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)

Must all giving be in secret?

Does this mean that it is wrong to give openly? Must all giving be anonymous? Not necessarily, for everyone in the early church knew that Barnabas had given the income from the sale of his land. (Ac 4:34-37) When the church members laid their money at the Apostles feet, it was not done in secret. The difference, of course, was in the motive and manner in which it was done. A contrast is Ananias and Sapphira, (Ac 5:1-11) who tried to use their gift to make people think they were more spiritual than they really were. (Wiersbe)

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)

Mt 6:9–13 = Lk 11:2–4

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)

What God looks for in prayer

‘God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers, to see how neat they are; nor yet at the geometry of your prayers, to see how long they are; nor yet at the arithmetic of your prayers, to see how many they are; nor yet at the music of your prayers, nor yet at the sweetness of your voice, nor yet at the logic of your prayers; but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are. There is no prayer acknowledged, approved, accepted, recorded, or rewarded by God, but that wherein the heart is sincerely and wholly. The true mother would not have the child divided. God loves a broken and a contrite heart, so he loathes a divided heart. God neither loves halting or halving.’ (Thomas Brooks)

“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)

“Our Father in heaven” – ‘In the former clause we express his nearness to us; in the latter, his distance from us. (See Ec 5:2 Isa 66:1) Holy, loving familiarity suggests the one; awful reverence the other. In calling him “Father” we express a relationship we have all known and felt surrounding us even from our infancy; but in calling him our Father “who art in heaven,” we contrast him with the fathers we all have here below, and so raise our souls to that “heaven” where he dwells, and that Majesty and Glory which are there as in their proper home.’ (JFB)

Harry Cohn was a US movie producer – head of Columbia studios ‘Harry’s brother Jack once suggested to Harry that they produce a biblical epic. “What do you know about the Bible?” cried Harry. “I’ll lay fifty dollars you don’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. After a moment’s thought, Jack began, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Harry pulled fifty dollars out of his pocket. “Well, I’ll be…” he said, handing the money to his brother. “I didn’t think you knew it.”

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.

Will God send rain?

Two Christian men lived near each other.  The first was a farmer.  Since there had been no rain for several weeks, he got up one morning and prayed for rain.

His neighbour also rose early that morning, but he prayed that it would not rain, because he had promised to take his children to the seaside for the day.

Will God send rain that day or not?

Perhaps the following prayer by Ole Hallesby helps to resolve the dilemma of apparently unanswered prayer:-

“Lord, if it will be to your glory, heal suddenly. If it will glorify you more, heal gradually; if it will glorify you even more, may your servant remain sick awhile; and if it will glorify your name still more, take him to Yourself in heaven.”

‘Many view God only as a kind of heavenly genie, ready when you rub the lamp of prayer to appear and say, “Yes, master, what do you want me to do?” But God is not like that. God is sovereign. God moves according to his own purposes, and he does not play games with us. He is not to be mollified and placated by a temporary return to him when the going gets tough.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 278)

“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:-

  1. ‘Give us today our bread necessary for existence.’
  2. ‘Give us today bread for the present day.’
  3. ‘Give us today bread for the coming day (i.e. tomorrow).’  Favoured by Blomberg.
  4. ‘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)

Prov 30:8f

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.

Every word here has a lesson in it

  1. We ask for bread; that teaches us sobriety and temperance; we ask for bread, not dainties, not superfluities; that which is wholesome, though it be not nice.
  2. We ask for our bread; that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread out of other people’s mouths, not the bread of deceit, (Pr 20:17) not the bread of idleness, (Pr 31:27) but the bread honestly gotten.
  3. We ask for our daily bread; which teaches us not to take thought for the morrow, (Mt 6:34) but constantly to depend upon divine Providence, as those that live from hand to mouth.
  4. We beg of God to give it us, not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread.
  5. We pray, “Give it to us; not to me only, but to others in common with me.” This teaches us charity, and a compassionate concern for the poor and needy. It intimates also, that we ought to pray with our families; we and our households eat together, and therefore ought to pray together.
  6. We pray that God would give us this day; which teaches us to renew the desire of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed; as duly as the day comes, we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without meat, as without prayer. (MHC)

