I am writing a follow up to a message I shared with my church family on January 8, 2017. You can view or listen to it by clicking here. I am writing to offer hope to the “hypocrite” & “pagan” praying style, done needlessly by many Christians, me included.
In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus talks about three different people, how they pray and why they pray.
- Hypocrites: Pray in public because they want to be seen and praised by men.
- Pagans: Pray using many words and babble because they believe that’s the only way they’ll be heard.
- Christ Followers: Pray in private, to a Father who is unseen, who sees what is done in secret and will reward them.
Hence, Jesus instructs his followers to pray the Lord’s prayer, which begins, “Our Father.” This is the proper approach, the father heart of God and our adoption as His children.
As I’ve thought about this message I felt it important to follow up with a few thoughts.
1. If our approach to prayer is like the hypocrite or the pagan, then we are not without hope.
2. Hypocrite simply means pretender or actor. Jesus was calling those folks who love to pray in public for the praise of men, as actors or pretenders. Another way to say it is - they are not genuine followers of Christ. They are followers of themselves and to some degree, followers of others, as long as the others heap their praise upon them and their public praying. Hypocrites, inauthentic as they may be, they are not outside the grace of God. Jesus most referred to the Pharisees and religious leaders as hypocrites. They were pretenders and actors when it came to true righteousness and genuine relationship with God.
For example, in John 5:39, Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” And in Matthew 23:27, Jesus says, "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity.”
These are only two of many scathing statements Jesus made to the Pharisees and religious teachers. Perhaps, the most famous Pharisee is the Apostle Paul. This Pharisee became a devout follower of Jesus Christ. Listen to his own words in Acts 23:6, “Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, "Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors!” All, in Philippians 3:5, “I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin--a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.”
Like most of the Pharisees, if we are convicted of being hypocrites, we can become a genuine Christ follower and pray the way Jesus instructed. The need for the spotlight will be replaced with a hunger for encountering God in the secret place.
3. Pagan simply means, “Gentile” or someone who is outside the covenant of God. They are those who think they will be heard by God because they babble and use many words. When looked at more deeply, they use empty and anxious words. Neither you nor I, need to be pagans when it comes to prayer. Why? Because in Acts 10 we find an amazing encounter. To make the story short, a Gentile man named Cornelius has an encounter with an Angel and he tells him to send for Simon, called Peter, who is in Joppa. Cornelius sends a few men. While they were nearing the home of Simon the Tanner(where Peter was), Peter had a vision of a white sheet being lowered from Heaven, filled with unclean animals and he was told to rise and eat. He said no because they were unclean animals. The voice from Heaven says, “Do not call things unclean, that I call clean.” Peter comes out of the vision and at the same time the men sent by Cornelius arrive at his house. Peter talks with them and goes with them to the home of Cornelius. Upon arrival, Peter enters the home and Cornelius asks him to share what’s on his heart. Peter shares the gospel and while doing so, the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his household and they were saved (Acts 10:44, 11:14). After this encounter with Cornelius, Peter goes to Jerusalem where he is criticized by the circumcised believers. After sharing the story they said in Acts 11:18, “When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”
The reason I tell the story of Peter and Cornelius is because it was at that moment when the early church saw the grace of God fall upon those outside the covenant - Gentiles, aka pagans, as Jesus calls them in Matthew 6.
4. To Jewish Pharisees, aka “hypocrites” or to the non-Jewish Gentiles, aka “pagans”, a way has been made for us to be genuine Christ followers, who no longer need the spotlight of public prayer or the use of many, babbling words. We can all, because of Christ, enter the “closet of prayer” and commune with God, being formed into the image of Christ and experience the graciousness of Christ demonstrated through our lives, for the glory of Christ and the advancement of the gospel.
Enter the secret place. Know Papa God hears you because He is a good Father and you are a much-loved child of God. Receive the reward he will give you.
*All scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.