THE MAIN THRUST IN CHAPTER 5 was morality; in chapter 6 it is faith. There are four aspects: faith and works, 6. 1-4; faith and prayer, 6. 5-15; faith and fasting, 6.16-18; and faith and possessions, 6.19-34. While these have an application to our age, as with the whole discourse, it is clear that national fulfilment will only come with the kingdom age. There is in these verses a strong warning against the ways of the Pharisees who are three times alluded to as hypocrites, vv. 2, 5, 16. The love of material things among the Gentiles is also mentioned in the parenthesis of verse 32. God’s people are to live a life of faith.
Faith and Works, 6. 1-4
The word ‘alms’ is used four times in the first four verses although W.E. VINE refers to the R.V. alternative ‘righteousness’ (dikniosune) in verse 1 as coming from the most authentic texts. This connects with what has gone before, 5. 20ff.
Almsgiving was a formal religious act by which the Pharisees indulged their self-seeking desire for prominence. These charitable acts made them appear righteous. But our Lord said that true works of righteousness were to be done in secret as unto the Father who would reward (‘recompense’, NEWBERRY) them openly. This would not be material gain but rather the inner joy arising from rendering to God what is ultimately His. The principle, ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (‘is doing,’ present continuous tense),’ is one we should take very much to heart. To parade our good works is to draw attention to ourselves, as the Pharisees did.
Faith and Prayer, 6. 5-15
In the same way the Pharisees’ self-righteousness was obvious in their striving to impress others by their public praying. In their almsgiving they used others to gain recognition; here they were using God Himself! They were guilty of hypocrisy. The word ‘hypocrite’ used three times in this chapter is from the Greek hupokrites which has the thought of an assumed character as of an actor performing on a stage, a graphic description of religious insincerity. Their prayers were as protracted and repetitive as they were meaningless (A.V. ‘vain’, v. 7).
From verse 7 the Lord spoke directly to the prayer life of the disciples. The Father could not be seen but He could hear! They were to pray in the privacy of their own rooms with the assurance that the Father knew what they needed even before they asked. This does not mean that all prayer should be in secret. Our Lord’s high priestly prayer in John 17, for example, was in the presence of the disciples (otherwise how could John have recorded it in such detail?). The disciples prayed together, e.g., Acts 4. 24-30. But prayer begins in the secret place.
Our Lord often resorted to quiet spots for prayer, e.g., Mark 1. 35; Luke 5. 16. Even in the Garden He separated Himself first from the larger group of disciples, then from the ‘inner circle,’ Matt. 26. 36, 39, 42, 44. The Lord then taught the model known as ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ which would be better described as the disciples’ prayer. It was a pattern - ‘After this manner pray ye…’ – and was never meant to becom a church ritual. There is no indication that early believers used it in this way. By it we learn that in prayer we should: (1) worship and reverence the Father; (2) express assurance in the inviability of God’s kingdom; for the Jew to come, for the church a spiritual kingdom now; (3) be subject to His will now as in heaven; (4) realize our dependence on the Father’s provision; (5) confess our indebtedness; (6) recognize our need; and (7) give glory to God to whom the kingdom, power and glory ever belong. Verse 12 is amplified by verses 14 and 15. Forgiveness is essential among those who have been forgiven by God, a point which our Saviour later illustrated, Matt. 18. 21-35. Because of its kingdom reference some have thought this model prayer to be only for Jews anticipating the Messianic reign on earth. But surely the pattern and content are most instructive for all? (It should be noted that the Lord Jesus Himself could not have prayed that prayer – how could the Sinless One ask forgiveness?) In general we learn that prayer should begin and end with God; should seek His will, provision and forgiveness; and be receptive to His leading. It reminds us too that effective prayer can be brief, without any of the vain repetitions and verbosity of pagan worshippers, vv. 5, 7.
Faith and Fasting, 6. 16-18
The third standard by which Pharisees judged spiritual achievement was fasting. As with public almsgiving and prayer fasting was used as a vehicle to give the impression of spiritual zeal. In principle fasting is the foregoing of physical appetites to promote the spiritual life. This would have been helpful had it not been for their wrong motivation. They were seeking to impress others rather than please God. They even sought to increase the image of sacrifice by neglecting their appearance (‘disfigure their faces’ A.V.). Again the disciples were told that their spiritual exercise was to be secret and that the Father would openly reward them. They were to anoint their heads and wash their faces so that there would be no indication of self-sacrifice.
The Mosaic Law required fasting on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 23. 26-32, where the phrase ‘afflict your souls’ includes fasting. In addition to this national fast, there was group and individual fasting, e.g., Neh. 9. 1; Psa. 35. 13. Whether or not fasting will be part of the millennial kingdom is open to conjecture. While the Bridegroom will be with them, cf. Matt. 9. 15, there may still be a need for this spiritual exercise among the subjects of the kingdom. It should be noted that our Lord did not preclude fasting altogether but only highlighted the abuses and taught the need for privacy. Whether we as individual believers in our age should fast is for us to decide before God.
Faith and Possessions, 6. 19-34
There is a slight change in emphasis from verse 19 onwards. While the abuses of the Pharisees were now extended into the love of material things there is a stronger thrust towards the attitudes of disciples. They had to understand that in the coming kingdom and therefore in their own lives the cares of this world and the craving for material wealth would not dominate. Believers had to separate themselves from the treasures of this world; theirs was to be a life of functioning faith, their riches, treasures in heaven. They could not both live for God and live for riches. The One who cares for the natural kingdom and animal life could certainly be trusted to look after them, physically as well as spiritually. Why was their faith so small when their heavenly Father could and would provide their every need?
The key? - ‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’. The earthly kingdom which lsrael looked for was based on the promises of a covenant-keeping God. But the principle applied to them there and then, as it does to us now. The just live by faith; the future is in God’s control, v. 34. The problem with the Pharisees was spiritual blindness. This is still a problem with many, even religious people. Their blindness came from a desire for prominence and material gain. Their bad spiritual ‘eyesight’ came from the darkness within. Do we not need to be reminded in this materialistic age that life is more than possessions? Our Father cares for the birds; He gives beauty and growth to all around us. And will He not care for us, physically and spiritually? We are the spiritual ‘kingdom of God,’ Rom. 14. 17. If the way is dark – and it is assuredly darkening as our Lord’s return draws near – be assured, the Father knows our need even before we ask Hilm to supply it. With this assurance, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’.
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