Summary: "When You Pray" is an exposition of Matthew 6:5-8. In this passage, Jesus tells us what not to do when we pray. His instruction can be summarized with two prohibitions: (1) Do not pray like the hypocrites. And (2) do not pray like the Gentiles.
WHEN YOU PRAY
There is a principle of Bible interpretation called the principle of repeated mention. It means that the repeated things in scripture are usually the emphasized things. This principle leads us to the theme of our text. Verse 5 begins, “And when you pray.” Verse 6 begins, “But when you pray.” Verse 7 begins, “And when you pray.” This repeated phrase carries several foundational assumptions. First, the text assumes that righteous people pray. There are many passages that command us to pray. This is not one of them. This passage assumes that true disciples pray. Prayer is to the soul what oxygen is to the body. Show me a person who does not pray, I’ll show you a person who is spiritually dead. Righteous people pray.
The second assumption of the text is imbedded in Jesus instructions on prayer. The Lord assumes his people pray. The grammatical emphasis of the verb “pray” speaks of it as a continual practice. Yet Jesus still deems it necessary to teach on how to pray. The assumption is that even though you may regularly pray, you do not know all that you need to know about prayer. All of us need to join the disciples in the request of Luke 11:1: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Romans 8:26 applies to all of us: “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought.” At some point, Jesus would say to all of us what he said in response to the request of James and John in Matthew 20:22: “You do not know what you ask.” So Jesus teaches here what to do and what not to do when you pray.
This lesson on prayer is a part of THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, recorded in Matthew 5-7. Matthew’s Gospel declares Jesus to be the promised Messiah-King. THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT is the constitution of the kingdom. As the crowds grew with heightening Messianic expectations, Jesus sat with his disciples on a grassy hillside and taught them what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. The requirement for kingdom citizenship is as simple as it is impossible: TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS. It was important that this crowd overhear this message. Many of them erroneously thought they were already in the kingdom because they confused being religious with being righteous. Jesus announces that such people have phony kingdom passports.
Matthew 6 teaches how righteous people do religious stuff. Verses 1-4 teach how righteous people give. Verses 5-15 teach how righteous people pray. Verses 16-18 teach how righteous people fast. Our text is the less famous part of the Lord’s instructions on prayer. The famous part is verses 9-15 that record THE LORD’S PRAYER. Our text is not as well known as the Model Prayer. But it is more than just an introduction to it. Our text is the equally important counterpart to the Model Prayer. In the Model Prayer, Jesus gives simple but profound instructions on how to pray. In our text Jesus instructs on how not to pray. What Jesus has to say about how not to pray is just as important as what says about how to pray. The fact that Jesus gives the negative instructions first may mean that he deemed it more important that we know how not to pray than how to pray.
These negative instructions Jesus gives may be more important than the Model Prayer in that the Model Prayer teaches the power of prayer, while our text teaches the power of sin. You will never understand the sinfulness of sin if you only consider the horizontal effects of sin. Sin will affect your relationship with other people in your life.
• Sin will lead you to cheat on your spouse.
• Sin will lead you to neglect your children.
• Sin will lead you to dishonor your parents.
• Sin will lead you to betray the trust of your friends.
• Sin will lead you to steal from your employer.
Sin can hurt your relationships with the important people in your life. But in this text Jesus deals with an even more dangerous aspect of sin; namely, that sin will hurt your relationship with God. Sin can corrupt your relationships at home, school, or work; but sin can also corrupt the most Godward of acts – like giving, prayer, and fasting. Not only will sin mess up your marriage, job, or education, sin will also mess up your worship, so that rather than glorifying God in worship, you start using God in worship to bring glory to yourself. So before Jesus teaches how to pray, he first teaches us how not to pray. The Lord’s instructions can be summarized with two prohibitions: Do not pray like the hypocrites and do not pray like the Gentiles.