6:6 A private room (Gk tameion) was a room that did not have doors or windows to the building’s exterior. Closing the door granted total privacy. Since the true disciple prays for a heavenly rather than a human audience, privacy is ideal for genuine prayer. Jesus described the Father as the one who is in secret. God is ever-present. The disciple can encounter him in the most obscure locations. Jesus’s words do not prohibit public prayers—which are encouraged in the church (see 1Co 14:26).
6:6 The reference here is to a storeroom where treasures could be kept, and may allude to treasures available to the Christian who prays regularly.
6:6 In verses 5 and 7, the Greek pronoun translated you is plural. But in verse 6, in order to emphasize private communion with God, you switches to singular. The key to answered prayer is to do it in secret (i.e., go into your room and shut your door). If our real motive is to get through to God, He will hear and answer.
It is reading too much into the passage to use it to prohibit public prayer. The early church met together for collective prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:12; 13:3; 14:23; 20:36). The point is not where we pray. At issue here is, why we pray—to be seen by people or to be heard by God.
The negative condemnation of the wrong practice is followed by the positive exhortation to follow the right practice, just as in verses 2 and 3 in connection with giving to charity, and in verses 16–18 in connection with fasting. From start to finish the sermon is arranged in a very orderly, systematic, and logical manner. 6. But whenever you pray, enter into your most private room, and having shut the door, pray to your Father who is in secret. The idea is not that there must be a separate prayer room. As was pointed out earlier, the houses of many in the audience had only one room. The sense is this: if there be a private room then use that for your private prayer; otherwise choose the most hidden corner. Do not try to make yourself conspicuous. The main emphasis, however, is not even on the place of prayer but on the attitude of mind and heart. Not the secrecy is the real underlying thought but the sincerity. The reason for mentioning the secret place is that the sincere and humble worshiper, one who is not interested in making a public display for the sake of enhancing his prestige, will find the secluded nook or den to be most appropriate for his devotions. It is there that he can shut out the world and be alone with his God.
The shutting of the door (cf. 2 Kings 4:33; Isa. 26:20) makes the secret place even more secret. As to the Object of the prayer, namely, the Father, he not only sees in secret (verse 4), but also is in secret: he fills every secret (as well as public) place with his presence, yet transcends all spatial limitations (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7–10; Isa. 66:1; Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 7:48, 49; 17:27, 28).
Here again it is necessary to add that the purpose of entering the secret place and shutting the door can be defeated if one begins to advertise this practice, as some ministers are in the habit of doing, when at the beginning of the worship service—sometimes even in the pastoral prayer—they assure the congregation that before they sat down to prepare the sermon they had locked the door of their study and spent so many minutes in earnest prayer!
The one who prays with the proper disposition of heart and mind is blessed, as in verse 4: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The man who so prays will have peace of heart and mind. He will know that the Father, in his infinite love, will give the supplicant whatever is best both for himself and for all concerned. He will also know that this same Father “is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine” (see N.T.C. on Eph. 3:20, 21).
Ver. 6. Enter into thy closet.—
I. The nature of prayer.
II. The kind of prayer prescribed—“Enter into thy closet.”
III. The object of prayer—“Thy Father.”
IV. The reward promised—“Reward thee openly.” (J. Pollock.)
Closet prayer:—I. The duty. II. The place. III. The Spirit. IV. The object. V. The profit of prayer. (T. Whitelaw, M.A.)
The duty of secret prayer:—To press this I offer the following motives:—1. It is expressly commanded of God. 2. Are not the vows of God upon you for the performance of it? 3. Were ye not baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to worship them, and that in all parts of worship, of which prayer is a principal one? 4. Have not some of you been admitted to the Lord’s table, when ye professed to renew your baptismal engagements? 5. Have ye not secret sins, secret wants, and secret temptations? And shall ye not have secret prayers adapted to each? (Thomas Boston.)
I. The duty of secret prayer. All the force of a command. It is more by example than by precept that this duty is enforced in Scripture. Is essential, because we have wants which can be presented before God in no other way. No times are specified for the performance of this duty.
