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“Take care that you do not do your righteousness before men,
To be seen of them,
Else you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
These words introduce the whole passage from Matthew 6:1-18. The point being made is that in whatever they do, their righteousness (their pious behaviour and good works) is not to be publicly displayed so that men may see it, for otherwise it will result in a total lack of any recompense from their heavenly Father. They will get no spiritual benefit from it. Rather it is to be done in secret in the sight of Heaven, not in the sight of earth.
The idea of ‘recompense’ is not that we are to do things in order to get a reward. It is that the reward that the Father gives is so important that it must not be lost by folly, for it involves what we will become and our whole eternal future. It is the reward described in Matthew 5:3-9. It is the consequence of God’s active blessing. It is in contrast with receiving the praise of men which will result in a person becoming more proud, more arrogant and more unbearable, and will simply ruin their character. For receiving their Father’s reward will make them into precisely what they ought to be for the future.
‘Your righteousness.’ The context means that there are two significant meanings to righteousness to be borne in mind here. One is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in general, which is an insufficient righteousness, and is purely earthly and self-seeking, the other is God’s righteousness revealed as active in the believer which will bring a great reward. They have to choose which righteousness they will reveal.
Someone may ask, ‘If our good works are to be seen of men so that they may glorify God as we were told in Matthew 5:16, how can we now be told to keep our works secret?’ The answer to this question is simple. It depends on the types of works in mind. In Matthew 5:16 the works shone out because it was unavoidable. They were works done for men’s benefit. They thus had to some extent to be known. But they were nevertheless not done to be seen of men but out of obedience to God and in order to bring Him glory. Their being seen of men was simply the inevitable result of that obedience, and was with no desire for men’s praise and admiration. Such works could not be kept secret with the best will in the world, but there was certainly no idea that they should be trumpeted abroad.
Here the warning is against behaving in the wrong kind of way in regard to things that can be hidden from men, lest we do them in order to be praised and admired by men. Again the concern is to be that God might be glorified. Thus where possible what they do with regard to these things, almsgiving, praying and fasting, is to be done secretly between them and God. They should not be seeking credit on earth for them. They should be doing them for the glory of God. Even here, however, it may not always be possible to keep the secret. But if the aim has been genuinely to avoid publicity or credit no blame will attach for that. The desire, however, should be that as a result God will again be glorified and not men. However, if men do rather foolishly seek to glorify us then we must immediately turn them away from ourselves towards God, and remind them that they must glorify Him alone.
Further ways in which foolish men sought to do things to earn the praise of men are found in Matthew 23:5-7. This is always a danger when being religious is something that is highly esteemed. But the whole idea of men using religion to bring praise on themselves was seen by Jesus as abhorrent. If such people were genuine their whole concern would be that God be glorified. It would not, of course, be true that all Scribes and Pharisees sought only to glorify themselves. But the problem was that it was true of all too many, and they were the ones who stood out.
The Doing of Righteousness and The Giving of Gifts To The Poor (6:1-4).
Analysis of Matthew 6:1-4 .
In considering the following analyses the small letters indicate the chiasmus in each section, while the capital letters indicate a comparison with the sections that precede and follow, for from Matthew 6:1 to Matthew 7:6 all the sections follow a general pattern. They also indicate a progression in the argument in each small section.
a “Take care that you do not do your righteousness before men, to be seen of them, else you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).
b A When therefore you give on behalf of the poor (Matthew 6:2 a).
b B Do not sound a trumpet before you (Matthew 6:2 b).
c B As the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets (Matthew 6:2 c).
c C That they may have glory of men (Matthew 6:2 d).
c D Truly I say to you, they have received their reward (Matthew 6:2 e).
b E But when you do alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does (Matthew 6:3).
a F That your alms may be in secret (Matthew 6:4 a).
a G And your Father who sees in secret will recompense you (Matthew 6:4 b).
Note that in ‘a’ wanting to be seen of men means that there will be no reward in Heaven and in the parallel, in contrast, doing right in secret results in a recompense from their Father. In ‘b’ the command is not to sound a trumpet before them in giving alms, and in parallel they are not to let their left hand know what their right hand does. Central is ‘c’ where those who receive glory on earth have already received their reward.
The Sermon on the Mount Part 2.
Seven Warnings Against False Behaviour, Each Accompanied by The Command To Take Action In The Opposite Direction, And Each of Which Culminates in Assurances of the Father’s (God’s) Resultant Blessing (6:1-7).
Having brought out the full significance of God’s Law (in chapter 5), and having stressed the importance within that Law of right human relationships, and having shown them the final goal of full God-likeness at which they had to aim, Jesus now moves on to deal with the worship and service of His disciples (Matthew 6:1-18), what their attitude should be towards material things (Matthew 6:19-34) and how they should view judgment among themselves (Matthew 7:1-6). For perfection did not just lie in what their relationships with men and women were like. It lay in what they were overall in their whole attitude to life.
It is important to note here that leading up to Matthew 7:7-12 we now have constant mention of ‘your’ heavenly Father, or the equivalent. Jesus is leading them towards approaching the inner sanctum of God, and turning their thoughts towards things above, a process which will be completed in Matthew 7:7-12. Here we have Jesus’ equivalent of Paul’s ‘heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:6). They are sons of their Father in Heaven and even while on earth are to dwell in His presence continually, asking, seeking and knocking as sons of their Father (Matthew 7:7-11). But they can only do this if they first beware of what may drag them down, and instead turn all their thoughts on things above.
One feature of this final part of the Sermon, is the direct command without the accompaniment of a connecting word. This occurs in the first part of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-11) and then in a series of direct exhortations (Matthew 6:19; Matthew 6:24 b; Matthew 7:1; Matthew 7:6-7; Matthew 7:13; Matthew 7:15). It would seem that by this, having laid the foundation by His exposition of the Law, and having dealt with the importance of their basic religious activities being directed towards God and not men, He now wants to bring home with extra force the response required of them in respect of their attitude towards worldly things.
The second section of this central part of the Sermon from Matthew 6:1 to Matthew 7:12 is in the form of a chiasmus, and central to it are what we could call seven or eight ‘bewares’. (Whether we see it as seven or eight depends on how we see the function of Matthew 7:6, which appears both to finalise the previous section, and also to lead in to Matthew 7:7-12). We have sought to bring out both aspects in the following analysis.
In this regard therefore they were to:
a Not do their righteousness before men in order to be seen of them, otherwise they will have no reward from their Father in Heaven (Matthew 6:1).
b Beware of ostentatious charitable giving, but rather to give secretly, and then their Father Who sees in secret will recompense (Matthew 6:2-4).
c Beware of ostentatious praying, but rather to pray secretly, and then their Father Who sees in secret will recompense.
d Beware of vain repetitions in prayer, for their Father knows what things they have need of before they ask Him, but rather they are to pray for the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven and the hallowing of God’s Name.
And they must be forgiving as their heavenly Father, if they would be forgiven (Matthew 6:7-15).
e Beware of ostentatious fasting, (laying up reputations on earth), but rather to fast in secret, for their Father Who sees in secret will recompense (Matthew 6:16-18).
e Beware of being taken up with wealth, and laying up treasures on earth, but rather to lay treasures up in Heaven, and their reward will then be to have God as their Master (Matthew 6:19-24).
d Beware of being taken up with the cares and anxieties of this world, because their heavenly Father knows that they have need of all these things. They are rather therefore to seek the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness, thus turning their thoughts on their Heavenly Father (Matthew 6:25-34).
Beware of judging their brothers, but are rather to put themselves in a position to take the splinters from their brothers’ eyes, demonstrating concern for their Father’s family (Matthew 7:1-5).
c Beware of giving what is holy to dogs, but rather to ask for what is holy from their Father Who will certainly give it to them. Then they will be able to come openly to their heavenly Father together, entering continually into His presence as His sons and continually asking for the ‘good things’ of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, knowing that He will fully respond (Matthew 7:7-10).
b They can know that the great Giver gives good things to those who ask Him because He is their Father in Heaven (Matthew 7:11)
a They are to do to others what they would have them do to them, because this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).
Note that in ‘a’ their righteousness was not to be superficial and man-pleasing, and in the parallel this is made clear by revealing what must be the basis of all their actions towards each other. In ‘b’ their giving is to be as to their Father and not in order to obtain men’s commendation, and in the parallel there is the comparison of how their Father will give to them. In ‘c’ their prayers are to be in loving fellowship with their Father, and the same applies in the parallel where their approach in prayer is to be in the confidence of a child to its father. In ‘d’ their Father knows what they need before they ask Him, and they are therefore to seek His Kingly Rule, and to be forgiving because they will be forgiven, and in the parallel their Father knows what they need and they are therefore to seek His Kingly Rule and to be non-judgmental because they will not be judged. In ‘e’ they are not to lay up a reputation for ‘merit’ on earth, but in Heaven before their heavenly Father, and in the parallel they are not to lay up treasure on earth, but in Heaven so that their minds are set on serving God. This whole section is therefore a unity.
These seven (or eight) passages within this section now also divide up into four and three (or four), the former dealing with what would have been seen as their religious activity, which on the whole should be kept secret from men, and will bring them to their Father’s awareness (Matthew 6:1-18), and the latter having more to do with the material basics of life, but again leading up to a contrasting spiritual awareness which will keep their minds on things above (Matthew 6:19 to Matthew 7:6 /7). Yet even in the latter case He indicates that there are some secrets which it is better to keep from the generality of men, for mankind in general only despises heavenly things (Matthew 7:6). Their emphasis on laying up their treasures in Heaven, their trusting their heavenly Father for their daily needs, and their care to ensure that they can help their brethren by being fitted to pull the splinters out of their eyes are not something to be divulged to the unfit (Matthew 7:6). Rather they are to be coped with by coming openly to their heavenly Father (Matthew 7:7-12).
The Importance of Their Worship And ‘Religious’ Service Being Genuine (6:1-18).
Among the Jews almsgiving, prayer and fasting were seen as the basics of a godly life, and as being evidence of a life that was pleasing to God. For example in Tob 12:8 (a Jewish writing) we read, ‘prayer is good when it is accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness’ (note the differing order from Jesus, Who valued righteousness and almsgiving above fasting). The principle in mind was clearly correct, that prayer without genuineness of life and concern for others was useless. The thought was that those who would come to God must also be behaving rightly in their lives (and Jesus would have added, ‘and must be reconciled with their brother’ - Matthew 5:23-24). But Jesus will now add to it that all such behaviour must also be the result of a genuine motive, that of bringing honour to God, and not from any desire to be admired by men. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me’ (Psalms 66:18). Having this in mind Matthew 6:1-18 may be analysed as follows:
Analysis of Matthew 6:1-18 .
a Righteousness must not be exercised with a view to being seen by men or else they will receive no recognition from their heavenly Father (Matthew 6:1).
b The giving of alms to others is not to be trumpeted abroad, but is to be done secretly so that their reward might be from their Father (Matthew 6:2-4).
c Prayer is not to be engaged in, in order to obtain the praise of men, but is to be engaged in, in such a way that no one knows of it (thus it is to be to God’s glory and not theirs) with the result that they will receive recognistion from their Father (Matthew 6:5-6).
d Praying must not be made up of constant and endless repetition for their Father knows their needs before they ask Him (Matthew 6:7-8).
c Prayer is to be concentrated on glorifying God, and on the advancement of God’s Kingly Rule and the establishment of a true spiritual life so that their relationship with their heavenly Father may be maintained (Matthew 6:9-14).
b The giving of forgiveness towards men and women is necessary for those who would receive forgiveness. As a result of it they will demonstrate that they are in a position whereby their heavenly Father can forgive them (Matthew 6:15).
a Fasting is not to be indulged in, in order to be seen of men, but must be between a man or woman, and God for then it will be personally acknowledged by their Father (Matthew 6:16-18).
Note that in ‘a’ righteousness must not be practised before men, and in the parallel fasting is not to be so either. Both are activities which should be engaged in with a view to pleasing God. In ‘b’ and its parallel the activity is towards men, but is in order to please God. In ‘c’ and its parallel concentration is on true prayer to the glory of God. Centrally in ‘d’ their Father knows what they have need of before they ask Him.
THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. THE FULFILMENT OF THE INSTRUCTION OF YHWH AND OF THE PROPHETIC HOPES (5:17-7:12).
Having revealed how God has worked in His disciples in a life-transforming way in Matthew 5:3-9, and having shown them that they are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus now goes into detail about what that will involve, and how it will lead up to the final consummation, that is to the fulfilment of the Law (the Torah - The Instruction of God) and of the Prophetic hopes.
This passage begins with a short introduction (Matthew 5:17-20) and then considers:
· Firstly the basis of the relationships required between people, as evidenced in Scripture (Matthew 5:20-48).
· Secondly what should be the basis of their religious lives and worship (Matthew 6:1-18).
· And thirdly what their relationship should be towards external things (Matthew 6:19 to Matthew 7:6).
This is then followed by a closing summary (Matthew 7:7-12) in which they are to ask for and seek all that He has spoken of.
The Scriptures were the be all and end all to most Jews, and that was especially true of the Law (the Torah), that is the first five books of the Bible. They were the centre of their faith and of their being. And they considered that their own final fulfilment would only be found in a perfect existence under that very Torah, with it having been fully illuminated to them under the Messiah (compare Deuteronomy 17:18-20), so that they would enjoy all that it promised for the future as it came to its final consummation in the way described by the Prophets.
It is true that the Sadducees with their interest in the priesthood were on the whole more interested in the application of the Torah to the Temple, and to the status quo, and concentrated on the maintenance of the Temple ritual and on getting along with their Gentile rulers. As far as they were concerned the Torah was fulfilled in this. But for most of the Scribes, together with the Pharisees and the common people, (thus the vast majority of Israel), their hopes were firmly set (at least in theory) on the fulfilment of the Torah when the Messiah, (or in the Dead Sea Scrolls even more than one Messiah, a priestly and kingly one) would come and establish God’s everlasting kingdom, ensuring in it that they lived under the Torah as illuminated by the Messiah (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). It would be the perfect age (Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 65:17-25).
In this section (Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 7:12) therefore Jesus now emphasised that He had come to bring this about, but as interpreted in His own way. This, He said, was why He had come. He had not come ‘to destroy’ the Torah or the Prophets, but ‘to fulfil’ them, with this contrast between destruction and fulfilment intended to bring out the emphasis on His intent to fulfil them. The point that is being made is that the Law and the Prophets are certain of fulfilment, and that all that they have pointed forward to will therefore undoubtedly come about, and that His purpose in being here is in order to ensure that this will happen. For there is no root of destruction in the Torah and the Prophets. Indeed if anyone was destroying them it was those who opposed Him, the Scribes and their acolytes.
And in order to demonstrate that this is so He will now explain and expand on the Torah, rooting out its deepest meaning, for He wishes it to be fully understood that He will not only ‘fulfil’ them by fulfilling the promises concerning the Coming One, but will also ‘fulfil’ them by ‘filling them full, and bringing out their deeper meaning. But in doing so it must be in order to introduce the golden age of righteousness, not in order to produce a lot of mini-Scribes and mini-Pharisees. So He will now proceed to fix men’s minds firmly on the Kingly Rule of God, with God as their Father in Heaven (as long as they have repented and come under that Kingly Rule), and will call on them to walk in true love towards others, to avoid hypocrisy, to set their minds and hearts on things above, and not to be judgmental of each other. Rather they are to strive to assist each other by removing splinters from each other’s eyes while at the same time being fully aware of their own deep failings (Matthew 7:1-5). On the other hand they must also not waste their time on those whose hearts are closed to their message (Matthew 7:6). So to that end they are to pray earnestly and continually for the ‘good things’ of God (Matthew 7:7-12), which include the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:33), the enjoying of His righteous deliverance (Matthew 5:6; Matthew 6:33), and the full working of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). All this will then prepare them for the final calling to account of men and women which will be required at His own hands as ‘the Lord’ (Matthew 7:22-23). This is what the shining forth of His followers (Matthew 5:14-16), and the fulfilment of the Torah and the prophets (Matthew 5:17), was finally to result in.
It is with this in mind that He now emphasises that He has not come to destroy either the Law (in Hebrew the ‘Instruction’ of God) OR the Prophets.
By speaking of ‘not destroying’ the either The Torah or the Prophets He may be:
· Simply using an emphasising negative which by contrast adds force to the positive ‘fulfil it’.
· Indicating that already there were murmurings about what others saw as His attitude to the Scriptures.
· Or as suggested above it might be a hint as to who were actually guilty of destroying it. (Thus in effect saying, ‘I have not come to do it, rather they themselves are accomplishing it very well’).
But whichever way it is, His main point is that whatever might or might not be said He has not come to destroy either the Torah or the Prophets, but to ‘fill them full’, that is, to bring them to their ultimate completeness, and to accomplish all the purposes of God revealed in them. And He adds that this must be so because from an earthly point of view they are indestructible.
And with this in mind He warns of what their attitude to ‘the Law’ (the Torah and the Prophets) must now be. They must not treat any of it lightly, but must honour the whole. For anyone who treats even one part of it lightly will thereby lose out, while those who honour it will themselves be honoured. And He adds as a final warning that they must certainly not see it as the majority of the Scribes and Pharisees do. The Scribes and Pharisees used it as a means of trying to establish their own righteousness through ritual and through their own self-exalting ideas. But those who are His must recognise that they must rather seek a different kind of righteousness, the righteousness of the poor in spirit, the righteousness that will come with power from God as He comes in salvation in the way that Isaiah had promised, a righteousness which will result in a life lived in accordance with what He will now reveal in what follows in His sermon.
It is thus His intention so to magnify and expand on God’s Instruction (the Law in the light of the Prophets), that He reveals more of its real requirements, and at the same time as He is doing this, to point forward to the necessary bringing about of all that Moses had hoped for in it, by the establishing God’s Kingly Rule as men enter it under His Lordship (Matthew 7:21) and themselves build on a foundation that will last for ever (Matthew 7:25). He thus has in mind to ‘fulfil’, that is, to bring to completeness both the Law as God’s revealed manner of living (Matthew 5:21 to Matthew 7:12), and the Law with its future hopes (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 17:18-20) concerning the establishment of God’s rule (Matthew 7:21).
With regard to the expectations of the Torah we must never forget what Moses’ hopes were as revealed in the Torah. We must never forget that his last sight on earth was the country in which he thought that God’s Kingly Rule would be established (Deuteronomy 34:4). And at that stage he had thought that he was surveying the future ‘kingdom of God’. That was his hope and the hope of his people, and that was why he had given them God’s Law, and as far as Jesus’ listeners were concerned he had written of that hope in such places as Genesis 3:15; Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 17:18-20. Thus the Torah was seen by Moses as very much pointing forward to the establishment of the coming Kingly Rule of God.
Furthermore in Matthew 2:15 Matthew has already stressed the coming of the King out of Egypt, and that for the very purpose of establishing that Kingly Rule which had previously failed of fulfilment (Hosea 11:1-12). And now here it was happening before their very eyes (compare Matthew 21:31-32). And He firmly assures them (Matthew 7:13-23) that He will fulfil both the hopes of the Torah and the Prophets in Himself, by Himself being the fulfilment of all to which they point, as ‘the Lord’ Who will call all to account (Matthew 7:23), will remove all that offends (Matthew 7:19; Matthew 7:27), and will establish all that endures (Matthew 7:25), and will thus bring His people into the everlasting Kingdom (Matthew 7:13-23).
