Friday, May 23, 2014

Serving Without Hypocrisy

Matthew 6:1-15

“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.  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.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The Sadducees and Pharisees had been fighting for control of Israel since shortly after Alexander the Greats death in 324 BC.  In their efforts, both groups mad a real effort to portray themselves as the party most in tune with the people, much like our Democratic and Republican parties.  Like politicians today, they competed in various areas to attract a following.  Just as today, large donors got a lot of attention, so many people tried to maximize their exposure by having a fanfare of trumpets precede the announcement of their donations, similar to what we see in fundraising dinners or telethons.

Jesus sad that people who gave that way were hypocrites who only gave to get the publicity.  A person who was giving out of a desire to please God wouldn’t be worried about getting the publicity and would give anonymously, knowing God knew who had done it and would reward them accordingly.  Even their own mate didn’t need to know what they were giving.   His teaching goes directly against the practices of many modern religious movements.

“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.

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.  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)

Thanks largely to Greek influence and attitudes toward killing animals, by about 160 BC, most of the sacrifices were discontinued and prayer became the primary form of worship, with even the pagan groups adopting it.  Just as many politicians today make a special effort to visit religious organizations and participate in services to gain a following, Jewish leaders made a special point of getting noticed for their prayers.  As Jesus pointed out, their only interest was in the publicity, with many of them not even believing in God.  Others were like the heathen, who thought God answered prayer because they spent so much time praying, kind of like a parent who gives his child what he asks for to get him to shut up. 

Jesus condemned both attitudes.  Prayer is simply talking to God and is not to be used to impress people with our eloquence or spiritual understanding.   Reading or quoting a prayer or “praying the scriptures” does not really qualify as sharing your heart with God, though it may give you a very powerful religious sensation. 

To spend days and hours praying for the same thing, as recommended by many books on prayer amounts to little more than nagging god to fulfill our desires, and it is almost impossible to spend four hours praying for a single thing for several hours without repeating ourselves. 

What he was teaching was completely different than what they had been taught.  Luke 11:1 tells us, “…one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  Jesus responded with the following prayer as an example or model.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  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.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

While this is often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, he never actually prayed it as a prayer, but used it as an example for what prayer should be like.  The first and most obvious thing about his example is how very short and direct it is.  Interestingly, even the longest prayers recorded in scripture can be read aloud in less than five minutes, challenging the idea that prayers need to be long and involved.  In a conference in England, a certain man was asked to pray.  After several minutes, D.L. Moody stood and said “Let’s continue with the service while our brother catches up on his prayer life.”   Jesus probably would have approved the decision.

The second thing we notice is the emphasis on God as the final authority.  Everything is focused on satisfying him, from the establishment of his kingdom to the doing his will.  Far too often today people misuse  John 16:23,  “…Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you,” to imply that God is obligated to give us anything we ask for if we say “in Jesus’ name”.  They don’t understand that asking in Jesus name is similar to buying something in the name of your employer.   You are only authorized to ask for certain things. 

I John 5:14-15 makes this clearer.  “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”  It is exactly what Jesus demonstrated in his model prayer.

The model prayer then asks that the individual’s needs be met in accordance with God’s will, not that the individual be given the things he desires.  Along that same line it asks for forgiveness, based on the person’s willingness to forgive others.  Next he asks for divine guidance to avoid temptation and the consequences of sin.    It finishes by acknowledging that everything is centered around God and thanking him for it. 

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

In Ephesians 4:32 we are commanded, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”  An unwillingness to forgive implies we think we are better than the other person and don’t need his forgiveness.   While he willingly forgives when we admit our sin, he doesn’t forgive unless we acknowledge it. 

One reason prayers are not answered is an unwillingness to forgive.   Psalms 66:18 warns, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  Iniquity is to deliberately disobey God.  Refusing to forgive others for their sin may prevent God’s answering our prayers just like some more obvious sin.    On the other hand, John 15:10 states, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.”  John 15:7 promises, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” 

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