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the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 6

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole BibleCommentary Critical

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General Caution against Ostentation in Religious Duties ( :-).

Verse 1

1. Take heed that ye do not your alms—But the true reading seems clearly to be "your righteousness." The external authority for both readings is pretty nearly equal; but internal evidence is decidedly in favor of "righteousness." The subject of the second verse being "almsgiving" that word—so like the other in Greek—might easily be substituted for it by the copyist: whereas the opposite would not be so likely. But it is still more in favor of "righteousness," that if we so read the first verse, it then becomes a general heading for this whole section of the discourse, inculcating unostentatiousness in all deeds of righteousness—Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting being, in that case, but selected examples of this righteousness; whereas, if we read, "Do not your alms," c., this first verse will have no reference but to that one point. By "righteousness," in this case, we are to understand that same righteousness of the kingdom of heaven, whose leading features—in opposition to traditional perversions of it—it is the great object of this discourse to open up: that righteousness of which the Lord says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). To "do" this righteousness, was an old and well-understood expression. Thus, "Blessed is he that doeth righteousness at all times" (Matthew 5:20- :). It refers to the actings of righteousness in the life—the outgoings of the gracious nature—of which our Lord afterwards said to His disciples, "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit so shall ye be My disciples" (John 15:8).

before men, to be seen of them—with the view or intention of being beheld of them. See the same expression in Matthew 5:28. True, He had required them to let their light so shine before men that they might see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). But this is quite consistent with not making a display of our righteousness for self-glorification. In fact, the doing of the former necessarily implies our not doing the latter.

otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven—When all duty is done to God—as primarily enjoining and finally judging of it—He will take care that it be duly recognized; but when done purely for ostentation, God cannot own it, nor is His judgment of it even thought of—God accepts only what is done to Himself. So much for the general principle. Now follow three illustrations of it.

Almsgiving (Matthew 5:16- :).

Verse 2

2. Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee—The expression is to be taken figuratively for blazoning it. Hence our expression to "trumpet."

as the hypocrites do—This word—of such frequent occurrence in Scripture, signifying primarily "one who acts a part"—denotes one who either pretends to be what he is not (as here), or dissembles what he really is (as in Luke 12:1; Luke 12:2).

in the synagogues and in the streets—the places of religious and secular resort.

that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you—In such august expressions, it is the Lawgiver and Judge Himself that we hear speaking to us.

They have their reward—All they wanted was human applause, and they have it—and with it, all they will ever get.

Verse 3

3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth—So far from making a display of it, dwell not on it even in thine own thoughts, lest it minister to spiritual pride.

Verse 4

4. That thine alms may be in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly—The word "Himself" appears to be an unauthorized addition to the text, which the sense no doubt suggested. (See 1 Timothy 5:25; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

Prayer (Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:6).

Verse 5

5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt—or, preferably, "when ye pray ye shall."

not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets—(See on :-).

that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have, &c.—The standing posture in prayer was the ancient practice, alike in the Jewish and in the early Christian Church. But of course this conspicuous posture opened the way for the ostentatious.

Verse 6

6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet—a place of retirement.

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—Of course, it is not the simple publicity of prayer which is here condemned. It may be offered in any circumstances, however open, if not prompted by the spirit of ostentation, but dictated by the great ends of prayer itself. It is the retiring character of true prayer which is here taught.

Supplementary Directions and Model Prayer ( :-).

Verse 7

7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions—"Babble not" would be a better rendering, both for the form of the word—which in both languages is intended to imitate the sound—and for the sense, which expresses not so much the repetition of the same words as a senseless multiplication of them; as appears from what follows.

as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking—This method of heathen devotion is still observed by Hindu and Mohammedan devotees. With the Jews, says LIGHTFOOT, it was a maxim, that "Every one who multiplies prayer is heard." In the Church of Rome, not only is it carried to a shameless extent, but, as THOLUCK justly observes, the very prayer which our Lord gave as an antidote to vain repetitions is the most abused to this superstitious end; the number of times it is repeated counting for so much more merit. Is not this just that characteristic feature of heathen devotion which our Lord here condemns? But praying much, and using at times the same words, is not here condemned, and has the example of our Lord Himself in its favor.

