Matthew 6:5-8 “How (not) to pray like a Hypocrite”
A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church,
28 Aug 2011
6:5 And whenever y’all pray, you shall not be as the
hypocrites that love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of
the streets in order that they might be put in the limelight by men. I’m
telling you truly, they are holding off on their reward.
6:6 But as for you, whenever you pray, enter into your closet,
and after you have closed your door, start praying to your Father who is in the
secret [place], and your Father who sees in secret will reward you [in the
6:7 Now, when y’all pray, don’t start blabbering like the
Gentiles, for they suppose that it is through their long-windedness they will
be listened to.
6:8 Therefore, don’t begin to be like them, for your Father
knows that which you are having need of before you request it.
1. How to pray like a Hypocrite
1.a) Ostentatiously (For Men to hear)
Mat 6:5 και ‘οταν
εσεσθε ‘ως ‘οι ‘υποκριται
‘οτι φιλουσιν εν
και εν ταις γωνιαις
των πλατειων εστωτες
‘υμιν [‘οτιMaj] απεχουσιν τον μισθον αυτων.
And whenever y’all pray, you shall not be as the
hypocrites that love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of
the streets in order that they might be seen [put in the limelight] by men. I’m
telling you truly, they are holding off on their reward
[or,as we saw last week, this can also be interpreted, “they have
received their reward in full”].
This phrase for “street” or “city plaza” εν ταις γωνιαις των πλατειων
is used in the book of Esther – it is the public
place where Haman had to proclaim the king’s favor upon Mordecai. (Esther 6:11)
It may have been what we think of as a street
corner where traffic could see you coming in two different directions, or it
could mean taking an anchor spot in the city square or plaza where everyone
walked by to conduct their business and would see you.
Anyway, there is only one other place in the Bible
where someone is described as standing in the corners of the streets, and
that’s the strange woman of Proverbs 7 – it’s quite possible that Jesus
intended that allusion to shock the religious leaders of His time into
realizing how terrible their selfish pride was.
v.5 says they “loved” (φιλουσιν)
to pray while standing in public places like church assemblies or busy traffic
areas in town. Why? Because that way more people saw them praying. The reason
they loved it was that they loved the admiration of people in those public
places; their love was not directed toward God to enjoy fellowship with Him in
prayer. That was a problem! If you want to pray like a hypocrite, do it in such
a way that you get the most people to see you and set your heart on loving the
attention you get from those people! Forget about God.
‘ωσπερ ‘οι εθνικοι
‘οτι εν τη
Now, when y’all pray, don’t start blabbering like the
Gentiles, for they suppose that it is through their long-windedness they will
be listened to.
This is the only place this word βατταλογησητε occurs in the Bible, so its meaning is somewhat cryptic:
translates it “use… vain repetitions” / ESV “heap up empty phrases” / NASB
“use meaningless repetition” / NIV “keep on babbling”
Lexicon says it is a compound word composed of “Battos” (a proverbial
stammerer) + logos (word) and therefore means “stutter”
lexicon is in agreement: 1) to stammer 2) to repeat the same things over
and over, to use many idle words, to babble, prate. Some suppose the word
derived from Battus, a king of Cyrene, who is said to have stuttered;
others from Battus, an author of tedious and wordy poems.
- I found other
educated guesses in other books that it is either onomatopoeia (βατταλογησητε
is supposed to sound like your babbling, but I just don’t hear it) or that
it is from the Aramaic word “Batalta” meaning “Idle, vain” (which sounds
reasonable to me).
meaning is clarified by seeing what it is compared to and contrasted with
in this verse. It is compared to the way Gentiles/pagans/heathen pray, as
well as to praying with “many words,” and it is contrasted with prayers
addressed to a God who knows what you need before you ask.
- So how did pagans pray back
- In Acts
19:29-34, a silversmith named Demetrius, who lived in Ephesus, Turkey,
was losing business because so many people were getting converted to
Christianity by the Apostle Paul, that he wasn’t able to make as much
money as he was used to with selling silver idols of Artemis, a local
goddess. So he gets all the other silversmiths in town to march through
the streets shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Everybody in
the city was stirred up by this and they followed the silversmiths into
the town theater where, they sat and shouted for about two hours,
"Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" together. That was pagan
worship of Bible times.
