What does Matthew 6:7 mean?
ESV: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
NIV: And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
NASB: And when you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
CSB: When you pray, don't babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they'll be heard for their many words.
NLT: When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.
KJV: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
NKJV: 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.
Verse Commentary:
It's not just Christians who pray. Most religions include something akin to prayer, whether that means communicating with a deity, spirits, ancestors, or angels. Others involve meditations or chants which are inwardly focused. Most Gentiles in the first century participated in pagan idol worship; this involved repetitive chanting of words and phrases. Some thought they would be heard and receive their requests for repeating their prayer an excessive number of times in a row.

It's possible some Jewish people in Jesus' era had taken on those superstitions and prayed in repetitive, mechanical ways. Even today, there is temptation to simply repeat words and call it "prayer." Or, to insist on using only certain phrases, languages, or approved expressions when communicating with God. This does not mean all repeated words or pre-written prayers are wrong. It means that words, in and of themselves, are not the point of prayer (Romans 8:26). If we're not sincerely communicating with God, from our hearts, then we're not praying, in a godly sense. This is in keeping with Jesus' teaching that motives matter as much as actions (Matthew 5:20; 6:1).

The Lord's Prayer, which Jesus will soon present as a model (Matthew 6:9–13), is often misused, in an example of what Jesus is warning about. Praying those exact words is not wrong—at all—but that arrangement has no special power. Prayer is not a magical incantation. The words we pray should be expressions of our hearts, not mechanical echoes.

Jesus will specifically point out (Matthew 6:8) that God doesn't give points for mindless repetition. He doesn't need to hear our words repeated over and over to understand the message. He gets it the first time.
Verse Context:
Matthew 6:7–16 follows Jesus' instruction about praying behind closed doors; He now teaches how to pray. Christ denounces the use of mindless repetition or meaningless jargon. God doesn't need filler words, and He doesn't need us to repeat ourselves in order to be heard. Jesus then models a simple, authentic prayer, now famously referred to as the Lord's Prayer. It is addressed to God the Father and begins by declaring His holiness and asking for His will to be accomplished on earth. This model prayer also makes personal requests for daily food, forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from temptation and evil. Jesus then underscores part of that prayer by saying those who want God's forgiveness must forgive others.
Chapter Summary:
The Sermon on the Mount continues in chapter 6, which is entirely composed of the words of Christ. Jesus teaches that God rewards deeds motivated by sincere devotion to Him, not by approval from other people. He teaches a simple and authentic model prayer. Christ warns against stockpiling money and possessions on earth. Instead, believers should make choices that store up treasure in heaven. A person's top priority can either be God, or money, but cannot be both. Along with that, Jesus says believers should fight against anxiety about daily needs. The heavenly Father knows what we need. All we need to do is pursue His kingdom and righteousness; He will take care of our needs, one day at a time.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 5 began Matthew's telling of the Sermon on the Mount. In that passage, Jesus pointed out that thoughts and attitudes are part of righteousness, just as much as actions. In Chapter 6, He explains how good deeds are only righteous when done out of sincere devotion to God, rather than for other people's approval. He also provides a model for prayer. Jesus explains how excessive worry, such as over money, interferes with faith in God. Knowing that God loves us should lead believers to trust Him, not to be anxious. Chapter 6 is one of the few chapters of the New Testament entirely composed of the words of Christ. In chapter 7 Jesus will introduce additional themes such as appropriate judgment, trust in God, and treatment of others.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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