Matthew, Chapter 7 – Part 1

Matthew 7:1-2 – Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

As we noted in a prior post, the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in chapters 5-7 of Matthew.  We now come to the final parts of that sermon.  This section begins with a lesson on how to conduct ourselves in reference to the faults of others.  This lesson was certainly applicable to the Scribes and Pharisees because they were full of pride and conceit.  They believed that they were more righteous and therefore better than ‘regular people’.  As a result, they were quick to harshly judge others.  They didn’t allow the facts or the true motivations behind a person’s actions to stand in the way!  In fact, they would pass judgment without even taking those factors into consideration!

It would be great if the tendency to judge was limited to just the Scribes and Pharisees, but that is not the case.  Since it would be easy for us to fall into the same trap, let’s take a refresher course on judgment.

First of all, there are different types of judgment, and not all of them are included in this teaching of Jesus.

There is judicial judgment which happens in a court of law.  Jesus is not forbidding that kind of judgment.  In fact, several places in scripture God instructs judges to judge correctly/justly [for example, John 7:24].

There is judgment that occurs between those in authority and those under authority.  For example, if an employer finds that one of her employees is stealing, she may certainly bring judgment on that individual by firing them.  This is not the kind of judgment Jesus is forbidding.

A Christian may also judge the acts of another in the sense that they are obligated to discern good from evil and correct one another in love.  Jesus is not forbidding this kind of judgment either [Galatians 6:1].

And by the way, let’s not forget self-judgment.  The person who can examine his own life and make righteous judgments is to be commended, not condemned.  This type of judgment is actually good.

The type of judgment that Jesus is forbidding here is rash, instantaneous judgment of one person toward another which frequently stems from our own jealousy.  It is done without love and is often peevish, harsh and unjustified.  This type of judgment is eager to find fault with people and then condemn them.  It is suspicious of the motives of people and looks for controversy and heresy.

For instance, in Mark chapter 2 we find the Scribes, Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders condemning Jesus for eating at the house of a known ‘sinner’, Matthew the tax collector.  They immediately passed judgment on Jesus, labeling him as a base, vile sinner himself!  They wondered why Jesus would even eat dinner with these people.

Clearly, the religious leaders did not stop to investigate this situation.  They did not meet with Jesus privately to ask him why he was having fellowship with sinners.  They did not give Jesus any benefit of the doubt.  They did not stop to consider the good that he was doing. Instead, they were eager to find fault with Jesus.  They were eager to find controversy in the situation and accuse him of wrong doing.  In a spirit of jealousy and pride, they publicly condemned his actions.  We know their judgment was harsh and unjustified, for Jesus was NOT a sinner like the tax collectors. 

Unfortunately, every person (including you and I) is born with an inherent tendency to judge this way, so we must guard ourselves against it. 

Why is it so wrong to judge in this capacity? Judgment is an act of sovereignty; it is a level of authority that only God has the right to exercise.

Only God can truly judge the thoughts and motivations of a person’s heart at any moment in time.  If we step into this realm of judgment, it is the same thing as sitting down on God’s throne and usurping his rights and authority!

Why is it so wrong to judge in this capacity? Judgment is an act of sovereignty; it is a level of authority that only God has the right to exercise.  Only God can truly judge the thoughts and motivations of a person’s heart at any moment in time.  If we step into this realm of judgment, it is the same thing as sitting down on God’s throne and usurping his rights and authority!

To make matters even more intense, if you do step in to judge someone, God will forgo mercy and judge you with the same level of harshness and severity that you used towards your brother.  I don’t know about you, but I want to stay far, far away from this kind of judgment!

So if you see a situation that looks like it might be wrong, stop and investigate before you do anything else.  You may find out that you were wrong about the situation.

Matthew 7:3-4 – Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye?

In this verse, the word ‘speck’ could also be translated ‘splinter’.  The comparison between a splinter and a log is obvious – the log is billions and billions of times bigger.  Jesus is using this illustration to demonstrate the size of the sins we are so quick to judge in others as compared to our own shortcomings.  Just for the sake of clarity, your sins are the size of the log, whereas the other person’s sins are the size of the splinter!

This illustration reveals several truths to us:

Truth #1

Truth #1:  Make sure that you are not indulging in the same areas of weakness as the sister/brother you are so quick to judge.  Before you publicly condemn someone for gossip, you better check yourself and make sure that you are not guilty of the same offence!

Truth #2

Truth #2:  Remember the incident of the woman caught in adultery?  We find the narrative in John chapter 8.  The Scribes and Pharisees caught a woman in the act of adultery.  They brought her before Jesus and demanded that she be stoned, because that was the sentence pronounced by the law [wow…no mercy there!].  Clearly, they were judging her.

What did Jesus do? He stooped down and wrote something in the dirt.  The scriptures do not tell us exactly what was written, but what if Jesus was writing out the sins of her accusers?  That would certainly give them pause, wouldn’t it?  Jesus further calls attention to their sin with this statement:

John 8:7, 9 – And as they [Scribes and Pharisees] continued to ask him, he [Jesus] stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was let alone with the woman standing before him.

So we see that finding fault in others for their transgressions is a sign of hypocrisy when we ignore the transgressions in our own lives.  Don’t be that person!  If you feel you are qualified to pass judgment on someone else, stop and “write in the dirt”… take an honest look at yourself and make sure you are not ignoring or minimizing your own short comings before you confront someone else about theirs.  If the Scribes and Pharisees had done that, they would not have been publicly embarrassed by Jesus.

My guess is that if we take time to examine ourselves, most of us will be so busy cleaning up our own lives that we will not have time to judge others!

Matthew 7:5 – You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Truth #3

Truth #3:  If you are able to take a realistic look at your own faults, it will create compassion within you for the mistakes of others.  While sin should be dealt with and removed from our lives, compassion will keep us from crossing the line between restoring our brother and reckless judgment.

Truth #4

Truth #4:  One of the great benefits of acknowledging and dealing with our own sins is that it gives us the experience to be a comfort to others.  If you have been delivered and restored from a spirit of greed, you are in a good position to help restore someone else.  Admit your mistakes, deal with your sin, and allow your experience to be of good use in the Kingdom.

Matthew 7:6 – Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Imagine this scenario with me, keeping in mind the stereotype of a pig:  You are walking outside on a day filled with warmth and sunshine.  [This being winter time in Ohio, you will need your full imagination!!]  You are wearing a set of extremely beautiful and valuable pearls.  These pearls were a gift from the one you love the most and they are extremely precious to you. In fact, they are your most prized possession and you wear them everywhere.

As you wander the countryside, you suddenly smell a most horrible odor.  As you hold your nose and walk in another direction, you soon come to a wooden fence.  On the other side of the fence you find the source of the odor – a pigpen!  There are the greedy pigs, wallowing around in the mud and actually enjoying the filth.  They eat anything and everything that comes their way, without discernment or self control.  All they want is more!

Suddenly, the pigs take notice of you.  They come to the edge of the fence looking to see what you have.  Would you offer your pearls to the swine?  Of course not!  Why?  Because you know they would not appreciate the value of the pearls.  They would trample them underfoot and attack you!

Jesus is using this proverb to teach us a lesson about sharing the gospel message.  The pearls represent the whole gospel message.  The swine (and the dogs) represent men who are corrupt, polluted, profane, obscene and otherwise delighting in sin.  They have no regard for the value of the gospel.

Certainly we are to share the gospel message with ALL unbelievers.  However, there are some who will violently reject the message, and we need to use discretion and discernment in dealing with them.

