Matthew 6

Thesis: In this section (Mt. 6:19-34) of the Sermon on the Mount,

(what) Christ advances the glorious and sovereign gospel righteousness of God

(how) by lifting the veil on the human heart and showing its proclivity to look for stability and security in things other than God, and the resultant anxiety when those things do not give us that stability and security. At the same time he reveals to us the heart of God as being one full of provision and love in himself.

(why) Because by nature we form religion in ways that do not help but further true peace

(whereunto) In order to have God, his righteousness, and kingdom as our real treasure, Christ points to the need for the reality and exercise of faith.

Condensed: Christ advances the gospel righteousness of God by showing us our doublemindedness, exhorting to a singular, comprehensive, coherent focus on God, casting us on the Lord alone by faith in his righteousness and kingdom.
 

Arguments:

  1. Broader Context: In the Sermon on the Mount Christ is instructing the people in the righteousness of the kingdom of God. It is a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and scribes. It is equal to that and conformable to that of the Father in heaven. Among the fallen creatures of Adam it is only the Son of God – made flesh, who can exhibit this and fulfill this in the place of his people. Thereunto he shows himself to be the one who fulfills the law and the prophets (5:17-20).
  2. Immediate Context: The preceding context deals with issues relating to the second as well as the first table of the law, especially in chapter 6, alms, worship, prayer, and fasting. Thus we see how the topic of righteousness and kingdom is established.
  3. Style: The form or style of the Sermon of the Mount is one of applying the Word of God – aiming at and reaching into the heart of people who substitute religion for righteousness. Thence the short sentences and the rapid change of subject. The style shows that Christ is applying the law.
  4. Words: The important words in this section of the sermon on the Mount are “treasure,” “seek,” “master,” “eye,” “righteousness,” “kingdom,” “care,” “anxiety.” Each of these words relates to the area of “the focus of our affections,” which ought to be on God, his kingdom, his righteousness.
  5. The development of the structure brings the reader from the thought of treasures in heaven, to singular focus, to singular Master, to absence of anxiety. Each of these sections deals with a united and full and singular allegiance. Double-mindedness will show itself in over-anxiety regarding the present world and stuff.
  6. The effect of all that he says: The unveiling of the heart of man, as well as that of God, has as its effect opening up Christ as the all-sufficient righteousness of God in the gospel, and calling for faith in Him as that all-sufficient righteousness.

 

Brief Analysis of Mt. 6:2–18

The Principle: The Attitude in Which God Is Approached (Mt. 6:14–15)

Situation: “Whenever you …” Mt. 6:2, 5, 16
Prohibition: “do not …” Mt. 6:2, 5, 7–8, 16
Reason: “Truly I tell you …” Mt. 6:2, 5, 16
Command: “but when you …” Mt. 6:3, 6, 7, 17
Result: “your Father …” Mt. 6:4, 6, 18

Structure

General principle (Mt. 6:1)

Three specific practices (Mt. 6:2–18)

Verse 2-4 Charity (Mt. 6:2–4)

Verse 5-15 Prayer (Mt. 6:5–15)

Two contrasts: Publicity and verbosity versus privacy and simplicity (Mt. 6:5–8)

The model prayer (Mt. 6:9–15)

Priorities: Three Petitions for the Father’s glory (Mt. 6:9–10)

Problems: Three petitions for the disciples’ needs (Mt. 6:11–13)

The principle: The attitude in which God is approached (Mt. 6:14–15)

Fasting (Mt. 6:16–18)

Mt. 6:19-24 God or greed?

Earthly and heavenly treasures (Mt. 6:19–21)

Necessity of a clear perspective (Mt. 6:22–23)

Incompatibility of discipleship and greed (Mt. 6:24)

Mt. 6:25-34 Kingdom or anxiety?

Anxiety and God’s care for birds (Mt. 6:25–27)

Anxiety and God’s care for flowers (Mt. 6:28–30)

Incompatibility of discipleship and anxiety (Mt. 6:31–34)

 

Theme

The sermon on the mount continues with very practical instructions for Christian life; instructions that, if well applied, bring happiness and job in Christian service. It shows foremost love and devotion to God, and heart and service for those around us, and then, peace and rest in God and His provision.
 

