Pure-hearted Giving, 1-4
6:1 “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 6:2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 6:3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 6:4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
The righteousness which ‘exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees’, Mt 5:20, consists not only in new approach to legal and ethical questions (against the teaching of the scribes), but also in a new attitude to religious observances (against the practices of the Pharisees). These latter should in all cases be directed towards God, rather than to gaining the approval of other people. In Mt 6:6:1-18 Christ discusses three pharisaic practices of piety: almsgiving, 2-4, prayer, 5-6, and fasting, 16-18. (These also form three of the five pillars of Islam.) Verses 7-15 contain a more extended discussion of the rights and wrongs of prayer. In this passage we have a text (v1) with three applications – outward, upward, and inward righteousness. No doubt, these are just three examples out of many that could have been mentioned.
“Acts of righteousness” – or, acts of piety. A general term, covering the three specifics that are shortly to be mentioned. Note that all three are assumed to be valid for Jesus hearers. The issue is not whether they should be performed, but how and why. It is all too easy to do the right things from a wrong motive. A man may give alms, not really to help the person to whom he gives, but simply to demonstrate his own generosity, and to bask in the warmth of some one’s gratitude and all men’s praise. A man may pray in such a way that his prayer is not really addressed to God, but to his fellow-men. His praying may simply be an attempt to demonstrate his exceptional piety in such a way that no one can fail to see it. A man may fast, not really for the good of his own soul, not really to humble himself in the sight of God, but simply to show the world what a splendidly self-disciplined character he is. A man may practise good works simply to win praise from men, to increase his own prestige, and to show the world how good he is. (DSB)
“To be seen by them” – It is not complete secrecy, so much as avoidance of ostentation, which is being enjoined here.
“Reward” – The reward for ostentatious religion is the human recognition for which it is seeking; but that is all (they have received their reward in full). Secret religion, on the other hand, which is done for God and not for human approval, may expect a heavenly reward. Notice that, as in 5:3-12, there is no embarrassment about the idea of reward. (NBC)
Those of us who are “religious professionals,” making our living from public ministry, should take special heed: if we value the approval or pay of our congregations more than what God has called us to do, we will have no reward left when we stand before him. (IVP NT Commentary)
Jesus promised rewards to his disciples, (Mk 9:41; 10:29; Mt 5:3-12) so coupled with self-denial and suffering for the gospels sake as to prevent a mercenary attitude. He slew the Pharisaic notion of meritorious service (Lk 17:10) and discouraged desire for human reward, (Mt 6:1) since the Father is the disciples best reward. Jesus shows that reward is inseparable from himself and from God, and the apostles laboured to establish the complete dependence of mans obedience and faith upon mercy and grace. (Rom 4:4 6:23) Work, and therefore reward, is certainly looked for, but simply as an index of living faith, (Jas 2:14-16; Jn 6:28) not as a basis of claim upon God. The reward of salvation in Christ begins in time (2 Cor 5:5) and its fulfilment is looked for after *judgment (final rewards and punishments) when the covenant people enter into full enjoyment of the vision of God which is their enduring reward. (Rev 21:3) (NBD)
The hypocrites – Those who do their righteous deeds in order to be observed by others are described as hypocrites in each of the three following sections (vv 2, 5, and 16). Matthew almost certainly has in mind the Pharisees, who are repeatedly described as hypocrites in Mt. 23 and of whom it is also said (Mt 23:5) that they do all their works…to be seen by others almost exactly the same language as in the present passage. (WBC)
A stranger would ask, “What means the noise of this trumpet?” It was answered, “They are going to give to the poor.” And so they did not give alms, but sell them for honour and applause, that they might have glory of men; the breath of men was the wind that blew the sails of their charity; “verily they have their reward.” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 10)
Whom Satan cannot prevail against by intemperance, those he prevails against by pride and vainglory. (Cyprian)
The opposite of hypocrisy is, of course, sincerity of heart. See Pr 4:23.
“To be honoured by men” – Cf. Mt 5:16
“They have their reward in full” – What Jesus is saying is this: “If you give alms to demonstrate your own generosity, you will get the admiration of men-but that is all you will ever get. That is your payment in full. If you pray in such a way as to flaunt your piety in the face of men, you will gain the reputation of being an extremely devout man-but that is all you will ever get. That is your payment in full. If you fast in such a way that all men know that you are fasting, you will become known as an extremely abstemious and ascetic man-but that is all you will ever get. That is your payment in full.” Jesus is saying, “If your one aim is to get yourself the world’s rewards, no doubt you will get them-but you must not look for the rewards which God alone can give.” And he would be a sadly short-sighted creature who grasped the rewards of time, and let the rewards of eternity go. (DSB)
“Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” – Obviously, this is not a recommendation for thoughtless or unplanned giving! It ‘does not mandate irresponsible stewardship, failing to keep track of ones’ giving or resisting financial disclosure. Paul’s care in a later collection for the needy in Judea (see esp. 2 Cor 8-9) will demonstrate the need for scrupulous accountability. Rather, Jesus’ point is that giving should be se “secretive” that one is never tempted to do it for any human thanks or favour. Unfortunately, contemporary Christian practice often seem more akin to the approach Jesus condemns here, as generous benefactors of our churches and charities are solicited with the lure of public recognition and, for the largest donation, the prospect of one’s name for ever attached to a building or plaque.’ (Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, 130f)
The idea seems to be, that just as it is wrong to seek praise from others, so it is wrong to seek praise from ourselves. It is all too easy to do good deeds, and even to appear humble before others, and yet to have a self-congratulatory smugness: What a good boy am I!
The figurative expression of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing graphically illustrates the unpretentious and unassuming manner of true piety. Charitable acts are so fundamentally inherent to the character of those in the kingdom that they are performed even without self-conscious recognition or appraisal. They are therefore performed in secret, and only the Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward accordingly. (Mt 6:4) we serve a God who looks upon the heart, not mere outward appearance, (cf. 1 Sam 16:7) therefore religious devotion begins with the heart and the inner motivations behind the external act. (College Press)
“Your Father, who sees what is done in secret” – To think that we can hide anything from our heavenly Father! To think that there is any merit in pretence! See Gen 16:13; Ps 139; Heb 4:13.
“The hypocrite, certainly, is a secret atheist; for if he did believe there was a God, he durst not be so bold as to deceive him to his face.” (Thomas Adams)
Private Prayer, 5-15
6:5 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward.
“Do not be like the hypocrites” – Public prayer is not wrong, 2 Chron 6:14-42; Neh 9; Acts 4:24-31; 1 Tim 2:1ff; Jn 6:11; Jn 11:41-42; Acts 27:35. But it is hypocritical to pray in public if we are not in the habit of praying in private. Observers may think that we are practising prayer when we are not, and this is hypocrisy.’