Jesus sees nothing negative about the Torah or the Prophets as properly interpreted. He sees the Law as holy, and just, and good in the same way as Paul does (Romans 7:12). The only reservations that He does have are about the interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees. Furthermore He also does not want the people to see anything negative about the Torah and the Prophets either. Indeed He will now stress their earthly permanence. He loves the word of God and He loves the Law, for they reveal what God is and point forward to what He intends to accomplish.
We can compare how Paul also sees the Law as something that he delights in, in his inmost self (Romans 7:22), so that with his mind he serves ‘the Law of God’ (Romans 7:25). The Law was no enemy to Paul when rightly used. Its achievement was a part of his hope. He too desired that Christians should live in accordance with the Law (Galatians 6:13-14). It was sin and the ‘law’ or principle of sin within him, and the Law as misused and misapplied in the wrong way, that was his enemy. As a joyous response to the mercy and gracious working of God it was a delight, it was as a means of legally being made acceptable to God that it was a curse. And these he also recognised could only be combated in Jesus Christ, for in Him sin could be defeated and as a justifying medium the Law was ‘ended’ in Christ (Romans 10:2).
So both Jesus and Paul make clear that they honour the Law, while at the same time speaking of man as misusing the Law. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 5:20, and constantly throughout Matthew, culminating with chapter 23. Paul does so by his constant attempt to bring men out from ‘under the Law’ when seen as a threatening executioner, so that they can then live out the Law in perfect freedom from condemnation in the way in which it was intended to be lived. Thus in this sermon, by bringing out its inner and glorious meaning, Jesus will reveal that what God is more concerned with in the Law is the attitude of the heart that looks to be God-like (‘sons of their Father’), rather than the specific slavish keeping of individual commandments and rituals which was the forte of the Scribes and Pharisees. For the latter approach to the Law could only trick men (like the rich young man) into thinking that they were ‘getting along fairly well’ (Matthew 19:20). But He wants people to recognise that it is not a matter of ‘getting along fairly well’. It is a matter of having a heart right towards God, brought about by God’s saving work within, and of recognising the need for the inner sinful heart to be dealt with. It is a matter of acknowledging their need to come to Him as their Father in Heaven with all their thoughts on things above. It is man’s hatred and contempt for others (Matthew 5:22), and his lust (Matthew 5:28) and his perversity and dishonesty (Matthew 5:37) and his desire for vengeance (Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:43) that have to be dealt with, not just his outward disobedience to certain individual, but limited and even sometimes misrepresented, commandments. Thus His disciples have to learn not to be vengeful, and not to be at enmity with their brothers, or with the world outside Judaism (Matthew 5:43), but to respond in love and compassion and consideration (Matthew 5:39-42) and to reveal love as their heavenly Father does (Matthew 5:44-45) both among their own people and to the world ‘outside’ (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48). This is the true purpose of the Law, of God’s Instruction.
He then goes on to call for a true-hearted response to God (Matthew 6:1-18), and a setting of the mind on the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness (using ‘God’ here rather than ‘Heaven’ so as to link Him firmly with His righteousness), which will result in their using all their earthly possessions in the purposes of God (Matthew 6:19-34). And this must include the casting off of a judgmental attitude of heart (Matthew 7:1), for who are they to act as judges? Rather than setting themselves up as Judges they should make themselves able to ‘doctor’ others (take the splinters out of their eyes) (Matthew 7:1-5), although even then they must still be aware of those whose hearts are so hardened that they will not be receptive to what they have to offer (Matthew 7:6). And as they do this, they must do it with constant prayer for the bringing in of the good things of God which God longs to give them, which will result in the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets, in that they will be doing to others what they would have them do to them (Matthew 7:7-12).
But He then concludes by stressing that all this summation of the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 7:12) reveals the narrow way that leads to life, in contrast to the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). As they face up to Him and what He has come to do they must choose this day Whom they will serve, and how they will respond to Him. And that leads on to men having to face up to His Lordship and the fact that all will be called to account, and will either find that they are established or will come crashing down. In the light of this they must therefore beware of false teachers and prophets (Matthew 7:15-20). For in the final analysis all will be accountable to Him as their Lord, when the truly righteous will come into their own, and those who have refused to respond to His words will find that everything will collapse around them (Matthew 7:21-27). In ALL of this is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.
A Digression On The Attitude Of Paul To The Law.
The problem, however, with the particular passage of the Sermon on the Mount that we are looking at is that many Christians have gained a false idea about the Law based on the use of it by some of the Scribes and the Pharisees (as represented by the old Paul). They have failed to note that when Paul has seemingly written in order to displace the Law, it has not actually been with the intention of rendering it void or of suggesting that it is of no concern or interest to the Christian, but has rather been in order to put right the wrong use of it. He has simply revealed what its correct use is (Romans 3:31). When for example he says that we are not ‘under the Law’ (Romans 3:19; Romans 6:15; 1 Corinthians 9:20-21; Galatians 3:23; Galatians 4:4-5; Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:15), he does not mean that we do not have a responsibility to seek to carry it out with our whole heart in the way that Jesus describes here. He would have agreed wholeheartedly with Jesus about that. He means that we are not to see it as the method of determining our salvation. It is not to be the arbiter of whether we are saved or not. It is not a means by which we can measure our own righteousness. (And Jesus nowhere suggests that it was).
Nor, Paul points out, are we to look for salvation by an assiduous keeping of the Law. That was the mistake being made by many of the Scribes and Pharisees, whatever might have been the ‘official position’. All the Scribes and Pharisees laid great emphasis on the keeping of the covenant and on the mercy of God, but it was very easy to go a step beyond that, as many of them did, and actually see the ‘keeping of the covenant’ as a way of becoming acceptable with God. It is ever the tendency of man’s heart to think that he can be saved by ‘keeping the Law’, by being ‘good enough’ for God. And this is simply because we are too foolish to recognise that whatever ‘good’ we may do it makes not a jot of difference to our position before God as far as salvation is concerned, because we can never be good enough. We cannot change ourselves. Our hope with God must lie in His mercy. For as with Israel at Sinai the truth is that our acceptance with God and our deliverance from evil can only come about through His graciousness and mercy (Exodus 20:2). God sovereignly intervened in order to deliver Israel from Egypt and from bondage, and in the same way He must sovereignly intervene if we are to be saved from the grip and condemnation of sin. But there seems little doubt that many Pharisees did believe that if only they could get their covenant-keeping right (which then became a matter of fulfilling all necessary ritual requirements), all would be well and God would step in to act on behalf of Israel. And that is why Paul points out that the moment that we put ourselves ‘under the Law’ as the arbiter of our salvation in this way we are lost. For the Law condemns us and our hopes are over almost before we even start. And James says precisely the same thing (James 2:10). The Law in this sense is like a mirror which shows us the kind of people we are (compare James 1:23). But we do not pick up the mirror and try to wash our faces with it. Rather it turns us to the soap and water. And in the same way the Law is intended to turn us to Christ and to His salvation, as originally depicted by the offerings and sacrifices (Hebrews 7-10).
Paul does, however, make quite clear elsewhere that while Christians may not be ‘under the Law’, in that they see it as hanging over their heads like an executioner’s axe, he does expect Christians to ‘fulfil the Law’ (Galatians 5:14; Galatians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 9:21), in the same way as James does (James 2:8). There is no disagreement between Paul and James on this. And Paul’s attitude to the Law can possibly be summed up as follows:
1). As far as salvation is concerned the Law condemns the sinner. It declares him guilty before God (Romans 3:19). James agrees (James 2:10).
2). Because of this it becomes our slave-teacher in order to keep us in order before we come to faith, and in order to bring us to Christ, by showing us our need and pointing us to Him. And once it has done that it has no further responsibility for us as far as our accetance before God is concerned (Galatians 3:23-26; Romans 7:7).
3). But the Law is also the model by which Christians ought to live, and therefore having accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation we ought to seek to fulfil it by loving our neighbour as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:8; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14), while at the same time recognising that this will have nothing to do with whether we are saved or not (Galatians 5:14; Galatians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 9:21). Indeed it will be the evidence that God’s saving work has already taken place within us. James agrees (James 2:8). We will do this because we love God, not in order to earn His love.
4). It is this point about our obedience to the Law having nothing to do with our salvation that results in many becoming unstuck. The human heart, ever ready to avoid obedience to God, seizes on this and says ‘Good. If keeping the law is not a necessary part of the process by which we obtain salvation then in that case we can be saved and do what we like’ (Romans 3:3; Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15). But that is like saying that when we enter a hospital to be healed we do not need to worry about things being sterilised and about a few germs, because the hospital is there to heal us. Such a man may deservedly die in hospital. And what does this attitude demonstrate? Why, that such a person is not really wanting to be healed, is not desirous of being ‘saved’ at all. For a saved person who has been transformed in the way that we have just examined in Matthew 5:3-9 would never have said that. He would have carried on obeying God’s Law because of the compulsion within him. We can compare here the two women who were arguing before Solomon as to whose the live baby was (1 Kings 3:16-22). One was prepared to lose the baby rather than see it killed. The other was prepared to see it killed rather than that the other should have it. Solomon thus had no doubt as to whose the baby really was. She proved it by her attitude of heart. And we prove whether we are His by our attitude towards His instruction. As Jesus will shortly say, ‘he who hears my words (concerning the Law) and does them not’ -- will be caught up in a flood of judgment and will be destroyed (Matthew 7:27).
Show me the person who genuinely says to God, ‘O how I love Your Instruction (Law)’ (Psalms 119:97; Psalms 119:159), and I will show you the one whose heart has been transformed by God and who is saved, even though he may sometimes become unstuck in his obedience. He will not be looking at his own righteousness but at God. But show me the one who totally disregards His Instruction, and I will show you the one who is not saved (see Matthew 21:28-29). For had he been saved he would have begun to love God’s Instruction, just as the blessed persons in Matthew 5:3-9 reveal it by their new attitudes, and the Psalmist in Psalms 1:0 delighted in it. The truth is that while salvation is not of man’s works, it does work. For it is God Who works by means of it. It transforms individuals so that they begin to walk according to the Law of God, which then becomes the Law of Christ, as given here in the Sermon on the Mount (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2 compare James 1:25). And it transforms their view of His Instruction. They begin to will and to do according to His good pleasure because God has worked within them (Philippians 2:13). They are ‘created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has foreordained that they should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). They say, ‘Oh how I love your Law!’ (Psalms 119:97).
End of Digression.
But what does Jesus then teach with regard to the Law? As we have seen He teaches that people must repent and come under the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 4:17), and the assumption behind this is that they thereby receive forgiveness (Mark 1:4). He teaches that God then shines on their lives in Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:16), and works in such people’s hearts so as to transform their lives, with the result that, because of His ‘blessing’ them they begin to live as revealed in Matthew 5:3-9, and thus become the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16). They can then be seen as being God’s beloved children, called upon to please their heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:9; Matthew 7:21). Then they must live this out in terms of the Sermon on the Mount, not in order to find mercy (be saved), but because they have obtained mercy (have been saved) and desire to please Him and do His will.
We can analyse this central part of the Sermon (Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 7:12) as follows:
a Jesus has not come to destroy or replace the Law of God or the Prophets, but is establishing and reinterpreting them (filling them full) so as to lift them out of the straitjacket in which men have placed them, in order through them to lead His people to a fuller life. And they will finally all be fulfilled in Him. Meanwhile they are to achieve a true righteousness through God’s saving power, a righteousness which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness resulting from their being the planting of the Lord (Isaiah 61:3), without which they cannot enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. His people are therefore to launch out on the basis of this new Law for that reason (Matthew 5:17-20). Such a righteousness is revealed by Isaiah 1:16-18 in comparison with Matthew 1:11-15 (which was typical of the Sadducees, but a common fault of all), especially when these latter verses (Matthew 1:11-15) are reinterpreted with regard to some in terms of washings, and tithing and Sabbath-keeping. These latter were typical of the Pharisees who were constantly at Jesus’ heels.
b Following on this Jesus gives five expansions and fuller explanations of the Law, each following the pattern ‘you have heard that it was said --- but I say to you --’, stressing the inner meaning of each Law. In each case He brings out the essential heart of them, and reveals them as showing an attitude towards life to be followed, rather than just as rules to be obeyed, exhorting them by it to be true sons of their Father (Matthew 5:17-43).
b Jesus then gives six more general exhortations based on the principle of ‘do not -- but --.’ Three of these are warnings against hypocritical ostentation in religious behaviour and they follow the pattern commencing, ‘when you --- do not -- but when you --’, the middle one of which includes the pattern prayer in which they are to seek the coming of His Kingly Rule and set their eyes on Tomorrow’s bread. And these are accompanied by three caveats against self-seeking behaviour, accompanied by encouragements to do the opposite, each of which culminates in assurances of the Father’s resultant blessing, the middle one of which includes the need to seek the Kingly Rule of God and not to seek earthly bread and clothing (Matthew 6:1 to Matthew 7:6).
a They are to recognise all the good things that He has for them as revealed in His general exhortations (including the delights of His Law, the Kingly Rule of Heaven Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:33), and the righteousness of God (Matthew 6:33)) and are to seek God earnestly for them because He delights to give them, in order that they might enjoy a fuller life, the ‘better things’ than the Scribes and Pharisees can offer. It should be recognised that here He is talking of spiritual things and spiritual enlightenment, not of obtaining material possessions, the latter idea being excluded by what has been said previously (Matthew 7:7-12).
Thus in ‘a’ Jesus backs up the Law but says that He will fill it to the full, and the aim is to lead the people into a fuller life by their achieving a righteousness ‘exceeding that (better than that) of the Scribes and Pharisees, while in the parallel He exhorts them to achieve that fuller life by a persistent seeking of their Father in Heaven for ‘good things’, things that pertain to an abundant life (John 10:10), which will result in the same. In ‘b’ and its parallel we have the negatives and the positives of His teaching, the first aspect related to the Instruction (Law) of their Father and the second aspect relating to seeking their Father in Heaven. Underlying all is the getting away from individual commandments and achieving rather a different attitude towards life.
‘Do not sound a trumpet before you,
As the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,
That they may have glory of men.
Truly I say to you, they have received their reward in full.’
The picture is vivid. A trumpeter is seen as being sent on ahead in order to draw attention to the gift. The blowing of rams’ horns was common at particular feasts, and at fasts, but while giving was a part of the fasts, there is no evidence connecting the blowing of the rams’ horns directly with giving. Nor need there be, for this ‘blowing of the trumpet’ is not necessarily to be seen as having actually happened. Even the most blatant hypocrite would hardly go this far. The scene is intended to be ridiculous. They are crying, ‘look at me and what I am giving’. It is a deliberate caricature. It is Jesus’ vivid way of illustrating His point. For the point is that men can make their giving so obvious to all that they may just as well blow a trumpet so as to draw men’s attention to it. Such ostentatious giving is the activity of ‘hypocrites’, that is, of men who put on a pretence of righteousness, of those who behave like play-actors. They are putting on the act of being generous and godly, but in fact are simply out to let everyone know what they are giving, and thus by it are trying to buy themselves prestige. Their generosity and godliness is thus a pretence. The word ‘hypocrite’ occurs thirteen times in Matthew. He wanted it to be known that there was nothing that Jesus was harder on than hypocrisy, the pretence of being what they were not, something of which we are all to some extent guilty. For we all like to give the impression that we are better than we are. And possibly even worse are those who try to make out that they are ‘ever so humble’, who are humble and secretly proud of it
‘In the synagogues or in the streets.’ These were the popular places where collectors would be gathering such funds, and would be places where there would be many people to observe what they were doing, and who it was who made their gifts. We can contrast them with the woman who crept into the Temple and out again, not wanting to be noticed. And she got her wish. No one at the time noticed, apart, of course, from God (Mark 12:41-44).
‘That they may have glory of men.’ Their real aim is that men will think how wonderful they are. And they may well achieve their aim. But they may be sure of this. They will therefore have had their reward. They will not receive any credit from God, nor will it contribute towards their spiritual blessing. Their giving will not reveal true righteousness because it will simply be a matter of making a payment in order to buy glory. There is nothing good about that. It is a simple business transaction of a rather distasteful kind.
But whenever you give on behalf of the poor,
Do not let your left hand know what your right hand does,
That your almsgiving may be in secret,
And your Father who sees in secret will recompense you.”
Whenever the disciples give, (the fact that they will give is assumed), then it is to be done in such secrecy that even the left hand will not know what the right hand has done. It is thus not only to be secret but totally without any idea of self-congratulation. It will, as it were, be hidden even from themselves. It will pass from the mind almost before it happens so that the left hand will never find out. But the idea is not that they will do it in order to obtain heavenly credit. They will rather do it because it is the good and right thing to do, it is God-like. It is the type of giving that neither wants nor asks for anything in return that brings the greatest reward, for its reward is the growth of true righteousness. The giver has become by it a better person. And they will not lose by it, for it is known to ‘their Father’, Who will see it and recompense it by His gracious working in their lives in a way far greater than they deserve or will even understand.
We should note here that God does not reward us with things that will make us proud and arrogant, such as physical thrones and crowns (any offer of these is to be interpreted spiritually). He gives us what is far more substantial, a delight in service and obedience, and an ability to love. He makes us faithful servants who will hear His ‘well done’. He begins to make us like Himself (1 John 3:2).
“And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites,
For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets,
That they may be seen of men.
Truly I say to you, They have received their reward.”
The disciples are warned against putting on an act in prayer. Among the Jews, to be seen as a praying man was a very desirable thing, because such a man was admired and respected by all. Thus those who wanted to be admired and to put on an act that they were pious stood up where they could clearly be seen in the synagogues, or on street corners (or public open spaces) at the time of prayer, and there made a great show of praying to God, even though they were only praying to themselves. Men and women then thought that they were wonderful. But God did not think that they were wonderful. He simply turned away in disgust. As far as He was concerned they had already received their ‘answer to prayer’ by what men and women thought about them. They had had their reward. Compare here Luke 18:9-14).
It was not normal to pray on street corners as a general rule, but the point is probably that some arranged to be in such an openly observed position as a street corner when the hour of prayer came round, which was the time when all should pray, and would then stop and pray so that all might see their piety. For all would know that a truly pious man must observe the hour of prayer wherever he was. So his aim was that people would say, ‘How pious this man must be!’ And so he had received his reward.
Note that it is his intention that is being judged here. It is not that he prays in public because something has prevented him from getting to the place of prayer. That could be commendable. It is because it was all the time his intention to pray in public, so that men would see it, and give glory to him instead of to God.
The Essence Of True Personal Prayer Is To Be Praying Secretly Alone With God (6:5-6).
Jesus now turns to the question of true prayer. He will deal with this in two stages, firstly as to the need for such prayer to be a secret between God and the one who prays, so that it is genuine prayer and not a public performance, and then secondly as to how to pray, and what to pray for. Both are to be seen as an essential part of prayer, a right attitude followed by a right approach. He first considers the right attitude to prayer.
Analysis of Matthew 6:5-6 .
a A “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites,
b B For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets,
c C That they may be seen of men.
d D Truly I say to you, They have received their reward.
c E But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber,
b F And having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret,
a G And your Father who sees in secret will recompense you.”
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to be as the hypocrites, but in the parallel are to be as those who talk with their Father in secret. In ‘b’ they are not to pray openly before men, and in the parallel they are to shut their doors and pray in secret. In ‘c’ the hypocrites desire to be seen of men, and in the parallel the disciples are to enter their inner chambers so as not to be seen of men. In ‘d’ it is made clear that the hypocrite has his reward. People think how wonderful he is and God has no time for him.
