Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, pp. 56-57.
#60, 61, 63 ON ALMSGIVING, PRAYER AND FASTING Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Almsgiving, prayer and fasting were the three pillars of piety for a devout Jew. All three pillars of Jewish piety are put together in these three teachings.
All three teachings (almsgiving, prayer and fasting) have identical key phrases e.g. “truly I say to you, they have received their reward,” and “your Father who sees in secret will reward you,” “hypocrites.” Underline these phrases in #60, 61, 63.
All three acts of piety can easily be transformed to be acts of self glorification. All three acts of piety can be done not to glorify God but to glorify one’s self. The issue becomes one of motive. Many pious and devout Jews were doing the right thing but for the wrong motive. There is always the temptation for religious people to demonstrate their religiosity in order to receive praise, affirmation, and applause.
#60 ON ALMSGIVING Matthew 6:1-4
We, as religious people, are rightly concerned about our financial offerings to help the poor and needy. The Jews of the Biblical era were concerned about their offerings to God’s poor, and we Christians are equally concerned about our offerings today. How much shall we give? To whom? To which institutions? To which missions? What is the right amount for our household to give?
As followers of The Way, we are encouraged to not do any deeds of love in order to glorify ourselves but to glorify God. Religious people often practice piety in order to look good and receive praise and respect from other people. Or people practice piety out of a sense of duty and obligation. By contrast, Christians are to do these pious actions, but do them privately and secretly.
-Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “They have their reward.” Highlight. “Reward” is a technical business term in the Greek language and means “payment in full.” It. For example, it refers to selling a slave and receiving a receipt that you are paid in full.
We recall that the Gospel of Matthew likes the word, “reward.” Matthew uses the word, “reward,” thirteen times in his gospel. John does not use the word, “reward,” at all; Mark uses it only once; and Luke twice. In other words, “reward,” is a favorite word and concept of Matthew, the tax collector.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(from New International Version)
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (from New International Version)
1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
(from New International Version)
2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (from New International Version)
4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
(from New International Version)
5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (from New International Version)
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (from New International Version)
16 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (from New International Version)
18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
(from New International Version)
41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. (from New International Version)
42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
(from New International Version)
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (from New International Version)
41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
(from New International Version)
23 "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
(from New International Version)
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (from New International Version)
“Your father.” Highlight. Focus on the word, “your.” “Your” is a personal reference of belonging. It is an incredible statement, when you think of it, that God is our Father. That means there is a personal relationship between us and God, between Father and children.
This is the third reference in the Sermon on the Mount to Jesus’ teaching that God is our Father. (There was an earlier reference to God as “our Father” in Matthew 5:16 about giving glory to your Father. Also in Mathew 5:45 in the teaching about loving one’s enemy so as to be sons of your Father.)
When Jesus was twelve in the temple, he said that he must be in “his Father’s house.”The pronoun, “your,” is plural. The pronoun “your” is plural throughout these passages.
Who does the plural pronoun, “your,” refer to? Jews? Disciples? The crowds? All Christians? All people whom God rules, who are part of the kingdom? All people all earth? All people who are God fearing on earth? As the author of this course, I believe that the pronoun refers to all people who know God as their Father, whose lives are ruled by God.
What do you think?
DISCUSSION QUESTION: FOR YOU PERSONALLY, IN THE PHRASE, “OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN,” WHO DOES THE PRONOUN “OUR” INCLUDE?
“Father who is in heaven.” Highlight. Focus on the word, “father.” Father in Aramaic is “abba” from which we get our English word, “daddy” or “pappa.” It is a term of intimacy and endearment. Great Biblical scholars e.g. Jeremias teach that when Jesus called God “pappa” in prayer, Jesus transformed the concept of God and our relationship with God from infinity into intimacy. When God is our Father, then we become children of God, and if children, we are then heirs. A person cannot underestimate the importance of Jesus calling God, our Father.
“Who is in heaven.” Highlight. Matthew consistently uses the term “heaven” instead of “God.” Matthew consistently refers to “kingdom of heaven” as a substitute for Mark’s “kingdom of God.” For Matthew, the name God was so sacred that it could not even be spoken, so Matthew consistently substituted the word, “heaven,” for the word, “God.” So our Father who is in heaven is our God-Father, our heavenly Father, our personal spiritual eternal Father. This term will be important in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.
Our heavenly Father transforms the whole concept of God and religion in which God is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omnipotent), all present (omnipresent). The vastness and infinity of God is still true but we also hear from Jesus that God is our personal heavenly father.
