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Recognise That God Sees In Secret And Rewards Openly

by Lawson Mayo

"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:
otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.
Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:
for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets,
that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door,
pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of,
before ye ask Him. After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:
for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.
Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret:
and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."

Matthew 6: 1-18

Matthew 6: 1-18 carries a warning of danger that comes from seeking the approval of men for the good that we do. To offer alms for the sake of praise, to pray for the sake of being heard, or to fast for the sake of being seen robs God of the honour and glory that is rightly His. When we rob God of the praise that is rightly His, we rob ourselves of a spiritual reward. There is no place for the "sounding of trumpets" in our lives; no value in "standing" to pray where many ears can hear; no benefit in fasting if the fasting is done to be seen of men. Appealing to the favourable notice of others while professing to be holy does not attract the attention of God.

The best way to avoid the danger of losing one's due reward is to covet the praise of the Lord. Be not influenced by the approbation of others. Do your alms in secret. Enter into a private place to pray. Fast without anyone's knowledge. When secrecy is not possible, such as a benevolent work of the church, public prayer, or group fasting, there should be a heavenly focus. Projecting our thoughts on the glory that will flow upward is a safeguard against coveting the praise of men.

Perhaps the revelation about God "seeing in secret" should be given an extra measure of consideration. If God sees in secret, He can see the motive behind the deeds that we do. If He sees the motive, He knows whether or not we covet the praise of men can so cleverly hide our deceptiveness in the matter of almsgiving that no-one knows we're coveting the praise of men, but we can't hide our deceptiveness from God.

Back in the Sixties, we knew a family that did many good things for others. They took many care-packages to those in need, and with each box of goods they placed a little note that read "for Christ". This sounds good, doesn't it -- but the story doesn't end there. They frequently boasted about all the good they did in the name of Christ. Why? To gain the praise of men. At the same time, we knew another couple who went about quietly doing what they could for others. Unless their deeds were accidentally discovered, they went unnoticed. Once, when I caught them in the act of helping someone, I praised them publicly. Let me tell you, they immediately placed my head on the chopping-block! My revealing their good works was an embarrassment to them. They cared not for the praise of men; they simply wanted to serve their God by privately meeting the needs of others. Which of these two families do you think will receive an open reward in eternity: the one that boasted of what they did in the name of Christ, or the one who boasted not at all? Without hesitation, I can tell you the one that made the greatest impact on my life.

"It is to our wilful natures, our perverted hearts, and our self-blinded judgements, that Christ's counsel is given" (Lewis-Booth). As negative as this might seem, there is something exceedingly touching about the Lord's counsel. It not only issues a serious warning, it offers a precious promise: the promise of a divine reward for genuine righteousness. To me, this is reassuring.

Christ covers three points in my assigned passage: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. I'd like to focus on these three points one by one.

ALMSGIVING (Matt. 6: 1-4).
Almsgiving, as we've already noted, should be God-centred, not self-centred. Our needs should be done to the glory of God; not for the glory of self. To be sure that our motives are pure, we might ask: "Would I do this if no one ever knew I did it?" If you can honestly pass this test, chances are your motive is righteous and pure. In this life, no one may ever know the good that you do, but you can rest assured that, in eternity, the deeds you've done will be made known. This is an earthly promise that carries a heavenly reward.

Almsgiving, in the language of the later Rabbis, was called "righteousness" which might include prayer and fasting, but the usage in Matthew six seems to mean benevolent practices that mankind offers toward others. Jesus attuned to the needs of others. He was concerned about the physical needs of those who followed Him. In meeting those needs, He had their highest good in mind. He sought no glory for self. He desired no personal praise. He craved not the admiration of men.

In His sermon, Christ is instructing His followers to give their alms "in secret" so the Father will receive the glory. Wait a minute! Did we not hear Christ say, in the earlier part of His sermon that our lights should shine "before men" that they may see our good works, and glorify the Father? Have we actually found a contradiction in His teaching? No! What we see here is a redefining of purpose; namely: to glorify God in all that we do.

In Matthew 5:16, the works were not for self-glorification. They were to draw mankind out of darkness into the light of Christ. In this passage, Christ is warning against doing good deeds for self-glory. We are not obliged to do our works so much in secret that our good works with the intention of gaining praise and glory solely for self.

The doing of good deserves reward. Even a hypocritical act of kindness should bring a measure of glory to the giver, as well as a measure of relief to the recipient. No one is entitled to a higher reward than his motives deem proper, however. Nothing more than a temporal reward can be expected when our works are done to be seen of men. The glory that one received is his full reward; there will be nothing waiting in the day of judgment; no recognition given; no acknowledgment of the deeds done. There is, however, an eternal reward waiting for those who give alms "in secret" (not for self-glory, but to glorify God). So then, what is your pleasure? Which will you choose?

