Alms, Prayer, And Fasting
The Lord Jesus Christ constantly warned his disciples to be aware of and studiously avoid hypocrisy in all acts of worship and service in the name of God. Hypocrisy, the leaven of the Pharisees, is the leaven of outward religion. If it reins in us, it will ruin us. So we are warned to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6). Hypocrisy is religion that is only skin deep, a religion of works, words, and show, a religion that is void of grace, heart, and spirit. Hypocrisy is a form of godliness, an outward show of religion and religious activity, without the life and power of God in the soul.
In Matthew 6:1-18, our Lord specifically identifies three areas of religious activity which are easily perverted into mere acts of religious showmanship, three areas where hypocrisy is commonly seen: the giving of alms, the matter of prayer, and the practice of fasting. These were prominent religious activities among the Jews of our Lord’s day. In fact, wherever people practice religion of any kind, it is most natural to make these three things prominent. All religions encourage them to one degree or another, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Man naturally associates these things with religion. It is assumed that in the practice of them we serve God with our whole being: in alms giving with our estates, in prayer with our souls, and in fasting with our bodies. While encouraging the practice of outward piety, in this chapter, our Lord gives us a much needed and commonly ignored warning - In all our acts of worship, service, and devotion to God, we must avoid seeking to be seen of men, and seek only to be seen of and to glorify the Lord our God.
GIVING OF ALMS (vv. 1-4) - All
that is said in these verses may be applied to all Christian giving; but the
specific subject is alms giving, charity giving, giving to the poor. Without
question, this kind of giving is prescribed by the law of God written upon the
hearts of all men by nature, the law given by the pen of Moses, and by the
grace of God experienced in the soul. Wherever grace and righteousness is
established in the heart, charity flows generously from the hand (Psa. 112:5,9). That which is given to the poor is
said by God to be their due (Prov. -28). Almsgiving is
the essence of what James describes as the practice of pure, undefiled religion
(James ). Those who profess to
be the followers of Christ should, above all other people, be charitable,
generous, giving people. Give to the poor. Give to the cause of Christ. Give to
INSTRUCTIONS ABOUT PRAYER (vv. 5-15) - Our Savior here assumes that all Christians pray. As soon as Saul of Tarsus was converted, we read, “Behold, he prayeth.” All that are godly, all who are born of God pray (Psa. 32:6). I do not say, “They say their prayers.” Saul of Tarsus did that all his life. But the Word of God does declare that every regenerate soul prays. “You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe,” wrote Matthew Henry, “as a living Christian that does not pray.” In these verses, our Lord does not teach his people to pray. There is no need for that. He teaches us how to pray. In verses 5 and 6, he says, Do not pray to be seen of men. Do not use a posture in prayer that causes people to look at you or calls attention to yourself. In public places, other than places of public worship, we are not to engage in public prayer. Prayer is between you and God. As much as possible, let your prayers be unobserved and unheard by men. Do not use vain repetitions (v. 7). That prohibition extends to all memorized prayers, pious sounds and voice tones, religious jargon, and “Hail Marys.” This is a prohibition against much speaking in prayer, too. God does not need to be informed or argued with, but acknowledged, sought, and honored. The prophets of Baal put on a show when they cried aloud to their deaf God. The servant of God simply uttered the desire of his heart (I Kgs. -37). That is what prayer is!
True prayer is an act of faith. Place, position, and posture are meaningless. Words are really insignificant. Prayer is the acknowledgment of God as my Father with the confidence that the knows and will supply all my needs. In prayer, the believer simply and confidently seeks the glory of God (v. 9), the increase of God’s kingdom (v. 10), the will of God (v. 10), daily provision (v. 11), daily mercy (v. 12), daily preservation (v. 13), and the praise of God (v. 13). Let men talk all they will about prayer, unless our prayers arise from sincere hearts of faith and love, they amount to nothing but meaningless noise (vv. 14-15).
INSTRUCTIONS ABOUT FASTING (vv. 16-18) - Fasting is an occasional abstinence from food and carnal pleasures. It is subjecting the needs and desires of the body to the burden of the heart and longings of the spirit in prayer. We read of many in the Word of God who fasted in prayer when greatly concerned about a specific matter (David, when his child was dying; Daniel, when he sought the mind of the Lord; Esther, before going in to Ahasueras; the Lord Jesus, before he was tempted; and the church at Antioch, when they ordained Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel). Yet, there is no direct command given in the Word of God requiring anyone to fast or teaching us that we should fast. It is left to each believer to decide whether he will fast, when, and for how long. This is a matter about which no man should sit in judgment over another. There are some poor people in this world who never have enough to eat. It would be utter cruelty to require them to fast. Sickly people, whose frame must be sustained by a very strict diet, would be acting foolishly if they fasted. In a word - If you choose to fast, you may do so freely. And, if you choose not to fast, you may do so freely. The only thing our Lord requires is that no one is to know, but you and the Lord, whether you fast or do not fast. If you fast, “do not appear unto men to fast.” That is the only rule given in the Word of God about fasting.
Do nothing in the worship and service of God to be seen of and applauded by men. Yes, we are to let our light shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. But we are never to do anything that others my see and applaud us! The hypocrite is one who lets his light so shine before men that they cannot see what is going on backstage! The Lord God cares nothing about how much money you give, how long you pray or how often, and whether you fast. He is interested in only one thing - Why? “The Lord looketh on the heart!”