Matthew 6: The Sermon on the Mount

393 matthaeus 6 the sermon on the mountJesus teaches a high standard of justice that requires an inner attitude of sincerity. With dismaying words he warns us against anger, adultery, oaths and retribution. He says we even have to love our enemies (Mt 5). The Pharisees were known for strict guidelines, but our righteousness should be better than that of the Pharisees (which can be quite disturbing if we forget what was previously promised in the Sermon on Mercy). True justice is a mindset. In the sixth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we see Jesus making this theme clear by condemning religion as a show.

Charity in secret

"Pay attention to your piety that you do not practice them in front of people to be seen by them; Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. If you now give alms, you should not make it trumpet in front of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they are praised by the people. Truly, I say to you, they have already had their reward "(v. 1-2).

In Jesus' day there were people who made a show out of religion. They made sure people could notice their good works. They received recognition from many sides. That's all they get, Jesus says, because their actions are just acting. They were not concerned with serving God, but were good at public opinion; an attitude that God will not reward. Religious behavior can also be seen today in pulpits, in the exercise of ministries, conducting Bible studies or in contributions from church newspapers. One may give food to the poor and preach the gospel. Outwardly, it looks like serious service, but the attitude can be very different. "But if you give alms, do not let your left hand know what the right does, so that your alms remain hidden; and your Father, who sees in the secret, will repay you "(v. 3-4).

Of course, our "hand" knows nothing of our actions. Jesus uses a saying that expresses almsgiving not for show purposes, either in favor of others or self-praise. We do it for God, not for our own sake. It is not literal to understand that charity may only happen in secret. Jesus has said before that our good deeds should be visible for people to praise God (Mt 5,16). The focus is on our attitude, not on our external impact. Our motive should be to do good works for the glory of God, not for our own honor.

The prayer in secret

Jesus said something similar about prayer: "And when you pray, you should not be like the hypocrites who like to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray so that they are seen by the people. Truly, I say to you, you have already had your reward. But if you pray, go into your closet and shut the door and pray to your father, who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in the secret, will repay you "(v. 5-6). Jesus does not make a new bid against public prayer. Sometimes even Jesus prayed in public. The point is that we should not pray just to be seen, nor should we avoid prayer for fear of public opinion. Prayer reveres God and is not there to present oneself well.

"And when you pray, you should not babble much like the Gentiles; because they think they are heard when they say a lot. That's why you should not be like them. Because your father knows what you need before you ask him "(V. 7-8). God knows our needs, but we should ask him (Phil 4,6) and be persistent (Lk 18,1-8). The success of prayer depends on God, not on us. We do not have to reach a certain number of words or keep a minimum time frame, neither take a special prayer position nor choose beautiful words. Jesus gave us a model prayer - an example of simplicity. It may serve as a guide. Other designs are welcome.

"Therefore you should pray like this: Our Father in Heaven! Your name will be sanctified. Your kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven "(v. 9-10). This prayer begins with a simple praise - nothing complicated, just a wording of the desire for God to be honored and for people to be receptive to His will. "Give us our daily bread today" (V. 11). Hereby we acknowledge that our life depends on our almighty Father. While we can go to a store to buy bread and other things, remember that God is the one who makes it possible. We depend on him every day. "And forgive us our guilt, as we forgive our debtors. And do not tempt us, but deliver us from evil "(v. 12-13). We not only need food, but also a relationship with God - a relationship that we often neglect and why we often need forgiveness. This prayer also reminds us that we should be merciful to others when we ask God to be gracious to us. We are not all spiritual giants - we need divine help to resist temptation.

Here, Jesus ends the prayer and concludes once again our responsibility to forgive each other. The better we understand how good God is and how great our failure is, the better we will understand that we need mercy and have to be willing to forgive others (v. 14-15). This looks like a caveat: "I will not do this until you have done that". A big problem is that people are not very good at forgiving. None of us is perfect and nobody forgives completely. Does Jesus ask us to do something that even God would not do? Is it conceivable that we would have to forgive others unconditionally while making his forgiveness conditional? If God made his forgiveness dependent on our forgiveness and we would do so, then we would only forgive others if they forgave. We would be in an endless queue that does not move. If our forgiveness is based on forgiving others, our salvation depends on what we do - on our works. Therefore, theologically and practically we have a problem when we take Matthew 6,14-15 literally. At this point we can add to the consideration that Jesus died for our sins before we even were born. Scripture says that he nailed our sins to the cross and reconciled the whole world.

