Our Saviour here teaches the general principle that man must not engage in acts of ‘righteousness’ in order to receive the attention and praise of other men. This truth is applied to three actions in this chapter: charitable deeds, praying and fasting.
These were three major areas in which the Pharisees of Jesus’ day clearly manifested their hypocrisy and impure motives. True followers of the Lord must exceed their type of righteousness, Matthew 5:20.
Jesus declares that those who perform acts of righteousness in order to obtain praise from men will receive just that, the praise of men, Matthew 6:2 / Matthew 6:5 / Matthew 6:16.
They won’t enjoy any spiritual benefit from the heavenly Father for those actions, though they could have. God will only reward acts of righteousness that result from proper motives.
A good example of a person doing a charitable deed with a proper motive can be seen in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37.
The Samaritan acted benevolently toward the man in need. Of course, had there been an audience when the priest or Levite went by, the man in need probably would have received help sooner!
Notice Jesus uses the word ‘when’, not if. Some believe that this practice of sounding a trumpet before doing a charitable deed was literally practised, others understand the reference figuratively.
In either case, the hypocrites of today don’t blow literal trumpets to foretell their acts of benevolence, yet they certainly do use methods to call attention to their generosity that they might receive personal glory.
When we do good for someone else, ‘our left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing’. The idea here is that a Christian’s generosity should be a natural part of their life.
It should come so spontaneously, and with so little thought, that one part of the body should almost be able to engage in it without the other parts knowing. This figure of speech clearly forbids us from boasting about personal acts of goodness.
This statement doesn’t demand that good works be done secretly or that they cannot be made known by others, Mark 12:41-44 / Acts 4:32-37 / 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. Jesus is not forbidding the publicity of good works; He is forbidding the attitude that desires publicity.
Are we certain Jesus isn’t teaching us to do all good deeds secretly? Yes, even though the next verse mentions good deeds being done in secret and rewarded openly, Matthew 6:4.
If we conclude that all good deeds must be done secretly, then we will contradict what our Lord taught earlier in Matthew 5:16.
A Christian’s goal in life should be to work in such a way that others will not see them but their good deeds. That’s what the focus should be on, the good deed, not the mortal man or woman doing good. This is the difference between ‘letting our light shine’ and ‘shining our light,’ Matthew 5:16.
Ultimately, we must desire that the praise be given to God for good works accomplished and not to ourselves, Matthew 5:16. We shouldn’t rob God of the glory that is rightfully His by focusing our praise upon the creation rather than the Creator, and we shouldn’t rob ourselves of the ‘reward’ that Almighty God has in store for us when we seek His approval rather than the glory of men.
Many passages in the New Testament emphasise the importance and necessity of prayer for all Christians. However, Jesus addresses the subject with the most depth, giving practical advice on how to pray and how not to pray.
Jesus expects His disciples to pray; such is clear by His use of the word ‘when’, not ‘if.’ Jesus is emphasising the need to be ‘sincere’ in prayer. Those who pray to be seen by men, as those who do charitable deeds with the same motive, have no reward from the heavenly Father.
Hypocrites or pretenders are often diligent to exercise their ‘religiousness’ in the most obvious way in order to gain the acclaim of others. These individuals are full of pride and lovers of themselves. Such does not please the Lord, Luke 18:10-14 / James 4:6 / Matthew 23 / 2 Timothy 3:2-9.
Going into a room and closing the door to pray suggests that Jesus is stressing the advantage of solitude in prayer. We can more easily develop sincerity in prayer privately.
Generally, there will be fewer distractions and disturbances since we can better control the environment when isolated from others. The essence of prayer is seeking after God, and it is undoubtedly easier to seek Him out in solitude because the temptation to pray to be seen by men is removed.
God rewards those who petition Him in a proper spirit by granting their requests that are made in accordance with His will, 1 John 5:14-15. We mustn’t conclude that Jesus is here prohibiting public prayer.
