And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are…
The duty of prayer is assumed. To be without prayer is to be without religion. "Behold, he prayeth," is another way of saying," He has become a Christian" (Acts 9:11). Prayer is the language and homage of dependence. The idea is that of coming to God for a blessing with a vow (προσεχῦη, from πρὸς," with," and εὔχη," a vow"), viz. to fulfil the conditions upon which his blessings are promised. The elements of acceptable prayer are -
1. The prayer of the hypocrite is deception.
(1) He deceives his fellow. His object is to be seen of men to pray. But his piety to God is but a semblance. God sees no prayer in it. The men who credit the hypocrite with piety are deceived.
(2) He deceives himself. He gets what he seeks, viz. the praise of men. But what is it? It is inconsiderate. It is fickle. It is short-lived. And vain as it is, it is not deserved.
2. The prayer of the hypocrite is idolatry.
(1) The true God is not worshipped. The hypocrite's prayer is a slight upon him. His praise is not even sought.
(2) In seeking the praise of men, the hypocrite, like other idolaters, makes his god in his own image. His prayer is to men. They are his idols.
(3) In seeking the praise of men, the hypocrite worships himself. He sees himself in his idol. Idolatry is an inverted self-worship.
3. The true man's prayer is true.
(1) He prays to God as his Father. He has kindredness of nature to the God of truth. To be seen of men is not in his calculation.
(2) He seeks the commendation of his God. This is to him the one thing infinitely desirable.
II. SIMPLICITY. The expedients of hypocrisy are avoided.
1. As to posture.
(1) Standing is not, in itself, a posture unsuitable to prayer (cf. Nehemiah 9:4; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11-13). The change of posture from kneeling to standing may be found helpful to the spirit of prayer.
(2) Standing "to be seen of men" is quite another thing. Kneeling, if this be its purpose, is equally reprehensible.
(3) The spirit may kneel to God in humility, or stand before him in ready obedience, when the body is otherwise engaged.
2. As to place.
(1) The "synagogue" was the proper place for public prayer. Note: In public worship we should avoid whatever might tend to make our personal devotion remarkable.
(2) The synagogue was not the place for private devotions. The custom of opening churches for private worshippers tends to encourage hypocrisy.
(3) The "corners of the streets" where the people were in concourse were favourable to ostentation. The hypocrites "loved to pray" there. They did not love to pray.
(4) Secret prayer should be in secret. The true God is himself in secret. In secret he is sought and found. God seeth in secret (cf. John 1:48; Acts 9:11). By secret prayer we give God the glory of universal presence. The true man may find a closet in the busy throng. The closet is in the heart. There we may shut the door against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Secret prayer should be in retirement to avoid
Isaac went into the field (Genesis 24:63); Christ went up into a mountain; Peter found a closet on the housetop.
3. As to manner.
(1) Long prayers are sometimes proper (cf. 1 Kings 18:26; Luke 6:12; Acts 19:34). But in this case the virtue does not lie in their length.
(2) Long prayers are to be avoided as tending to weary, and therefore to distract the suppliant (cf. Job 9:14; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Hosea 14:2).
(3) They are to be avoided as encouraging vain repetitions. To repeat words without meaning is especially vain. Repetitions suppose ignorance or inattention on the part of God. They are heathenish (see 1 Kings 18:26, 36). True prayer is not the language of the lip, but of the heart.
(4) Those who would not be "as the hypocrites" in action and manner must not be "as the hypocrites" in spirit and temper.
1. Prayer gives no information to God.
(1) "Thy Father seeth in secret." God reads all hearts.
(2) "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of." God knows his own resources.
(3) He knoweth "before ye ask him." "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning."
2. -Prayer is enjoined to help us to feel our need.
(1) God requires the sense of their need in suppliants for their own sake, viz. that they may value the blessings they may receive.
(2) Prayer is admirably suited to awaken and deepen this sense of need.
(3) By the sense of our need we "make known our requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).
3. It is also enjoined to encourage our faith in God.
(1) We come to God as our "Father." He is our Father by creation. By covenant.
(2) He has the heart and resources of a Father. What merit is there in our prayers? Yet such is the heart of kindness of our Father that he places them amongst our services. "Thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee."
(3) He is our heavenly Father. So his rewards contrast with those received from men by the hypocrite. While the hypocrite in gaining the praises of men "has received his reward," and has no more to expect, the true man will evermore continue to receive his rewards from the everlasting Father. That eye of God which is formidable to the hypocrite is bliss to the sincere and true. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: "When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward.