This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
Sermon on the Mount 6 – A Christian’s Religion: Real or Hypocritical – Daily Wisdom/:
Sermon on the Mount – A Christian’s Religion: Real or Hypocritical?
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
We are on the sixth week of our series on the Sermon on the Mount. I pray you are learning and enjoying it as much as I am. We won’t complete this series in eight weeks, but that is ok. Looking back over the past five weeks, we see that Jesus began his instruction on the mount by revealing the essential elements of Christian character in the beatitudes. Jesus then incorporated those character traits into the metaphors of salt and light, which is the influence for good that Christians will exert in the community if they exhibit this character., which is found on page:
Giving to the Needy
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
When we think we may be getting an understanding of right living, Jesus knows that we are prone to want to flaunt how wonderful and holy we are… Come on, admit it; we have that tendency. So Jesus gives us a wake-up call and warns us to Be Careful in the NIV, or even stronger in the NLT, where he shouts at us, “Watch Out!”
Jesus’s teaching switches from a Christian’s moral righteousness to his ‘religious’ righteousness. He expands the focus from just right living to right living for the right reasons. As citizens of God’s kingdom, what is our motive behind right living?
Jesus draws the contrast between obeying the letter of the law through a public show and following the spirit of the law through humble and private devotion. He takes the flamboyant religion of the Pharisees first and says: You must not be like the hypocrites (verse 5). Next week Jesus moves on to the mechanical formalism of the heathen and says: Do not be like them (verse 8). Thus again, Christians differ from Pharisees and pagans, the religious and irreligious, the church and the world. The teaching for Christians not to conform to the world is a familiar concept of the New Testament. We also see that we should not conform to strict rules and regulations through Jesus’s instructions about the scribes and Pharisees, the church leaders of His day. Instead, a truly Christian community is distinct in its life and practice from the religious establishment. The religion of the Pharisees is religion compared to the morality of authentic Christian right living. Our right to living is not to be for show or external display, but one of the secret things of the heart. Matthew 6:1 “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. As we move on in our teaching, the key phrase is to be admired by others. Keep that in your mind.
At first sight, these words appear to contradict his earlier command in Matthew 5:16: In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. In both verses, Jesus speaks of doing good works publicly so they can be seen. In the earlier case, he commands it, while in the latter, he prohibits it. How can this discrepancy be resolved? The contradiction is only verbal, not substantial. The clue lies in the fact that Jesus is speaking against different sins. The first talks about being a coward. The second talks about our pride.
We need to show our light shining through us from God when tempted to hide that light. We must hide when tempted to show our good deeds as light comes from us. Let me explain it this way. (Analogy of two types of light) Our good deeds must be the light that shines on God, not on ourselves. It is so that glory may be given to God, rather than us. We are to let our light shine and do good deeds for others, which may be visible to others so that others may glorify our heavenly Father. Anytime we do good deeds to focus the light or attention on us, it is empty religion. When our good deeds bring glory to God, then it is right living.
The three examples of right living vs. religion which Jesus gives are providing for the needy, praying, and fasting. These three examples appear in some form in every religion. All Jews were expected to give to the poor, pray, and fast, and all devout Jews did so. Jesus expected his disciples to do the same, which includes us. Jesus did not begin each paragraph, ‘If’ you give, pray, fast, then this is how you should do it, but ‘When’ you do give, fast and pray (verses 2, 5, 16). He took it for granted that we would give, pray and fast. This trio of religious responsibilities expresses our duty to God, others, and ourselves to some degree.
To give to those in need is to seek and serve our neighbors. To pray is to seek God’s face and to acknowledge our dependence on him. To fast (to abstain from food for spiritual reasons) is intended at least partly to deny our needs and discipline ourselves. Jesus does not question whether his followers will engage in these things but, assuming they will, teaches them why and how to do so.
The three paragraphs follow an identical pattern. In vivid and deliberately humorous imagery, Jesus paints a picture of the hypocrite’s way of being religious. It is the way of showiness. They receive the reward they want, the applause of others. With this, he contrasts the disciple’s right living, which is secret, and the only reward we as citizens of God’s kingdom want, the blessing of God, who is their heavenly Father and who sees in secret.
Christian giving (2–4)
There is much teaching in the Old Testament about compassion for the poor. Generosity is not enough, however. Our Lord is concerned throughout this Sermon with motivation, with the hidden thoughts of the heart. During the past two weeks, we learned that what is in our hearts is equally essential to our actions. In the matter of giving, Jesus has the same concern about secret thoughts. The question is not so much what the hand is doing, but what the heart or mind is thinking. That is why I like our boxes by the doors for offerings, or our ability for online giving; it is a discreet way of giving without a show. The same applies to providing food to Gospel Mission Food Pantry. There are primarily three motives when we give to the needy. First, we seek the praise of others. Second, we preserve our anonymity but are quietly congratulating ourselves. Third, we genuinely care about those in need and fulfilling our vocation as salt and light. This last one will reflect that we are desirous of the approval of our divine Father alone.
Ravenous hunger for the praise of men was the troubling sin of the Pharisees. So insatiable was their appetite for human commendation that it quite spoiled their giving. Jesus ridicules the way they turned it into a public performance. He pictures a pompous Pharisee on his way to put money into the special box at the temple or synagogue, or to take a gift to the poor. In front of him march the trumpeters, blowing a fanfare as they walk, and quickly attracting a crowd. To stand with money in one hand and a trumpet in the other is the picture of hypocrisy. (Hold up money and trumpet and march around)
And ‘hypocrisy’ is the word that Jesus used to characterize this display. In classical Greek, the hupokritēs was first an orator and then an actor. So figuratively, the term came to be applied to anybody who treats the world as a stage on which he plays a part. It is someone who lays aside their true identity and assumes a false one. They are no longer themselves but in disguise, impersonating somebody else, someone who wears a mask. In a theater, the actors play their parts without harm or deceit. It is an accepted convention. The audience knows they have come to a drama; they are not taken in by it.