Infinity becomes intimacy!!!
-So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. “Give alms.” Highlight. Giving of alms was the giving financial gifts at the synagogue, on the streets to beggars, and to other needy people. The word, “almsgiving,” comes from the same Hebrew word for “righteous.” In the Old Testament, “giving of alms” and “being righteous” were the same Hebrew word, “tsedakah,”or the same Greek word, “diakosynay.” Giving alms to the poor was being righteous. Tsedakah =giving of alms = being righteous = diakosynay (in Greek).
“Hypocrites.” Highlight. Write the word, “actors.” The Greek word for hypocrite is simply, “actor.” People act religious; they are playing a part; they are playing a role in a drama. Hypocrites are not genuinely religious but pretending they are religious. We discover that hypocrisy was easily associated with financial charity, prayer, and fasting. The word, “hypocrites,” was used about all three pillars of Jewish piety.
“That they may be praised by others.” Highlight. We discover that people pretend they are religious and do religious acts in order to gain the praise of other people. What was true centuries ago is still true today. People today still receive praise for their financial generosity to the needy. But public praying and public fasting are not so prevalent in today’s world here in America. Today, if you see someone publicly praying, you may assume that he or she is a religious fanatic. If they tell you they are fasting for religious reasons, you assume that they are super-religious and are following the strict dictates of their religion.
Almsgiving and financial generosity to the poor is still a way to gain praise of other people. Many large and small financial gifts are publicly advertised so that the giver receives the proper praise and respect for his or her gift. Circle the word, “reward.” We will focus on that word in a moment.
-But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Highlight. This is an Aramaic colloquialism and one of the several Aramaic colloquialisms in Q. A colloquialism such as this indicates that this is indeed an ancient document, perhaps written in Aramaic (Papias said the Logia was written in the Hebrew language and Hebrew may have meant Aramaic). It means, “be secret about what you are doing.” Again, it is not to be taken literally. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” is an impossible action for the human brain. Rather, the phrase is a form of speech or colloquialism which advocates secrecy.
-And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“Your father.” Highlight. Again, be reminded of the powerful statement that God is our Father. “Your father sees in secret will reward you.” Highlight. First, notice the word, “your,” before the word, father. God is your father. This phrase leaps out with profound truth but it is often simply skipped over in Jesus’ teaching, and we quickly and inadvertently move onto the topic of secrecy and rewards.
Circle the word, “reward.” God will reward you for your generosity. Do not worry about the praise and admiration you will receive from other people for your acts of kindness. If you do acts of kindness and generosity in order to receive honor and glory, then you will have received your reward and admiration from other human beings. Instead, be secretive, and God, your father, will reward you. Consistently, we hear in the Gospel of Matthew that God, our father, will reward his generous and righteous people who are his children.
#61 ON PRAYER Matthew 6:5-6
Jewish prayer life consisted of several basic prayers.
- The Shema which is the basic prayer based on Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” This basic prayer was said every morning and night by every devout Jew.
2) The eighteen prayers were said during the synagogue service.
- The three hourly prayers: 9:00 AM, 12:00 PM and 3:00 PM (Muslims today pray at five designated times.)
- The prayers before and after all meals
- The prayers prayed on other special occasions.
It is important to have a ritual or healthy habit of prayer e.g. morning and evening prayers. Rituals and habits are beneficial in one’s religious life.
We will find Jesus engaged in prayer life often in the gospels, especially in the Gospel of Luke, where he went off by himself and prayed/conversed with God who was his Father and is our Father. Prayer life is a conversation between Father and child.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT IS YOUR PRAYER LIFE LIKE?
-"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; The Greek word for hypocrites means actor, and their prayers were nothing but acting for other people to see and applaud.
-For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. We can easily imagine that the Pharisees in Jesus’ day loved to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners. We can see them standing publicly at the wailing wall in Jerusalem, dressed in long black coats and wearing long black curly hair, and bobbing up and down as they say their prayers.
-Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. In their minds, they will have received attention for their pious acts and that is what the Pharisees wanted: attention, approval, admiration, applause, praise, honor, respect, esteem and any other similar words. They “used” religion to get the praise of other people.
-But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door We can feel the Aramaic hyperbole in this statement. We are not to take these words literally but the truth that the words are trying to convey. On the other hand, we are to take literally the images of Pharisees standing on street corners and in the synagogues praying.
-And pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“Your father, your father.” Highlight. Circle. Emphasize. Again, it is a totally revolutionary concept to address God as “your father.” And twice within one sentence.