Lessons to be learned from this petition

1. That God cares about our physical needs. Cf. Pr 30:8, also Isa 33:16. ‘Jesus showed us that; he spent so much time healing men’s diseases and satisfying their physical hunger. He was anxious when he thought that the crowd who had followed him out into the lonely places had a long road home, and no food to eat before they set out upon it. We do well to remember that God is interested in our bodies. Any teaching which belittles, and despises, and slanders the body is wrong. We can see what God thinks of our human bodies, when we remember that he himself in Jesus Christ took a human body upon him. It is not simply soul salvation, it is whole salvation, the salvation of body, mind and spirit, at which Christianity aims.’ (DSB)

It is clear that the term ‘bread’ covers, by extension, not just our necessary food, but all of our basic daily needs. ‘What is meant by daily bread? Answer: Everything that is required to satisfy our bodily needs; such as food and raiment, house and home, fields and flocks, money and goods; pious parents, children, and servants; godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health; order and honor; true friends, good neighbors, and the like.’ (Luther, Small Catechism)

2. That we should be moderate in our desires. We are taught to pray for necessities, not luxuries. This prayer teaches us to be satisfied with a little. This is a prayer for the necessities, not the luxuries, of life. There is potential evil in both poverty and plenty. See Prov 30:8; 1 Tim 6:8. If God should give us the luxuries of life, we should be thankful for them, and should use them as faithful and trustworthy stewards. But we are not warranted to ask for them, and God has not promised to give them to us. ‘A prayer expressing dependence on God for daily bread and asking only for bread was the prayer of a person willing to live simply, satisfied with the basics (Pr 30:8-9; compare 1 Tim 6:8). Jesus too showed that he depended on his Father, the God of the exodus, to supply his bread.’ (Mt 4:3-4,11) (IVP NT Commentary)

3. That we should trust and depend on our heavenly Father. ‘The petition is a powerful expression of trust and dependence: Give us what we need, not what we want, or even what we think we need, but what God sees our need actually to be.’ (DJG) Ultimately, it is God, and not we ourselves, who can supply even the most basic of human needs. We tend to forget this with our highly mechanised processes of agriculture and manufacture. But only God can create a seed. Because it is God who provides these things, we are to accept them joyfully and thankfully, remembering from whom they come, 1 Tim 4:3-5. ‘Our talents and industry cannot succeed without his concurrence. Our friends and benefactors are entirely dependent on him. Our riches and stores cannot continue without his will. Our health and strength cannot be preserved without his power; and even though we had the necessaries of life in abundance, they cannot support or nourish us without this blessing.’ (Brewster, Q by Brown, Discourses and Sayings of our Lord, Vol. 1, p 246). We need to ask. ‘The tree of mercy will not drop its fruit unless shaken by the hand of prayer. ‘ (Watson)

‘Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.’ (C. S. Lewis)

‘We say that we have trusted God with our souls to all eternity—and yet cannot trust Him for our daily bread!’ (Flavel)

‘We must remember that Jesus was speaking to a people who in fact lived in a day-to-day and hand-to-mouth existence. This prayer was vital to their daily life. And though many of us in this modern age live according to longer increments of pay and provision, we still need to pray for our physical existence and realize that we are completely dependent on him.’ (New Commentary on the Bible)

Carson (The Sermon on the Mount) comments: ‘In Jesus’ day, labourers were commonly paid each day for the work they had achieved that day; and the pay was frequently abysmally low that it was impossible to save any of it. Therefore the day’s pay purchased the day’s food. Moreover, the society was largely agrarian: one crop failure could spell a major disaster. In such a society, to pray “Give us today our daily bread” was no empty rhetoric. Living a relatively precarious existence, Jesus’ followers were to learn to trust their heavenly Father to meet their physical needs.’

