And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are…
Properly, the hypocrite is simply the "actor;" but the word has come to mean "one who acts a part with a view to deceive others, and get undeserved praise for himself." Standing at prayer was usual. Praying in the synagogues was usual. Praying in the streets, if you happen to be in the streets when the prayer-call sounds, is quite usual in the Mohammedan East of to-day. Our Lord does not reprove these things. Our Lord referred to a bad custom of his day. Men went into the synagogues, and stood apart as if absorbed in prayer, while secretly they were glancing round to see the impression which their superior devotion was making. "Prayer standing is the characteristic of the Jews to this day; and though not often to be seen on the streets in the East, is frequent on shipboard."
I. TEST THE CASE SUPPOSED BY THE PROPER OBJECT OF PRAYER, Here is a man who prays so as to draw attention to himself - prays for the sake of getting men's admiration of his praying. Now, is that the proper aim to set before us in praying? Does it matter what our fellow-men may think of us? We ought to pray simply to gain God's help and blessing. Prayer should be the expression of conscious need; it should be the utterance of fervent desire; it should be wholly concerned with the need, and with God, from whom the supply of the need is sought.
"Men heed thee not: men praise thee not.
The Master praises; what are men?"
II. TEST THE CASE SUPPOSED BY THE PROPER SPIRIT OF PRAYER. Prayer is uttered dependence. Prayer is supplication. It is precisely the feeling of dissatisfaction with self which inspires us to pray. And anything like self-exhibition is altogether foreign to prayer. A man must be satisfied with himself who confidently makes an exhibition of himself; and such a man wants nothing, and has nothing to pray for. In illustration of this point, reference may be made to the subtle peril which lies in emotional moods. There is a pride in religious feelings, which gets expression in beautiful prayers; and when pride is at the heart of them they cease to be prayers at all. There is much danger of insincerity in extempore public prayers, which must fail to be real prayers if they are "addressed to an audience," and intended to be admired by them rather than heard and answered by God. - R.T.
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.