The New Testament authorises Christians to engage in public prayer, Acts 2:42 / 1 Timothy 2:8 / James 5:16, although it should be noted that Christ seemed to pray more often when He was alone, Matthew 14:23 / Matthew 26:36-46 / Mark 1:35 / Luke 5:16 / Luke 6:12 / Luke 9:18.
Our Lord underscores the need for ‘simplicity’ in prayer, Ecclesiastes 5:2. We must avoid using meaningless, mechanical phrases. The pagans were often guilty of such, 1 Kings 18:26 / Acts 19:34.
Note that Jesus doesn’t condemn repetition in prayer, He condemns ‘babbling’ which is a vain repetition. A prayer can be repetitive and still be meaningful, Matthew 26:44. Offering thanks for food at every meal could turn into vain repetition, but not if we are truly grateful and mindful of the fact that God is the One who gives all things.
The beauty of the Lord’s model prayer, which we will consider shortly, is its simplicity. It is less than sixty words in Greek. If we follow Christ’s example, our public prayers will be shorter and our private prayers will be longer.
To have God as our Father is to have the ‘security’ of knowing that our prayers are heard, thus, vain repetition is unnecessary. Our needs are known even before the first petition is uttered.
Consequently, some wonder why prayer is necessary. It cannot be said that God is ignorant and in need of being informed, nor is He reluctant that we need to persuade Him. It appears that God imparts His gifts in response to our eagerness to receive them, Luke 11:5-13 / James 4:2.
Even if this weren’t the case, we should pray simply because we are commanded to do so, 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Since such is physically impossible, perhaps the meaning is that God expects His children to have a mindset that continually seeks to be in tune with Him. If such is correct, then to ‘pray without ceasing’ is to be mindful always of the Lord and His will in our everyday decisions and activities.
It’s to communicate with the Lord silently and informally throughout our day, offering brief words of thanks and praise as well as confessing shortcomings and expressing petitions. These brief prayers can and should be offered regularly as we go about our business.
Let me hasten to state that I am not advocating that all of our prayers be brief, isolated thoughts. I believe it is wise to also make a custom of offering more in-depth prayers at certain times during the day. Daniel is an excellent example of this, Daniel 6:10.
God must be approached with confidence, not doubting, in prayer, Hebrews 4:16 / James 1:5-8. Even if we feel inadequate to express ourselves fully before God, we can be comforted in the realisation that God knows our hearts, Romans 8:26-27.
Patience and persistence are also required, Luke 18:1-8. It must be remembered that the Father ‘is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think’, Ephesians 3:20.
In addition to the principles of prayer that Jesus shared with His disciples, He also offered an example for them to consider and learn from. When Jesus prayed, He always addressed the heavenly Father, and He did so in a reverent manner, Psalm 145:1.
God’s Name should be considered holy; it is not common or something to be treated lightly. When we address the Father in prayer, we should be as respectful as possible.
After all, we’re not just speaking to anybody but to the Almighty, the only true and living God! If we give respect and honour to our earthly father, how much more should we give to God!
‘Your kingdom come’ is a petition of the past. It’s no longer appropriate to pray for the kingdom to come because this prayer was answered in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. The kingdom of God has come, and Christ is now reigning, Colossians 1:13 / 1 Corinthians 15:24-25. Instead, we should pray that the kingdom is enlarged.
‘Your will be done’ is a petition of the present. This is essentially a prayer for the spread of the Gospel and obedience to it. We should pray that God’s will be done everywhere, at all times, and by all beings.
To offer such a prayer is to commit ourselves to the doing of God’s will as well as to the teaching of that will to others and encouraging them to also submit to it.
The petition for ‘daily bread’ isn’t for milk and honey, the symbols of luxury, but for bread that will be sufficient for this day. And, as long as it is today, we don’t need tomorrow’s bread; instead, we should pray for our daily needs every day, Exodus 16:12-31.
God will supply all necessary daily needs if we seek His kingdom first, Matthew 6:25-33 / Philippians 4:19. Of course, we must realise that there is a difference between our wants and our needs. We must be careful not to let prosperity interfere with thankfulness for daily needs, Proverbs 30:8-9.
