Sermon on the Mount

Two Different Forms of Spirituality

Photo of Gary DeLashmutt
Gary DeLashmutt

Matthew 6:1-18


Next in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks to the religious elite. Addressing things commonly viewed as giving piety, and turning them upside down. Instead of doing things to gain peoples' admiration and favor, we should live for an audience of one. God wants a real relationship with us, not for us to merely go through the motions.


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Reminder that one main theme of this teaching is how different life in God's kingdom is from religion. He does this by critiquing the religion of the scribes and Pharisees (acknowledge generalization; representative of all "religion").

Last time (5:17-48), we saw that they teach completely different ways to gain entry into God's kingdom.

Religion teaches "Plan A" (briefly review).

But Jesus exposes "Plan A" as impossible (briefly review), and teaches "Plan B."

They also teach fundamentally different forms of spirituality. That's what Jesus talks about in this passage. In 6:1, Jesus delivers a warning that capsulizes the key differences between religious piety and following him (read).

FOCUS: Religious piety focuses on outward, external forms of piety; Jesus wants his followers to focus on the internal attitude ("secret").

MOTIVE: Religious piety seeks to impress other people; Jesus wants his followers to love and serve God because of their grace-based relationship with him--even if no one else sees.

REWARD: The reward of religious piety is having some people be impressed with how religious you are (and perhaps to leverage that into money, positions of power, etc.); the reward of Jesus' way is growing intimacy with and effectiveness for (SALT & LIGHT) God.

Let's see how Jesus applies this to the three most popular forms of piety in the religion of the scribes and Pharisees . . . 

Giving money

Read 6:2. "Giving alms" means (NIV) giving to the needy. This is rooted in the Old Testament teaching that God cares for the poor, so to be devoted to him necessarily involves caring for the people he cares for. It is related to the larger issue of giving money to God for his service.

Whether literal or figurative, we get the point. They found ways to pervert a beautiful way of worshipping God into a public relations campaign for themselves.

The church has had a rich legacy of this (EXAMPLES: ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA; DEMAND FOR PEW PLAQUES & NAME ON BUILDING; LINKING GIVING POTENTIAL TO DEMAND FOR DECISION-MAKING POWER), and who here can say they are immune from this temptation?

If you want to do this, Jesus says, you can always get some people to be impressed with how spiritual you are. But you will miss out on the real reward . . .

Read 6:3-4a. What does it mean to give "in secret?"

We need to be careful not to take this literalistically. Jesus is not saying that absolutely all of your giving must be anonymous. Some cite this passage for why they refuse to make a giving pledge. But this interpretation would contradict the rest of scripture.

Jesus' band had a moneybox out of which he directed them to give to the poor (Jn. 12:5-6).

In the New Testament church, people often gave publicly. Barnabas, for example, is singled out for his generosity in Acts 4:36-37.

Paul also called on his churches to make pledges as individuals (1 Cor. 16:2) and as churches (2 Cor. 9:5).

Prospective leaders had to have a record of generosity (1 Tim. 3:2-3), in part so they can lead by example in this area.

6:3 is obviously a figure of speech, because hands do not have self-awareness, and being spastic is not a good thing!

It means that when you give, you should not only not make a big deal of it to others--you shouldn't even make that big a deal of it to yourself. The of Jesus' point is his parable in Lk. 17:7-10 (read). We are God's stewards; we are responsible to manage his funds in ways that advance his kingdom. To do this is not some heroic act--it is just doing our job!

If you tell people how much you give to God's work, it should be because you think it will help them to become generous stewards, not because you want them to be impressed with you.

Read 6:4b. There are wonderful rewards for giving with the right attitude: SATISFACTION OF ADVANCING GOD'S KINGDOM & HELPING OTHERS; SEEING GOD PROVIDE FOR YOU.


Read 6:5. They were perverting personal communication with God into an opportunity to impress others. I'm sure we've all seen this: "PASTORAL PRAYER;" DIFFERENT VOICE & VOCABULARY; LONG XENOS PRAYERS??

You can always find someone who will be impressed by this, but you're missing out on the real reward . . . 

Read 6:6a. What does it mean to pray "in secret?" Is Jesus forbidding prayer aloud with other people? I know some Christians who cite this passage as support for their refusal of corporate prayer. But that can't be what he means, because it contradicts the rest of scripture.

Jesus prayed out loud with his disciples (Jn. 17; GETHSEMANE) and in public (Jn. 11:41-42), and made a tremendous promise about it (Matt. 18:19 "symphonize").

The New Testament Christians followed Jesus' example and did this all the time (Acts 4:24-31; 1 Cor. 14:16).

Many of you need to break this barrier, and establish the habit of corporate prayer!

Furthermore, you can observe the letter of this verse and violate the spirit ("DO NOT DISTURB--I'M PRAYING")! I suggest two main applications of the spirit of this verse:

Prayer (alone or with others) should be to God, and therefore sincere and personal. God is far more pleased with a stammering, awkward prayer that expresses your real thoughts and feelings than he is with a polished performance that is offered in place of this (Isa. 29:13?).

Prayer aloud with others should be the "tip of the iceberg" of our private communication with God.

Read 6:6b. How does God reward this kind of prayer life? With the greatest reward of all: growing intimacy with him (Jas. 4:8): clearer guidance, peace, etc. We'll talk more about this next when we look at Jesus' digression in 6:7-15.


Read 6:16-18. Although the Old Testament did not emphasize fasting, the scribes and Pharisees fasted twice a week (MONDAYS & THURSDAYS). They commonly left their "bed head" intact and even put flour on their faces so people would ask them why they looked so bad. Jesus says they have their reward--people noticed that they were fasting and were impressed by it.

What does it mean to "fast in secret?"

It does not mean that we should emphasize literal fasting! Unlike the above two practices, where are emphasized in the Bible, fasting is not even emphasized (only once/year in Old Testament; never prescribed in New Testament; narrated comparatively rarely; no reasons given for).

The early church quickly missed the point here (twice weekly, on WEDNESDAYS & FRIDAYS; LENT). It also has a rich legacy as asceticism and as a means of paying for sins and twisting God's arm to answer your request. It is increasingly prescribed by key evangelicals today as one of the keys to a close walk with God and/or worldwide revival--both of which

The authentic application here would be along the lines of what God says to Israel in Isa. 58:6-7 (read). It's the same thing that Paul emphasizes in Phil. 2:3-4 (read)--cultivating a lifestyle of sacrificial service for others.

And to do this with the right attitude--not as a martyr who lets them know how much I am sacrificing, but cheerfully, out of love for them and out of trusting gratitude to God.

What are the rewards of "fasting in secret?" See Isa. 58:8-11 for elaboration on this. Giving sacrificially to others is the key to true happiness (Jn. 13:17; Acts 20:35).


Remind of contrast. If you are turned off to religious piety, you have the company of Jesus! If you want to learn and experience Jesus' way, remember that it is rooted in a grace-based relationship with God--which you begin by receiving Jesus (Rev. 3:20).