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GET INTO THE STUDY 10 minutes GUIDE: Direct attention to the contents page in the



PSG (p. 3). Review the titles of the six-session study from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (LEADER PACK: Point to the titles on Item 1:

The Point


Giving, praying, and fasting are disciplines of personal worship.

Introduce session 1. Note the picture on PSG page 12.

The Bible Meets Life

DISCUSS: Question #1

Some people say religion is a

(PSG, p. 12): What

private matter, and they keep any

activity or hobby comes

hint of faith from public view. Some

effortlessly to you? Why?

people make a very public display of their religiosity, especially if it

GUIDE: Introduce

benefits them politically or in their business dealings. Some people may derive

The Point (PSG, p. 13):

a sense of good standing or self-righteousness from publicly practicing their

Giving, praying, and

religion, but they miss the point of doing the acts—the spiritual disciplines—

fasting are disciplines of

presented in Scripture. Jesus shows us a better way to worship.

personal worship. Direct attention to The Bible Meets Life (PSG,

The Passage Matthew 6:1-8,16-18

p. 13). Stress that exercising

The Setting

appropriately and correctly

Jesus gathered His disciples to a mountainside to instruct them about being

these three disciplines will

citizens of the kingdom of God. Countless others joined Him. His instruction

allow us to catch God’s power

came to be called the Sermon on the Mount. In His instruction, He underscored

and experience a life we could

the value of worshiping the Father through giving, praying, and fasting. He

never produce on our own.

went on to teach His followers how to practice those disciplines from a heart devoted to growing in Him instead of to seeking applause from others.


S e ss i o n 1

© 2015 LifeWay

Matthew 6:1-4


1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of

people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no

Matthew 6:1-4 10 minutes

reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet

before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on

READ: Invite a volunteer to read Matthew 6:1-4.

the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve DISCUSS: Question #2

got their reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand

(PSG, p. 14): What comes to mind when you think of

know what your right hand is doing,


4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who

(Alternate: What are the

sees in secret will reward you.

practical implications of Jesus’

Give to help others and not to call attention to yourself. Verse 1. Jesus introduced a critical principle to His disciples to practice as they worshiped and served Him—a matter of the heart. It had to do with what actually motivated their service to Him as citizens of the kingdom of God. Believers were to be motivated by sincere, wholehearted eagerness to please Him alone. The principle of proper motivation went to the heart of walking with and serving Him. Explaining the principle of proper motivation, Jesus instructed His followers to consider the reward they would expect. A firm grasp on the right motivation for serving Him enables believers to exercise key spiritual disciplines in a fulfilling way. In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called attention to three of those disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting. As we incorporate these into our daily lives, we can expect to be rewarded in one of two ways. Either we will seek the reward that comes from the praise of people, or we will enjoy the reward of the joy of serving Him out of a heart of pure love and sincere devotion. Verse 2. Jesus applied the principle of proper motivation by calling attention to the poor and the spiritual discipline of giving to them. In those days, public assistance programs sponsored by social service agencies did not exist. Victims of poverty had to depend on the kindness of people in their © 2015 LifeWay

warning in verse 1?)

GUIDE: Focus on giving as worship. Note that people often exploit their giving as a way to gain honor. Jesus called them “hypocrites” (v. 2), people who wear a mask of spiritual devotion, but their hearts tell a different story. Emphasize Jesus’ challenge for us to check our motives. >> Is my giving about receiving recognition or a tax deduction? >> Or do I give entirely out of a gracious desire to help others—a response to the goodness and grace of God in my own life?




Giving, praying, and fasting are disciplines of personal worship.

DISCUSS: Question #3 (PSG, p. 15): How would you describe the connection between giving and worship?

GUIDE: Review the bullet points on PSG page 15. Worshipful giving says to God, our Father: >> I recognize You own all. >> I recognize You as my Provider and all I have is from You. >> I am thankful for my salvation in Christ. >> I want to join You in Your work in the lives of others. >> I recognize my giving is an opportunity to be Your hands and feet to the poor. >> I recognize that You reward faithful obedience, and even as I give, You will continue to take care of me. TRANSITION: “As giving should not focus on ourselves but God and others, so the discipline of prayer should spring from the same kind of humility.”


