PRAYER AND KINGDOM Matthew 6–7
“Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).Prayer is an expression of intimate relationship with God. Here Jesus invites us to explore what prayer is—and what it can mean to you and me.
Definition of Key Terms
The Greek word means “one acting a part,” a character in a play. Some 16 of the 27 uses of this word in the New Testament are found in Matthew, which characterizes the hypocrite as a person (1) whose actions are intended to impress observers (6:1–3, 16–18), (2) whose focus is on the trappings rather than the heart issues of religion (15:1–21), and (3) whose spiritual-sounding talk hides corrupt motives. In Matthew 6 the hypocrite stands in contrast with the person of faith, whose relationship with God is “in secret.” Father. In these two chapters God is identified as “your Father” or “our Father” 10 times! The Old Testament speaks of God as Father, but in the sense of founder of Israel and Israel’s religion (cf. Deut. 32:6). God cared for His people “as a father” would (1:31; Ps. 103:13), but the Old Testament stops short of suggesting an actual father/child relationship between God and believers. Here Christ introduced a new and stunning view of relationship with God. God is the Father of those who come to Him by Jesus Christ. What does this new relationship mean to you and me? It means that we can trust God as Father (1) to reward us (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18), (2) to fully understand our needs (vv. 8, 32), (3) to forgive our sins and failures (v. 14), and (4) to give us good gifts when we ask Him (7:11). Some of us have had human fathers who betrayed our trust. God is the ideal Father, whose every act is motivated by love. How beautifully these two chapters display God’s unfailing Father-love.
Kingdom citizens have an “in-secret” relationship with God (6:1–5), knowing how (vv. 6–8) and what (vv. 9–15) to pray. Such prayer has nothing to do with outward show (vv. 16–18). With our attention on heaven (vv. 19–24) and our trust in God as Father, we are freed to concentrate on kingdom living (vv. 25–34). Because relationship with God is “in secret,” we do not judge others (7:1–6), we consciously depend on our Father (vv. 7–12), and we choose His “narrow gate” (vv. 13–14). As we do, God’s power is exhibited in our good lives (vv. 15–23) and obedience (vv. 24–29).
Understanding the Text
“Your Father, who sees what is done in secret” Matt. 6:1–6. Matthew 6 repeats the phrase “in secret” four times, and twice emphasizes the fact that God is “unseen.” Why? Because Jesus wants us to understand our relationship with God as a deeply personal and intimate relationship, a bonding of our hearts to Him. Religion is not a matter of outward show. Too many people attend church and make a show of being religious without having a personal, in-secret relationship with the Lord. Christ wants us to understand that in His kingdom, relationship with God must be real and personal, not like the “playacting” of the hypocrite, who does what he does to impress other human beings. This emphasis in Matthew reminds us that we need to take time to nurture our in-secret relationship with the Lord. We need to “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” When we do nourish this relationship with the Lord, we can be sure that our “Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” “When you pray” Matt. 6:7–13. Jesus did not give His disciples what we call the Lord’s Prayer to be repeated together when they gathered in church. He taught it as a model showing how each of us is to pray “in secret.” This does not mean, of course, that we should not use it in church. What it does mean is that we need to explore the pattern prayer to discern what it teaches you and me about developing a deeper “in-secret” relationship with our God. The challenge to explore the meaning is clear in Christ’s contrast between it and pagans, who “babble” on and think that they will be heard “because of their many words” (v. 7). God wants us to understand the nature of prayer, and to make our prayer meaningful (see DEVOTIONAL). “If you forgive men when they sin against you” Matt. 6:14–15. Some have been troubled by Jesus saying that God will forgive us “if you forgive men when they sin against you,” but will not if we fail to forgive. Isn’t the Gospel the Good News that God forgives our sins, not because of what we do, but because Jesus has died for us? (cf. Eph. 1:7; 4:32; Col. 1:14) The conflict is apparent rather than real. The epistles describe a theological reality. Forgiveness is assured to all who truly trust in Christ. Here Jesus described a psychological reality. Forgiveness is experienced only by the forgiving. Forgiveness is like a coin. A coin has two sides, heads and tails. It is impossible to have just one side of a coin. Forgiveness is like this. Its two sides are accepting and extending. We cannot grasp just one side of this coin. A humble person, who is aware of his own and others’ frailties, will accept God’s forgiveness. That attitude of humility which frees us to experience forgiveness is the very attitude that enables us to have compassion on others and to forgive them. God does not not forgive the unforgiving because He is unwilling. Our own unforgiving attitude toward others keeps us from experiencing the forgiveness our Father is eager for us to know. “When you fast, do not look somber” Matt. 6:16–18. Many Pharisees fasted twice a week as a religious duty. These were not 24-hour fasts, but 12-hour fasts, from dawn to dusk. Jesus did not criticize the practice of fasting. What He did criticize was those who advertised their fasts by putting streaks of dirt on their faces. What we do for God must be done for God. Whatever we do “to show men” is tainted. “Do not worry about your life” Matt. 6:25–34. Jesus never suggested that it’s wrong to be concerned about basic needs. He simply said it’s unnecessary. The pagan is gripped by anxiety because he faces an uncertain tomorrow. The Christian, who has a personal relationship with God as his Father, relies on One who not only knows, but also controls tomorrow. When we appreciate how much God loves us, we no longer feel pressure to “run after” even the necessities of life. This frees us to set right priorities, and “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”. What