5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:5–6, NKJV).
Why do you pray? The Lord knows the reasons and motives of our prayers; He is the One who “knows the hearts of all” (Acts 1:24). Jesus knew many people pray so others will view them as religious and pious. They choose conspicuous places to petition heaven’s throne. Their desire (to be seen by men), once achieved, is their only reward. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven understand prayer to be intimate communication with their heavenly Father. It is a time to pour out thanks, adoration, petitions, and pleas to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). There we find the divine assurance of mercy, solace, and peace. Our Father is in private places. He sees, hears, and openly rewards our humble prayers (Phil. 4:6-7). Prayer is not a ritual; it is a retreat to commune with our Father. Keep pure motives when you pray. God sees the purpose of our prayers, so seek His approval when praying to Him. Remember, it is God who answers our prayers, not people. So pray to be seen by your heavenly Father.
1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1–4, NKJV)
Giving to the poor is undeniably a way Christians “do good to all” (Gal. 6:10). The rich are reminded to be “ready to give” (1 Tim. 6:17-18). (In today’s world, most of us qualify as rich.) We should look for and use our opportunities to help others. When we do, God sees the motive of our heart. Jesus said we ought to seek God’s honor and not the praise of men for our acts of charity. To announce our charitable deed is like blowing a trumpet before us so they will know how generous we are. It is selfish hypocrisy to help others out of a heart that wants others to honor us for it. Though honored by people, such will not be rewarded by God. Let us do our charitable deeds from a heart of compassion. In due time, we will reap what we have sown (Gal. 6:7-10).
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:15–18, NKJV)
Motives matter. While Paul does not endorse sinful motives for preaching the gospel, he does draw attention to the message that is preached. The spiritual condition of the preacher or teacher does not determine the truth of his gospel message. We must not accept or reject what a person is teaching based on their motives for teaching us. We must listen to their message. Does it agree with the Scriptures (Romans 4:3)? Truth is truth, and it continues to be true even when the person teaching it is prompted by sinful motivation. Paul rejoiced that Christ was preached even though some did so “from envy and strife” to “add affliction” to him while he was imprisoned (v. 15). When you hear the gospel and it convicts our heart, receive it as the word of God. Do not reject God’s truth because you see a character flaw (sin) in the messenger.
5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5–6, NKJV)
Just as with alms, our motive for prayer is crucial. Jesus stresses the “why” of our prayers. We have denied the power of prayer and elevated ourselves instead of God when we turn prayer into an opportunity to be seen and praised by others (Luke 18:9-12). We are hypocrites to think God accepts us when we pray with motives of self-importance. Public praise is not the reason to worship God. When that is our motive, that is the only praise we will receive. Jesus is not indicting public prayer given in reverent worship (see 1 Corinthians 14:15-16). It is needed instruction that helps us examine why we pray. When we pray to be seen by God, He will reward us generously and obviously. Let us check why we pray so our Father in heaven will hear us and answer us.
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2–3, NKJV)
James continues to bring our focus to the driving motives behind conflicts and battles with others. Selfish cravings never satisfy one’s desire to be satisfied and fulfilled. Lust leads to fights and battles with those we believe are preventing us from acquiring our desire. Murder and greedy yearnings are never satisfied through hateful actions that deprive others of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When one’s motive is to “spend it on your pleasures,” others will be treated as disposable rather than with decency and respect. Asking God to help us achieve our goals when evil motives reside in our hearts is a hypocritical and futile approach toward God and toward life.