Piety: True and False Three Contrasts (Mt. 6:1–18)

Someone said, “Disciples must impress God alone.” This goes in against the ideas of contemporary society. Yes, righteousness that is greater than the Pharisees is good, but now there is also a wrong kind of righteousness (δικαιοσύνη). A righteousness that seems good towards God and man, but with the aim to get approval for man. Verse 1 of chapter six starts with a general principle of the intention in religious duties, namely in charity, praying and fasting. Those who live for God must wait to be rewarded by God, and not by men (Matt. 10:41–42; 19:27–29).
 

The Symmetrical Structure of Matt. 6:2–18:

Hypocritical Religion Prohibited: Genuine Religion Commanded:
The occasion: “Whenever you …” (Mt. 6:2, 5, 6, 7, 16) The contrasting occasion: “but when you …” (Mt. 6:3, 6, 9, 17)
The prohibited ostentatious activity: “do not …” (Mt. 6:2, 5, 7, 16) The commanded secret activity (Mt. 6:3, 6, 9–13, 17)
The prohibited motivation: “to be admired by others” (Mt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16) The commanded motivation: to be seen only by the Father (Mt. 6:4, 6, 18)
The solemn affirmation: “they have their reward” (Mt. 6:2, 5, 16) The solemn affirmation: “your Father will repay you” (Mt. 6:4, 6, 18)

 

Verse 2-4 Secret Giving

In the Jewish life, giving to the poor was an important aspect of serving God. Jesus had endorsed this in Mt. 5:42, and will mention it later in Mt. 25:35 and Mt. 26:9. Relief of the poor was set out in the Old Testament (Lev 19:9–10; Deut. 14:28–29; 24:19–21; 26:12–13), and had led to a well-functioning poor-relief system in the synagogues. Based on private giving, the system worked somewhat as a church these days. When Jesus speaks of blowing the trumpet, we could refer to the modern expression “blowing your own horn.” It had a metaphorical meaning and no context in Rabbinical literature. The word hypocrite is used for the first time here, and will further be spoken of in Mt. 6:5, 16; 7:5; 15:7; 22:18; 23:13–15, 28; 24:51. Jesus emphasizes an authentic inner religion (ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ), and not the hypocrite actor who puts on a show to lift up his image.
In verse 3, there is a change from plural hypocrites to a singular disciple. Also “your Father,” in which “your” is usually plural, is now singular. God cares personally as a Father for His own individual child. God sees in secret (Ps 139; Deut. 29:29; Ps 90:8). This thought here is not meant to be frightening, but comforting, for God will repay that which is in the heart.

Verse 5-15 Prayer

Some would call these verses the “centerpiece” of the Sermon on the mount, for this teaching is more detailed than the ones mentioned before. There are two warnings, and then two positive teachings about how to pray, with the model prayer (Mt. 6:9-15. Jesus makes a clear contrast between publicity and privacy (Mt. 6:5–6) and verbosity in contrast to simplicity (Mt. 6:7–8) in prayer. The Jewish leaders were looking for publicity, the pagans for verbosity, but the followers of Christ needed to pray privately and simply, for the glory of the Father.
Jesus forbids His disciples to pray as a hypocrite in public, on the streets of synagogues, but encourages them to pray privately in their inner room Mt. 6:5–6; cf. Mt. 24:26; Luke 12:3. There is a reference here to Isa. 26:20, that speaks of Israel withdrawing from judgment to wait for God’s blessing to come.
In the verses that follow (Mt. 6:7-8), Jesus critiques the prayers of pagans that babbled to their gods for some magical happening. The disciples are called to call upon the living God, who knows what His people need (Mt. 6:32; Isa. 65:24; Dan. 10:12; Luke 12:30; Acts 10:31). Other references in the Bible had already spoken of praying with few words, like Eccles. 5:2; Isa. 1:15. “The issue is not the method or the frequency of prayer (Jesus himself repeated his prayer in Mt. 26:44, apparently spent a whole night in prayer in Mt. 14:23–25, and taught his disciples to keep on praying in Luke 18:1), but the attitude of faith which underlies and inspires it.”
 