God will reward you. Circle the word, “reward.” The word, “reward,” is used nine times in the Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The word, “reward,” will be used twice more in Matthew 10 and his report of Jesus’ teachings on discipleship.
#62 THE LORD’S PRAYER Matthew 6:7-15
In Matthew, this verse is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching about problems with prayer.
-When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “Do not heap up empty phrases.” Highlight. When other people are listening to our public prayers, we tend to become flowery and eloquent. Listen to the Prayers of the Church during worship and we preachers attempt to be dignified, erudite and flowery and yet authentic. By listening to the coloration of the lines of the prayer, you know that it is a prayer for public consumption.
“As the Gentiles do.” Highlight. Once again, Matthew is not Luke. For Matthew, Gentiles is a bad word but for Luke it is a good word. Luke emphasizes that the mission of the church is to the Gentiles, to those who are not Jewish; whereas Matthew is writing to persuade Jews that Jesus is the Messiah prophecied in the Old Testament.
“They think they will be heard because of their many words.” Highlight. Often in prayer, we pray the same request over and over again, as if the length or repetition of our prayers will persuade God to answer them.
“Do not be like them.” Highlight. Jesus is clear: we are not to pray in this manner. The pious hypocrites are not to be our positive example as how we are to pray.
-Pray then in this way: Highlight. Jesus then gives us instructions on how to pray. These instructions are enormously valuable for our prayer life. We learn what our prayer life is to be and what it is not to be. See Luke’s version of this scene. That is, the disciples approached Jesus when he was praying or more precisely, when Jesus finished praying. Jesus was not praying in a synagogue or in front of people, but out in some unknown place. The disciples wanted to learn to pray as John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray.
-Our Father in heaven, “Our.” Highlight. Again, the pronoun is “our;” it is plural. Again, a basic question is who does the pronoun, “our,” refers to? Disciples? Crowds? Jews? Christians? People ruled by God? All people? I personally believe that the “our” refers to all people who come to God as their heavenly Father and realize they are the heavenly Father’s children. Such people have a Father/child relationship with God.
“Father.” Highlight. Prayer is enormously personal. Jesus is revolutionary in addressing God as Father in prayer. This had never been done before in the history of the human race. This concept of personal prayer to a loving Father (God) transforms all prayer. Notice that Luke’s version does not add the “who is in heaven” but simply the word, Father.
“Who art in heaven.” Highlight. This phrase has been used consistently in this section, as has been the words, “our Father.” This is a reference to God.
-Hallowed be your name. “Hallowed.” Highlight. The word means “sacred, special, set apart, awesome.” Sometimes, Christians begin their version of the Lord’s Prayer, “Awesome is your powerful Presence.” Sometimes Christians prayer, “Father. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome is your presence.”
“Be your name.”Highlight. Your name means “your powerful Presence.” See Acts 4:7 which says, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” To do something in the name of Jesus is to do something by the powerful Presence of Jesus. Hallowed be your name means “awesome is your powerful Presence.”
Prayer begins with praise and adoration. Here Jesus teaches us to begin our prayer to our heavenly Father with some form of praise and adoration.
-Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. “Your kingdom
come.”Highlight. As has been said to often, the kingdom is the most important concept in the first three gospels. The kingdom is the reign of God or the rule of God. It is a life that is ruled by God; it is a nation or community ruled by God. This is the first and primary petition to be prayed. It is the most important request that we make of God. Notice that on page 57, Luke 12:32, that “it is the good pleasure of the Father to give you the kingdom.” On page 172, Luke 11:13, that “the Father’s is very desirous to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” The most important request of God and the most important gift from God is his reign, his ruling our lives, his kingdom, his Holy Spirit.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Highlight. This phrase is not in Luke’s version. These words are an explanation of what the kingdom is. The kingdom or reign of God is when God’s will is done here on earth as it is in heaven. These words are most helpful because we have a definition of what the kingdom is. The kingdom is anyplace or anywhere or anytime the will of God is done as it would have been in heaven.
So the first petition in prayer is for God’s kingdom to come into this earth, into our world, into our lives. That is, we pray that God’s will be done on this earth, in our world and in our personal lives.
-Give us this day our daily bread. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Highlight. This is the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer. It is the first petition for our human needs. Jesus taught us to pray for the basic food needed for life. Bread = basic food. It means the basic food supply needed for life. The word, “daily,” was found on an ancient papyrus manuscript, and the papyrus fragment was of a woman’s shopping list. The Greek word is “epiousios” which means “coming day.” We are asking God to give us the food necessary for our life today and tomorrow. … Who does the plural pronoun, “us,” refer to? A basic, fundamental need for all people is food and water.