We are not prohibited to do good before men; neither are we obliged to reject the praise that well-doing will procure. But there is a bast difference between giving God the glory, and coveting glory for one's own self. Intent of the heart is the life and soul of an action; this is the message that Christ is conveying. In our text, Christ is correcting the manner in which charitable duties were being performed by the people of His day In the giving of alms, they had more regard for self than for God. This is seen in the "sounding of trumpets" as they went forth to do their good deeds. Their desire for applause had transformed their almsgiving into an act of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy! That's what Christ is talking about! According to its original significance, the "hypocrite" referred to actors who assumed the role of a feigned character. The applause they received, for a performance well-done, was their full reward. So it is with those who seek glory for self in the giving of alms; the "applause" they receive is their full reward.
This portion of the lesson wouldn't be complete if I failed to mention the part about not letting you left hand know what your right hand is doing. This is an interesting precept that's often misapplied. I once heard of a man who takes this passage so literally that he doesn't even let himself know what he gives to the Lord of Sunday. When it comes time to take up the offering, he just sticks his hand into his pocket, grabs a handful of change and, without looking, puts it in the collection plate. This is a violent misapplication of God's word, but people are like that! They can so easily miss the point. Metaphorically, the phrase is expressing the spiritual advantage of noiseless giving.

PRAYER (Matt. 6:5-15).
Once again, hypocrisy is the dark thread that Christ weaves into His teaching. True, He is setting forth a pattern of prayer for His disciples to follow; but , in doing so, He issues a severe warning to those who would pray for appearance sake, as was the manner of some in His day. The religious leaders seemed to be especially prone to this; they loved to be seen as holy. Public prayer was a way of getting the attention they needed to feed their inflated ego. Prayer is a privilege that should be done privately; not a matter to flaunt before others. There is a place for public prayer, but even then, to pray with the desire to be noticed is an indicator of hypocrisy.

In His sermon, Christ makes it clear that self-righteous acts are inconsistent with the spirit of true righteousness. To avoid the appearance of self-righteousness, He recommends "secret" prayer. "When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray . . . that they may be seen of men . . . but thou, when thou prayest, enter into they closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which seeth in secret" (Matthew 6:5,6). This is Christ's advice.

A "closet" is a quiet is a quiet place that closes out distractions; it's a place to be alone with God; a place of solitude. Christ knew the effectiveness of solitude. He often sought to be alone in His talks with God, and so should we. Secret prayer will deepen our relationship with God, it will strengthen our faith; it will increase our love for Christ, and it will bring an "open " reward. When we look back to the prayers we have prayed and the answers we have received, we can clearly see the meaning of "open" reward. Sorrow that has been lifted, achievements that have been made, illnesses that have been overcome, blessings that have been showered upon us, deliverance from temptation, courage to press on; these are "open" rewards that can be traced to acceptable prayer.

Some people think that long prayers and repetitious words are beneficial in gaining the attention of God. Not so! Sometimes short is best. Peter prayed a short prayer that was effective: "Lord save me" (Matt. 14: 30). And what of the publican's prayer? Standing afar off, not lifting up so much as an eye to heaven, he offered a brief prayer: "God be merciful unto me a sinner" (Luke 18: 14), and Christ said that the publican "went down to his house justified". Why? Certainly not because his prayer was long! No, humility of heart was what caught the attention of God. Prayer need not be long to be effective, but it must be sincere. It must come from an humble heart.

It should be noted, however, that long prayers and persistence in coming to God with repeated requests is not wrong within itself. Christ spent whole nights in prayer, and in Gesthemane He prayed three times using the same words. What Christ condemns is the mouthing of shallow words and phrases such as one might hear in a Pentecostal service where there is a constant wailing of "Lord, Lord, Lord". Such a prayer that goes on for long periods of time falls into the "repetitious" category that Christ was condemning. Another example of long, repetitious prayer would be the rosary prayer where the counting of beads, coupled with a constant chant is ritualistically repeated again and again. You know what I'm talking about: the "Hail Mary, full of grace" type of prayer that are uttered around the world in our age. Mechanical weariness, ceremonial form, ritualistic repetition that the heart cannot follow ceases to be prayer. Praise, sincerely offered, supplication, intercession, thanksgiving: these are the facets of prayer that Christ offers as a guide.

In prayer, we should come to God like children to a father, offering our adoration and making our request known in the simplest of ways; leaving our cares with Him to do with as He sees best. We should remember, however, that there is no concealing of our faults from Him, as from our earthly parents. He knows all, He sees all, He understands all (Matt. 6: 8). One cannot truly pray to God as "Father" unless he has been born into God's family through obedience to the Gospel. This may seem fundamental to us, yet many in the world claim God as their Father with our being subject to His will. Submission to the whole will of God is mandatory (1 John 5: 1-3). One who does not surrender his life to Christ can have no part with Him.

Reverence is an essential factor in one's prayer life. This is seen in the manner in which Christ opens the sample prayer. Listen to the words: "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name" (vs. 8). Can you hear the respect, the reverence, the praise? Can you see that this is an acknowledgment of submission, a statement of allegiance and a confession of faith? Can you understand the indication that God is not only personal and loving, but that He is majestic and holy?

When the Lord gave His disciples this form of prayer, He meant for its precepts to rule their lives. Praise and adoration was to be a part of their daily walk; submission was to be uppermost in their minds. Praise and adoration and submission should be a part of our daily walk too; yet how quickly we forget. No sooner do we express our praise and adoration, than we begin our self-willed demands: Heal this one . . . Heal that one . . . Give me this . . . Give me that . . . I need . . . want . . . on and on we go. Shame on us! Every prayer we utter should carry the submissive phrase: "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done."
How do we pray? Simply. Sincerely. Humbly. Conditionally. We are to acknowledge that God is our sustainer and provider. We are to show trust in His providence. We are to ask for courage to resist temptation. And we are to request forgiveness. If we pray the "forgiveness" part of the prayer as it is written, we can be sure that it will be answered! How is it worded? "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." How forgiven would we be if God's forgiveness were based on the way we forgive others? To ask forgiveness is easy, but to forgive is difficult, indeed! In the matter of forgiveness, we control the result. Either we can forgive, and be forgiven; or we can withhold our forgiveness and suffer the dreadful consequence.

In our prayer life, whether private or public, there must be a deep respect for God, and a willingness to conform to His will. "Whatsoever we do in word or deed, should be done in the name of the Lord" (Colossians 3:17). "In the name of the Lord" means more than praying in His name, it means living in accordance with His precepts and promises, so that our petitions might be acceptable.

FASTING (Matt. 6:16).
Actually the subject of fasting is covered in verses 16-18, but my assignment is limited to verse 16 which points to the fact that fasting, when done to be seen of men, is hypocritical -- as hypocritical as the giving of alms for self-glory and offering prayers to be seen of men. Fasting, when done in the right manner and for the right purpose is a soul-strengthening action; when abused, however, it can endanger one's soul. This we should not forget.

Under the old law, fasting was mandatory only once a year: on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23: 27-32). Its purpose was for the expression of grief for sin that had been committed by the Jewish people. The Pharisees, however, fasted twice a week for the purpose of impressing the people with their "holiness". Jesus condemned such hypocrisy. He said "When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast". Then he added "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward". There it is again: an empty reward for actions that generate self-glory.

Fasting, like almsgiving and prayer, must be sincere. It's an action to be seen of God, not of man. It should be done in secret for some spiritual purpose such as expressing godly sorrow for sin. With this thought in mind, can you now see how fasting in the church should be altogether private? Sin is a sorrowful thing, and should be repented of, but the Gospel is glad tidings, and should be presented in all of its glory to mankind. To don a sad countenance, to disfigure one's face as was the custom of the Pharisees to show their holiness, is not the image that Christ would have us project to the world. Maybe this is why He said to "shine" as lights of the world. Have you ever seen a discouraging light? Of course not. The purpose of a light is to guide, to lead, to direct, not to repel.

The purpose of fasting should not be limited to expressions of sorrow, however. There are many spiritual reasons for which one might choose to fast. Christ fasted before He faced the tempter (Matt. 4: 2). Paul fasted as a part of his Christian walk (2 Cor. 6: 4-5; 11: 27). Early Christians fasted as they ministered to the Lord (Acts 13: 1-3). The church fasted when it appointed elders (Acts 14: 23). Thus, fasting is a definite part of the New Testament pattern, but it was not to be done in an attention-getting manner. Fasting should not be done for the purpose of "appearing" holy: no sackcloth for clothing, no ashes on the head, no long faces, no sign of mourning. Fasting is personal; it is private; and, when done in accordance with God's will, it is productive. I suggest that it's a subject we might want to study; a discipline we might want to try for the purpose of drawing nearer to the Lord.

Paul said that we should not be "menpleasers" (Gal. 1: 10; Eph. 6: 6; Col. 3: 22). To have "friendship" with the world is enmity with God (James 4: 4). To covet the "flattering" words of the world worketh ruin (Prov. 26: 28). God "knoweth the secrets of the heart" (Psalm 44: 21); yea He is a "revealer of secrets" (Dan. 2: 28-29). He will openly reward deeds that are done in the right spirit. A pat on the back for a job well done is appropriate, and a word of praise is encouraging, but if our good works are done for the purpose of the pat and the praise, they are done in vain. We will have our just reward: empty glory that fadeth away.

Notation: The word "openly" that is found in Matt. 6: 4, 6, 8 isn't found in many versions other than the King James. Actually, in the Greek/English interlinear, using Nestle's Greek New Testament and King James English, the passage is clearly without the word "openly" in these three verses. While this in no way detracts from the reward that God offers for righteousness, it does seem to suggest that the reward will come later, i.e. in eternity rather than in this earthly life. However, Jesus taught in John 10: 10 that blessings offered to the obedient can be enjoyed in this life as well as in the life to come, thus giving the assurance of receiving some of God's reward even now. One can certainly enjoy the fullness of life in Christ and "openly" reap the benefits of well-doing in this lifetime! Almsgiving, prayer and fasting can bring rich rewards to those who give and pray and fast according to God's will. This is the encouragement that our text offers.

Let us make a personal application. As Christians, we should spend more private time with God. Our relationship with Him should be the most important relationship we have. All that we do should be done to His glory, for His cause, and in His name; whether it be meeting the needs of others, spending time in reflection and prayer, or fasting for some specific purpose such as expressing Godly sorrow for our sin.

But in our rush-rush world, finding time to be alone with God can seem disastrous. What will we have to leave undone? How can we adjust our day? These are real questions that deserve real answers: before we answer them, however, let's think for a moment about the use of our time.

Business, family, God: these are important relationships that vie for our time. Of the three, which is the most important relationship? Business relationships are important, family relationships are important, but the truly important relationship should be our relationship with God. If we can agree on this, our problem is solved. We will do whatever is necessary to keep our relationship with God alive; to improve it; to enrich it.

Far too often, our lives are filled with "busy work" that robs us of precious time that we could spend with God. Far too often, our hearts are not centred on things that are truly lasting; they are good, they are wholesome, they are beneficial -- but not truly lasting. Maybe what we need to do is to give up something that is good for something that is better. Maybe we could let go of some of our "busyness" to make time for doing that which the Father would have us do. He must surely miss communicating with us when we go for days at a time without prayer. He must surely grieve over the lack of time we reserve for Him. He must surely mourn over the priorities we set, the time-robbing activities that we value, the quickly spent moments that we reserve to be alone with Him.

Just south of where I used to live in the States, is the great country of Mexico. In Mexico, every one takes time for a siesta every day. Everyone! The young, the old, the common labourer, the grocer, the chemist -- even the president of the country takes time for a rest in the middle of the day. What a waste of time! What and indolent people! Not at all! These South-of-the-border people have created a relaxed way of life for themselves. They don't rush-rush, hurry-hurry, work-work all day long. They take time to enjoy life, and somehow everything gets done; nothing that's truly important is left wanting. Why can't we be more like these? Instead of sleeping, however, why can't we spend an hour or so with the Lord?

I once read that Martin Luther prayed for over an hour each morning. When he had extra work or additional burdens with which to deal, he would pray for three hours to gain the help he needed to do that which was required. Apparently, he considered this to be a profitable use of his busy day. Perhaps time-management is a theme that needs to be revived. Maybe we should start making lists, setting priorities, and deleting the insignificant in order to make time for the truly important. What is important? What is vital? Surely it's our relationship to God.

Our delight should be in the law of the Lord; and in the law, we should meditate day and night (Psalm 1:2). Morning study will give us a precept, a thought, a verse, or even a phrase that we can reflect on throughout the waking hours; a few moments spent in the morning can be amplified into hours of contemplation throughout the day. A few moments of morning prayer can supply strength for jobs that must be done.

Such a practise is well and good, but what about special time alone with God; quiet time; unlimited time; uninterrupted time; time to spend in your "closet" with God? Do you have a closet, a private room, an inner chamber; a place where you can pray in secret? You should know! If you don't have such a place, find one; then, pray. Unload your heart, share your burdens, expose your pain, express your joy, in secret; let God supply the "open" reward in His own way. Consider these five suggestions: (1) Give yourself plenty of time to spend in private prayer with God. (2) Find a comfortable "closet" in which to pray. (3) Pray for specific things. (4) Keep the lines of communication open with those for whom you pray. (5) Select a time that suits you best.

In the words of an old, old hymn:
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His word . . .
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.

May our almsgiving, our prayers, and our fasting ever be done in accordance with God's will; having this confidence: that God, seeing in secret, will reward openly.

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