By Gene Price
Pastor, Tumbling Creek Baptist Church, Gleason
Focal Passage: Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of the importance of three spiritual disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting. Some spiritual leaders in Jesus’ day were using these spiritual disciplines to draw attention to themselves rather than using them as an act of worship. These important acts of worship can be used for the wrong reasons so Jesus warns those performing these disciplines to always have the proper motivation. Whether they are done publicly or privately, the desire behind them should be to bring glory to God and not to draw attention to ourselves.
Giving should be done to please God and not to draw attention to yourself. The Pharisees gave in order to gain favor with God and to receive attention from men, both of which were wrong motives. The Pharisees knew that the Old Testament Law commanded them to care for the poor (Deuteronomy 15:9-11), yet they were hypocritical because they only wanted to receive human applause for their deeds. Today many believe that all giving must be done anonymously. However, in Acts 4:34-37, everyone in the early church knew that Barnabas had given the income from the sale of his land. This is in contrast to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), who tried to use their gift to make people think they were more spiritual than they really were. It all comes back to the motive behind the giving.
Prayer, like giving, can please or displease God. Jesus warned against praying like the hypocrites or religious pretenders. They only pray when other people are watching. Most of our prayers should be done in private prayer chambers and our public prayers should be an overflow of those private times of prayer. The Pharisees would pray as long as someone was watching and they would use meaningless repetition of words and pray on and on and on. One of the most effective prayers in the Bible was only three words. When Peter walked on the water and took his eyes off of Jesus and he began to sink, he prayed, “Lord, save me.” Why pray since God already knows what we need? James 4:2 says we have not because we ask not. Like loving parents who know what their child needs before they ask, God loves to hear our requests. Prayer is our connection to God.
When it comes to fasting, Jesus said to deny yourself without making a show of it. The only fast that God actually required of the Jewish people was on the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). However, the Pharisees fasted each Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12) and they would fast in such a way that everyone knew that they were fasting. They strived to win the praise of men and by doing so, lost the blessings of God. Fasting was to be done to help believers to focus on God and His will for their lives. Fasting is not to be done for recognition, approval, or applause of other people. Throughout the Bible, fasting was done in times of grief, repentance, intercession, and in search of God’s will. Unlike giving or prayer, both of which are commanded, fasting should always be a personal decision and not mandated by others.
These three spiritual disciplines, like all other acts of worship, are meant to take our focus off of ourselves and placed on the One who is worthy of our worship. Only then are our outward and inward spiritual acts truly acts of worship.