For an illustration of ostentatious prayer, see Lk 18:9-14.
‘Prayer is good, but to pray to be seen of men, was a dead fly in the box of ointment. The oil of vainglory feeds the lamp; sinister aims corrupt and flyblow our holy things. Here is Satan’s policy, either to prevent duty, or pervert it; either to take men off from the use of means, or make them miscarry in the use of them. (Thomas Watson)
‘The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is its lack of humility. Every seeker after holiness needs to be on his guard, lest unconsciously what was begun in the spirit be perfected in the flesh, and pride creep in where its presence is least expected.’ (Andrew Murray)
“They love to pray standing in the synagogues” – Synagogue prayers were led by a member who stood at the front. To be asked to do so was no doubt an honour.
“On the street corners” – Not a usual place for prayer. However, a show-off could arrange matters so that he was in a very public place when the afternoon hour of prayer arrived, and so make a great show of stopping and praying.
“They have received their reward” – They sought the recognition of men, and they have achieved that.
Some characteristics of prayer:-
(a) sincerity, v5
(b) secrecy, v6
(c) simplicity, v7
6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
“When you (sing.) pray” – ‘So anything that is to be done well ought to occupy the whole man with all his faculties and members. As the saying goes: he who thinks of many things thinks of nothing and accomplishes no good. How much more must prayer possess the heart exclusively and completely if it is to be a good prayer!’ (Luther)
“Go into your room” – The room referred to here is a private room which was sometimes used as a storeroom, probably without windows and the only lockable room in the house; it represents the least public place. The point, therefore, is to pray without regard for who may be observing and hearing your prayers. ‘A field, a garden, a mountain, may be as retired as a closet, and have all been sanctified by the Saviour’s example, as proper scenes for secret prayer.’ (Brown)
‘Some are greatly affected when in company; but have nothing that bears any manner of proportion to it in secret, in close meditation, prayer and conversing with God when alone, and separated from the world. A true Christian doubtless delights in religious fellowship and Christian conversation, and finds much to affect his heart in it; but he also delights in times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitude. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer.’ (Jonathan Edwards)
‘Religion does not lie open to all the eyes of men. Observed duties maintain our credit, but secret duties maintain our life. They are enclosed pleasures in religion which none but renewed spiritual souls do feelingly understand.’ (John Flavel)
‘That is it is the Christian’s duty secretly and solitarily to hold intercourse with God in prayer, I believe will be granted of more than practise it. Even those that are strangers to the per-formance thereof carry in their own bosom that which will accuse them for their neglect, except by long looking on the light, and rebelling against the same, their foolish minds be darkened and have lost all sight and sense of a deity. If any prayer be a duty, then secret prayer needs be one. This is to all the other as the carina or keel is to the ship-it bears up all the rest. If we look into the practice of Scripture saints, we shall find them all to have been great dealers with God in this trade of secret prayer. Abraham had his ‘grove,’ whither he retired to ‘call on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God,’ Gen 21:33. Neither was Rebekah a stranger to this duty, who, upon the babes struggling in her womb, ‘went to inquire of the Lord,’ Gen 25:22, which, saith Calvin, was to pray in secret. Jacob is famous for his wrestling, as it were hand to hand, with God in the night. Holy David’s life was little else, he ‘gave himself to prayer,’ Ps 109:4. Allow but some time spent by him for nature’s refection and the necessary occasions of his public employment-which yet came in but as a parenthesis-and you will find most of the rest laid out in meditation and prayer, as appears, Ps. 119. We have Elias at prayer under the juniper tree, Peter on the leads, Cornelius in a corner of his house; yea, our blessed Saviour-whose soul could have fasted longest without any inward impair through the want of this repast-yet none more frequent in it. Early in the morning he is praying alone, Mk 1:35, and late in the evening, Mt 14:23. And this was his usual practice, as may be gathered from Lk 22:39 compared with Lk 21:37. Thus Christ sanctified this duty by his own example. Yea, we have a sweet promise to the due performance of it-and God doth not use to promise a reward for that work which he commandeth us not to do-but ‘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,’ Mt 6:6. Where our Saviour takes it for granted that every child of God will be often praying to his heavenly Father; and therefore he rather encourageth them in the work he seeth them about, than commands them to it. ‘I know you cannot live without prayer.’ Now, when you would give God a visit, ‘enter into thy closet,’ &c.’ (Gurnall)
6:7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Do not keep on babbling” – This translates an otherwise unknown word in Gk., which probably means something like ‘gibberish’. ‘Prayer in the non-Jewish world was often characterised particularly by formal invocations and magical incantations, in which the correct repetition counted rather than the worshipper’s attitude or intention.’ (France) The danger of this for those who use a liturgy are obvious; but non-liturgical prayers can be just as stilted and repetitious.
“Many words” – Cf. 1 Kings 18:25-29. Compare also the prayer-wheel of the Tibetan Buddhist, and the rosary. Such wordy prayers were offered also by the scribes, Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47. Not that long prayers are necessarily wrong (2 Chron 6:14-42; Ne 9; Ps 18; 89; 119) but that it is definitely a mistake to assume that ‘the longer, the better’.
‘The fact that a request is repeated does not make it a “vain repetition;” for both Jesus and Paul repeated their petitions. (Mt 26:36-46; 2 Cor 12:7-8) A request becomes a “vain repetition” if it is only a babbling of words without a sincere heart desire to seek and do God’s will. The mere reciting of memorized prayers can be vain repetition. The Gentiles had such prayers in their pagan ceremonies.’ (see 1 Kings 18:26) (Wiersbe)
There are repetitions, and there are ‘vain repetitions’. ‘Life is delightfully full of repetitions, and we need them as much as we need complete newness, provided we keep the principle of faith at work in each repetition. Otherwise, we become guilty of vain repetition.’ (Harold Best)
“Do not be like them” – Stott suggests that this is the key text of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the same call to be different that we find in Lev 18:3 – “You shall not do as they do”.
“Your father knows what you need before you ask him” – which defines prayer as being not a technique or a performance, but a relationship. ‘God is concerned about our needs and knows them even before we mention them. (Mt 6:8) If this is the case, then why pray? Because prayer is the God-appointed way to have these needs met. (see Jas 4:1-3) Prayer prepares us for the proper use of the answer. If we know our need, and if we voice it to God, trusting him for his provision, then we will make better use of the answer than if God forced it on us without our asking.’ (Wiersbe)
What, then is the essence of prayer? ‘”If it be asked, Wherein consists the secret power of true prayer?” the answer will be, In the perfect blending of our desires with the petitions issuing from the lips of our Advocate on high.’ (Palmer, Theology of Prayer, 264)
6:9 So pray this way:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
The Lord’s Prayer, Cf. Lk 11:2-4.