II. The proper mode and seasons of secret prayer. If possible, a place to which we may retire and be alone with God. Set times. The appropriate seasons—early morning, evening, times of perplexity, &c.
III. The rewards and advantages of secret prayer. Furnishes the best test of piety. What is the “open reward”? Are you obeying the command? (Dr. A. Barnes.) Secret prayer:
I. Directions. 1. The place. As solitary as possible. 2. The Being. He is in secret—invisible—omniscient. Realization of the Divine presence. 3. The spirit—filial.
II. Encouragements. 1. From the relation which He sustains. 2. From the prerogative which He exerts. He sees the suppliant. 3. From the reward which He bestows, present and future. (Various.) I. The duty and necessity. II. The employments and enjoyments. III. The many advantages. IV. The lamentable consequences of neglecting secret devotion. (Studies.) Secret prayer:
I. It is a duty. 1. Because it is commanded. 2. Because indispensable to the religious life of the soul.
II. It is a privilege. 1. Because it is communion with God. 2. Because it is priceless and seasonable. It is not like the Roman Porta Santa, which is opened but once in twenty-five years, with grand ceremonies, conducted by the highest dignitaries of the Church.
III. Its practice is commended to us. 1. By example of Christ. 2. By the observance of eminent saints.
IV. Its object. 1. To be alone with God. 2. To cultivate heart-religion. 3. To obtain needed supplies of grace.
V. Its benefits. 1. Its privacy promotes meditation and heart-scrutiny. 2. It favours the confession of such sins as are individual.
VI. Applications. 1. A command all followers of Christ will obey. 2. Some local “inner chamber not necessary.” Every man can build a chapel in his breast. (American Homiletic Monthly.)
The secret life of the Christian the most important:—The root that produces the beautiful and flourishing tree, with all its spreading branches, verdant leaves, and refreshing fruit, that which gains for it sap, life, vigour, and fruitfulness, is all unseen; and the farther and deeper the roots spread beneath, the more the tree expands above. Christians! if you wish to prosper, if you long to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, strike your roots wide in private prayer. (Salter.)
The silent influences of secret prayer the most productive:—As the tender dew that falls in the silent night makes the grass and herbs and flowers to flourish and grow more abundantly than great showers of rain that fall in the day, so secret prayer will more abundantly cause the sweet herbs of grace and holiness to grow and flourish in the soul, than all those more open, public and visible duties of religion, which too, too often are mingled and mixed with the sun and wind of pride and hypocrisy. (Brooks.)
Closet prayer secret in mode as well as in place:—Not like the hen who goes into a secret place to lay her egg, but by her cackling tells all the house where she is, and what she is doing. (Gurnall.)
Ver. 6.—But thou (emphatic) when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray, etc. An adaptation of Isa. 26:20 (cf. also 2 Kings 4:33). The prophet’s language describing the action be fitting a time of terror is used by our Lord to express what ought to be the normal practice of each of his followers. Observe that the widow of one of the sons of the prophets so acted when she was about to receive the miraculous supply of oil (2 Kings 4:4, 5). Closet; Revised Version, inner chamber, more readily suggesting the passage in Isaiah to the English reader. To thy Father which is in secret. Not “which seeth in secret,” as in the next clause. The thought here may be partly that to be unseen of men is a help to communion with him who is also unseen by them, but especially that the manner of your actions ought to resemble that of your Father’s, who is himself unseen and works unseen. And thy Father which seeth in secret. You will be no loser, since his eyes pass by nothing, however well concealed it be from, the eyes of men. Shall reward thee openly (ver. 4, notes).
6 If Jesus were forbidding all public prayer, then clearly the early church did not understand him (e.g., 18:19–20; Ac 1:24; 3:1; 4:24–30). The public versus private antithesis is a good test of one’s motives. The person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern. Far better to deal radically with this hypocrisy (cf. 5:29–30) and pray in a private “room”; the word tameion (GK 5421) can refer to a storeroom (Lk 12:24), some other inner room (Mt 12:26; 24:26; Lk 12:3, 24), or even a bedroom (Isa 26:20 LXX, with which this verse has several common elements; see also 2 Ki 4:33). The Father, who sees in secret, will reward the disciple who prays in secret (see comments at v. 4).
