(1) Heading (6:1). 6:1 The principle uniting all three illustrations appears first. Verse 1 does not contradict 5:16 because the motives in the two passages are entirely different. That which is done solely or primarily for personal honor or gain may accomplish its objective (v. 2b), but God will grant no further reward.
(2) Almsgiving (6:2–4). 6:2–4 In a society without social security or welfare, voluntary charity and donations for the destitute formed a key part of ancient Jewish life and remained an important virtue enjoined upon the righteous. But it was easy to abuse almsgiving by making it plain to others how generous the person was and thus receiving their adulation. It is not clear whether the trumpets “in the synagogues and on the streets” (v. 2) were literal or metaphorical (cf. our expression “blow your own horn”). The best guess may be that they refer to the noise and clang of throwing money into various collection receptacles. But Jesus’ point is unambiguous: his followers must not parade their piety or show off their good deeds. Such ostentation nullifies the possibility of any spiritual benefit for the almsgiver.
The positive alternative Jesus commands is that we should give in such a way that there is no temptation for others to glorify the giver rather than God. Jesus’ language again is figurative (v. 3 is literally possible only for those who undergo a lobotomy!) and does not imply that we must not keep track of giving or that we be irresponsible in stewardship of finances or refuse to disclose how we spend our money for the sake of demonstrating financial accountability. Jesus was simply explaining that the motive for charity must not be the desire for praise from others. In striking contrast stands the common approach to fund raising in many churches and Christian organizations in which lists of benefactors are published, often as an incentive for people to give. This kind of motive for giving or soliciting reflects hypocrisy (v. 2), pretending to honor God when in fact one is distracting attention from him. The reward humans can offer obviously refers to acclaim in this life, so the reward God will bestow or withhold (v. 4) probably also refers to spiritual benefit and growth in holiness in this life.
5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
(3) Prayer (6:5–15). 6:5–8 Verses 5–6 closely parallel vv. 2–4 but with respect to prayer. As with almsgiving, Jesus does not rule out all public behavior but stresses the private side of piety. Public prayer is very appropriate when practiced with right motives. But public orations should represent the overflow of a vibrant personal prayer life. What is more, prayer ought not to be used to gain plaudits, summarize a sermon, or communicate information to an audience but should reflect genuine conversation with God.
Verses 7–8 add a second element to Jesus’ teaching on prayer. We must not “babble” (an onomatopoeic word—battalogeō, literally, to say batta). In light of vv. 7b–8, this at least refers to a long-winded and probably flowery or rhetorical oration. “Vain repetitions” (KJV) should be taken as emphasizing “vain” and not “repetitions.” The term may also refer to the uttering of nonsense syllables common to magical incantations in the pagan religions of Jesus’ day. Verse 8 does not forbid prayer, as vv. 9–13 make clear, but calls for simplicity, directness, and sincerity in talking to God. Matthew 7:7–8 will urge persistence in prayer, but here we are reminded that God wants to give us good gifts; therefore, we need not badger him with our requests (cf. 7:11). God knows our needs, but he has also chosen to grant some things only when his people pray (Jas 4:2).
9“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.
12Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’ ”
6:9–13 Jesus then gave his disciples the “Our Father,” or the “Lord's Prayer.” Actually, the “Lord's Prayer” is a better designation for John 17, whereas the model given here might be better entitled “The Disciples’ Prayer.” In light of vv. 7–8 it is highly ironic that this prayer has come to be repeated mechanically in many Christian traditions (already Did. 8:3 commanded Christians to recite it three times daily), accompanied by the notion that frequent repetition develops spirituality. Still, the prayer remains an excellent model; it is equally ironic that other Christian traditions have carefully avoided its use or recitation. The key word in v. 9a is “how.” Verses 9b–13 illustrate key components and attitudes that Jesus’ disciples should incorporate into their prayer lives. We may choose to pray these exact words thoughtfully and reflectively or to put into our own words similar concerns. Close parallels appear in the standard Jewish Kaddish prayer and remind us that many Jews were not guilty of the hypocrisy warned against here. The parallel in Luke 11:2–4 is usually seen as a more primitive version of the same account, though the direction of development could be reversed. More likely the two reflect similar teachings of Jesus from two different occasions in his ministry.