On the one hand, Matthew 6 teaches us that forgiveness depends on conditions. On the other hand, Scripture teaches us that our sins have already been forgiven - which would include the sin of neglected forgiveness. How are these two ideas to be reconciled? Either we misunderstood the verses of one side or the other side. We can now add another argument to the consideration that Jesus often used the element of exaggeration in his conversations. If your eye seduces you, tear it out. If you pray, go into your little room (but Jesus did not always pray in the house). When you give the needy, do not let your left hand know what the right one is doing. Do not resist a bad person (but Paul did). Do not say yes or no (but Paul did). You should not call anyone a father - and yet, we all do it.

From this we can see that another example of exaggeration was used in Matthew 6,14-15. That does not mean that we can ignore that - Jesus wanted to point out how important it is to forgive other people. If we want God to forgive us then we should forgive others too. If we want to live in a kingdom where forgiveness has been granted to us, we must live it in the same way. As we wish to be loved by God, so we should love our fellow human beings. If we fail in that, it will not change God's nature to love. True, if we want to be loved, we should do that as well. Although it all sounds as though everything depends on the fulfillment of a precondition, the purpose of what is said is to encourage us to love and forgive. Paul formulated it as an instruction: "Bear one another and forgive one another when one has a complaint against the other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so do you too! "(Kol 3,13). Hereby an example is given; it is not a requirement.

In the Lord's Prayer we ask for the daily bread, although we (in most cases) already have it in the house. In the same way, we ask for forgiveness, even though we have already received it. It is a confession that we did something wrong and that it affects our relationship with God, but with the confidence that he is willing to forgive. It's part of what it means when we expect redemption rather than a gift, rather than something we could earn from our performance.

From fasting in secret

Jesus comes to speak of another religious practice: "If you fast, you should not look mad as the hypocrites; because they turn their faces to show themselves in front of the people with their fasting. Truly, I say to you, you have already had your reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you do not show yourself before the people with your fasting, but in front of your father, who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in the secret, will repay you "(v. 16-18). When we fast, we wash and comb as we always do, since we come before God and not to impress the people. Again the emphasis is on attitude; it's not about being noticed with fasting. If someone asks us if we are fasting, we can answer truthfully - but never hope to be asked. Our goal is not to attract attention, but to seek God's nearness.

For all three themes, Jesus points out the same point. Whether we give alms, pray or fast, it happens "in secret". We do not seek to impress people, but we do not hide from them. We serve God and honor Him alone. He will reward us. The reward, like our activity, may be hidden. It is real and happens according to its divine goodness.

Treasures in the sky

Let's focus on pleasing God. Let's fulfill his will and value his rewards higher than the transient rewards of the world. Public praise is a short-lived form of reward. Jesus speaks here about the transience of physical things. "You should not collect treasures on earth, where they eat the moths and the rust and where the thieves break in and steal. But collect treasures in heaven, where they neither eat moths nor rust, and where the thieves do not break in and steal "(v. 19-20). Worldly riches are short lived. Jesus advises us to pursue a better investment strategy - to seek the lasting values ​​of God through silent charity, unobtrusive prayer and fasting in secret.

If we take Jesus too literally, one would think he would make a bid to save for the retirement age. But it is really about our heart - what we consider valuable. We should value the heavenly rewards higher than our worldly savings. "For where your treasure is, there is your heart" (v. 21). If we value the things that God values, then our hearts will also guide our behavior properly.

"The eye is the light of the body. If your eye is louder, your whole body will be light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be dark. Now if the light that is in you is darkness, how great will darkness be! "(V. 22-23). Apparently, Jesus uses a saying of his time here and applies it in terms of greed for money. When we look at things that belong to us in the right way, we will see opportunities to do good and be generous. However, when we are selfish and jealous, we are in moral darkness - corrupted by our addictions. What do we seek in our lives - to take or to give? Are our bank accounts set up to serve us or do they enable us to serve others? Our goals lead us to good or corrupt us. If our interior is corrupt, if we only seek the rewards of this world, then we are truly corrupt. What motivates us? Is it money or is it God? "Nobody can serve two masters: either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hang on one and despise the other. You can not serve God and mammon "(v. 24). We can not serve God and public opinion at the same time. We should serve God alone and without competition.

How could a person "serve" the mammon? By believing that the money brings her luck, it makes her seem extremely powerful and she can attach great value to it. These assessments are better suited to God. He is the one who can give us happiness, he is the true source of security and life; he is the power that can best help us. We should value and honor Him higher than anything else because He comes first.

The true security

"Therefore I say to you: Do not worry about ... what you will eat and drink; ... what you will wear. After all, the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all this "(v. 25-32). God is a good father and he will take care of us when he occupies the highest place in our lives. We do not have to worry about the opinions of the people and do not worry about money or goods. "Seek first for the kingdom of God and for his righteousness, and all this shall come to you" (v. 33) We will live long enough to get enough to eat, will be sufficiently provided for, if we love God.

by Michael Morrison


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