Even fairly moderate critical scholarship holds that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is likely to be nearer to the actual words of Jesus. Matthew’s version, it is suggested, reflects the liturgical elaborations derived from early Christian usage in worship. See the discussion by J.D.G. Dunn in DJG (1st ed.), art. ‘Prayer’. There is however, no problem in accepting that Jesus taught the same prayer in different forms on separate occasions.
“This, then is how you should pray” – Not in these words, necessarily, but in this way. (Luke, however, has, “When you pray, say…,” suggesting that the Lord intended it to be repeated.) Certainly the Lord’s Prayer was repeated in at least parts of the early church: according to the Didache (8:3), the prayer is to be said three times a day following the regular Jewish pattern. But in any case, our prayers should not be like those of the ostentatious Jews, nor like the babbling Gentiles, but offered in a brief, simple, heartfelt, and God-honouring way.
Of the six petitions contained within the prayer, the first three have to do with the Father’s name, kingdom, and will. The second have reference to human needs – provision of daily needs, forgiveness of sins, and protection from the evil one.
‘The prayer does not use an individualized checklist of specific wants and needs as we often hear at prayer meetings. The prayer is focused like a laser beam on expressing a dependent approach to God, on the quality of the community’s life with him. It expresses a desire for holiness, for God’s ruling presence, for a life of forgiveness, and it recognizes that provision and spiritual protection come from God. It asks God to work on the heart and seeks to be submissive to his will.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
“Father” – As Bailey points out, faithful Jews of the day would pray in Hebrew. Muslims always recite their prayers in the Arabic of the 7th century AD. Scholars generally think that Jesus taught this prayer in Aramaic, the first word being ‘abba‘. This immediately marks the followers of Jesus Christ as having no ‘sacred language’. This is an outgrowth of the incarnation: ‘If the Word is translated from the divine to the human and becomes flesh, then the door is opened for that Word to again be translated into other cultures and languages…Jesus affirmed the translatability of the message when he began this prayer with the great word abba.’ (Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes).
“Our Father” – Even though the Lord has commended secret, private praying. Even when praying on our own there is to be a lively sense of the communion of the saints. Indeed, there are no singular pronouns throughout the prayer: they are all plural. ‘When we pray, we must remember that we are part of God’s worldwide family of believers. We have no right to ask for ourselves anything that would harm another member of the family. If we are praying in the will of God, the answer will be a blessing to all of God’s people in one way or another.’ (Wiersbe)
‘The use of the first-person plural pronouns throughout the prayer reminds us that our praying ought to reflect the corporate unity, desires, and needs of the entire church. The Lord’s Prayer is not simply a private utterance.’ (Blomberg)
‘We must pay attention to Jesus’ use of pronouns with “Father.” When forgiveness of sins is discussed, he speaks of “your Father” (Mt 6:14–15) and excludes himself. When he speaks of his unique sonship and authority, he speaks of “my Father” (e.g., Mt 11:27) and excludes others. The “our Father” at the beginning of this model prayer is plural but does not include Jesus, since it is part of his instruction regarding how his disciples should pray.’ (Carson)
For examples of Christians praying together, see Acts 1:14; 4:24.
‘Princes on earth give themselves titles expressing their greatness, as ‘High and Mighty.’ God might have done so, and expressed himself thus, ‘Our King of glory, our Judge:’ but he gives himself another title, ‘Our Father,’ an expression of love and condescension. That he might encourage us to pray to him, he represents himself under the sweet notion of a Father…The name Jehovah carries majesty in it: the name Father carries mercy in it.’ (Watson)
‘We must address ourselves to him as our Father, and must call him so. He is a common Father to all mankind by creation, Mal 2:10; Acts 17:28. He is in a special manner a Father to the saints, by adoption and regeneration; (Eph 1:5; Gal 4:6) and an unspeakable privilege it is. Thus we must eye him in prayer, keep up good thoughts of him, such as are encouraging and not affrighting; nothing more pleasing to God, nor pleasant to ourselves, than to call God Father. Christ in prayer mostly called God Father. If he be our Father, he will pity us under our weaknesses and infirmities, (Ps 103:13) will spare us, (Mal 3:17) will make the best of our performances, though very defective, will deny us nothing that is good for us, Lk 11:11-13. We have access with boldness to him, as to a father, and have an advocate with the Father, and the Spirit of adoption. When we come repenting of our sins, we must eye God as a Father, as the prodigal did; (Lk 15:18; Jer 3:19) when we come begging for grace, and peace, and the inheritance and blessing of sons, it is an encouragement that we come to God, not as an unreconciled, avenging Judge, but as a loving, gracious, reconciled Father in Christ, Jer 3:4.’ (M. Henry)
‘The opening line of the prayer is a declarative statement; it affirms that God is (implied), that he is in heaven (distant and sovereign), and that he is also our Father (near, familial, and personal). The three petitions follow with imperatives up front, emphasizing all three aspects of the Greek aorist tense: let the action begin (inceptive), let it continue (durative), let it be completed (terminal). The triplet indicates not so much the power of the petitioner to bring about what is petitioned, but agreement with the fact that God is already sovereignly bringing to pass all three petitions. In the person of Jesus the Son his name is being hallowed, his kingdom is now coming, his will is in process of being done on earth as it is in heaven.’ (EDBT)
France (TNTC) notes that of the three parallel clauses which now follow, the first two closely echo a synagogue prayer called the Qaddish: ‘Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world which he created according to his will. May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime … speedily and soon.’
“Hallowed be your name” – A ‘name’ in Scripture is much more than a personal identifier. It is often given in response to some characteristic of the person himself, or marks some change in that person’s character or circumstances, or is predictive of some future event or achievement (cf. Mt 1:21). God’s ‘name’ represents his revealed nature and character. God’s names express who he is. To ‘hallow’ means to reverence, to treat as holy. This petition expresses a desire for God to be recognised and known as God throughout the world. See Isa 29:23. The opposite would be to despise or show contempt for God’s person (cf. Mal 1:6).
‘To hallow God’s name is to treat with high and holy regard the person of God himself.’ (Mounce)
‘God must be hallowed as he makes himself known by his Word, for it is his name, or himself, as he is named and manifested by his Word and ordinances, and works and providence, which is to be hallowed.’ (David Dickson)
This, then, is a prayer that God’s name – ‘his character, his reputation, his very presence’ (Wright) – will be held in highest by all people and in all places. We do this in word, by speaking to and about God with appropriate reverence. But we also do it in deed, by doing, as those made in God’s image, those things that reflect his nature and will.