Verse 9-15 The Model Prayer

In contrast to the Gentiles and the hypocrites, Jesus presents a different prayer, that is simple, short and has eschatological meaning. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray “like this” (οὕτως), is not a mantra of prayer, but one that flows forth from the ethics of Jesus.
“Our Father” presents a new way of relating to God, a new form of intimacy of a household. Jesus refers to God as “my Father” 14 times in Matthew, and only in this verse He says “our Father,” implying the disciples. This father’s glory and will is priority. The three petitions May your name be held in reverence; may your kingdom come; and may your will be done are second person imperatives, meaning God’s will and glory above all things. All our focus on God has direct benefit for ourselves; the goal of the Father is our own desire as well. We see how the three “your” petitions are essentially one, as God’s Name, person and will are the same. God’s Name is holy Ps 30:4; 97:12; 103:1; 111:9, and must be revered, and His will must be desired on the earth as an invitation for God to show His glory and to receive the honor of His works.
The way the Lord’s prayer is written here, is not to present a form of escapism. It is not a living on earth with the eye on heaven, but it is desiring a concrete existence in which heaven comes to earth, and they seek heaven’s interests on earth today as they anticipate a time when God’s reign on earth will be consummated (Mt. 13:40–43; 16:27–28; 19:28–30; 25:34).
This Kingdom of God is the Kingdom which has already come, and yet waits till the final day. In this Kingdom, doing the will of God ought to be the main focus. Perfect obedience and surrender to His will, as even Jesus obeys His Father unconditionally (Mt. 26:42). The angels in heaven obey, now those on earth ought to follow that example.
In verse 11, the deepest human needs are given, namely daily sustenance (Mt. 6:11), forgiveness (Mt. 6:12), and avoidance of sin (Mt. 6:13). In the Greek, daily provision of food is captured in the word ἐπιούσιος, and is believed to mean “daily,” “necessary,” something you can’t wait with till tomorrow. It is exactly this needed thing that the disciples should not be worried about (Matt. 6:25). The disciples are called to trust the Father especially in these dire matters. In other verses of the Bible, bread is used not just for the material food, but also for as a symbolic matter (Mt. 15:26; 16:5–12; 26:26), therefore it can be seen as that is necessary for soul and body.
Verse 12 speaks of ongoing forgiveness. The word for debt (ὀφειλήματα) only occurs one other time, in Romans 4:4 and relate to financial obligations. Luke 11:4 uses the word “sin” (ἁμαρτία), obligations to God that are not met. Forgiveness is a privilege always comes with a responsibility, namely to do the same to others. As Turner says, “A forgiven person is a forgiving person.”
Verse 13 is a request that is both negative and positive, “Do not lead us into temptation”; (Luke 11:4; Mark 14:38), and also positively “but deliver us from the evil one”; (John 17:15; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 3:10). As Jesus was led by the Spirit to a place of temptation, this petition does not ask to be kept from testing, but to endure testing without failing. Πειρασμός is often used for present trials, testing that occurs before the arrival of God’s Kingdom. To pray for deliverance from temptation is prayer to God to end the cycle of sin and to deliver from the bondage that sin leads to; ending in death.
 

Verse 14–15 As in Heaven

Again, in the verses 14 and 15, Christ mentions the forgiveness and the brotherly love which the disciples are called to have among each other. Forgiveness received requires forgiveness to be given to others as well. This does not mean that our sins are automatically forgiven when we forgive others, but that we ought to live with a forgiving spirit, being ready to forgive (see also Paul’s teaching in Eph. 4:31–5:2; Col. 3:13).
 

Verse 16-18 Fasting

Fasting is the third religious activity which is mentioned in this chapter. When fasting, only God should notice, and He will reward us. Fasting is hardly done today, but in the Israeli community it had a prominent place, for example in Joel 1:14; 2:15 in which people devoted themselves in prayer through deprivation of food and often water. Usually these Old Testament fasts are connected to prayer and penitence, or related to a special situation as with Daniel or Samuel. Jesus fasted (Mt. 4:2), Moses and Elijah Exod. 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8, the Pharisees (Mt. 9:14) and in Acts the disciples before they selected leaders in the church (Acts 13:2–3; 14:23). Fasting without just behavior is unacceptable to God (Isa. 58:3–7; Jer. 14:11–12; Zech. 7:4–14; 8:19). Genuine fasting throughout Scriptures was often done by outward signs such as sackcloth, ashes and torn garments but Jesus prefers the inward devotion of the heart more than the way people present themselves outwardly. Paul doesn’t speak of voluntary fasting, but of involuntary hunger (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27), part of his sufferings for Christ. Only in the late first century literature fasting as a common act of believers is mentioned again.
 

