This week, Jesus preaches to a group of people with LOTs of worries, and warns them of a danger that had probably never occurred to them. Then he gives three powerful examples – ones that have the potential to change your life. Check it out in Matthew 6:1-18
The word ‘[righteousness]’ in the first verse is actually the same as the word ‘righteousness’ in 5:20. It’s a many-sided word, especially in Matthew’s gospel, but at the centre of it is the sense of the obligation which Israel had to God because of being his special people. In chapter 5, this focuses more on the law, and on what it means to keep (or not to break) that law in one’s inner life and motivation. Now, in chapter 6, the focus is, to begin with, on the three things that Jews saw, and still see, as standard obligations: giving money, praying and fasting. In each case Jesus’ point is the same. What matters is the motive. If these religious duties are done with an eye on the audience, they become rotten at the core. Jesus doesn’t say that these outward things don’t matter. Giving money to those in need, praying to God day by day, and fasting when it’s appropriate—he assumes that people will continue to do all of these. What matters is learning to do them simply to and for God himself. All the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, is centred on God himself, who easily gets squeezed out of religion if we’re not careful. –N.T. Wright
Let not thy left hand know. By this expression he means, that we ought to be satisfied with having God for our only witness, and to be so earnestly desirous to obey him, that we shall not be carried away by any vanity. It frequently happens, that men sacrifice to themselves rather than to God. Christ therefore wishes, that we should not be distracted by indirect thoughts, but go straight to this object, that we may serve God with a pure conscience. –-John Calvin
We won’t take time to cover the Lord’s Prayer (v.9-14) during this message. It deserves its own series. For this week though, I’d recommend reading over the Heidelberg Catechism for some really insightful devotional teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (BPHp#57-64/Lords Day 45-52).
Jesus’ point of contention with his Jewish contemporaries was not the form of their prayers (which his own prayer in 6:9-13 closely matches) but their motivation. Again, such words strike not at a practice limited to Jesus’ contemporaries, but at the very heart of outward piety in general, a temptation the reality of which most religious people can attest. Jesus rejected lengthy prayers designed to impress others (see also Mk 12:38-40; Lk 20:46-47). Nor should one suppose that the longevity of one’s prayer earns a response. Faith’s object must be God rather than one’s own eloquence. But Jesus not only warns against the ” hypocrites’ ” prayers that invite human rather than divine attention; he criticizes pagan prayers designed to manipulate their deities. Pagans piled up as many names of the deity they were entreating as possible hoping at least one would be effective; this may be the import of ” many words “. Roman magistrates read prayers exactly as they had been handed down through tradition; ” if one syllable or one ritual gesture was performed incorrectly, the prayer might well be invalid “. Pagans also reminded a deity of favors owed, seeking an answer on contractual grounds. To compare Jewish hearers’ behavior with that of pagans would have shamed them deeply…. One should pray not because one thinks that prayers or formulas earn God’s favor, but as an expression of trust in a Father who already knows one’s need and merely waits for his children to express dependence on him. –Craig Keener
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of rewards. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and it is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man a mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it…. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity itself in consummation. There is also a third case, which is more complicated. An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper … reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so … enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward…. Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us. –C.S. Lewis