Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:19-21

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(NET Bible)

Where do you do your spiritual banking?

At the shooting range, you learn early that the proper sequence is: Ready; Aim; Fire!

Too many of Jesus disciples are living their lives by the sequence: Ready; Fire; Aim. If you leave the aiming of your life to the end, do not be surprised when that trajectory takes you somewhere you do not want to go. What is the spiritual target you are shooting for? How is your aim?

The introduction to this lesson asserts that too many Christians are aimless about how they conduct their lives. Of course, they are not the only ones. Recently an American actor died after living a life in which he starred in two popular movies, drank a lot of alcohol and took a lot of drugs. Yet he was called a legend. I think not! But he did accomplish what he aimed for.

Jesus raises with his disciples the question of how their lives are being lived; he does so using the metaphor of accumulating treasures. He combines that metaphor with the powerful contrast between the phrases on earth (6:19) and in heaven (6:20). Those two locations describe potential storage points for the accumulated treasures (6:19, 20).

Craig Keener informs us about wealth in the world of the first century: Views on wealth varied among thinkers in the Greco-Roman world, but most people then like most people today pursued whatever material advancement was available. . . . Because people often kept all their monetary savings in strongboxes in their own homes or buried beneath their floor, the danger of thieves and corruption was quite real.[1] Since homes for most people were made of sun-dried mud bricks, a thief had only to dig through the outer wall of the house.

Greek grammar experts[2] make the point that Jesus was likely using forms that mean the disciples must stop storing up for yourselves treasures on earth (my translation of 6:19a). In other words, they had already been doing the wrong thing and must quit!

The strongly parallel wording of verses 5:19-20 focuses attention on the few words which differ. The word not, present in verse 19, disappears in verse 20, because Jesus switches from a prohibition (5:19) to a positive command (5:20). The main focus falls on the phrases on earth (5:19) and in heaven (5:20). This means that any disciple aiming earthward is making a dire mistake; instead, they must focus heavenward. Obeying Jesus is all a matter of where a disciple aims.

Verse 5:21 gives the reason for what Jesus commands. Treasures exert something similar to gravitational attraction. The more we accumulate treasures on earth, the more our hearts will be pulled to the concerns of the earth. But the disciple of Jesus will give priority to the demands of the kingdom, and that will result in treasure in heaven. For this reason, one mark of a Christ-follower is to give generously to the needs of others; that giving is contrary to earthly values. So is serving selflessly, another mark of one who obeys Jesus words.

The pronoun you in the form your (6:21) is singular. Jesus is bringing the responsibility to guard the heart right down to the individual level. No one can do this for you!

David Turner makes a significant point when he says, Seeking heavenly treasure, however, does not amount to avoidance of earthly involvement.[3] We are sojourners on the earth as we watch for the return of Christ, and he does not call on us to retreat into monasteries.

Time to check your aim

Since we have found that living aimlessly is opposite to what Jesus commands his disciples, we have to assess what we are aiming at.

You may strike out on earth, but the chief goal of life is to hit a home run with God. Make sure you are swinging for that heavenly fence!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 230.

[2] See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 724, and A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1919) 851852.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 196.


Sermon on the Mount: Matt. 6:5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

What impresses God?

My favorite definition of an opportunist is a person who has a keen eye for the main chance. The guiding light for such a person is not principle — they take all kinds of contradictory positions — it is advantage. Short-term advantage is what an opportunist seeks.

An opportunist can often manipulate people, but can they manipulate God? How?

Some people know how to turn on the charm when the cameras are rolling. Since there were no cameras in the first century, some Jews did the next-best thing: they sought places where lots of eyeballs would be gathered, like a street corner or an assembly. There they would recite their daily prayers so that people can see them (6:5). We could also translate that phrase as “so that they might shine for men” (my translation).

Jesus did not deny that this strategy worked, but he vowed that momentary attention was all the reward such prayers would bring. Craig Keener points out that Jesus was not forbidding public prayer — as shown by 18:19-20; 21:13; and 1 Tim. 2:8 — but was banning prayer designed to gain personal approval from others.[1]

Jesus next provides the contrasting principle that should control his disciples prayers: privacy (6:6). Keener says that Galilean homes had one or two rooms, and the only one with a door would be the storeroom.[2] There you may pray to your Father who is in secret (ESV and HCSB for 6:6). While the Father is unseen, he sees the seeking heart of his children and rewards them.