Jesus uses the word ‘debts’ here in a spiritual way. Our sins are like spiritual debts to God, Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus elaborates upon this thought immediately after the close of this model prayer. Jesus made this request of the Father, ‘Do not lead us into temptation’.
This request may seem somewhat troubling in light of James 1:13. Why would anyone pray that the Father does not lead him or her into temptation if God does not tempt anyone in the first place?
The solution is that this phrase could be translated, as ‘Do not lead us into trials’. There are plenty of trials to deal with in life without us praying for anymore! Of course, when trials are present, we learn to face them joyfully, James 1:2-4.
Next is an element of prayer that is rarely heard publicly, ‘deliver us from the evil one’ or keep us from evil, Luke 22:31-32. Prayers for forgiveness are heard regularly, but not for the prevention of sin.
Faithful disciples of Christ should pray to be delivered from the evil one, they should pray to be able to escape the severe temptations that the devil may present to them. The second half of this verse highlights the fact that our prayers and life should always praise God.
Here are the terms and conditions for forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive others, as we received forgiveness from God at our baptism, Acts 2:38.
Having a forgiving spirit identifies us as possessing the nature of God who forgives. If we cannot forgive our people, then certainly we aren’t of the nature of God, and thus, not a candidate for heaven, Matthew 18:35 / James 2:13.
A parallel to this section of text can be found in Luke 11:1-4. Therein Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray. The Lord then proceeds to utter a prayer very similar to the one Matthew records. The fact that Jesus responds to His disciples’ requests implies that we can learn how to pray.
It isn’t a gift that is possessed by some and not by others but a talent in which we may grow and develop. One of the greatest needs in growing as Christians are to learn to be more prayerful.
To do such will teach greater dependence upon God and cause all to be more introspective. Our Father wants us to be prayerful people, He wants us to be sincere and feel secure in the prayers we offer to Him.
May we always be mindful of the beauty of simplicity when it comes to talking to Him, as well as the benefits of seclusion. Let’s strive to recognise God’s awesome nature in our prayers as well as His plan for our lives.
May we appreciate the providence of God which sustains us on a daily basis and utter prayers that reflect our reliance both physically and spiritually upon Him. Let’s strive to manifest a gracious disposition to others as we endeavour to more fully comprehend our own personal need for forgiveness.
Our Lord begins by saying ‘when you fast’, not ‘if you fast’. He implies that His disciples will practice fasting, i.e., abstaining from food and perhaps fluids for an extended period of time.
The hypocrites in Jesus’ day made sure they looked like they were fasting by purposely neglecting to wash their faces and anoint their heads. They wanted to appear miserable so everyone would know what they were ‘enduring’.
Those who fast in this manner are not pleasing the Lord, and they won’t derive any spiritual blessings from such. It is best to conceal our fasting, if possible since the act is intended for self-abasement, not the cultivation of pride.
Much can be learned about fasting by analysing Bible examples of it. There appear to be both physical and spiritual reasons for fasting. Please reflect upon the following reasons.
1. When a friend or loved one is sick, fasting is appropriate.
David ended up fasting for a week in that context for his child who was ill, 2 Samuel 12:15-16 / Psalm 35:13.
2. When a friend or loved one has died, fasting is appropriate.
At the death of King Saul and his sons, the people fasted, 1 Samuel 31:13.
3. When we desire to seek the Lord and His blessings, fasting is appropriate.
There are times in life when we are in need of spiritual renewal or special help and guidance. Such times require a deeper focus that fasting can help provide.
For example, consider the following, 2 Chronicles 20:1-3 / Esther 4:3 / Esther 4:16 / Acts 10:30 / Acts 13:1-3.
4. When we are grieving over some calamity, fasting is appropriate.
In Ezra 10:6 it is recorded that Ezra ‘ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those in captivity.’ Nehemiah 1:2-7 / Daniel 6:18-28.