- Heauton-timor-umenos of Terence wrote this complaint about his
wife’s long-winded prayers about their baby: “Pray thee, wife, cease from
Stunning the gods with thanksgivings, because thy child is in safety;
unless thou judgest of them from thyself, that they cannot Understand a
thing, unless they are told of it a Hundred Times.” (ver. 880, according
to Adam Clarke)
- Jews fell
into the same superstitions, too:
"everyone that multiplies prayer is heard" (T.
Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 67. 3);
“whoever prolongs his prayer, his prayer does not return
empty; and he that is long in prayer, his days are prolonged” (Zohar in Exod.
fol. 104. 4).
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their long, pretentious
we see this pattern carried over in the rote prayers and magic sayings of false
religions, where “prayer” is the mere repetition of a set of words:
- In Islam,
everyone must wash in exactly the same way, bow in exactly the same
direction at the same time and say the exact same words from the
beginning of the Quaran to begin their prayer: “In the name of Allah,
Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee we
worship and Thee we ask for help. Show us the straight path.”
Often Muslims will carry a string of beads which they will finger
one after the other to keep track of how many times they recited this
incantation. Actually, prayer beads are common in several religions, not
only in Islam, to keep track of repetitions.
- My Hindu friend in college from India read a
pre-written prayer out of the Vedas every day in front of a photograph of
his family’s guru. So if the Vedas were compiled in 3,500 BC, Hindus in
his tradition, have been repeating the same words in prayer for 5,500
- In Buddhism, the best-known mantra is “Om
mani padme hum.” “Mani padme” means “jewel in the lotus,” while “om” and
“hum” are sounds believed to have special supernatural power. Some will
write these words on a paper and clip it onto a wheel and spin the wheel
round and round in hopes that this will send magic power out. “Vain repetition.”
- When I
was a little boy, my grandmother handed me a cassette tape that she said
was from a very spiritual teacher. It was from a Roman Catholic
nun. I remember being perplexed because when I listened to the tape, it
was just this woman repeating Luke 1:42 over and over again, “Holy Mary,
mother of God, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of
thy womb.” I kept listening hoping she would say something else, but it
was nothing but this incessant repetition of this sentence for 45
minutes! Later, after I had graduated from college, I did yard work for a
Roman Catholic man who was on his death bed at home. One day, he called
me into his bedroom and asked me to “say the Our Father.” He added that
he thought God would hear my prayer better than his. It took a few
seconds for me to register that he was asking me to recite the Lord’s
Prayer, but he was asking me to say it as though it were a recitation.
That’s not Christian prayer.
- There are
even traditions within the Christian church which follow these
pagan ways. I was in a prayer meeting once with a bunch of missionaries,
and one of them started saying, “Hudda Gudda, Hudda Gudda” over
and over again. He considered this to be a form of prayer. Later when I
asked him about it, he said that in order to speak in tongues, it usually
helps to repeat a meaningless phrase (like “Hudda Gudda”) over and over
again in order to release the gift of tongues. I found the website of a certain
man named Simon Measures where he answered questions regarding
speaking in tongues in an alarming way: A visitor to this web site
wrote: “I am desperately trying to learn to speak in tongues. Is there
something I am missing? I am afraid I will not learn how - can you help?”
His reply concluded, “…if necessary just babble like a baby! Start
praising God and yield you [sic] tongue to the stirrings that rise up
from your heart by the Holy Spirit. Don't tune in to the sounds being
made - attend to what is happening in your spirit…” Another person asked,
When I pray in tongues it sounds so faky, repetitious and unsatisfying. What
could be my problem?...” His reply: “You know it just sounds like you've
allowed your mind to interfere with the gift you've received in your
heart…” and he proceeded to teach her how to disconnect her mind from her
Such teachers may be sincere, but they are sincerely wrong.
thing that well-meaning Christians do is to use filler words or
phrases which are not meaningful in themselves but seem to be just a
way to avoid awkward pauses, such as, “Lord, we are just here Lord, and
Lord, I am just praying Lord that you would just really be here too, Lord…”
– now, it is quite possible for a person to be sincerely using the word
“Lord” as a recognition of God’s greatness and God’s leadership over
their lives, but it can also be misused as a meaningless filler word. The
bottom line is that our prayers should not be made to impress people with
the words or phrases we use, but rather our prayers should be honest
attempts to speak real thoughts to God.
- God is a personal
God who is not interacted with in impersonal ways. He is not a slot
machine that will dispense certain things if you say the right magic
- God is
also not an irrational God; He is a God who communicates in
language we can understand and has given us minds that crave
understanding and to be understood. He is not a God to be interacted with
through disconnecting your mind. That is the way the pagans pray, and
they do not pray to our God.