‘This petition teaches us to pray for our daily bread, for bread for the coming day. It teaches us to live one day at a time, and not to worry and be anxious about the distant and the unknown future. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray this petition, there is little doubt that his mind was going back to the story of the manna in the wilderness. (Ex 16:1-21) The children of Israel were starving in the wilderness. and God sent them the manna. the food from heaven; but there was one condition-they must gather only enough for their immediate needs. If they tried to gather too much, and to store it up, it went bad. They had to be satisfied with enough for the day. As one Rabbi put it: “The portion of a day in its day, because he who created the day created sustenance for the day.” And as another Rabbi had it: “He who possesses what he can eat to-day, and says, ‘What shall I eat to-morrow?’ is a man of little faith.” This petition tells us to live one day at a time. It forbids the anxious worry which is so characteristic of the life which has not learned to trust God.’ (DSB) Cf. Mt 6:34.

We trust that the same God who supplies our needs for today will continue to do so, up until the time when we share in that great heavenly banquet. We have all that we need here. There will be more, much more, in the hereafter. ‘You that have but a small competence in outward things, may be content to consider how much you look for hereafter. God keeps the best wine till last. What though now you have a small pittance, and are fed from hand to mouth? You look for an eternal reward, white robes, sparkling crowns, rivers of pleasure. A son is content though his father give him but now and then a little money, as long as he expects his father should settle all his land upon him at last; so if God give you but little at present, yet you look for that glory which eye has not seen. The world is but a diversorium, a great inn. If God give you sufficient to pay for your charges in your inn, you may be content, you shall have enough when you come to your own country.’ (Thomas Watson)

4. That we should be thankful and contented with what we have, Heb 13:5. ‘All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.’ We receive no good thing that has not been given by God, whether we asked for it or not. God gives us more than we deserve, and more than we ask for. ‘The good things of this life are the gifts of God; he is the donor of all our blessings. ‘Give us.’ Not faith only, but food is the gift of God; not daily grace only is from God, but ‘daily bread;’ every good thing comes from God. ‘Every good gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.’ Jas 1:17. Wisdom is the gift of God. ‘His God does instruct him to discretion.’ Isa 28:26. Riches are the gift of God. ‘I will give thee riches.’ 2 Chron 1:12. Peace is the gift of God. ‘He maketh peace in thy borders.’ Ps 147:14. Health, which is the cream of life, is the gift of God. ‘I will restore health unto thee.’ Jer 30:17. Rain is the gift of God. ‘Who giveth rain upon the earth.’ Job 5:10. All comes from God; he makes the corn to grow, and the herbs to flourish.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘If you have but daily bread enough to suffice nature, be content. Consider it is not having abundance that always makes life comfortable, it is not a great cage that will make the bird sing. A competency may breed contentment, when having more may make one less content. A staff may help the traveller, but a bundle of staves will be a burden to him. A great estate may be like a long trailing garment, more burdensome than useful. Many that have great incomes and revenues have not so much comfort in their lives as some that go to hard labour.’ (Thomas Watson)

5. That we should be humble. It is ultimately God, and not we ourselves, who supplies our needs. ‘If all be a gift, then it is not a debt, and we cannot say to God as that creditor who said, ‘Pay me that thou owest.’ Mt 18:28. Who can make God a debtor, or do any act that is obliging and meritorious? Whatever we receive from God is a gift; we can give nothing to him but what he has given to us. ‘All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. ‘ 1 Chron 29:14. David and his people offered to the building of God’s house gold and silver, but they offered nothing but what God had given them. ‘Of thine own have we given thee.’ If we love God, it is he that has given us a heart to love him; if we praise him, he both gives us the organ of tongue, and puts it in tune; if we give alms to others, he has given alms to us first, so that we may say, ‘We offer, O Lord, of thine own to thee.’…We cannot deserve a bit of bread, much less a crown of glory.’ (Watson)

6. That we should be willing to work. How dare we pray for God to meet our needs if we are not prepared to co-operate with him, 2 Thess 3:10? Note that it is God who supplies our daily needs, (Jas 1:17; 1 Cor 4:7) and not Satan. Therefore, we should use godly means, and not evil means (such as stealing and fraud) to obtain what we need. Let us be content with what we receive from God by way of honest industry, or the kindness of others. ‘If a man prayed this prayer, and then sat back and waited for bread to fall into his hands, he would certainly starve. It reminds us that prayer and work go hand in hand and that when we pray we must go on to work to make our prayers come true. It is true that the living seed comes from God, but it is equally true that it is man’s task to grow and to cultivate that seed. Dick Sheppard used to love a certain story. There was a man who had an allotment; he had with great toil reclaimed a piece of ground, clearing away the stones, eradicating the rank growth of weeds, enriching and feeding the ground, until it produced the loveliest flowers and vegetables. One evening he was showing a pious friend around his allotment. The pious friend said, “It’s wonderful what God can do with a bit of ground like this, isn’t it?” “Yes.” said the man who had put in such toil, “but you should have seen this bit of ground when God had it to himself!” God’s bounty and man’s toil must combine. Prayer, like faith, without works is dead.’ (DSB)

7. That we should be generous to others who are in need. In praying ‘Give us…’ we are acknowledging our corporate need and concern. ‘Jesus did not teach us to pray: “Give me my daily bread.” He taught us to pray: “Give us our daily bread.” The problem of the world is not that there is not enough to go round; there is enough and to spare. The problem is not the supply of life’s essentials; it is the distribution of them. This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers. It is a prayer which we can help God to answer by giving to others who are less fortunate than we are. This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share our daily bread with others.’ (DSB)

By the same token, we may regard the ‘us’ in this prayer as including the poor.  And so we pray for those who lack the basic necessities of life, and, by extension, pray to be enabled to serve them in practical ways.

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?’

‘The librarian of Cincinnati Medical Library thought his eyes were deceiving him when he checked the return date on the book in front of him. It was due back in 1823 having originally been taken out by the great-grandfather of the returner. The fine of 2,646 dollars was waived under the circumstances.’

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.

Materialism today

‘As the world’s population continues to mushroom and the economic problems of the nations become more complex, the rich are still getting richer and the poor poorer. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the facts. The old complacency of bourgeois Christianity has been disturbed. The sleepy social conscience of many has been stabbed awake. There has been a fresh discovery that the God of the Bible is on the side of the poor and the deprived. Responsible Christians are uneasy about affluence and are seeking to develop a simple life-style which is appropriate both in face of world need and out of loyalty to their Master’s teaching and example.’ (Stott)

‘Many perceptive observers have sensed that the greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged, prevailing ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, the New Age movement or humanism but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent culture. We try so hard to create heaven on earth and to throw in Christianity when convenient as another small addition to the so-called good life. Jesus proclaims that unless we are willing to serve him wholeheartedly in every area of life, but particularly with our material resources, we cannot claim to be serving him at all.’ (Blomberg)

“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.’

Wilkins asks why people accumulate ‘treasure on earth’ (i.e. ‘things’):-

Security. We want to know that we are taken care of, so what brings us the greatest security of life and soul is to have material security.
Personal worth, esteem, and value. Material possessions and wealth often indicate that people are successful in what they have done with their lives. We feel good about ourselves if we dress, drive, dine, and decorate well.
Power. With wealth and material success, we believe that we can have and get and be what we want. Wealth gives us control over our own fate and over other people.
Independence. With wealth I can be my own “god” and not rely on anyone else.
Pleasure. With wealth we can indulge our every fantasy, whether it is the exotic vacation, the luxurious wedding, the finest dining, or the most decadent home.

Three tests:-

  1. The accountancy test: where is your treasure – on earth or in heaven? 6:19-21
  2. The eye test: are you seeing things straight, or are you suffering from double vision? v22f
  3. The management test: who’s the boss – God or money? v24

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).

Treasures on earth

Everyone has something which he treasures most, love best, and is most reluctant to part with. By nature, we choose something earthly to be our treasure. It may be our money, our house, our work, our family, our status.

