The word “hypocrite” came from ancient Greek drama. By means of role play, rhetoric or a face mask, the individual was playing-acting. Later, the term “hypocrite” became a designation of someone pretending to be something they are not.
In Matthew 6:1-18, the focus is on the Kingdom’s citizen’s conduct in regard to genuine godliness. Jesus begins this section by saying, “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” (Matt. 6:1). The conduct of God’s people is to be genuine godliness, which is without hypocrisy. This is seen regarding giving (Matt. 6:2-4), prayer (Matt. 6:5-15), and fasting (Matt. 6:16-18).
Giving (Matt. 6:2-4)
Giving to the needy is an important and kind act. However, the danger facing the act of giving is hypocrisy. Despite the kind act of giving, Jesus exposed the motivation of the religious leaders. Their motive was to be “praised by others” (Matt. 6:2). This pretend piety has its reward – the attention here and now. In contrast to this, Jesus instructed, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3). In other words, give in a way that doesn’t demand attention. God knows your motive and will reward genuine godliness (Matt. 6:4).
Prayer (Matt. 6:5-15)
Prayer is an essential element to the Christian life. Prayer is commanded by the Lord, it deepens our fellowship with the Lord, and is a means that God has ordained in accomplishing His purposes. However, if it is not done with the right motive it is nothing more than pretended piety. Jesus addresses this matter by talking about the motive of prayer (Matt. 6:5-8) and the manner of prayer (Matt. 6:9-15). Interestingly, three times in this passage the Lord says, “when you pray” (vv. 5, 6, 7). This statement assumes that prayer would be a normal part of the believer’s life.
Regarding the motive of prayer, Jesus provides two examples. The first example is of the hypocrite whose prayers are all about them (D.A. Carson refers to this as “play-acting praying”). Their prayers are marked by prideful recognition (Matt. 6:5) and pointless repetition (Matt. 6:7). The second example is genuine and humble prayer. This kind of prayer is marked by private removal (Matt. 6:6) and by plain request (Matt. 6:7-8).
Regarding the manner of prayer, vv. 9-15 are famously known as the Lord’s Prayer. Though it was not a prayer that He prayed, it is His prayer in the sense that He created it. This prayer provides us with a model of how to pray. After the opening words, this model prayer contains six petitions. The first three are concerning God (Matt. 6:10) whereas the final three are concerning us (Matt. 6:11-13). This prayer teaches the believer to place their attention on God making it a God-centered prayer. Recognizing that the purpose of this prayer is not to simply be repeated word for word (though that is not necessarily wrong), it provides God’s people with a pattern and model on how to pray.
Fasting (Matt. 6:16-18)
Fasting refers to the act of abstaining from food for a period of time, in which the individual would earnestly seek the Lord. In addition to the OT law of fasting on the Day of Atonement, people would fast for other reasons. Sadly, this act of humility and dependence upon the Lord became an opportunity for show (Matt. 6:16). Jesus commanded that this be done with the motive of honouring the Lord and not man (Matt. 6:17-18).
Beware of hypocrisy! Let us serve the Lord with genuine godliness from a heart that is filled with grated toward Him. He knows our motives so let us be warned that hypocrisy is of no eternal value.