Matthew 6:1-18; Exodus 33:1-34:35; Proverbs 15
If you study many different religions it might be startling to realize that some of the basic practices are common among most religious belief systems. Most religious systems will teach you to take care of the poor and underprivileged. Most expect you to offer prayers. Most teach bodily disciplines such as fasting. It is not our activities by themselves that make Christianity different.
As Jesus is teaching on these subjects in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s interesting that He always assumes that His followers will be giving to the poor, praying and fasting. He doesn’t say “if,” He says “when.” One example: “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face…” In some other religions, these disciplines are done to call attention to the adherent so that others can see their piety. The difference between Christians practicing these disciplines and that of so many other religions comes from the fact that we do these not to gain favor with God, not to show others how pious we are, rather we do them to help us keep our focus on God. Of course, another difference is that often Christians fail to give to the poor, fail to pray and, especially, fail to fast. Throughout the Gospels it is amazing to me how many times we read Jesus describing religious practices with the assumption that His people would be doing them. Maybe we ought to consider following the expectations Jesus has for us.
We should always remember that we don’t engage in any of these practices hoping to gain God’s favor or other privileges from God. All of our lives, including our religious practices should be an outflow of our love for God and a response of gratitude for His grace. We don’t call attention to ourselves when we engage in them because that would make it appear that we were the important part of the relationship with God. By engaging in them humbly, we put the focus on God.