5. When we are repenting of sin, fasting is appropriate.
Jonah records the penitence of the Ninevites after Jonah preached to them, Jonah 3:5 / Jonah 3:10 / Acts 9:9.
I don’t claim that the items on this list are exhaustive or mutually exclusive, though I do believe they cover the primary reasons why those of old fasted.
All of these reasons are still relevant for us today and those seeking to do God’s will should still fast at appropriate times, Matthew 9:14-15. Fasting should be considered an aid to meditation and prayer, Matthew 17:21 / 1 Corinthians 7:5.
However, since the New Testament doesn’t regulate the frequency or duration of fasting, such must be left up to each individual. We have no right to bind or create laws where the Lord has not, but we most certainly should stress the importance of fasting for those who are physically able to participate in such.
A topical study of the Gospels reveals that Jesus spoke on the subject of money or materialism often. He evidently considered the love of money and material things to be a serious problem that needed to be addressed continually, 1 Timothy 6:10. We haven’t changed much in the last 2000 years, the problem remains today.
In the first century, the idea of a secure bank was unknown, and the safest way to keep their money was to bury it. However, doing such would subject the money, which was composed of metal, to rust and corrosion.
They could choose to keep their treasure above ground but then took the risk of having it stolen by a thief breaking in. In actuality, the Greek words here literally indicate that the ‘thieves dig through.’
This statement is accurate since houses of that day were frequently made of loose stone or sun-dried bricks. It was easier for a thief to dig through the wall than attempt to break through a more secure door.
Thus, there really was no absolute way to protect their physical treasures. Any of them could be stolen, metal was subject to corrosion, and clothing could be destroyed by moths.
To ‘treasure’ something is to love that object more than anything else. To ‘treasure’ the things of this world are foolish because they are both uncertain and temporary.
Happiness may be found in such ‘treasures’ for a while, but not true, lasting joy. These verses don’t teach that it is sinful to be materially rich in the present world. To be rich is dangerous, but not sinful, Matthew 19:23-24.
However, this passage does teach that we must ‘possess’ whatever material goods we are blessed with and not vice versa. To possess a large amount of money or resources isn’t wrong, but to love those things and consider them to be a ‘treasure’ is to fall into Satan’s trap, 1 Timothy 6:7-10 / Luke 12:15 / Hebrews 13:5.
Anyone with such a mentality will hoard these possessions to harm others and himself. Instead, those who are rich should be careful to remember that they can only trust in God and not in themselves or their earthly treasure. Let them do much good with the things the Lord has entrusted them with, 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
Jesus makes a strong case for laying up treasure in heaven while exposing the folly of hoarding earthly treasure by contrasting the corrupting forces of this world with the security of heaven.
To practice righteousness to be seen by God and to bring glory to His name is to make a deposit in God’s heavenly ‘bank.’ There is great security in knowing that such treasures cannot be stolen or damaged. The riches of heaven are eternally secure for the person who continues to treasure them.
Jesus focused on ‘treasures’, i.e., whatever is most important to our ‘heart’. It is foolish to store up earthly treasures for they do not last, but heavenly treasures are eternal. In these verses, He also addresses this theme. We cannot serve earthly riches and God simultaneously. There can only be one master in a person’s life.
If we make physical riches our master, then we have chosen a treasure that will not last. If we make God Almighty our master, then we have wisely chosen an everlasting treasure. What does Jesus mean when He speaks of good eyes, bad eyes, darkness, and light?
However, understanding His point isn’t nearly as difficult when we observe that Jesus is contrasting earthly and heavenly treasures in the verses both immediately before and after. Thus, it’s reasonable to suggest that He is still addressing this theme in these verses in the middle.
The eye allows images, that is light inside the body. Our body will be ‘full of light’ if our eye is ‘good’, i.e., healthy, and allows us to see things clearly and in proper perspective.
The person with such good spiritual ‘eyesight’ sees money as a tool to help further the Lord’s work and not as something to lavish upon themselves.
But, if our eye is ‘bad’, i.e., not healthy, then our body will be ‘full of darkness’. We will not see things clearly or in a proper perspective, physically or spiritually.