If we continue to present them with godly wisdom, council and instruction it will not help; it will only enrage them.  There are people who hate the gospel so much that any sign or hint of it will not only repel them, but stir them up to abuse the message and the one who shares it.  These people should only be approached after prayer and with the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.  So, as a general rule, we are to preach the gospel to all men and see whether or not they are worthy of more.

The purpose of this proverb is to instill within us a measure of reverence and discretion as to the preaching of the gospel and statements of spiritual experience.

Matthew 7:7-8 – Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Let us now consider the act of prayer.  Prayer is the privilege of every Christian.  It is a form of communion with God.  It’s like meeting at His house to discuss matters of concern in this life.  While we recently discussed this issue when looking at the Lord’s Prayer, we will review certain aspects of it here.  If Jesus wants to emphasize an issue, then we will too!

Asking, Seeking and Knocking are three different forms of petitioning God for what we want or need.  These phrases are not passive but active.  They imply earnestness, diligence and perseverance on our part.  However, they come with the promise that our efforts will be rewarded – God will answer!

1 John 5:14-15 – And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us: And if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we desired of him.

However, this is to be interpreted as a general statement.  There are things which will nullify the promise of receiving what you ask for.

Matthew 7:9-10 – Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

Are you a parent?  If your 17-year-old asked to borrow your car, the answer may very well be ‘yes’, because for them, it would be a good thing.  Likewise, God desires to give you what you ask, as long as it is beneficial for you.

Now if your 7-year-old asked to borrow your car, I am guessing you told them ‘no’, because you care for them and you deny requests that are harmful.

God is the same way.  He sees all things and when we ask something that is detrimental or damaging for us in some way, he will deny the request, the same as any loving parent.

If Father God says ‘no’, then we should be mature enough to realize that the thing we thought was ‘bread or fish’ was actually a ‘stone or scorpion’.   Rather than acting like spoiled children and accusing Father God of being mean to us, we need to accept his decision and rejoice in his care for us.

Matthew 7:11 – If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Human parents are imperfect and sinful.  They can be churlish, hateful, unjust and evil.  Yet, God has placed a compassionate inclination in the hearts of parents to provide and care for their children.  They will readily give good gifts to their children when asked.

How much more will Father God, who is perfectly good and perfectly loving, bestow blessings on us, his children?  We should never doubt him as we come to him in prayer.  He desires to give us good things!

Matthew 7:12 – So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

This verse is probably familiar to many people, even non-Christians.  It is universally known as ‘The Golden Rule’.  It is not complicated or difficult to understand, but actually living this way can be very difficult!

It seems to be natural for us to favor ourselves while at the same time taking unfair advantage of others.  As discussed above, we have a tendency to be quick to judge others without compassion.

However, we must retrain ourselves to think and act a different way; a way that pleases God and fulfills the spirit of the Law and the Prophets.  We do this by loving our neighbor as our self.  We do this by putting ourselves in their place, and directing our conduct and decisions according to what we would want.   This will take practice and work, but it will please our Heavenly Father, which we all desire to do!

So, let me offer your some encouragement:

Don’t ever allow your enemy to tell you that God does not hear your prayers or that He is incapable of answering your request.  That is a lie!  Likewise, don’t fall for the lie that says God does not want to give you good things.  He delights in blessing you, so meet him in earnest prayer!

Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself also in the LORD; and he shall give you the desires of your heart.

Let me offer you some relief: 

God loves you, more than any earthly father ever could.  He is not going to trick you. He is not going to give you evil things when you ask him for good.  So put aside any fears you may have regarding spiritual gifts, especially those found in 1 Corinthians 14.  If you are unsure about these gifts, go to God in prayer and ask him to reveal the truth to you.  Ask him to give you one of gifts. You can rest assured He will give you something amazing!

Let me offer you some strength: 

Judging others is a tendency that we are all born with.  Right now, it may seem like an automatic response that you cannot control, but that is not true.  It is possible to renew your mind with the word of God, and once your mind has been changed, you will respond differently. Keep that mouth under lock and key until you have control of it.  Whatever you do, get off that throne of judgment, because you have no right to be there!

