“Praying Like Pagans Prohibited” Do not use prayer to twist God’s arm
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Matthew 6.7-8
Matthew 6. The topic is prayer this morning, and 1 Kings 18 powerfully illustrates prayer with the story of Elijah on Mount caramel. The Lord has withheld rain from Israel for more than three years because of their worship of Baal. Elijah challenges wicked King Ahab to a sort of spiritual duel. And all Israel had a front row seat.
Elijah says before the large crowd, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Silence from the crowd.
Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.”
Elijah challenges the false prophets to prepare a bull as an offering for Baal and Elijah would prepare a bull for the LORD… but here’s the catch: No one was allowed to light a fire. Whoever answers with fire from the sky is the true God.
The people say, “This is a good idea.” So the prophets of Baal did so and they called on the name of Baal from mourning until noon saying the same thing over and over… “O Baal, answer us. O Baal, answer us. O Baal, answer us.” … for hours!
But there was no answer! So they began jumping around the altar! Elijah at noon after hours of this begins to mock them…”Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.”
And so they cry out louder and then throughout the afternoon until evening, they cut themselves with swords until the blood was gushing out. And they were whipping themselves into an ecstatic frenzy but still there was no sound and no response. No response after heaping up many words and many prayers.
And then Elijah called all the people to come near him. He repairs the altar of the LORD with 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of the sons of Israel. He makes a trench around the altar that could hold 22 quarts of water, or 5 gallons. He puts on the wood and the cut pieces of the ox and says, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering.” And he does that two more times. And the water flowed around the altar as he also filled the trench with water. And then he prays, by my count, just 33 Hebrew words… “Then” …whoosh…”the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and evaporated the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.”
And Elijah commands that the prophets of Baal be slaughtered… and then the LORD provides rain for that land.
Now, that is an illustration of pagan praying, which is exactly what the LORD who sent fire from heaven that day forbids in Matthew 6:7-8
Matthew 6:7–8 7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Those false prophets that day used meaningless repetition and many words in order to be heard, in order to gain a hearing from their false god. Do not be like them. [pause]
In our study of this chapter is so far, we discovered that Jesus uses three different religious practices in order to condemn hypocrisy. Giving in verses 2-4… And then to skip to verse 16 fasting in verses 16-18.
Now, we treated as well prayer in verses 5-6. Each of these three: giving, praying, fasting Jesus uses to condemn hypocrisy. And in this case, hypocrisy is doing religious works to receive praise from people.
But the Lord, who burned up the offering in Elijah’s day, here, gives an extended treatment on prayer. And what he does in verses 7-8 is he prohibits praying like pagans do. Do not pray like the Gentiles, or the pagans, those who do not truly know the Lord.
NEED: This may be surprising to us, but certain kinds of praying is dishonoring to God! Are we under the impression this morning that the Lord is honored by all kinds of prayers? Have we come into this building this morning thinking that since I am a “Christian,” God is always honored by every prayer that I pray?
That is simply not the case. So do you pray in a way that dishonours Him? This passage is here to rebuke and correct praying like lost people pray. It is our bent to pray pagan prayers. Do not use prayer to twist God’s arm.
Jesus taught in verses 5-6 that we should not pray to impress people. And now verses 7-8, we should not pray to impress God either. Jesus taught to pray in private verses 5-6 , but that does not mean that everything prayed in private honors God vv.7-8.
Jesus moves from the wrong praying of hypocrites vv.5-6 to the wrong praying of pagans vv.7-8. He moves from discussing praying that desires to be seen vv.5-6 to praying with the proper content, starting in v. 7.
And so are you convinced this morning that there is a lot of praying going on in buildings like this all over the world?… and safe to say a lot of it dishonors him.
TRANS: First and briefly, prayer is expected.
I. Expectation to pray
Jesus says, “whenever you pray…” Are you praying? But as we listen to Jesus speak further, we know that not all praying is honourable praying. That implies then that we must be taught how to pray. Do you follow the Lord’s instructions on prayer?
Is your heart cry with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray….” (Lk. 11:1)?
We must conclude then that simply praying without instruction on how to pray won’t result in proper praying. Proper praying takes biblical instruction. That’s why Jesus teaches us how to pray, in what we call the Lord’s prayer.
But before teaching us how to pray, He teaches how not to pray…So, secondly prohibitions. How are we not to pray, the prohibitions…
Verse 7, the Lord says “do not” pray a certain kind of way. Verse 8, “do not be like them” that is, like pagans, the Gentiles, those who worship idols. Do not be like them in their praying. Well, how do they pray?
