1 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. 2 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. 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 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. 6 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. 7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. 9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 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. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16 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. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 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. Matt 6:1-18 (KJV)
The First Sunday in Lent.
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
The first day of Lent, commonly called
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all
those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and
acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Our Gospel lesson for today is taken from the 1928 Lectionary for Morning Prayer for the assigned day)
In this season of fasting and sober contemplation of the coming sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is meet and proper that we should consider how our Lord responded to the forty days of fasting referenced in the Collect for today, and then consider how miserably we have failed that perfect standard in conducting our own lives in the face of temptation and trial. Of course, no living soul can meet that standard except Christ; and that is precisely the reason He found it necessary to offer Himself up for our salvation. It is by the righteousness of Christ, not ourselves, by which we are accounted righteous, and it is His free grace that has elected us to such a magnificent salvation.
In examining our text for today, we discover three salient areas of counsel which the Lord is teaching us about Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting. Some points of our Lord’s teaching may offend those whose worship has been more a matter of the traditions of men than of the biblical traditions handed down in Holy Writ. Nevertheless, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)
The first lesson of our Lord in today’s text addresses the matter of Almsgiving and righteous acts. It might be noted that all three lessons compare a personal nature in performance and not one designed for public attention.
In verse 1-4 of our text, we are counseled on our ‘MOTIVES’ in performing our works of charity. We are not to perform our good “works before men, to be seen of them.” There are occasions when such works must be done in sight of men; however, the motive must not be to gain favor and acclaim to ourselves in doing those works of charity.
Verse 2 is quite revealing of this principle: “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.” The ‘synagogues’ are the equivalent of our churches today. In the days of Christ, there were thirteen trumpet-shaped chests about the Temple Treasury to receive offerings. These were composed of brass and made differing sounds when coins were dropped into them. If the coin was large and of precious metal, the trumpet would resound as the coin circled into the bottom of the chest. If only one or two mites, others may not even hear the deposit. The hypocrites loved to drop large coins into the trumpets, especially if there were many around to hear it. When the motive in giving large donations to the church, to charitable organizations, or even to the poor is to gain favor of the public, well, that would be the reward of the giver – the glory of men! But if, out of a compassionate and loving heart, the gift is given, and not for public favor, then the reward is deposited in the most secure bank of all time and eternity – the Treasury of Heaven.
As a biblical example of the above principle, consider the poor woman who gave all that she possessed (though only two mites) into the treasury. Many gave hundreds of times that amount into the horn – but this woman did not give out of her wealth, but out of her need, and not for the impressing of any. Her two mites were accounted greater than all the rest.
St. Augustine compares those who boast of their good deeds to the foolish hen, who has no sooner laid her egg than, by her cackling, she calls someone to take it away.
Our second lesson from the text concerns not only the WAY we pray, but the MOTIVE in praying.
“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.” In His teaching, our Lord does not leave anything to doubt. He provides us with the examples of what NOT to do in Prayer, as well as the proper manner of it. Hypocrites, like the Pharisees who thanked God “for not making him like other men, even this publican,” love to make long prayers in public places to be seen of men. Such a one would probably not spend a nanosecond in private prayer because his motive is for public prestige and not private enlightenment. I have heard men utter prayer in church that exceeded the sermon in length. These prayers are rewarded by the renown gained in the public eye, but will not move a tiny stone in Heaven.
The Lord’s next counsel on prayer involves our ATTITUDE in praying. “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 ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” There is a difference between private and public prayer. Private prayer is our intimate moments of fellowship with the Father when we make appeal to our PERSONAL NEEDS AND CONCERNS. Public prayer is that performed in public worship in which our prayers are offered, not for personal issues, but for the edification of the congregation. Vain repetitions include repeating the same phrases over and over as if God did not hear the first mention. These are like the Hindu and Buddhist mantras which are repeated ad infinitum until the mind is numb with nothingness. Once again, the strong point is MOTIVE in praying sincerely to God without regard to public acknowledgement.
The Lord even provides a perfect prayer to us as a model for all. It asks only for daily bread and forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer is intended as a public prayer in worship. It begins with ‘Our Father’ not “MY Father.” It is prayed in unison by all present – all having the same Father, and repeated out of love for Him. There is no true love of country that is not part of the wider love of the Kingdom of God throughout the whole world. We cannot raise any one wave of the sea permanently above its general level.; nor one nation forever above the general level of humanity.
Christ deemed it important to extenuate the meaning of asking forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. If we do not forgive others who repent of an offense, how could we expect God to forgive our greater offenses against an offended Sovereign?
It may be this last topic that offends more than the others, at least to those accustomed to the ‘traditional’ smudge of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday. While it is true that we read of examples of men covering themselves in ashes as a sign of repentance and mourning, it is doubtful that a tiny dot of ash to the fore head causes that much misery. If the purpose is not to give SOLID evidence of repentance, then what is the purpose in wearing a cross of ash on the forehead all day long unless to let others know how pious we are? What did our Lord tell us concerning these outward smudges?
“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.” Some of my Anglican friends may object, “But we have done this in the church for two hundred years!” And I would respond, “Yes, and for two hundred years you have done wrong!” We should not appear to be starving in of fast, but fresh and pleasant. We should not appear to have gunpowder burns on our foreheads.
So what is our Lord’s precise instruction concerning fasting? “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.” I do not feel this last counsel requires any indepth explanation – it means EXACTLY what it says!
I will close with an example of how the traditions of men can seem right but may be completely heretical:
“We have read of a lady missionary in India who, on visiting a certain town, found the place smitten with cholera. She gave to some of the patients a specific for cholera, and ordered further supplies of the medicine for other sufferers. On her return she was delighted, on meeting the chief man of the place, to hear him say, ‘ We have been so much benefitted by your medicine that we have decided to accept also your God.’ To prove the reality the reality of what he said, he led her into their temple, where she saw the empty bottles arranged in order on a shelf ; and immediately the whole company of natives prostrated themselves upon the floor in worship to the bottles as a god. It is quite possible that very Christian people may sometimes fall into an analogous idolatry. An excessive reverence or admiration for certain formulas of worship, capable of conveying
a true blessing when the worship is really in the Spirit, but useless as empty medicine bottles when the Spirit is lacking, may not be so remote in character from the worship of empty bottles.” — Rev. D. Berger, D.D.
Such are the traditions of men when devoid of biblical understanding. AMEN
“Prenez en Gré”
In Christ Alone during Pre-Lenten
† Jerry L. Ogles , D.D.
Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide & Chancellor, Faith Theological Seminary
“Metus improbo compescit, non clementia.” – Syrus, MAXIMS: Fear, not kindness, restrains the wicked!
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer – HOLY SCRIPTURE:
“If there were any word of God beside the Scripture, we could never be certain of God’s Word; and if we be uncertain of God’s Word, the devil might bring in among us a new word, a new doctrine, a new faith, a new church, a new god, yea himself to be a god. If the Church and the Christian faith did not stay itself upon the Word of God certain, as upon a sure and strong foundation, no man could know whether he had a right faith, and whether he were in the true Church of Christ, or a synagogue of Satan.”