(Mat 6) “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Notice, first, that Jesus assumes that his disciples will give to the needy. It’s not a question of “whether” but “how.” That’s because charity to the poor was plainly and repeatedly taught in the Law of Moses and the prophets. Any good Jew of the age would have understood the importance of giving to the poor.
Here we see that the Kingdom will be concerned with social justice, but not for the sake of gaining individual glory. Rather, our good deeds must bring glory to God, not to ourselves. We can’t hide our lights under a basket, but neither do we shine our lights on ourselves.
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. 6 But 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Prayer is a key part of our relationship with God. If we understand that God loves us and wants what’s good for us, then we’ll see that we don’t need to impress God with our prayers. It’s not about eloquence or repetition — as though we have to earn God’s favor through our words. No, we should imagine ourselves as four-year olds, climbing into our Father’s lap and sharing what we need, knowing that our Father dotes on us and enjoys hearing what’s on our hearts, even if he knows much better than we do what we need and truly want.
I did a series on the Lord’s Prayer.
Those lessons provide far more material than we’ll have time to cover, but teachers need to read it in preparation. Here are the key points for this lesson.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“As it is in heaven” modifies all three phrases. It should be understood as —
- hallowed be your name on earth as it is in heaven
- your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
- your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
“Hallowed be your name” isn’t praise. It’s a prayer that God’s name be hallowed (considered holy) throughout the earth. You see, this is a triple prayer that the entire world be brought into the Kingdom. It’s a prayer for evangelism and missions. And as we pray it, we have to be willing to do our part.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
“Daily bread” means we pray for just enough to get us through today. We aren’t to pray for wealth and security — just enough so that we can serve God one more day.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
There’s a double meaning. To First Century Jewish ears, “debts” would refer to loans made by those with money to the poor, because God commanded that the Jews freely lend to the poor. And every seven years, those debts were forgiven. It was a face-saving form of charity.
Therefore, Jesus is saying that God will forgive what we owe him to the extent we forgive the loans we’ve made the poor — God will be as generous to us as we’ve been to the needy.
Of course, “debt” is also a metaphor for forgiving sins. If we hold grudges, so will God. If we forgive freely, so will God.
In light of the Story, the point is simple: the only way we can ever be the community of salt and light God wants is for us to forgive freely. But the way we’re going to show the world we are God’s people also includes our concern for those in need.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
This one is tough to interpret, but surely the most likely meaning is that we ask God to keep us from temptation. This is consistent with several passages in chapter 5 where Jesus is tells us that the way to escape sin is to escape temptation.
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so 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.
Just as Jesus taught about our giving, it’s not about us. Anything we do for the purpose of our own glory will dishonor God. If we constantly point others toward God, God will reward us.
Vainglory is devastating to a community — and destroys our relationship with God. To be the people and community he wants, we have to keep Jesus as the only Lord and deflect all honor to him.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When I travel to other countries, I keep my money in a US bank. That’s where I’m a citizen and where it will be kept safe. And we are residents of heaven traveling as aliens in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and therefore we want to keep our treasures there. Whatever we keep with us, we won’t be able to take with us.
Again, it’s a plea for simplicity — for reliance on God. After all, God is preparing Paradise for us.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But 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!
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.
If we focus on money, power, and building for ourselves here, then we aren’t trusting God as we should. If our eyes are focused heavenward, then everything is good. For us to be the people God wants, to have the community and marriages God wants for us, we have to have priorities unlike the world’s.
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? 26 Look 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? 27 Who 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. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If 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? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
It’s, of course, the same point. Worry about your reward in heaven, not the things of this life. God’s in charge, he loves us, and he’ll work it out. You see, worry can devastate us, because it makes us too fearful to be effective. We can’t be the missionaries and evangelists we need to be if we’re overly worried about the future. Neither can we serve the hurting and needy as we should if we’re worriers.
God wants us to be free from worry so we can “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” We tend to get lost in the pop psychology and forget that we are freed from worry to a purpose — to be about our Father’s business.