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“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
While Matthew chapter 5 looks at the deeper heart issues of the Old Testament commandments, chapter 6 very pointedly addresses hypocrisy. Jesus adds a third rebuff to his growing list of hypocritical traits–fasting for public show.
Again, the religiously elite of His earthly day did everything they could to make sure people recognized their so-called holiness, which really amounted to nothing more than boastful acts of self-righteousness.
Beginning in the Old Testament, people fasted for the Day of Atonement, the only required fast of the year. However, throughout the year, they would voluntarily fast for times of national crisis, during grieving periods or to humbly express devotion to God.
In the New Testament, the Pharisees fasted twice a week out of prescribed habit and expected practice [Luke 18:12]. In later centuries, contrary to Jesus’ warnings here, Christians turned fasting into an ascetic challenge, an act of severe self-discipline.
Fasting is giving up or going without food, water or other pleasures for a predetermined period of time. Time which is devoted to praying–true prayer. A fast can last for just a few hours or it can last as long as forty days. You can give up one item or everything–though for matters of health, it is unwise to try to give up all food and drink for forty days. Yet the asceticists challenged themselves to outdo one another in this fashion, potentially turning something spiritually beneficial into something physically harmful, and all in the name of pride.
The hypocrisy comes when our heart isn’t right. When we do something with impure motives. The only reason to fast is to draw closer to God. It is a good thing. But as sinful human beings we have a way of taking good things and twisting them into bad things.
The so-called religiously devout of Jesus’ day were fasting–good thing. But they were making a public show of their fasting out of pride–bad thing. At that point, any prayers they may have uttered were empty. Because they weren’t fasting to draw closer to God. They were fasting so that others would think of them as more spiritual.
Pride always comes before our downfall [Proverbs 16:18]. Someone pats us on the back, tells us, good job. It feels good. And if they think so, then surely God thinks so too. And maybe He does at first. But as our pride begins to seek more human recognition, to need the back-pat and the encouraging words or maybe more, it pushes God out of the equation. Then all of sudden, what began as a spiritually healthy, life-giving practice becomes a spiritually-dead, life-rotting bad habit.
Do you fast? Devoting time to seek God uninterrupted on important matters or to give your grief to Him is powerful. If you already fast, is it habitual or purposeful? Is it prideful or penitent?
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
Prayer is an intimate relationship building time with God. It is talking to Him daily just as we would with our closest friends and family.
But many Jews in Jesus’ earthly day had turned this very important practice into a self-righteousness show-off contest. It was for reputation building alone and missed the whole point of spending time with God. Maybe it gave them political advantage, or extra points with their boss, or maybe even the bride of their choice, but it was a spiritually bankrupt pursuit.
Just like with giving to the needy for social gain, so taking the time to pray for others to notice is a waste of time. This is not a sincere petition of faith brought before a loving God, it might as well be a fashion show or a popularity poll passed among peers.
Most people today wouldn’t dream of praying out loud on a street corner for everyone to see, not in our political climate. It can be hard enough bowing our head to mutter a silent prayer in the school cafeteria or the workplace break room before lunch. And this is what many unbelievers consider hypocrisy today. Saying if we really believe, then we should be bold enough to publicly live out our prayer life and our prayers should be effective.
But what about at church?
At church, people expect to see the fruit of Godliness in our lives. They expect to see us praying fervently and praising and worshiping with eyes closed or hands lifted. Corporate prayer, praise and worship can be a spiritual, mental and emotional struggle because the temptation to do outwardly what everyone else expects from us can make our church time with God just as meaningless as the pious Jews of Jesus’ time on earth.
Normally, we should spend one-on-one time with God. This isn’t an easy habit to develop, but it is vital to Christian life. And when we are at church, the ability to close out everyone around us and just be with God will flow from the personal time we’ve spent with Him when we’re alone. Sincere prayer comes from the heart in love with God and the wisdom gleaned from His Word and His Holy Spirit in our lives.