2 ways… first, they use meaningless repetition. And end of verse 7, they think “they will be heard for their many words.”
In fact, I highly recommend that you underline those phrases to ever remind you how not to pray. … “meaningless repetition,” “heard for many words.”
God is not manipulated by your babbling thoughtless words nor the length of your prayers. God’s arm is too big; don’t think you can use your words to twist it to get Him to do what you want.
Let’s take that first one, meaningless repetitions.
A. Meaningless repetitions
To use meaningless repetition translates the Greek word βατταλογέω. It is a word that imitates the sound associated with an object or action. In other words, the word means what it sounds like. Bzzz of a bee, boom, bang, crash, meow. That word only occurs here in the New Testament and is very rare outside of it.
βάτ(τ)αλος; βατταρίζειν; βατταρισμός; βάττος … batta, batta, batta! Sounds like babbling to me! NET “do not babble repetitiously” ESV “do not heap up empty phrases.”
TRANS: Do not pray with repetitious babblings. Naturally, Jesus is talking about simply repeating prayers. Repetition in prayer itself isn’t condemned; the meaninglessness of the prayer is.
1. Meaningless repetition defined
a) Repetition not condemned
We know that Jesus isn’t condemning simply repeating prayers because of other passages of Scripture.
Jesus taught it. In Luke 18 Jesus told a parable to encourage his people that we should pray at all times and not to lose heart. There was a widow in the city who kept coming to an unrighteous judge. She kept asking for legal protection. He did not want to help her, but eventually did because she kept bothering him. The Lord is not like that. You do not bother him by your prayers, but God will “bring about justice for his elect cry to him day and night,” Jesus says. Is some particular issue is on your heart, you can keep praying about it. It’s fine to repeat your request!
And we know that we can repeat our prayers because of the example of Scripture. Psalm 136 says 26 times in 26 verses, “for his lovingkindness is everlasting.” That’s repetitious.
And in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4, what do the Seraphim and the angels, cry out? “Holy, holy, holy.” You remember Jesus praying in the garden the night before his crucifixion?
Mark 14 “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; but this is not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 14:39 Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Clearly, repetition isn’t condemned…for Paul in 1 Co. 12 also says that when he had his thorn in the flesh, he sought the Lord how many times that it might be removed? 3 times. Repetition isn’t condemned.
TRANS: Well, if it isn’t repetition that’s condemned, what is?
b) Meaningless repetition is
Again, the word is “Meaningless repetition.” Babblings, thoughtless repetitious prayers.
Modern-day examples are the Buddhist and their prayer wheels. The more you spin your little wooden wheel, the more good karma you accumulate and if you recite a certain mantra as you do it, you’ll increase the merit earned by the wheel’s use. “However, it is said that even turning it while distracted has benefits and merits, and it is stated in the lineage text that even insects that cross a prayer wheel’s shadow will get some benefit.” You can even use prayer wheels on your phone for the same effect. That’s pagan praying.
A “Christian” example: Success theology, or the Word of faith movement, or what’s called the prosperity gospel, or the name it and claim it folks… All referred to the same thing. Often these mega-churches that are led by the likes of a Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, or Joyce Meyer. They teach that the gospel is designed to get you out of debt and to make you healthy and wealthy. If you are obedient, your life will be filled with pleasure. And then if you practice faith, you can “name it and then claim it.” They inappropriately interpret verses… “whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him….Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”
And of course they would say we should take that literally. But why are there no news reports of mountains going into the sea? Is there no one who has faith to speak to the mountains? Look, Jesus speaks hyperbole often. Pluck out your eye, take up your cross, we have to understand Jesus here as speaking hyperbole. But the name it and claim it folks believe you can speak to your chequebook, as Joyce Meyer is on record saying. Empty babblings.
Muslims can pray six hours a day and repeat themselves over and over, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is the prophet of God.”
The Lord Jesus’ condemnation would also include a Catholics mindless use of the rosary, during which no prayer may actually be happening but simply the moving of beads and the reciting of words which is more an exercise of memory that it is of praying.
Note this: It is easy for prayer to become meaningless repetition when you repeat the same things over and over again. Be mindful of what you are praying and do not use prayer to strong arm God into giving you what you want.
TRANS: Not just empty babblings or mindless words are condemned, but using many words to try to get what you want.
B. Many words
1. Many words defined
a) “Many” not condemned
Matthew 6:7 7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
Let’s keep in mind first of all that using many words is not condemned. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, with 176 verses. And almost every single one of those verses is a prayer.
