Matthew 6:5-8

Setting and Overview
As Jesus addresses the danger of self-righteousness and false piety throughout the first half of chapter 6, He is also challenging us to evaluate what distinguishes us from non-Christians. While giving, praying, and fasting were critical to the Jewish people as the public practices of piety, in reality, many non-Jews did all of those things as well. Similarly today, although we may often look to them as evidence of our faith, it is far too common for Christians to do those activities, even prayer, in a way that is indistinguishable from non-Christians. Our are prayers mostly offered when we need something, focused on ourselves, spent thinking about ourselves, and done without reverence for God? Between these verses and the Lord’s Prayer that follows, Jesus addresses each of dangerous ways in which prayer can be performed in an unworthy manner and shows us what our prayer life should look like.
 
Exposition
As with giving, prayer is not being prohibited, nor does it even need to be commanded, as it was assumed and understood by His audience. Prayer was offered by faithful Jews three times a day (Daniel 6:10, Acts 3:1.) One setting for prayer was when a member of the synagogue was chosen to lead prayer, which was a great honor. Praying on street corners was less usual, but if someone wanted to be seen, it would be easy to find one’s self there at the hour of prayer. The issue addressed here isn’t the posture of standing (which was common and one of the acceptable postures for prayer) or even praying publicly (which is shown favorably elsewhere in the New Testament.) Rather, the issue is the goal of prayer is to be seen, and thus, to be praised as pious. Instead, Jesus recommends that prayer be done in the most private and unseen setting possible. This isn’t to say that prayer should never happen with others or where it can be heard, but rather when prayer is being offered individually and it is possible, it is better to go somewhere in private where you can focus on God.
Jesus also warns against babbling repetitiously. Pagan nations often prayed long and repetitive prayers that lacked sincerity and instead were designed to simply try to get the attention of their gods. While Jesus Himself did pray at length and even repetitively (Matthew 26:36-44), and commanded persistence in prayer to His followers (Luke 18:1-8), that should be distinguished from the repetitive prayers of the pagans. Unlike the pagans, we know that God already knows our thoughts and needs and that we have His attention when we pray. Therefore, we can come to Him confidently and eagerly, and bring our requests to Him as He has commanded. Ultimately, Jesus is warning against insincere and irreverent prayer, as well as prayer that is focused on people and not God. Instead, our prayer should be sincere, reverent, eager, and expressed with confidence in being heard.
 
Examination and Application

Are our prayers different from the prayers of those who don’t know Christ? Is our private prayer life at least as sincere and constant as our prayers when we are around others? Do we come to prayer with a view of God, of ourselves, and of the blessing that it is to be able to come to Him in prayer, that is consistent with what is revealed in Scripture? If we recognize room to grow in that area, then we can come to Scripture and be reminded of what we can so easily overlook. God’s glory is so great (Exodus 33:18-23) that only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31-35) and even then, only once a year after proper sacrifices (Leviticus 16:1-2, Hebrews 9:1-10.) Christ, however, has come as the perfect high priest and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-14), which gives us the blessing to able to enter into God’s presence with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-23.) Do we draw near as confidently, sincerely, thankfully, and reverently as such a blessing deserves?
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