S e ss i o n 1

community in order to survive. Jewish people embraced the responsibility for giving to the poor, and it became a distinctive part of their lives. However, giving to the poor could also attract the applause of people if they noticed it. Thus, an opportunity to give could become a temptation to parade a person’s piety so everyone could see it and marvel at it. Too many times, the religious people Jesus talked about in His sermon had given in to the dangerous temptation to give so they could be seen. Motivated by their eagerness to be praised, they would look for the chance to catch people’s attention as they made their contributions. In the temple area, priests placed offering boxes so worshipers could make contributions. People would drop their coins down a brass funnel inserted at the top of the box. The funnel resembled the bell of a trumpet. The larger the amount of money they poured down the funnel, the louder the noise of the coins clanging against the brass. Accordingly, generous givers could call attention to themselves by making the trumpets blast! Jesus referred to people who give out of such a shallow motivation as hypocrites. They pretend to be someone they really aren’t. They are nothing more than actors, and the worship setting in which they give is their stage. While they play the role of selfless and benevolent givers, their hearts exhibit something different. Indeed, they get the applause of the people who behold in astonishment their extravagant generosity. When they receive it, they had better enjoy it. That’s the only reward they can expect to receive for their pretentious charade. Verse 3. Then Jesus turned His attention to His followers and the spiritual discipline of giving they had been taught to practice. He challenged them to take extreme caution to avoid the temptation to be guided by the hypocritical desire to get people to look with wonder on what they gave. By talking about giving so the one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing, Jesus was not frowning on a church’s practice of maintaining contribution records. Rather, He urged believers to make sure that their motivation for giving honors Him alone. We give because of the joy that comes with obeying Him with our resources. Verse 4. That kind of reward enriches us and prompts us to give more. We practice the spiritual discipline of giving, but not so it will catch somebody’s eye. Instead, we give for © 2015 LifeWay

the pure reason that we want to express our wholehearted devotion to the Lord by sharing the resources He has given to us. We’re pleased simply because we know that the Lord notices us as we give. That’s the reward we receive every time we make a contribution in His name and for His glory. It’s the only kind of reward that transforms our worship.

STUDY THE BIBLE Matthew 6:5-8 10 minutes READ: Invite a volunteer to

Matthew 6:5-8

read Matthew 6:5-8.

5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites,

because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and

GUIDE: Acknowledge that most of us associate prayer

on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you:

very closely with worship.

They’ve got their reward!

Note, however, that we can

6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your

door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they

abuse prayer as easily as we can giving. Call attention to verse 5. Stress that the hypocrites approached prayer in the same

imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.

way they approached giving,

8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things

with a self-centered attitude.

you need before you ask Him.

Jesus said they received the reward they sought—the praise of others.

Pray with humble sincerity. Verse 5. Jesus also applied the principle of proper motivation to the spiritual discipline of prayer in worship. The practice of prayer had an important place in the lives of Jewish people in His day. They made it a critical part of their daily routines. In fact, they set aside three times each day for prayer. For them, it was a worship action that reflected their relationship with God. The problem some Jews faced had to do with what really motivated them to pray. Jesus drew a distinction between public prayer and private prayer. As He brought up public prayer, He called attention to people who misused it in worship, and He showed that their misuse started in their hearts. Playing the role of spiritual giants, they always made their way to public places like synagogues or street corners at one of the daily prayer times. There in crowded places, they would stand up and pray so people surrounding them would hear them and be captured by their devotion. © 2015 LifeWay

DISCUSS: Question #4 (PSG, p. 17): What are some ways we sometimes show arrogance or pride in our prayers? (Alternate: How do Jesus’ words in this passage challenge your prayer life?)



Giving, praying, and fasting are disciplines of personal worship.

SUMMARIZE: Use the Bible commentary 1 to help the group understand that Jesus’ warning doesn’t diminish the value of public prayer in worship.

GUIDE: Note Jesus’ emphasis in verse 6 on the importance of private prayer where believers give themselves to intimate interaction with the Lord. Nothing is more rewarding than being in God’s presence.

