Why did Paul encourage Christians to pray everywhere, but Jesus said to pray in secret?
A couple passages in Scripture regarding prayer have been cited as a contradiction. Here are the verses in question:
I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Timothy 2:8)
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5–8)
Does the passage in Matthew command we should not pray in public whereas the passage in 1 Timothy exhorts us to pray everywhere? If one were to quickly read over these passages without further study, I could see why one would come to this conclusion. When reading the Bible, closely studying God’s Word is necessary to gain a proper understanding. This can be as simple as prayerfully reading Scripture while thinking about what the passage means. Upon a closer reading and study, we will find these verses do not contradict each other at all.
First, we will take an in-depth look at 1 Timothy 2:8. In order to better understand this verse, we should start in the Old Testament.
Psalm 141:2 discusses the offering up of evening prayers, which was a custom among Israelites. Hezekiah prayed from what he thought was his deathbed, and the Lord heard his prayer and healed him (2 Kings 20:1–5). Many Jews, like Daniel in Babylon, prayed multiple times a day (Daniel 6:10; 9:3, 23).
However, by the time of Christ’s ministry, some Israelites believed that God could only be worshipped (or prayed to) in Jerusalem. Yet Jesus corrected this type of thinking when speaking with the woman at the well.
[The woman said,] “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:20–24).
Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 2:8 , Paul’s desire for men to pray everywhere may have been in response to the idea that the Temple was the only place to worship God. Since Jesus died on the Cross and was raised up, the Holy Spirit now lives in each and every believer. We are now the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16) and can pray anywhere with the help of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:26 ). Praying in every place fulfills the words of Christ in John 4.
In Matthew 6:5–8, Jesus taught His disciples about prayer in light of a general principle set forth later in the chapter:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19–20)
We are not to do things for earthly rewards or treasures—getting immediate results from our actions. Instead, we should do things for Christ and lay up treasures in heaven. We may not get results right away, but everything good done for Christ will eventually be rewarded. Should we be satisfied with earthly rewards, or should we desire rewards in heaven for the cause of Christ?
Now let us apply this principle to what Jesus said about prayer. Should we pray to be seen and praised by people who will be amazed at how “spiritual” we sound? Or should we pray to praise God and let our requests be known? Obviously, praying for the sake of being seen by others focuses on earthly rewards.
Matthew 6:5–8 has nothing to do with whether we should pray in public or not. This passage is related to the reason we are praying. When Jesus contrasted praying publicly versus praying privately, He showed how we should not be selfish but selfless. We should be praying selflessly and glorifying God for His many blessings—while laying up treasures in heaven.
Prayer is a vital aspect of Christian living. We are to “
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). We should work toward a continual state of prayer unto God—praying constantly and always being mentally prepared to pray. Furthermore, we should “
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). We rely upon God to meet all our needs. We have no reason to worry when we have a God who cares about His people.
We can, indeed, pray everywhere, as long as we are praying for the right reasons. Praying for prideful reasons only receives earthly rewards. In everything we do, our focus should be on Christ, not ourselves. Jesus Christ has done so much for us, and the proper response for the gift of salvation is to show our love to Him and put Him first in our lives. As an added benefit, focusing on Christ will lay up treasures in heaven.
Following the biblical example and looking toward heavenly things is worth so much more than earthly rewards. Sadly, many believe in the exact opposite, and we should pray they might receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Also, we should thank God for what He has given us in Jesus Christ.