But such things are earthly and cannot last, cf. Jas 5:2. Bread becomes stale or mouldy, clothes wear out, fields become weed-infested, walls and fences collapse, roofs cave in, precious metals become tarnished. Think of the havoc caused by wind, flood, fire, disease, soil erosion, earthquakes, and so on. Your money cannot last; your health cannot last; your success cannot last; your good looks cannot last. Like a beautiful flower, no sooner are these things plucked than they wither in our hands. ‘Change and decay in all around I see.’ ‘Here we do not have an enduring city,’ Heb 13:14. Neither can they truly satisfy. Those who have everything that money can buy are frequently the most miserable and unfulfilled of all. You can’t buy happiness or contentment or peace of mind. We tire of such things; they lose their novelty and appeal. How often has a child longed and pestered for a certain toy. Then, when he finally received it, play with it for a few hours and then discards it. Fashions change. We change. Disease, or old age, can render us incapable of enjoying the things we once loved. Moreover, there is an imperfection in all these things; we seek unalloyed beauty, perfect goodness in this world, but such cannot be found. They can be taken away from us at any time: thieves may break into our well-guarded houses and take everything that we possess. There are other marauders, too: sickness, business loss, earthquake, flood, and finally death itself, Lk 12:16-21.

The danger does not apply only to the rich, but also to the poor; not only to those who have treasures on earth, but to those who would like them.

‘Our Lord is concerned here not so much about our possessions as with our attitude towards our possessions. It is not what a man may have, but what he things of his wealth, what his attitude is towards it.’ (Lloyd-Jones) Scripture does not forbid private property, saving, cf. Pr 6:6ff; 1 Tim 5:8, or the enjoyment of the good things God has created, 1 Tim 4:3; 6:17.

What does it mean to ‘store up’, or hoard, treasures on earth? It can mean the selfish accumulation of wealth. But the expression, being figurative, is more comprehensive than that. Many Christians who would resist the temptation to grow materially wealthy might still strive for status and reputation, even in Christian work. When a preacher is controlled by the desire to have his people’s praise and approval, he is guilty of laying up treasures on earth.

Let us, then, not (a) count earthly things the best or most valuable to us; (b) seek more and more of them; (c) rely on them to be our security for the future; (d) crowd out of our lives heavenly treasures. Let us thankfully receive and enjoy the good things of this world that our heavenly Father has bestowed on us. But let us not treasure them too highly. Let us not set our hearts on them. Let us not allow them to crowd out the true and lasting treasures of heaven.

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.

Treasure in heaven

Whatever we do here in this life should be done with a view to the life to come. It is possible to live only for the present, cocooned within the limits which this world sets: ‘live only for yourself; live only for today.’ It is equally possible to live with full awareness that this life is just a short journey, a brief pilgrimage, a preparation for the life to come.

(a) A great reality. There are treasures in heaven, sure as there are treasures on earth. But only heavenly things are worth treasuring. Earthly treasures are fool’s gold. Let us not therefore set our hearts on them, but on heavenly treasures.

What are these treasures in heaven? See Ps 36:7-9.

Treasures in heaven would include ‘love undiluted, a way of life utterly sinless, integrity untarnished, work and responsibility without fatigue, deep emotions without tears, worship without restraint or disharmony or sham, and best of all the presence of God in an unqualified and unrestricted and personal way.’ (Carson)

“He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.”

(b) A solemn duty. We should ‘store up treasures in heaven’. How can we do this? By realising that this life is a pilgrimage, a journey to a bright and better land. This was the secret of the men of faith in Heb 11. Abraham was ‘looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,’ v10. These people ‘admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth,’ v13. ‘They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one,’ v16. If we do the same, we shall have put the things of this world into perspective. We shall take a right view of our gifts and possessions; we shall see ourselves as stewards, and not owners of these things; we shall seek to use them to God’s glory, since it is to him that we must give an account. Each day that I live is just another milestone on the journey, I am moving my tent ‘a day’s march near home’.

This can be applied to our Christian service: if our praying and working is done with an eye to the approval of men, then we are laying up treasures on earth: we can as easily fall out of as fall into men’s favour. But if such activities are done to God’s glory, then we are laying up treasures in heaven. A ‘scroll of remembrance’ is written in his presence concerning those who fear the Lord and honour his name, Mal 3:16. Those who turn away from the Lord are written in the dust of the earth, Jer 17:13. But the names of God’s children are written in heaven, Lk 10:20. To be accepted by him is treasure indeed, and such treasure can never rot, or be stolen or destroyed.

