A short commentary: The Sermon on the Mount (pt 2: Matthew chapter 6)

The following is part two of three on Matthew chapters five through seven. It is a short commentary and still a bit of a work in progress. All three parts will be posted over the next few weeks. (All Scripture NIV)

Chapter 6
1“Be careful not to do your ‘acts righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The acts of righteousness are postures and actions of the life of believers because they follow Jesus. They are acts of faith. They do not make one a believer, but are the outflowing of belief. In the Sermon, Jesus highlights three of them, though certainly not an all inclusive list. He sees these three, giving to ones in need, prayer, and fasting, as ones that pride had crept into. Again, as in the parable, taking pride in what you do leaves you unjustified before God (32). The humblebrag gets you nowhere. In all of these, Jesus contrasts doing things to be seen by others versus what you do in secret. We do not live our life for the applause of men and back slaps of others. If this is what we want, to shine our own star, then the only reward you will receive is the applause and back slaps of men. To be seen by others is another way as to want to been known as “spiritual”. Puffed up and better than others. To look down on the ones who do not do these things as you do. This has no eternal reward. We are not to use the acts of the kingdom for personal gain. You are left mired in your pride. Jesus takes what the righteous do and purposefully defuses pride. The acts of righteousness should flow from a humble and meek heart. Jesus is still getting down to the heart of each matter. It is not just murder, but the anger that begets murder. It is not just adultery but the lust that begets adultery. With the “righteous act”, where does the act proceed from? It is what is done in secret, when no one notices and no one knows but God, that God rewards these acts of righteousness. When God sees your acts, done in humility, He is able to act upon your acts. What is the reward? God’s response. God’s action. Treasure in heaven, as Jesus goes on to teach about soon in the Sermon. These acts of righteousness are assumed. “When you” is how Jesus begins each of these. Those who are followers of Jesus will produce action from their life. Again, these are not done to gain God’s approval, but to be action points of ushering in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. 

When you give to the needy…we are always to remember the least of these and put action to the remembrance of them. The Law set forth that those in need, the poor, the foreigner, the widow, are top be taken care of (33). In a reading of the prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, God chastises and judges for not doing so, even to the way of oppressing those in need and not just the lack of taking care of them (34). The good deeds that are evidence of living as a light are in part deeds to be a help to those in need. When these good deeds are done, such as giving to the needy, we are not to do it in such a way to bring attention to ourselves, announcing it with trumpets, brash and open. As we have seen before in the Sermon, Jesus uses an extreme example to bring his point across: “do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Be sure that you are not brining any attention to yourself that even one part of your body is not aware of what another part of your body is doing. We often think the need to advertise our good deeds helps to bring a good light on our efforts and so then the Gospel, possibly adding to the Church in such a way. Jesus teaches us that the way of reward for giving to the poor is to be in secret where only He is glorified by it. Does this conflict with letting “your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven?”. No. This comes back to the state and motivation of the heart. For even if your good deeds, in proper motivation, are seen and escape the secret, God is glorified and man is not.    

32. Luke 18:9-14
33. Examples: Leviticus 19:10,  Leviticus 23:22, Leviticus 25:35
34. Examples: Isaiah 3:14-15, Jeremiah 5:28, Ezekiel 16:49 

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

When you pray…our communion with God through prayer should be a foundation of our life with Him. Setting apart time to go into our room and close the door in a focused, uninterrupted time of prayer is essential. Not taking time here to go through what prayer is itself, Jesus again takes aim at the state and motivation of the heart in prayer. You do not pray better than the state of your heart. If you are prideful, your prayer is prideful and done in a prideful way. When your prayer is in secret, from a place of humility before God, not in front of others or in a loud way in order that others hear, God rewards it. The reward is His action and response to it. God hears and responds to the prayers of the humble heart. Does this mean we are not to pray corporately together? No, but the basis of our life of prayer is to be with God and God alone. Along with this, Jesus shows us that the length of our prayers are not the key to a response from God. Many words, babbling on like those who do not know Him, do not cause God to hear you. God knows our needs before we even ask. Prayer is our action of faith to God about those needs. This prayer invites God in to our lives and allows Him to do as He wills.  In keeping with what rabbis do, Jesus teaches those listening how to pray. Is it the only prayer? No. It is a prayer rooted in Scripture that is a basis for our prayers today. Prayer is always to be rooted in Scripture. 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name…God who is the Father of all things, who resides in the place of authority, His name is holy and is to be revered and stood in awe of. Prayer is not a trivial action but invokes the one God of all things.

your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…the continuing work of all things being made right and new again is captured in this part of the prayer. God’s kingdom, His will, to be advanced throughout the earth as it is in authority in heaven. It invokes our participation, in our own lives and through our lives.

Give us today our daily bread…it is the basic asking of provision from God who is our provider. To not be in lack, and where we are in abundance, to share that abundance with others.

And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors…The forgiveness of sins is the righting of our lives in God. He forgives freely. After our initial justification, we must stay in a place of repentance as we continue to live our lives in Him. But as we have been forgiven, we must also forgive others. We are forgiven in the same way we forgive others. We are to be agents of the kingdom as forgiveness is a foundation it is built upon. 

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one…lead us not to place of temptation as Jesus himself was lead to the wilderness and tempted there. Deliver us from evil and of the evil one, satan. Strengthen us, provide a way out, show us in wisdom what to do. Help us overcome.