The Greek “Father” (pater) probably translates the Aramaic Abba (cf. Mark 14:36). Use of this intimate term for God (almost equivalent to the English “Daddy”) was virtually unparalleled in first-century Judaism. Christians should consider God as accessible as the most loving human parent. (“Father” should not be read as implying that God has gender or sexuality.) The phrase “in heaven” balances this intimacy with an affirmation of God’s sovereignty and majesty. The use of the first-person plural pronouns throughout the prayer reminds us that our praying ought to reflect the corporate unity, desires, and needs of the entire church. The Lord’s Prayer is not simply a private utterance. The intimacy Christians may have with their Heavenly Father is balanced also with insistence on reverence in the clause “hallowed be your name.” “Name” refers to one’s person, character, and authority. All that God stands for should be treated as holy and honored because of his utter perfection and goodness.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” expresses the desire that the acknowledgment of God’s reign and the accomplishment of his purposes take place in this world even as they already do in God’s throne room. The first half of the prayer thus focuses exclusively on God and his agenda as believers adore, worship, and submit to his will before they introduce their own personal petitions.
The meaning of v. 11 depends largely on the very rare adjective epiousios. In addition to the traditional translation, “daily” bread, it could also mean bread for tomorrow (taken either as the next period of twenty-four hours or as the coming fullness of the kingdom) or necessary for existence. The best lexical research suggests that the noneschatological interpretation of “bread for tomorrow” may be best. Christians therefore should pray daily for the next day’s provision of life’s essentials as they recognize that all sustenance for one’s life comes from God and that he makes no long-term future guarantees. The average a uent Westerner more than likely plans and prays for “annual bread” except perhaps in times of extreme crisis. It is also worth noting that the prayer makes request for our needs and not our greed (cf. Jas 4:3).
“Forgive us our debts” renders the Greek literally. Luke 11:4, however, refers to “sins,” as does Matthew in vv. 14–15 (with the more specific paraptōmata, trespasses or conscious transgressions). Spiritual debts to God are first of all in view. Our plea for continued forgiveness as believers, requesting the restoration of fellowship with God following the alienation that sin produces, is predicated on our having forgiven those who have sinned against us. As v. 15 stresses, without this interpersonal reconciliation on the human level, neither can we be reconciled to God.
“Lead us not into temptation” does not imply “don't bring us to the place of temptation” or “don't allow us to be tempted.” God’s Spirit has already done both of these with Jesus (4:1). Nor does the clause imply “don't tempt us” because God has promised never to do that anyway (Jas 1:13). Rather, in light of the probable Aramaic underlying Jesus’ prayer, these words seem best taken as “don't let us succumb to temptation” (cf. Mark 14:38) or “don't abandon us to temptation.” We do of course periodically succumb to temptation but never because we have no alternative (1 Cor 10:13). So when we give in, we have only ourselves to blame. The second clause of v. 13 phrases the same plea positively, “Deliver us from evil” (or “from the evil one” [NIV marg.], from whom all evil ultimately comes). This parallelism renders less likely the alternate translation of the first clause as “do not bring us to the test” (“test” is an equally common rendering of peirasmos) either as times of trial in this life or as final judgment. If we are praying for rescue from the devil, he is more likely tempting than testing us (cf. under 4:1). God tests us in order to prove us and bring us to maturity (Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 1:6–9). Such tests should not be feared, nor should we pray for God to withhold them.
Numerous late manuscripts add various forms of a conclusion to Jesus’ prayer, probably based on 1 Chr 29:11–13, no doubt to give the prayer a “proper” doxology that it otherwise lacked. This well-known conclusion (“for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”) appears in the NIV margin but almost certainly did not appear in Matthew’s original text. It is absent, e.g., from א, B, D, ƒ1, various Latin and Coptic versions, and numerous church fathers. It nevertheless affords a very appropriate conclusion, and no one need campaign to do away with its use in churches today. Christians regularly and rightly utter many things in prayer that do not directly quote the autographs of Scripture.
14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
6:14–15 Verses 14–15 repeat in third-person form the thought of v. 12 and add the negative consequences of failure to forgive others. See the comments on v. 12 for more details, but note that Jesus is not claiming God’s unwillingness to forgive recalcitrant sinners but disclosing their lack of capacity to receive such forgiveness.
16“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they dis-figure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
(4) Fasting (6:16–18). 6:16–18 Jesus proceeds with the third example of a common element of Jewish piety. He himself has fasted for forty days (4:2–11). Pharisees typically fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, refraining from food but not from drink. In light of such texts as 9:14–17, fasting is more controversial in Christian circles than prayer or giving to the needy. Jesus apparently did not give this spiritual discipline a high priority, especially during his ministry, but he did anticipate that it would occur later (9:15). The only specific New Testament references to later Christian fasting come in contexts of seeking God’s will in choosing church leaders (Acts 13:2–3; 14:23). As with almsgiving and prayer, those who fast must not advertise their piety by visible signs of suffering and deprivation. Otherwise a person again gains accolades from people rather than from God. Instead people must groom themselves according to cultural norms in order to appear joyful and content. The same refrain of vv. 4b and 6b reappears for a third and final time (v. 18b) and rounds out this section of the sermon.
