SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
We Have a Choice: Try to Impress
Other People or Do What Pleases God
Key Verse: Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1
“Piety” is not a bad word. Search for synonyms and you find these lovely words: goodness, holiness, devotion, faithfulness, and godliness. Piety is a noun that means acts of devotion or action inspired by devout religious principles. Piety is the result of spiritual disciplines; it is what we do to express our Christian convictions or basic beliefs.
Nonetheless “piety” is not a word commonly used in our everyday conversations. The reason may be the negative connotation we associate with the word “pious.” A man who despised “church” once told me he would never attend our church because of “the pious biddies and gossipmongers who go to your church.”
His use of the word was derogatory but not unlike other ways I hear it used. I have heard people say about someone: “He (or she) is much too pious for me.” Such a comment is not complimentary! It expresses contempt for a person who is making a show of religiosity rather than practicing true devotion to God.
Such false piety is what Jesus condemned. This scripture passage gives us an opportunity to explore what Jesus said about piety and how his teaching applies to our lives today. If some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, this is not one of them. Here the teaching of our Lord is crystal clear. Let’s summarize his guidance.
First, we should not do good deeds for public recognition but do them without fanfare in secret. Only then can we expect a reward from God. If we do good deeds, or our charitable giving, in order to be admired by others, then their praise is all the reward we will receive. This suggests that God’s reward would be his own praise for our charity, praise we shall not receive if our main concern is to impress other people with our generosity.
This brings to mind a man in one of my churches who wanted recognition each year as one of the top three contributors in the church. He wanted his giving to be known and admired by his pastor and other church leaders. He had his reward from men. He missed the reward of his heavenly Father because he insisted on letting the left hand know what the right hand was doing. If we “blow trumpets” in the church and in the streets about our gifts of charity, we will lose the reward the Father wants to give us.
Second, we should not pray publicly in order to impress others. Instead, we should pray alone, speaking to the Father in secret, so that the Father, who knows all secrets, can reward us. Refuse to pray like “the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners” to be “seen by others.” Praying, like giving, should be done in secret.
Third, in praying remember that God is not impressed by many words or much babbling. God wants prayer as simple as a child might pray. Repeating empty phrases “as the Gentiles do” will not cause our prayers to be heard by the Father. The reason babbling is not necessary is because God is our caring Father and he knows what the needs of his children are even before we ask him.
Fourth, model your prayers after the prayer he offers as an example of how to pray. We call this brief but beautiful prayer the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that offers profound insight about how God wants his children to pray.
Here Jesus solves the question of how to address God. Our Lord called him Father. There is no need to conjure up impressive phrases such as “Great Architect of the Universe,” “Creator,” “Redeemer,” “Sustainer,” “Great Spirit,” “Great Jehovah,” or “Almighty God.” He is all of that and more, but primarily God is our Father.
The word Jesus used for “Father” was actually “Abba,” the Aramaic word commonly used by children when speaking to their father. The equivalent in our language is “Daddy.” Jesus was saying that we do not have to address God by using formal terminology. Instead, when we pray we can imagine ourselves crawling into Daddy’s lap, like a trusting child, and speaking to him with the simplicity and innocence of a child. For the stuffy scribes and Pharisees, this was a radical new approach to God.
Forget all the fuss about gender, and refuse to “neuter” God as some insist on doing. Just follow the example Jesus set for us and call God “Father.” He is our Father and we are his children. The kingdom is not advanced one inch by capitulating to the demand to remove all references to the masculinity of God. When all the dust settles, God will still be our Father, and that is not an insult to women. In the biblical sense, “Father” has a much deeper meaning than human masculinity.
Despite giving us a more intimate name for God, Jesus does not invite us to approach God in a casual, “Buddy-Buddy” attitude. His name is holy and should always be used with reverence. That is what it means to “hallow” his name.
When we examine the Lord’s Prayer further, we find these beautiful truths:
1. God’s kingdom should be our focus as it was for Jesus. We are to live as citizens of the kingdom and work to see that his will is done on earth.
2. To pray daily for food is acceptable to God. While we understand that we “do not live by bread alone,” it is not selfish to ask the Father to give us the food we need. We should not ask for a stockpile of food, but as this phrase is rendered in the Living Bible, “Give us our food for today.” Trust is implied by the use of the word “daily.” We need not fret about food or hoard a huge supply out of worry about the future. Having embraced a “world view” as Christians, we can never forget to pray for the millions who are starving for lack of food. Jesus would surely be pleased to hear us add a phrase like, “as we trust you for the food we need today, Lord, please show us ways to alleviate the hunger of your children who are starving.”
3. We can expect God to forgive us
for our sins only if we are willing to forgive those sinned against us. To
refuse to forgive others for their sins is to shut the door on receiving God’s
forgiveness. We are all sinners and to please God we must practice forgiveness
in all our relationships. As
4. We should pray that God will deliver us from the temptations of Satan. The phrase, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” has always been a bit confusing. Clearer and less awkward is this translation in the Living Bible: “And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” It is a foolish Christian who underestimates the power of Satan to tempt us to disobey God. We are wise to confess our need daily of God’s help to resist Satan. He never lets up in his effort to lead us astray.
After offering the model prayer, Jesus reminds us again of the absolute necessity of forgiving others. He knows how difficult this is for us. So in verse 14 he underlines again God’s demand, not a suggestion, that we forgive those who have hurt or wronged us. Remember the Nike commercial: “Just do it.” If you refuse, you cannot have a saving relationship with God.
Christian piety should include the discipline of fasting. Yet once again Jesus insists that our fasting should be done in secret, not to gain the recognition of others. The bottom line concerning piety is simply this: We have a choice; we can practice piety to impress other people or we can practice it in ways that are pleasing to God. The wise and only choice is clear; we should aim to please God by doing our good deeds in secret, never publicly so our friends will admire us.
So, big ego, sit down so I can express my devotion to God “for his eyes only.” + + + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)