How can we store up for ourselves treasures in heaven? By doing things on this earth whose effects last for eternity. To begin with, we can make sure that we belong to Christ. But then, we can set about the task of developing a Christlike character; of increasing in faith, hope, and love (for these ‘remain’, 1 Cor 13:13); of growth in the knowledge of Christ, whom we shall see face to face in heaven; of actively seeking to introduce others to Jesus Christ, so that they too may inherit eternal life; of using our money and other earthly resources in the cause of Christ and his kingdom, for we are stewards who must give an account. This is the only investment with everlasting dividends.

(c) A great encouragement. These heavenly treasures are utterly secure. No strongroom is needed to store them in. No insurance policy is required to protect them against loss or damage. They are moth-proof, rust-proof, and burglar-proof. They are permanent, incorruptible, invulnerable.

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!

Mt 6:22,23 = Lk 11:34–36

“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).

“I was robbed – let me be thankful”

Bible commentator Matthew Henry, after being robbed, wrote in his diary: ‘Let me be thankful. First, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.’

“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).’


‘Most of us in the First World are guilty of idolatry. In fact, when we read “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10), most of us rationalize and say, “Good, I’m okay because I don’t really love it.” We are fooling ourselves. Consider John the Baptist’s diatribe against the “brood of vipers” in Luke 3:7–14, with every example centering on the accumulation of wealth. Luke’s four beatitudes are paralleled by four “woes” in Luke 6:20–26, each with economic implications. Luke teaches a “reversal of roles” (those who seek wealth will have nothing in the final kingdom, those who have nothing now will have everything in eternity) as exemplified in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31).’ (Osborne)


‘Christian giving is frequently at an abysmal standard, and when it rises to 10% or so, there is often the implicit or explicit assumption that God will bless you in financial terms for what you give. It is very convenient to forget that the preacher of this Sermon was penniless and remained that way until devotion to God drove him to a cross of wood.’ (Michael Green)


McKnight suggests that one of the great practical themes emerging from the teaching is that of simplicity:-

‘Simplification is the natural response to a kingdom vision. In that kingdom we won’t be hoarding or storing up treasures but instead living in the bounty of God’s gracious provision so we can enjoy what he wants for us: to serve God and to serve others. This sort of vision, an ethic shaped by knowing what the future will be, does indeed trade in a motivation by reward. Again, some are bothered by this, but Dale Allison tosses cold water all over that concern: “For [Jesus] the issue was not whether there would or should be reward. For him the issue was: whose reward matters—man’s or God’s?”’

‘We are driven, then, ‘toward simplicity and focus, toward voluntary acts of cutting back and even stepping into poverty instead of accumulating possessions. It is not that we need to abandon the city to dwell in the desert with Saint Anthony or in the ghettos with those who are so called, but…if the kingdom vision of Jesus doesn’t reshape our approach to possessions, then we are not living out the kingdom vision. If we are living to the end of our means (and here I’m speaking to the affluent West, and excluding the unemployed) and have little for the poor, if we are extending our budgets and giving only from what is left over, and if we have not cut back on how we live, then we are not embracing the kingdom vision of Jesus.’

McKnight concludes:-

‘The call, I am suggesting, is toward simplicity and not toward intentional, radical poverty. Jesus constantly benefited from the wealth and possessions of others (read, e.g., Luke 8:1–3, or consider that he dined in the homes of others), and that means he wasn’t against wealth so much as against hoarding, nor was he against possessions so much as for those who had them to use in service to others.’

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.

Mt 6:25–33 = Lk 12:22–31

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.’

Jesus was happy!

Tom Wright:-

‘Oh yes, we know that, according to the prophecies, he was ‘a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief’. We know that the darkness and sadness of all the world descended on him as he went to the cross. The scene in Gethsemane, where he is wrestling with his father’s will, and in agony wondering if he’s come the right way, is one of the most harrowing stories ever told. We know that he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and that he was sad when people refused to trust God and see the wonderful things he was doing.

