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Matthew 6:1-18

Who needs to know about your almsgiving, prayer, and fasting?

Tom Faletti

May 9, 2024

Matthew 6:1-18 Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting


By the time of Jesus, the Aramaic word for “righteousness” was the same word as the word for “almsgiving.”  We have a similar pattern with the word “charity,” which came from a word that originally meant “love” but came to also mean “giving to those in need” – i.e., almsgiving.

Verse 1 sets out a general principle regarding religious actions.  What is the principle?


Jesus will apply this principle to 3 common forms of religious activity or “piety” that the Jews of his time considered to be not just important, but essential, components of religious life: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.



Verses 2-4 Almsgiving


In verses 2-4, what is the behavior that should be avoided?


What is the wrong attitude behind that behavior?


Jesus refers to them as “hypocrites” because in its original meaning that word was used for an actor in the theatre.  He is saying they are putting on a show.


In contrast, what is the right attitude or approach to almsgiving?


What reward does Jesus say comes with the right attitude and actions?





Reread verses 2, 5, and 16.


In verses 2, 5, and 16, Jesus says that those who make a show of their piety “have received their reward” (NRSV and NABRE).  What do you think he means by this?  What are the rewards they have received by giving, praying, and fasting in public?


Where Jesus says they have “received their reward,” the word for reward in Greek is a word that can mean a reward for good service (see, for example, its use in Matthew 5:12), but it can also mean pay or wages that have been earned for work (see, for example, Matthew 20:8 – the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and James 5:4 – the workers’ wages you have withheld cry out).  As for the word “received,” the Greek word was used in commerce to mean “payment in full” (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 185).  So they have received in full what is due to them for what they have done. 


Jesus is implying that these are inferior rewards.  What is inferior about these rewards?


In verses 4, 6, and 18, Jesus says that our Father in heaven will reward (NRSV) or repay (NABRE) those give, fast, and pray in secret.  Jesus does not explain here what these rewards will be.  He never teaches that we will have earthly, material rewards.  What do you think the rewards of proper almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are?

There are many good answers to this question.  We find joy in giving for its own sake, regardless of whether anyone knows.  We find joy is seeing the good fruit or good results of our giving or praying.  We find ourselves changing, becoming more like God, taking on his character as we give and pray.  We find that God keeps giving us more good work to do (see, for example, Matthew 25:14-30, where those who have used their “talents” well are given new, greater responsibilities). We are given the opportunity to participate more and more in God’s work to transform the world and reveal the kingdom of God in new ways and places.



Verses 5-8 Prayer


In verses 5-6, what is the behavior that should be avoided?


What is the wrong attitude behind that behavior?


In contrast, what should our praying look like, and what attitude or understanding about God should guide our praying?


In verses 7-8, what is the behavior that should be avoided?


Some people in pagan religions would spend long periods of time reciting long lists of the names of their gods in the hope of getting their gods’ attention.


Jesus says we do not need to do this.  Why?


What is the wrong attitude behind that behavior?


In contrast, what attitude should guide our praying?


What do these teachings tell us about the nature of prayer?


What do these teachings tell us about the character of God?


What do these teachings tell us about the character and lifestyle of a Christian?


Verses 9-15 The Lord's Prayer

We will look at verses 9-15, the Lord’s Prayer, in the next session, after we finish looking at the common threads that tie together what Jesus is saying here about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.



Verses 16-18 Fasting


In the Jewish Scriptures, the Law of Moses only required one day of fasting: on the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16:29-31), but the Jews of Jesus’s time engaged in much more extensive fasting (see NABRE fn. to Matthew 6:16).


In verses 16-18, what is the behavior that should be avoided?


What is the wrong attitude behind that behavior?


In contrast, what is the right approach to fasting?


What is the purpose of fasting?


What are the benefits of fasting when done right?


Do you find that fasting helps strengthen you in your faith life?  Explain.



Take a step back and consider this:


Although Jesus says that God will reward or repay us, he doesn’t provide much detail as to what those rewards might look like.  He doesn’t offer us front-row seats in heaven, or two tickets to the Hosts of Heaven choir concert, or a special day at our choice of the finest celestial spas.  It’s almost as though he would rather not have us focus on the rewards.


What would he rather we focus on?


The “reward” for our service to God is to enter into his joy (Matt. 25:23) and be with him forever.  You could give, pray, and fast in ways that might help you be prepared to be with God forever, or you could do what appears from an outward perspective to be the very same things, but in a way that does not help prepare you for that life with God.


In whatever giving, praying, and fasting you do, how are you doing it in a way that might help prepare you to live joyfully with God forever?




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Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and See for more materials like this.

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