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Matthew 6:1. Take heed. Obedience to this precept difficult as well as important. The duties are to be performed, the care respects the ‘end’ and the ‘method.’ The method to be cared for to guard against the wrong end. Hiding from men only necessary to prevent the praise of men from becoming the motive.
Righteousness. Not ‘alms;’ the common version follows an incorrect reading. This verse is a general statement, which is afterwards applied to particular duties.
Otherwise, if these things be performed with this motive, ye have no reward from your Father which is in heaven. The reward may (usually does) come from men (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16), but not from God.
Our Lord passes from moral to religious duties, enjoining a ‘righteousness’ (Matthew 6:1), which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (‘hypocrites’), and has regard to the character of our ‘Father who is in heaven.’ The three leading manifestations of practical piety: almsgiving (Matthew 6:2-4), prayer (Matthew 6:5-15), and fasting (Matthew 6:17-18), as performed by hypocrites and by the subjects of Christ’s kingdom. The wrong end: ‘to be seen of men;’ the wrong method, ‘before men;’ the wrong reward, ‘they have received’ it. The right end, ‘to glorify our heavenly Father’ (chap. Matthew 5:16); the right method, ‘in secret;’ the right reward, that which our heavenly Father shall give. The false tendency leads to externalism, publicity, and present popularity in religion. The true public worship of God must encourage the meekness and humility of individual worshippers. Forgiveness and worship again conjoined (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15, comp. chap. Matthew 5:23-24). The close connection of self-righteous worship with merely outward worship, and the rapid transition to vain and sinful worship. On the Lord’s Prayer, see below.
GENERAL CHARACTER. The magna charta of Christ’s Kingdom: the unfolding of His righteousness; the sublimest code of morals ever proclaimed on earth; the counterpart of the legislation on Mount Sinai; Christ here appears as Lawgiver and King; Moses spoke in God’s name; Christ speaks in His own. Its position, contents, connection, as well as the whole tenor of the New Testament, show that it is the end of the law and the beginning of the gospel, the connecting link between the two: ( 1 ) a mighty call to repentance for the unconverted, showing them their infinite distance from the holiness required by the law; ( 2 ) a mirror of the divine will for believers, showing them the ideal of Christian morality; ( 3 ) an announcement of blessings (beatitudes) to all in whom the law has fulfilled its mission, to create a sense of sin and guilt, to beget humility and meekness of spirit, as well as to encourage and impel to higher attainments. It is at once a warning, a standard and a promise, but not the whole gospel. The gospel is about Christ as well as from Christ. This discourse contains little about His Person and Work; nor could it. The audience was not ready, not even the Twelve (Mark 1:16-20), facts were not accomplished, the Teacher was wise in withholding, was still in His humiliation; only when He was glorified did the full glory of the gospel appear. The improper estimate of its significance makes Christ a mere teacher of ethics, not a Saviour; makes the gospel a higher legalism, not the power of God unto salvation; exalting Christ’s earliest instruction to the Apostles at the expense of the later; uses His tender words on the Mount of Beatitudes to make us forget Calvary; puts His principles before His Person, failing to lead us to Him. But while it is not the full gospel, its tone is evangelical, and its ideal is Christian; not telling how or why we are saved, it implies throughout that God must and will help, encourages us to ask from Him (chap. Matthew 7:11). Addressed to those under the law, it is the best introduction to the gospel.
2 . Leading thought and plan. The connection of thoughts, so far as Matthew indicates it, is with chap. Matthew 4:17: ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The motive to repentance was the coming of the ‘kingdom,’ about which the Jews had wrong expectations. These errors are met at the outset by a description of the character of the citizens of that kingdom, while the call to repentance is both expanded and enforced in the body of the discourse, which spiritualizes the law. The leading thoughts are respecting the true standard of righteousness, negatively, higher than the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (chap. Matthew 5:20), positively, like God’s (chap. Matthew 5:48). The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is not the leading thought, since the ethics of the discourse are religious; see notes.
The discourse follows the method of natural association, although in some cases the connection of thought is difficult to determine. A plan ‘is simply such an analysis as will help us to understand it as a whole.
Chap. 5 . A description of the character of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, their relation to the world (Matthew 5:3-16); the relation of Christ to the law, with HIS exposition of the law, culminating in a reference to God’s perfection (Matthew 5:17-48).
Chap. 6 . Religious duties; the false and true performance of them contrasted (Matthew 6:1-18); instruction regarding dedication of the heart to God and consequent trust in Him (Matthew 6:19-34).
