Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (February 9, 2020) Piety That Honors God / God Honoring Piety Matthew 6:1-8

Piety That Honors God / God Honoring Piety – Matthew 6:1-8

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s lesson Jesus instructs us on piety that honors God. This God honoring piety begins with instruction on how to do good deeds.  Then Jesus switches to where to pray, how to pray, and how not to pray.  All of this is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist, he has endured forty days and forty nights of fasting in the dessert followed by temptation from the satan.  He has begun his ministry in Galilee, called his first disciples, and ministered to the crowds before he begins his first major discourse – the Sermon on the Mount. In this week’s text Jesus instructs us to do our good deeds, to give our alms, and to pray our prayers in ways that won’t draw attention to ourselves.  When it’s all about us, when it’s all about drawing attention to ourselves, it’s not about the will of God for our lives. And it’s not about the others that Jesus sacrificed his life for. Additionally, in this week’s text we begin to see a bit of the antagonism The Gospel of Matthew contains toward the synagogue. This antagonism is a result of the division between what I call the old school traditional Jews (who reject Jesus) and these new Jewish Christians who believe Jesus is the Messiah.  Matthew does not offer a friendly glowing depiction of the synagogue. In this week’s text, as Matthew writes to the Jewish-Christian community he recalls the words of Jesus from decades earlier and his focus is God honoring Piety. Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:  

Hypocrisy 

Kingdom of God

Background:

This is the second lesson of three that comes from the early chapters of the Gospel According to Matthew.  Last week I mentioned how Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and the first book of what we call the four Gospels.  I noted how Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are placed at the beginning of the New Testament as the theological backdrop for the rest of the New Testament”.  So these four books help form the foundation and basis upon which we learn about the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each of the four Gospels tell the story of Jesus from their own unique perspective.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are synoptic Gospels.  That means in large part, they tell the same stories,  and they tell them pretty much the same way. They go together hand-in-glove.  They are very much alike whereas the Gospel According to John is not synoptic.  John stands alone recording events the other Gospels does not record and when it tells the same stories it tells them in a different way.  

Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that the main subject of Matthew is the “kingdom of heaven” or “Kingdom of God”.  It continues, “this kingdom of God means the rule or reign of God – in the entire universe, in the world, and in our hearts.”  That’s significant because this week’s lesson deals with some of the rules that govern the kingdom of God.  These are new rules that the Jewish people had not heard before. In this new kingdom of God, with these new rules, people’s lives and society will be changed so they are not oppressing others and not living under oppression.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “the kingdom is already here in Jesus (12:28), but it is not yet fulfilled (13:43; 25:34).” So God reigns sovereign throughout the universe right now, but the Kingdom of God that Jesus is preaching is not yet fully complete.  If you have a red-letter edition of the Bible you will notice a lot of red in chapters five, six, and seven. In those chapters, Jesus is outlining his rules to govern this new kingdom of God.  Those rules begin with what we call the Beatitudes in chapter 5:1-13.  

In last week’s background I noted how the NISB explains that “the Gospel was probably a rewriting of Mark’s Gospel, written around 70 CE.”  The NISB continues “the antagonism toward the synagogue in Matthew suggests a date in the 80s.” This antagonism The Gospel of Matthew contains is a result of the division between what I call the old school traditional Jews (who reject Jesus) and these new Jewish Christians who believe Jesus is the Messiah.  In this week’s lesson a bit of that antagonism toward the synagogue begins to appear. Matthew does not offer a friendly glowing depiction of the synagogue.  

The sixth chapter of Matthew deals with almsgiving, prayer, fasting, treasures, serving two masters, and worry.  In our text for this week Jesus gives us instruction on how to do good deeds, where and when to pray; and how to and how not to pray.  Some important terms to consider about this text include:

Hypocrisy 

Kingdom of God

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

In last week’s lesson we saw a prime example of single minded obedience as Jesus demonstrated true worship.  After being baptised by John the baptist, experiencing God the Father in a voice from the opened heavens, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, Jesus was immediately taken into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted for forty days and forty nights.  After fasting forty days and forty nights Jesus was famished. He may have been God in the flesh but his flesh desperately needed sustenance. Jesus is no doubt in a weakened state physically and emotionally. It was at this point when Jesus was vulnerable that the adversary, the accuser, the tempter, the devil tried to short circuit Jesus’ journey to become King of Kings and LORD of Lords.  Jesus was tempted three times by the satan. Each time he engaged the devil by quoting holy Scripture. If it’s in you, it will come out of you. Jesus fought the devil with what was inside him – scripture. We would do well, if we could do the same when faced with adversity. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Piety that Honors God.” Standard Lesson Commentary titles this week’s lesson “God Honoring Piety.”  The scripture text comes from Matthew 6:1-8.  

Again, these are the words of Jesus.  They are a part of his first major discourse – his Sermon on the Mount and they are a part of the rules and commands that govern the citizens of this new kingdom of God Jesus is preaching.  

What Takes Place in This Passage:  

The lesson opens at chapter six verse one with Jesus giving instructions on piety or as the King James version puts it almsgiving.  His focus in this verse is piety. Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms define “piety” as devotion and commitment to God expressed in the Christian life through a variety of actions.  Different expressions and emphases for piety are found throughout Christian history.  The term is sometimes used synonymously with “spirituality”.”  So piety can be seen as part of one’s religious duty. Something that is done because of and required by one’s religious commitment.  For us today, piety might be as simple as praying before we eat or visiting the sick or elderly.  

