“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
A few thoughts for meditation:
After dealing with our conduct among men, Jesus turned his attention to worship What does genuine worship look like? What does a righteousness greater than the Pharisees look like in our worship practice? As before, Jesus cut straight to the heart of the matter, our motives for the worship practices we perform. In this case he focused on giving tithes and prayer. If you practice these things for the purpose of drawing attention to yourself, they are rejected by the Father. And this motive may not be obvious. You may not be as brazen in your desire for praise as the examples Jesus gave here. It may just be a more secret desire for bragging rights, a secret self-righteous smugness while going through the motions but under the guise of humility, a secret desire to be “caught” doing the right thing by others. But God knows our hearts and has “no reward” for religious performers. Instead, your focus and desire is to know and please God.
Jesus began with the act of giving. First, notice Jesus expected his disciples to give tithes. “WHEN you give…”.The solution to hypocritical giving is not to stop giving at all, but to give with the right motives. You give out of love and gratitude to God and a genuine concern for the needy who benefit from it. You “do not blow the trumpet”. There is debate about what practice is actually meant here. Most likely it referred to public calls for giving in times of need, what we might call a “special” offering or collection today. At these times, the “hypocrites” arrived to make a show of their gifts, trying to deceive themselves or their audience about the greatness of their generosity and virtue. But, Jesus called for “secret” giving in public, giving in such a way that you do not draw attention to yourself more than others, nor to the amount that you are giving. You give to serve God and meet the current need, not to gain applause for yourself.
Jesus then provided the same kind of correction to prayer. The hypocrites pray in ways that they will be noticed by others in prominent public places and with many eloquent words. This is not a criticism of public prayers. For example, praying “in the synagogue” was a normal role for leaders. But what are you seeking with your public prayer? Praise for yourself? Or a genuine desire to bring the needs of the people before God? If you are seeking the applause or approval of others, that will be your only reward. God will not accept your prayer. Instead, Jesus called us to “secret” prayer. If you pray in public but never in private, you likely are one of these hypocrites. True prayer desires communion with the Father. So, go spend time behind closed doors with him and pray. Go someplace where you will not be found by others. And notice again, Jesus expected his disciples to pray, “WHEN you pray…”. The solution to hypocritical prayer is not to stop praying but to offer genuine prayer. And do not try to impress or manipulate God with the length or eloquence of your prayers. In pagan worship, much weight is put on the form or repetition of the words in order to “break through” to their preferred god. But the Father already knows what you need and has a plan to meet it. Don’t waste words trying to convince or manipulate him. This principle applies to public prayer as well. As Solomon said “let your words be few” (Ecc 5:2). Offer suitable enough words to respect and acknowledge the greatness of God as our Father and King and then bring petitions for the people simply and honestly. Don’t mount up needless repetitions or unnecessary fancy words or phrases. God already knows our needs. Sincerely offer your petitions to the King and trust him to take care of you and those you are praying for.
Such is the kind of giving and prayer which the Father will “reward”. The reward of men is their fickle temporary praise. But the “reward” from the Father is deeper. Jesus doesn’t specify the nature of the reward here. But later in the chapter he specifies laying up “treasures in heaven” rather than on earth. And even later, he taught about the reward of praise from God, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21). The rewards of faithful worship may not translate into material blessings in this life like fame or possessions. But it does translate into a closer walk with God both now and in eternity. True disciples worship God to have more of God himself, not to have more stuff from God.