It’s entirely possible for us to start with a healthy ‘eye,’ but it can become dimmer and dimmer until it is full of the evils of materialism and immorality.
In reference to serving two masters, it should be remembered that God is a jealous God, Exodus 20:5, and just as no right-thinking husband will accept a rival for the affections of his wife, so God will accept no rival for our affections.
If a person loves anyone or anything more than they love God, then that person is not a true disciple, Luke 14:26-33. They are serving another ‘master.’ Also, it should be recognised that a person doesn’t necessarily love what or whom they claim; they love that to which they give foremost devotion and attention.
Jesus contrasts ‘God’ with ‘money’, i.e., riches. It’s impossible to serve these two masters simultaneously because the only way to obey the one is to disobey the other! If we love and treasure physical things, then we will not serve God with all our hearts.
God will not accept just part of our service but demands that we love Him supremely, James 4:4 / 1 John 2:15. However, the devil will gladly accept only a portion of our service, for he knows that in getting a part of it, he is truly getting all of it.
The primary thrust here seems to be pointing out the danger of self-deception. A person might falsely reason that they can serve riches as long as they are serving God by means of certain formalities. Jesus says that such isn’t possible.
We’re either with God or against Him; there is no middle ground, Matthew 12:30. Where is our treasure? If we answer that question honestly, we’ll know who our master is!
Is worry a problem in our life? This next part examines what Jesus taught about worrying and offers some practical suggestions for overcoming it. There are many enemies of the mind, but worry may be the most destructive.
Some have compared worry to a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but does not get you anywhere! Worry has also been likened to an old man with a bent head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are led.
Worrying is a serious problem in the 21st century. If we allow it, worry can destroy us by slowly taking over our minds and bodies! People worry about most anything and everything. For instance, people worry about things that have already happened.
Such is pointless since the past cannot be changed. One should learn from the past, seek forgiveness on God’s terms when sin has been committed, and move on, that’s what the apostle Paul did, Philippians 3:13.
People also worry about things that will inevitably happen. Many fear growing older or dying, but again, such is futile. Rather than worrying about these matters, it would be better to simply prepare for them to the best of our ability. We must remember that death is not the end, Hebrews 9:27 and that there are blessings to be had in old age, 2 Corinthians 4:16.
Additionally, people worry about things that will never happen. Mark Twain once said, ‘I have worried over a great many things in life, the most of which never happened’. The fact that most of our fears will never come to pass should help us understand the futility of worrying.
Finally, people worry about things that God has already taken care of. In Mark 16:3, the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body early Sunday morning expressed concern over who would move the stone away from the tomb. As it turned out, God had already taken care of the matter.
As we enter this part section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we find that He addresses the subject of worry in a most powerful way. Jesus’ use of the word ‘therefore’ indicates that He is drawing a conclusion from His thoughts in Matthew 6:19-24, namely, that we must live for God and not for the world.
We must trust God and not physical riches. When Jesus stated, ‘do not worry about your life,’ He wasn’t making a suggestion, He was giving a command that we ought to obey.
The word ‘worry’ is used repeatedly in this context, and if God is truly our Master, then there is no need to have anxiety or doubt regarding anything, God will take care of us, Romans 8:28.
The worrier doubts and is double-minded, such a person is unstable and lacking in faith, James 1:6-8. Such a person fails to realise the benefits and peace of mind that come from relying upon God and not upon physical riches or ourselves, Philippians 4:6-7.
If we are spiritually perceptive, we will realise that life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. After all, earthly riches can provide food and clothing, but only God can give life and a body. Since God is the giver of both life and body, certainly He is capable of sustaining the one and covering the other.
Jesus strengthens His argument by referring to the ‘birds of the air’. They never plant, they never harvest, and they never stockpile for later.
They don’t ‘treasure’ earthly things as man does, yet God takes care of them and provides for all their needs! Surely, He will do the same for us since we are ‘of more value than they’.