- “The fault
is that is here reproved and condemned; it is making a mere lip-labour
of the duty of prayer, the service of the tongue, when it is not the
service of the soul... like that imitation of the wordiness of a fool,
Ecc_10:14, … this error is when we only say our prayers, and not
when we pray them. This caution is explained by that of Solomon
(Ecc_5:2), ‘Let thy words be few,’ considerate and well weighed; ‘take’
with you words (Hos_14:2), ‘choose out’ words (Job_9:14), and do not say
everything that comes uppermost… Lip-labour in prayer, though ever so
well-laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour.” ~Matthew Henry
2. How you should pray
NOT like the hypocrites - Mat 6:5 και ‘οταν προσευχη[σθεB,f1] ουκ
εσεσθε ‘ως ‘οι ‘υποκριται
This does NOT mean:
That you should never pray standing up –
Jesus actually encouraged His disciples to pray while standing up in Mark 11:25.
What was wrong with the hypocrites was that they prayed standing up because
that would allow the maximum number of people to see them and pay attention to
them. Likewise, I’ve seen people kneel because they thought it would make them
look more spiritual. We should chose our posture to pray based on what we need
to be doing before God at the time, not based on what other people will think
about us. That also means that if you neighbor decides to kneel during the
prayer of confession, you shouldn’t assume they are showing off and trying to
look more spiritual than you.
That you shouldn’t pray in public. There are
many godly men like Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Simeon, Jesus, Steven, Peter, and
Paul who prayed publicly and in front of others, otherwise we would have no
examples of how to pray. Paul wrote to Timothy, a pastor-in-training, about
what to do in church worship services: “…I urge that entreaties and prayers,
petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men… This is good and
acceptable in the sight of God our Savior… For there is one God, and one
mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… I was appointed a
preacher and an apostle… I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy
hands… A woman must quietly receive instruction… I do not allow a woman to
teach...” (1 Timothy 2:1-12 NASB) Prayer in front of others in the church is
good if it can be done with the right attitude, not ostentatiously or
loquaciously to get appreciation from the humans who hear you, but sincerely to
God to communicate with Him.
That you can’t repeat yourself. Jesus prayed
three times in Gethsemane “saying the same words over again” (Mat_26:44).
Sometimes our minds are so tired or overwhelmed that we can’t muster much
creativity. There have been times even in the last year when all I could do was
pray, “I am yours, Lord, save me,” and I repeated it because I had nothing else
I could say. But I wasn’t using it as a magic formula, I was earnestly trying
to not go off the deep end but rather trust God and fight pain and fear and
fatigue by expressing faith and hope in God in the only words that I could
That you can’t pray a long prayer: “Christ
prayed all night (Luk_6:12). Solomon's was a long prayer (1 Chron 6:14-42).
There is sometimes need of long prayers when our errands and our affections are
extraordinary; but merely to prolong the prayer, as if it would make it more
pleasing or more prevailing with God, is that which is here condemned; it is
not much praying that is condemned – no, we are bid to pray always – but
much speaking.” (Matthew Henry)
2.a) To the omnipresent God
Mat 6:6 Συ δε οταν
εισελθε εις το
ταμειον σου και
πατρι σου τω εν
τω κρυπτω και ‘ο
πατηρ σου ‘ο
βλεπων εν τω
But as for you, whenever you pray, enter into your closet/room,
and after you have closed your door, start praying to your Father who is in
secret [in the secret placeNKJV, or unseenNIV], and your
Father who sees in secret will reward you [openlyKJV/in the
To underscore the personal relationship with God found in
prayer, Jesus switches to the singular “you,” Hey, each one of you, when you
pray, make sure it’s just to God, not for other people to overhear!
The only commands (imperatives) in this passage are
found in this verse (6): εισελθε … προσευξαι “enter…and pray” (“Close the door” is not grammatically an
imperative in the Greek text here, for it is a participle which doesn’t have an
imperative mood, but since Greek participles can take on the qualities of the
other verbs in a sentence, it might also be included as an imperative, and
that’s how the ESV, NAS, and NIV have translated it.)
1. First we are commanded to “go into” our ταμειον
– safe-room/storage-room/closet/inner-chamber Only found 3 other places in
- Opposite of outdoors: Matthew
24:26 NASB "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the
wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,'
do not believe them.
