sermon: When You Pray Matthew 6:5-8

Truth Taught- God desires our prayers to be genuine and sincere not for the purpose of being seen by others


Last time I told you that we have entered into another section of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.  This section was marked by Jesus making this divine statement:

Matthew 6:1 (ESV)

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Our Lord is concerned with right doctrine and right practices.  Many will say it like this: Jesus is concerned with orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practices).  Both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are required in us, Jesus’ followers.

Also, if you remember, Jesus here addresses three examples of right practices and all three examples deal with our worship of God the right way…giving, praying and fasting.

Last week we looked at how it is Jesus desires us to give in contrast to how the Pharisees gave.  They gave as hypocrites wanting to be seen and stealing the praise that was due God alone.  In contrast to them, we are to give in a way that we are not after the praise of man but out for God’s glory.  We saw that giving is an act of worship highlighting God’s provision and glory.  Today, we are going to look at the second act of worship, namely Christian praying.

There are a few things we should notice before we get underway…

V2- When you give…

V5- When you pray…

V7- When you pray…

V16- When you fast…

In each case, Jesus desires His followers to be genuine worshippers not hypocrites like the Pharisees who played the part of a worshipper but in reality they were noting more than actors on the stage seeking the applause of men.


Matthew 6:5–8 (ESV)

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

1.  Don’t Pray Like the Hypocrites

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Our Lord teaches us that when we pray…He assumes that His followers will most definitely be prayer people.  Notice that He is not concerned with praying at certain times of the day like the Pharisees.  They had regularly scheduled times of prayer.  The trumpet would blast and wherever they were they would immediately stop, turn towards the temple and offer this long wrote prayer designed to be impressive to all those who would overhear them.  They were not really praying to God but rather saying impressive words for the applause of men.

Again Jesus paints a picture of the actors in the Greek plays.  The hypocrites were those who wear masks and play a part.  Here, the mask is of a true worshipper of God who voices lofty prayers.  The part they play is of a true worshipper but who they really are under the mask is a fake.  They love the praise of men.  Their reward is the roar of applause as people praise them. 

Jesus is not teaching against praying in public but like Christian giving, public prayer is not to be done for the purpose of being praised by men. 

I want to pause for a moment to consider the evil behind a fake prayer made to God for the sole purpose of being praised by men.  These Pharisees had no desire to actually pray.  They could care less about the sinful state of Israel.  They could care less about the lost or those suffering in this life.  They didn’t shed a tear for the orphan or the widow who had no one to turn to for help.  They didn’t mind it too much that Jerusalem was filled with lost sinners who did not know God.  The reason they didn’t care and didn’t pray was because they were themselves lost.  They looked the part and prayed long public prayers, which were no prayers at all for the fame and applause of men. 

Matthew 23:13–15 (ESV)

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

These religious leaders of Judaism were sons of hell.  Their goal was to make disciples after themselves so that they would have company on their way to hell.  They were master hypocrites.

Luke 12:1 (ESV)

12 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Leaven is what you mix in to dough that causes the entire lump of dough to raise.  Just a pinch of leaven will affect the entire batch.  So too, a little hypocrisy will affect the entire Church, for example.  Jesus tells us to beware of hypocrisy. 

We must always guard our motives.  Why are we doing what we do?

Here is just one example of the type of prayers offered up by the Pharisees.  In this parable of Jesus, He shows us the typical prayers He was used to hearing the Pharisees pray.  Notice the self-promoting words…Everyone look at me and what I do, is the sentiment.  

Luke 18:9–14 (ESV)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

2.  But When You Pray

 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Here, our Lord is not saying that effective private prayer must be done in a closet.  What He is stressing is that private prayer must be done in a place of seclusion and privacy.  He knows how distracted we can be.

I remember in seminary a secret room I found down in the basement of one of the classroom buildings where they kept the old beat up desks.  I went down there and locked the door and had wonderful times of prayer and study.  It was a secret place where I could meet with God in privacy and in secret. 

Jesus prayed this way didn’t He…

Mark 1:35 (ESV)

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Do you have a place where you can get away to meet with God in private?  It can be a room, outside in the woods or fields, attic, basement or some other private place.  I would encourage you to find that specific place and meet with God in prayer regularly. 

2 Kings 4:32–33 (ESV)

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord.