Jesus then highlights a part of the prayer he had just taught, returning again to forgiveness. Forgiveness is another result of a heart that is being made right. We are to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us (35). Jesus was asked how many times one should forgive another. He responded with a parable (36). As in the parable, if you withhold what has been graciously awarded to you, if you do not have mercy on another as the Lord has mercy on you, you will be judged. 

35. Colossians 3:13   
36. Matthew 18:21-35

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

When you fast…fasting is another act of righteousness, a consistent part of the life of one who follows Jesus. It is another action of communion with God. We see abstaining from food as a communal practice in the Day of Atonement (37), plus many other examples in both the Testaments. Fasts were appointed, personal fasts were beyond that. The practice and reasons of fasting will be not be explained here, but Jesus, once again, focuses on the heart. As the disciples did not fast while Jesus was with them, the fasts would begin after his ascension rooted in the anticipation of his return (38). The hypocrite, the one who acts one way but is truly another, will be sure to let others know they are fasting. They purposely look haggard and unkept. They let others know how hungry they are or how long they are fasting. Their reward is others thinking they are ‘spiritual’ when really they are not. To do this for others to notice is to look for their applause and the prideful positioning of oneself above others. This is not to say that public fasts should not be declared and participated in, but the practice of fasting beyond that is to be in secret. When it is in secret, outgrowing from a humble heart, God will respond to the fast, draw near, and act accordingly. The fast of a humble heart has no outward appearance to draw attention.

37. Leviticus 23:32
38. Mark 2:18-19  

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Accumulation is not to be the goal of life. Anything that can be be destroyed naturally or stolen is not ultimately worth anything of value. The body will be redeemed with resurrection, the earth made new, but possessions will not be among them. Jesus, when remarking about having things, says that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions (39). He says you must be rich towards God and not accumulate, building more space to put ‘things’. Your life will be called into account for such a way of living (40). Are possessions wrong? In a word, no. But the over-emphasis of possessions, the chasing of possessions, and reliance on possessions are the issue of the heart. Jesus is pushing back against greed. Jesus is pushing back against keeping your abundance versus giving to those in need. If your treasure is possessions and accumulation, that is the place your heart resides. From where your heart resides comes the actions of your life. The storing of treasure in heaven, that never fades away, falls apart, or can be taken from you happens from the living of the Christian life, the kingdom life, on earth as it is in heaven. That treasure is the riches of the glory of God in our eternal relationship and dwelling with him in the coming new heaven and new earth. All things will be made new and we will reside in the fullness of that.  If your treasure is there, you will live like it here. You will be participating, as Jesus taught to pray, to bring the kingdom of heaven and the will of God here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus uses the example of the eye being the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy and unclouded, if you see things as you should see them, if you see things through the lens of the kingdom, you will be full of light. That light overcomes the darkness. But if the light you have is actual darkness, how great will that darkness be in you. That darkness will overshadow everything you do as the goal of what you do is to gain. Paul later writes that godliness is not for financial gain (41). We cannot keep greed and simply name God as the means to appease it. The intermixing of the Gospel and accumulation is a great danger. In the Parable of the Sower, one way to look at the thorns of life that choke the seed and growth of the word is the deceitfulness of wealth (42). Jesus is explicit in saying it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (43). Riches and their pursuit can cloud the heart with darkness. Within that, you cannot serve two masters. These ‘masters’ vie for allegiance. One will become subservient to the other. The service of one will overtake the service of the other, loving one and hating the other, devoted to one despising the other because these two masters are at odds with one another. You cannot serve both God and money, God and material possession. Serving money and possessions will be the root of all kinds of evil on one’s life, opening the path of wandering from the faith (44).    

39. Luke 12:15
40. Luke 12:16-21
41. 1 Timothy 6:5 
42. Matthew 13:22
43. Matthew 19:23
44. 1 Timothy 6:10

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

At this point, Jesus transitions from putting the issue of what a life should build towards, and if it is not accumulation of possession, to not worrying about being provided for. Do not worry about the things of life that worry those who do not know God and know Him as provider. Do not worry about food, drink, or clothes. As Jesus taught us to pray, give us our daily bread, He will answer that prayer and be our provider. God provides for His creation. The birds are provided for. Aren’t we, the crown of his creation, more valuable to Him than the birds of the air? If the flowers of the field and the grass that grows are clothed in the wonder and beauty that is God’s creation, which is even much greater than anything the riches of Solomon could muster up, will He not clothe you and keep you warm? To be of little faith is to be distracted from who God is and what His word has said. God is our provider. He will be who He is and do what He will do. There is not need of worry and anxiousness that causes one to fully chase after the things of provision and accumulation. The ones who do not know God as provider chase these things. They are worried too much about having and it becomes the focus of their lives. God our Father knows we need these things and He will provide. This is the provision of the multiplied loaves and fish (45). We must work with our hands and do all things unto the Lord (46). God honors that. Instead of seeking these kind of things first, Jesus challenges those listening to seek first the kingdom of God (the reign and rule of God) and his righteousness (the making right of all things). This is a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. This is pursuing of building treasure in heaven. If you do so, you will be provided for as He will add to you the things that you need. Do not worry about anything that is coming. Today may have worry of its own. Much of our worry is about provision. Seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness first, and He will work in a way that will alleviate the worry of today.

45. Matthew 14:15-21, Matthew 15:32-38
46. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Colossians 3:23 

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