Solomon dedicates the temple in 2 Chronicles 6. And he prays from verse 14 all the way down to verse 42, 29 verses! Daniel praise from Daniel 9:4 down to verse 19. In Nehemiah 9, Nehemiah prays from verse five down to verse 38, 33 verses of prayer. Someone calculated that it would take seven minutes to read that. Jesus Himself prays in John 17 for 26 verses.
And Jesus also in Luke 6:12 immediately before he chose the 12 disciples, he prayed all night long. So clearly, the Lord is not condemning lengthy prayers.
There is nothing inherently special about long prayers. Many men in the Bible are recorded as having prayed very short prayers. Moses, Solomon, Elijah, Hezekiah, Jabez, the thief on the cross, Stephen, and Paul… All of these men also prayed short prayers.
TRANS: The length of your prayers isn’t what matters. Long prayers aren’t condemned; neither are short prayers. So, what’s the problem with praying many words then?
The problem is when you begin to think your prayers will be more effective or will get God’s attention more when you pray long prayers. Look at verse 7 again …
Matthew 6:7 7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
b) Thinking you’ll be heard b/c of them is
Because they pray more words, they think God will listen to them more. The more you pray about it doesn’t mean God will answer with a “yes.”
EXP: Do you really think that the probability of a positive answer to your prayer is in direct proportion to the total number of words that you pray?
Or maybe you think that the probability of a positive answer to your prayer is in direct proportion to the number of times you pray about a particular request. You can’t twist God’s arm to make him more favorable towards you. You can’t twist God’s arm with your long prayer!
ILL: Catholics believe that Mary appeared to St. Dominic in 1208 AD and revealed the rosary beads to him. When the rosary was supposedly revealed to Mary, along with that were 15 promises. One of those promises was number 11, “you shall obtain all you ask of me [Mary] by the recitation of the rosary.” “You get all you ask of Mary if you recite it.”
Catholics believe that when you recite the rosary, which today is 20 sets of 10 “Hail Marys”, or 200 total. In the recitation of that rosary done a certain number of times, you obtain “all you ask of Mary.” But Jesus says, “Do not be like the Gentiles who suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”
ILL: This is the mindset of bombarding the living quarters of a god with a battering ram… trying to get the attention of a god and to make that god listen to you because you performed the prescribed set of prayers.
It’s what the prophets of Baal were doing when they recited for hours, “O Baal, answer us.”
ILL: It’s what one Pentecostal wrote when he said, “I related [Jesus’ teaching this passage] to some of the Pentecostal and Charismatic prayer meetings I attended where we gathered to pray (out loud as Pentecostals do) for an hour or so. [What Pentecostals do is that they ask brother so and so to lead in prayer and as soon as he starts praying, everyone else starts praying out loud too!]
He writes, “When I ran out of prayer before we ran out of hour, I just knelt and listened. Usually what I heard was things like, ‘Glory, glory, glory, thankyaLord, thankyaLord, thankyaLord, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, Jaysus, Jaysus, Jaysus, Glory, thankyaLord, hallelujah Jaysus’; over and over and over again until the marathon meeting was over. The point was, I suspected, to make the entire hour “praying” (or at least, making sounds) thinking, I suppose, we would be heard for our many words and so lapsed into vain repetitions (i.e., pointless repeated words) until the hour was up.” That’s a charismatic/Pentecostal speaking about his own movement.
ILL: Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century London preacher, wrote, “And how greatly do they err who measure prayers by the yard. They think they have prayed so much because they have prayed so long, whereas it is the work of the heart — the true pouring out of the desire before God — that is the thing to be looked at. Quality not quantity: truth, not length. Oftentimes the shortest prayers have the most prayer in them.”
APP: This shows itself when we say, “I didn’t pray enough about this.” What do you mean by that? If by that sentence, you think if you pray more about this situation, God will be more inclined to say “yes”…that’s pagan praying. OR “if I pray with more emotion,” or if I maintain the right posture in prayer, God will hear me.
ILL: When I was growing up, my family attended a United Methodist Church. I also had allergies growing up and each spring my nose would run. My dad taught me to carry a handkerchief to church. During one long prayer, my nose began to run. I attempted to get out my handkerchief with my hands still folded. My dad, noticing what was going on, was quick to say “just blow your nose.” I believed that I had to have my hands folded a certain way in order for God to hear my prayers. There was a pagan praying in that service that day!
APP: How often do we hear young people giving testimony of doubting their salvation and they say things like, “I just didn’t know if I said the right words.” As if God was a genie in a lamp and you have to rub it the right way for God to pop out and say, “Your wish is my command.”
Or how often when someone prays with more emotion do we think, “The Lord must have REALLY heard that!”