Verse 19-24 Treasure in Heaven

Christ has mentioned several times the behavior in secret, that will be rewarded in heaven, and here this teaching coming to a climactic lesson of storing treasures in heaven. The section can be divided into three parts,

1. Prohibitions of materialistic activities and anxious thoughts (Mt. 6:19, 25, 31, 34a)

2. Exhortations enjoining kingdom priorities in activities and attitudes (Mt. 6:20, 33)

3. Motivations (statements, proverbs, illustrations, and rhetorical questions) that move disciples toward obedience (Mt. 6:21–24, 26–30, 32, 34b–c)

Interestingly, there are bipolar structures in this section. They included earth and heaven (Mt. 6:19–20), temporary goods and enduring reward (Mt. 6:19–20), good and bad eyes (Mt. 6:22–23), light and darkness (Mt. 6:22–23), service to God and possessions (Mt. 6:24), and what Gentiles seek and what disciples seek (Mt. 6:32–33). These opposites paint a clear picture of antithetical orientations to human existence, life with or without God.

A chiastic structure of this second part of the chapter is provided by Turner,

Prohibition of earthly treasure (Mt. 6:19)

Command to lay up heavenly treasure (Mt. 6:20–21)

First pair of illustrations (eye and slave; Mt. 6:22–24)

Two eyes, good and bad (Mt. 6:22–23)

Two masters, God and money (Mt. 6:24)

Second pair of illustrations (birds and flowers; Mt. 6:25–31)

First prohibition of anxiety over food, drink, clothes (Mt. 6:25a–b)

First rhetorical question (Mt. 6:25c)

First illustration: God cares for birds (Mt. 6:26a–c)

Second and third rhetorical question (Mt. 6:26d–27)

Second illustration: God’s care for flowers (Mt. 6:28–29)

Fourth rhetorical question (Mt. 6:30)

Second prohibition of anxiety over food, drink, clothes (Mt. 6:31–32)

Command to seek God’s kingdom first (Mt. 6:33)

Prohibition of anxiety about the future (Mt. 6:34)

 
Mt. 6:19-21 prohibits the hoarding of earthly treasures (Mt. 6:19), and gives a positive command to build up heavenly treasures. That which is stored in heaven won’t be destroyed, eaten by moths (Isa. 51:8) or be subject to decay (βρῶσις), or theft (Ezek. 12:5, 7). Heavenly treasures give security, stability. Christ speaks here of the heart. The heart is the core of someone’s being, our intellectual and volitional core, the source of our deeds (cf. Mt.15:17–20). When our heart is turned to something on the earth, it is very easily drawn back to God. Therefore, if we value the Kingdom values the most, the earthly values disappear.
According to France, “do not store up for yourselves” might better be rendered “Stop storing up for yourselves.” In these times, banking was unknown, and valuable possessions were kept in safe places in the home, where they were subject to deterioration or theft. Treasures in heaven are not subject to this form of decay, and there is an inheritance of eternal life for the loss of earthly advantages (Mt. 19:27–29; cf. Mt. 16:25–26). “Heaven” often stands for the name of God (as in “the kingdom of heaven”), meaning that “treasures in heaven” might mean “treasures with God” and does not specifically refer to a future life. In conclusion, what Christ is saying here is not that we store up treasures based on our own good behavior, but by living in and for the kingdom. It is a priority focus, wanting heaven more than earth.
 