We are of more value than the birds and other animals because we are made in God’s image and because of our potential to serve. Jesus wants us to trust in God’s providence. God will feed us before He feeds His birds!
Worrying is useless and nothing productive is accomplished by it. Our height isn’t increased by anxiety, and certainly, our life span isn’t lengthened. Worrying never solved a problem or made anyone feel better. Worrying has never been prescribed as a solution to a problem!
Imagine a doctor recommending worrying to solve our ulcer! Imagine a preacher rebuking us for neglecting to engage in our daily worrying. Imagine a teacher urging their students to go home and worry about the test.
Because of the previous facts, He has mentioned, Jesus asks what good does it do to worry? We should put forth the effort to dress modestly, but there is no need to worry about attire. The lilies of the field are some of the most beautiful things on Earth, yet they do not worry or work at it, God ‘clothes’ them.
Now, if God clothes the lilies which neither labour nor spin and if He clothes them more beautifully than Solomon in all his glory, then, how much more will He clothe His people?
Worrying is unnecessary for the person who has faith that fully relies upon and trusts God! Who will deny that God has made the fields and flowers beautiful? If the Lord does that for something that will be burned up as fuel in an oven, will He not provide for His children’s needs even better?
Jesus begins summarising, stating that we ought not to worry about the necessities of life. God’s care for the flowers and birds should teach us to expect that He will show more interest in providing for those who have been fashioned for eternity. After all, God gave His Son for us, why would He withhold the necessities of life? Romans 8:31-32.
Worrying is unbecoming of true disciples. It’s perhaps to be expected that those who are not believers in God would have life’s necessities as their main interest, but Jesus tells His followers that they have a heavenly Father who will provide these things for them, and they are to trust Him to provide.
This is the case because He is both knowledgeable of our needs and able to supply them. Jesus also shows worry to be destructive. Worry robs us of our spiritual values and encourages us to focus on things in this world.
An example of this can be seen in Luke 10:38-42. Martha was more concerned about being a good host, rather than learning as a disciple, her worrying wasn’t good. Today, many still allow worry to interfere with being the kind of disciples that God would have them to be.
Jesus said, ‘seek first the kingdom of God.’ Literally, this means we are to ‘keep on seeking’. To seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness is to endeavour to live a godly, obedient life at any cost, a life that glorifies God in the church, Ephesians 3:21, which is His kingdom, Matthew 16:18-19.
To accomplish this is to live by the principles set forth in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the rest of the New Testament. To be worried about matters of life implies that we don’t trust God completely.
If we don’t trust God fully, then our treasures are on the Earth and our master is money. Such a person may be seeking the kingdom partially, but such is not sufficient. God doesn’t want to hold second or third place, or even lower, in our lives. He expects that we make Him our number one priority!
A beautiful truth from this verse can be stated as follows. If a person seeks only the material things of life, they will likely find them, but they cannot expect the spiritual. However, if a person seeks that which is spiritual, then they can expect both. That is a wonderful promise from God!
It should be noted that there is a big difference between worrying about the future and preparing for it to the best of our ability. All are to be good stewards of God’s entrusted blessings, but none should worry about tomorrow if they are doing their best to serve God faithfully today.
It’s foolish to attempt to anticipate tomorrow’s troubles today and to try to bear them today. As we noted earlier, much of our unhappiness arises from the dread of that which never comes to pass.
I find it interesting that the Greek word for ‘worry’ is the word, ‘merimnao’ which basically means distraction. Read through Mathew 6:25-34 again but instead of reading the word ‘worry’ replace it with the word ‘distraction’. When you do this, I believe this puts a whole new perspective on what Jesus is teaching us here.
He’s saying we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted by the everyday needs of our lives, God will take care of them for us. He doesn’t want us to get distracted but He wants us to stay focused on serving God in His kingdom and continue to seek His righteousness.
The same idea is found in 1 Peter 5:7, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ The word, ‘anxiety’ is closely related to the word ‘worry’. Peter literally says, ‘cast all our distractions upon God, because God won’t be distracted from meeting your needs.’