalonians the apostle Paul told them, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How would that teaching harmonize with Jesus’ warning not to think long repetitions prayers will break through to God. “Pray without ceasing” is not meant to be taken literally, or we would do absolutely nothing in life but pray. However, it is meant to be taken literally in the sense that prayer should be a continuous, never-ending discipline of the spiritual life. It should be like a natural reflex, every time the Christian encounters a need, a problem, a person in trouble, a situation in the world, prayer should be made, and prayer should be the natural communication between the Christian and the Father in heaven, on every issue in life. Prayer is the pouring out of the heart to our heavenly Father.
In verse nine, Jesus tells the disciples to pray in this way,
“Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
We are to pray to our Father who is in heaven and not to saints and angels, for they are ignorant of us and are not to have the high honors that belong to our heavenly Father. Men call God their Father because He is a common Father to all humanity by creation, (Malachi 2:10, Acts 17:28). Christians call God Father because we are His children by adoption and regeneration (Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:6). There is nothing more pleasing to God when we call Him, Father.
We often refer to this prayer as the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is the disciple’s prayer, a prayer given by the Lord to the disciples. The prayer has an opening address and then six requests, the first three requests are for God’s glory, and the next three for our good, and ultimately His glory.
The address, “Our Father who is in heaven”, is clearly intended for us, the disciples and believers, for Jesus always called the Father “My Father” or “the Father” apart from this instruction on prayer. There is therefore a great difference in the use of the word “Father” for us, as opposed to the use by Jesus. When Jesus refers to “the Father,” or “My Father,” He can claim a special and unique relationship, for He shares the nature of the Father. When we use the word “Father,” it is a reminder that through Jesus we are brought into the family of God by adoption, and made joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, the true Son.
The modern attempt to undermine the language ignores what the word “father” meant in the Hebrew culture. It clearly emphasizes the biblical teachings that God is the creator, the sovereign head of all creation, the provider of all life, the great benefactor, and the covenant-making God. The fact that Jesus taught us to address God this way has to be taken seriously. We all substitute words for God when we pray, Lord, Everlasting God, God of all comfort, and so on, and so that is not a problem. However, some substitutions would be a problem if they give the wrong impression of God’s nature. To address God as Father in heaven is to emphasize the transcendence of God. God is not of the earth earthly or of our world physical. God is in heaven. Thus, “Father” is clearly an intended metaphor; God is not like any human father, but is perfect, heavenly, exalted. Referring to God in heaven as “our Father” emphasizes that God is immanent as well. We are related to God; God is near and approachable.
Heaven is a place of perfect purity. From heaven, God beholds the children of men and He has a full and clear view of all our wants, burdens, desires, and all our infirmities. God is not only a Father, able to help us, able to do great things for us, more than we can ask or think; He has the ability to supply our needs. He is a Father; therefore, we may come to Him with boldness, but with reverence. All our prayers should conform to that which is our great aim as Christians, and that is, to be with God in heaven.
“Hallowed be Your name, in these words, we give glory to God, for God’s holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We begin our prayers with praising God, and it is fitting that we should give glory to God, before we expect to receive mercy and grace from Him. Let Him have praise for His perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them. Since all is of Him and through Him, all must be to Him and for Him. The Pharisees made their own name the chief end of their prayers, “to be seen of men” (v 5) in direct opposition we are directed to make the name of God our chief end; let all our petitions center in this and be regulated by it.
In Ezekiel 36, the word of the Lord said that the Israelites had profaned the name of the Lord everywhere they went. Now that they were in captivity, God’s word was in question, and His ability to save challenged. Therefore, the Lord declared that He would restore them to the land, not because they deserved it, but because His reputation was at stake, it would be “for His name’s sake.” By sin people have interfered with God’s program; and the faith has been made to look ineffectual, and God, common. However, God will not leave it there. Therefore, to pray “Hallowed be your name” is to pray that God will act to fulfill all His word so that everyone will know that he is different from everyone else, that He is the holy Lord God.
The request, “Your kingdom come” logically follows “Hallowed be Your name”, for when the kingdom fully comes God will be seen as the one whose word can be trusted. Therefore, this request ultimately looks forward to the consummation of the age.
It is true that the kingdom of our Lord has begun, and that all of us who are believers are already in the kingdom, and that the Lord Christ is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on High. However, all of that is but the beginning, for the kingdom has not yet fully come. The Lord is not yet ruling over the whole world in righteousness and peace. Sin still abounds. There will come a time when the Father will say to the Son, “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance” (Psalm 2). Then He will bring the Messiah into the world for the second time (Hebrews 1:6), not in shame and sacrifice, but in glory. Therefore, the prayer here is actually a request for the second coming, and all that will come with it.
The third request, “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, is a request that God would bring about His righteous demands in history as fully as they are realized in heaven. The simple fact is that God’s will is not being done on earth, apart from pockets of obedience here and there from time to time. We pray for, and eagerly look forward to, the time that Christ shall put down the last of the enemies. However, until then we must endure a world where sin, disease, and death reign.
This request should remind us that we should be doing the will of God that we are praying for otherwise it is hypocrisy. It is true of many prayers that those who pray become part of the answer to the prayer. This principle is true of all these first three requests. As we ask for major changes in the world for God’s glory, all the requests are actually applicable in this way for us. We as God’s people are to act in such a way as to hallow His name, submit to His rule, and do His will.
