"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.Matthew 6:5(NASB)
As one reads through Christ's Sermon on the Mount, it can be noticed, from start to finish, that it follows a very logical sequence where one topic flows coherently into the next.
Just as Moses laid out God's law to Israel on Mount Sinai, so we find Jesus, Israel's anointed King, presenting a comprehensive constitution of His coming kingdom which delivers a synopsis of His character and conduct - His mission and mentality.
Just as the Law was not presented as a means of salvation, neither do we find the Sermon on the Mount to announce the way to be saved, (which is by God's grace through faith). Rather, Christ's sermon was to show men the inherent sinfulness of their human nature. And so, we find the Lord Jesus presenting His expectations of a believer's relationship with God's perfect law in this important teaching.
In this section, His focus is on prayer - praying aright and the rewards that will be given to believers who pray in spirit and truth. However, He contrasts spiritual praying with the sanctimonious prayers of hypocrites: "Who love to stand and pray in the synagogues, or on street corners, so that they may be seen by men, and receive their approval."
Christ's Sermon on the Mount did not simply restate the letter of the Law, but included teachings about the spirit of the Law as well. Indeed, over many centuries, an ungodly, religious, and self-indulgent attitude had permeated the spiritual nature of the nation of Israel. Even the leaders had substituted the fear of the Lord and reverence for His holy name, with worldly excess and unrestrained extravagance.
Christ exposed their pretentious behaviour and insincerity: "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites," He taught. "They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners," was Christ's blistering accusation, "so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you," He continued, "they have their reward in full."
These religious hypocrites loved the limelight. They deliberately positioned themselves in the public eye so they would be applauded by others for their supposed piousness. But God reads the heart, and Christ knew that the motive for their self-righteous actions was the praise of man.
"Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full," was Christ's appraisal. No doubt they received much earthly honour from their fellow men.. and may even have been held in high esteem by those who grieved for their sins - but that is all the reward that these self-righteous hypocrites will receive.
On the surface, these hypocrites appeared to be so spiritual, and yet the Lord Jesus recognised them as religious pretenders - and exposed them. He pointed out that they had received their reward already through the adoration they received from passers-by. However, there would be no heavenly reward for such deceitful behaviour.
It is easy to look back and point an accusing finger at these religious deceivers. And yet, we should all take a moment to reflect on our own lives, to ascertain whether we may be falling into some form of religious pretence.
May we live our lives as unto the Lord and not seek the passing applause of men. Let us present our lives as a living sacrifice, which is holy and acceptable to God... and let us seek to use the privileges that we have been granted by grace, wisely and biblically, through faith in Christ, for His own glory.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the privilege of prayer and how I praise and thank You that You are a God Who hears and answers the cries of Your children. Keep me low at the Cross and broken before You, and help me to walk in spirit and truth all the days of my life. Teach me to pray into Your perfect will, and not yearn for the approval of man. In Jesus' name I pray, AMEN.