In this verse, in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Jesus warns us to beware of being pious in order to be seen by others.  The King James Version uses the word alms, the New International Version uses the term right-eousness. And the New Revised Standard Version uses the term piety.  Those are three different words in three different translations. The Pulpit Commentary explains several reasons why “alms” should not be the word used in this verse.  One reason is that “it is improbable that the [Greek] word used here should be rendered “alms” because it has this meaning no where else in the New Testament.” 

At any rate, Jesus is teaching us about the motives of why we do what we do; whether it’s called piety, doing good deeds, righteousness, or some other term.  Jesus warns us to beware of doing what we do in order to be seen by others. He says, “for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” The implication then, is if we are doing these good deeds not to be seen by others but from a pure motive, then there will be a reward for us.  But the question that immediately comes to mind is whether that reward will be received in this life or in the life to come.  

In verse two we begin to see a bit of the animosity the Gospel writer has with the synagogue.  As the Mattheian writer recalls the words Jesus spoke decades earlier he does not gloss over his disdain for the members of the synagogue.  He calls them hypocrites. Note also that the correct word for alms is now used in the NRSV, the KJV, and the NIV translates alms as “giving to the needy.”  In this verse, Jesus tells us “do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.”  The idea is that those who give should not draw attention to themselves for the good works they do. When they draw attention to themselves for the work they do the attention they receive is their reward.  

The NISB explains “this passage promotes practices that benefit the other and serve God.”  Serving others and not serving our own self interests is a theme that runs through both Old and New Testaments.  In verses three and four Jesus tells us “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  Giving alms or doing righteousness does not require a great announcement. I think this takes into account the feelings of the person receiving alms also.  Who wants to be the subject of someone making a big deal about how much they helped you. No matter how grateful a person may be, it can be embarrassing for someone to make a big deal about how they helped you.  I think Matthew is concerned about the person on the receiving end of the good deed also. When our alms are done in secret, when we do good works without drawing attention to ourselves, God sees and God knows and that’s what counts.  

First Jesus gives us instruction on piety then in verse five Jesus switches the subject to prayer.  Again the Mattheian writer notes that hypocrites can be found in the synagogue “for they love to stand and pray in the synagogue.”  They are hypocrites because they love to be seen. They are hypocrites because they love to look pious but their motives are for self glorification and not from a genuine heart.  Jesus tells us “do not be like hypocrites.” The hypocrites have already received their reward.  

In verse six, Jesus gives us instruction on where to pray.  He tells us to go into our room, shut the door, and pray to the Father who is in secret, and the Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Note that the KJV includes the word “openly”. The NIV and NRSV does not include this word. Public prayer for the praise and approval of others is vain and conceited.  Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “prayer” as: human approach to God and addressing God in praise and adoration, confession, thanksgiving, suppliction, and intercession.  A consciousness of God’s presence, love, direction, and grace may be experienced.” We pray to communicate with God, not to show off or be praised by others.  

In verse seven Jesus tells us how to pray.  He says we should not “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.  The KJV calls Gentiles “heathen”. The NIV uses “pagans” for the same word.  The KJV uses heathen, the NIV uses pagan, and the NRSV uses Gentile. At any rate, this implies to me that heathens, pagans and Gentiles pray also.  But I think the point the writer is making is that non-christian people pray and our prayers should not be like those of people outside the faith. The NISB explains that “heaping up empty phrases or babbling is polemic.”  In other words, the Mattheian writer is harshly disagreeing with, if not attacking the way Gentiles pray.  

Verse eight closes our lesson with an admonition not to be like the Gentiles and a reassurance that God the Father knows what we need before we ask.  You may have heard some people say “ it don’t take all that”. In this case, it’s true. We don’t need long wordy prayers that sound a certain way. God already knows what we stand in need of.  I especially like Hebrews 4:16 as a guide to my own prayer. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  And God knows, it’s always a time of need.  

Context

Why do we do what we do?  What is our motivation? Do our good works come from a place of genuine concern for others without expecting something specific in return?  I think these are questions that can help guide us in this Christian journey. Jesus instructs us to do our good deeds, to give our alms, and to pray our prayers in ways that won’t draw attention to ourselves.  When it’s all about us, when it’s all about drawing attention to ourselves, it’s not about the will of God for our lives. And it’s not about the others that Jesus sacrificed his life for. Let’s strive to stay grounded in the reasons that matter.   

Key Words:  

Hypocrisy – The outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness (Matt 23:28; Mark 12:15; James 3:17).  

Kingdom of God – God’s Sovereign reign and God’s rule was the major focus of Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 6:23; Mark 1:15; Luke 6:20).  Its fullness is in the future (Luke 13:29; 22:18) and yet it has also come in Jesus himself (Luke 10:9; 17:21).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:  

1.  Stay grounded in the reasons that matter.  (Some things matter more than others, we should always stay grounded in the reasons that really matter)

2.  Why do we do what we do?  (our motivations matter.  If we are seeking our own praise we can be sure we’ve already received all the reward we’ll get)

Question:  

Why do words like humbleness, modesty, and meekness seem to be so much more valued for Christians?

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week, we pick up where we left off in Matthew sixth chapter.  The lesson for February 16, 2020 comes from Matthew 6:9-15 and is titled “The Prayer of Jesus” and “Kingdom Seeking Prayer.”  Next week’s study deals with what is commonly called the Lord’s prayer. Again, Jesus teaches us about true worship; this time through prayer.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.  I am Rev. Dexter Alexander and you’ve been listening to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. 

If you want to support this channel / site I accept correspondence and gifts at my paypal address 

https://paypal.me/sundayschoolpreacher

or

1590 Jonesboro Rd SE

Box 150032

Atlanta, GA  30315

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.