Verse 8

8. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him—and so needs not to be informed of our wants, any more than to be roused to attend to them by our incessant speaking. What a view of God is here given, in sharp contrast with the gods of the heathen! But let it be carefully noted that it is not as the general Father of mankind that our Lord says, "Your Father" knoweth what ye need before ye ask it; for it is not men, as such, that He is addressing in this discourse, but His own disciples—the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, hungry and thirsty souls, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, who allow themselves to have all manner of evil said against them for the Son of man's sake—in short, the new-born children of God, who, making their Father's interests their own, are here assured that their Father, in return, makes their interests His, and needs neither to be told nor to be reminded of their wants. Yet He will have His children pray to Him, and links all His promised supplies to their petitions for them; thus encouraging us to draw near and keep near to Him, to talk and walk with Him, to open our every case to Him, and assure ourselves that thus asking we shall receive—thus seeking we shall find—thus knocking it shall be opened to us.

Verse 14

14. For if ye forgive men, &c.—See on Matthew 6:12.

Verse 15

15. But if ye forgive not, &c.—See on Matthew 6:12.

Fasting (Matthew 6:12- :). Having concluded His supplementary directions on the subject of prayer with this Divine Pattern, our Lord now returns to the subject of Unostentatiousness in our deeds of righteousness, in order to give one more illustration of it, in the matter of fasting.

Verse 16

16. Moreover, when ye fast—referring, probably, to private and voluntary fasting, which was to be regulated by each individual for himself; though in spirit it would apply to any fast.

be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces—literally, "make unseen"; very well rendered "disfigure." They went about with a slovenly appearance, and ashes sprinkled on their head.

that they may appear unto men to fast—It was not the deed, but reputation for the deed which they sought; and with this view those hypocrites multiplied their fasts. And are the exhausting fasts of the Church of Rome, and of Romanizing Protestants, free from this taint?

Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Verse 17

17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face—as the Jews did, except when mourning (Daniel 10:3); so that the meaning is, "Appear as usual"—appear so as to attract no notice.

Verse 18

18. That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly —The "openly" seems evidently a later addition to the text of this verse from Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:7, though of course the idea is implied.


Verse 19

19. Lay not up for ourselves treasures upon earth—hoard not.

where moth—a "clothes-moth." Eastern treasures, consisting partly in costly dresses stored up ( :-), were liable to be consumed by moths (Job 13:28; Isaiah 50:9; Isaiah 51:8). In James 5:2 there is an evident reference to our Lord's words here.

and rust—any "eating into" or "consuming"; here, probably, "wear and tear."

doth corrupt—cause to disappear. By this reference to moth and rust our Lord would teach how perishable are such earthly treasures.

and where thieves break through and steal—Treasures these, how precarious!

Verse 20

20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven—The language in Luke ( :-) is very bold—"Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not," &c.

where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal—Treasures these, imperishable and unassailable! (Compare Colossians 3:2).

Verse 21

21. For where your treasure is—that which ye value most.

there will your heart be also—"Thy treasure—thy heart" is probably the true reading here: "your," in :-, from which it seems to have come in here. Obvious though this maxim be, by what multitudes who profess to bow to the teaching of Christ is it practically disregarded! "What a man loves," says LUTHER, quoted by THOLUCK, "that is his God. For he carries it in his heart, he goes about with it night and day, he sleeps and wakes with it; be it what it may—wealth or pelf, pleasure or renown." But because "laying up" is not in itself sinful, nay, in some cases enjoined ( :-), and honest industry and sagacious enterprise are usually rewarded with prosperity, many flatter themselves that all is right between them and God, while their closest attention, anxiety, zeal, and time are exhausted upon these earthly pursuits. To put this right, our Lord adds what follows, in which there is profound practical wisdom.

Verse 22

22. The light—rather, "the lamp."

of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single—simple, clear. As applied to the outward eye, this means general soundness; particularly, not looking two ways. Here, as also in classical Greek, it is used figuratively to denote the simplicity of the mind's eye, singleness of purpose, looking right at its object, as opposed to having two ends in view. (See Proverbs 4:25-27).

thy whole body shall be full of light—illuminated. As with the bodily vision, the man who looks with a good, sound eye, walks in light, seeing every object clear; so a simple and persistent purpose to serve and please God in everything will make the whole character consistent and bright.