The True Audience: God
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (6:6)
The basic definition of prayer is “communion with God,” and if He is not involved there is only the pretense of prayer. Not only must He be involved, but centrally involved. Prayer is God’s provision; it is God’s idea, not man’s. There could be no prayer if God did not condescend to speak with us, and we could not know how to pray had He not chosen to instruct us.
Jesus’ teaching here is simple, in contrast to the complicated and difficult traditions. The phrase when you pray implies great latitude. No prescribed time or occasion is given by the Lord. The tameion (inner room) could be any sort of small room or chamber, even a storage closet. Such rooms were often secret and used to store valued possessions for protection. The idea is that of going to the most private place available.
As already mentioned, Jesus does not forbid or condemn public prayer as such (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1–4). His purpose here seems to have been to make as great a contrast as possible to the practices of the scribes, Pharisees, and other hypocritical religionists. The primary point Jesus makes does not have to do with location but with attitude. If necessary, Jesus says, go to the most secluded, private place you can find so you will not be tempted to show off. Go there and shut the door. Shut out everything else so that you can concentrate on God and pray to your Father. Do whatever you have to do to get your attention away from yourself and others and on Him and Him alone.
Much of our prayer life should be literally in secret. Jesus regularly went away from His disciples to pray entirely alone. Our family members or friends may know that we are praying, but what we say is not meant for them to hear. Chrysostom commented that in his day (the fourth century a.d.) many Christians prayed so loud in their rooms that everyone down the hall heard what they said. If people sometimes happen to overhear our private prayers, it should not be by our intention. (Cf. John A. Broadus, Matthew [Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1886], p. 140.)
But the Father being in secret does not mean He is not present when we pray in public, or with our families or other small groups of believers. He is very much present whenever and wherever His children call on Him. Jesus’ point has to do with the singleness of intention. True prayer is always intimate. Even prayer in public, if the heart is right and concentrated on God, will in a real and profound way shut one up alone in the presence of God.
In the pattern of prayer Jesus taught His disciples, He begins with “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9), indicating that other believers may be present and that the prayer is corporate. But even when prayer represents the feelings and needs of others who are present, the supreme attention is to be on God. In that sense, even the most public prayer is in secret. Even if the whole world hears what we say, there is an intimacy and focus on God in that communion that is unaffected.
God also sees in secret in the sense that He never betrays a confidence. Many things we share with God in our private prayers are for Him alone to know. Confidences we share even with our dearest loved ones or closest friends may sometimes be betrayed. But we can be sure our secrets with God will forever be just that, and that one believer praying in secret with a pure heart has the full attention of the Father.
Furthermore, when our prayer is as it should be, our Father who sees in secret will repay us. The most important secret He sees is not the words we say in the privacy of our room, but the thoughts we have in the privacy of our heart. Those are the secrets about which He is supremely concerned, and about which only He can know with certainty (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3–5). Those secrets sometimes are hidden even from ourselves, because it is so easy to be deceived about our own motives.
When God is genuinely the audience of our prayer, we will have the reward only He can give. Jesus gives no idea in this passage as to what God’s reward, or repayment, will be. The important truth is that God will faithfully and unfailingly bless those who come to Him in sincerity. Without question, the Lord will repay. Those who pray insincerely and hypocritically will receive the world’s reward, and those who pray sincerely and humbly will receive God’s.
The Content of Prayer
A second area in which much prayer of Jesus’ day fell short was that of content. The hypocritical prayers of the scribes and Pharisees not only were given in the wrong spirit but were given in meaningless words. They had no substance, no significant content. To be acceptable to God, Jesus declared, prayers must be genuine expressions of worship and of heartfelt requests and petitions.
 Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Mt 6:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1224). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.