THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT -- LESSON SEVENTEEN
Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
I. Having set forth the righteousness required by the New Testament, as
against that of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus now warns of a real
danger lurking in the path of our doing those things He requires.
A. It is not the danger of idleness.
B. It is not the danger of merely not doing.
C. Nor is He warning against public discipleship, prayer, etc.
II. The Lord condemns all ostentation in the doing of our righteousness:
"Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen
of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in
A. "Be careful not to make a show of your religion before men."
B. Jesus is warning against a wrong motive for doing what God
requires in all our obligations: Righteousness on parade.
C. There is a subtle temptation facing all who would follow Jesus, and
he would save us from yielding to the desire to parade our piety
before men with a desire to obtain their approval rather than God's.
III. Jesus teaches that we should let our lights shine through the doing of
good works (5:14-16), so this is not an appeal for absolute secrecy.
A. However, privacy, when possible, is usually best in matters that
look toward our needy brother and are summed up in the word
B. The motive can also be tested best by privacy in the doing of those
obligations which relate to God, summed up in the word "praying."
C. Ostentation is also forbidden in those obligations that look toward
ourselves, summed up in the word "fasting." (6:16-18)
I. AGAINST WRONG MOTIVES IN GIVING AND HELPING (6:2-4).
A. Sound not a trumpet: "When therefore thou doest alms, sound
not 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 received their reward." (2)
1. Jesus does not say, "If," but, "When thou doest alms,"
assuming that every true disciple does help other people.
2. Is our supreme motive in this (a) to supply the want of the
needy? (b) For God's approval? Or, (c) To win human favor and
3. Jesus doesn't say the hypocrites literally sounded a trumpet to
call attention to their deeds; but the expression has doubtless
given rise to the modern expression of ostentation, "He blows
his own horn."
4. The desire to "put on a show" must not become the reason for
doing our "works of mercy," if we desire the reward of God for
B. Left hand, right hand: "But when thou doest alms, let not thy
left hand know what thy right hand doeth." (3)
1. This is a striking, unforgettable expression, given to guide us
in almsgiving, but it may be misapplied. Jesus taught a lesson
by publishing what the poor widow gave (Mark 12:41-44; cf.
Acts 4:36,37; etc.).
2. This statement is evidently made for reflective emphasis, as
a guideline to help maintain the desired privacy and purity of
motive more so than as a literal rule.
3. Whether we are laying up treasure in heaven by our giving is
determined by our motive in giving, not by winning human
C. That God may recompense: "That thine alms may be in secret:
and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee." (4)
1. Secret giving (a) encourages and helps insure a pure motive,
(b) respects the privacy, esteem, and honor of the recipient, (c)
establishes a basis of true friendship, and (d) honors the
teaching of Jesus. --Coffman.
2. It is not wrong for men to see us giving, but it is wrong to give
to be seen of men. Jesus does not forbid publicity, but the spirit
which does it for publicity.
II. AGAINST WRONG MOTIVES IN PRAYING (6:5-15)
A. Not as the hypocrites: "And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the
hypocrites: For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues
and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.
Verily, I say unto you, They have received their reward." (5)
1. Prayer, of all religious duties, should be free from ostentation.
2. Jesus teaches against "show" in prayer in three ways: (a) In
choosing a place; (b) In using "vain" repetitions; and (c) in
making long prayers: "much speaking", for the sake of being
3. "Street-corner situations" might include a private prayer before
a congregation, on a radio program, or before a meal in a cafe.
Let us not "stand and pray" anywhere "to be seen of men." Like
those who give primarily for human praise, such prayers are
condemned by Jesus as being mere pretense--a false posture.
B. Pray in secret: "But thou when thou prayest, enter into thine
inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father
who is in secret, and thy Father, who seeth in secret shall
recompense thee." (6)
1. Although this forbids all ostentation, it does not prohibit public
prayers for the edification and comfort of others and for the
worship of God. (1 Kings 8:22; Acts 12:12; 2:42).
2. Concerning private prayers, however, it should be literally
applied: Shut men out, and God in: Close your door when you
3. Sincere private prayers, by righteous people, without noise or
show, will be rewarded according to the will of God.
C. Vain repetitions: "And in praying use not vain repetitions, as
the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their
much speaking." (7)
1. According to Jesus, the Gentile method of prayer of much vain
speaking was pure formality--to impress men.
2. Cardinal Cushing rambled for 17 1/2 minutes at John Kennedy's
3. Aimee Simple McPhereson "prayed" 31 minutes and 10 seconds
at the 1932 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Will
Rogers, who immediately followed her, remarked, "Well, I didn't
know anybody could think up that much to impress the Lord in
favor of a Democrat.--Coffman, p.76.
4. This doesn't always require a literal closet, and it doesn't forbid
persistence, long prayers, or repeated petitions (Matt. 26:44;
Luke 6:18:1-8); but it does require earnestness, simplicity, and
D. Your Father knows: "Be not therefore like unto them: for your
Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before you ask
1. Prevailing prayers are not measured by their length, frequency,
or human eloquence; but by their fervency and honesty.
2. Since the God who answers all prayers knows all our needs
before we ask, vain repetition and elaborate explanations are
3. Earnest prayers of righteous people, however, put themselves
in such communion with God as to make them fit to receive.
IV. AGAINST WRONG MOTIVES IN FASTING (6:16-18)
A. "Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad
countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may be
seen of men to fast." (16)
1. Fasting is not wrong when done as an aid to self abasement
and mastery in subduing the physical to the spiritual, as an aid
to meditation and payer, or as an aid to inward peace.
2. It is wrong however to fast to attract human praise.
B. "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy
face; that thou be not seen of men to fast, but of thy Father who
seeth in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall
recompense thee." (17,18)
1. When fasting privately, the Christian must maintain ordinary
appearance to avoid hollow formality and pride.
2. Stated fasts, commanded by religious organizations, are not
taught in the N.T. But such rituals are identified with the
apostasy. (1 Tim. 4:1-3.)
3. Self-denial, expressed in fasting, is between the disciple and
God, not men.
I. The dangers of wrong motives: (1) Poisons the fount of life; (2) poisons
the stream of life; (3) makes God's reward impossible.
II. The cure for wrong motives: (1) Let God's love & Christ come in and rule;
(2) cultivate the true motive, which "vaunteth not itself...seeketh not
its own." (1 Cor 13:4,5). This gives real meaning to worship, service,