Osborne remarks that the passive aorist tense suggests that the verb has two subjects – God and ourselves. The prayer, then, is for God to vindicate his name and make his holy nature known throughout the word, and also for us to honour his name in everything we do.
There is more to this (as Hendriksen remarks) than merely avoiding or opposing profanity. To observe with wonder God’s handiwork in creation, to admire his works throughout history, to celebrate the redemption he has provided in Jesus Christ, form part of the positive meaning. It is ‘a prayer that he will bring people to a proper attitude toward him’ (Morris).
‘This clause may express both a desire to see God truly honoured as God in the world today, and an eschatological longing for the day when all men acknowledge God as the Lord.’ ‘Jewish prayers recognized that God’s name would be “hallowed,” or “sanctified,” “shown holy,” in the time of the end, when his kingdom would come, as the Bible also said (Isa 5:16; 29:23; Eze 36:23; 38:23; 39:7,27; cf. Zec 14:9). In the present God’s people could hallow his name by living rightly; if they lived wrongly, they would “profane” his name, or bring it into disrepute among the nations (cf. also Ex 20:7; Jer 34:16; 44:25-26; Eze 13:19; 20:14; Am 2:7).’ (NT Background Commentary)
‘The glory of God is the first thing that God’s children should desire. It is the object of one of our Lord’s own prayers–“Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:28.) It is the purpose for which the world was created. It is the end for which the saints are called and converted. It is the chief thing we should seek, that “in all things God may be glorified.” (1 Peter 4:11.)’ (Ryle)
If we say to God, ‘Hallowed be your name”, and mean it, then we imply, “…and not my name.” This prayer strikes at the heart of the self-centredness, self-interest and self-glorification that lie at the heart of so much of today’s idolatry. Cf. Lk 9:24f. As Calvin pointed out long ago, to put our knowledge of God and our knowledge of ourselves in proper perspective is the key to all true wisdom. Peter Lewis says: ‘To deny oneself is not merely to give up things, whether sugar for Lent or smoking for good. To deny oneself is to deny the centrality of the self which denies and disputes the centrality of God. Self-denial is not an unnatural self-hatred…It is the glorification of self, the tyranny of self over all who challenge its supremacy, which is the enemy.’ (The Lord’s Prayer)
6:10a may your kingdom come,
One standard Jewish prayer of the day (the Qaddish) proclaimed, “Exalted and hallowed be his … name … and may his kingdom come speedily and soon.”
But do we, in our praying, put the coming of God’s kingdom before the provision of our daily bread?
6:10b may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“Your will be done” – Cf. Ps 106:15; Mt 26:42.
“On earth as it is in heaven” – It is likely that this should be taken with all three preceding clauses, not just that last one.
6:11 Give us today our daily bread,
It is only after we have offered the ‘you-prayers’, prayers for God’s honour, reign, and will, that we offer the ‘we-prayers’. Plummer summarises these three petitions as follows: daily provision (v11), daily pardon (v12), daily protection (v13).
‘The three petitions which Jesus puts upon our lips are beautifully comprehensive. They cover, in principle, all our human need—material (daily bread), spiritual (forgiveness of sins) and moral (deliverance from evil). What we are doing whenever we pray this prayer is to express our dependence upon God in every area of our human life. Moreover, a trinitarian Christian is bound to see in these three petitions a veiled allusion to the Trinity, since it is through the Father’s creation and providence that we receive our daily bread, through the Son’s atoning death that we may be forgiven and through the Spirit’s indwelling power that we are rescued from the evil one.’ (Stott)
This petition is to be prayed very much in the light of what has already been prayed. We ask for daily bread precisely in order to be able to further God’s interests and God’s kingdom on earth. Cf. Mt 4:3-4. Samuel Johnson was once challenged about the care he took of his stomach. ‘My dear sir, if I did not take good care of this place I would not be able to take good care of anything else.’ (Quoted by Belham)
“Give us today our daily bread” – The exact meaning of ‘daily’ (epiousion) has led to much scholarly discussion. It is a rare word, found in the NT only an in the parallel reference in Lk 11:3. It is almost completely unknown outside the NT. ‘But not very long ago a papyrus fragment turned up with this word on it; and the papyrus fragment was actually a woman’s shopping list! And against an item on it was the word epiousios. It was a note to remind her to buy supplies of a certain food for the coming day. So, very simply, what this petition means is: “Give me the things we need to eat for this coming day. Help me to get the things I’ve got on my shopping list when I go out this morning. Give me the things we need to eat when the children come in from school, and the men folk come in from work. Grant that the table be not bare when we sit down together to-day.” This is a simple prayer that God will supply us with the things we need for the coming day.’ (DSB)
Some of the ancient writers spiritualised the petition, making it refer to Christ (the Bread of Life), the bread of the Lord’s Supper, and so on. Of such interpretations, Bruner writes: ‘It is possible to be more spiritual than God. Why would the Jesus who fed his five thousand not want us to pray for the feeding of our six billion? And while Jesus says that man does not live by bread alone, he is too realistic to say that man does not live by bread at all. We may pray, certainly, for spiritual bread (and this was done, was it not, in the first three petitions?), but here in the Fourth Petition we pray first for physical bread for physical people.’
But the main options are:-
‘Give us today our bread necessary for existence.’
‘Give us today bread for the present day.’
‘Give us today bread for the coming day (i.e. tomorrow).’ Favoured by Blomberg.
‘Give us today the bread of the Coming Day.’ Cf. Mt 8:11.
This last interpretation is supported (e.g. by Hagner, WBC) partly on the ground that if the earlier petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are eschatological, then the latter petitions are likely to be also. Green also thinks that there may be a paradoxical element here: ‘”Give us today the bread of tomorrow.” Give us here and now, struggling as we are, an anticipation, a foretaste or that heavenly bread, that supernatural nourishment which will be our lot in the future of the kingdom. That would include physical bread, and much more.’
Perhaps, given the uncertainty, it is best to view this petition as meaning, ‘We rely on you, Lord, to provide for our daily needs.’
‘Bread costs money, money requires work, work requires good government, good business, and good labor. Thus, as Luther especially taught, SM, 147, when we pray for bread we are praying at the same time for “everything necessary for the preservation of this life, like food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, wife, children, good government, and peace—and that [God] may preserve us from all sorts of calamities, sickness, pestilence, hard times, war, revolution, and the like.” The Fourth Petition is the politico-economic petition. We are not told to pray for daily cake. We may be grateful, of course, when cake is given. But we may only legitimately pray for bread, that is, for necessities.’ (Bruner)
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
do not give me poverty or riches,
feed me with my allotted portion of bread,
lest I become satisfied and act deceptively
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
Or lest I become poor and steal
and demean the name of my God.