Verse 22-23 Necessity of a Clear Perspective

The metaphor of the eye is a bit more difficult (Luke 11:34–36). There is good eyesight and bad sight, leading to illumination of the path of life or a hindrance. The evil eye sees the earthly possessions, desires them and then sees them turned over in decay. The healthy (ἁπλοῦς), honest and sincere eye will not envy others wealth but look to the values of heavenly treasures. They see with spiritual eyes the value of God’s things.
This “light of the eyes” is not a foreign concept. In the OT and later Jewish writings we hear of the “light of the eyes” as a mark of happiness, of eyes being enlightened or darkened as a mark of vigor or decline,17 and of light shining from the eyes, which may then be compared with torches or lamps. This lamp sheds light on the path to illuminate the way to go.
The light and darkness that is mentioned in this regard has similarities with John 3:19–21; 8:12; 11:9–10; 12:35–36, and “sons of light” in Luke 16:8, where light is from God in heaven and darkness from Satan and the dominion of darkness. This teaching of light in Scriptures always goes hand in hand with self-examination. For we ought to know whether we are enlightened or covered in darkness, whether our treasures are in heaven or on the earth.
Verse 24 teaches us that greed and discipleship do not go together. A slave cannot fully live for two masters at the same time, and so it is also with the disciples of Christ. Exclusive loyalty, that is what the Kingdom of God needs. The word “mammon” is used in Prov. 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth” as well as in Gen. 34:23 where it means “livestock.” Jesus warns against possessions which are neutral in character, but become the focus of our concern and greed that takes away the loyalty with God. Materialism and the Kingdom of God are in conflict.
 

Trusting the Father in Heaven (Verse 25-34)

In the following verses we find transitions from greed to anxiety and worries in life. Life here is what one eats and wears, and God’s provision of food and clothing is stressed here. Jesus shows the incompatibility of faith and anxiety by asking rhetorical questions, for “how can these two go together?” God teaches us that worry is unnecessary and that we ought to trust His care for His creation whom He loves (Phil 4:6–7; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet 5:7). God asks us to have simple, trusting faith in Him, not worrying for the troubles that may lie ahead of us.
 

Verse 25-30 Anxiety and God’s care for Creation

Mt. 6:24 made clear: man cannot serve God and money, so anxiety about that which money can buy is unnecessary. There is no need for anxiety about anything in life, for the Father cares for His disciples. Instead of being occupied with your own life, there should be care for others. Christ gives three rhetorical questions in regards to worrying. First he asks whether life is more than food and clothing, for without life, food and clothing are irrelevant. Christ presses here that God who gives life, can also sustain it. The second question commands to view the birds and reflect on the care given to them. The third question is direct, and indicates that worries will not expand life, instead might actually shorten int. The word ἡλικία (life) here refers to the number of days.
Mt. 6:28-30 speak of God’s care for flowers. Flowers live much shorter than man (Pss. 37:2; 90:5–6; 102:11; 103:15–16; Isa. 40:6–8; James 1:10–11; 1 Pet. 1:24–25), yet God made them with care and beauty. There is a beautiful link to Job 12:7–10, in which it is evident that nature testifies of God’s care and provision. While it is true that God’s creation provides the food which birds need, the statement that “your heavenly Father feeds them” should not be misunderstood. As Luther famously put it, God provides food for the birds, but he does not drop it into their beaks. More obviously than the flowers of Mt. 6:28, birds have to work for their food by searching and hunting, even if not in the human way of sowing, reaping and storing. So we should not be lazy, but work and trust that God will care for us.
 

Discipleship and Anxiety are incompatible (Mt. 6:31-34)

The following verses provide a conclusion by using the word οὖν (therefore). The disciples need to trust for they have a caring Father in heaven, unlike the Gentiles.

1. Previously Jesus stated that the practice of loving only one’s friends was unacceptable for his disciples, since it was acceptable pagan conduct (Mt. 5:47).

2. He also contrasted the proper way for his disciples to pray with the prayers of pagans who thought they needed to pray verbosely in order to obtain their gods’ attention (Mt. 6:7).

3. Now he points out similarly that worry over food and clothing is similarly unacceptable. The point is that “worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.”

Verse 33 gives a positive command, and by using “δέ” (but now). All worries of earthly matter put aside, the disciples should focus on that which is above, namely the Kingdom of Heaven. This is their priority in life, more important than any earthly matter. This Kingdom of heaven is the greater righteousness which Jesus had spoken about, a Kingdom where the reward is given to those who have struggled through the life of discipleship. The believers are encouraged to leave tomorrow in the Father’s hand, for He will care. He will provide, as He cares for the “insignificant” tiny animal as well as the flower with its short life-span. When Christ tells the believers to seek the Kingdom first, He does not tell them to avoid prayer for earthly matters, but that the focus of the heart should be on God’s mission and not their own.