Chap. 7 . Caution against censoriousness, prayer enjoined through promise of an answer, to which promise the Golden Rule is annexed (Matthew 7:1-12); exhortation to self-denial, warning against false teachers and false professions (Matthew 7:13-23); conclusion, two similitudes respecting obedient and disobedient hearers (Matthew 7:24-27). The impression produced on the multitude is then stated (Matthew 5:28-29).
3 . RELATION OF THE DISCOURSES in Matthew and Luke (Luke 6:20-49).
Points of agreement: Both begin with beatitudes, end with the same similitudes, contain substantially the same thoughts, frequently expressed in the same language. In both Gospels an account of the healing of the centurion’s servant immediately follows.
Points of difference: Matthew gives one hundred and seven verses, Luke but thirty; Matthew seven (or nine) beatitudes, Luke four, followed by four ‘woes.’ Luke is sometimes fuller than Matthew, and the order is occasionally different. Our Lord was sitting (Matthew 6:1) when this discourse was delivered; apparently standing (Luke 6:17) during the other. This was uttered on a mountain, the other on a plain. A number of important events mentioned by Luke before the discourse are heard by Matthew after it.
Explanations: (a) Two reports of the same discourse; each Evangelist modifying to suit his purpose. This is the common view, involving fewest difficulties. It is then assumed, that our Lord was standing immediately before the discourse, but sat down to speak; that on the mountain there was a plain just below the summit (the fact in the traditional locality: ‘the Horns of Hattin,’ or ‘Kur’n Hattin,’ see Matthew 6:1). The chronological difficulty is not serious. Matthew mentions the sending out of the Twelve (chap. 10 ), not the choice, which is narrated by Mark and Luke. The latter immediately preceded the discourse (so Luke), the former took place some time after. The mention by Matthew of his own call out of its chronological position is readily accounted for (see in chap. Matthew 9:1-17).
(b) Two discourses on entirely different occasions. So Augustine and others. This is an improbable solution, not called for by the chronological difficulties. The mention of the same miracle as immediately following in both Gospels shows that the occasions, if different, were not widely separated.
(c) Different discourses, but delivered in immediate succession; the longer one on the mountain to the disciples, the other on the plain to the multitudes. So Lange. Favored by the direct address to the disciples, and the allusion to the Pharisees (Matthew 5:0), not found in Luke’s account; opposed however by the fact that the multitudes also heard the longer discourse (Matthew 7:28).
(d) Two summaries of our Lord’s teaching about this time, not reports of particular discourses. Such summaries would be in an appropriate place, since in both cases a general sketch of our Lord’s ministry proceeds. But both Evangelists specify the place, and even our Lord’s posture. Accepting the differing reports of the same discourse, we should remember that the Evangelists did not compose their histories from written documents and with literal accuracy in details, but (according to Oriental fashion) from memory, which was then much better trained than now, and from living impressions of the whole Christ, strengthened and guarded by the Holy Spirit. Hence we have after all a truer, more lifelike and instructive account of our Lord’s ministry, just as pictures embodying the varied expressions of a man’s countenance are more true to the life than a photograph which can only fix the momentary image. This fact accounts both for the remarkable essential agreement and the decided individuality and difference in detail, which characterize the Gospels. The two reports of the Sermon on the Mount present in a striking manner these characteristics. The date is probably just after the feast mentioned in John 5:1, if that is to be placed during the Galilean ministry. Our Lord had certainly been preaching in Galilee for some time, and had already aroused the antagonism of the Pharisees. See chap. Matthew 12:1-15, for the events immediately preceding (comp. Mark 2:1-19; Luke 6:1-16).
Matthew 6:2-4. FIRST EXAMPLE ( Almsgiving).
Matthew 6:2. Therefore, in view of this general precept
Alms. A contraction or corruption of the Greek word used by the Evangelist
Do not sound a trumpet before thee, etc. It would be impossible to blow a trumpet in the synagogues, where the alms were regularly collected, or even in the streets, where the giver would be accosted by the beggar, and hardly carry a trumpet with him for such casual occurrences. The language is figurative: a trumpet was sounded before official personages to call attention to them; hence self-laudation and display are meant.
Hypocrites. The Pharisees are not named, but, as a class, deserved this epithet.
They have received their reward; already in full, and will get no more. They have the applause of men; the favor of God is denied by Matthew 6:1. Their ‘due’ reward is not spoken of.
Matthew 6:3. It is not necessary to find symbolical meanings in the expressions: left hand right hand; the verse is a figurative command to ‘complete modesty, secret, noiseless giving’ (Chrysostom).
Matthew 6:4. That, ‘in order that’. The mode should be chosen with a view to secrecy.
In secret; more than ‘secretly.’ Literally, ‘in the hidden’ (place).
Thy Father who seeth in secret, in this hidden place, who is ever and everywhere present ‘Himself’ is probably to be omitted; if retained, it implies: without regard to the verdict of man.
Shall recompense thee. The terms differ from those applied to the hypocrites. The idea there is of ‘hire;’ the hypocrites have received that for which they worked; God gives this reward: ‘of grace, not of works.’ ‘Openly’. has but slight authority; it is literally: ‘in the open’ (place), i.e., in the greatest publicity, before, men and angels at the last day. The position in which almsgiving is placed by our Lord, as well as chap. Matthew 5:42, snow that it is a Christian duty, which can be fully discharged only in person.
Matthew 6:5. But when ye pray. The plural form is more correct. That men ought to pray is assumed. Prayerless men cannot consistently praise the Sermon on the Mount and the morality of Jesus of Nazareth. Religion is the backbone of morality; the second table presupposes the first: no love to man without love to God.
Ye shall not be. This neither ought to be nor will be the case, if we are Christ’s disciples.
They love, not to pray, but to stand and pray, etc., for the praise of men, resulting from the publicity of the places they chose for their pretended devotions. It was right enough to pray in the usual posture, and the synagogues were proper places of devotion; but the standing was of a kind to attract attention. Not posture and place, but spirit and motive are condemned.
In the broad ways. The word here used is not that found in Matthew 6:2. The hypocrites would purposely be in such conspicuous places at the fixed hours of prayer. The fashion of airing piety in this way has not died out.
Matthew 6:5-15. SECOND EXAMPLE ( Prayer).
Matthew 6:6. Shows the proper way, and the injunction is made more personal: Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet. The little room on the housetop of an Eastern dwelling, used for such purposes. ‘Thy’ implies that the place is one where the person can secure privacy.
Shut thy door. This extends the idea of privacy and solitude. Private prayer, which is exclusively referred to here, is not to be performed in public places. The ‘closet’ may be sought and the door shut in a Pharisaical spirit; but this command is to be obeyed; if possible, literally, since our Lord’s example teaches the importance of retirement. Actual solitude may be impossible, but even in the midst of a crowd we may be alone with God. How often the duty of secret prayer should be statedly performed is of course not mentioned. A prayerful spirit will multiply both opportunities and desires for the exercise; while prudence, not law, calls for stated times.
Matthew 6:7. But when ye pray. The plural form is resumed, and continued throughout the Lord’s prayer; this probably extends the application to public prayer.
Use not vain repetitions. The correct sense of the Greek word (lit, ‘to speak stammeringly’) is given in our English version, although all senseless and irrelevant expressions are included.
The heathen, i.e., the individual Gentiles. Comp. the repetitions of the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:26), of the mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:34). The same usage prevails largely among the adherents of all false religions. There may be ‘vain repetitions’ of the Lord’s Prayer, which immediately follows. Hence Luther calls it ‘the greatest martyr.’ ‘What is forbidden here is not much praying, not praying in the same words (the Lord did both); but the making number and length a point of observance ’(Alford).
For they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. A second error; the first seeking to gain merit before men; this, attempting to gain merit before God. Prayer, not a magical charm, but a reasonable service.’ Much speaking’ not much praying;’ vain repetition’ of heathen origin; merely external worship leads to senseless and sinful worship.
Matthew 6:8. Therefore, because these things are heathen; the temptation to adopt or retain heathen worship will arise.
For your Father, etc. Another and more important reason for avoiding such practices. Our prayers do not tell ‘our Father’ of our needs, but simply confess our consciousness of them, and our trust that He can and will supply them. Both of these feelings must precede answer to prayer. Hence the reason holds good against vain repetitions, not against childlike petitions.
Matthew 6:9-13. THE LORD’S PRAYER.
Matthew 6:9. After this manner therefore. Because vain repetitions are forbidden, a pattern or specimen of the true form of Christian prayer is given. Hence other prayers are not only allowed but required. Two forms of this prayer exist; see Luke 11:2-4. Hence it is very unlikely that it was in liturgical use when the Gospels were written. ‘It must be supplemented for the same reason that the whole Sermon on the Mount requires supplementary teaching.’ Yet opposition to the use of it in public prayer may be as really a species of formalism as too frequent liturgical repetition of it. It is a form, to be devoutly used on proper occasions, and a perfect pattern which could only proceed from the lips of the Son of God. There is little to prove that it was taken from forms of prayer already in use among the Jews. ‘Lightfoot produces only the most general commonplace parallels from the Rabbinical books.’ But the beauty of the Lord’s Prayer is in its unity, symmetry, completeness, and pervading spirit.