6:12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
“Forgive us our debts” – The Jews commonly regarded sins as debts before God. Biblical law required the periodic forgiveness of monetary debtors (in the seventh and fiftieth years), so the illustration of forgiving debts would have been a graphic one.
“As we also have forgiven our debtors” – Or, possibly, ‘As we herewith forgive our debtors’ (Jeremias). The point is not, of course, that God forgives us because we have forgiven others, but that a prayer for forgiveness from someone who is unforgiving is clearly insincere. ‘Our forgiving of others will not procure forgiveness for ourselves; but our not forgiving others proves that we ourselves are not forgiven.’ (John Owen) Cf. Mt 18:23-35.
‘We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven: let us look into our hearts, and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt but God has forgiven us.’ (Thomas Watson)
‘He that demands mercy, and shows none, ruins the bridge over which he himself is to pass.’ (Thomas Adams)
David A. Hubbard asks if this petition might also be relevant to (evangelical) scholars: ‘Can “forgive us our debts” carry a strong footnote of repentance for not doing our work better, even as “Just as we forgive our debtors” embraces of warm forbearance of those scholars whose faulty judgments have misled us?’
6:13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
“Lead us not into temptation” – ‘Parallels with ancient Jewish prayers, and possibly the Aramaic wording behind this verse, suggest that the first line means: “Let us not sin when we are tested”-rather than “Let us not be tested” (cf. Mt 4:1 26:41 in context; cf. Ps 141:3-4).’ (NT Background Commentary)
In 2017 Pope Francis called for the English wording to be changed, on the ground that God does not induce us to sin. The Pope would prefer the translation: ‘Do not let us fall into temptation,’ and this would appear to be consistent with Matthew 4:1, where the Spirit leads Jesus to the place of temptation, but it is the Devil who actually tempts him.
Blomberg: ‘In light of the probable Aramaic underlying Jesus’ prayer, these words seem best taken as “don’t let us succumb to temptation” (cf. Mark 14:38) or “don’t abandon us to temptation.”’
God does not, of course, tempt us to sin, Jas 1:13. But he does allow us to experience periods of testing.
Osborne: ‘This cannot be a prayer asking God not to do what we already know he does not do.’
‘Significantly, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us the petition: “Lead us not into temptation; do not even allow us to get into the critical situation in the first place.” Significantly, the petition does not read: “Lead us out of temptation” (once we are in it): but rather, “Lead us not into temptation.” Once we are near the tree, our pulse begins to stir, curiosity flares up, and passions are aroused. In such a situation, our ability to make decisions is paralyzed.’ (Thielicke, How the World Began)
The familiar doxology is absent from many of the earliest and best manuscripts. Most scholars have concluded that it was a later (but not much later) addition. Most Jewish prayers concluded with such a doxology, and the one we are familiar with is probably based on 1 Chron 29:11-12.
6:14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 6:15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.
‘God”s forgiveness is conditional upon man’s forgiveness of the wrongs done him, not because God forgives grudgingly but because forgiveness alone indicates that disposition of mind which will humbly accept the Divine pardon.’ (ISBE)
Proper Fasting, 16-18
6:16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 6:17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 6:18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
“Disfigure their faces” – Pharisees wanted everyone to know they were fasting, so they did not wash or trim their hair and sometimes put ashes on their heads.
There is no NT word which commands us to fast: it appears to be a matter of complete liberty. Yet it is a fact that prayer with fasting has been the common practice of many outstanding Christians.
There is no merit attached to fasting. There is no ‘quid pro quo’ – “You have fasted this much, therefore I will answer your prayer.”
One clear value of fasting, however, is that it helps us to ‘keep the body under’ – it is an acknowledgement of the priority of the spiritual over the physical. Indeed, those who fast frequently say that their minds become unusually lucid and vigorous.
Fasting should be the outcome of (a) the challenge of strong temptation; (b) a yearning for a closer walk with God; (c) a burden for the salvation of souls; (d) travail for the building up of the Church; (e) concern to see the resolution of a persistent problem.
(After J.O. Sanders)
Lasting Treasure, 19-24
6:19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 6:20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
France (TNTC) notes that parallels to the various sayings in this section are spread out in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 12:33–34; 11:34–35; 16:13; 12:22–31). This suggests that they have here been brought together because of their common themes of ‘detachment from material concerns’ and ‘a prior loyalty to God’.
The theme of this part of the Sermon on the Mount is the relationship of the Christian to God the Father. One threat to this relationship is in the matter of personal piety, and the danger of seeking the praises of men. Another comes in the form of worldliness, either in the form of a love for the world (19-24), or of worldly anxiety.
The Jewish Messianic expectation was of an earthly king, who would bring them worldly prosperity in the form of riches, honour, and pleasure. In the present passage, Jesus teaches that such an expectation was erroneous. The Messianic kingdom is heavenly, not earthly, and its treasures are spiritual, not temporal. We should make the pursuit of these treasures our chief end.
“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth” –
Blomberg quotes Beare: ‘The words assume that the treasures are hoarded; they are prized for their own sake, not put to work to create jobs and produce goods.’
More fully, Stott writes:-
‘It is important to face squarely and honestly the question: what was Jesus prohibiting when he told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? It may help if we begin by listing what he was (and is) not forbidding. First, there is no ban on possessions in themselves; Scripture nowhere forbids private property. Secondly, ‘saving for a rainy day’ is not forbidden to Christians, or for that matter a life assurance policy which is only a kind of saving by self-imposed compulsion. On the contrary, Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Thirdly, we are not to despise, but rather to enjoy, the good things which our Creator has given us richly to enjoy. So neither having possessions, nor making provision for the future, nor enjoying the gifts of a good Creator are included in the ban on earthly treasure-storage.
‘What then? What Jesus forbids his followers is the selfish accumulation of goods (NB ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth’); extravagant and luxurious living; the hardheartedness which does not feel the colossal need of the world’s under-privileged people; the foolish fantasy that a person’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions; and the materialism which tethers our hearts to the earth.’
This saying links with the previous passage, vv1-18, which has also contrasted earthly rewards (including the admiration of men) with heavenly rewards (including an audience with our heavenly Father).
Moths…rust…thieves – France (TNTC) says the middle term (translated ‘rust) refers to damage done by rats and other vermin. In the text, thieves do not actually ‘break in’, but ‘dig through’ the mud brick walls in order to steal the contents of the home.
We might picture a wardrobe full of clothes – every one of them moth-eaten; a larder full of food – all contaminated; a farmyard full of equipment – all rusty and worn out; a bank account full of money – every penny stolen by scammers. There are other ways, too, by which earthly treasure may be lost – galloping inflation, for example (Carson).
Carson reminds us of the message of Ecclesiastes. The key word in that book is not best translated ‘vanity’ (as though all things were completely and equally useless). Rather, it means that everything ‘under the sun’ is transient.
Our Lord gives a very practical reason for not storing up for ourselves earthly treasures: they simply do not last. ‘You can’t take it with you’ is used by some as an excuse for spending as much as possible, as quickly as possible. But, our Lord says, the transient nature of earthly possessions should lead us to value more highly another kind of treasure – treasure in heaven. Someone has described our tenure on earth as ‘one night in a second-class hotel’.
Carson notes the following tragic examples of those who valued the things of this world above those of the world to come: Achan, Solomon, the rich young ruler, Demas.
But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven” – We are, accordingly, to focus on the things that last, on the eternal things. ‘We can begin to focus on the eternal if we live to love God and others (the Jesus Creed), if we pursue justice as the way we are called to love others as God’s creations, if we live out a life that drives for peace as how loving people treat one another, and if we strive for wisdom instead of just knowledge or bounty.’ (McKnight)
Spiritual treasure should be defined as broadly as possible—as everything that believers can take with them beyond the grave—e.g., holiness of character, obedience to all of God’s commandments, souls won for Christ, and disciples nurtured in the faith. In this context, however, storing up treasures focuses particularly on the compassionate use of material resources to meet others’ physical and spiritual needs, in keeping with the priorities of God’s kingdom (vv. 25–34; cf. Luke 16:8–13).
Accumulating treasures in heaven may not be limited to, but certainly includes, alms-giving, Mt 19:21; cf. Lk 16:9.
Blomberg says that ‘spiritual treasure should be defined as broadly as possible—as everything that believers can take with them beyond the grave—e.g., holiness of character, obedience to all of God’s commandments, souls won for Christ, and disciples nurtured in the faith. In this context, however, storing up treasures focuses particularly on the compassionate use of material resources to meet others’ physical and spiritual needs, in keeping with the priorities of God’s kingdom (vv. 25–34; cf. Luke 16:8–13).’
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – ‘It is not so much the disciple’s wealth that Jesus is concerned with as his loyalty’ (France, TNTC).
Ask anyone – rich or poor – how much money they need in order to be happy, and the answer will be the same: ‘Just a little more.’
After the funeral of a wealthy woman, someone asked: “How much did she leave?” The answer: “All of it.”
Jesus is not condemning all wealth, but rather the love of it. See 1 Tim 6:10.
‘Therefore regarding myself as one who has this great privilege of being a caretaker for God, a custodian and a steward, I do not cling to these things. They do not become the centre of my life and existence. I do not live for them or dwell upon them constantly in my mind; they do not absorb my life. On the contrary, I hold them loosely; I am in a state of blessed detachment from them. I am not governed by them; rather do I govern them; and as I do this I am steadily securing, and safely laying up for myself, “treasures in heaven.” (Lloyd-Jones)
‘Worldliness is one of the greatest dangers that beset a man’s soul. It is no wonder that we find our Lord speaking strongly about it: it is an insidious, specious, plausible enemy; it seems to innocent to pay close attention to our business! It seems so harmless to seek our happiness in this world, so long as we keep clear of opn sin! – Yet here is a rock on which many make shipwreck to all eternity. They “lay up treasure on earth,” and forget to “lay up treasure in heaven.” (Ryle)
‘The Gospel mentions not riches, honours, beauty, pleasures; it passes these over in silence, which yet the Old Testament everywhere makes promise of. They were then children, and God pleased them with the promise of these toys and rattles, as taking with them. But in the Gospel he has shown us he has provided some better things for us; things spiritual and heavenly.’ (Thomas Goodwin)
McKnight finds illustrations of this teaching in the story of Joseph of Arimathea, ‘who, though rich and a disciple (Mt 27:57), had a treasure centered on Jesus’, of the rich young ruler, who ‘had treasures centered on possessions and not on caring for the poor (Mt 19:16–30)’, the disciples who had forsaken so much to follow Jesus (Mt 4:18–22; 8:18–22; 9:9–13), and the story about Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1–10).
Compare Paul’s teaching in Col 3:1-2; 1 Tim 6:17-19. See also Rom 8:38-39; 2 Cor 4:18; 1 Pet 1:4.
Where is my treasure? Here are three tests: what am I planning for, what do expend my energy on, and what do I day-dream about?
‘If a man wants above all else to make a lot of money, buy an extravagant house, ski in the alps, or sail in the Mediterranean, head up his company or buy out his competitor, build his reputation or achieve that next promotion, advance a political opinion or seek public office, he will be devoured by those goals, and the values of the kingdom will get squeezed out.’ (Carson, who adds that none of these goals are intrinsically bad, but none is of ultimate value, either).
‘The heart follows the treasure, as the needle follows the loadstone, or the sunflower the sun.’ (Henry)
Where our heart is, there also will be our love, our esteem, our desires, our delights, our thoughts, our ambitions. ‘Whatever we consider as our chief good…will…draw forth our most earnest desires, fix our fondest affections, stimulate and guide our most active and persevering pursuits.’ (Brown)
It is therefore of the utmost importance to know where our treasure is. If we think it is to be found in worldly things, such as wealth, reputation, influence, or pleasure, then our whole character will be worldly. If, on the other hand, we are persuaded that our only real happiness is to be found in heaven, and in knowing and loving God, and being known and loved by him, then our character will be heavenly. We will think God’s thoughts, and will God’s will; we will choose what he chooses; we will find enjoyment in what he finds enjoyment.
‘Where are our hearts? What do we love best? Are our chiefest affections on things in earth, or things in heaven? Life or death depends on the answer we can give to these questions. If our treasure is earthly, our hearts will be earthly also.’ (Ryle)
“Two verbs have built empires,” wrote St. Augustine, “the verb to have and the verb to be. The first is an empire of things, material possessions and power. The second is an empire of the Spirit, things that last.” – Billy Graham, The Secret Of Happiness, p. 73.
‘Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure. Where your treasure is, there is your heart. Where your heart is, there is your happiness.’ (Augustine)
‘Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius put it this way, “A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.”
William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
In the Bible, we find: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”‘ See: Pr 23:7; Mt 6:20-21.
6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 6:23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“The eye is the lamp of the body” in that it helps the body find its way around (so France).
