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"And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 "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. Matthew 6:5-6 (NAS)

When the church first began in Acts chapter 2 (33 years after the birth of Christ), it was common for Christians to pray together in their assemblies behind closed doors.  During the periods of persecution, they oftentimes met in caves or sepulchers to avoid imprisonment or torture for their obedience to Christ.  In most countries today, there is a freedom for Christians to openly worship and pray to God.  However, Christians should not let their freedom tempt them to pray in public places for the purpose of being seen by men.

Those Who Pray In Public

Is it okay for followers of Jesus to pray in public or in front of others? 

Jesus and His disciples offered prayers of thanks before eating, even in front of large groups (e.g., Mark 6:41-44, Luke 24:30).  Usually Jesus went off to pray by Himself in lonely or quiet places (e.g., Mark 1:35, Matthew 26:36-40), but in other times He prayed with His disciples present (e.g., in the large upper room of a house at the Last Supper - see John chapter 17, Luke 22:11-12). 

When Jesus' church was established in Acts 2, they met together on the first day of the week (Sunday) to partake of the Lord's supper, pray together, etc. (e.g., Acts 4:24-31, Acts 12:12, Acts 13:2-3).  We have to assume that their hearts were in the right place...and their purpose was not to be seen and glorified by men as they prayed.

If you observe someone praying in public, do you know his or her heart or purpose?  We can teach what Jesus spoke in love and a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1), but we do not have the ability to know for sure what people are thinking in their hearts; whether or not they are praying "to be seen by others."  God will know...and the person who is praying will also know the true purpose.  Consider the example of the two men praying in the temple in Luke chapter 18:

And He (Jesus) also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. 11 "The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' 13 "But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." Luke 18:9-14 (NAS)

Jesus does not rebuke the tax-gatherer who prayed in the temple; but instead the Pharisee who was trying to exalt himself. 

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