The fourth request, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The last three requests are for the good of the people while they await the consummation of the ages. The first request focuses on God’s meeting our daily needs, not what we want. The use of the word “bread” is, of course, a figure of speech, meaning the basic food we need.
So why do we need to pray this, when we have a steady income and there is always food in the house? Praying give us our daily bread is a humble request, designed to ensure that an attitude of faith and reliance on God will be kept in mind day by day. It is when we gain abundance so that we have far more than we ever need that we forget about depending on God each day for our livelihood. Moses warned the people not to forget the Lord when they are settled, comfortable, and well off in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8). This request is for God to provide our daily sustenance while we travel through this temporary life.
The fifth request, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This request recognizes that every one of us owes a debt to God for sin and its consequences, and that it is essential to be forgiven. Our hearts’ desire and prayer to our heavenly Father every day should be, that He would forgive us our debts that we may not come into condemnation.
“As we forgive our debtors.” this is not a plea of merit, but a plea of grace. Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against Him must forgive those who have offended them. This is not a reference to money, it is a reference injury. Our debtors are those whose persecution we must bear, forgive, and forget the wrongs done us; and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace; it encourages us to hope, that God will forgive us.
To forgive others is the natural response of one who knows and understands forgiveness; to refuse to forgive others does not. One who does not forgive others has an arrogant attitude, which is not representative of someone who acknowledges the need for forgiveness we all share. It is like playing God. Jesus seems to be saying that there is no forgiveness for one who is unforgiving, that person is self-righteous and apparently does not exhibit a need for forgiveness. However, when we ask the Lord to forgive us, we should be so thankful for his forgiveness that we share in that spirit in our dealings with other people.
This request, then, is concerned with our inter-relationships, with our community life as confessing believers. Jesus further explains it in verses 14 and 15, which indicates how seriously He intended us to take forgiving each other. However, we must admit that we surely do fail in this area. None of us would want God to forgive us the way that we in the church forgive one another. However, our asking God for forgiveness should make us think again, of how we forgive others.
The last request, is concerned with our conflict with evil, “and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The idea seems not to be “temptation” in the immediate sense, for the Bible says that God does not tempt anyone to evil. Therefore, that would be an unnecessary prayer. It probably should have as its primary rendering “lead us not into testing/trial.” If we pray that God lead us not into testing, we would be praying that He not do something that Scripture says that He frequently does. A good illustration is in the wilderness, when the Lord led the people to bitter water to test them (Exodus 15). There they murmured against the Lord, a sin. God led them to the test; their response to the test that was sinful. Therefore, there is a fine line between the two. However, no one can say God made me sin, or led me into temptation; but we can say that God puts us into situations to prove our faith.
Jesus is probably intending for us to pray that God not lead us into a place of trials that would be so severe to bring about a fall into sin. The final clause shows that the ultimate desire is victory over evil in this world: “deliver us from evil,” or more likely, “the evil one.” Satan often waits in the times of trial for his opportunity, and to fail to demonstrate faith in a time of testing would be to succumb to the evil one. Nevertheless, the focus of the prayer is for spiritual victory over all evil in the world.
The third section now concerns fasting. First, there is a warning of what not to do, instructions of what to do and the promise of a reward.
Jesus here criticized the hypocritical acts of disfiguring the face for a public show, to be seen by others as one who fasts and therefore who must be spiritual (6:16). This is perhaps the biggest hypocrisy, because fasting was a sign of humility before God, not an occasion for self-promotion.
Fasting had a distinct purpose in Israel. It was a way of saying “no” to the physical and material needs of the body and giving all the attention to spiritual matters. It was a way of saying that this time of prayer, or this time of repentance, is the most important thing in life. The Law commanded Israel to fast at the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:27-32; Numbers 29:7); and after the exile other fasts were added (Zechariah 7:3; 8:19). However, people could fast and pray anytime there was a need. An individual could fast at any time that some special petition was offered. Jesus Himself was in the wilderness for forty days, fasting and praying.
To proclaim a fast without any concern for changing the life as a whole missed the point. People cannot think that by fasting for one day, or for one month, they have put things back into balance. The fasting is supposed to have a lasting impact for righteousness. Fasting is not a common part of worship in most churches today, which is perhaps a pity, for if it were understood and done correctly it would be spiritually beneficial.
Jesus told the disciples, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.” Jesus told the disciples when they fast they wash their faces so that people will not see they are fasting. Only God will see, and He will reward the act as a righteous act.
The lesson taught in chapter 6 verses 1-18 reveals how much of our religious conduct is regulated by the opinions and approval of other people. It is not our task to appear to be righteous before other people. Rather, it is our task to be well pleasing to the Lord. If we seek the praise of men, then whatever enjoyment we derive from that will be all the reward there is. However, what we do to please God, even if our religious conduct is unknown to men it will be praised and rewarded in the courts of heaven.
This is why the Disciple’s Prayer is such an important part of this passage. In praying such a prayer, we are seeking to know and do the will of the Father in heaven, with that theme as our daily prayer, our understanding of and motivation for praying, and fasting, and giving to the poor, will reach a higher level. We must seek to do the will of God daily.