During one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Stephen Douglas accused Abraham Lincoln of being two-faced. Turning toward the audience, Lincoln retorted, "I leave it to you, my friends. If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?"
There is an inclination in all of us to be people pleasers to one degree or another and so we are tempted to put on a different face when we find ourselves in certain circumstances or are around particular people. We set aside our true selves for a self-created self. Jesus calls it hypocrisy and it is a very serious matter in our relationship with Him. You will recall His scathing exposure of the hypocrisy of the religious elite of His day (e.g., Matthew 23:1-36). In our study today, Jesus warns all of us against hypocrisy in the practice of our religion.
This week we will resume our study of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus paints for us a portrait of what we are to look like as those who have come under His gracious rule. We have already looked into the Christian's character described in the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12), the Christian's influence explained with metaphors of salt and light (5:13-16) and the Christian's righteousness as expressed in the fulfillment of the Law which Jesus brought and which He addressed using a recurrent phrase, "You have heard that it was said... but I tell you..." (5:17-48). Our attention this week will be on a Christian's religion.
Read Matthew 6:1-18 and use the questions given below to help you meditate on what Jesus teaches us about how and why we are to practice our religious devotion.
1. Jesus addresses three practices of righteousness in these 18 verses. What are they and how are they different from the practice of righteousness we already reflected on in 5:21-48?
* Are the three practices that Jesus takes up here in chapter 6 commanded of us? What do you think is the role of these practices in our lives?
2. Jesus opens this segment with a warning. What is it, and how would you reconcile that with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16?
3. What does Jesus say about giving to the poor? What are we to avoid?
* What does Jesus mean when He tells us to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing? How can that possibly be applied?
* What do you think is the reward for giving in secret?
4. What does Jesus tell us about how to pray? How are we not to pray?
* What instructions are we given about how to pray?
* What do you think is the reward for praying in secret?
5. What does Jesus teach us about fasting? What are we to avoid when we fast?
* How would you apply Jesus' teaching about fasting to your own practice of fasting?
* What do you think is the reward for fasting in secret?
6. Why does Jesus demand that we practice our religious duties in secret?
* How might secrecy help fight against hypocrisy?
* Do you think we can give to the poor, pray, and fast in secret and yet still miss the reward of our heavenly Father? Why or why not?
7. How do you understand what Jesus says here about rewards? It seems that everyone is rewarded in one way or another for their religious devotion. What rewards does He promise?
8. What does this segment of Jesus' sermon reveal about what His followers look like? In other words, how do these verses add to the portrait of a saint, someone who has come under His rule?
9. Are these three religious practices a regular part of your life as a follower of Jesus? What do you think the Lord Jesus would say to you about giving to the poor, praying, and fasting?
10. Do you find any hypocrisy in yourself as you have thought about what Jesus says in these 18 verses? If so, what does it look like and what would the Lord have you do about it?
May God be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!