SUMMARIZE: Use the Bible commentary 2 to explain the historical background of the babbling Jesus referenced in verse 7. (OPTION: To illustrate babbling, have some fun by enlisting an auctioneer IN ADVANCE to perform for the group. Acknowledge that to most people, the sounds coming out of an auctioneer’s mouth are unintelligible; they sound like babbling.)


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What they said and the way they said it would turn the heads of everyone around them. They tried to give the impression to the folks listening to them that they were spiritually remarkable. According to Jesus, such actors in prayer needed to savor the accolades they received from the people on the street. It would be the only reward they would ever get from praying so others would be fascinated by them. They most certainly could never count on any other reward for prayer that had been motivated by the desire to be applauded. 1 Jesus’ warning doesn’t diminish the value of public prayer in worship. When we pray in a worship service out of a proper motive, we talk to God in the company of others who are worshiping with us. Such a worship action makes a difference to God’s people as we gather in His presence. The problem comes with an improper motive nurtured in a heart that’s set on getting attention for ourselves when we pray. Something’s wrong with our motive when we give more of our attention to praying in public than we give to praying in private. Verse 6. Jesus went on to teach that applying the principle of proper motive starts with private prayer. That’s why He directed the listeners to go to a private place, a room with no distractions and no audience. Any place—a room or a corner of a room—that provides complete privacy can be a setting fit for transformative prayer. Once there, they should close out everything that will prevent focusing attention on conversation with the Lord. Something sublime happens when we give ourselves to private moments of intimate interaction with our Lord. In the simplicity of such a secret setting, we can sense His intimate presence. He knows we’re there, and He meets us there. And the fellowship we have with Him can only be described as most rewarding! Verse 7. Another inappropriate motive for praying involved the pagan habit of rambling on and on with meaningless words or phrases. In those days, people given over to idol worship fostered the notion they could get their god’s attention by making certain sounds and uttering them repeatedly. While the habit wasn’t intended to draw a crowd, it still had that kind of effect. People passing by on the streets had no choice but to hear the prayers of the idol worshipers as 2

© 2015 LifeWay

they babbled on and on with their words. Jesus knew some of His disciples might be tempted to follow the example set by the idolaters, arriving at the notion that to get God to listen to them, they would need to repeat the words of their prayers over and over. Such a habit would be useless as they prayed and harmful in their spiritual growth.

GUIDE: Note that it is not the “many words” (v. 7) we pray that will get God’s attention. God pays attention to us because we belong to

Verse 8. Jesus instructed that we don’t need to babble on and on in the hope the Father will eventually hear and pay attention to our requests. Quite the opposite, He pays attention to us because we belong to Him through Christ. He already knows what we need before we begin to think about what to pray. Prayer, therefore, isn’t to get His attention. Prayer is simply to be with Him. In His presence, we praise Him, express our love for Him, and surrender to Him. Granted, prayer involves bringing our needs to Him, but not because He doesn’t already know about them. What Jesus taught in this verse only scratches the surface of what we should do in order to pray effectively. More attention will be given to this vital spiritual discipline in the next session.

Him through Christ. Emphasize that in prayer we experience God’s presence, we praise Him, express our love for Him, and surrender to Him. Note verse 8. Acknowledge that prayer involves bringing our needs to Him, but not because He doesn’t already know about them.

TRANSITION: “Praying with humility will require us to deny

Matthew 6:16-18

ourselves without drawing

16 “Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the

attention to ourselves.”

hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their



Matthew 6:16-18

17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your

10 minutes

face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your

Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret

READ: Invite a volunteer to read Matthew 6:16-18.

will reward you. KEY WORD: Fast (v. 16)—The practice of abstaining from food for a period of time for the purpose of growing closer to the Lord.

Deny yourself without making a show of it.

© 2015 LifeWay



Giving, praying, and fasting are disciplines of personal worship.

GUIDE: Offer some brief background on the experience of fasting for first-century Jewish culture. See the Bible commentary 3 . Emphasize again the selfcentered practice of those who wanted others to notice that they were fasting.