-And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. “Forgive us our debts/sins, as we forgive our debts.”Highlight. The second earthly need that Jesus emphasizes is the need to give and receive forgiveness. As has been said numerous times, the only way for imperfect human beings to live with each other in peace and harmony is to give and receive forgiveness. All human beings are so deeply flawed and our lives are so consistently marked by sin, that what is needed more than anything else is forgiveness within human relationships. Human beings need forgiveness as much as we need bread and water. The emphasis is on mutual forgiveness. … The word, forgive, means to “let go.” The word, “debts,” is a common word for sins. The word, “debt,” is used because that Greek word has connotations of a bill or obligation that is owed. The word, “sin,” means to miss the mark.
-And do not bring us to the time of trial, “Lead us not into temptation/save us from the time of trial/testing.” Highlight. Write: Do not put us to the test. Many people interpret the word, “temptation,” as being seduced into sin. The conclusion is that God seduces us into sin. But that is not true. God does not seduce us or tempt us or ensnare us into sin.
Rather, many translations of the Lord’s Prayer translate the line as follows: “Do not bring us to the time of testing.” A time of testing is to test what quality of human being we have here. The same was true of Jesus’ testings in the wilderness. God was testing Jesus to see what quality of person Jesus was; at the same time, Satan was tempting Jesus, seducing him into sin. God tests and Satan tempts. We, as disciples, want to avoid those painful times of testing in our lives because there is so much pain involved, but times of testing may make us stronger in the long run. In the same event, God will be testing and Satan will be tempting.
-But rescue us from the evil one. “But deliver us from evil/the evil one.” Highlight. The word, “devil,” comes from the Greek word, “diabolos” from which we get the word, “diabolic.” As has been said previously, take the letter, “D,” off the word, “devil,” and you get the word “evil.” The concept of devil is a personification of evil. Some people believe in the personification of evil in the form of the devil; others simply believe in the presence of evil but not the personification of evil. For us, the concept of “the devil” is an anthropomorphism of evil.
-For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” Highlight. Find these words in the middle of the page in small, italics print. These words are not found in any ancient manuscripts of the Bible but in the Didache. This phrase was first inserted into the Lord’s Prayer in the Didache, an ancient book that many of the Early Church Fathers regarded as Scripture. The Didache was written in about 85 CE.
(The Didache, also called The Teaching of The Twelve Apostles, was treated as Scripture in Alexandria. It is the oldest Christian catechism outside the New Testament and is sometimes called “the lost teachings of Jesus.” A copy of this document was lost until it was discovered 1883 CE. The Didache has twenty-two quotations of phrases from the New Testament, and these phrases are given the authority of Scripture. The Didache also refers to a written Gospel, most likely the Gospel of Matthew, and this Gospel (of Matthw?) had Biblical authority. There are three sections in the treatise: teachings of Jesus, liturgy, and church organization. The dating of its authorship is often from between 60-100 CE.)
-For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.“For if you don’t forgive people their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.” Highlight. Both Matthew and Luke include this stern phrase. Jesus teaches that God, our heavenly father, freely forgave our sins, even though we did not deserve it; and consequently, we as Christians are to forgive the sins of other people as God has so generously and freely forgiven us our sins.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: FOR YOU PERSONALLY, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE IMPORTANT LESSONS THAT JESUS IS TEACHING US ABOUT PRAYER?
#63, ON FASTING Matthew 6:16-18
-And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. “And when you fast.” Highlight. For the Jew, fasting was to abstain from eating, drinking, bathing, anointing one’s self with oil and having sexual intercourse. For the Jews, there was one national day of compulsorily fasting and that was the Day of Atonement. The Jews also developed habits of personal fasting e.g. not combing their hair, covering themselves and their faces with ashes, and wearing old clothing. In other words, these people would draw attention to themselves that they were fasting.
Jesus did not deny the validity of fasting but people drawing attention to themselves when they were fasting. In other words, it is healthy for a person to abstain from eating, drinking, bathing and sexual intercourse for a short time as a way of totally focusing on God and God’s purposes for our lives. But no one is to know when we are doing this. As Jesus says, anoint your head with perfume and bathe and look as you would normally look…while are fasting and dedicating yourself to God.
-But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Circle the words, “your Father.” These words are powerful and Jesus uses them so easily and almost casually, like those words are part of his everyday thinking. We are not to do our religious rituals in order to gain the respect and admiration of other people.
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