As regards its contents in general, ‘it embodies all essential desires of a praying heart. Yet in the simplest form, resembling in this respect a pearl on which the light of heaven plays. It expresses and combines in the best order, every Divine promise, every human sorrow and want, and every Christian aspiration for the good of others.’ It is generally arranged into three parts: the preface (address), the petitions (seven, according to Augustine, Luther, and others; six, according to Chrysostom, and the Reformed catechisms; ‘deliver us from evil’ being regarded as a distinct petition in the former enumeration), and the conclusion (doxology). The address puts us into the proper attitude of prayer the filial relation to God as our ‘Father’ (a word of faith), the fraternal relation to our fellow men (‘our,’ a word of love), and our destination for ‘heaven’ (a word of hope). Every true prayer, an ascension of the soul to heaven, where God dwells in glory with all saints and where is our final home. The petitions are naturally divided into two parts: the first, respecting the glory of God; the second, the wants of men. Hence ‘thy’ in the first, ‘our’ in the second. The first part presents a descending scale from God’s name to the doing of His will; the second, an ascending scale from ‘daily bread’ to final deliverance in glory. Meyer thus analyzes it: ‘ Having risen to what forms the highest and holiest object of believers, the soul is engrossed with its character (first petition), its grand purpose (second petition), and its moral condition (third petition); in the fourth petition the children of God humble themselves under the consciousness of their dependence upon Divine mercy even in temporal matters, but much more in spiritual things, since that which according to the first portion of this prayer, constituted the burden of desire, can only be realized by forgiveness (fifth petition), by gracious guidance (sixth petition), and deliverance from the power of the devil (seventh petition).’ Tholuck remarks: ‘The attentive reader, who has otherwise learned the doctrine of the Trinity, will find a distinct reference to it in the arrangement of this prayer. The first petition, in each of the first and second portions of the prayer, refers to God as the Creator and Preserver; the second, to God the Redeemer, and the third to God the Holy Spirit.’ To which Lange adds: ‘ Devotion to God, and acceptance of His gifts are contrasted in the Lord’s Prayer. 1 . Devotion to His name, to His kingdom, and to His will. 2 . Acceptance of His gifts in reference to the present, the past, and the future.’ See Lange, Matthew, pp. 123 - 129
Our Father who art in heaven, lit., ‘Our Father, the (one) in the heavens.’ A form of address almost unknown and to a certain extent unwarranted before Christ came. He had repeatedly called God by this name in this discourse, now He teaches this disciples to call Him thus. A recognition of the new filial relation concerning which the Apostles have so much to say, and which is formed through and on Christ, who teaches this form of address. The added phrase, ‘in the heavens,’ shows ‘the infinite difference between this and every other human relationship of a, imilar kind: He is no weak, helpless earthly parent’ The word ‘our’ implies at once our fellowship with Christ and with one another. The very preface to the Lord’s Prayer is a denial of Atheism, Pantheism, and Deism, since it recognizes a God, a Personal God, who is our Father through Christ
Hallowed be thy name ( first petition). ‘Hallowed’ means made holy; in this case it can only mean recognized, treated as sacred, and thus glorified. ‘Thy name’ is referred by many to the actual name of God, Jehovah, as including His self-existent and eternal being together with his covenant relation. By others to all by which He makes Himself known. In either view, the hallowing can be accomplished only through Christ. God’s glory comes first in this model of prayer; the proper order. We in our weakness and need often put our desires first.
Matthew 6:10. Thy kingdom come ( second petition). The Messiah’s kingdom, which in organized form had not yet come, but was proclaimed by the Lord Himself, as at hand. It did speedily come, as opposed to the Old Testament theocracy; but in its fulness, including the triumph of Christ’s kingdom over the kingdom of darkness it has not yet come. For this coining we now pray and the prayer is answered, in part by every success of the gospel, and will be answered entirely when the King comes again. A missionary petition, but not less a prayer for our own higher sanctification and for the second coming of Christ
Thy will be done as in heaven, so on earth ( third petition). ‘Heaven’ and ‘earth,’ put for their inhabitants. As by pure angels, so by men. The idea of human doing is prominent, our will subordinate to God’s will ‘As’ expresses similarity in kind and completeness.