SUMMARIZE: In verse 17 Jesus said, “when you fast.” He anticipated His followers would practice this discipline as they grow in relationship with Him. We will find ourselves turning to it in times when we want to remove any obstacles to an intimate relationship with the Lord. Like the first-century Christians, we have obstacles that get in the way of our walk with the Lord. Our obstacles may be food,

Verse 16. Jesus brought up a third spiritual discipline often abused by people who wanted to make a spectacle of their spirituality. Fasting was probably more prominent in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day than today. 3 Jewish people honored the Old Testament law that instructed them to fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31). A pivotal worship opportunity for Israel, the Day of Atonement took place once each year. The nation of Israel would gather together and worship the Lord in a spirit of repentance and gratitude. Jewish leaders tended to practice fasting more often. During the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jewish leaders regularly included fasting in their lives and considered it to be a wholesome act of righteousness. For example, Pharisees typically fasted twice each week, ordinarily on Mondays and Thursdays. They would refrain from eating anything on those days, but they didn’t refuse to drink anything. Denying themselves food was to demonstrate that nothing stood in the way of their desire to nourish a healthy relationship with God. Like giving and praying, fasting could provide a hypocrite an open door for practicing piety before anyone who would care to notice. People who wanted to manipulate the spiritual discipline could turn it into a stage performance. Before onlookers crowded into the public square or at the synagogue, they would display obvious signs of denial and the suffering that accompanied it. They would walk into public places with ashes heaped on their heads to portray the agony of their deprivation. Their faces would flaunt their hypocrisy with looks of sadness and misery. They would make sure everyone knew they were fasting. Again, Jesus warned His disciples about the reward of such behavior. The attention such actors would garner from the watching crowd would be the only reward these hypocrites could expect to receive. Pretending to be sincere about fasting would not give them anything else.

or they could be other things. Removing the obstacle may require us to deny ourselves of those things in order to embrace the Lord Jesus as our first priority.


S e ss i o n 1

Verse 17. Jesus taught a completely different approach to fasting that requires the motivation for it to be proper because hearts are pure. Notice that Jesus didn’t say “if” but “when you fast.” Obviously, He anticipated His followers would practice this discipline as they grow in relationship with Him. We will find ourselves turning to it in times when we want to remove any obstacles to an intimate relationship with Him. Like the first-century Christians, we have obstacles that get in the way of our walk with the Lord. Your obstacle may be food, or it could be something else. © 2015 LifeWay

Removing the obstacle may require you to deny yourself of that thing in order to embrace Him as your first priority. Along the way in our walk with Him, we will be compelled to fast. As we deny ourselves, Jesus instructed us not to display it so others can see it and be impressed by it. If our motivation is proper because our hearts are pure, we will go about our normal daily routines while we fast. As we present ourselves to our neighbors and colleagues, personal hygiene will not be ignored. Grooming our hair will be as necessary for us today as putting oil on the hair of first-century believers. Like the old saying goes, we will get up, dress up, and show up! We will not allow our attention to this spiritual discipline to catch the attention of others around us. Verse 18. The reason to work diligently not to display this spiritual discipline is simple. Fasting is not to get somebody’s attention and applause. We fast because we want to grow in our walk with our Father. When that’s our motivation for denying ourselves, we will be glad we gave ourselves to it. Like before, Jesus brought up the matter of keeping the practice of this discipline a secret. If we take seriously what He taught us, we will be diligent to give no hint at all about the action we’ve decided to take. Choosing to deny ourselves of food or something else is in keeping with our desire to refine our focus on our Father. The sincere motivation of seeking Him that’s prompted by a pure heart will sustain us as we make our way through the struggles that go along with fasting. When we approach fasting in that way, we can expect a rewarding experience that transforms our worship. As Jesus said, our Father will reward us. The reward may come immediately, or it may come later. He will reward us in ways that make the exercise of this discipline worth the effort. Our lives will be enriched, our paths will be clearer, and our relationship with Him will be more intimate. The reward of His presence, guidance, wisdom, and strength will be ours to embrace and enjoy. A growing disciple could never ask for a greater reward. Jesus has brought to our attention three spiritual disciplines—giving, praying, and fasting. They are important acts of righteousness for Christians to practice as we worship Him. He challenged us to make sure our motivation for embracing them is proper. The proper motivation comes from a heart devoted to Him.