Matthew, Chapter 6 – Part 3

Matthew 6:25 – Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Overall, Jesus is commanding his followers to trust in their loving heavenly Father for their daily needs.  What does that really mean?  We can best explain it by first examining what he is NOT saying.

Jesus is NOT saying that we can all quit our jobs and sit home waiting for money to magically appear!  In fact, the opposite is true – we need to use the skills, talents and opportunities that God gives us to provide for ourselves.

The Holy Scriptures fully support both the idea of work and the principle of providing for our families.

Genesis 2:15 – And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.

1 Timothy 5:8 – But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.

So, let’s be clear on this.  Jesus never forbids us to work for our daily needs like food and clothing.  He never forbids us to prudently plan for the future.  If you need training or schooling to make a good living, by all means invest in that.  Once you have a job, by all means start a retirement fund or a college fund, pay off your house, give generously to God and make other sound financial decisions.

Likewise, Jesus never forbids us to use common sense.  So make a reasonable family budget and stick to it.  Use some self control in your spending. Live within your means.  Plan so that you can not only take care of your own daily needs, but help others.

Now that we know what Jesus is NOT saying in this verse, what is its true meaning?

What Jesus is forbidding in Matthew 6:25 is anxiety over daily needs. What exactly is anxiety?  Webster gives this definition:  Concern respecting some event or thing, future or uncertain, which disturbs the mind, and keeps it in a state of painful uneasiness.

If you are working and doing your absolute best to live prudently but you are still so worried about food, shelter and clothing that you can’t think of anything else or you can’t sleep at night, you have the anxiety that Jesus is speaking of.

If you are so worried about a dip or drop in stock market that you can’t enjoy the company of your family and friends, then you have the anxiety that Jesus is speaking of.

If you are glued to the news 24/7 because you are frightened or obsessed about the next economic disaster, then you have clear signs of anxiety!

Why does Jesus forbid anxiety over daily needs?  First of all, if your mind is constantly disturbed and troubled you won’t be able to focus on anything other than your problem.  This renders you incapable of prayer, praise or faith, which make up the lifeblood of all Christians!  You need to recognize that this kind of anxiety is actually a hidden fear that God is not good father and that he is either unwilling or incapable of taking care of you.

Stop and think with me for a moment.  Only one of the following two statements can be true in your life.  Which one is it?

  1. God loves me.  He gives me the power, strength, ability and opportunity to meet my needs and the needs of my family.  He will provide for me when I cannot.
  2. God claims he loves me, but deep down, I doubt it.  I don’t trust him enough to believe that he will make up for any lack that I might experience.  Therefore, I must provide for myself strictly through my own strength.

If you have chosen statement number two, then you just made Satan a very happy camper!

He would love nothing more than for you to doubt the love and provision of Father God.  Here’s why:  that seed of doubt takes the burden of provision off of God and places it on your own shoulders. It makes you solely responsible for your earthly provisions, and the only strength you can tap into is yourself. 

That is a very heavy, debilitating burden that you were never meant to carry; it will fill you with anxiety. It will choke your spiritual man and leave you with nothing except the cares of this world.  If you submit to that yoke of bondage, it will destroy you very quickly.  Wouldn’t Satan just love that?

However, as a Christian, statement number one should be true in your life.  When you are wise and diligent with what God has given you, then be still and trust in him.  He will make a way.  You can live in peace knowing that God is carrying the burden of your daily needs, and he has resources for you to tap into that are beyond your comprehension!

Romans 8:32 – He [God] who did not spare his own Son [Jesus] but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Do you understand what this verse is saying?  God sacrificed Jesus so that we could be set free from sin and made joint heirs with Christ.  Because of this sacrifice, we share in all that Jesus possesses! If God was willing to give us something as precious as the life of his Son, why would he withhold something as trivial as your daily provision?  That wouldn’t make any sense, would it?