Verse 23

23. But if thine eye be evil—distempered, or, as we should say, If we have got a bad eye.

thy whole body shall be full of darkness—darkened. As a vitiated eye, or an eye that looks not straight and full at its object, sees nothing as it is, so a mind and heart divided between heaven and earth is all dark.

If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!—As the conscience is the regulative faculty, and a man's inward purpose, scope, aim in life, determines his character—if these be not simple and heavenward, but distorted and double, what must all the other faculties and principles of our nature be which take their direction and character from these, and what must the whole man and the whole life be but a mass of darkness? In Luke ( :-) the converse of this statement very strikingly expresses what pure, beautiful, broad perceptions the clarity of the inward eye imparts: "If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light." But now for the application of this.

Verse 24

24. No man can serve—The word means to "belong wholly and be entirely under command to."

two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other—Even if the two masters be of one character and have but one object, the servant must take law from one or the other: though he may do what is agreeable to both, he cannot, in the nature of the thing, be servant to more than one. Much less if, as in the present case, their interests are quite different, and even conflicting. In this case, if our affections be in the service of the one—if we "love the one"—we must of necessity "hate the other"; if we determine resolutely to "hold to the one," we must at the same time disregard, and (if he insist on his claims upon us) even "despise the other."

Ye cannot serve God and mammon—The word "mamon"—better written with one m—is a foreign one, whose precise derivation cannot certainly be determined, though the most probable one gives it the sense of "what one trusts in." Here, there can be no doubt it is used for riches, considered as an idol master, or god of the heart. The service of this god and the true God together is here, with a kind of indignant curtness, pronounced impossible. But since the teaching of the preceding verses might seem to endanger our falling short of what is requisite for the present life, and so being left destitute, our Lord now comes to speak to that point.

Verse 25

25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought—"Be not solicitous." The English word "thought," when our version was made, expressed this idea of "solicitude," "anxious concern"—as may be seen in any old English classic; and in the same sense it is used in 1 Samuel 9:5, c. But this sense of the word has now nearly gone out, and so the mere English reader is apt to be perplexed. Thought or forethought, for temporal things—in the sense of reflection, consideration—is required alike by Scripture and common sense. It is that anxious solicitude, that oppressive care, which springs from unbelieving doubts and misgivings, which alone is here condemned. (See 1 Samuel 9:5- :).

for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on—In Luke (Luke 12:29) our Lord adds, "neither be ye unsettled"—not "of doubtful mind," as in our version. When "careful (or 'full of care') about nothing," but committing all in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving unto God, the apostle assures us that "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6; Philippians 4:7); that is, shall guard both our feelings and our thoughts from undue agitation, and keep them in a holy calm. But when we commit our whole temporal condition to the wit of our own minds, we get into that "unsettled" state against which our Lord exhorts His disciples.

Is not the life more than meat—food.

and the body than raiment?—If God, then, gives and keeps up the greater—the life, the body—will He withhold the less, food to sustain life and raiment to clothe the body?

Verse 26

26. Behold the fowls of the air—in Matthew 6:28, "observe well," and in Luke 12:24, "consider"—so as to learn wisdom from them.

for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?—nobler in yourselves and dearer to God. The argument here is from the greater to the less; but how rich in detail! The brute creation—void of reason—are incapable of sowing, reaping, and storing: yet your heavenly Father suffers them not helplessly to perish, but sustains them without any of those processes. Will He see, then, His own children using all the means which reason dictates for procuring the things needful for the body—looking up to Himself at every step—and yet leave them to starve?