Matthew 6:11. Give us this day our daily bread (fourth petition). First of the second division relative to our wants. These are subordinate, but not opposed, to the subjects of the previous petitions. ‘Bread,’ food in general; the form in the Greek hints that it is ‘ours,’ i.e., created for our use; ‘this day,’ shows that we are to pray daily and to ask neither for riches nor poverty, but, with contentment and thankfulness for the day’s portion only. The word translated ‘daily’ has occasioned a great deal of discussion, as it occurs only in the Lord’s Prayer (here and Luke 11:3), and was not current in colloquial Greek (Origen). Explanations ( 1 ) ‘required for our (physical) wants,’ ‘needful;’ ( 2 ) ‘coming,’ i.e., tomorrow’s bread; but this is contrary to the whole context (Matthew 6:34), and gives no good sense, since we do not need tomorrow’s bread ‘this day;’ ( 3 ) Romanists refer ‘bread’ to spiritual nourishment (the sacraments); but while this is cither included or suggested, the primary sense must be that of actual bodily food. For a full discussion, see Lange, Matthew, pp. 121 , 126 , and Lightfoot, Revision of the Eng. New Testament (Appendix). The propriety of daily family prayer is suggested by this petition for our ‘daily bread.’
Matthew 6:12. And forgive us our debts, etc. ( fifth petition). ‘ Debts,’ undoubtedly, moral obligations unfulfilled, i.e., sins. See Matthew 6:14, which requires this sense.
As we have forgiven. ‘As’ i.e., ’in the same manner as;’ not, ‘to the same extent as,’ nor ‘because.’ The spirit of forgiveness, which God implants, gives a better assurance of His forgiveness. Our debtors, like ‘debts,’ is to be taken in the moral sense. We are sinners, always needing forgiveness; forgiveness and readiness to forgive cannot be separated, the latter being the evidence of the former.
Matthew 6:13. And lead us not into temptation ( sixth petition). The next clause is reckoned the seventh by many, more from a desire to find in the prayer the sacred number seven than from sound interpretation. We prefer to join the clauses. God cannot tempt us (James 1:13), i.e., solicit us to evil, but ‘temptation’ means also a trial of our moral character; these trials are under God’s control, and His Providence may lead us into them, may even permit us to be solicited by evil. This petition asks to be preserved from these, and by implication, to be shown a way of escape. In view of the many temptations from within (our ‘flesh’ ） , from without (the ‘world’), and from beneath (‘the devil’), to which we are constantly exposed, there is no help and safety for us, but in the personal trust in Christ which underlies the proper offering up of this petition. We should never seek temptation, but flee from it; or if we cannot avoid it, meet it with the weapon of prayer wielded in that faith which overcomes the world.
But deliver us, literally, pull out, draw to thyself.
From the evil, either from all evil, or from the evil one, as the author of all evil, who tempts us. A higher petition than the fifth, implying that God alone can save us from the power of sin. Entire deliverance by God’s grace from evil (or from the evil one) is entire freedom from temptation, and looks toward that final redemption in heaven where all our wants shall be satisfied and our prayers, as petitions, be lost in never-ceasing thanksgiving and praise. Hence the concluding doxology.
Conclusion or doxology. Wanting in the oldest copies of the New Testament now in existence; though found in the oldest version (probably a later insertion even there). The Lord’s Prayer was early used in private and public devotion with a doxology (after the Jewish custom); and this was inserted first on the margin, then in the text. It is certainly very ancient, very appropriate, and there is a possibility that it is genuine; hence it need not be omitted in using the Prayer, though it must be excluded from the text of the Sermon on the Mount
For, ‘we ask all this of Thee because,’ thine, by right and possession, is the kingdom, the blessed dominion for which we pray, and the power, omnipotence, ability to answer, and the glory, the glory prayed for in the first petition which is the end of all our petitions. Forever, as the unchangeable God. Thus the eternal fulness of God forms the basis, the soul, and the aim of the whole prayer.
Amen. The word translated, ‘verily,’ when used at the beginning of a sentence. At the close of a prayer it expresses the assent of the worshippers to the prayer uttered by another. Jewish and early Christian usage sanction the audible ‘Amen’ by the congregation.
Matthew 6:14-15. These verses explain the fifth petition (Matthew 6:12), substituting the word ‘trespass’ for ‘debt,’ as some liturgies do in the Lord’s Prayer itself. In ‘debt’ the notion of obligation is prominent, in ‘trespass’ that of misstep, falling away from what is right. The adoption of this explanation shows that forgiveness and readiness to forgive were among the leading ideas of the prayer. They are distinctively Christian ideas. The people were not prepared to learn the true ground of forgiveness, the redeeming work of Christ, but the principle could be laid down. No man is forgiven of God (whatever be his understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith, his theoretical belief about the Person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit) who has not received with the forgiveness of his own sins the spirit of forgiveness toward others. It is impossible that we should be forgiven, because we forgive others, for none can do this until forgiven of God for Christ’s sake. Because He is our forgiving ‘Father,’ He will not brook an unforgiving spirit in us.
