Matthew 6:1–18: Your Father Sees in Secret
Unlike Jesus’ day, we no longer live in a world where alms-giving, public prayer, and fasting gain Christians wide social approval. Indeed, the modern world despises Christians and any outward display of our faith. This does not mean, however, that Jesus’ warnings against false piety marked public pretense are unimportant. On the contrary, we are still in danger of trying to impress other Christians with our spirituality. Furthermore, the world has its own versions of the forms of piety that Jesus addresses here—public philanthropy, public virtue signaling (especially on social media), and the culture of outrage, oppression, and victimization that dominates our society. Even through Christianity isn’t fashionable, people living in this world still yearn desperately to be justified in the court of public opinion. In the never-ending quest to be on the “right side of history,” Jesus’ gospel offers freedom and rest, since God’s economy rewards secret obedience.
1. What kind of errors did Jesus address in Matthew 5:17–48? What kind of errors does Jesus now address in Matthew 6:1–18? Why is the temptation to “practice our righteousness before other people” (v. 1) such an enduring temptation? What do we hope to gain from it? In reality, how valuable is the reward of public approval? By contrast, how valuable is the reward that we have from our Father in heaven? Why can we not try to gain both rewards?
2. What kind of giving is Jesus addressing in v. 2? Whom are the hypocrites trying to impress by their giving? What might it mean for Jesus to warn us to “sound no trumpet” when we give to the poor? In v. 3, whom does Jesus have in mind when he warns us not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing? What is the modern equivalent of this practice? Why does giving in secret promise a better reward?
3. What kind of prayer is Jesus addressing in v. 5? Whom are the hypocrites trying to impress by their prayers? Inside the church, where might this temptation arise? Outside the church in a world public that despises public exercises of religion, what might a modern equivalent of this sort of public praying be? Where are you most tempted to speak in such a way that will win the approval of the world around you?
4. What kind of fasting is Jesus addressing in v. 16? Whom are the hypocrites trying to impress by their fasting? How does Jesus counsel us to fast instead (vv. 17–18)? Why is the difference so important? Have you ever fasted like this? Why or why not? If you did, what did you learn from the experience? Through this whole section, why does Jesus stress the importance that God is and sees “in secret”? Why does God’s economy reward secret obedience?