© 2015 LifeWay

GUIDE: Help the group understand that fasting, like giving and prayer, is a discipline intended to position us for the power and presence of God. >> Fast as an act of worship. >> Fast as a way to focus on God. Stress that when we fast, we will experience the great reward that comes with worship: the joy of the power and presence of God. (CAUTION: Guide members to check with their physicians before beginning a period of fasting.)

DISCUSS: Question #5 (PSG, p. 20): What results can we anticipate when we worship God? (Alternate: Why is fasting such a neglected discipline in most churches?)

DO: Invite volunteers to share their responses to the activity “My Personal Worship” (PSG, p. 20).



Giving, praying, and fasting are disciplines of personal worship.

LIVE IT OUT 5 minutes GUIDE: Emphasize The Point: Giving, praying, and fasting are disciplines of personal worship. Review Live It Out (PSG, p. 21; see text to the right). Invite group members to think about which application speaks most to their needs.

Wrap It Up GUIDE: Emphasize the importance of our motives

LIVE IT OUT How will Jesus’ teaching on giving, praying, and fasting impact your worship of Him this week? Remember: we don’t do these things to gain God’s favor; we are to do these things because He has shown us His favor.

>> One step of self denial. Fast from one meal this

week. Take the money you would have spent and give it anonymously to a person in need in your church family.

>> Pray for your neighbors. Use a phone book or the

Internet to compose a list of at least 10 people or families within walking distance of your residence. Take one day this week and pray for these people as you pass by their homes. If you are unable to do the prayer-walk, take time to pray for each person during your regular prayer time.

>> Extended quiet time. Shut down all electronic media for a weekend: No TV, radio, or computer. Use the quietness for intimate time with the Lord.

when giving, praying, and fasting. SAY: “When we exercise these disciplines appropriately, we will grow in our relationships with God and others.” PRAY: Thank God for the opportunities to worship Him by giving, praying, and fasting. Ask the Lord for the strength to exercise these disciplines faithfully.


S e ss i o n 1

© 2015 LifeWay

food (and/or drink) in order to


demonstrate or achieve a personal

Going through the motions

purity or strength.

of praying, giving, and

Biblical examples of individual fasting, however, almost always

anyone into a relationship

involve an encounter with the

with God. Our salvation is

divine; such fasting ‘is a person’s

freely given to us by Jesus

whole-body, natural response to

Christ, and our worship

life’s sacred moments’ (emphasis

is a response to what He

mine). Such a fast first appears in

has done.

Moses’ experience at Mount Sinai.” Locusts. Local communities could call for a fast when facing dire circumstances such as pestilence, a lack of rainfall, or other calamities.

The following excerpt is from the article “The Jewish Tradition of Fasting” (Sum. 2015), which relates to this session and can be purchased at biblicalillustrator. “From the viewpoint of pagan cultures, individual fasting referred to a person’s refusal to eat or drink, motivated by a desire to earn a

fasting does not bring

Read the article “Gentile Prayer Practices” in the Summer 2016 issue. Previous articles “Almsgiving: Its Use and Abuse” (Fall 2007), “Prayer Customs in First-Century Judaism” (Spr. 1996), and “Hypocrite” (Win. 1983) relate to this session and can be purchased at biblicalillustrator. Look for Biblical Illustrator for Bible Studies for Life. Subscribe to Biblical Illustrator at, or call 1-800-458-2772.

Each week, make yourself available either before or after the session to speak privately with anyone in your group who wants to know more about becoming a Christian. See the article, “Leading Someone to the Greatest Decision of All,“ on page 2 for guidance in leading a person to Christ. Remind group members that page 2 in the PSG offers guidance in how to become a Christian. Encourage believers

special merit. It is not starvation

to consider using this article

due to a scarcity of food, but a

as they have opportunities to

voluntary act of abstaining from

lead others to Christ.

>> Get expert insights on weekly studies through the Ministry Grid ( Life). >> Grow with other group leaders at the Groups Ministry blog ( >> Additional ideas for your group are available at BibleStudiesFor © 2015 LifeWay