Matthew 6:16. When ye fast. Fasting as an aid to prayer and meditation, and a wholesome discipline, is a religious duty, and has a place in Christian practice. More is meant than temperance in meat and drink. Stated fasts are likely to become formal; public fasts are almost sure to become Pharisaical, but there are circumstances in the life of every Christian which make days of private abstinence appropriate. The wrong, hypocritical way of fasting is first mentioned.
Of a sour countenance, not sorrowful, but sullen, morose, as is explained further by what follows.
For they disfigure their faces. They left their beards and faces uncleaned, attired themselves negligently, with a purpose in view, viz., that they may appear unto men to fast, or, that they may appear unto men, fasting. They did really fast, but they wished men to see them as they fasted. There is a play upon the words in the Greek: They make their faces unappearable (‘disfigure’), that they may appear unto men fasting. They obtain their wish, have received their reward, the hire for which they do such things.
Matthew 6:16-18. Third Example (Fasting).
Matthew 6:17. When thou fastest. He assumes that His disciples would practise private fasting.
Anoint thy head and wash thy face. The usual practice before meals, especially before feasts. Special preparation would involve hypocrisy also. The meaning is, perform the cleansing usual and proper before meals even when fasting. (The maxim of sound piety, ‘cleanliness next to godliness.’ Hypocrisy and false asceticism reverse the maxim.)
Matthew 6:18. That thou appear not, etc. The usual preparations would leave men unaware that the disciple was fasting, but God, with reference to whom all these duties are performed, sees and rewards. Comp. Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6.
Matthew 6:19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures, literally, ‘treasure not for yourselves treasures.’
Upon the earth. This qualifies ‘Lay not up,’ rather than ‘treasures.’ Earthly treasures are not forbidden in themselves, but the earthly storing up, the earthly desire manifesting itself in the common striving after wealth. It is no sin to be rich, but it is a sin to love riches, which the poorest may do; while the rich man may glorify God and benefit man by his wealth.
Where moth and rust consume. ‘Moth;’ in oriental countries, treasures of clothing were laid up. The Greek word translated ‘rust ‘means, literally, ‘eating,’ ‘consumption,’ referring here to the ‘wear and tear’ of time which consumes our possessions. ‘Consume’ is better than ‘corrupt.’
Thieves break through (lit, ‘dig through’) and steal. The term, ‘thieves’ is quite general. Robbers in the East often break through the walls of mud or unburnt brick common in those regions. The verse exhibits in general the variety of all earthly treasures, which are earthly in their ‘place,’ their ‘kind,’ and ‘the manner of their collection.’ Not likely to be understood too literally.
CONNECTION AND CONTENTS. The external connection seems to be between ‘they have received their reward,’ which closes each of the foregoing examples of false piety, and ‘lay not up for yourselves treasures’ (Matthew 6:19). Main idea: supreme dedication to God; this is illustrated and applied in various ways. The connection of thought, then, is: not only are moral religious duties to be performed for God and with a view to His blessing, in reliance on His blessing, but our whole life is for God and through His blessing. ‘In all our aims and undertakings the mind should be set on the things of eternity.’ Hence Matthew 6:19-21 teach that our treasures should be laid up in heaven, where our heart should be; Matthew 6:22-24 enforce the duty of devoting our heart to God by two illustrations: Matthew 6:25-32 apply this principle to earthly wants; Matthew 6:33 states the principle plainly while Matthew 6:34 deduces from it the prohibition of anxious care for the future. The last verse returns, as it were, to the starting point, since anxious care for the morrow leads to heaping up of treasures on earth.
Matthew 6:20. A positive precept, answering exactly to the negative one of the last verse: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. ‘Heaven’ sometimes means the atmospheric heaven (Matthew 6:26), sometimes the starry heavens (Hebrews 11:12); here it is used in the highest and spiritual sense of the unknown region where God has His throne and reveals His glory (comp. Matthew 6:9-10). This is the ‘place’ where the treasures are laid up; the ‘character’ of the treasures, is therefore, eternal; they are to be collected in a heavenly ‘manner.’ Hence the reference is not exclusively to a future locality; nor is there a thought of purchasing a future and heavenly reward by laying up a store of good works. The superiority of these treasures is more prominent than the way to lay them up.
Matthew 6:21. For. A reason for the preceding precepts (Matthew 6:19-20).