‘But these are the exceptions, the dark patches painted on to the bright background. As we read a passage like this, we should see that it flows straight out of Jesus’ own experience of life. He had watched the birds wheeling around, high up on the currents of air in the Galilean hills, simply enjoying being alive. He had figured out that they never seemed to do the sort of work that humans did, and yet they mostly stayed alive and well. He had watched a thousand different kinds of flowers growing in the fertile Galilee soil—the word translated ‘lily’ here includes several different plants, such as the autumn crocus, the anemone and the gladiolus—and had held his breath at their fragile beauty. One sweep of a scythe, one passing donkey, and this wonderful object, worth putting in an art gallery, is gone. Where did its beauty come from? It didn’t spend hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up. It didn’t go shopping in the market for fine clothes. It was just itself: glorious, God-given, beautiful.’

And so it is with us.  A person’s happiness has little or nothing to do with their material possessions.  In fact, those with much money and great possessions are often bowed down with worry and regret.

What matters more?

‘Money matters; without it we can’t do most things that a capitalist world requires. Provisions matter; without food or drink or clothing we don’t survive. But “matter” is not the same as “worship.” Our central ache or yearning or seeking is to be for God, for God’s kingdom, and for God’s righteousness. Those things do “matter,” but the kingdom matters even more.’ (McKnight)

But what about the starving?

McKnight quotes Luz, who presents the complaints often made against this teaching: ‘It is said that every “starving sparrow” contradicts Jesus, not to mention every famine and every war; that the text gives the appearance of being extremely simpleminded; that it acts as if there were no economic problems, only ethical ones, and that it is a good symbol of the economic naïveté that has characterized Christianity in the course of its history; that it is applicable only in the special situation of the unmarried Jesus living with friends in sunny Galilee; that it is also ethically problematic, since it speaks of work “in the most disdainful terms” and appears to encourage laziness.’

McKnight pleads that Jesus is not speaking to the starving, but to those who have enough: ‘His teachings here assume the ordinary provisions for life, and he instructs his followers about how to live in that kind of world.’

“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)

The birds our teachers

John Stott was an avid bird-watcher (as well as a fine Christian leader and Bible teacher).  He wrote about the following lessons that we can learn from the birds:-

From the ravens, we learn faith.
From the migration of storks, repentance.
From the head of owls, facing both ways.
From the value of sparrows, self-esteem.
From the drinking of pigeons, gratitude.
From the metabolism of hummingbirds, work.
From the soaring of eagles, freedom.
From the territory of (English) robins, space.
From the wings of a hen, shelter.
From the song of larks, joy.
From the breeding cycle of all birds, love.

(As summarised by Scott McKnight)

‘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.

“Don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” – At Peter Maiden (Radical Gratitude, p82) points, we only need to watch a TV advertisement break to see that these are precisely the concerns and preoccupations of many.  Jesus says that it is the pagans who run after such things.  They should not be the primary concerns of the people of God.

“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)

Trusting God in deed as well as in word

‘Too often we believe like theists (a personal God) and act like deists (a distant, impersonal, noninteractive, uninvolved god). We say we believe in God, trust in God, and are sustained by God; but in our actions we do everything for ourselves, trusting in ourselves and anxious about the providence of God, which unravels our theism. We believe that God not only gives life but is life itself, and that belief means that every breath we take and every moment of life we live comes from and is sustained by the creator God. Without venturing into pantheism (all is God) or a softer version in panentheism (God is in all), the Christian faith affirms that all of life in the entire cosmos is from God and is sustained by God. God, then, is actively at work in all of life.’ (McKnight)

The answer to anxiety

Forbidden – Lk 12:11,25; 1 Cor 7:32; Php 4:6; 1 Pet 5:7

The state of mind wherein one is concerned about something or someone. This state of mind may range from genuine concern (see Php 2:20,28; 2 Cor 11:28) to obsessions that originate from a distorted perspective of life. (Mt 6:25-34; Mk 4:19; Lk 12:22-31)

Jesus did not prohibit genuine concern about food or shelter, but he did teach that we should keep things in their proper perspective.

We should make God’s kingdom our first priority; everything else will fall in line after we do that. (Mt 6:33)

We all have our worries, Job 5:7.

If you never worry – you really have something to worry about! But there is a worry that is excessive and unnecessary; sinful and distrusting, Mt 6:25-33.