“If your eyes are good” – Lit., ‘If therefore your eye is single.’ The word ‘haplous’ means single, simple, sincere. The interpretation as sound, healthy, or good, is possibly misleading. The thought is of clear vision, and undivided loyalty. But, says France (TNTC), the word also carries connotations of generosity (Rom 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13; cf. Jas 1:5), which, of course, arises from a lack of concern about material things.
‘It is all a question of vision. If we have physical vision, we can see what we are doing and where we are going. So too if we have spiritual vision, if our spiritual perspective is correctly adjusted, then our life is filled with purpose and drive. But if our vision becomes clouded by the false gods of materialism, and we lose our sense of values, then our whole life is in darkness and we cannot see where we are going.’ (Stott)
Am I suffering from a spiritual squint, or double vision?
A life lived in the light is purposeful and directed towards its true goal, in contrast to a life of materialism, which gives no light to show the way.
6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.
= Lk 16:13. The theme of undivided loyalty continues.
“No one can serve two masters” – It is not merely undesirable, but impossible. It might, as France remarks, be possible for a man to have two employers, but a slave cannot have two owners – and that is the thought here.
“Hate…love” – As is so often the case in Jewish teaching, Jesus speaks in absolutes, although the relative meaning is to be understood. His concern in the whole of this passage is, ‘first things first’ (France).
“You cannot serve God and money” – ‘Mammon’ has a wider reference than money. It stands for possessions, and represents the principle of materialism. The word is a transliteration of the Aramaic ‘mamona’ and occurs only here and in Lk 16:9,11,13. ‘It means simply wealth or profit, but Christ sees in it an egocentric covetousness which claims man’s heart and thereby estranges him from God’ (E.E. Ellis, NBD).
Stott observes that some people make various attempts at doing what Jesus says is impossible: ‘Either they serve God on Sundays and mammon on weekdays, or God with their lips and mammon with their hearts, or God in appearance and mammon in reality, or God with half their being and mammon with the other half.’
Ralph Martin coins the term ‘mammonolatry’: ‘This sin may be defined as the spirit of grasping greed and acquisitiveness, the insatiable longing for more of material possessions and a consequent lack of contentment and absence of trust in God our Father who has promised to supply all needful things to His children (Matthew 6:32).’ (Worship in the Early Church)
Jesus personifies ‘mammonolatry’, setting it up as a rival to the true and living God. Jesus says, ‘Choose one or the other’. He ‘is giving [the word] a personal and spiritual character…he is personifying mammon as a rival God. In saying this, Jesus is making it unmistakably clear that money is not some impersonal medium or exchange. Money is not something that is morally neutral, a resource to be used in good or bad ways depending solely upon our attitude toward it. Mammon is a power that seeks to dominate us.’ (Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power, 26)
Blomberg says that ‘it is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church.’ (Neither Poverty Nor Riches, 132)
Osborne: ‘Neither Jesus nor the early church renounced wealth in and of itself. Zaccheus never relinquished all his possessions (Luke 19:1–10), and Mary, the mother of John Mark, used her home as one of the first house churches rather than selling it (Acts 12:12). Barnabas, the example of a giving Christian, sold only one field and not all his possessions (Acts 4:36–37).’
Do Not Worry, 25-34
6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 6:26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 6:27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 6:28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 6:29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 6:30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 6:31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 6:32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
As Blomberg observes, ‘worry’ is the key thought here, being mentioned six times in vv25-34.
“Therefore” – As is so often the case, we need to ask what this ‘therefore’ is there for. As Stott remarks, Jesus has first called us to thought; now he calls us to action.
Wiersbe (quoted by Wilkins): ‘It is often said that we are continually being crucified between two thieves—the regrets of yesterday and the worries about tomorrow.’
‘This passage,’ notes McKnight, ‘is designed to make us feel uncomfortable about our lifestyle.’
McKnight reminds us to whom Jesus is speaking: not to those who are poor due (for example) to famine, but to the disciples, who would be sent out, as he had had, needing to rely on God’s gracious provision through those who would support their ministry (Mt 9:35–10:14, 40–42).
Of course, it is proper to provide for the material needs of ourselves and our dependents. Jesus has just taught us to pray, ‘Give us our daily bread.’ What Jesus is opposing is over-anxiety about these things.
‘To forbid ‘anxiety’ does not rule out a responsible concern and provision for one’s own and others’ material needs, nor does Jesus here forbid us to work (see on v. 26). His concern, as in the preceding verses, is with priorities, and the essential message of this passage is ‘First things first’, which means in fact ‘God first’.’ (France, TNTC)
Wilkins remarks: ‘God’s regular pattern for his people has always been responsible stewardship of resources to care for daily needs. For example, a significant part of God’s law regulated life so that there would be abundant provisions to supply offerings and sacrifices (e.g., Ex. 22–23). The sluggard is the one who expects to be supported by his neighbor, so he must learn from the ant the common sense of gathering during the summer for the needs of the winter (Prov. 6:6; 30:25). God’s orchestration of Joseph’s life included advising Pharaoh to store up grain for future use during the seven years of drought, which God used to save Joseph’s family (Gen. 42:33–36; 45:7). And responsible parents save up for their children (2 Cor. 12:14). God wants us to use our common sense to provide for future needs as one means by which he maintains his place as Master and Provider of his people.’
Moreover, add Wilkins, ‘God’s ordering of life for his people includes wise business sense, as the commendation of the virtuous wife teaches (Prov. 31:10–31). Jesus commends wise business and banking practices in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30). James appears to draw on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:34 by setting a right balance for wise business planning: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). We cannot foresee the future, but God does, so the wise businessperson seeks God’s will.’
We can spend so much time and energy on the provision of food and clothing that we miss out completely on the life they are intended to support. ‘The objects of our anxiety, food, drink and clothing, are to be seen as less important than the life and the body which they supply.’ (France, TNTC)
McKnight reminds us that different people will respond in different ways to this teaching: those who are prone to anxiety, for example, and those who are prone to carelessness. The teaching is the same for both, but each will need to apply differently: the hyper-anxious need to learn to trust, while the careless need to learn to care in the right way.
‘What is the “Therefore” there for? It is a logical connective directing attention to what has preceded: Because transient earthly treasures do not satisfy and do not last, Mt 6:19-21, because moral and spiritual vision is easily distorted and darkened, Mt 6:22-23, because a choice must be made between God and Money, Mt 6:24, because the kingdom of God demands unswerving allegiance to its values, Mt 6:19-24, therefore do not worry, and in particular do not worry about mere things.’ (Carson)
‘If this light-hearted illustration were pressed too literally, it might suggest that the disciple has no need to grow and harvest food. But the point is that God sees that even the birds are fed, and a disciple is more valuable to him than a bird. What is prohibited is worry, not work..’ (France)
McKnight suggests that ‘in this text Jesus seeks to create tranquil Marys out of anxious Marthas,’ adding that Paul’s words in Phil 4:6 appear to be a variant on Jesus’ words.