Since many people do pray this way, and perhaps you’re thinking that here this morning, what does this say about who you think God is? What kind of a god responds this way? If you believe those things or have believed those things, let’s face it: you are ascribing Baal-like qualities to God. This must be repented of! We must be corrected about our knowledge of God.
TRANS: That’s what Jesus does next in verse 8.
Jesus explains in Matt. 6:8 that we are not to be like those pagans and their praying “for,” because, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” We come to understand 2 things about God in that 1 statement. First, He cares. He is my Father. Second, He knows.
III. Reason for the Prohibitions: Your Father knows v.8
Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask!
A. Father: He cares!
Jesus teaches an important truth that we too often take for granted: God is our Father! That of course implies, that those who have been born again are His children.
John writes in John 1:12-13 that as many as received Jesus Christ as Lord, simply receiving Him to them He gives the right, He gives them the authority to become children of God… even to those who simply “believe in his name” or trust in who He is. And when that happens God sends the Holy Spirit, that Holy Spirit who gives us adoption into God’s family. And it is by Him that we cry out, “Abba, Father!” Romans 8:15.
And if this is true of you, you can marvel with the apostle John in 1 John 3:1 when he says “how great a love the Father has bestowed on us that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”
ILL: And so no Catholic saint, nor Mary, nor any other person has greater access to my heavenly Father than I do by God’s grace…not a person whose prayers seem more passionate… “Oh, I would want him praying for me.” No! The LORD is my heavenly Father and He hears me and knows me!
B. He knows!
EXP: So do not pray like the Gentiles do for your loving Father, so gracious, … He knows what you need before you ask him. And this isn’t just that He is omniscient and knows everything. No, he is a Psalm 139:3 says, “intimately acquainted with all my ways.” He has closed me behind and before and has laid his kind and Fatherly hand upon me.
Oh, what tenderness, what compassion, what grace…what comfort underneath His loving smile, and in His loving embrace.
He knows! He gives!
ILL: But what of pagan people? They assume that their god doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Like the Baal prophets, you have to work something up before God will hear. No, don’t treat God like He isn’t your Father or that He doesn’t care! He does, He really does know and He cares! He cares about what you need.
EXP: And it is needs; “He knows what you need before you ask.” It’s not our whims and wishes, although He does know those and often gives those too! But He knows all this even before you ask!
C. Before you ask!
So, you must still ask!
ILL: How many of you young people did this happen to this morning? You went to the breakfast table after you woke up and you’re still a little blurry-eyed and you respectfully and confidently asked your dad to pass you the bread, and instead, as you blinked away the sleep, there…there was a stone! For how many of you did that happen today?
Jesus says if you then being evil… Indeed, that is what we are as Jesus says, we are evil and if you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
Now, I suppose many times, we ask for stones. But if God … if God is the One who is saying what you’re asking for is something good for you, will He not give it to you? Ask in confidence and in trust.
ILL: In our house, we teach our children to ask respectfully, confidently and trustingly. If one of my children asks for a brownie this way, “O daddy, daddy, please daddy daddy…o please can we have a piece of bread…oh, please DAD! I really WANT IT…I need it so much, oh daddy daddy … [grumbly] WHY DONT you GIVE ME TEH brownie!!” Even if I wanted to give it, I wouldn’t because I’m teaching my child to trust me that I’m kind enough and tender enough to give good things. If my children ask disrespectfully, grumbling, or untrustingly or repetitiously, they will have to wait and ask again. They just acted like I didn’t care or I’m not loving! That’s disrespectful.
APP: God is knowledgeable enough, caring enough, and strong enough to act on what I truly need! I just lay it all before Him as an expectant child, expressing trust and confidence in Him. We’re not informing Him of anything, He doesn’t need any incessant whinny pleading, He’s an infinitely powerful, infinitely loving heavenly Father who gives good things to His children.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Matthew 6.7-8
If you are God’s child and are confessing your sin, you are in close fellowship with your Father who is in heaven. If you have repented of your sins, he says, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him” (Luke 15:22). And so now, by His grace, you’re clothed in your Savior’s righteousness and to you will be given the crown of life. And whatever else you need, He knows before you ask … before the word comes onto your lips, He knows your thoughts from afar… whether you need, if it’s food, clothing, or some situation solved, or greater love and trust in Him. Give your soul a rest in His presence, like a child sitting warmly in her kind father’s lap.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” And so what other small thing could possibly be so great that you feel like you have to twist God’s arm in prayer with your many words or your thoughtless repetition. He has chosen with gladness to give you the kingdom! Rest in Him!
what a friend, 660 solace, “saul-les” line 3=comfort in sadness.