- Parallel with dark and
contrasted with housetop: Luke 12:3 NASB "Accordingly, whatever
you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have
whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.
- Used to describe the place
in the house where food is stored: Luke 12:24 NASB "Consider the
ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn,
and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the
So We are commanded to enter
this secluded place and pray.
This should be obeyed literally. There
should be a place where you can retire to pray where you can physically
withdraw from the world around you. In a 3-BR house with 12 other occupants,
It’s hard for me to find a separate room in my house that I can get away from
everybody in, so I have established a practice of going out to a lonely corner
of a friend’s farm in order to get special uninterrupted time to pray about
once a month. It should probably be more often, but it’s better than nothing.
Not every context for prayer can be this private,
however. We are told to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess 5:17) and we are told
to pray with other believers (James 5:14-16), and even for unbelievers (Acts
7:60). We can’t always physically retire, but we can obey the spirit of
Christ’s teaching by figuratively retiring from the cares of the world
and imagining ourselves entering the throne room of God as we begin to pray so
that our attitude becomes that of communicating with God rather than trying to
Wherever we are, God sees us.
He is the God who sees.
This phrase “your father who sees in secret” is, I
think, an allusion to a lesson which God taught in Ezekiel 8:12. The
elders of Israel were worshipping idols in a secret room of Solomon’s temple.
They thought nobody else knew; they even said, “The Lord doesn’t see!” but God could
see right through those walls into the secret chambers and was disgusted, so he
enabled the prophet Ezekiel also to get an x-ray vision into the temple’s inner
chambers, and said “Now you’ve seen what they do in secret!” and told Ezekiel
to blab to everybody in Israel so that the elders would realize that God is the
God who sees what is done in secret and nothing can be hidden from him. God
sees what is done secretly, whether it is evil we are hiding or whether it is
appropriate pray from a secluded place.
If we will pray to God – whether we have literally
or figuratively retired into a place where we are not distracted by the world
or seen by men, He will “reward” you. We looked a bit already last week at that
reward of eternal pleasures in the presence of God in heaven.
Because God is omnipresent, we can pray to Him
anywhere, even from solitary places, and He will hear us because we’re talking
to Him, not just trying to get people to listen to us.
2.b) To the omniscient God
Mat 6:7 Προσευχομενοι δε μη βατταλογησητε
… 8 μη ουν ομοιωθητε αυτοις
οιδεν γαρ ‘ο
πατηρ ‘υμων ων
προ του ‘υμας
Now, when y’all pray, don’t start blabbering like the
Gentiles… 8 Therefore, don’t begin to be like them, for your Father knows that
which you are having need of before you ask/request it.
How do you pray to a God who already knows what your needs
are? How do you pray to a God who already knows what you’re going to say? How
does that make a difference between the way Christians pray and the way other
religious groups pray?
- One difference is that we recognize that as created – and
therefore limited – beings, we are fundamentally dependent rather
than independent beings. In other words, God doesn’t have needs, but we do
have needs. God doesn’t need anybody to help Him, but we need God
to help us. God knows this and He has commanded us to acknowledge
our dependent relationship upon Him by praying to Him for what we
- We are not like secular humanists who believe that we
humans have all the power we need to take care of all our own problems
together without God. No!
- Psalm 145:15-16 NASB The
eyes of all look to You, And You give them their food in due time. You
open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
- Prayer is an expression of this kind of dependence upon
God who knows we have needs.
- Prayer is not a magic charm that manipulates a divine
slot-machine into providing for needs. Believing that God already knows
what our needs are leads us to recognize that He already has a plan for
the best timing of providing for our needs, and that plan is already in
action apart from our requests. Although we are commanded to ask for
needs, it implies a willingness to wait on God’s timing to answer.
Waiting is a key word in the Bible.
- Jacob prayed, Gen 49:18
"For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.
- David said, Psalm 25:3-5
Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; Those who
deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed. Make me know Your
ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.
- Psalm 27:13-14 I would
have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the
LORD In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong and
let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.
- Psalm 40:1-3 I waited
patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He
brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He
set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in
my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will
trust in the LORD.
- Psalm 130:5-6 I wait
for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. My soul waits
for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than
the watchmen for the morning.
- ISAIAH also referred to waiting as being a central
part of godliness: Isaiah 8:17 And I
will wait for the LORD who is hiding His face from the house of
Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him.
- Isaiah 25:9 And it will
be said in that day, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited
that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation."
- Isaiah 26:8 Indeed, while
following the way of Your judgments, O LORD, We have waited for
You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls.
- Isaiah 40:31 Yet those
who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up
with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk
and not become weary.
- Isaiah 49:23 "Kings
will be your guardians, And their princesses your nurses. They will bow
down to you with their faces to the earth And lick the dust of your feet;
And you will know that I am the LORD; Those who hopefully wait for
Me will not be put to shame.
- OTHER PROPHETS: JEREMIAH 14:22
Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the
heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O LORD our God? Therefore we hope
in [wait for] You, For You are the one who has done all these things.
- HOSEA 12:6 Therefore,
return to your God, Observe kindness and justice, And wait for
your God continually.
- JESUS Acts 1:4-5
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to
wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said,
"you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will
be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
- PAUL: Romans 8:24-28 For
in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who
hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see,
with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the
Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as
we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too
deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of
the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will
of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good
to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
- Philippians 3:20 … our
citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a
Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;
- 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
…you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait
for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who
rescues us from the wrath to come. (NASB)
To summarize, prayer is an
expression of humble dependence upon our infinite God, and is not so
much informing God as it is a way of waiting on God to provide
for our needs.
- Thirdly, praying to a God who “knows” means that we are not
approaching an impersonal force or a mindless energy, but
rather a personal God and therefore a God with whom we should
expect a mutual exchange of personal knowledge, feelings,
desires, and even disappointments. Since God has thoughts, we
should approach prayer to Him by expressing our own thoughts respectfully
to Him as we would another person in a conversation, and we should expect
that He will reveal at least some of His thoughts to us.
- JFB “[God] links all His promised supplies to their petitions
for the; thus encouraging us to draw near and keep near to Him, to talk
and walk with Him, to open our every case to Him, and assure ourselves
that thus asking we shall receive…”
- Because God’s personality is different from ours, we
shouldn’t expect Him to talk to us quite the same way another human
would, but He has His ways, usually through bringing certain Bible verses
to our attention that He has previously expressed to the prophets or
apostles, often also through bringing thoughts to our minds, or bringing
friends with just the right words to say at the right time.
- The point is that it makes a difference in how we pray if
we believe God possesses personal knowledge and communicates back!
(6:7) The Gentiles think that God
only hears if you pray with lots of words, but we know that it is something
different that reaches into His ears (eisakouw), as it were, and incites Him to
This is the word used when
God sent messengers to Zacharias (the father of John the Baptizer) to let him
know his prayers for a son would be answered affirmatively (Luke 1:13),
as well as in the case of
Cornelius the Roman Army captain, when God sent a messenger to let Him know
that His prayers for salvation would be answered that week (Acts 10:31).
It is also used in Hebrews
5:4-7 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called
by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so
as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY
I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"; just as He says also in another passage, "YOU
ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK." In the days
of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud
crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard
because of His piety. (NASB)
This “piety” is the Greek word εὐλάβεια
From “eu-,” meaning “good”
and lambanw, meaning “receiving”,
Thayer defined it as “1)
caution, circumspection, discretion… 2) reverence, veneration, [including] 2a)
reverence toward God…”
I might add that this word
is consistently used of people who not only are cautious regarding
things that are spiritually dangerous (like disobeying God and getting Him mad
- Job 19:29), but who are also obedient to God (Like Noah who built the
ark - Heb 11:7) and who are waiting eagerly for God’s salvation (Like
Simeon who was looking for the Messiah - Luke 2:25)
So here is an introduction to prayer
– especially what prayer is NOT.
Prayer is NOT to be made in a showy way to impress
other people, but IS to be done in a respectful, personal way to communicate to
Prayer is NOT about repeating a certain magic set
of words or saying words over and over again, but rather IS intended to be
heart-to-heart communication between us and God.
(If you want to learn how to pray, just read the
Psalms, they are full of great examples of prayer!)
Jesus commands us to withdraw – whether
figuratively or literally – from the presence of other people to pray so that
we are NOT tempted to try to impress other people but rather so we can focus on
our prayer being between us and God.
We pray to a personal God who is omnipresent
so we know He hears us – no matter where we are,
And we pray to a God who is omniscient, so
we 1) come in humble dependence upon Him, 2) waiting on His timing for answers,
and 3) praying with the expectation of inter-personal communication with Him.
Next week I plan to get into the more
positive teaching of what prayer IS, as we study the Lord’s Prayer in the