Stott comments on how many of today’s adverts are directed towards our bodies. But we must ask: is physical comfort and well-being a worthy object of life-long devotion? No: ‘they are a hopelessly unworthy goal.’
“Look at the birds in the sky” – These words introduce a light-hearted illustration which is not to be understood woodenly. Of course, we need to work to produce our food, but we should not fall into an attitude of distrust towards Go our Maker and Provider.
Look, and see ‘a world alive with God’s presence.’ (McKnight)
Your heavenly Father feeds them – God feeds the birds not by miraculous supply of food but through natural processes involving the earth and the birds’ use of their faculties. Likewise, the child of God, though sometimes the recipient of a miracle, is usually cared for by normal means.’ (Ryrie)
On the necessity of work: ‘God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.’ (Josiah Holland)
‘Birds…, which Jesus commends, make provision for the future by building their nests, laying and incubating their eggs, and feeding their young. Many migrate to warmer climes before the winter (which is an outstanding example of provident—though instinctive—forethought), and some even store food, like shrikes which stock their own larder by impaling insects on thorns. So there is nothing here to stop Christians making plans for the future or taking sensible steps for their own security. No, what Jesus forbids is neither thought nor forethought, but anxious thought.’ (Stott)
“A single hour” – The word refers to a span, either of height or of time. The latter is more likely here. The fact is, of course, that worry is more likely to shorten life than prolong it.
Tertullian, understanding this text to be referring to height, used it to argue against an actor wearing high shoes or a woman wearing a wig.
Again, the absolutist form of teaching should not be taken as an argument in favour of idleness. As before, the point is not that we should not work, but that we should not worry.
“The unconverted pursue these things” – Oh dear! This translation by NET transports modern evangelical-speak back to the world of the New Testament! Wilkins explains that ‘the term “pagans [ethne],” rendered elsewhere in Matthew as “the nations” (Mt 12:21; 25:32; 28:19), commonly designates non-Jews or Gentiles.’ And ‘for him the pagans were the Romans who were found just north of Nazareth, in Sepphoris (where wine, women, song, theater, and opulence were the way of life) or Tiberias (in full view from Capernaum and from the traditional location of this Sermon).’ (McKnight)
‘Worry is essentially distrust of God. Such a distrust may be understandable in a heathen who believes in a jealous, capricious, unpredictable god; but it is beyond comprehension in one who has learned to call God by the name of Father.’ (DSB)
6:33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 6:34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
The emphasis is now no longer negative, but positive. As Carson (EBC) says, we are not simply to refrain from pursuing material things, but to replace such pursuits with higher goals.
“Seek first his kingdom” – Some manuscripts have ‘the kingdom of God’. If this is the correct reading, then we have hear one of just five references to ‘the kingdom of God’ (as distinguished from ‘the kingdom of heaven’) in this Gospel. In each of these (according to France) there is a more personal reference to God, compared with the less person ‘kingdom’.
To do so is ‘to desire above all to enter into, submit to, and participate in spreading the news of the saving reign of God. It is to pursue the things already prayed for in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9–10).’ (Carson, EBC)
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God he was not referring to the general sovereignty of God over nature and history, but to that specific rule over his own people which he himself had inaugurated, and which begins in anybody’s life when he humbles himself, repents, believes, submits and is born again. God’s kingdom is Jesus Christ ruling over his people in total blessing and total demand. To “seek first” this kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ. Such as desire will start with ourselves, until every single department of our life – home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, lifestyle, citizenship – is joyfully and freely submissive to Christ. It will continue in our immediate environment, with the acceptance of evangelistic responsibility towards our relatives, colleagues, neighbours and friends. And it will also reach out in global concern for the missionary witness of the church.’ (Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 170)
McKnight: ‘The “kingdom” is Jesus’ shorthand expression for the Story of Israel’s hope for this world coming to completion in Jesus, and it takes place as the society that does God’s will under King Jesus is empowered by God’s redemptive work. As such, it partakes in the Story of Jesus—his life, death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation as King and Judge—and those who enter that Story through repentance, faith, and baptism are those who will enter into that kingdom reality.’
“Righteousness” – As in Mt 5:6,10,10, this refers not so much to salvation, as to the kind of life which God requires of his subjects. It is a commitment to seek and to do the will of God.
McKnight cautions: ‘This word of Jesus isn’t legalism ramped up to the highest level, but confrontation with the messianic King, who offers his citizens the way to live the gospel-drenched life of the kingdom.’
‘This positive climax makes it clear that vv25ff are not prescribing an irresponsible, happy-go-lucky optimism, or a fatalistic acceptance of the status quo, nor are they decrying the body and its concerns as sordid and unworthy of our attention. They call the disciple to an undistracted pursuit of his true goal, to which lesser (though legitimate) concerns must give way; and they assure him that if he will put first things first, God will take care of the rest.’ (France)
‘Jesus says we must not just refrain from the things of the world but actively replace concern for earthly matters with an overriding concern for the things of God.’ (Osborne)
‘Seek for happiness and you will never find it. Seek righteousness and you will discover you are happy. It will be there without your knowing it, without your seeking it.’ (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
As C.S. Lewis put it: ‘Aim at heaven, and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth, and you get neither.’
How do we ‘seek’ God’s kingdom and righteousness? McKnight refers to the ‘VIM’ acronym of Dallas Willard: we must have a vision, which prompts us to an intention, which then leads us to discover the appropriate means to get there.
“All these things will be given to you as well” – ‘Within such a framework of commitment, Jesus’ disciples are assured that all the necessary things will be given them by their heavenly Father.’ (EBC)
In context, ‘these things’ are the basic necessities of life, such as food and clothing. As France remarks, this is not a carte blanche!
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” – ‘A note of irony runs through the verse: each day provides its own share of anxieties; why add tomorrow’s problems to those we already have today?’ (Mounce)
It is possible to dwell too much on the past, or (as mentioned here) worry too much about the future. While wisdom neither forgets the past (otherwise we learn nothing from it), nor dwells too much on the future (although sensible planning is entirely in order), the focus will be on the here and now. After all, the past is behind us, and the future not yet arrived: the present moment is all we really have.
Wilkins reminds us that an important way in which we can trust in God for tomorrow is to give thanks to him for what he has done already (and, indeed, what he is doing at this very moment).