Instead of understanding this instruction as a literal formula for prayer, the whole point is that the private person is seeking God while the public person is seeking people. While Jesus often prayed privately, he also prayed aloud in the hearing of others (11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42), so it is plain that he is not forbidding public prayer. The actual, deeper issue is: why are you praying?

In 6:7-8, Jesus also criticizes the prayers of religious outsiders, people who do not understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father.[3] The verb translated babble repetitiously means to speak in a way that images the kind of speech pattern of one who stammers, use the same words again and again, speak without thinking.[4] Jesus explains that this practice is based on a false belief that piling up words will move God to act (6:7). To the contrary, the Father already knows what you need (6:8) before you open your mouth!

A fascinating example of useless babbling is presented in 1 Kings 18:16-29. That is followed by a short model of public prayer by Elijah (1 Kings 18:30-39). Check out the difference!

I suggest that a key theological test of prayer offered in public is that the person praying must actually be speaking to God— perhaps on behalf of the gathered believers — and not to the people listening. You will know the difference! Further, if you do not speak to God frequently in private, allow those who do pray to lead you to his throne of grace in public.

The goal is to shine for God!

In explaining what Jesus taught about prayer, some may feel I have crossed over from teaching into meddling! Prayer practices are a sensitive subject, but Jesus is the one to tell us how it is done.

In private prayer, there is no temptation to play to the people, because the sole audience is God. All your prayer should be heart-felt, and delivered in plain words. Then your prayers will shine! Your Father in heaven already knows what you need, and he will hear all you say with love.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 211.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 210.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 240.

[4] BDAG-3, battalogeo, babble, speak without thinking, q.v.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:1-4

Matthew 6:1-4

Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
(NET Bible)

Who is our audience?

Through the voice of Macbeth, the playwright Shakespeare talked about life as a performance:

Lifes but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.[1]

During your hour upon the stage, will you behave for the pleasure of men or the approval of God?

Matthew 6:1 states the principle that governs all of 6:1-18. Jesus answers the question: How do I carry out the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees?

The answer Jesus gives is equally simple: do everything before the searching gaze of God, not for the approval of people. This idea is treated in three classic areas of Jewish piety, giving to others, prayer and fasting. In this post we deal only with the general principle and giving to others.

The presence of the word merely in the NET Bibles translation of 6:1 is questionable. [Take a moment to read the verse.] No Greek word explicitly underlies this word, and it gives the unfortunate impression that your performance of righteousness may have two audiences. That is contrary to what Jesus is teaching. It will soon be obvious that people need not see your righteous deeds at all! In the court of heaven, all that will matter is what God thinks of your deeds.

Jesus will contrast the way commanded for his disciples with that of the hypocrites (6:2). The hypocrites — read here the scribes and Pharisees— do their deeds for public show. In what way is this hypocrisy? The hypocrite wants you to think his actions are serving God, but in fact they are designed to get attention resulting in public approval. It is a sham, like the old sheriff who said, Son, were going to give you a fair trial followed by a good hanging!

What is the outcome of performing righteous deeds for popular approval? You get such approval, and that is all! NLT correctly translates, I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get (Matt. 6:2). The Greek verb was used in financial transactions and means to provide a receipt for a sum paid in full.[2] God will not pay them again on judgment day.[3]

The religious leaders not only performed for public approval but also did it with great fanfare; the trumpets (6:2) are probably figurative, but they indicate little subtlety in the act of giving!

To make his point in a memorable way, Jesus again uses exaggeration when he speaks of one giving hand not knowing what the other hand is doing (6:3). Craig Keener points out that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius used a similar idea when he said, Do not let your own ear hear you.[4]

The charitable giving done by a disciple must be done in secret so as to clearly appeal to God alone for reward (6:4). And the Father, who keeps on seeing in secret, will reward the giver (6:4).

An exclusive performance

If you do acts of righteousness to impress people, all you will get is a receipt that says Paid in Full! But the deed done for Gods approval alone is the one that wins lasting reward.

If you have ever seen a minister or other disciple involved in self-promotion, it probably turned you off. What is more important is that you take a different path, one designed to please God. The reward that comes later from Jesus is far beyond the fickle praise people may offer now.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 24-26.

[2] BDAG-3, apecho, receive in full what is due, q.v.

[3] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 208.

[4] Keener, Matthew, 208.