Our Lord highlights privacy and secrecy in praying.  Notice the contrast here between this proper form of prayer verses the way the Pharisees prayed.  Their prayers were public for the purpose of being seen by men.  Our praying is to be done is secret to be seen by God.  This contrast is vital.  God wants us to pray sincere prayers to Him for real needs.  We are dependent on God.  The Pharisees acted like they were not dependent on God.

The other contrast seen here is when the Pharisees prayed for the praise of men they received their reward but here, the Christian praying to God in secret will receive a reward from God who sees them.  You might think of what Jesus is saying as something like this…whoever sees you pray will reward you.  If you pray for the approval of men they reward you with approval if you pray to be seen by God in private, He will reward you.

Six times in the Sermon on the Mount, alluding to three distinct exercises, Jesus employs the term secret:

Give “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).

Pray “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6).

Fast “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 18).

The reward for giving without letting your left hand know what your right hand was doing was the reward of laying up treasure in heaven and God blessing the money you have left after you give in secret.  The reward for praying is secret with authentic sincere prayers to God are answers to those secret prayers.  God hears in secret and answers our prayers.

Isaiah 65:24 (ESV)

24    Before they call I will answer;

while they are yet speaking I will hear.

3.  Praying to Our Sovereign God

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Jesus tells us not to pray like the Gentiles pray.  Here, He’s using Gentile for those who worship false gods.  We have examples of gentiles praying to their false gods in the Bible.  We understand that these gods are idols and imagined deities and not real…

1 Kings 18:26 (ESV)

26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.

Acts 19:34 (ESV)

34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

These prayers are like the prayers offered up by the Roman Catholics who count beads as they pray.  In all these examples the reason the prayers were long and repetitious is because the gods they were praying to do not exist and did not hear and could not answer.

Notice, Jesus uses the words, empty phrases and many words.  When you pray to an imagined deity your prayers become longer and longer because they are never heard and never answered.

I want us to realize something important…the way you pray reflects the God you are praying to.  Gentiles pray long prayers with many repetitions because their god cannot do anything because he doesn’t exist. 

The Pharisees prayed long empty repetitious prayers. 

Luke 20:46–47 (ESV)

46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

What would a prayer look like offered up to the True God who made the heavens and the earth and everything in it?  What would prayer look like when we are praying to the Sovereign God who is all-knowing and all-powerful?

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

4.  If God is Sovereign Why do We Pray?

The Scriptures clearly teach that God is sovereign in all things: 

God “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).

God does His will “among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:35).

“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psa. 103:19).

On the other hand, the Bible also clearly and forcefully affirms man’s responsibility. In the realm of prayer, for example, we read that: 

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

“You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).

In nearly every one of his letters, Paul requests prayer and reports of his own intercession for his fellow believers (e.g. Eph. 1:16-23; 3:14-21; 6:18-20).

Paul prayed for the salvation of his fellow Jews: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). 

Prayer is one of God’s ordained means of accomplishing His purposes. 

Consider Daniel’s prayers for the end of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. 

According to Daniel 9:2, he knew that God had promised release after seventy years, but this didn’t keep him from praying! Rather, it motivated him to pray. As Daniel 9:3 says, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” 

Daniel prayed a prayer of repentance and asked God to relent His wrath the same time God had promised to release His people from captivity.

We learn from this that the true function of God’s promises is always to motivate us to action, never to calm us into laziness. God wants us to pray, but not because He can’t act without us praying.

God motivates His people to pray for the very thing He desires to do and so we are partners with God in His kingdom and plans.  You see rather than saying because God is sovereign I don’t need to pray we should say, because God is sovereign I must pray.

Another example of how sovereignty and prayer work together…

Luke 10:2 (ESV)

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Jesus desired to send out laborers into the harvest field to preach the Gospel and sow the seed of God’s Word and to reap a harvest and at the same time He asks His followers to pray that He would send out workers into His harvest.


How does your praying and your prayer life reflect what you really believe about who God is and the power He has to answer your prayers?

Do you pray knowing that God is sovereign and works through our prayers?

Or do you pray like the pagans who pile up many words and empty phrases thinking that that’s what it takes to get an answer?

Or do you not pray much at all thinking if God is sovereign then He’s just going to do what He’s going to do anyway?

Or do you just not really care at all?

Pray earnestly to our sovereign God with confidence that He has prompted you to pray and also be confident that He will answer your prayers according to His will and His infinite provisions.

*Resources Used:

Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles

A Gospel of Matthew by France

Matthew by Craig Bloomberg

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by Charles Price

Matthew by Leon Morris

Blue Letter Bible

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