Do you spend time alone with God daily? Do you feel pressured to participate at church to maintain others’ perception of you? Or do you have a well-developed relationship with your heavenly Father? Wherever you are along this path, keep pressing on and daily pressing in to know Him more.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4
Jesus’ brother, James, tells us that pure and faultless religion in God’s eyes is, looking after widows and orphans in their distress [James 1:27]. In other words, giving to the needy is an act of righteousness.
But let’s look at the idea of religion first. Religion is either belief in God [one or many] or it is a system of practices that stems from this belief. And the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many people believe there is a God and do nothing to demonstrate this belief. While many others doubt or don’t fully understand their own beliefs and yet religiously do many habitual activities in honor of their half-hearted faith.
To be religious is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes by any means. It’s not even equivalent to being Christian or Godly. To this end, the world often views the church as hypocritical. If we say we believe in God, then we should live like we believe in God. End of story. Otherwise, hypocrites.
But with sinful human beings, even saved ones, it’s not always that easy.
Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders of His earthly day. They kept the Law. Taught the Law. Disciplined and punished others who broke the Law. But their commitment to the Law was only skin deep. All was for show, so that people would consider them religious, or maybe even righteous.
But God looks on the heart [1 Samuel 16:7]. And He saw the Jewish religious leaders as whitewashed tombs [Matthew 23:27-28]–pristinely manicured in appearance, but rotting spiritual corpses at heart. One of the reasons for this comment was the fact that they only gave to the needy if it garnered them some attention.
Announcing with trumpets in the streets then would be like posting our good deeds all over social media now–Hey, look what I just did everybody! Aren’t I wonderful? Jesus is very clear. This type of worldly attention seeking is empty, meaningless. How many people today post things to social media just to feel rejected because they didn’t get a like [or a million likes]? The world’s attention, the fame in this life, none of it can satisfy because it only lasts a nano-moment in the scheme of eternity.
But doing things for Christ will last [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Colossians 3:23-24]. And that means doing things out of a sincere heart to help others and not for the temporary recognition from other human beings.
Are you religious or righteous–living God’s way purely out of love for God?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.
Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.
We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.
The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?
Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.
But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.
So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.
You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.
We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.
But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.
Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37
Jesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.
Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.
Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.
But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.
Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].
In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.
Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.
Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].
The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.
When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].
Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26
And Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Though we should keep short accounts with everyone, this time the subject is our dealings with non-believers.
Whatever the spiritual difference we may have with others, God’s grace does not exonerate us from misdealings with the world. Whether business or personal affairs, all should be done as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:7]. In so doing, we bring glory and honor to God and may win some to His saving grace [1 Peter 2:12].
So first of all, we should do everything in our power not to end up in a legal situation. Obey policies and procedures of our workplace. Don’t slander, gossip, lie, steal, accept bribes or otherwise act corruptly [Exodus 20:15-16 & 23:8; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 4:16; Proverbs 17:23 & 26:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:9; James 4:11]. Pay back our monetary debts and give people the things that belong to them [Romans 13:8].
But if we do find ourselves in a situation where we have wronged an unbeliever, we need to do everything we can to settle the matter without court arbitration. It is our responsibility to take responsibility for our actions–whether knowingly or unknowingly wrong–and make restitutions for them. When we can be honest, act in integrity and swallow our pride. We can submit ourselves to whatever consequences befit the situation.
But if we try to distort honesty, if we pervert integrity and act pridefully, then we will surely have to stand trial in the world’s courts. Then, the consequences for our actions will be so much worse.
Whether we choose to settle the issue out of court or in court, we will still have to make our wrong right. But settling in court may mean that we are subject to more severe penalties than just correcting the misdeed.
Do you already have a job? Do you do your job with honesty and integrity that brings glory to God? Do you keep short accounts with everyone, but especially your unbelieving coworkers?