a joy to worry about nothing except pleasing Jesus! “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” Matt. 7:1–6. Here “judge” is not “to evaluate,” but rather “to condemn” or “to be critical of.” Because each Christian’s relationship with God is “in secret,” we have no basis for judging the motives or convictions of others, or even their failings and weaknesses. If we want to be critical, we are to be critical of ourselves! There’s a difference between this warning and Paul’s call for the church to discipline sinners (1 Cor. 5:1–12). When a professing believer persists in behavior that the Bible clearly identifies as sin, we are to agree with Scripture and discipline. In this case we do not judge, but agree with the judgment of the Word of God. What Jesus was talking about in Matthew is a spirit of criticism, or an arrogance that leads us to assume we have a right to judge the hearts of others. We do not. Just as the real nature of our own relationship with God is an “in-secret” kind of thing, so is the real nature of the relationship of others. Those who would live successfully in Christ’s present kingdom must guard against that spirit of criticism and pride. “Ask and it will be given to you” Matt. 7:7–12. Each of these images of prayer suggests persistence. Each also conveys a promise. Ask, it will be given. Seek, you will find. Knock, the door will be opened. What encourages us to be actively involved in prayer, and to claim these promises, is the certainty that God is our Father. As our Father, He is eager to give us good gifts. “By their fruit you will recognize them” Matt. 7:15–23. Throughout Scripture, fruit is a symbol of God’s transforming work within believers (cf. Isa. 5:1–7; John 15:1–11; Gal. 5:22–23). While our relationship with God is “in secret,” the product of that relationship is highly visible! Yet here Jesus spoke of recognizing false prophets by their bitter fruit. He did not suggest we go about pinching the fruit of believers to see how good it is! Perhaps the reason is that good fruit takes time to ripen. The Christian’s life will produce good fruit—but it will take time for that fruit to mature. Let’s give others—and ourselves—the time needed for God’s fruit to ripen rather than demand immediate evidence of His work in our lives. “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice” Matt. 7:24–29. The clearest evidence of a vital relationship with God is that we hear God’s words—and put them into practice. The person who truly loves Jesus will keep His commandments.
How to Pray (Matt. 6:5–13)
Anyone who plans to build a house would be wise to look at the blueprint first. In the same way, anyone who seeks to develop his or her “in-secret” relationship with God would be wise to study Jesus’ “Lord’s Prayer” carefully. It reveals the basic attitudes with which you and I are to come to God in prayer. Note how each petition teaches. “Hallowed be Your name.” We acknowledge God as He has revealed Himself. We express our respect for God, knowing Him to be living and active, sure that He is able to act in our lives. “Your kingdom come.” We acknowledge God as rightful King over all, and take our place as His subjects. We make a conscious choice to live as citizens of His kingdom, inviting it to come fully into our lives as well as into the world at large. “Your will be done.” We submit to God, choosing to obey His revealed Word, yet aware that we must also be sensitive to any personal guidance He may give us through His Holy Spirit. “On earth as it is in heaven.” We expect God’s will for us to have an impact on what we do here on earth. We do not compartmentalize the “sacred” and “secular,” but constantly look for ways to honor God in our work, our play, our everyday relationships with others. “Give us today our daily bread.” We trust God so much that we are secure in what He gives us each day, without being driven to pile up treasures on earth against tomorrow. We see each new day as an opportunity for some fresh experience of God’s goodness to us. “Forgive us our debts.” We humble ourselves before God. We are deeply aware of our faults and failings, yet we rejoice that we are loved anyway. Further humbled by God’s forgiving love, we have compassion on those who hurt or harm us. We take such hurts as an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of God’s mercy by freely forgiving others. “Lead us not into temptation.” We rest in God. We know that He delivers us from evil and, while we seek no confrontation with the evil one, we know that should tests come, God will be present to deliver us. When we approach “in-secret” prayer infused with these deep convictions, our personal relationship with the Lord is sure to deepen and grow.
Begin your prayer time with the Lord’s Prayer, aware of the faith and dependence it expresses.
MEDITATION ON THE Lord’S PRAYER Lord, I cannot say “Our” . . . if my religion has no room for other people and their needs. Lord, I cannot say “Father” . . . if I fail to resemble You in the way I live my daily life. Lord, I cannot say “Who art in Heaven” . . . if my attention is focused only on earthly things. Lord, I cannot say “Hallowed be Thy name” . . . if I who am called by Your name am not holy. Lord, I cannot say “Thy Kingdom come” . . . if I fail to acknowledge Your sovereignty in my life. Lord, I cannot say, “On earth as it is in Heaven” . . . unless I am truly ready to serve You here and now. Lord, I cannot say “Give us this day our daily bread” . . . without doing an honest day’s work, and without considering the needs of those less fortunate. Lord, I cannot say “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” . . . if I harbor a grudge against my brother or sister. Lord, I cannot say “Lead us not into temptation” . . . if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted. Lord, I cannot say “Deliver us from evil” . . . if I am not prepared to take a stand against injustice in my society. Lord, I cannot say “Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory” . . . if I do not submit to Christ as King, if I fail to trust You to act in my life, or if in pride I seek my own glory. Lord, I cannot say “Amen” . . . unless I can honestly say, “Come what may, this is my prayer.” -Adapted from “Lamplighter,” Speedway Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana