Living for God (Matthew 6:1-18)

Jesus refers three features of righteous living among the Jews – almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Of course, it is important to stress that Jesus here is referring to personal, voluntary expressions of those practices. 

The Saviour points out a basic principle connected to personal acts of discipleship. If we engage in them in order to get a reputation among men, we will succeed in doing so. On the other hand, if we engage in them to receive blessings from God, we will succeed in doing so. The problem is that we cannot have both.

But Jesus does more that point out that principle. He also says that his disciples should be afraid of doing them like the Pharisees who were focussed on getting a reputation among men. His warning begins with the word, beware, and that word is only used when there is danger around. To have the attitude of the Pharisees means we are in trouble.

Jesus focuses on either a love of secrecy or a love of publicity. The Pharisees revealed to their audiences when they gave to the needy, when they prayed and when they fasted. The audience admired them for their devotion, which was what they wanted. Instead, Jesus’ disciples engage in their religious duties in the presence of the Father.

What is the presence of the Father? Jesus is not referring to God’s omnipresence, nor is he referring to God’s family presence such as occurs when his people do something together. Instead he is describing what takes place between an individual and his God. Some people have a literal place where they like to pray, and obviously that is helpful. Yet this secret place can be anywhere. What marks it is that the Father is there and is pleased with what he sees.

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