“But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber,
And having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret,
And your Father who sees in secret will recompense you.”
But the true disciple when he prays goes into an inner room in his house, probably a store room, where no one will know what he is doing. He wants no credit for what he is doing. Such an idea would not even cross his mind. The ‘inner room’ or ‘store room’ would probably be windowless. Here no one was likely to see him, or even know what he was doing there. Then he closes the door and prays to his Father in secret. And then he can be sure that his Father will hear, for his Father will be there with him ‘in secret’, and it will be clear that his motive is genuine, for otherwise he has nothing to gain from it. And if his prayer is right, his Father will give him what he asks for.
Clearly this was not speaking about public prayers of the right kind. There had to be public prayers in the synagogue, just as there have to be in church, and there was no condemnation in that. What would have been condemned with regard to that was to pray in public in such a way that it was simply putting on an act so as to earn men’s esteem. The one who prays in public as a public responsibility has rather therefore to ensure that he is really concerned to pray to God, and be aware that he is leading others in prayer to God, and praying with that aim, desiring no credit for himself. Once he begins to admire his own prayers (or others begin to declare their admiration of them and he basks in their praise) may God help him, for he will need it.
‘Your Father Who sees in secret.’ The idea is that the presence of God is with them in their secret room, despite it simply being a store room. For here they will enter Heaven (Isaiah 57:15). It may even have indicated the room where valuables were kept, with the idea being that he had in his treasure room found the most precious thing of all. The reward will include the answer to their prayer, as long as the prayer is for something that is within His will, but above all it will mean that they are establishing their relationship with Him. And Jesus will now in fact reveal what kind of thing we should be praying for.
“And in praying do not use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do,
For they think that they will be heard for their much speaking.”
In praying they are not to ‘use vain repetitions.’ This might literally be translated, ‘do not babble’ (but the word is a rare one and its exact meaning is not known). The word is battalogeo. It may reflect the Hebrew word ‘batel’ meaning vain or idle. Or it may reflect the Greek root ‘batt’ meaning ‘stuttering’. Taken with logeo it could therefore mean speaking vainly or idly, or going on and on in a fairly meaningless way. But in compound words as here logein can mean ‘to gather’. Thus it may signify a gathering together of vain or babbling words. The point being made is that prayers that go on and on for their own sake, or are completely repetitive, possibly even including some kind of formulae for persuading the deity to respond, but have no heart in them, will achieve nothing from God. This would include unthinking repetition of prayers by rote, or with a prayer wheel or other aid. It does not, however, discourage the practise of writing out our prayer and laying it before God. It is not a question of method, but of genuineness and motive. Such aimless prayers, says Jesus, achieve nothing. What matters it that the prayer comes from the heart and is genuine, and furthermore that it comes from those whose hearts are right.
The point being made here is that because they are now disciples of Jesus, and have repented and come under the Kingly Rule of God, they can come to God as their Father. Prayer has suddenly become a more vital thing. And no child should see itself as needing to force itself on its father’s attention by constant babbling and endless persistence. Rather the child should be straight and to the point. And that being so, that should also be the approach of the disciples to their a heavenly Father.
The Gentiles, and many Jews also, were seen as knowing no better. They did not know God as their Father in this personal way. They were not in any genuine relationship with Him. Thus they saw God as Someone far off and inaccessible who had to be persuaded and bribed, Someone Who had to be constantly harassed until He gave way. They did think that they could wear God down, or somehow persuade Him to do their will, often by using techniques. For their conception of God was such that they knew no other way to go about it. In contrast the disciple knows that God is now his Father in Heaven, and that he can therefore approach Him as such. He knows that he does not need to speak a lot, and that he does not need to go on and on at God, but that God is ready to listen to him. And he also recognises that He must remember who God is. So he does not rush in with rash words. He remembers that, ‘God is in Heaven, and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
But that is not to say that he does not spend much time in prayer. Jesus Himself certainly did, and He prayed long and hard (Luke 6:12). Nor was He afraid to repeat His essential prayers (Matthew 26:39-44). The difference lay in His purpose in praying, the fullness of heart that lay behind His praying, His readiness to listen, and in what He hoped to achieve. In Jesus’ case the aim was to establish His Father’s will and then to do it. It was in order at all times to maintain close fellowship with His Father. He had not the slight intention of ‘wearing Him down’ or trying to persuade Him against His will, or of ‘getting what He wanted’ by badgering Him. Rather He wanted to spend time with His Father, and discover His will, and do it. And that is what our aim should be too.
How Not To Pray (6:7-9a).
Having gone quietly and secretly into a private room the next question was as to what kind of praying to avoid. The point being made here is that the prayers of most men are useless, and accomplish nothing, simply because when they pray it is not a question of genuinely speaking with God. To them God is just a convenience store. Their aim is simply to get what they want. And they rather think that by repeating themselves and going on and on in prayer they will somehow persuade God to give them what they want. So they ‘babble’ on. They somehow feel that they will earn God’s reply by the length of time that they continue in prayer, and by how often they repeat their request. Their idea is that if they keep it up long enough they will surely eventually have earned a satisfactory reply. They think by such methods to persuade Him to do what they ask. Jesus stresses that His disciples must not think like that at all. For they must remember that they are speaking to a Father Who knows what their needs are before they ask Him, and will cater for them as necessary (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:30).
He is not discouraging long prayers. Only long prayers for the wrong things and with the wrong motive. Long prayers made with the hope of their length somehow persuading God to do something selfish are discouraged, but long prayers of someone whose aim is simply to have loving fellowship with God are a different matter. Once He has made the point He will then go on to point out what they should be praying for all the time.
Analysis of Matthew 6:7-9 a.
a A “And in praying do not use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do,
b B For they think that they will be heard for their much speaking.
c C Do not therefore be like them,
b D For your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him.
a E After this manner therefore pray you.”
Note that in ‘a’ they are to avoid vain repetitions, and in the parallel they are to pray as Jesus shows them to pray. In ‘b’ the non-disciples think that they will be heard because of their constant repetition, and in the parallel the disciples are reminded that such is unnecessary because their Father already knows their needs. In ‘c’ and importantly they are not to be like the Gentiles. Thus while they are to avoid being like the more ostentatious Scribes and Pharisees, it is equally necessary that they do not pray like the Gentiles. Their way of praying must rather be that of a true disciple.
“Do not therefore be like them,
For your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him.
After this manner therefore pray you.”
So they need not think that they should wear down God’s resistance, or try to ensure that He really did know what they wanted by their constant repetition, as though there were any doubt about the situation. Rather they should recognise that even before they begin to pray their Father knows precisely what they need before they ask Him. They are coming to One Who is fully aware of all their circumstances. Their praying should therefore be for the purpose of enjoying being in their Father’s presence, in order to bring glory to Him, and in order to pray for the establishing of His Kingly Rule, the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
The truth is that our aim should not be for personal benefit at all (apart from spiritual benefit, and that kept until the end), for we should be recognising that, if we are walking with Him our Father already knows our personal needs, and has not forgotten them. Our concern therefore should be for His glory, in the happy confidence that He will certainly not neglect our interests. These words very much link up with and parallel Matthew 6:32, indicating that this passage is not just a later insertion, but an essential part of the whole narrative.
This idea of God’s personal care for His own people occurs in a similar way in the Old Testament. The hapless know that they can commit themselves to Him, and He is the helper of the fatherless (Psalms 10:14). In a context of want and hunger, those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing (Psalms 34:10). No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalms 84:11). For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with good (Psalms 107:9). Thus they can look to the Lord as their Shepherd, so that they will lack nothing (Psalms 23:0). And Mary could therefore cry, ‘He fills the hungry with good things, and the rich He sends empty away’ (Luke 1:53). And this is because they seek the Lord, and love Him, not because of the urgency of their prayers for the things in question.
The question here is not whether they pray a set prayer, or whether they pray freely from the heart. What matters is that in either case it is genuinely from the heart. And He now goes on to emphasise this fact by giving them what might be seen as a set pattern of prayer. It was a prayer of such simplicity that it outshone all other prayers of the time, which had a tendency to be rather verbose and complicated. We are so used to the spiritual simplicity of Jesus’ words and teaching, and of this prayer, that we fail to recognise how remarkable it all was. Jesus basically thrust aside all the waffling, and the ostentation, and the complicated theology, and made things available to the common man. That was not to say that there was no profundity behind it. Indeed the full depths of the Lord’s Prayer have yet to be fathomed. But His remarkable ability was to be able to be profound and simple at the same time. Even a child could understand Him, and yet men would grow old in seeking to do so.
But we should note what its emphasis is. It is the prayer of a disciple. Its whole concentration is on the fulfilling and carrying forward of the purposes of God and on the desire to be fitted for that purpose. It does not include a prayer for ‘things’ for the basis of it was that their Father was well aware of their needs for those, and would provide them without their needing to ask (Matthew 6:8; Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:31). It concentrates on what is most important, the fulfilling of God’s will and purpose.
‘After this manner therefore pray you.’ We note here that the prayer is a pattern to follow and not just a prayer to be prayed. Jesus was certainly not saying, ‘just repeat this and you have prayed enough’. He was saying, this is the pattern that you should keep in mind when you pray. And there can be a danger that by simply being repeated by rote it might lose something of its power. On the other hand as long as it is understood it is in fact vibrant with significance.
“May Your Name be set apart as holy.”
This and the following petition closely parallel, but in a far more succint form, the words of an ancient synagogue prayer, “Exalted and hallowed be His great name in the world which He created according to his will. May He rule his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. And to this, say, ‘Amen’.” This too is seeking to ‘hallow’ God’s Name, and is seeking for God to intervene in order to establish His Kingly Rule. But we must remember in making the comparison that Jesus saw things very differently from His contemporaries. Jesus possibly took over the pattern but not necessarily the ideas. They looked to a remote future. He saw God’s Kingly Rule as already breaking in upon men.
So in order that we might consider carefully the fact that although He is our Father we must not be presumptious, our attention is now drawn to His holiness, that is, to the fact that He is distinct from us and ‘set apart’ from all things by what He is, so that to approach Him is a great and exalted privilege which can only be ours when our hearts are right. He is ‘the high and exalted One Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is holy, Who dwells in the high and holy place, with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart on the contrite one’ (Isaiah 57:15).
And our first concern and prayer is therefore to be that both in Heaven and earth His holiness be recognised. It is to long that all creation should know Who and What He is, and honour Him accordingly.
This idea of God’s Name being made holy is found in the Old Testament, from which no doubt Jesus was taking it. The purpose of God’s deliverance of His people was so that they might hallow His Name by obeying His commandments (Leviticus 22:32), and He ‘proclaimed His Name’ before Moses in order to hallow it (Exodus 33:19; compare Deuteronomy 32:3). His holiness was further revealed by His judgment on Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:3); and the whole purpose of the Tabernacle ritual was in order to keep holy His Name (Leviticus 22:2; Leviticus 22:32). Indeed their failure to maintain the holiness of God was the cause of the downfall of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:12; Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51).
In Isaiah 29:23 we are told that Israel will ‘sanctify His Name’ and will thus ‘stand in awe’ of Him when He brings about His deliverance of them, and the result will be that they will come to understanding and will listen to His Instruction. So the prayer ‘may your Name be made holy’ includes this desire that God’s Name might be held in awe, and honoured and worshipped because His people are in awe of Him as a result of what He has done for them. For as we have seen the Name of a person indicates what he essentially is. Thus to ‘set God’s Name apart as holy’ (hallow Him) means to honour what He is fully and without reserve.
It is, however, in Ezekiel that the ‘sanctifying’ (setting apart as holy) of God’s Name by His own action receives a major emphasis (Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 28:22; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 36:23; Ezekiel 39:27). In Ezekiel the idea is again that God will be ‘sanctified’ (totally justified in all eyes and seen to be unique in the goodness, mercy and power), by the deliverance of His people. But this is then especially connected with Him as acting to sanctify His Name. In Ezekiel 36:23 God is seen as declaring, “And I will sanctify (make holy) My great Name which has been profaned among the nations, --- and the nations will know that I am YHWH , says the Lord YHWH, when I will be sanctified (made holy) in you before their eyes --- and I will take you from among the nations --- and I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean -- a new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:23-27). So God is to be ‘made holy’ in the eyes of men by what He accomplishes in salvation and deliverance, in the bringing of righteousness to His people This confirms therefore that ‘hallowed be your Name’ is partly to be seen as a prayer for the pouring out of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27; Isaiah 44:1-5; Joel 2:28-29) and the renewing of the new covenant (Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33) so that God’s unique holiness might be made known. It will be praying that the work that has taken place in the disciples will spread more widely and will take in many more people so that through it God’s Name, as He acts in gracious sovereignty, might be seen to be holy. It is praying that Matthew 3:11 might be fulfilled for many.
And finally His name will be hallowed at the final judgment when all sin is done away and the perfect everlasting Kingdom is established. Then God will be fully known for what He is. Men may see God’s day of judgment as a time of terror and horror. But that is because of what they are. To Heaven it is the time when all will be set right, when wickedness and selfishness will be done away, and when God will become all in all. And that is why His people pray for it and look forward to it (2 Peter 3:12; Revelation 6:10). So by praying ‘may your Name be made holy’ we have these three things in mind, a desire that men may be in awe of Him and give Him the praise due to His Name, a cry that God will act to bring honour to His Name by pouring forth His Holy Spirit in the cleansing and transformation of a people for Himself, and a longing for that day when God will bring about His judgment and will set all to rights (compare Revelation 6:10).
How To Pray - The Lord’s Prayer (6:9-15).
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15 ).
We should note in using the description ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ that this is not to be seen as how the Lord Himself actually prayed, although He no doubt followed much of this pattern in as far as it applied to Him. This was a prayer give by Him to His disciples telling them how they should pray. For instance Jesus would always pray ‘My Father’, for His relationship with His Father was unique. The disciples were always to pray ‘our Father’ for they came as one body together.
This provision of a new prayer stresses that Jesus sees them as a new community. Israel had its united common prayers, repeated constantly in the synagogues, which were mainly based on the Scriptures. John the Baptist had also taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). So Jesus could have pointed to either of those had He simply wished to guide their praying. But He chose not to do so. He instituted a new prayer. And necessarily so for it is a prayer that sees life from a totally new angle. It is based on the new factor that the Messiah was here among them. It was in recognition of the fact that the old prayers would not do for the current occasion. They needed a prayer to be prayed in the light of the fact that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was here. Thus as we look at the Lord’s prayer we should not ask ‘how is it the same as the prayer of others?’ We should ask, ‘in what way does it differ?’
As we consider the prayer we should note how much it is based on Old Testament ideas, including especially those of the Pentateuch. In many ways it could have been prayed by Israel as they were on the verge of deliverance. And some significance might be seen in the fact that Matthew has been implying that in Jesus the original purposes of the Exodus were now being fulfilled. As we saw in Matthew 2:15 Jesus as representing the new Israel has come out of Egypt as God’s Son, just as Israel should have done of old. In chapter 3 the new Israel have passed through the waters of John’s baptism as Israel had passed through the waters of old (compare 1 Corinthians 10:1-2), preparatory to the coming Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 4:17). In chapter 4 Jesus has faced up to temptations in the wilderness and had succeeded where Israel of old had failed. We would therefore now expect an emphasis on the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. For when Moses was originally sent to call Israel out of Egypt (which Jesus in symbolism was now also doing (Matthew 2:15)) it was in order to lead them into the land promised to Abraham (Exodus 3:7-10; Psalms 105:8-11) so that God might there establish His Kingly Rule among them, the Kingly Rule which He had already made real in the wilderness (Exodus 19:6; Exodus 20:1-18; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5; 1 Samuel 8:7, and see Exodus 4:22-23 where Israel as the Lord’s son are compared with Pharaoh’s son; compare also Psalms 22:28; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1-5; Psalms 102:12). Note the threefold aspects of His Kingly Rule in relation to Moses,
Firstly YHWH depicted Himself as in contrast to Pharaoh, (who was also a father), with Israel as YHWH’s firstborn son in contrast with Pharaoh’s (Exodus 4:22).
Secondly as Israel went through the wilderness, with YHWH as their Delieerer and Overlord (Exodus 20:2). YHWH entered into an Overlordship covenant with them establishing them as His people, preparatory to taking over the land.
Thirdly His Kingly Rule was intended to be established in the land promised to their forefathers. This was intended to be a continuing Kingly Rule, until they surrendered His Kingly Rule in favour of an earthly king (1 Samuel 8:7). The result was that it became a future Kingly Rule regularly promised by the prophets, which latter was put in such terms that while the description was earthly (they would at the time have understood no other) in substance it was clearly heavenly. It was to be an everlasting Kingly Rule (Ezekiel 37:25-28; Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:1-9; Daniel 7:14), connected with the destruction of death and with the resurrection of bodies (Isaiah 25:6-8; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2-3).
It is worth at this point considering some of the parallels between the Lord’s Prayer and the Pentateuch:
‘Our Father Who is in Heaven.’ The Exodus hope initially began with YHWH declaring Himself to be the people’s Father. For this Fatherhood compare Exodus 4:22-23 where His Fatherhood is compared to that of Pharaoh with respect to his own son, who was seen as divine; Deuteronomy 14:1 where Israel are stated to be His sons; Deuteronomy 32:5-6 where He is their Father Who created them, made them and established them. For ‘is in Heaven’ compare Genesis 14:19; Genesis 14:22; Genesis 19:24; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 22:11; Genesis 22:15; Genesis 24:3; Genesis 24:7; Exodus 20:22; Deuteronomy 4:36; Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 10:14; Deuteronomy 26:15; Isaiah 63:8; Isaiah 63:19
‘Made holy be Your name.’ See Leviticus 22:32 where they are to hallow His Name by keeping His commandments. See also Exodus 33:19; Deuteronomy 32:3; Leviticus 10:3; Leviticus 22:2; Leviticus 22:32; Numbers 20:12; Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51.
‘Your Kingly Rule come.’ Consider Exodus 19:6; Exodus 20:1-18; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5; 1 Samuel 8:7, and see Exodus 4:22-23 where Israel as the Lord’s son are compared with Pharaoh’s son; compare also Psalms 22:28; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1-5; Psalms 102:12).
‘Your will be done.’ See Exodus 19:8; Exodus 23:22; Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7; Leviticus 26:14-15; Deuteronomy 5:27; Deuteronomy 5:31; Deuteronomy 28:1; and for the Lord doing His will, see Deuteronomy 28:63; Deuteronomy 30:5.
‘Give us today tomorrow’s (or our daily) bread.’ See Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:22-24; Exodus 16:29; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalms 78:23-25, as the Most High; Psalms 105:40; Joshua 5:12.
‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ See Exodus 34:7; Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35; Leviticus 5:10; Leviticus 5:13; Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 5:18; Leviticus 6:7; Leviticus 19:22; Numbers 14:19; Numbers 15:25-28; Nehemiah 9:17; 1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:34; 1 Kings 8:36; 1 Kings 8:39; Psalms 32:1; Psalms 85:2; Psalms 86:5; Psalms 103:3; Psalms 130:4; Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 36:3.
‘Do not bring us into testing.’ See Exodus 15:25; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:22; Numbers 20:13; Numbers 21:5-6; Deuteronomy 6:16; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:16; Deuteronomy 28:32; Psalms 95:7-11; compare 1 Corinthians 10:9; Hebrews 3:7-11.