1. THE PROBLEM Worry is

(a) destructive: futile, at the very least, Mt 6:27; often positively harmful, Lk 8:14. It is also

(b) distracting, Mt 6:25; cf Lk 10:38-42. And it is

(c) distrustful, Mt 6:30: it amounts to practical atheism.

2. THE SOLUTION We need to

(a) sense God’s presence with us: for this Christ died, 1 Pet 3:18. This is the answer to all our fears, Ps 23:4. We should

(b) see God’s providence around us. Then, ‘accidents’ become ‘incidents’. Jesus says ‘look at the birds – you are more valuable than these; look at the flowers – you were made for eternity.’ See Rom 8:32. Moreover, we ought to,

(c) set God’s priorities before us. Take the Pauline perspective of the ‘heavenly places’. Cf Hab 3:16-18.

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).

In summary

‘Worry is not a little weakness we all give way to from time to time. It is a sin that is strictly forbidden. R. H. Mounce says, ‘Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God’, and Jesus gives good reasons for the truth of this.

  1. ‘Worry is unnecessary, even for the hardworking. Nobody works harder for a living than a bird, but birds do not worry. Yet the heavenly Father looks after them. How much less should we worry!
  2. ‘Worry is useless. Anxious care cannot add a single hour to life (27; or, as hēlikia may be translated, ‘a few centimetres to height’). The past cannot be changed: the future cannot be charted. So worry about them is useless and debilitating.
  3. ‘Worry is blind. It refuses to learn the lessons of God’s providence taught us by the birds and flowers. Short-lived as they are, in their quiet dependence on their environment they display that ‘peace’ that should mark believers who know that behind their environment there is a loving heavenly Father.
  4. ‘Worry is essentially a failure to trust God. And for disciples to be of little faith (30) hurts God greatly. It means we do not trust him, and that is always grievous. It means that we do not put him first, but instead all these things (33) come first. Our ambition as disciples must be to put God and his kingly rule at the top of our list of priorities, and we shall find that God takes care of the necessities of life.’

(Michael Green, numbering and emphasis added)

What if not?

‘But what if he does not? What of the hardships of believers? Is Jesus being unfeeling and unrealistic here? No. He himself knew the pinch of near-starvation and was to taste in his flesh the bite of cruel nails. But these things did not rob him of his loving trust in his heavenly Father, whose overarching providence would not allow anything to befall him which was not, in the last analysis, for good. That analysis might not be apparent until eternity, but it could be relied on, and it still can. For it depends on the faithfulness of God to his creation.

‘Christians, like their Master, are totally secure in their relationship with the Father—and in all other respects totally insecure. In a world marred by sin and suffering, hardship is inevitable for everybody, and particularly for those who seek to live for God. After all, we follow a crucified Messiah and cannot expect a bed of roses. We were never promised one. What we are promised is the endless, unremitting, detailed, loving care of the Father over every aspect of our lives.

‘Even in deep need, even in the hour of death, the fruits of trusting him are evident in the way believers behave. There should be a quiet glow, a radiance, about us that comes from acknowledging God’s rule in our lives, and from seeking to act righteously and so to stay in that right relationship with him. When those things are in place, a Christian life stands out as a beacon in the surrounding gloom.’

(Michael Green, newly paragraphed)

When the time comes

‘Max Lucado has written a little devotional book for mothers, and in it he has a selection cleverly entitled “Whaddifs and Howells: The Burden of Worry.” He asks what a mother may very well ask, “ ‘Whaddif I marry a guy who snores?’ ‘Howell we pay for our baby’s tuition?’ ” Commenting on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:34, Lucado uses a rendering, “God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

He goes on to give sound advice to mothers, especially focusing on the phrase “when the time comes”:

“I don’t know what I’ll do if my husband dies.” You will, when the time comes.
“When my children leave the house, I don’t think that I can take it.” It won’t be easy, but strength will arrive when the time comes.
The key is this: Meet today’s problems with today’s strength. Don’t start tackling tomorrow’s problems until tomorrow. You do not have tomorrow’s strength yet. You simply have enough for today.’ (Wilkins)