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Harmony between the external and the internal

"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him" (Mat. 6:1-8).

The Lord wants a person to do good selflessly — from the desire to please God or to help his neighbor, not for personal gain or praise. The Lord wants even the intention of a person to be as irreproachable as his words and deeds. During the time of the earthly life of the Savior, virtue was held in great esteem, and the Jews often competed among themselves as to who prayed more often and longer, who fasted more strictly, or who gave alms more generously. Sometimes in this competition, especially among the scribes and Pharisees, good deeds became a means of seeking praise. Such a utilitarian approach to religion led to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Thus, only the appearance of good deeds remained — a shell, with nothing within. The Lord warned His followers of ostentatious righteousness, intended "for export," and calls on us to serve God with a pure heart.

By presenting examples of good deeds, the Lord teaches us how to pray and give alms so that our good deeds will be accepted by God: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven" (Mat. 6:1). In this and similar phrases, the Lord directs attention to the aim with which we set about doing a good deed. Good deeds done "in secret," that is, not for show, but for God, earn a reward from Him. Here it should be noted that the law, "pray in secret," does not, of course, rescind communal prayer; the Lord urged communal prayer also, saying: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mat. 18:20).

The command to avoid unnecessary words teaches us not to see prayer as some kind of incantation, where success depends on the number of words. The strength of a prayer is contained in the sincerity and faith with which a person appeals to God. Lengthy prayer, however, is not forbidden but, on the contrary, encouraged: this is because the more a person prays, the longer he is in association with God. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself often spent whole nights in prayer.

It is imperative to pay attention to the fact that (later in this part of the Sermon on the Mount under discussion) the Lord speaks of fasting with as much detail as he speaks of prayer and alms. Fasting is therefore necessary. Unfortunately, modern Christians completely disregard this feat of abstinence, in order to please their sin-loving flesh. They love to cite the words "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth" (Mat. 15:11). Meanwhile, it is impossible to reform one’s heart without restraining one’s stomach and physical lusts. For this reason, other virtues, like prayer and compassion, cannot reveal themselves in due measure without the feat of abstinence.

Of course, we now live under completely different conditions and moral standards. It is unlikely that anyone would praise a person for his feat of fasting or prayer in these days — sooner would they laugh at him for being so eccentric. For this reason the Christian may need to conceal his virtues. But this does not mean that hypocrisy has ceased to exist in our day. It has just taken on different forms. Now it is veiled in the form of affected politeness and insincere compliments. Often disdain and malice are hiding behind sweet words and smiles. To one’s face, there is praise, but behind one’s back, there is disparagement. In this manner, only the sorry appearance of Christian well-wishing and love remains. This is also hypocrisy, but in different clothing. Thus, Christ’s teachings about insincerity is directed against all forms of hypocrisy, both ancient and modern.

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