On the other hand, the trouble with the religious hypocrite is that they deliberately set out to deceive people. They are like an actor pretending (so that what we see is not the actual person but a part, a mask, a disguise). Yet, they are quite unlike the actor in this respect: they take some religious practice which is an actual activity, and turn it into what it was never meant to be, namely a piece of make-believe, a theatrical display before an audience. It is all done for applause.
It is easy to poke fun at those Jewish Pharisees of the first century. Our Christian pharisaism is not so amusing. We may not employ a troop of trumpeters to blow a fanfare each time we give to a church or a charity. Yet, to use the familiar metaphor, we like to ‘blow our own trumpet.’ It boosts our ego to see our name honored for our good deeds. We seek and crave comments and likes on social media. So we are not so unlike them.
So if we are hypocritical about the motive behind our good deeds, we may receive the recognition we crave. So Jesus teaches us; I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.
Jesus now tells us the desired Christian way, which is the way of secrecy. He expresses it with another negative: But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. The right hand is usually the active hand. So Jesus assumes we shall use it when handing over our gift. Then he adds that our left hand must not be watching. There is no difficulty in grasping his meaning. Not only are we not to tell other people about our Christian giving, but there is also a sense in which we are not even to tell ourselves. We are not to be self-conscious in our giving, for our self-consciousness will readily deteriorate into self-righteousness. So subtle is the sinfulness of the heart that it is possible to take deliberate steps to keep our giving secret from others while simultaneously dwelling on it in our own minds in a spirit of self-congratulation.
Christian praying (5, 6)
In his second example of the ‘religious’ kind of right living, Jesus depicts two men in prayer. Again the primary difference is between hypocrisy and reality. He contrasts the reason for their praying, and its reward.
What he says of the hypocrites sounds ok at first: ‘they love to pray.’ But unfortunately, it is not the prayer they love or the God they are supposed to be praying to. No, they love themselves, and public praying gives them the opportunity to parade themselves.
Of course, regular prayer is good; all devout Jews pray three times a day, like Daniel. There was nothing wrong in standing to pray, for this was the usual posture for prayer among Jews. Nor were they necessarily mistaken to pray at the street corners and in the synagogues if their motive was to break down segregated religion and bring their recognition of God out of the holy places into the secular life of every day. Jesus uncovered their true motive as they stood in synagogue or street with hands uplifted to heaven so that others might see them. Behind their piety lurked their pride. What they wanted was applause. They got it. ‘They have received their reward in full.’
Religious pharisaism is far from dead. How can we pretend to be praising God when we are concerned that others will praise us?
There is a place for public prayers, such as when we worship as citizens of God’s kingdom. However, our worship time only occupies 1 out of 168 hours each week. Therefore, instead of saving our prayer power for public demonstration, Jesus teaches us to go to a quiet place. Away from the noise and distractions of life and pray. That is the prayer that our Father, who is unseen to us, will see and reward.
I will expand our discussion about prayer in next week’s message, covering verses 7-15. To keep our theme of a hypocritical or honest Christian, let’s move forward to verses 16-18
Christian fasting (16–18)
The Pharisees fasted ‘twice a week,’ on Mondays and Thursdays. John the Baptist and his disciples also fasted regularly, even ‘often,’ but the disciples of Jesus did not. So how is it that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to be teaching about fasting? It would appear that he not only expected his followers to fast, but gave them instructions on how to do so. When we think of fasting, we focus on not eating for a set time. Especially in our western cultures, we don’t practice or like to go for very long without eating, so fasting is not practiced much. Here is a passage of Scripture that is commonly ignored. There is significant teaching about daily prayer and sacrificial giving within the Church, but very little on fasting. Evangelical Christianity, in particular, whose characteristic emphasis is on an inward religion of heart and spirit, does not readily come to terms with an outward bodily practice like fasting.
First, then, what is fasting? Strictly speaking, it is a total abstention from food. However, it can be legitimately extended to mean going without food, partially or totally, for shorter or longer periods. Hence, of course, naming each day’s first meal as ‘breakfast,’ since we ‘break our fast,’ the night period during which we ate nothing.
There can be no doubt that fasting has to do in various ways with self-denial and self-discipline in Scripture and our lives today. But, I humbly admit, that I have not practiced what would be considered fasting, and have not done enough study up to this point to drill down on it. That is a topic for a different series of lessons. The only thing I can equate to fasting is that I have maintained a strict exercise and diet regimen for many years, which may be similar.
This passage focuses on personal sacrificing and dedicating time to God. We don’t have to flaunt it publicly by bragging and trying to appear more spiritual. Accountability to others is a different topic. At times, we do need accountability from others to stay the course. As with giving and prayer, is your motive to appear holy before others, or to allow others to glorify God because of your good deeds?
So we must choose our audience carefully. If we prefer human spectators, we become hypocrites and lose our Christian integrity. The same will happen if we become an audience to ourselves. So, we must choose God for our audience. As Jesus watched the people putting their gifts into the temple treasury, God watches us as we give, pray, and fast secretly; he is there in the secret place. God hates hypocrisy but loves reality. That is why our giving, praying, and fasting will be real when we are aware of his presence.