A. Plummer aptly summarizes vv. 1–18 as follows: “The light of a Christian character will shine before men and win glory for God without the artificial aid of public advertisement. Ostentatious religion may have its reward here, but it receives none from God.” Christians who judge successful ministries by external statistics such as attendance figures, membership, baptisms, and offerings should seriously rethink their criteria in light of Jesus’ words here. God judges the greatness of his servants by searching their hearts, examining their inner attitudes, and seeing deeds done in secret. Doubtless, his evaluations of who most honors him will invert a substantial majority of his people’s evaluations.
d. Wealth and Worry: Money versus Real Riches (6:19–34). The fourth section of Jesus’ sermon collects a group of teachings that are not as obviously parallel as the Beatitudes, the antitheses, or his teaching on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. A clear theme nevertheless unites these verses, contrasting earthly and spiritual treasures. This section links with 5:3–6:18 by warning that even when a person’s behavior and attitudes are correct, the greater righteousness demanded of disciples is not present unless God and not money is served. Matthew 6:19–34 also links naturally with 6:1–18 by continuing the contrast between seeking human reward and desiring to please God.
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(1) Two Masters (6:19–24). 6:19–21 Jesus commands his followers not to accumulate possessions they do not use for his work. Wealth in the ancient world, as often still today, regularly consisted of precious metals and cloth. Owners thus worried about attacks of moth and rust. Both were common in the hot, sandy Palestinian climate. The danger of theft applies to almost all kinds of valuables in every time and place. Rather than accumulating material wealth, people should work for spiritual riches invulnerable to loss and death (cf. Luke 12:15–21). Even if people succeed in safeguarding all their earthly riches, they cannot control how long they will live. Spiritual treasure should be defined as broadly as possible—as everything that believers can take with them beyond the grave—e.g., holiness of character, obedience to all of God’s commandments, souls won for Christ, and disciples nurtured in the faith. In this context, however, storing up treasures focuses particularly on the compassionate use of material resources to meet others’ physical and spiritual needs, in keeping with the priorities of God’s kingdom (vv. 25–34; cf. Luke 16:8–13).
Against the potential objection that material prosperity has no effect on one’s spiritual condition, v. 21 adds that one’s affections are inherently drawn to one’s treasure. This does not imply that rich people cannot be Christians, although the first centuries of Christianity knew only a small number of them. It does imply that riches bring grave dangers, not least of which is the extra anxiety of having to protect one’s possessions. To avoid those dangers, rich Christians must be characterized by generosity in giving and meticulous stewardship in using money for the Lord’s work. F. W. Beare rightly notes that without some accumulation of capital, no new ventures can be easily undertaken: “The words assume that the treasures are hoarded; they are prized for their own sake, not put to work to create jobs and produce goods.” Nevertheless, most all people who are able to save and invest experience the temptation drastically to overestimate their genuine needs and/or to try to secure their futures against all calamity. Meanwhile, the truly destitute of the world continue to grow poorer.
22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
6:22–23 Just as the “heart” (v. 21) forms the center of one’s affections and commitments, the “eyes” enable the whole person to see. Good and bad eyes probably parallel a good and bad heart and thus refer, respectively, to storing up treasures in heaven versus storing them up on earth. Verses 22–23 therefore restate the truth of the previous paragraph, that the way people handle their finances affects every other part of their lives, either for good or for bad. And if that which should lead to good actually causes evil, then the person is truly perverse (v. 23b).
24“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
6:24 Against those who might protest that they can accumulate both spiritual and earthly treasures, Jesus replies that they have only two options. They must choose between competing loyalties. “Master” suggests a slaveowner who required total allegiance. People could not serve two masters in the way in which people today often work two jobs. “Money” is more literally mammon, referring to all of a person’s material resources. Of course, many people do try to cherish both God and mammon, but ultimately only one will be chosen. The other will be “hated,” even if only by neglect. “Love” and “hate” in Semitic thought are often roughly equivalent to choose and not choose.
Many perceptive observers have sensed that the greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged, prevailing ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, the New Age movement or humanism but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our a uent culture. We try so hard to create heaven on earth and to throw in Christianity when convenient as another small addition to the so-called good life. Jesus proclaims that unless we are willing to serve him wholeheartedly in every area of life, but particularly with our material resources, we cannot claim to be serving him at all (cf. under 8:18–22).
25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
(2) The Futility of Worry (6:25–34). 6:25–34 If, on the other hand, we put trust in God first, God will take care of the rest of life. This renders worry unnecessary. “Worry” is the key word of this entire section, since it occurs six times (vv. 25, 27–28, 31, 34 [2x]). The KJV’s “take no thought” is definitely misleading here. Christians must plan for the future, but they need not be anxious. Jesus illustrates his point by discussing the basic provisions of food and clothing.
