Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:31-34

Matthew 6:31-34

So then, dont worry saying, What will we eat? or What will we drink? or What will we wear? 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
(NET Bible)

The mentality of discipleship

The intrepid adventure traveler found herself high in the Canadian Rockies clinging to a rock pinnacle beside a gorge that dropped away for 1700 feet. Safety — if it existed at all there — was fifty feet across the gorge, over a rope bridge featuring wooden slats about two feet apart. The secret to crossing, she later said, was to ignore the gorge and the spaces between the slats and to focus only on placing her feet and hands carefully for every single step. After an eternity, she was across.

Following Jesus is not always safe. Are you up to the challenge?

It is important to remember that Jesus is teaching his disciples on a mountainside in rural Galilee, and a crowd of potential disciples is listening to what he said. The people Jesus is addressing are either part of his itinerant ministry or thinking about joining it. They are not wondering how they will eat and drink in the normal course of their previous lives; they are trying to figure out how they will live if they start or continue following Jesus. Jesus says, Dont be concerned about it!

Those already committed to Jesus are saying, What will we eat? (6:31). Those contemplating discipleship ask, What would we eat? (6:31). But Jesus gives two reasons to set aside such practical questions: 1) God-fearing disciples should not face the future like Gentiles, and 2) the Father already knows what the disciples need (6:32).

The assurance that the Father knows what the disciples need is not merely a generic statement about Gods care. Jesus says the Father knows that you need them all (6:32, ESV), referring back to food, drink, clothing and other necessary things. The Fathers care for the disciples is not some half-hearted effort that figures two out of three is good enough!

Matthew 6:33 gives the top priority for Jesus disciples: But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. No other English translation uses pursue in translating 6:33, for the simple reason that it does not work! We are to seek Gods kingdom and righteousness, not chase them. On the other hand, the statement that Jesus disciples are to seek these things above all is outstanding.

This ringing command of 6:33 meant most to those listening to Jesus. The days when Jesus walked the earth were not like other days before or since. Jesus spoke of this special time using two metaphors that brought out its vibrant possibilities. In Matt. 9:14-15, Jesus likened his days with the disciples to those of attendants to a bridegroom at a wedding. In Luke 23:31, Jesus warned the daughters of Jerusalem that his death when the wood is green did not bode well for the dry season to come after. It was especially during this epoch-making time that the disciples had to cast aside ordinary lives to follow Jesus wherever he led. We too must make crucial choices!

Of course, the decision to follow Jesus meant that nothing in a disciples life would ever be predictable again. Where will Jesus take us? What will we eat? How will we live? It was in that psychological context that Jesus told them: So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own (6:34).

To be clear, I am saying that Matt. 6:33-34 had a particular force for Jesus actual audience that we do not fully share. Only they could follow Jesus in a literal, physical way. We must also use his commands to guide our figurative walk as we too follow Jesus in our day and time.

Focused on the goal or the obstacles?

The path to which Jesus summons us does not always look safe. Will we focus on each step we must take or spend our time shuddering over the gorge below?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matt. 6:33, NLT).

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


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:22-23

Matthew 6:22-23

The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The focus of attention tells all

Scientists use a whole array of instruments to see what is visually unseen. Sonar does the job in water, ground-penetrating radar reveals objects underground, and ultrasound can show a tumor. But how can we illuminate the spiritual contours of the human heart?

In a context (6:19-34) that plainly deals with material possessions, Matthew 6:22-23 is challenging. The big question seems to be: in what sense is the eye the lamp of the body? I will answer that question next.

Of all the things the eye could see, it focuses attention on what the heart wants. The healthy eye gives attention to the things of God and his kingdom, and that fills the disciple of Jesus with light. But the diseased eye (6:23) prioritizes its vision for the things offered by the world, especially money and possessions or sex. The diseased eye incarnates the tastes of the diseased heart, a heart filled with darkness.

Having given the basic interpretation, we will now examine some of the details. Jesus states the basic principle first: “The eye is the lamp of the body” (6:22a). Using the lamp as a metaphor for the eye is not self-explanatory. A lamp provides light for the constructive activities of life.

But the eye is not free to look anywhere it likes; it looks where the heart directs it. So, the images admitted by the eye are a commentary on the interests of the heart. To focus on the positive, we will look closely at the meaning of the word translated healthy (6:22). The Greek adjective means: “pertaining to being motivated by singleness of purpose so as to be open and aboveboard, single, without guile, sincere, straightforward.”[1]

Since Jesus has just commanded that his disciples store up treasures in heaven (6:20), it is clear that Jesus has in mind a singleness of purpose that will animate his disciples to serve the kingdom of heaven. He will say that explicitly in Matt. 6:33, when he says, But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

But something else is going on here as well. Jesus has previously commanded his disciples to be generous toward others in need (5:42), so in this context about material possessions it would not be surprising to see that theme recur. Sure enough, a secondary meaning of the word translated healthy (6:22) is generous. This dual meaning for the healthy eye, expressing both single-minded and generous, will help us understand what the diseased (6:23) eye means.

The diseased eye causes inner darkness primarily because it is not focused on the kingdom of God. But David Turner explains that a secondary meaning involves greed and stinginess.[2] In other words, the person with a diseased eye turns away from his brother in need and thus shows he is no disciple of Jesus.

This complex wordplay would have been much more obvious to those listening to Jesus because these alternate meanings were well-known in those times. It is obvious, however, that the way we look at the world tells a great deal about what we are like inwardly.

Measuring spiritual heart health

Prejudices, assumptions, blind faith in certain unbiblical ideas, and false ways of determining truth all play a role in blinding us to what God wants us to see. The eye that sees like Jesus will not look on the world with greed but will see others in need and meet those needs. In doing so, the nature of the heart is revealed.

Apparently, the best way to be sure that material possessions do not come between you and God is to give them away to meet the needs of others. Such a person is a visionary for God!

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

[1] BDAG-3, haplous, straightforward, q.v.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 262.


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.