Where thy treasure is, whether on earth or in heaven, there will thine heart be also. The singular pronoun adds impressiveness. Not a question of mere profit and loss, but of affection and of character. The precepts are for those who hope to become subjects of the kingdom of heaven. Such must have their heart in heaven, hence they must lay up their treasures there. The dedication of the heart to God is the underlying thought on which the particular teachings are based. May be used in support of the voluntary principle. People take more interest in the Church, if they sustain it by purse and personal effort.
Matthew 6:22. Not an abrupt transition, but an illustration of the importance of dedicating the heart to God supremely.
The lamp (the same word used in chap. Matthew 5:15, but different from that’ rendered ‘light’ at the close of this verse, and in Matthew 6:23) of the body is the eye. The eye gives light which it receives from without, and is not light itself, so the conscience lights the spirit by light from above. Single, i.e., presenting a single, clear image. The application is to single apprehension of God as the supreme object of trust and love.
Full of light, or, ‘in light,’ ‘in full light,’ the body having received what the eye was designed to convey.
Matthew 6:23. If thine eye be evil. This means, according to the contrast, ‘double’ distorted in vision.
Full of darkness, or, ‘in darkness’ (The word is not the same as that in the next clause, but derived from it.) The evil result of a divided state of heart, where what God designed to be the means of showing Himself to us as the supreme object of love, fails to perform its office. The rest of the clause carries out the same thought.
If therefore, since so much depends on the singleness of vision, the light that if in thee, what God has placed in us to be the means of conveying light, referring it to the conscience. Man can lose the proper use of what God designed to be the organ of spiritual light, even this may be darkness. In such a case, how great is that darkness. A fearful picture of a confirmed sinful condition; and it is implied that a heart without single and supreme dedication reaches such a condition. Another view: ‘If then the light which is in thee is darkness, how dark must the darkness be!’ i.e., ‘if the conscience, the eye and light of the soul, be darkened, In how much grosser darkness will all the passions and faculties be, which are of themselves naturally dark! ‘No blindness is so terrible as blindness of conscience, when what was made to enlighten us but increases our darkness.
Matthew 6:24. A still plainer illustration, to prove that man cannot be thus divided, must be one, light or dark, servant of God or of Mammon. Serve, i.e., be the slave of, yielding entire obedience. A hired servant might faithfully serve two masters, but such service is not meant here.
For either he will hate the one, etc. Explanations: ( 1 ) The suppositions the reverse of each other, with no particular difference between the two sets of verbs: ‘He will either hate A and love B, or cleave to A and despise B.’ ( 2 ) The second clause less strong than the first, the reference being to the proper master and a usurper; the servant may hate the proper master, and love the usurper, or if he love the former cleave to him, and despise the latter. The proper master (God) may be loved or hated, but cannot be despised. Hence in any case ‘one’ in the latter clause must be God.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon. This is the direct application. ‘Money in opposition to God is personified and regarded as an idol, somewhat like Plutus, although it cannot be shown that such an idol was worshipped’ (Olshausen). The Chaldee word ‘mammon’ originally meant ‘trust’ or confidence, and riches are the trust of worldly men. If God be not the object of supreme trust, something else will be, and it is most likely to be money. We must choose. Not the possession of money, but its mastery over the mind, is condemned.
Matthew 6:25. Therefore. Because of the precept just given. Anxiety, which is distrust of God, is the source of avarice. Living to God is the proper life, and it relieves from care, because we trust Him for what we need. This thought is expanded in the remainder of the chapter.
Be not anxious. The word means: ‘to be distracted,’ ‘to have the mind drawn two ways.’ Ordinary thought or care is not forbidden (comp. 1Ti 5:8 ; 1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:10), yet there is little danger of its being understood too literally. When thought about temporal things becomes anxiety, it has become distrust of God.
Your life. The word here used means ‘soul’ as the seat of physical life. Hence the needs of this life are spoken of, what ye shall eat, etc. The body too has the same needs, but clothing is more properly connected with it here: what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat? ‘ The meat,’ (i.e. , food of all kinds), needed to sustain it. Is not He who gave ‘the life’ able and willing to give what will sustain it, and He who made ‘the body,’ what will protect it.
Matthew 6:26. Behold, look attentively.
The birds of the heaven, the sky, the atmospheric heaven. This expresses the wild freedom above the earth which contains their food, and also their lower rank in the scale of creation.
That. Not ‘for.’ We are to behold with respect to the birds this fact, that they sow not, etc. Do not use the means which we all ought to use.
Barns, any kind of storehouse.
And, not ‘yet ‘; you are to consider this fact also, that your heavenly Father, standing in a higher relation to you than to them, feedeth them.