First, he focuses on the need for food. Birds in their wild state provide a good example because they are tirelessly industrious. Jesus is not discouraging hard work to provide for our needs. Yet despite their constant efforts, birds remain far more dependent on the “whims” of nature (which Jesus views as God’s provisions) than are people. We who have so much more opportunity to use creation for our own ends ought to worry even less than birds.
Two additional rationales for Jesus’ instruction follow. First, we are more valuable in God’s eyes because we are the only creatures made in his image. Second, worry doesn't accomplish anything anyway, at least not in terms of enabling us to live longer. The NIV marginal note “single cubit to his height” is a somewhat more natural translation of the Greek than “single hour to his life,” but it does not fit as well into the context. Adding a foot and one half to one’s height is not the trifling amount Jesus’ flow of thought seems to demand, and stature does not fit the context of provisions of food and clothing nearly as well as longevity.
To illustrate God’s provision of clothing, Jesus next directs attention to “the lilies of the field” (perhaps a reference to wild flowers and grasses more generally). “See how” is better translated “learn carefully from” (katamathete). Uncultivated vegetation does much less to provide for itself than do birds, yet God adorns it with beauty that at times surpasses the greatest splendor of human raiment (on Solomon’s wealth, cf. 1 Kgs 4:20–34; 7:1–51; 10:14–29). “Labor” (toiling in the field) and spinning (sewing clothing at home) probably refer, respectively, to the characteristic occupations of men and women in ancient rural culture. Yet plants prove even more fragile than birds and more short-lived than humans. People even picked plants and used them as fuel for the ovens in which they baked bread. If God lavishes such concern over the rest of his creation, how much more does he love us! Again, Jesus uses the characteristically Jewish type of reasoning—from the lesser to the greater. If the logic of his argument be granted, then worry can only result from a lack of genuine belief in God’s goodness and mercy. R. Mounce says, “Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.” Anxiety characterized pagan religions, which were dominated by fears of a capricious and despotic deity who constantly had to be appeased. In its modern, irreligious garb, pagan anxiety displays a great preoccupation with physical exercise and diet without a corresponding concern for spiritual growth and nutrition. Verse 32a recalls the logic of 5:47; v. 32b parallels and recalls 6:8b.
Verse 33 brings this paragraph to its climax. When priorities regarding treasures in heaven and on earth are right, God will provide for fundamental human needs. Seeking first the righteousness of the kingdom implies obedience to all of Jesus’ commands and shows that the thesis of 5:20 continues to be advanced. Of course, the major problem with the promise “all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be given to you” is the contrary experience of many Christians throughout history who have suffered deprivation and even starvation. One possible solution to this problem is to reserve all guarantees for the age to come. “Will be given” does not specify when God will provide. To be sure, the fullness of the kingdom will eradicate all suffering for God’s people, but it is hard to see why Jesus would rule out worry in the present age if his promise applies only to a distant future. And if God’s kingdom has already been inaugurated, then believers should expect to receive in this age the firstfruits of its material blessings. Hence, v. 33b is probably to be interpreted in light of Luke 12:33 and Mark 10:30a, which presuppose the sharing of goods within the Christian community. When God’s people corporately seek first his priorities, they will by definition take care of the needy in their fellowships. When one considers that over 50 percent of all believers now live in the Two-Thirds World and that a substantial majority of those believers live below what we would consider the poverty line, a huge challenge to First-World Christianity emerges. Without a doubt, most individual and church budgets need drastic realignment in terms of what Christians spend on themselves versus what they spend on others (cf. 2 Cor 8:13–15).
In v. 34 Jesus returns full circle to the beginning of his discussion (v. 25), encouraging daily dependence on God (cf. also v. 11). As if to underscore that v. 33 will never be implemented absolutely in this age, he reminds his audience of the daily evil (a more literal rendering than NIV “trouble”) that persists. But there are enough non-Christian sources of evil for believers (most notably the persecutions predicted in 5:10–11) that Christian self-centeredness ought never compound the problems of fellow believers who live in poverty.
e. How to Treat Others (7:1–12). This section seems more loosely tied together than 5:3–6:34. Certainly, the demanding nature of the greater righteousness required of Jesus’ disciples means that they have plenty to do just to take stock of their own spiritual progress. Christians scarcely can afford to be judgmental. Verses 1–6 seem to be united by the theme of how believers treat each other, specifically in judging or not judging one another, while vv. 7–11 illustrate how God treats his people. Verse 12 rounds out this section and probably summarizes the body of the sermon as a whole, with its classic statement of ideal interpersonal behavior.
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
—New American Commentary