‘Deliver us from evil.’ See Exodus 3:8; Exodus 14:30; Deuteronomy 23:14; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 18:17; Psalms 18:19; Psalms 18:43; Psalms 18:48; Psalms 34:17; Psalms 37:40; Psalms 50:15; Psalms 54:7 and often; Isaiah 49:24-25.
The aspects of God being ‘in Heaven’ and of forgiveness being available to men are also prominent in Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:27; 1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:32; 1 Kings 8:34; 1 Kings 8:36; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Kings 8:50. So Jesus is making clear that He has come so that through His disciples He might fulfil all the hopes of the Old Testament, that is, that He might ‘fulfil the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 5:17).
And the prayer also indicates the way of salvation for each one of them. It is by recognising Who He is that they will come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and will then begin to do His will, recognising Him as the One in Heaven. This is summarised in Matthew 7:22, ‘not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” will enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’. Thus by praying this prayer they are praying for God’s salvation to reach out to the world.
The prayer given here is to some extent paralleled in Luke 11:1-4. But in Luke it was given in response to an off the cuff request to be taught how to pray. Jesus therefore there gave them a briefer answer covering a number of essentials. He gave them pointers. Here in Matthew the prayer has to some extent been smoothed out and slightly extended, even though its simplicity, brevity and overall pattern have all been retained. The obvious conclusion from this is that the difference in form here is due to the fact that Jesus had by this time had plenty of time to put it together in a more patterned and rounded form. Even practically speaking it is hardly likely that Jesus would have been satisfied with leaving them with an incomplete pattern.
Both forms betray their Aramaic background, but given the smallness of the scope there are sufficient differences between them to demonstrate that they are not simply different renderings of the same source, in spite of the attempts to demonstrate otherwise. Had both been citing the same source there is simply no reason why some of the changes in question should have been made. Such attempts are, of course, always highly speculative anyway, in spite sometimes of the credentials of those who suggest them, and they are rarely compelling (providing plenty of scope for scholars to exercise their talents and disagree with each other). However, one good thing about them is that they do help us to think more carefully about what we read. But they should on the whole never be taken too seriously. They are largely speculation.
(They are not quite as speculative, however, as those who invent out of nothing a whole community and thus unnecessarily deny to Jesus the credit for the completed prayer. For in fact this prayer is clearly Jesus’ work. Its simplicity and genius bear His hallmark. Once men got to work on it, it would have been expanded until it became unrecognisable. That was the tendency of the age. It remained simple precisely because they were acknowledged to be His unchangeable words).
The length of time over which Jesus’ ministry lasted is against the constant suggestions that the sources for Jesus words were as few as is often suggested, so that any coincidence between sayings is to be seen as indicating only one source. Those who had memorised much of what He said, or had even taken notes, would have a number of varieties of similar teaching given by Him at various times and in different contexts, as Jesus repeated the same truths in slightly different ways, in order to ram them home to the memory, while inducing those who heard them to think. Different Apostles, for example, would have remembered different things, and it must be seen as certain that some who came as disciples in order to learn, no doubt with instructions from others to keep a record of His words so as to take them back to others, would indeed keep some kind of record of them, as Luke seems to confirm. And Matthew and Luke probably spoke with many such people, and then confirmed their words with the others who would then call them back to memory. We are probably therefore to see Matthew and Luke as presenting two different forms of what Jesus established as a pattern for prayer, two forms given by Jesus on two different occasions. As with the beatitudes, Luke’s source is more craggy, Matthew’s is more rounded, the latter probably bringing out how Jesus’ ministry had to some extent mellowed and developed.
We must first attempt to see the prayer as a whole. There is a beautiful balance to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew which contrasts vividly with the cragginess of it in Luke. The one is the rough outline giving indicators, the other the polished final result, and in the latter each final phrase has its antecedent. Possibly we may make this clear by presenting it in this way:
Our Father the One Who is in Heaven, Be hallowed Your Name, Come Your Kingly Rule, Be done Your will as in Heaven so on earth. Our bread for tomorrow give to us today, And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, And do not lead us into testing but deliver us from evil (or the Evil One). Note how, having begun with the idea of God as Father over the new community, it continues with Him in Heaven where their Father reigns (Psalms 29:10; Psalms 103:19; Isaiah 6:1). Then by means of a trilogy it emphasises the coming of their Father in Heaven down to earth, as they call on God to bring about His plan of taking over in the world (Psalms 2:8-9; Psalms 22:27-31; Psalms 110:1-6); He is called on to act to hallow His Name on earth (Ezekiel 36:23-28), to bring about His Kingly Rule on earth (Psalms 22:28; Psalms 47:2-3; Psalms 103:19; Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 45:22-23; Zechariah 14:9; see also Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 30:7-11; Ezekiel 34:24; Ezekiel 37:22-28; Hosea 3:4-5), and to bring about the doing of His will on earth (Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 30:11; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 37:23-24), in precisely the same way as is true in Heaven where He is Lord of all.
He is to come in the same way as a great Conqueror goes out to regain territory of his, that has been usurped (Isaiah 59:16-20), in order to restore the honour of his name, to establish his rule and to ensure that his will is put into effect. And all these three aims are then also seen as following the pattern of what is true in Heaven where He reigns as their Father. For in Heaven His Name is hallowed, He rules in complete unanimity, and His will is done. And that is what must also be the aim on earth in the establishing of His Kingly Rule.
Thus ‘the One in Heaven’ is not just to be seen as indicating a Jewish way of protecting the Name of the Father from presumption, it is very much a reminder of the contrast between Heaven and earth, and of the need for the new community to be involved in heavenly things, ‘as in Heaven, so on earth’. The words are there because their Father in Heaven wants them to introduce Heaven to earth.
Then follow the disciples’ prayers with this in mind. They are to pray for heavenly (Messianic) food to sustain them on the way, they are to pray for the forgiveness of the load of debt that they continually owe to God because of their daily sins, so that it will be constantly removed, and this against a background of themselves revealing to others the forgiveness that has come from Heaven (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48), and they are to pray that they may not be involved in the judgments that are coming on the world, but may be delivered from all evil (and from the Evil One) as they go about their mission. All these are things are seen to be very necessary when God begins to act on earth. They need to be fed by Him with the Messianic food (Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:10; Jeremiah 3:15; Jeremiah 23:4; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 34:13-15; Ezekiel 34:23; Micah 5:4; John 6:27-63), they need to be forgiven by Him with the Messianic forgiveness (1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:34, etc.; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 37:23), and they need to be preserved by Him from the Messianic judgments (e.g. Isaiah 2:10-21; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 24:13; and often) so that they can be involved in His work of establishing His Kingly Rule. In each case what follows is then particularly pertinent. They not only need Tomorrow’s food, they need it ‘today’ (see below), they are in a position to receive forgiveness because they have shown themselves to be Messiah’s people by the demonstration that they have a new heart, something revealed by their being willing to forgive others. And in avoiding divine testing on a rebellious world, they especially need deliverance from all the evils coming on the world, including what will come on them from the Evil One, who will run rampant in Messiah’s day, and whose kingly rule Jesus, and they with Him, have decisively rejected (Matthew 4:10).
The prayer may also be seen as naturally falling into two threefold divisions following an opening appeal to their Father in Heaven. The concentration of the first part is then on God being glorified by what happens on earth through the activity of His true people. Through them His Name will be held in awe (for His Name compare Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39; Matthew 28:19 and see Matthew 7:22; Matthew 10:22; Matthew 18:5; Matthew 18:20. Matthew 19:29; Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:9), His royal power will be revealed, and a light will shine in the world (Matthew 5:16). The concentration of the second part is on their being made fit to have their part in that work, revealing how His people will be established. Jesus’ assumption in the prayer is that what is prayed for here will be the thing that is of most concern to His disciples and His people. It indicates the mindset that should be theirs.
In view of this we do not have to choose between whether it is to be seen as considering on the one hand the contemporary situation, or on the other the eschatological. It is to be seen as both contemporary and eschatological, for that is how the disciples would undoubtedly have seen it. They would have seen it as referring both very much to day by day life, and at the same time to the eschatological future that was breaking in on them. For to them the two were combined. John had made that clear. The time of the Coming One and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and fire was here. The Kingly Rule of Heaven was upon them, and they were very much aware that they were now in the days of the Coming One, ‘the last days’, because the King had come and ‘the end of the ages’ had come upon them (1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 4:7). As far as the disciples were concerned they were in ‘the last days’ (Acts 2:17; compare Hebrews 1:2). To them therefore the prayer was both eschatological and contemporary. (Scripturally we too are in ‘the last days’ and the ‘last day’ prophecies are even now in process of fulfilment. It is simply that God’s time scale is a little different from ours, as Peter will later point out (2 Peter 3:8-9)).
However, while the prayer must clearly be seen as a part of the call to action contained in the Sermon, and as encouraging the programme that they are to follow, it does not, of course, forbid wider praying. We have, for one thing, also to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). It is assuredly, however, an indication that the concerns expressed in the prayer are what should be the central thoughts in our praying. And we should certainly not be spending too much time in praying for what will in the end simply pass away. Our concentration should rather be on preparation for the end of the age, and expanding the work of God. And Jesus could well have added, ‘For we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen. Because the things which are seen are temporary and temporal, the things which are unseen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18). But instead He emphasised the new world which He was introducing, a world where men forgave each other when they repented (Matthew 6:14-15).
Analysis of Matthew 6:9-15 .
(The capital letters in the Analysis continue on the series from Matthew 6:7 b onwards).
a F Our Father who is in heaven,
b F May Your Name be set apart as holy,
c F May Your Kingly Rule come,
d F May Your will be done,
e F As in heaven, so on earth,
d F Give us this day our tomorrow’s bread,
c F And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,
b F And bring us not into testing, but deliver us from the Evil One.
a G For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
a G But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Note that in ‘a’ the prayer is to their Father in Heaven, and in the parallel is on what their Father in Heaven will or will not do for them. In ‘b’ they pray that their Father’s Name might be ‘set apart’ as holy (by what happens in and through them) and in the parallel that they might be set apart by Him from evil and the Evil One. In ‘c’ the prayer is for the coming of the Kingly Rule of God on earth, and in the parallel this includes the forgiveness of their failure in the past to observe His Kingly Rule and give Him what was His due, and the revealing of that Kingly Rule in their hearts by their being forgiving. In ‘d’ they pray for His will to be done, and in the parallel His will is done in the provision of their deepest physical (daily bread) or spiritual needs (Tomorrow’s bread). And centrally in ‘e’ all this is to be achieved on earth as well as in Heaven.
Before we look at the prayer in more depth we should perhaps consider it as a whole, and as we do so we learn how to pray. It commences with a simple but profound description of God. This is not just to be seen as an introductory formula with little more meaning than ‘dear sir’. It is a reminder that as we approach Him we must consider the very nature of the One Whom we are approaching. For before we do anything else at prayer we need to get this sorted out. It is only as we do so that our prayers will follow the right course.
Our Father Who is in Heaven’. A pattern Jewish Father was both authoritative and loving. His children would be aware that he would welcome them but also that they must not treat him lightly. So as their Father God too must be respected as such. Honouring father and mother was basic to God’s covenant. And this would especially be so with the ‘Father in Heaven’. ‘He is in Heaven and we are on the earth’. Thus Jesus point is that they must approach Him in ‘awed love’, in godly fear. It must be done remembering Who He is, and yet aware that, if our hearts are right, we are welcome in His presence as His sons.
Our next concern is to be the glory of God, ‘May your Name be made holy’. To the Jew the name represented what a person was, and to them therefore God’s Name indicated His essence. That He is God and there is no other like Him. And to ‘make holy’ meant to set apart to a sacred purpose. So here our intention is to be to express the desire that all in Heaven and earth (Matthew 6:10) should be made aware of the remarkable nature and being of God, and should remember Who He is and honour Him accordingly. The point is that they should set Him apart as sacred in their hearts.
It is a reminder to us again that although He is our heavenly Father, the prototype of all fatherhood (Ephesians 3:15), He is not to be treated lightly, and that therefore we should be constantly concerned for the honour of His Name. As we pray this we are still rightly adjusting ourselves to the idea of Who it is Whom we are approaching. We may remember again the words of Ecclesiastes 5:2, ‘God is in Heaven and we are on the earth, and therefore let our words be few’. For this is something that as we enter His ‘experienced presence’ we must never forget. Yet we have now moved from contemplation to beginning to pray, for we are praying for His holiness to be revealed by His activity on earth. That is one essential way in which His Name will be hallowed (Ezekiel 36:23).
Then following that our prayer should be that He might be established in His authority over men, ‘may your Kingly Rule come’. We are still meditating on God as King over all, but we are also praying. And yet our prayer is still concentrated on our desire for God to be all in all. We are demonstrating our longing that He should have His rightful place, and be acknowledged as Lord of all.
So in a few short words Jesus has summed up the honour due to His Father, without diminishing it a jot. And we should note that it is only now, having reminded ourselves of all these things, that we turn our thoughts to the world, and what it should be doing, and even then it is not in order to obtain what we want for ourselves, it is out of concern that men might do His will, as it is done in Heaven. So for the first half of our prayer, God and His glory is still to be the centre of our thinking. And in the prayer we will now pray that what we have learned, and will learn, from the Sermon on the Mount, might be the basis on which men live in order that His honour might be upheld. ‘May your will be done.’ For the aim of that Sermon is that His will might be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 7:13-29).
And then having appreciated our Father’s presence, and having ensured that our hopes and aims are allied with His, we can go on to pray that we might be aligned with His purposes, and might ourselves be what He wants us to be, by recognising that our sustenance must come from Him, by admitting our own failure and seeking forgiveness for it, on the basis that as His disciples we are forgiving of others, and by being delivered from all evil, including the Evil One himself. We can sum it up as continual dependence, continuing cleansing, and continuing confidence in His saving power. Our prayer is thus that we might be wholly His, and as such, aligned with His will, and fashioned by Him.
“May Your Kingly Rule come.”
Unless we are to see these three prayers that make up the first part of the Lord’s Prayer as totally independent of each other, and as having different time references, this must be seen as including the prayer that the Kingly Rule of Heaven might begin to come on earth within the experience of the disciples who were then listening to His words, for it follows the desire to hallow His Name as described above, and it precedes the request for the doing of God’s will on earth (and the prayer in Luke 11:1-4 omitted the latter because it was seen as having already been said in the previous two requests). Furthermore, as a primary emphasis in respect of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in Matthew (and the total emphasis in respect of the Kingly Rule of God) is on its being experienced and spreading in the present this is what we would expect (see for this The Coming of the King and His Kingly Rule in the introduction). This is thus not just a pious hope that God’s everlasting Kingly Rule will come about in the eternal kingdom, or even a yearning for that situation to come about, looking at things at a distance, in a kind of passive way, as the Scribes and Pharisees did. This is a recognition that the Kingly Rule of God has already begun to exert its power on men and women as revealed in chapter 13, and a prayer that that will be effective, and will continue to come, in order that then it might lead on to the establishment of the everlasting Kingly Rule of God, when all will own His sway (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10). Both ideas are intrinsic within it. Note especially how the establishment of His Kingly Rule in this way is connected both with the offer of salvation (Isaiah 45:22) and His word going forth in righteousness (Isaiah 45:23).
Thus it is a cry for His Kingly Rule, which is already established in Heaven (Psalms 103:19), to break through on earth (Psalms 22:28; LXX Matthew 21:29 tou Kuriou he basileia), so that some on earth may become a part of Heaven (Isaiah 57:15; Philippians 3:20; Ephesians 2:6). For ‘His Kingly Rule reigns over all’ (Psalms 103:19, LXX Psalms 102:19 he basileia autou). Indeed the suffering of God’s king is to lead on to the kingship becoming the Lord’s (Psalms 22:12-18 with Psalms 22:28; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). It is a call for His people to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) as they await and participate in the establishment of the Kingly Rule of the righteous Branch, the Messiah Who will make real to them ‘the Lord their righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23:5-6, He will ‘reign as king’ - LXX basileuo basileus). It is a cry for His deliverance and righteousness to be revealed with power in such a way as to effectively work on earth in the saving of men and women in the forming of the new Israel, as a fulfilment of the Isaianic promises. God had promised, ‘I will bring near My righteousness --- and My salvation will not delay, and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory’ (Isaiah 46:13; see also Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 51:8; Isaiah 56:1), which would result in the establishment of His righteous King (Isaiah 11:1-4), and that is what is being sought here. It is a prayer that God’s Kingly Rule may spread effectively and powerfully and possess the lives of men and women on earth today, in the way that is described in chapter 13 and elsewhere, so that God’s glory may be seen on earth, although certainly then leading on to its final fulfilment following the judgment, as indeed it also does in chapter 13.
For before there can possibly be an everlasting Kingship there must first be a conquest on earth in the name of the Messiah (Matthew 28:19-20) which will then subsequently result in His final everlasting Kingly Rule being established, with that in itself handed over to the fullness of the Godhead at the consummation (1 Corinthians 15:24). It is thus a prayer for the establishment of the Messianic reign by the power of God as they go forward to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), that He and they might reign on the earth under God’s Kingly Rule (Matthew 19:28; Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 5:17; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 5:10) in preparation for their being carried up into Heaven (Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) as already under His Kingly Rule (Colossians 1:13), and that they may be citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), a situation which is potentially theirs (Ephesians 2:6). It is a prayer that God will fulfil His purposes on earth and bring glory to His Name and to the Name of Jesus, as the world is brought under His sway, something which will then finally result in His perfect everlasting Rule in Heaven. Thus it is the Kingly Rule of God for which the prophets longed and waited (Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 33:22; Isaiah 52:7) which would come about through His Chosen One (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Isaiah 32:1-4; Isaiah 42:1-4; Ezekiel 37:24-28; Daniel 7:14), which would be gradually established on earth in the new Israel (Matthew 13:1-52), as a result of the activities of His disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and consummated in Heaven in the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22).
Matthew 6:10 b
“May Your will be done.”
This petition is then a continuation of the same prayer as the previous one, but seen from the point of view, not only of God’s activity (‘bring about the doing of Your will’), but of men’s response (‘let them do your will’), and put in more basic terms. It has very much in mind how Jesus will close the Sermon, emphasising the doing of the will of God (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:24-25). ‘Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter under the Kingly Rule of God, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). It is thus a prayer that God will work in men’s hearts and minds and wills in such a way that they will ‘will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13), and that that may be accomplished in order that God’s will might be done on earth and be seen to be done. It is a prayer that what Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 7:13-27 might become a reality for His disciples.
But we must here solemnly keep in mind also Matthew 26:42 where we have similar words, ‘Your will be done’. For there we have the reminder that His will also comes about through suffering, and especially through the suffering of His Son. Thus by this prayer, quite unknowingly, they will be praying for the successful carrying through of His crucifixion in the will of God, and of their own persecution as they filled up what was ‘lacking’ in the sufferings of Christ (the sufferings of His body as His witnesses). As can be seen it is no light thing to pray for the doing of His will. This may therefore be seen as very much leading up to the prayer not to be brought into the trials that the world will have to face but to be delivered from evil and the Evil One. For while triumphant, it carries within it the idea of the persecution and martyrdoms that lay ahead.
It is interesting that this last petition is not found in the initial giving of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:1-4. It is surely therefore to be seen as a clarifying and expanding on the previous two requests so as to make their meaning unmistakable, and attach them firmly to the present time, precisely because Jesus did not want men just to project them into a distant future. In reviewing the prayer He had Himself seen the danger that this might occur.
(If this were not so we would be suggesting that in His Lucan prayer Jesus had not been much concerned about the current doing of His will on earth but had only been interested in the more distant future, something which does not in fact tie in with the second part of the prayer which very much has in mind the present. Thus the second part of the prayer would then lack anything to tie itself to in the first part of the prayer).
Matthew 6:10 c
“As in heaven, so (kai) on earth.”
And as we pray this we are to do so remembering the perfect pattern of obedience. For Heaven is the place where all race to do His bidding, where there is no thought of disobedience to His will, where there is not a whiff of dissent. Once men are there they do not question His will, for they are in a place where God’s will is all. So in Heaven they do not obey Him because they are in subservience and dare not disobey, but because they recognise that what He requires is wholly right (Revelation 5:13). They therefore delight to do His will.
This reminds us how much easier our lives would be if only we would take time to live in the light of Heaven. And that is in fact what Scripture constantly exhorts us to do, for we are to recognise that we have been seated at His right hand in the heavenly place, and that we have been made citizens of Heaven, and are therefore to set our minds on things above where Christ is enthroned at the right hand of God (Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-3), recognising at the same time that all things are open to the eyes of Whom we have to do, whether in earth or in Heaven ( Hebrews 4:13; compare 1 John 1:7). Compare again the promises attaching to Matthew 5:3-12, and see Matthew 6:20. But instead we allow the distractions of this world to take our eyes off our heavenly heritage, and, before we know where we are, we find ourselves once more engaged in disobedience, and ‘the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things, choke the word and it becomes unfruitful’. This can even happen to some extent in a Christian when he takes his eyes off things above. Here therefore Jesus seeks to turn our thoughts in prayer back to our spiritual home. We are to make Heaven our pattern and our home. We are to be homesick for Heaven, and in the light of it ever active on earth.
Note the use of ‘kai’. Kai is a loose and indefinite conjunction, which makes a connection but without emphasising how. Often it is almost redundant. Among other possibilities it can thus be translated as ‘and’ or ‘so’ or ‘even’ (‘that is to say’). A good rule that has been suggested is that its significance should always be understated so as to add as little as possible to the meaning of a sentence. Here that would support the translation ‘so’. ‘On earth as in Heaven’ conveys the right meaning.
But, as we have seen above, the pattern of the prayer suggests that this additional phrase should be seen as applying to all three of the previous petitions, for in Heaven His name is hallowed, in Heaven His rule is unquestioned, and in Heaven His will is done with alacrity and delight. Indeed a major emphasis in the Old Testament is that the Lord already reigns in Heaven. He is the King Who sits above the flood (Psalms 29:10) as King over all the earth (Psalms 47:2). He is high and lifted up and seated on a throne surveying the situation on earth (Isaiah 6:1; Psalms 53:2). It is there in Heaven that His Kingly Rule (LXX he basileai autou) is established (Psalms 103:19). And this Kingly Rule is the Lord’s so that He might rule over the nations (Psalms 22:28). Thus it is right and Scriptural that His disciples should pray, ‘Your Kingly Rule come, as in Heaven so on earth’.
The significance of ‘Heaven’ here must clearly be that it represents the ‘place’ where God dwells with His heavenly hosts, for that is where He is hallowed, where He reigns, and where His will is done without question.
A Change in Focus.
Up to this point the whole prayer has centred on God and His will. The emphasis has been on ‘Your -- Your -- Your’. And rightly so for this should ever be the focal point of discipleship. But now there is a sudden change, for from this point on the focus is on ‘us -- us -- us’, not in any sense of thinking mainly of ourselves, but having in mind our dependence on Him and our need for His constant help if we are to have the ability to fulfil His commands and do His will. In the light of what we have prayed for in the exalting of His Name, and the establishing of His Rule, and the doing of His will, we are now to seek the means by which we may ourselves have our part in it. This in itself confirms that the first part of the prayer very much refers to the position as it is found on earth. It is that which they need help in facing.
We have suggested in the chiasmus above a parallelism in inverted form between the prayers concerning the performing of His will, and these spiritual requests that now follow, and that still holds, but as regularly in this Sermon they may also be seen from another angle. For the giving of their ‘tomorrow’s bread’ (see below) ties in well with His hallowing of His Name by sending His Holy Spirit to feed their hearts (Ezekiel 36:23-27), the coming of His Kingly Rule very much involves the forgiveness of those who come under that Kingly Rule, (they could not be under His Kingly Rule without its continual provision), and the doing of His will, (and even more so in so far as it leads to suffering), necessarily requires deliverance from trials and from evil and the Evil One.
There are two ways of looking at this part of the prayer depending partly on the significance we place on the first petition. The first is to see the petitions as involving the recognition of:
A continual requirement for physical provisioning, ‘give us today our bread for today’ (or ‘sufficient for today’).
A continual requirement for spiritual restoration, ‘forgive us what we owe to you for failing to do your will’.
A continuing need of both physical and spiritual protection, ‘lead us not into testing, but deliver us from evil and the Evil One’.
But note that on this interpretation there is lacking here any idea of a request for positive spiritual good and sustenance. In a sense they would seem to be praying, ‘Lord, somehow keep us going’, rather than, ‘Lord make us strong to do your will’.
Alternatively we may see all three as referring to Messianic provision; a continual requirement for spiritual sustenance, for spiritual bread (‘Tomorrow’s bread’), that is, to partake of Christ and His words (Matthew 4:4) as the bread of life (John 6:35), followed by a continual requirement for spiritual forgiveness, and spiritual protection. But either way we should note that unlike the previous three petitions these three are connected by the word ‘and’. It is a reminder that all three are necessary together. It is not a question of one or the other.
Having this in mind let us therefore consider them in more detail, .
‘Give us this day our tomorrow’s (epiousion) bread.’
How the significance of this petition depends very much on the meaning of ‘epiousion’. The problem is that this word is otherwise unknown to us prior to the date of this Sermon, and is rarely found, if at all in secular literature, certainly not as meaning ‘daily’. Nor are we helped much by Luke’s present imperative followed by ‘kath hemeron’, ‘Give us day by day our daily/tomorrow’s (epiousion) bread’. We may well ask in this case, why, if Jesus meant physical food, He did not simply repeat the idea of ‘today’, or why in fact the translater into Greek did not make it clear? In Luke especially ‘daily’ would have been so easy to say.
This is further accentuated by the fact that Jerome (c. 342-420 AD) tells us that in the lost Aramaic Gospel of the Nazarenes the term mahar, which means ‘tomorrow’, appears at this place in the Lord’s prayer, which suggests therefore that the reference is to bread “for tomorrow”. The Gospel of the Nazarenes was not, of course, as old as our first three Gospels. Rather it depended on our Gospel of Matthew. But the Aramaic wording of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of the Nazarenes (“bread for tomorrow”) must surely be seen as representing the ancient form of the prayer in Aramaic, and therefore in that regard as older than the Gospel of the Nazarenes itself, and older even than our Gospels. For in first-century Palestine the Lord’s Prayer would almost certainly have been prayed constantly by Aramaic-speaking Christians in an uninterrupted Aramaic form, right from the time when the words were first taught by Jesus, so that a person translating the gospel of Matthew into Aramaic would undoubtedly translate the Lord’s Prayer in terms of the original Aramaic which they knew to be the Lord’s words, especially if there was any ambiguity or doubt as to the meaning of the Greek word. Thus when the translator of Matthew into Aramaic came to Matthew 6:9-13, he would naturally write the prayer down in the way that he knew that it was prayed day by day by Aramaic-speaking Christians, as it had been through the years. In other words, the Aramaic-speaking Jewish-Christians, among whom the Lord’s Prayer lived on in its original Aramaic wording in unbroken usage from the days of Jesus first giving of the prayer, prayed, “Our bread for tomorrow give us today.”
Jerome also tells us that, “In the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews --- I found mahar, which means ‘for tomorrow,’ so that the sense is, ‘Our bread for tomorrow that is, our future bread -- give us today.’ ”
It has therefore been suggested that in mind here is the provision in Exodus 16:22; Exodus 16:29 where on the sixth day they were given not only sufficient for the sixth day but also bread ‘for the morrow’, that is, ‘for the Sabbath’, with the Sabbath then seen, as it often is, as the coming (and now come in Jesus) Messianic age. This provision of ‘bread from Heaven’ by Moses was probably expected to be repeated by the Messiah (see John 6:30-31). And to this Jesus replied that His Father was giving them the true bread from Heaven in the giving of Himself.
So the best explanation for this reference to “tomorrow” is probably that it refers to the great ‘Tomorrow’ as anticipated by the Jews, the bread that they would eat at Messiah’s table at the Messianic Banquet at the coming great Sabbath rest. That would not exclude the idea of their receiving their physical ‘bread’ from their heavenly Father as well as their spiritual bread, for such Messianic provision was also expected, but it would seem to encourage the idea that, either way, they are to be seen as receiving not just physical food but God’s Messianic provision of blessing in every way. And this is brought out even more emphatically in Luke where the prayer is preceded by Jesus receiving food at the house of Martha and Mary, at which point He specifically directs Martha’s attention to the greater importance of spiritual food by listening to His words (Luke 10:38-42), and is followed by a parable which uses ‘bread’ as a picture of the need to pray for the ‘good things’ that their heavenly Father has for his children, including the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:5-13). And this is especially so in view of the fact that in the sermon Jesus will shortly stress that their eyes are to be Heavenward rather than earthward (Matthew 6:20).
Three facts very much favour this interpretation. The first is the emphasis that Jesus has laid on their Father already knowing their physical needs (Matthew 6:8). This brings out the fact that they are therefore not to be anxious about food and clothing (Matthew 6:5), because God is the great Provider, providing such things to His creatures without any need for prayer. And this is then underlined by the fact that that is precisely the kind of things that the Gentiles do seek when they pray (Matthew 6:32), an example which they are not to follow (Matthew 6:31). It would seem strange then if physical bread were to be made their first request in the Lord’s prayer. While if this prayer was for Messianic provision, including both physical and spiritual, it is perfectly explicable. Such provision would be seen as a special promise of God (e.g. Isaiah 25:6) and would only be available for those who are His.
The second is that what they are rather to be ‘anxious about’ is the Kingly Rule of God and His righteous deliverance (Matthew 6:33). It is those things which they are to seek. And while this idea may certainly be seen as in mind in their being forgiven and in their being kept from evil, we see at once that there is no request in the second part of the prayer concerning their need for positive strengthening or positive righteousness. Was Jesus really saying that apart from food, all that they needed was forgiveness and protection from evil? That is a very negative way of seeing the Christian life.
The third is that there can be no question but that Jesus does constantly very much emphasise their positive need for spiritual bread, in contrast with physical bread. In His temptation in Matthew 4:4 He had declared that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Given Luke’s clear connection of the Lord’s prayer with spiritual bread in Matthew 10:38 to Matthew 11:13 (even putting it in a bread sandwich) that must surely be seen as significant. Furthermore He then asks in Matthew 7:9 what father will give a stone to a son who asks for bread, and refers it to the ‘good things’ of the Messianic age which will be given to them by their heavenly Father (compare in Luke where the good things specifically refer to ‘the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 11:13). Note especially how on both occasions when He gives the prayer to His disciples He follows it up with this need to ask for spiritual benefits (Matthew 7:7-12; Luke 11:5-13), spiritual benefits which are not actually otherwise included in His model prayer, and yet are spoken of in terms of bread. It strongly suggests therefore that the bread that He has in mind in the prayer refers to the blessings of the Messianic age into which they have now entered so that they can enjoy ‘Tomorrow’s bread’, that is the blessings seen by Israel as coming in the great Tomorrow.
References to the spiritual significance of bread can be multiplied. In Matthew 15:26 the ‘bread’ for the children signifies Scriptural truth, in Matthew 16:5; Matthew 16:7-8; Matthew 16:11-12 where the disciples make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is speaking of physical bread He points out that He means ‘the leaven (teaching) of the Scribes and Pharisees. And finally in Matthew 26:26, while there is certainly physical bread in mind, it is as a picture of the Lord’s body which will be given for them. So in all such cases where He speaks of bread He has in mind spiritual bread.
And greater weight can be added to this argument when we consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke and John. Indeed in the very context of their not seeking physical bread (Luke 12:22-34) Jesus immediately describes how when He comes again He will sit His disciples down to eat meat and He will serve them (Matthew 12:37). But the idea is not really of a great party where Jesus will act as servant and indulge their appetites. It is rather a promise of the great blessings that He will pour on them in that Day, and as a lesson in humility. In all His provision for us God is acting as our Servant, for the point is that He not only makes the gifts, but also applies them Himself. And the portion of food that the unfaithful servant was supposed to give to his fellow-servants, and failed to give (Matthew 12:42), was surely more than just bread. The point behind the descriptions was that the servants appointed by God had failed to provide His people with what they needed in their spiritual lives. Furthermore the Pharisee who said, ‘Blessed is he who will eat bread in the Kingly Rule of God’ (Matthew 14:15) is unquestionably thinking of Messianic blessings, and Jesus follows it up with the parable of the Great Supper, which surely has in mind more than just physical bread, as in fact does the feeding of the five thousand (and the four thousand) which while it involved physical bread was pointing to something greater (John 6:35). The Kingly Rule of God might often be depicted in terms of bread, but surely more than that was regularly intended. And while the husks, bread and dainties of the parable of the prodigal son were very real (if fiction can be real) what they really represented in the interpretation of the parable was spiritual food. So the disciples were aware that when Jesus spoke of bread they must regularly recognise that He meant spiritual bread. And when we come to John we have the well known picture of Jesus as the bread of life, which will take away the hunger (and thirst) of men and women (John 6:35). For the one who eats of that bread will live for ever, for it is His flesh which He will give for the life of the world (John 6:51). And He then goes on to point out that they must therefore feed on Him. More could be added but we think that we have said enough.
But it may be asked, if that was the meaning why did Jesus not make it clearer? Why have Christians down the ages seen it as referring to physical bread? One answer to that is in fact that it is not true. In the early church that we do know about it was seen as referring to spiritual bread, and in fact mainly to the bread at the Lord’s Supper. Indeed the whole prayer was probably reserved for use within the fellowship, especially at the Lord’s Table, and not expected to be used by those who were not accepted members of their spiritual community. Interpreting it of the Lord’s Supper is probably too narrow an interpretation, unless widely expanded on, although it was certainly understandable. It is the ideas behind the Lord’s Supper that are in mind. However, in fairness it should be pointed out that the more enlightened preachers did make clear that the Lord’s Supper was a picture of great spiritual blessing available to His people. Thus the bread indicates the fullness of the blessings of Christ. It may be seen as rather the later pedantic interpreters who turned it into a request solely for physical bread, and that because the Lord’s prayer became the common lot of men who only thought in terms of physical benefit, although it was also possibly as a reaction against the misuse of the bread and wine by the mediaeval church.
What it does seem rather to signify is all the blessings, both physical and spiritual, which were to come to them because they belonged to the Messiah. It signified the full provisioning of both body and soul as Messiah’s people, both the Messianic banquet and the Messianic blessing. It is ‘Tomorrow’s bread’ available ‘today’ for those who are His. So what they are to pray is, ‘Father in Heaven, we are Messiah’s people, grant us Messianic provision.’ Compare Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:10; Jeremiah 3:15; Jeremiah 23:4; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 34:13-15; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 36:29-30; Micah 5:4; Psalms 23:2-3; Psalms 23:5.
So yes it does include a promise that God will provide His people, as Messiah’s people, with what they physically need, and that they can therefore ask Him for it with confidence, but it is not in the way in which the world asks for it. It is asked of Him by Messiah’s people, and expected by them to be provided for them by their Father, because they are within His favour, and as part of a far more abundant provision in spiritual power and blessing. It signifies all that they need which can be found in Him, food for body and soul, and not just physical bread, which for most people should in fact be the last thought on their minds (Matthew 6:33). It is praying, ‘Father, feed us body and soul with all the Messianic blessedness’, with Your word that is better than bread (Matthew 4:4), with the righteousness which You will pour down from above (Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 32:15-18) for which we are to hunger and thirst (Matthew 5:6), and we may possibly add, especially with what is expressed in the beatitudes.
‘And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors’.
‘Forgive us our debts.’ The meaning of this petition, as Luke specifically brings out, is that we are to pray for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 11:4). The Jews saw sin as being a debt owed to God. They rightly saw it as a failure to give Him His due. Thus the Aramaic word for debts came also to mean sins, and this idea is regularly found in the Targums (Aramaic translations or paraphrases of the Hebrew text for the benefit of Aramaic-speaking worshippers who lacked a knowledge of Hebrew). That is why Luke translates whatever the Aramaic word was as ‘sins’ (Luke 11:4).
Luke, however, then goes on to speak of ‘every one who is indebted to us’. This last fact would seem to demonstrate that either he or his source knew that the original Aramaic in the first phrase was also ‘debts’ but saw ‘debts’ as signifying ‘sins’, and wanted this to be clear to those who received their words. Possibly he left the second part as ‘indebted to us’ in order to bring out that any way in which others have sinned against us cannot be compared with the awfulness of our having sinned against God and His laws. Jesus Himself used the same idea of sin being like a debt in certain of His parables (Matthew 18:23-35; Luke 7:40-43), where He specifically linked it to the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 18:21-22; Matthew 18:35).
The idea here is of day by day sins, not the initial forgiveness required in order to make men right with God. It can be illustrated by Jesus’ words to Peter in John 13:8, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet’. It is a reminder that daily we do come short, and therefore daily need forgiveness. Compare here 1 John 1:7-10.
In the Old Testament God is revealed as a God Who is very willing to forgive the truly repentant (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Daniel 9:9), and such forgiveness was regularly receivable through the offering of sacrifices (Leviticus 4:20 and often; Numbers 15:25, Numbers 15:26, Numbers 15:28). Thus the Psalmists constantly rejoiced in His forgiveness (Psalms 32:1; Psalms 85:2; Psalms 86:5; Psalms 103:3; Psalms 130:4). But the coming Messianic age was to especially be a time of forgiveness when God would blot out their transgressions and not remember their sins (Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 37:23). Thus His disciples can now approach their Father for forgiveness without doubt in their hearts.
‘As we also have forgiven our debtors.’ This is not a bargaining counter as though we have deserved forgiveness because we have forgiven others. It is a declaration that every disciple is expected to be able to make, precisely because he is observing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:43-48. For one sign that they are truly His will be found in this readiness to forgive others. It is one of the badges by which we are identified as the light of the world. Note that it is ‘those who sin against us’ that we forgive. We cannot forgive their sins, but we can forgive the fact that they have sinned against us, and love them for His sake. It should also be noted that the assumption here is of people who seek our forgiveness, not of inveterate enemies. Thus when Peter says ‘How often shall we forgive?’, it is of those who come and say ‘I repent’ (Matthew 18:21-23). The same principle is also brought out in the parable (Matthew 18:23-35). This must be so because such forgiveness involves treating the people who have sinned against us as though they have never done so, in the same way as we know that God will treat us. But we cannot expect to take up such a position with someone who has not revealed, at least outwardly, a change of heart. We may refrain from feeling bitter against them, and be prepared to act in love towards them, but that is not full forgiveness. Forgiveness involves putting them back in a position of trust, in the position that they were in before they sinned. So while people are unrepentant we can love them, and act in love towards them, but we cannot treat them as though they were repentant. We cannot restore them to full trust, because their attitude is unchanged.
Such forgiveness is a sign that God’s Kingly Rule has broken forth on the earth in His people, so that His disciples have become forgiving like He is. And the point is that it is because they are His people as revealed in this way that they can come to Him confidently expecting daily forgiveness. It will be because they are walking in His light.
And bring us not into testing,
But deliver us from evil (or ‘the evil one’).
The assumption behind these words is that the world faces positive testing and trial by God, and endures various evils, partly at His hand and possibly partly at the hands of the Evil One. This is an indicator that Jesus recognises God as ever active in the world, shaping history, and aware of man’s goings on, and that in various ways He intervenes in judgment. It is an idea that appears in the Old Testament again and again, see for example Psalms 34:21; Psalms 37:19; Psalms 140:11; Isaiah 13:11; Isaiah 31:2; Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 47:10; Jeremiah 6:19; Jeremiah 17:17-18; Jeremiah 18:11; Jeremiah 19:3; Jeremiah 23:12; etc. Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12, and in Daniel 10:0 it is connected with the activities of the Evil One and his minions (Daniel 10:11-21).
We need to recognise what ‘evil’ as used here represents. It represents whatever is seen as contrary to man’s good, whether natural disaster, war or civil commotion. It is the exact opposite of what is of benefit to man (that is, of what is in that sense ‘good’). Thus Job could say, ‘shall we receive good at hand of God and shall we not receive evil?’ (Job 2:10). It is in fact the sense in which God ‘creates evil’ in Isaiah 45:7. Thus God boldly takes responsibility, not for the sin that is in the world, for that He lays firmly at man’s door, but for the fact that history often does not fall into line with man’s plans, and regularly results in unfortunate circumstances for man. It is a reminder that God allows things to occur which are by no means a blessing for man, and can in some way be seen as responsible for them. It is through such things that men learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9), for there is nothing that shakes men up like disaster.
Thus God is seen as constantly at work against sin, however much man seeks to buttress himself against its consequences. The affluent world may avoid the more obvious evils, (although it still suffers its share of disasters, and will probably do so more and more), but evils still pile on it in the form for example of the effects of drunkenness, drugs, extreme boredom, depression, and disease brought on by sin and man’s own carelessness.
So this third petition is a confident request by His disciples that they may be delivered from the trials of God which will be brought on the world as a result of sin, and from all the common ‘evils’ (see Psalms 5:4; Psalms 23:4; Psalms 37:19; Psalms 49:5; Psalms 91:10; Psalms 121:7; Isaiah 26:20-21; Jeremiah 15:11; Jeremiah 17:17; see also Ephesians 6:13) and from the machinations of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:11). They are to know that as they look to Him God will have a special watch over them and will not bring them into unnecessary testing, especially as such affects the world, but will lead them in the right way, and will keep them from personal spiritual harm. The point is that the lot of the world is not on the whole to be the lot of His disciples. This is clearly portrayed in Revelation 7:3 with Matthew 9:4; (compare also Revelation 3:10), where those who are His are seen as sealed by God against the judgments of God and the assaults of the Enemy so that they cannot be harmed. That book, however, also reveals that this is no proof against persecution. God’s people will face persecution, but they will not suffer directly under the judgments of God, except incidentally. Persecution is the lot of every Christian in one way or another (John 16:2-3; John 16:33; Acts 14:22). But the point is that as they pray they will be protected from the worst of the types of judgments that the world has to face (see Matthew 24:20; Isaiah 26:20-21; Jeremiah 17:10; Isaiah 2:10-21; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 24:1-6; Isaiah 24:18-20; Isaiah 42:24; etc).
Only eternity will reveal how often this prayer has been fulfilled. A remarkable example of this was the way in which, being warned by God by means of a ‘prophecy’, the early Jerusalem church fled to Pella at the first indication of the Roman invasion, thus obeying Jesus’ exhortation (Matthew 24:15-18) and escaping the horrors of the Jerusalem siege. They were not brought into testing but were delivered from evil.
But this also includes the idea that no disciple is to be so overconfident and arrogant as to seek to be tested, or to become relaxed about evil. No disciple is to behave so foolishly as to court trouble. They are not to rush into martyrdom. (It was often those who courted persecution who in the end failed to maintain their endurance until the end). They are to pray not to be brought into testing. Testing of sorts may come, but if it does, it will not have come from God. So rather they must pray that they may escape the testings that constantly come on the world because of its sin, testing brought on it by God (Isaiah 26:20-21; Revelation 3:10). As we have seen the Old Testament makes clear that that there are ways in which God does bring into testing those who are in rebellion against Him, and while His people know that they cannot expect to avoid the general trials that the world must face, they can expect to be kept from the trials that come on a rebellious world because of their sin and failure to repent To be ‘brought into’ such testing by God would be a sign that they were not His.
The lack of the definite article on ‘testing’ is against it signifying only the period of testing called the Messianic woes, (and this even though to them the Messianic woes were already approaching), although they may be seen as included. It is a prayer to be spared all types of the testing that faces the world. It is also the prayer of those who are confident of the protection of God under all circumstances. They are confident that they will be protected by His shield ( Gen 15:1 ; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 3:3; Psalms 18:35; Psalms 28:7; Psalms 33:20; Psalms 84:9; Psalms 84:11; Psalms 91:4; Psalms 119:14; Psalms 144:2; Proverbs 30:5).
The corollary of this is that they will be delivered from evil. The ‘but’ is emphatic (alla), God watches over those who have made Him their refuge (Psalms 91:9), leads them in the right way, and will not allow His people to stub their foot against a stone (Matthew 4:6; Psalms 91:11). Yet they would also have been aware that in the time of Messianic testing Satan will be let loose on the world as never before, and the idea may be included therefore that they are to pray that they will be delivered from his power.
Some, however, would retain the idea of ‘temptation’ to sin. ‘Peirasmos’ means all kinds of testing (Matthew 26:41; Exodus 17:7 LXX; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 6:16; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 9:22; Deuteronomy 29:3 LXX; Psalms 95:8 (Psalms 94:8 LXX); Luke 8:13; Luke 22:28; Acts 20:19; Galatians 4:14), and can include temptation to sin (Luke 4:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Timothy 6:9). Against this is the fact that God is said not to cause His servants to be tempted (James 1:13-14), so that this therefore could not be seen as bringing them into temptation, but the argument given in reply is that the idea is not that God might lead them into temptation, but that as He leads them temptation might arise, and they are praying that this might be avoided, and thus showing that they are aware that without God’s help they dare not face such temptation. Whether included or not this is also true and necessary.
For if you forgive men their trespasses,
Your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses,
Neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus then adds a rider, stressing the kind of people that they must be if their Father is to have dealings with them in a continuing forgiveness (note the emphasis of His words here on God as their Father). If they are to see God as their Father, and enjoy His continual forgiveness, they must be those who, like Him, love their enemies, and who are peacemakers. The blessings of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (which include God’s continual forgiveness) are for those who are truly under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. How could they be otherwise? Thus those who would enjoy them must themselves be under the Kingly Rule of Heaven and thus be involved in dispensing the forgiveness of the new age (Matthew 18:21-22). Indeed they cannot be Jesus’ disciples and yet not be involved in being forgiving. For being unforgiving is as bad as clinging on to riches. It sets them against God.
The point is thus that if they are not willing to reveal themselves as true sons of their Father (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:45) by being forgiving to those who seek their forgiveness, they cannot very well expect to be treated as such. They have proved that they are not. Forgiving others is not seen here as a condition of their being forgiven, it is rather seen as a ‘not without which’. It is seen as one of the signs that give them right of entry to their Father. That is, it is an indication that they are of those who walk rightly with God and as such can therefore expect forgiveness from their Father.
So Jesus is not saying here that they will be forgiven if they forgive. That would be impossible. Forgiveness from God cannot be bargained for, nor can it be earned. He is saying rather that if they want God to treat them as His sons by forgiving them, their grosser sins, they must be revealing in their lives that they are true sons by forgiving others their lesser sins. It is not a tit for tat, otherwise we might as well give up. If God’s forgiveness was dependent on the level of ours we would have no hope. What is in mind is that our hearts are revealed as having the right attitude. We can compare with this how they are also to be reconciled with those who have things against them before they bring their gifts to God (Matthew 5:23-24). In both cases they must approach God having put behind them all that might offend God. How could someone with the spirit of the servant in Matthew 18:23-30 possibly approach Someone like the God of infinite mercy and compassion?
‘Trespasses.’ Note that here ‘debts’ has now become ‘trespasses’, confirming that the ideas are synonymous. The principle described here is so important that it is repeated in Matthew 18:23-35 where the new community is being described. It also occurs in a different context in Mark 11:25.
There is an interesting parallel to this in Sir 28:1-2 , ‘he who takes vengeance will find vengeance from the Lord, and He will surely make firm his sins. Forgive your neighbour the hurt that he has done you, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray’. The same principle lies behind it. It is caught up in the basic principle, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But whereas in Ecclesiasticus ‘neighbour’ probably meant very much their fellow Jews, with Jesus the requirement was to forgive ‘men and women’. It was universal.
“Moreover when you fast, do not be, as the hypocrites, of a sad expression,
For they disfigure their faces,
That they may be seen of men to fast.
Truly I say to you, They have received their reward.
Jesus clearly here expects that His disciples will at some time engage in fasting, although He nowhere actually encourages it, even though He anticipates that they will fast once He has been taken from them, presumably with grief (Matthew 9:15). He had, of course given an example of it when He faced up to His own temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). There the purpose of the fasting had been in order to ensure no interruption in His communion with His Father. Consider also 1 Corinthians 7:5 where abstinence from sex is described for the purpose of devotion to a season of prayer. But He warns them that if and when they fast, it should be secretly so as not to be noticeable. Otherwise they will already have received their reward in terms of the honour that they will receive for it.
‘They disfigure their faces.’ This may indicate simply not washing and shaving, or oiling their heads, or it may even signify putting ashes on am making themselves look interesting.
The Correct Approach To Fasting (6:16-18).
The idea of fasting in Israel was that of expressing repentance for sin (Nehemiah 9:1-2; Jonah 3:5); or of revealing grief (2 Samuel 1:12; Psalms 35:13; Daniel 10:2). It was an act of self-humbling (Isaiah 58:3), or of going without food for the purpose of engaging in a spiritual exercise, such as prayer, with the aim of greater concentration and a deeper sense of participation (Daniel 9:3; Daniel 10:2-3; Matthew 4:1-2; Acts 13:1-3; Acts 14:23). By turning their thoughts from earthly things they were able to concentrate more on heavenly things, and found that fasting enabled them to concentrate their minds in a spiritual direction. Fasting was intended to foster and inculcate self-humiliation before God, and confession often accompanied it. It was often accompanied by weeping, sackcloth, ashes, dust on the head, and torn clothing (see references above). In Paul’s case in Acts 9:9 it probably indicated repentance and a seeking after God. People who felt anguish, or were threatened by impending danger, or felt desperate about some situation, gave up eating temporarily in order to concentrate on presenting some special plea to God in prayer (Judges 20:26; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16). Some particularly pious believers fasted regularly (Luke 2:37).
The Pharisees fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12), although that was in excess of what was strictly required by the Law, for God had only commanded the people of Israel to fast on one day of the year, the day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31; Leviticus 23:27-32; Numbers 29:7). But during the Exile the Israelites instituted additional regular fasts (Zechariah 7:3-5; Zechariah 8:19), and others were added later. Inevitably there was hypocritical fasting, for it brought to those who participated a reputation for piety. Zechariah appears to speak of those who did it for their own self-satisfaction (Zechariah 7:5). Thus God had to declare that fasting was useless unless it accompanied godly living (Isaiah 58:2-7; Jeremiah 14:12). While fasting was by no means unique to Israel it was something to which others pointed as one of the things that often singled out Jews.
In the early church fasting was probably common (e.g. Acts 13:2) and appears to have been a normal part of Christian self-discipline with Christians later fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays (so The Didache). And this was in line with the fact that while Jesus had not actively encouraged it, He had certainly indicated that He held nothing against it. (Although it is significant that copyists began to introduce the idea into texts where prayer was spoken of in order to justify it, because they were aware of how little justification for fasting the actual text of Scripture gave). Thus it was not fasting that Jesus was speaking against here, but fasting for the wrong motive. Jesus’ criticism here was of those who turned their fasting into a public show by making their fasting obvious and drawing attention to themselves, rather than doing it with hearts that were hungry for God. He was not referring to the official fast on the Day of Atonement, (when washing and anointing may well have been abstained from), nor probably to other official fasts.
Analysis of Matthew 6:16-18 .
a A “Moreover when you fast, do not be, as the hypocrites, of a sad expression,
b B For they disfigure their faces,
b C That they may be seen of men to fast.
c D Truly I say to you, They have received their reward.
b E But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face,
b F That you be not seen of men to fast,
a F But of your Father who is in secret,
a G And your Father, who sees in secret, will recompense you.”
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to have an obvious sad expression, and in the parallel are to seek to keep their fast secret. In ‘b’ they are not to disfigure their faces in order to be seen as fasting, but are to wash their faces and dress their hair so as to hide the fact that they are fasting. Centrally in ‘c’ those who do it before men have already received all the reward that they are going to get.
But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face,
That you be not seen of men to fast,
But of your Father who is in secret,
And your Father, who sees in secret, will recompense you.”
So when they fast they are not to put on a sombre face, or to fail to shave or wash their faces, or to anoint their heads with oil (a contemporary Jewish practise), so that men will realise that they are fasting. They must rather wash their faces and anoint their heads, in other words try to give the impression that life is going on as normal so as to avoid being lionised. By doing it this way only God will be aware that they are fasting. And then their Father, Who sees in secret will recompense them, because they are doing it in order to demonstrate their love for Him. The basic point, as previously, is the genuine motive that lies behind their actions. Their hearts must be right towards God.
Note on Fasting.
As mentioned the general approach of Christians towards fasting was to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. This fast would end around 15:00 hours (the afternoon meal). Ideally the very fact of doing it would turn their thoughts towards God during that day. At other times they would fast because they were engaged in long sessions of prayer. Fasting as an ascetic practise only became involved much later, and was based on a false idea of the sinfulness of the flesh. It drew great honour from men (who always honour what they themselves are not prepared to do) and was thus a dangerous practise, involving the ascetics, many of whom were not truly godly men, although some were, in a similar condemnation to the Pharisees.
People under eighteen should not fast without consulting a doctor for health reasons. And all should seek medical advice before engaging in long fasts. God does not intend us to dishonour Him by harming ourselves physically. We are not even sure what the full basis of a ‘forty day fast’ was (wild fruit or other occasional sustenance may have been taken) and it was always in exceptional circumstances and with exceptional people. Thus we must be sensible and careful. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that fasting as such brings blessing in itself. The blessing comes in respect of the right attitude of heart and circumstances that accompany the fasting.
End of note.
1). The Choice As To Which Treasure Will Be Sought And Lived For.
Analysis of Matthew 6:19-21 .
a A “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on the earth,
b B Where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal,
c E But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
b F Where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break through nor steal,
a G For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
As regularly in the sermon this can be seen as both a chiasmus and a sequence. The capital letters both indicate the sequence and tie up with the previous examples in Matthew 6:1-18. On the chiasmus we note that in ‘a’ laying up treasure on earth is forbidden and in the parallel that is because the heart will be where the treasure is. In ‘b’ we have the contrast between the activity of moth and rust on earth, and the non-activity of it in Heaven. In ‘c’ comes the central command to lay up treasure in Heaven.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on the earth,
Where moth and rust (‘that which eats up’) consume,
And where thieves break through and steal.”
The present tense might be seen as signifying, ‘Do not be like those who --.’ For a choice lies before all disciples as to what they will do with any possessions that they gain. They may use them for the purpose of building up ‘treasures’ and storing them away for the future on earth, but that is a choice that Jesus does not want the person to make. Here we are considering treasures which can be laid up on earth. It may be in the form of gorgeous clothing or brocades, curtains, or jewellery, gold, and other metals etc. or it may be wealth of a simpler form of stout or attractive clothing and baser metals. All can have their hold on the heart. But His point is that no matter what they are, such possessions are temporary and passing, for in each case they will be susceptible to some form of attack, either by moth, or rust, or human predators. Notice that the stress is on natural things which make a personal attack on their possessions. It is not just a matter of them fading or disintegrating, although that could easily happen as well, but of their being positively attacked either by being consumed by insects (compare Isaiah 51:8), by being ‘eaten up’ by rust (the word ‘eaten up’ is also used by Galen of tooth decay) or by mice, or by being stolen by thieves. Thus there is always the danger for those who have possessions that violence will be done to their possessions in one way or another. For possessions attract violence and trouble. Whereas those who have stored up their treasures in Heaven will avoid such problems.
Note the parallel and contrast with Matthew 7:6. Here they must beware what they do with their material possessions, for they are subject to the attacks of nature’s predators, while there they must be careful what they do with their ‘spiritual’ possessions, lest they be trampled underfoot, and they themselves attacked, by dogs and swine (unfriendly Gentiles and unbelieving Jews?). So while being wise about their physical possessions, they must also be wise in dealing with their spiritual possessions. They must not parade them before men, otherwise it could turn against them.
An alternative to seeing ‘eaten up’ here as referring to rust may be found in the seeing it as containing the thought of mice eating the stored grain, or even more likely of a smallholding being totally overrun by vermin. On top of which may then come the human vermin who will ‘dig through’ even more than the vermin. This last verb might have in mind the fact that thieves would often enter ancient houses by digging through the walls. On the other hand it could well be that by this time the term had become extended in meaning so as to signify any type of ‘breaking in’.
These are, of course just some of many ways in which wealth can be lost. They are intended to illustrate the vulnerability of physical possessions, and their openness to attack, rather than to be an exhaustive list of all ways in which possessions could be lost. They are simply a reminder that all that a man lays up on earth might be lost simply because they are vulnerable to natural effects, or attacks of nature, or the dishonest onslaught of man, and that that is even without considering the additional problem of such things as wars or sudden death. For elsewhere the alternative is propounded that while a man’s possessions might survive all the above, he will anyway have to leave them behind when he dies (Luke 12:13-21), and thus one way or another they will certainly be lost to him. But this last is not in mind here. What is in mind here is the vulnerability of their possessions to the attacks of nature and to sinful man. And Jesus’ purpose is thus to stress the temporary nature of physical things in contrast with heavenly things which are invulnerable, by forceful illustrations which were familiar to all, so that the value of heavenly things might shine through.
This is not a total condemnation of wealth. It is a warning against seeking to build up wealth for its own sake, because of the dangers that that involves. For as men begin to build up wealth they often forget what is more valuable. Whereas if they use any possessions that they obtain wisely it will actually benefit them spiritually and turn their thoughts towards their Father, both in this world and the next.
The life of many a righteous person has been destroyed because wealth suddenly began to accrue. John Wesley told of the sad effect on the spiritual lives of early Methodists, when, as a result of their ceasing heavy drinking combined with having a new attitude to work they began to build up possessions and prosper, with the result that as they became wealthier, so they became more slack in their spiritual activity.
Jesus therefore attacks the problem by stressing the vulnerability and openness to attack of possessions. Let men get the right attitude to such possessions and it will enable them to cope with them the more easily. Thus once they begin to find that they have wealth in excess of what they really need, they must give serious thought as to where they will build up their excess, on earth where it is vulnerable, or in Heaven where it is safe. His purpose was to establish that physical possessions were only ‘temporal’ (compare 2 Corinthians 4:18). They passed away. It would be foolish therefore to put too much dependence on them, for their greatest value should rather be in using them to buy friends in eternal habitations (Luke 16:9) by their wise and spiritual use of them.
The clear message is that we are to recognise that as disciples of Jesus what we possess is not to be kept for ourselves (compare Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33-34; 1 Timothy 6:9-10), but is to be distributed under God to others, with the great consolation of knowing that what we are giving away is in fact only of a temporary nature, and therefore not worth keeping in the long run (see also James 5:1-4 and compare a similar overall lesson in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18), whereas by saving it in Heaven we will be maintaining and increasing its value. Far better is it for us therefore, to have our treasure where nothing can harm it or take it from us.
For as He will point out in the passage that follows, all that we do need for the future will be provided for us by our heavenly Father who will give us His treasures from Heaven. We do not therefore need to worry about possessions. Instead of moth-eaten clothes He will clothe us with a glory greater even than the lilies of the field, whos clothing puts Solomon to shame.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
Where neither moth nor rust consumes,
And where thieves do not break through nor steal.”
Here the emphasis changes. Wealth can be stored up in Heaven. This can be achieved, for example, by giving it to the poor and needy (Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33) or to a genuine work of God, or by using it to do good. It will then be safe and secure for ever, and will not perish, and as long as it is given ‘secretly’ it will bring its own reward. The idea is not that we should keep records of how much treasure we have in Heaven, and thus still be possessed by the grip of ‘possessions’, even though it be heavenly possessions, but rather that, having devoted to God all that we could have retained for ourselves, we will enjoy His fullness of blessing, will have our hearts fixed on Him, and will thus possess what is everlasting.
It is certainly not intended to indicate that a rich man can buy himself a better future in eternity than a poor man, as Matthew 20:1-16 makes clear. In fact it puts the rich man at a decided disadvantage, for all the while he will be in danger of being taken up by the ‘deceitfulness of riches’. But as long as he is faithful then by his faithfulness he will receive his ‘reward’, just as the poor man will.
‘Treasures in Heaven.’ The idea of ‘treasure in Heaven’ was not new. In the Testament of Levi Matthew 13:5 we read, ‘work righteousness (give alms) my children on the earth, that you may have it as a treasure in Heaven’, and the thought of such treasures in Heaven occurs elsewhere, resulting from a ‘righteousness’, which is closely linked with almsgiving. Its use here therefore appears to link with the idea of charitable giving. On the other hand Jesus regularly suggests ‘rewards’ and ‘recompense’ in Heaven which contains a very similar idea, and these are also promised to those who are persecuted or suffer for His sake (Matthew 5:12; 2 Corinthians 4:17), those who love their enemies (Matthew 5:46), those who give charitable gifts secretly (Matthew 6:4), those who pray in secret (Matthew 6:6), those who fast secretly (Matthew 6:15), those who give a cup of cold water in His name (Matthew 10:42), and those who reveal their love for Christ’s brothers by their kindnesses towards them (Matthew 25:40). In the end treasures will be built up by doing to others what we would that they would do to us (Matthew 7:12).
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
And for those who follow Jesus’ words in this regard there will be one very positive result, it will mean that their hearts are then set on heavenly things. For having stored up their wealth in Heaven, their hearts will not be detained by earthly things. Their hearts also will be fixed on Heaven, where their ‘treasure’ is. (And the greatest treasure of all for us is Jesus Christ our Lord - 2 Corinthians 4:6-7). By the ‘heart’ is meant the total inner man, including mind, will and emotions. We should note that all these words are spoken as an assurance and incentive to those who have already come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. They are not a bribe to the unconverted, indeed they would be folly to them. They would trample them underfoot. They are rather a promise of the fulfilment of the promises of the beatitudes.
They Must Lay Up Their Treasure In Heaven As They Cannot Serve God and Mammon (6:19-24).
Having dealt with the question of what His disciples’ attitude is to be towards ‘religious’ activity, namely charitable giving, prayer and fasting, and the need in each case for them to be exercised in secrecy in order that they may bring glory to God and not men, and may bring them into a close relationship with their heavenly Father, Jesus now moves on to more ‘mundane’ matters, attitude towards worldly possessions, worldly needs, and worldly judgments towards others, which are all to be made heavenly and thus bring them into contact with their heavenly Father, and this will then lead on to heavenly fellowship with the Father (Matthew 7:7-11), with everything (the Law and the Prophets) then summed up in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Here His emphasis is on the fact that they must take up a positive attitude to each. (It should be noted how the sermon is full of positive attitudes). But even here there is a warning of the need to keep some things secret (Matthew 7:6). Spiritual activity should not be flaunted before a pagan world. God is not their heavenly Father. Thus the heavenly community must keep itself separated in mind and thought from the world.
There is a parallel to the previous section in that almsgiving (Matthew 6:2-3) parallels laying up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), praying to their Father, especially concerning His Kingly Rule (Matthew 6:4-6), parallels the need not to be anxious about their needs because of the Father’s provision, and the seeking of His Kingly Rule (Matthew 6:25-34), receiving forgiveness as those who forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15), parallels and contrasts with being judged as those who have judged others (Matthew 7:1-2), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) parallels the idea of the continual persevering prayer and sense of the presence of the Father as described in Matthew 7:7-8.
The central idea in this first example is the choice between God and Mammon. Initially they have to choose whether they will serve God or Mammon. This choice, he points out, will be made clear by where they store up their treasures and on what they fix their eye. While this reference to ‘treasures’ may undoubtedly be seen as having special reference to the ‘better off’, it is actually equally relevant to all, for ‘things’ can grip the hearts of both rich and poor alike, and heavenly treasure are available to all. Jesus’ warning is thus of the grave danger of ‘possessions’, and how it is to be countered. (Jesus always prepares us for coming temptations. The problem is that we do not always listen to Him).
We should note that this passage fits firmly into the structure of the Sermon. For while it undoubtedly directly connects with what follows, it also connects back to what has gone before. Similar choices as to whether to serve God or unrighteousness have been present throughout the Sermon, and especially in Matthew 6:1-18, and now they are present here. Furthermore there are particular ways in which this passage connects up with Matthew 6:1-18. Thus, the opening negative imperative parallels that in Matthew 6:16; what is forbidden comes first, followed by what is to be done, in the same way as it does in 2-3, 5-6, 7-9, 16-17; the move from second person plural to second person singular reflects 1-4, 5-6, 16-18; the idea of treasure laid up parallels that of reward in Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:18. Thus there are similarities between them of approach, grammar and basic principles.
Analysis of Matthew 6:19-24 .
a “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break through nor steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
b “The lamp of the body is the eye, if therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).
c “But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:23 a).
b “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23 b)
a No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Note that in ‘a’ we have the contrast between earthly treasure and heavenly treasure which decide on the direction that the heart takes, and in the parallel the choice between two masters, God and Mammon, which again determines the direction that the heart takes. In ‘b’ we have fullness of light if the eye truly lightens the body and in the parallel great darkness if the light within is darkness. And in ‘c’ if the eye is evil (wrongly directed) darkness will rule.
The movement of thought of the passage is as follows. Firstly comes the choice as to which treasure will be sought and lived for, then comes the decision as to where the eye will be fixed in order to carry out that choice, and then comes the consequence, the service of one master or the other.
The passage can then be divided up into three smaller sections.
Three (or Four) Commands Which Concern The Attitude That His Disciples Should Take Up With Regard To The World Emphasising The Taking Up Of A Positive Spiritual Attitude And The Eschewing Of A Worldly Negative Attitude (6:19-7:12).
Having described how His disciples are to behave towards the Law (Matthew 5:21-48), and having considered their attitude towards charitable giving, prayer and fasting (Matthew 6:1-18), Jesus now turns to consider:
1). What they should do about material wealth (Matthew 6:19-24).
2). How they should provide for their necessities (Matthew 6:25-34).
3). How they should exercise judgment among themselves (Matthew 7:1-6).
A possible fourth is how they should approach what God has available to give them in Matthew 7:6-12) For just as in Matthew 6:1-18 the verses on the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:7-15 are a part of the series, and yet distinguished clearly from the other three, so here verse Matthew 7:6 is both an essential conclusion to the different chiasmi leading up to it, and an introduction to a final contrast which caps all that has gone before and finalises the central section of the Sermon.
In each case He warns against the negative approach, which can only lead to concern and worry, and emphasises the positive spiritually acceptable approach which will bring the approval of their Father. And this is then climaxed either by what their reaction should be towards the scornful and those who despise their message, who are fleshly (dogs and pigs) and therefore do not know the Father (Matthew 7:6), or by the final statement in Matthew 7:12 (or to some extent both).
In each of these cases the question is dealt with by contrasts, by a thesis followed by an antithesis (as previously from Matthew 5:21 onwards). Firstly they are not to lay up treasures on earth but to lay them up in Heaven, for they cannot serve God and Mammon (Matthew 6:19-24). Secondly they are not to be anxiously seeking food and clothing, but are rather to be earnestly seeking the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness, for a days earthly problems are quite sufficient for each day (Matthew 6:25-34). Thirdly they are not to judge each other in the state that they are, with a plank in their eye that prevents them from seeing properly and makes them behave harshly, but must do it, having removed the plank, so that they may see clearly in order to gently remove splinters from the eyes of their brethren, while at the same time being aware that they should not try in quite the same way to remove splinters from the eyes of outsiders or bring home to them deeper spiritual truths, as this could only cause problems, resentment and even persecution (Matthew 7:1-6), indicating that what can be done in the heavenly fellowship cannot be done in the world. Thus wisdom is required throughout.
This is then followed by the thesis in Matthew 7:6 concerning not offering what is holy to dogs, and the antithesis in Matthew 6:7 on instead receiving what is holy from their heavenly Father
This whole section may be analysed as follows:
a They must not lay up treasures on earth where they will corrupt, but must lay them up in Heaven where they will not corrupt, for their hearts will be where their treasures are (Matthew 6:19-21).
b They must ensure that their eyes are single, and fixed on what is good, for otherwise their eyes will be dark, and the darkness will be great (Matthew 6:22-23).
c They must judge wisely as to which master they will serve, for they cannot serve both God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24).
d They must not be constantly anxious about life, about what to eat and what to wear, but are to consider how God provides for His creatures abundantly (Matthew 6:25-29).
e They are to have the faith to recognise that God, Who provides even for the useless grass, will far more provide for their needs (Matthew 6:30).
d They are thus not to be constantly anxious about what to eat and what to wear, but are to seek first God’s Kingly Rule and His righteousness, and to leave to each day the troubles of that day (Matthew 6:31-34).
c They must not pass superficial judgments about others who serve Him, otherwise that judgment will rebound on them (Matthew 7:1-2).
b Once they have removed the plank from their own eyes they will then be able helpfully to remover the splinters from their brothers’ eyes (thus ensuring that their eyes too are single) (Matthew 7:3-5).
a They must not give what is holy (from their treasures in Heaven) to dogs, and must not give their pearls (what is uncorrupted and pure) to swine, lest they turn and trample their possessions into the mud and attack those who possess them (Matthew 7:6).
However, this must be with the proviso that Matthew 7:6 now also leads on into Matthew 7:7-12 which deals with how they are to receive from their heavenly Father all the spiritual gifts which will enable them to succeed.
Note that in ‘a’ they must consider carefully how they make use of their earthly treasures, lest they become corrupted, and are attacked by predators (moth, rust, thieves), so that those earthly treasures then ‘attack’ them where they are most vulnerable, in their hearts, and in the parallel they are to consider well how they use their spiritual treasures, lest they use them foolishly and find that they become vandalised, and they themselves persecuted, by earthly predators (dogs, pigs). In ‘b’ their eyes are to be single, and in the parallel they are to assist each other to keep their eyes single. In ‘c’ they are to make right judgments about Who or what they serve, and in the parallel are to make right judgments within that service. In ‘d’ they are not to be anxious about necessities, and in the parallel the same. And centrally their faith must be turned towards God the Great Provider.
2). The Choice As To Where The Eye Will Be Fixed.
Jesus now takes a general illustration that He regularly uses (compare Luke 11:34-36) in order to apply it to this particular situation. Again there is no reason to doubt that Jesus, as all preachers do, used the same illustration on a number of occasions, and not always in the same context. The differences in Luke bring out that the source for it there is not the same. Both are words of Jesus preserved by ‘tradition’ (1 Corinthians 11:2; 1Co 11:23 ; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Timothy 6:3; Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 12:17).
Analysis of Matthew 6:22-24 .
a “The lamp of the body is the eye (Matthew 6:22 a).
b If therefore your eye is single, Your whole body will be full of light (Matthew 6:22 b).
b But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness (Matthew 6:23).
a If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:24).
Note that in ‘a’ the lamp of the body is the eye. It is through the eye that either light or darkness come to the body, depending on where the eye is fixed, whether towards God, (and therefore towards the light), or away from God, (and therefore away from the light). Thus in the parallel ‘a’ the second attitude will result in darkness so appalling that it cannot be contemplated, for it will mean separation from God. In ‘b’ we have the contrast between the two alternatives, an eye fixed on the light, and an eye fixed on darkness.
“The lamp of the body is the eye,
If therefore your eye is single, Your whole body will be full of light.
But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.
If therefore the light that is in you be darkness,
How great is the darkness!
The ‘eye’ here is both the physical eye, which can look on physical things and be drawn by them, or gloat in them, and the spiritual eye which can be fixed on God, and on Heaven, and on the light that has come from Heaven (Matthew 4:16), whereby His disciples can therefore be drawn by Him and rejoice in Him. What Jesus is really talking about here is what takes up our attention because of the direction in which we fix our gaze both physically and spiritually, in other words it is dependent on where we set our hearts, whether on earthly things or on our heavenly Father. The ‘single’ eye is the eye that is deliberately focused on one thing, and that is possible in this case because it is, at least partly, the spiritual eye. It has been opened to the light that has shone in the darkness (Matthew 4:16), and if it remains single it will continually receive that light. The word later came to indicate a ‘sound’ eye, and if we take it in that way the principle is the same, the point then being made is that those with a sound eye would let in the light, whereas those whose eye was not sound would be left in darkness. But Jesus in this case clearly intends us to recognise that a disciple can humanly speaking choose whether his eye is sound or not.
The alternative to the single or sound eye is the ‘evil’ (poneros) eye. This therefore links it immediately with the prayer ‘deliver us from evil’ (Matthew 6:13). Those who pray the latter must ensure that their eye is not evil. But the idea of the ‘evil eye’ occurs elsewhere. (It is not to be confused with the ‘evil eye’ as used with regard to magic, which is not in mind). Compare, for example, Matthew 20:15. There the ‘eye which is evil’ is the greedy and resentful eye which complains that it has not been fairly treated. The person in question has seen the master’s behaviour towards others as compared with himself and considers it unfair, even though he had made an agreement and the master had not broken his agreement. There must be no such attitude in those who are under the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 6:33). In Mark 7:22 the eye that is evil is one of the evidences of ‘evil things’ that come from the human heart, and thus it connects with the ideas of lust, greed and pride. Thus Jesus clearly signifies by an ‘evil eye’ an eye that causes men to do evil in one way or another.
The idea of the eye that is evil is soundly based in the Old Testament. Proverbs 28:22 is directly relevant here. The man whose eye is evil runs after wealth and riches (earthly treasures). They have become his ruling passion (even though he will end up in want). In Proverbs 23:6 the one who has an evil eye is the one who is hypocritical, devious and not to be trusted. His ‘heart is not with you’. In Deuteronomy 15:9 the one whose eye is evil withholds help from the poor. Thus in all cases it has reference to an eye that leads to sinfulness.
The important thing in all this is that the ‘eye’ acts as the lamp to the body. It therefore either illuminates it or keeps it in darkness. For it is the source or otherwise of light coming to the inner being (compare Luke 11:34-36). If our minds are set on the light of God (Psalms 27:1; Isaiah 60:20; Mic 7:8 ; 1 Timothy 6:16; James 5:17; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 1:7) and on heavenly things (Colossians 1:1-3), including the way of life that Jesus has laid down from the Scriptures (compare Proverbs 6:23), and on the Heaven in which we have stored up all that we have (Matthew 6:20-21), and on the Scriptures themselves (Psalms 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; Psalms 119:18), and on the One Who has shone on us with His great light (Matthew 4:16; John 8:12) then our bodies will be filled with light. But if our minds are set on earthly things, and this will especially be determined by what we fix our gaze on, things such as earthly treasures, and mammon, then our bodies will be filled with darkness. They will be turned away from the light. Our eye will cause us to stumble (Matthew 5:29). And there is no darkness greater than for those who have turned away from light, and for whom their light is darkness (compare here John 3:19-21; Ephesians 4:18; Romans 11:10; John 12:35-36 and see John 9:41).
A similar contrast is found in John 9:39, where Jesus pointed out, ‘for judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see, may see, and so that those who do see may become blind’.
This thought of fixing the eye has already been considered in Matthew 5:28, which is one example of the eye bringing darkness into the heart, and in Matthew 5:8 which is an example of fixing the eye on God, thus bringing light into the heart. We can also compare Matthew 5:16 where the disciples are to be a light that shines in other’s hearts so that they too might seek God, and themselves receive light. This idea of light shining into people’s lives was very much therefore central to Jesus’ teaching.
But the verse that follows will provide an added thought. That what we fix our eye on will determine whom we serve. The eye of a bondservant always had to be kept on his master ready at the instant to do his bidding, so that his master had only to look at him and give a slight sign, and he would know immediately what to do. He was expected to have a ‘single eye’. Thus the principle is that where a man’s eye is fixed will reveal who or what man he really sees as his master.
It should be noted that Greek ideas about light flowing out through the eye, while interesting, are irrelevant here. Here the emphasis is on light flowing in, with the eye basically therefore acting as a ‘lamp’ by bringing light to the body by the reception of light (or otherwise) from an external source. If light was flowing out through the eye there would hardly be darkness within.
3). The Choice As To Which Master will Be Served.
We can compare here Luke 16:13, another example of Jesus’ continual use of similar illustrations in the normal way. ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ in the context of the use of wealth was clearly one of His watchwords.
a No man can serve two masters,
b For either he will hate the one, and love the other,
b Or else he will hold to one, and despise the other.
a You cannot serve God and mammon.
Note that in ‘a’ two masters cannot both be served well, therefore in the parallel the choice must be made between God and Mammon. In ‘b two similar contrasts are paralleled.
a No man can serve two masters,
For either he will hate the one, and love the other,
Or else he will hold to one, and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The principle here is that of conflict of interest. Even in earthly matters it is now regularly recognised that a reputable person should not act for two people where there may be a conflict of interest. For men in their wisdom recognise that it is totally impossible in such a case for someone to be sure that they are not being influenced one way or another. In heavenly affairs that is even moreso. Having earthly things as a master must mean being in conflict with heavenly things for they are direct rivals for the heart. Either we are totally given over to ‘divine service’, that is, doing the will of God (Matthew 7:21), which is God’s requirement for all who serve Him, or we are not. And if our minds are half on earthly things then we are not serving Him fully and truly. And this applied just as much to the farmer who ploughed his fields for God, and saw them as God’s fields, and his produce as God’s produce, as it did to the Apostles themselves. It applied to all ‘disciples’ without distinction.
Jesus is not saying that no man can ever have two masters. He is simply saying that it is not an arrangement that can ever work well if the two master are opposed to each other, for in that case the bondservant will sometimes have to take sides, and that can only be detrimental for one of them. No doubt such arrangements may work well enough on earth where men are willing to compromise and fixed contracts can be written up. But God does not compromise. God expects total response. So in heavenly things the idea of two masters cannot work. We must love God ‘with all our heart, and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength’ (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27; Deuteronomy 6:5), or we must go away with nothing.
We have here an example where the verb translated ‘hate’ really means ‘love less’ in contrast to the person’s love for another. (Compare for example Jacob’s love for Rachel and his ‘less love’ for Leah (Genesis 29:30-31; Genesis 29:33. Compare also ‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I loved less’ - Romans 9:13). The point being made is that a bondservant with two masters will always love the one more than the other, and will therefore tend to serve him the better, sometimes even possibly to the detriment of the other. The guarantee of equality of love is impossible for anyone in such a situation, and we ourselves are the last who could possibly determine such a matter (and no one else could even try to do so except by interpreting the way that we live).
Thus Jesus is bringing out that what our eyes are fixed on will determine whom we serve. Those whose eyes are fixed on earthly things, and are thus turned away from God, are serving and worshipping Mammon, whatever their protestations, while those who would serve Him must turn their eyes on Him and on heavenly things, and turn away from all things on earth. For where their gaze is fixed, and what they treasure, demonstrates whom they serve. This does not necessarily mean monasticism or separateness from society, for that was not what Jesus required of many who were disciples but did not follow all the time. It meant being separate in heart, and having the mind fixed on heavenly things (compare Colossians 3:1-3).
‘Mammon.’ The word includes not just riches but all that a man possesses. Jesus probably uses the term to indicate a kind of quasi-god. He is saying that those who allow their possessions to control their decisions and absorb their love are behaving just as idolatrously as those in the Old Testament who sought after idols (compare Ephesians 5:5).
EXCURSUS. Note On The Christian’s Attitude To Wealth.
This is necessarily a difficult question to deal with in societies where most are comparatively ‘wealthy’, (i.e. have a TV and a car and their own habitable apartment, and are not in rags, and have at least a staple diet), especially in view of starvation elsewhere, a problem which cannot, however, simply be dealt with by giving money, (although if it can be used wisely it unquestionably helps). The tendency therefore can be almost to dismiss the idea of a Christian giving away a large part of his wealth, and to assume that our fairly luxurious standard of living is acceptable. Certainly it is a matter of balance, but our tendency is ever to ensure that the balances are weighted in our favour.
On the one hand we have clear indications of Jesus’ approval of those who gave away all that they possessed (Luke 12:33 which is to all disciples, not just the few; compare Matthew 19:21). This especially comes out in His approval of the poor widow who gave away all her living Mark 12:44; Luke 21:1-4). She was not called on to be a disciple (at least not immediately) and yet Jesus not only approved of her action but also indicated thereby that none of our giving is judged in terms of what we give, but in terms of what we have left (Mark 12:44). This last principle must always especially be kept in mind. The multi-billionaire who gives away a few billions will get much credit on earth, but little in Heaven, compared with those who are like that poor widow.
Jesus once said that for every idle word that a man should speak he would give account of it in the Day of Judgment (Matthew 12:36). We can equally be sure that that will also apply to very idle penny or cent that a man spends. Thus complacency can only be our enemy in eternal terms.
On the other hand certain things also have to be kept in mind. A man is expected to provide for his relatives and his children (1 Timothy 5:8), and Paul certainly expected that there would be wealthy Christians, but bade them ensure that they were humble and continued in generosity and in good works (1 Timothy 6:17-19). For those who would succeed in certain areas of life a certain standard of living is certainly required. And the giving away of all wealth could only lead in many cases to future poverty. But this must never be a reason for indulgence. Ministers especially have to remember the witness that they give. Men often think, for example, that a man can be judged by his car. God thinks the same. But the problem for us is that He has a different model in mind from man. He remembers the widow. How many of us really ask, which one would God be proud to see me in?
Furthermore it was expected that men and women would work hard in order to maintain their ability to achieve what has been described. Proverbs 6:6-8 emphasises the need for people to be able to maintain themselves. Paul declared that if a man does not work he should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10; compare Genesis 3:19); and should be loth to live on benefit (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12); and he himself maintained himself by his hard labour (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Trusting God does not therefore mean that we can sit back and have an easy time.
Each of us must therefore recognise that all that we have comes from God and that we must hold it at His disposal. And then we must recognise that we are accountable for how we use it. It is doubtful whether there are too many (apart from those who have given the matter deep consideration) who can be comfortable if they think along those lines. As with so much our tendency is to excuse ourselves, while every second someone, somewhere, dies of starvation and disease, and the work of God goes lacking. This is unquestionably one of the most difficult continuing decisions that most Christians have to face. Ten per cent’ is in most cases certainly not enough! Consider especially 1 Timothy 6:10; James 5:2-3.
End of Excursus.
a “Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life,
b What you shall eat, or what you shall drink,
b Nor yet for your body, what you shall put on.
b Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the clothing?
c Behold the birds of the heaven,
b That they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,
b And your heavenly Father feeds them.
b Are you not of much more value then they?
a And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his measure (of his life or of his stature’)?
There is here a secondary analysis for in ‘a’ being anxious for their lives parallels their inability to increase the length of their lives by being anxious, in ‘b’ concern about food and clothing, followed by a question about the value of life parallels their Father feeding the birds followed by a question about their value, while in ‘c’ interest is centred on the basis of the illustration.
This brings out that the next thing that the disciples have to beware of is being anxious about relatively unimportant matters. They are to consider that there is much more to life than food and clothing, and that their inner life is much more important than both. Thus they should not be clamouring about a seeming shortage of food and clothing (as Israel did in the wilderness), but concentrating on the satisfactory maintenance of their inner life. We can compare here Matthew 4:4 where the food that gives life is the word that comes from God’s mouth. Thus they must consider that to some extent this temptation to be concerned about food and clothing is the same as the one He overcame. And He will then go on to explain that just as God fed and clothed His people at the time when those words were said (Deuteronomy 2:7), so He will feed His people now. Note the relation of life to eating and the body to clothing. Food sustains the inner life, clothing covers the outer body. But both inward and outward needs physical need can be left to God for provide at the time when He feels suitable. They should rather be concerned about the inward food of the word of God (Matthew 4:4), and the outer clothing of righteousness (Matthew 6:33). To be consumed with anxiety can only hinder the effects of both
Let them rather then consider the birds of the heaven. They neither sow, nor reap, nor harvest. But the disciples’ heavenly Father feeds them. There may be a play here on the term ‘heaven’. The birds are in a sense ‘of heaven’, but those in the Kingly Rule of Heaven under their ‘Heavenly’ Father are to be seen as even more important than they. They are the true sons of Heaven. But whether that inference is there or not the basic idea is there, for they are certainly seen to be of more value than the birds of heaven. Thus they can be sure that their Heavenly Father Who takes such care of the birds, who do nothing in order to produce their food (most present would no doubt visualise the picture of the birds flying down and picking up the seed as they sowed (Matthew 13:4), just like the poor are allowed to do with the grain that results - Deuteronomy 23:25. God thus makes provision for all), will equally certainly take good care of them, as they work hard for their daily provision. The emphasis is on ‘not being anxious’ because their Father will provide, not on their working or not working to obtain their food and clothing. It is on the fact that in the end all things come from above, from the One Who gives sun and rain to ripen the Harvest.
Behind these words may also be the thought of how in the Old Testament God fed Elijah by means of the birds of Heaven (1 Kings 17:4; 1 Kings 17:6), who were thus so well provided for that they could feed Elijah. And also how He twice fed His people in the wilderness by bringing the birds of Heaven to them (Exodus 16:13; Numbers 11:31-32), which demonstrated that His people were of more value than the quails.
And the whole then ends with a reminder to them that they cannot change the length of their lives, for their lives are in His hands (while the implication is that He can). What then is the point of their being anxious about their physical lives?
‘Can add one cubit to his life (or his stature)’? Helikia can refer to either age (e.g. Hebrews 11:11) or stature (Luke 19:2; compare Luke 2:52 where it can be either). ‘Cubit’ (a length measurement) may seem to suggest the length of an object, but outside sources do in fact speak of a ‘cubit of time’; and we can compare with this Psalms 39:5 where ‘a handbreadth’ is used to describe the length of days. So the usage for length of life would not be unique, and this interpretation fits better with the parallel, ‘Do not be anxious for your life’ (Matthew 6:25). There may even be the implication behind it of possible martyrdom.
On the other hand growth in stature, which also comes from God, may refer to man’s longings to ‘stand tall’. Perhaps it is even at this stage a reminder that any progress that they make in life comes from the hand of God. But this would then be to introduce a concept which is not followed up, whereas length of life also fits better with what follows as contrasting with the shortness of life of the grass of the field (Matthew 6:30).
We Are Not To be Taken Up With Concern About Our Daily Needs, But Are To Ensure That Our Concern Is Fixed On Seeking God’s Kingly Rule And The Establishment On Earth of His Righteousness (6:25-34).
Having dealt with how His disciples should view their possessions, Jesus now turns to the danger of their being taken up with their needs, bringing out two opposing problems. Some stumble because they enjoy too much, others because they have not enough. We can compare here Proverbs 30:9; ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the bread of my portion, lest I be full and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?”, or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God’. Jesus provides the answer to both these problems, the answer to the first has been to lay up their treasure in Heaven, the answer to the second is now to trust their heavenly Father for His provision. For once they are committed to their Father, and to the Kingly Rule of Heaven, their ‘needs’ are not things that should concern them, for the simple reason that they can be sure that God as their Father in Heaven knows their needs and will provide for them. They must therefore concentrate their attention on seeking to establish His Kingly Rule and the introduction of His righteousness into the world (Matthew 6:33).
a A Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life (Matthew 6:25 a).
a B What you shall eat, or what you shall drink, nor yet for your body, what you shall put on (Matthew 6:25 b).
b C Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the clothing? (Matthew 6:25 c).
c D Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns (Matthew 6:26 a).
c E And your heavenly Father feeds them (Matthew 6:26 b).
d F Are you not of much more value then they? (Matthew 6:26 c).
e A And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to the measure of his life (or ‘to his stature’)? And why are you anxious about clothing? (Matthew 6:27-28 a).
f B Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin (Matthew 6:28 b).
f C Yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory, was not ‘robed in splendour’ (arrayed) like one of these (Matthew 6:29).
f E But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven (Matthew 6:30 a).
f F Shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30 b).
e A Be not therefore anxious, saying (Matthew 6:31 a).
e B What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? Or, With what shall we be clothed? (Matthew 6:31 b).
d C For after all these things do the Gentiles seek (Matthew 6:32 a).
c D For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things (Matthew 6:32 b).
b E But seek you first his Kingly Rule, and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33 a).
b F And all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33 b).
a Do not therefore be anxious for the morrow, for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient to the day is its evil (Matthew 6:34).
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to be anxious about their future needs, and in the parallel they are not to be anxious about tomorrow. In ‘b’ the life is more than food and the body than clothes, and in the parallel their concentration is to be on the Kingly Rule of God (eternal life) and on His righteousness (the covering of His people (Isaiah 61:10), the clothing of His bride (Revelation 19:8)). In ‘c’ their Heavenly Father knows the needs of His creatures, and in the parallel their Heavenly Father knows the needs of His people. In ‘d’ they are of more value than the creatures (because they are His), while in the parallel the Gentiles seek all these things (because they are not). In ‘e’ they cannot by being anxious add to their length of life, why then be anxious about clothing, and in the parallel they are not to be anxious about what they will eat and wear. Centrally in ‘f’ let them note that the flowers are more gloriously arrayed than Solomon, while in the parallel they can be sure that God who clothes the vegetation, will also clothe them.
a And why are you anxious about clothing?
b Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,
b They toil not, neither do they spin,
c Yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory,
c Was not ‘robed in splendour’ (arrayed) like one of these.
b But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
b Which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven,
a Shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
The same principle can be applied to their clothing. The anxiety about clothing, especially for the women, no doubt included the desire to look attractive, even though the thought is mainly of a basic need for clothing (so as not to be naked, compare Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:21). Let them then consider that God not only provided clothing to the flowers, but He provided clothing more glorious than Solomon’s. Let them also consider that if He shows consideration to vegetation in this way, which has but a short span of life and was then used for fuel, how much more would He provide for those who trusted in Him, even if their faith was so little. The ‘oven’ (klibanos) was a pottery oven with a hole in the bottom so that the ashes could fall through, which was probably fired by burning vegetation inside. The flat cakes for baking could then be attached to its walls inside and out.
The comparison of the lilies of the field with Solomon, with the ‘much more’ in Matthew 6:30, suggests in context that His people are therefore to expect to be arrayed more gloriously than both. The thought here may be of Matthew 5:16 where they are the light of the world. In the end their being clothed includes being clothed in light and in righteousness as children of light (Ephesians 5:8). And it may well also be that He leaves it to them to recognise that they will be gloriously arrayed in the Kingly Rule of God by wearing the robe of righteousness brought by God (compare Matthew 22:11; Isaiah 6:10 with Isaiah 61:3; Revelation 19:8), so that they will shine before Him (Matthew 5:16) as the brightness of the heavens and the stars (Daniel 12:3). A similar idea is taken up by Paul (Ephesians 5:26-27). They would remember how Joshua the High Priest was so clothed by God on behalf of God’s people when under attack by Satan (Zechariah 3:4-5). Thus being clothed by God had heavenly associations.
We retain the translation ‘lilies of the field’, for it gets over the idea, but the exact type of vegetation in mind is not certain. The strict differentiations that we make today did not apply in those days, and the translation ‘flowers’ might possibly be more accurate (to tie in with ‘grass/vegetation’) although a particular flower may have been growing on the mountainside and have been pointed out by Jesus. Note the parallelism of ‘the lilies of the field’ with ‘the birds of the air (heaven)’. God overlooks neither those above nor those below. He will not therefore overlook those in between who are more important than both.
‘You of little faith.’ A gentle and tender rebuke. He was clearly aware that such anxieties did sometimes beset them. He uses it elsewhere of His disciples in Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:31; Matthew 16:8, and in each case at times when they have failed to trust Him and His Father. Compare also Matthew 17:20, although the phrase is different and there they had failed in their effectiveness over the power of Satan. It was intended gradually to strengthen their faith. The point was not that they did not believe, but that they lacked the full trust that would come through continuing in prayer. They still failed to recognise the truth about their heavenly Father. (He will provide a cure in Matthew 7:7-11).
We can compare with this gentle rebuke His further rebuke of them as potential ‘hypocrites’ in Matthew 7:5 (see also Matthew 7:11). Jesus was quite well aware of His disciples’ shortcomings. In spite of the lofty standards He was setting He knew that they still had a long way to go. They would not immediately fall in line with all the Sermon on the Mount. But as their eyes became more and more fixed on the Kingly Rule of God, so would their faith grow and their anxieties disappear, and so would they learn to be less judgmental and more caring.
a Be not therefore anxious, saying,
a What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink?
a Or, With what shall we be clothed?
b For after all these things do the Gentiles seek (or ‘chase’),
b For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.
a But seek you first his Kingly Rule, and his righteousness,
a And all these things will be added to you.
In view of what He has been saying about God feeding and clothing natural things anxiety about food and clothing is folly. It is not to trust their Heavenly Father. It is all very well for the Gentiles to chase after these things. They have no Heavenly Father. But His disciples do have a heavenly Father, and they must learn to be aware of it. Thus their concentration must be on the things of their Father. They must therefore put all their efforts into seeking His Kingly Rule, and putting that first, which, as He has already told them, is also in accordance with the way that they should be praying (Matthew 6:10), and into seeking and fulfilling the effects of His righteous deliverance, resulting from the coming of His righteousness as promised by Isaiah. They are to seek them first of all in prayer (Matthew 7:7-11), and then they are to seek their part in bringing them about. In this way not only will they be fed and clothed, but their inner beings will be fed and clothed as well, and they will be fed and clothed for eternity. Note the contrast between chasing and seeking. The former is a compound verb which includes the root of the verb to seek. The Gentiles go around their earthly chase with great anxiety, the disciples are to go about their earthly seeking with faith and trust, for it concerns heavenly things.
Both seeking His Kingly Rule and seeking His righteousness must here have a present significance, in the same way as seeking food and clothing has. While the Gentiles are daily busy seeking food and clothing, they are to be daily seeking His Kingly Rule and His righteousness (note the emphasis on ‘daily’ in the passage - Matthew 6:30; Matthew 6:34). They must pray for His Kingly Rule and the coming of His righteousness and deliverance and their hearts must be set on the establishment and expansion of His Kingly Rule and the bringing in of His righteousness. While the Gentiles seek ‘bread alone’ they are to seek for words which come from God’s mouth (Matthew 4:4), and as we will learn later to spread them. For the whole point is that God has something better for them from day to day than food and clothing even in this life (see also our introduction to Matthew which demonstrates the present aspect of the Kingly Rule of God). They can have eternal life now (John 5:24; John 5:13) as well as in the future (John 5:28-29), life that is more abundant (John 10:10; compare John 4:10-14; John 7:37-38). They can even now enter into rest (Matthew 11:28-30). So they are to concentrate all their attention (‘first’) on seeking the establishment of His Rule now, and the bringing about of His saving work in righteousness and salvation, as promised by Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; etc. Here, as always in Matthew, the righteousness which they are to seek, and hunger and thirst after (Matthew 5:6) is the righteousness revealed by the Law as expanded by Jesus, but which is to be brought to them and worked in them by the righteousness and salvation of God (Isaiah 61:3). It is the God-given Messianic righteousness. Note in Isaiah 51:8 the interesting contrast between the moth eating up people (see Matthew 6:19-20 above) and His bringing of righteousness to His people. In seeking righteousness His disciples are laying up treasure in Heaven (building up within themselves a deeper quality of life) where the moth cannot reach them (Matthew 6:20).
The contrast with the Gentiles is interesting. Jesus still has at this point in time the hope of a widespread turning to God among the Jews, thus it is with the Gentiles that He makes the contrast. Consider His bitter disappointment in Matthew 11:21. But the comparison with the Gentiles also brings out the enormity of the difference between His listeners, as His disciples, and the idolatrous Gentiles. The one are at peace because they are aware that their heavenly Father will provide for them, the other are far from Him and have no one to bear their anxieties but themselves and their idols.
a Do not therefore be anxious for the morrow,
b For the morrow will be anxious for itself.
a Sufficient to the day is its evil.”
Jesus then finishes this passage with a pithy saying. Compare Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:24 b; Matthew 7:6. Their concentration is to be on each day, and not on the morrow. For there is enough evil each day to be concerned about, without worrying about tomorrow’s that may never come. Thus they may pray to be delivered from today’s evil (Matthew 6:13), and may depend on Him to do it, and that ‘evil’ includes lack of food and clothing. But because He is their Heavenly Father they need not then worry about it. (He is not suggesting that they can worry about today. They are not do that either. But His point is that most people’s worries tend to be about ‘tomorrow’, hence our favourite proverb, ‘tomorrow never comes’). Note the indication here that there will be constant troubles but that their Father will watch over them day by day so that they need not be concerned. Thus they can leave the future in His hands without being concerned about it. All concentration instead is to be on seeking His Kingly Rule over men’s lives and His righteous deliverance of His people.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13