But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. - Matthew 6:6 NIV

I would like to think that 'reward' refers to answered prayers. But 'true' believers of Christ should know that God answers prayer (James 5:16), so it seems unlikely it is referring to just that. What is an overview of different interpretations of what 'reward' in this verse is referring to.

  • Welcome. Unfortunately, this question isn't a particularly good fit for this site: we don't attempt to discover the truth, per se, but rather our goal is to objectively describe and learn what specific groups of Christians believe. If you'd like to narrow the question by asking for the view of a particular tradition or denomination, this question would be more answerable. When you get a chance, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel Mar 8 '16 at 20:09
  • @KorvinStarmast In general it's best to avoid answering questions that will obviously be closed. However, sometimes it's not obvious, and this may be such a case. So I wouldn't say it's inappropriate in this case, per se, but there is a higher risk that it will get deleted (as is fairly likely if the question is indeed closed). – Nathaniel Mar 8 '16 at 22:11
  • @Nathaniel We'll see if the querent chooses to add a denomination or two and so refine the question. – KorvinStarmast Mar 8 '16 at 22:24
  • What's a "true" believer? – Marc Mar 14 '16 at 23:28
  • After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." – Andrew Mar 15 '16 at 1:10

One commentator on scripture presents the reward as Grace. If you view prayer as a sincere communication with God, in humility, the commentary comes to a rational conclusion. Responding to God's call will include communication with God, in prayer and in other ways.

{Catechism of the Catholic Church 1996} Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

6:5-8 You may as soon find a living man that does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray. If prayerless, then graceless. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of two great faults in prayer, vain-glory and vain repetitions. Verily they have their reward; if in so great a matter as is between us and God, when we are at prayer, we can look to so poor a thing as the praise of men, it is just that it should be all our reward. Yet there is not a secret, sudden breathing after God, but he observes it. It is called a reward, but it is of grace, not of debt; what merit can there be in begging? If he does not give his people what they ask, it is because he knows they do not need it, and that it is not for their good. So far is God from being wrought upon by the length or words of our prayers, that the most powerful intercessions are those which are made with groanings that cannot be uttered. Let us well study what is shown of the frame of mind in which our prayers should be offered, and learn daily from Christ how to pray.

Assuming that most Christians--if not a vast majority of Christians, regardless of denominations--consider the Bible to be at least somewhat authoritative in faith and practice, I suggest you read the verse in question in context to arrive at a partial answer, if not the answer.

On more than one occasion Jesus used threes (3's) in his teaching. In the passage to which you refer, the three righteous deeds he cites are giving (vv.1-4), praying (vv.5-15), and fasting (vv.16-18). In each case Jesus gives his followers a negative example preceded by the words "beware" or "do not." He then ends the negative example with the words

"they have their reward in full" (vv.2, 5, and 16).

He then gives them a positive instruction, each time preceded by the word but:

  • But when you give (v.3)

  • But you, when you pray (v.6)

  • But you, when you fast (v.17)

At the end of each positive instruction, Jesus ends with the words

  • Your Father will reward you (vv.4, 6, and 18)

Putting these bits and pieces together, I think we are safe in thinking that Jesus was contrasting the short view with the long view, temporal rewards with eternal rewards, and self-centered religion with God-centered religion.

Religionists with the short view want their reward now, and their righteous deeds are primarily self-centered.

In a show-off religion, the goal for those practitioners who give, pray, and fast, is to be noticed, praised, and to be well thought of by people. Jesus asserts their obvious and public giving, praying, and fasting are self-centered and are neither others-centered nor God-centered.

In Jesus' kingdom, true religion begins first with a personal and intensely private love relationship with a heavenly Father. Out of that relationship flow good works such as giving, praying, and fasting. Put differently, Christians first love God supremely (with heart, soul, mind, and strength--the "first and greatest commandment"), and then out of the overflow of their vertical relationship with God they are enabled to love their neighbors as themselves in those horizontal relationships (the second great commandment).

Putting all the above pieces together, then, I think it safe to say that Jesus' teaching is that the heavenly Father's reward for each righteous deed, when it is done in secret, is his good pleasure.

We need look no further than the relationship between a child and a parent. When the child obeys the mother or father in performing a task such as mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, or cleaning a messy room, the parent cannot give a greater reward to the child than a sincere

Well done, Sally. You did a good job!

Or,

"Good job, Johnny. I'm so proud of you!

Regarding your specific question about whether God's reward for secret prayer comprises--at least in part--answers to those prayers, my answer is a definite yes, particularly his children pray for God's will to be done. In those secret times of prayer, when Christians pour out their hearts to God, God not only hears but he answers. The answers may not always be the ones his children want, but when they ask in faith according to his will, he assures them he will act.

What is the 'reward' that Jesus is referring to in Matthew 6:6?

Matthew 6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Those who reject God will find a consequence for their works in varying degrees of punishment;

Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Those who believe and have new and eternal life in Jesus will find a consequence for their works in varying degrees of reward;

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

I think the “reward” being described falls under the category of “treasures” in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-20 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

The answer is probably best viewed from the perspective of the Jews, and therefore of Jesus Christ, who taught us the Lord's Prayer.

To a Jew, a prayer time is a time of self-judgement.

Source: for example, visit the site https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682090/jewish/The-Meaning-of-Prayer.htm

The Hebrew for “prayer” is tephillah. According to NAS Exhaustive Concordance, it comes from the verb, palal that means “to intervene, interpose”, or as indicated by Brown-Driver-Briggs, “to arbitrate, judge, intercede.” Its reflective verb is lehitpalal, “to judge oneself”. Thus, a prayer time should be a time to examine ourselves carefully, critically and sincerely, knowing that we are all sinners and fall short of God’s glorious standards (Romans 3:23):

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Since we cannot possibly meet God’s expectations, we do not deserve His blessings and favors. Therefore, we humble ourselves before Him and confess our sins in our prayers. Psalms 51 and 69 come to mind as some of King David’s most significant prayers that are unparalleled in their long, sincere and careful examination of thoughts and feelings. It is only after first carefully, critically and sincerely examining ourselves that we can partake in sanctification with the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is from this Jewish perspective of what a prayer should be that we can fully understand the Lord’s Prayer – why we begin by exalting God's name when we say Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, humble ourselves before Him when we say forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sinned against us, and then request the Father not to bring us to the test but deliver us from evil, which is exactly meant for our sanctification - our reward.

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