Are not ye much better than they? This conclusive argument shows that Matthew 6:25 must be designed to forbid our numerous earthly cares.
Matthew 6:27. Add one cubit unto his age, prolong his life in the least ‘Age’ is preferable to ‘stature’ (the word has both meanings); the reference is not to the body but to the life; further, to add a cubit ( 18 inches) to the stature would be a very great thing. Our age is conceived of as a race or journey. If then we cannot do what is least by our care, why be anxious?
Matthew 6:28. For raiment. The second thought in Matthew 6:25 is now expanded and illustrated; not only anxiety, but the common and childish vanity about raiment, is reproved.
Consider, i.e., study, observe closely; more readily done in the case of the plants than in that of the birds.
The lilies of the field, i.e., wild lilies, growing without human care. The words, ‘grass of the field’ (Matthew 6:30) lead us to suppose that wild flowers in general are meant. Many, however, because of the reference to the pomp of Solomon, suppose the Huleh lily is specially referred to: ‘it is very large, and the three inner petals meet above, and form a gorgeous canopy, such as art never approached, and king never sat under, even in his utmost glory’ (Thomson, The Land and the Book), This flower was common in the neighborhood of Nazareth.
How they grow. So beautifully, luxuriantly, without human care.
They toil not, neither do they spin; perform no labor in preparing clothing.
Matthew 6:29. Even Solomon. The magnificence of his court is still proverbial through the East. To the Jew he was the highest representative of human glory.
Like one of these. ‘One’ is emphatic. The meanest of God’s creatures exceed in glory the highest earthly pomp. Vanity about such things is therefore the height of folly. Another lesson is hidden beneath the text, ‘As the beauty of the flower is unfolded by the Divine Creator-Spirit from within, from the laws and capacities of its own individual life, so must all true adornment of man be unfolded from within by the same Almighty Spirit.’ (Alford.)
Matthew 6:30. But if God doth so clothe. ‘If’ does not imply doubt. The direct creative purpose and act of God is here assumed.
The grass of the field. Wild flowers belong to the herbage, which is cut down. It withers rapidly and is then fit for fuel, being east into the oven, its beauty gone, even its substance consumed.
Much more. He who adorns the transient wild flower, so that human pomp is mean in comparison, will most assuredly provide for His children, whose being is not for a day, but forever.
O ye of little faith, little faith about what is least, when He has given us the greatest gift, in giving Him who thus teaches us. He joins His lessons of trust to what we see every day, and we need them every day.
Matthew 6:31. Therefore. The logic is so conclusive, even those of little faith might learn the lesson. It is not learned, if we are anxious, saying, What shall we eat, etc. Too few have faith enough to interpret this verse correctly.
Matthew 6:32. But seek ye first. No ‘secondly’ is implied, as though we might be avaricious, after we have attended to the duties of religion. The first object is supreme. This positive command is needed, for we can avoid such anxious thought, only when we have some better object
His kingdom, i.e., ‘your heavenly Father’s’ (Matthew 6:32). The common reading is an alteration for explanation. Supreme dedication to a Personal Object of trust and desire, who is our Father for Christ’s sake, is here commanded.
His righteousness. The spiritual purity spoken of throughout. Not ‘justification,’ which this word does not mean, however true it is that we obtain God’s righteousness through ‘justification.’ This verse, which contains the crowning thought of this chapter, echoes the crowning thought of the whole discourse (chap. Matthew 5:48).
All these things, these things needed for the body.
Shall be added to you, over and above the spiritual blessings, which result from seeking God as the supreme object. We are to ask God for temporal things. Christian prayer implies intimate and constant approach to God, which would be impossible if we could not tell Him of all our real needs. To ask for them unconditionally, or to allow them to crowd out spiritual desires and affections, is certainly forbidden.
Matthew 6:34. Therefore. Either: a further deduction; or a summing up. The first view accords better with the reason given and would presuppose the other lessons; the latter is favored by the position of the verse immediately after the general precept of Matthew 6:33, and finds a place more easily in a logical analysis of the discourse. It is suspicious for that reason.
The morrow is here personified.
For the morrow will be anxious for itself. Not ‘take care of itself,’ but ‘bring its own cares and anxieties,’ do not foolishly increase those of today by borrowing from the morrow.
Sufficient unto the day, or for the day, is the evil thereof. ‘Evil’ may mean natural or moral evil, suffering, or sin. The latter sense is the more usual one, the former suits the context better. Perhaps both may be included, the sin being the want of trust under the suffering. A hint that we never fully obey the precepts just uttered, because our dedication to God is so imperfect.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent