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Bible Commentaries

The Fourfold Gospel

Matthew 6

Verses 1-18


XLII.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.
(A Mountain Plateau not far from Capernaum.)
Subdivision E.
ALMSGIVING, PRAYER, AND FASTING TO BE
PERFORMED SINCERELY, NOT OSTENTATIOUSLY.

aMATT. VI. 1-18.

a1 Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. [This verse refers back to Matthew 5:20, where the disciple is told that his righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Matthew’s fifth chapter deals with the actions themselves, but this sixth chapter treats of the motives and manners of our actions.] 2 When therefore when thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. [Trumpets were sounded as signals to large bodies. This fact gave to the word trumpet a symbolic significance. Anything which is noised or blazoned abroad is spoken of as being trumpeted. The figure also conveys the idea of pompous self-laudation. Hence we still speak of an egotistical man as one who "blows his own trumpet." The hypocrites of that day did not blow a literal trumpet to call attention to their gifts any more than the hypocrites of this day do. But they used methods to call attention to their generosity as those of our time do when they publish an account of their munificence in the newspapers. Almsgiving was a prominent feature of Jewish life. Transplanted from Judaism, almsgiving became one of the characteristic features of the early church ( Acts 9:36, Acts 10:2, Galatians 2:10). Christ corrected the error as to it in what he said about the widow’s mites. As these hypocrites sought the praise of men, they had their reward when they received it.] 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 that thine alms [250] may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. [Jesus here recommends secret and noiseless giving, by the never-to-be-forgotten metaphor of the left and right hand. Our generosity is to come so spontaneously, and with so little thought, that the liberality of one part of the body shall not be communicated to the other. The command does not forbid publicity, but that spirit which desires publicity. "The true Christian cares not how much men hear of his public charities, nor how little they hear of his private ones" (Toplady). Good deeds may be published by others to stimulate good in others; but care should be taken lest they be stimulated to give for the sake of like notoriety ( Mark 12:41-44, Acts 4:36, Acts 4:37). Salvation is a matter of favor, and not of merit. But there is, nevertheless, a recompense attendant upon it. The joys of the world come, and the blessings in this world are included in that recompense-- Matthew 25:34-40.] 5 And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the street. that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. [Jesus deals with our conduct toward God as well as toward man. However perfectly we may act toward man, our life is one-sided and imperfect if we omit or improperly perform our duties toward God. The Pharisaical habit of standing in a prayerful attitude, to be seen of men, was certainly not prayer. In their case public opinion, and not the praise of God, "was the wind that set the wind-mill a-work" (Trapp). As Pharisees loved the standing and not the praying, so Christians should love the praying and not the standing. Yet prayer for the edification or comfort of others is not here condemned. Prayer itself is nowhere condemned. It is the ostentatious prayer-attitude which Jesus stamps with his displeasure. Needless attitudes of private prayer in pulpit and pew are here condemned.] 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, [251] and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. [The inner chamber was properly a little room in the interior of the house or on the housetop, but it is here used to indicate any place of privacy, and the shut door emphasizes the strictness of the privacy, for in all personal prayer we should strive to be alone with God. Jesus found a prayer-chamber upon the mountain-top and in the garden.] 7 And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. [For samples of repetitions, see 1 Kings 18:26, Acts 19:34. Strictly speaking, Jesus does not here forbid either a long prayer, or the use of the same words in a prayer when the heart sincerely prompts the utterance. He himself prayed at great length, even continuing in prayer all night ( Luke 6:12), and in the garden he thrice repeated the same words. What he does forbid is making the number and length of prayers an object of consideration or a source of trust. This command is especially violated by the repetitions of the Roman Catholic rosary. Speech to God can not be ordered too carefully ( Ecclesiastes 5:2). In stating that God knows our desires before we ask, Jesus gives the reason against vain repetitions. God does not need elaborate explanations, and prayer is not uttered to inform him, but to put ourselves in such communion with him as to make us fit to receive. Moreover, prayer is a matter of asking and receiving, and not a meritorious service, as Mohammedans and Catholics still hold, and as the Pharisees held. With them, as public prayers were to gain credit with men, so long and repeated prayers were to obtain merit before God. Christ teaches contrary to all this.] 9 After this manner therefore pray ye [having pointed out the errors which then characterized prayer, Jesus proceeds to give a brief outline as a model in matter, arrangement, and expression]: Our Father who art in heaven. [The common Jewish invocation was, "O Lord God of our fathers." Jesus, as the brother of man, [252] introduced this new and precious invocation, which puts us in prayer’s proper attitude], Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. [This is the first section of the prayer.] 11 Give us this day our daily bread. [So long as it is "this day" we do not need to-morrow’s bread.] 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. [God can not forgive the temper that is unforgiving, for it can only exist in a heart blind as to the amount of its debt. Forgiveness, too, must be a completed act before we begin to pray. Our Lord lays stress on this one point in the prayer, returning to it after he had closed the form, that he may assure us that the divine procedure will, in this respect, be fashioned to our own. Debt is a mild word for our sin, and is broader than trespass. Trespass indicates a misstep, a wrong-doing, but debt an unfulfilled obligation of any kind. We must not be hard in exacting our rights, when to do so would be oppressive.] 13 And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [This petition, to be effective, must be followed by an earnest effort on our part to fulfill it. We prefer to read "the evil," rather than "the evil one," for the neuter is more comprehensive ( 2 Timothy 4:18), and includes deliverance from the evil thoughts of man’s own heart, and from evils from without as well as temptations of Satan. As to the prayer generally, we note the following: It is divided into two sections, and each section is subdivided into three heads. Of these the first three are invocations for the glory of God; thus: 1. That God may be glorified in his name, so that it shall be universally reverenced; 2. That God may be glorified in his kingdom--that kingdom before which every power of evil shall eventually fall; 3. That God may be glorified in the hearts of humanity by all men becoming obedient unto his will. These petitions come first, for it is of first importance to us that God should be honored in his person, in his authority and in his desires. The three petitions represent three stages of spiritual growth in the communion and fellowship with God. We first know and revere his name [253] as God. From that we advance to the full recognition of his royal and divine authority. And from this in turn we again advance until we know him fully as Father, and, forgetting his authority, perform his wishes through the joyous constraint of love, as do the angels in heaven. The second three petitions are for humanity; thus: 1. For their bodies, that they may have sustenance. It is not a petition for milk and honey, symbols of luxury, but for bread, life’s staff and necessity, and for bread in moderation--bestowed day by day, like the manna. 2. For their souls in things concerning the past--that past trespasses may be forgiven. This is the one thing needful to the soul in regard to the past. Since a certain soul condition is necessary (viz.: the spirit of forgiveness), as a condition precedent to obtaining this petition, that condition is plainly stated in the petition itself. 3. For their souls as to the future, that they may be enabled to avoid temptation, and that they may be finally delivered from evil. God does not tempt us ( James 1:13), but he can permit us to be led into temptation, or he can shield us from it, only permitting us to enter so far into it as to come off victorious over it ( 1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Peter 2:9); so that it shall prove unto us a blessing instead of a curse-- James 1:12, James 5:11.] 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [Forgiveness may be difficult, but it is essential: we should realize that as we pray. Jesus presents this truth positively and negatively, that we may make no mistake about it. Those who are accustomed to repeat the Lord’s Prayer will notice that the doxology with which it closes is omitted. It was probably inserted from some early liturgy. It is absent from the oldest manuscripts, and interrupts the connection of the thought about forgiveness. All textual editors omit it.] 16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces. [by omitting to wash their faces and neglecting to dress or anoint their beards], that they may [254] appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 that thou be not seen of men to fast, but of thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall recompense thee. [Fasting, as an aid to meditation and prayer, is a wholesome practice, but stated fasts lead to hollow formality, and fasts which are endured for public praise are an abomination. Christ admonishes us to conceal the fast, and so avoid the temptation to be hypocritically ostentatious, for fasting is intended for self-abasement, and not to cultivate pride. His words allude to the practice of anointing. Rich Jews were accustomed to anoint their bodies daily with olive or sweet oil. This was refreshing, and prevented many of the disease which the dry, hot air of Palestine made prevalent. The custom still prevails among Eastern nations.]

[FFG 250-255]

Verses 19-34


XLII.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.
(A Mountain Plateau not far from Capernaum.)
Subdivision F.
SECURITY OF HEAVENLY TREASURES CONTRASTED
WITH EARTHLY ANXIETIES.

aMATT. VI. 19-34.

a19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal. [In our Lord’s time banks, such as we have, were unknown, and in order to keep money its possessor frequently buried it, thus subjecting it to rust and corrosion. The havoc caused by moths is too familiar to need comment ( James 5:2). Costly and ornamental apparel was reckoned among a man’s chief treasures in olden times. See Joshua 7:21, 2 Kings 5:5, Luke 16:19. Oriental houses were frequently made of loose stone or sun-dried bricks, so that the thief found it easier to enter by digging through the wall than by opening the barred door. A too literal compliance with this negative precept would discourage thrift. The precept is not intended to discourage the [255] possession of property in moderation, but it forbids us to hoard for selfish purposes, or to look upon our possessions as permanent and abiding. The lives of many men of our day seem to be employed to no other purpose than that of amassing an abundance of earthly treasure. But no true Christian can envy them, or follow their example]: 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal [As the impossibility of hoarding earthly treasures is in the Matthew 6:19 urged as a reason against it, so in this verse the possibility of amassing perpetual possessions in heaven is set forth as the reason why we should do it. Thus the striking contrast between the two kinds of treasures is brought to our notice, so that it is the height of folly not to make a proper choice between them]: 21 for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. [Having contrasted the two treasures, Jesus here suggests the contrast between the two places where they are stored up. Since the heart follows the treasure, that it may dwell with the object of its love, we should place our treasures in heaven, even if the treasures there were no better than the treasures on earth; for it is better that our hearts should abide in the city of God than on this sinful earth.] 22 The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness! [In these two verses there is a brief allegory, the meaning of which is to be ascertained from the context. The subject under consideration is the propriety of laying up treasures, not on earth, but in heaven, and the effect which treasures have upon the heart. Now, the heart or affection is to the soul much the same as the eye is to the body. If we do not set our affections upon spiritual things, the time quickly comes when we can not see them ( 1 Corinthians 2:14, John 3:19-21). Jesus therefore represents our affections as if they were an eye. If the eye is single--i. e., [256] if it sees nothing with a double or confused vision--then the man receives through it clear views of the outside world, and his inner man is, so to speak, full of light. But if his eye is diseased or blinded, then his inner man is likewise darkened. Applying the allegory to the spiritual man, if his heart is single in its love toward God and the things of God, then he has clear views as to the relative importance and value of things temporal and eternal, things earthly and things heavenly. But if the heart looks with a double interest upon both earthly and heavenly treasure, it makes the man double-minded ( James 1:6-8), and so spoils his life. God does not permit a double affection any more than he does a double service, and a man who seeks to continue in it will soon be visited with great darkness as to the things of God, and will become blind in heart and conscience-- Romans 1:21-25.] 24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. [Mammon was a common Chaldee word used in the East to express material riches. It is here personified as a kind of god of this world. Jesus here assumes that we are framed to serve ( Genesis 2:15); and hence that we must choose our master, for it is impossible to serve two masters whose interests are different and conflicting. They conflict here, for it is mammon’s interest to be hoarded and loved, but it is God’s interest that mammon be distributed to the needy and be lightly esteemed. God claims our supreme love and our undivided service.] 25 Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? [The word "anxious" is derived from a word which indicates a state of doubt or double-mindedness. It therefore indicates that sense of suspense or worry which comes from a mind in doubt. Compare Luke 12:29. Hence we may say that Jesus is here continuing the contrasts of the Matthew 6:24, and that, having warned [257] against a double vision and a double service, he now warns against a double mind as to the comparative value of the benefits to be derived from the service of God or the service of mammom. Mammon can only supply food, but God gives the life; mammon can only furnish clothing, but God gives the body. By single-mindedness we can find peace, for God is to be relied upon. By double-mindedness we fall to worrying, for mammon may fail to supply those things which we feel we need.] 26 Behold the birds of the heaven they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? [Literally, do ye not greatly excel them. The birds do not serve mammon at all, yet God feeds them. Surely, then, man who excels the birds both in his intrinsic value and in his capacity for temporal and eternal service, can expect to receive from God his sufficient food.] 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? [Peace and trust characterize the service of God. The rewards of mammon, on the contrary, are won by anxiety. But the rewards of mammon can not lengthen life as can God. Therefore we should not hesitate to choose God’s service.] 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [The magnificence of Solomon and of his court is proverbial in the East unto this day. To the Jew he was the highest representative of earthly grandeur, yet he was surpassed by the common lily of the field. Which lily is here meant can not be determined. Calcott thinks it was the fragrant white lily which grows profusely all over Palestine. Smith favors the scarlet martagon; Tristam, the anemone coronaria; and Thomson, the Huleh lily, a species of iris. It is likely, however, that scholars are trying to draw distinctions where Jesus himself drew none. It is highly probable that in popular speech many of the common [258] spring flowers were loosely classes together under the name lily.] 30 But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ["This is the only term of reproach Jesus applied to his disciples" (Bengel). As to the grass and oven we may say that the forests of Palestine had been cleared off centuries earlier, and the people were accustomed to use the dried grass, mingled with wild flowers and weeds, for fuel. The oven was a large, round pot of earthenware, or other material, two or three feet high, and narrowing toward the top. This was first heated by fire within, after which the fire was raked out, and the dough put inside. Such is still the universal practice.] 31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? [God’s care for the grass which lasts but for a day should teach us to expect that he will show more interest in providing for those who have been fashioned for eternity.] 32 For after all these things do the Gentiles seek. [Christians having a heavenly Father to supply their wants, should not live like the Gentiles, who have no consciousness of such a Father. Of what use is all our religious knowledge if we are still as careworn and distrustful as the benighted heathen?]; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. [Here is the panacea for anxiety. Being God, the Supreme One knows; being a Father, he feels. Many repose with confidence upon the regularity and beneficence of his providential laws; but far sweeter is that assurance which arises from a sense of God’s personal interest in our individual welfare--an interest manifested by the gift of his Son.] 33 But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. [The kingdom of heaven is the real object of our search. It must be sought first both in point of time and of interest, and it must be kept ever first in our thoughts after it is found. That Christian faith and obedience leads to worldly prosperity is proved by countless [259] instances which are multiplied with each succeeding day. The security of Christ’s kingdom leads to that cheerfulness which renews the strength, and to that undistracted industry which brings success.] 34 Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. [Each day has trouble enough without adding to it by borrowing somewhat from the morrow. Serve God to-day with the strength you used to expend in carrying troubles which you borrowed from the future, and God will order the affairs of to-morrow.]

[FFG 255-260]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tfg/matthew-6.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.