PRACTICING RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR PUBLIC ACCLAIM FORFEITS HEAVENLY
REWARD – TRUE VS HYPOCRITICAL PIETY — EXAMPLE OF PRAYING
Donald Hagner: The same point is being made about praying as was made about almsgiving. Prayer (even if offered in the context of public worship or a prayer gathering) is to be directed to God in secret and not to be made a public spectacle to display the “righteousness” of the one who prays. A true reward for prayer will come only when prayer is God oriented, genuine, and not for display—only when prayer is directed to God and not to others.
Charles Swindoll: They are not to pray “like the hypocrites” (6:5), who loved to perform their prayers in public places where they couldn’t be missed. They wanted more than to be observed; they wanted to be applauded. And they didn’t want simply to inform onlookers; they wanted to impress them. Hypocrites don’t love God or love to pray; they love to be seen. In getting what they’re seeking —public approval —they get their reward. Today, we see people praying in the end zone after scoring a touchdown, on a busy street corner for pedestrians to see, or loudly at a restaurant so all the “heathen” customers around them can see that they’re religious. Our prayers should not be on display.
John Nolland: The challenge is to take the purity of motivation which by definition must characterize totally private engagement with God out into the complexities of normal life where others see what we do.
Walter Wilson: Wherever a potential audience is at hand, it seems, the hypocrites will ensure that their prayers are seen and heard, thereby exhibiting the sort of false piety about which Jesus laments in 15:8–9: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (cf. Isa 29:13).
J. Ligon Duncan: I want you to note here that Christ is not condemning all public prayer. The Lord Jesus Himself prayed in public. He prayed in semi-private settings, as well as public settings. And we are given records in the Scriptures of the prayers of the saints of both the Old and the New Testaments. The Lord Jesus is not saying to His disciples, be at pains, never to pray in public. He is not saying, never ever pray over your meal when you are in a public place. He is not saying, don’t stand up and pray at Prayer Meeting, and He is certainly not saying, never have a prayer in your worship services. That is not His point. His point is that all prayer ought to be with a view to God as its audience, not as man. And we ought to look for God’s answer and His approval, not the approval of men. All of our prayer must be done in humility and with a view to God alone.
I. (:5) FALSE PIETY IN PRAYING
A. Warning against Seeking Public Acclaim in Praying
“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners,
in order to be seen by men.”
Robert Gundry: Along with the synagogues, the intersections of wide streets provide a maximum number of admiring human auditors.
R. T. France: Devout Jews prayed three times a day (Dan 6:10), not necessarily at fixed times (m. Ber. 1:1–2; 4:1), though the ninth hour (3 p.m.) seems to have been normal (Acts 3:1; 10:30). Standing was the normal Jewish attitude for prayer (cf. Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11, 13), though sometimes people knelt (2 Chron 6:13; Dan 6:10; Luke 22:41) or even, in special circumstances, prostrated themselves (Num 16:22; Matt 26:39).
William Hendriksen: The reference here is to prayer in general, including thanksgiving, praise, adoration, confession of sin, personal petition, intercession for the needs of others, etc.
B. Forfeiture of Heavenly Reward
“Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
II. (:6) TRUE PIETY IN PRAYING
A. Instruction on Praying in Secret
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret,”
Robert Gundry: Private prayer ought to be secret so as to avoid being corrupted by the desire for public admiration.
Donald Hagner: refers to an inner room of a house (cf. Matt 24:26, the only other Matthean occurrence), sometimes secret or hidden (cf. Luke 12:3, “private room,” RSV “behind closed doors,” NRSV and often used as a storeroom (cf. Luke 12:24). It would be a room that allowed privacy; the reference to shutting the door adds emphasis to this aspect.
Grant Osborne: This of course does not disparage corporate prayer, but even that should be private in the sense of a time between God and his community. The major point is the complete absence of any desire to impress others. As in 6:4, 18 the reward then will come from God and be both earthly blessing and heavenly, eternal joy.
William Hendriksen: The idea is not that there must be a separate prayer room. . . The main emphasis, however, is not even on the place of prayer but on the attitude of mind and heart. Not the secrecy is the real underlying thought but the sincerity. The reason for mentioning the secret place is that the sincere and humble worshiper, one who is not interested in making a public display for the sake of enhancing his prestige, will find the secluded nook or den to be most appropriate for his devotions. It is there that he can shut out the world and be alone with his God.
B. Assurance of Heavenly Reward
“and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Richard Gardner: The point of this vivid metaphor is not that we should confine our praying to dark, private places, but that we should pray with the sole intent of communion with God, whose presence is hardly a public phenomenon. Only then can we receive the true reward of prayer.
Daniel Doriani: It is better to “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen,” for prayer is essentially private (6:6). Public prayer has all the distractions of a public situation: limits on time, the effects of an audience, and more. In private prayer, we can ask questions, groan, or pause and admit our confusion. A secluded place is best for that. Hypocrites pray with at most one eye on God and at least one eye on their reputation. But if we attend to God in prayer, he gives us his ear: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (6:6).