Verse 27

27. Which of you, by taking thought—anxious solicitude.

can add one cubit unto his stature?—"Stature" can hardly be the thing intended here: first, because the subject is the prolongation of life, by the supply of its necessaries of food and clothing: and next, because no one would dream of adding a cubit—or a foot and a half—to his stature, while in the corresponding passage in Luke (Luke 12:25; Luke 12:26) the thing intended is represented as "that thing which is least." But if we take the word in its primary sense of "age" (for "stature" is but a secondary sense) the idea will be this, "Which of you, however anxiously you vex yourselves about it, can add so much as a step to the length of your life's journey?" To compare the length of life to measures of this nature is not foreign to the language of Scripture (compare Psalms 39:5; 2 Timothy 4:7, &c.). So understood, the meaning is clear and the connection natural. In this the best critics now agree.

Verse 28

28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider—observe well.

the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not—as men, planting and preparing the flax.

neither do they spin—as women.

Verse 29

29. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these—What incomparable teaching!—best left in its own transparent clearness and rich simplicity.

Verse 30

30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass—the "herbage."

of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven—wild flowers cut with the grass, withering by the heat, and used for fuel. (See :-).

shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?—The argument here is something fresh. Gorgeous as is the array of the flowers that deck the fields, surpassing all artificial human grandeur, it is for but a brief moment; you are ravished with it to-day, and to-morrow it is gone; your own hands have seized and cast it into the oven: Shall, then, God's children, so dear to Him, and instinct with a life that cannot die, be left naked? He does not say, Shall they not be more beauteously arrayed? but, Shall He not much more clothe them? that being all He will have them regard as secured to them (compare Hebrews 13:5). The expression, "Little-faithed ones," which our Lord applies once and again to His disciples (Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:31; Matthew 16:8), can hardly be regarded as rebuking any actual manifestations of unbelief at that early period, and before such an audience. It is His way of gently chiding the spirit of unbelief, so natural even to the best, who are surrounded by a world of sense, and of kindling a generous desire to shake it off.

Verse 31

31. Therefore take no thought—solicitude.

saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

Verse 32

32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek)—rather, "pursue." Knowing nothing definitely beyond the present life to kindle their aspirations and engage their supreme attention, the heathen naturally pursue present objects as their chief, their only good. To what an elevation above these does Jesus here lift His disciples!

for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things—How precious this word! Food and raiment are pronounced needful to God's children; and He who could say, "No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him" ( :-), says with an authority which none but Himself could claim, "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." Will not that suffice you, O ye needy ones of the household of faith?

Verse 33

33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you—This is the great summing up. Strictly speaking, it has to do only with the subject of the present section—the right state of the heart with reference to heavenly and earthly things; but being couched in the form of a brief general directory, it is so comprehensive in its grasp as to embrace the whole subject of this discourse. And, as if to make this the more evident, the two keynotes of this great sermon seem purposely struck in it—"the KINGDOM" and "the RIGHTEOUSNESS" of the kingdom—as the grand objects, in the supreme pursuit of which all things needful for the present life will be added to us. The precise sense of every word in this golden verse should be carefully weighed. "The kingdom of God" is the primary subject of the Sermon on the Mount—that kingdom which the God of heaven is erecting in this fallen world, within which are all the spiritually recovered and inwardly subject portion of the family of Adam, under Messiah as its Divine Head and King. "The righteousness thereof" is the character of all such, so amply described and variously illustrated in the foregoing portions of this discourse. The "seeking" of these is the making them the object of supreme choice and pursuit; and the seeking of them "first" is the seeking of them before and above all else. The "all these things" which shall in that case be added to us are just the "all these things" which the last words of Matthew 6:32 assured us "our heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of"; that is, all we require for the present life. And when our Lord says they shall be "added," it is implied, as a matter of course, that the seekers of the kingdom and its righteousness shall have these as their proper and primary portion: the rest being their gracious reward for not seeking them. (See an illustration of the principle of this in 2 Chronicles 1:11; 2 Chronicles 1:12). What follows is but a reduction of this great general direction into a practical and ready form for daily use.

Verse 34

34. Take therefore no thought—anxious care.

for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself—(or, according to other authorities, "for itself")—shall have its own causes of anxiety.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof—An admirable practical maxim, and better rendered in our version than in almost any other, not excepting the preceding English ones. Every day brings its own cares; and to anticipate is only to double them.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfb/matthew-6.html. 1871-8.
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