We looked at the fact that Jesus does not want us worried about daily necessities because that is a burden we were not meant to carry.  So what are we meant to do?

God has created you and I for a much higher purpose than just worrying about food and clothing.  We have been created to be in fellowship with God at all times.  He has designed us to be kings and priests in his kingdom.  We were created to rule over the earth.  We are to join Jesus in destroying the works of the devil – and so much more!

Jesus is cautioning his followers not to get caught up in the needs of daily life, because it is easy to get stuck there.  If we constantly worry about those things, we will never reach our true calling and destiny in Christ.

So take Jesus advice – don’t sweat the small stuff!  Do you part and live in faith; God will take care of the rest.

Matthew 6:26 – Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?

Now Jesus is going to reinforce his point with several practical examples.  He calls their attention to the life around them.  God’s love and care for the birds is easy to observe.  They are well fed and housed, despite the fact that they do not work or store up provisions for the future.  They do not experience anxiety regarding their daily needs, even in the cold winter months.  Instead, they live lives that fulfill the purposes God has created them for.  And they sing joyfully and beautifully while they do it!

Does God love the birds?  Of course, but at the same time, God places a higher value on mankind than on fowl.

Luke 12:7 – Fear not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.

Since that is the case, it would be foolish to think that God would provide for the lesser of his creation (birds), while ignoring the needs of his own children (men).  Therefore, do not have anxiety over your daily needs!

Matthew 6:27 – And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Picture this:  You get up and go to work.  At work, they made you dig a hole five feet deep, five feet wide and five feet long.  So you spend all day doing your best job on this hole in the ground.  You went home tired and muddy, but with a good feeling, because you did a good job.

The next day, your boss told you to fill the hole back in with the earth you just dug up.

And the day after that, the boss told you to dig the hole again.  And the next day to fill it up…

Would you be feeling good about work?  My guess is no!  I know that by the third time I was told to dig the same hole, I would be angry for being forced to perform a back breaking, useless task!  No one wants to do a useless job.  It is frustrating and demeaning and it makes no sense.

Here is the lesson to be noted: Anxiety is not only needless, it is also useless, just like digging the same hole over and over!

If you can’t add to your lifespan by worry, then why do it?  There is no benefit; it will only result in frustration.  Instead, why not place your trust in God and spend your energy joyfully praising his good name and enjoying what he has given you?  Why not move on to doing useful things like fulfilling the destiny God has already laid out for you?  That is where you will find peace and fulfillment.

Matthew 6:28-29 – And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Once again, Jesus points his followers to the life around them.  Flowers are even lower in the created order than birds, yet God still has his eyes upon them.  They do not work or toil, yet they are beautiful in appearance because God has ordained it.  How much more will God clothe his own children?

Matthew 6:30 – But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

The historical context of the verse is this:  Back in the day, poor folks used to have clay ovens.  They would heat these ovens by burning grass and twigs either inside them or below them.  Once the oven was sufficiently hot, thin pieces of dough were spread on the inside of the oven and quickly baked.

Did God know that his beautiful plants were going to be burnt up in the ovens?  Of course he did, yet he still chose to ‘clothe them magnificently’ or make them beautiful.

So here is the point:  If God gives beauty and glory to disposable things which have very little value, how much more will he take care of his children, who are precious in his eyes, and designed for important services in the world?  Are you getting the point yet?

Matthew 6:31-32 – Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

The heathen nations were anxiously concerned with the basic necessities in life (food, water and clothing).  This is not surprising, since they are without a heavenly Father that they can trust to supply their needs.

The Jews, however, were well acquainted with the providence of God.  So in these verses, Jesus is giving a slight rebuke to the people of God.  The Jews looked down upon the heathen as being ignorant of God and his ways, yet they too were anxious for the very same necessities!  How then, were they different than the heathen?

What about you?  Are you different than the ‘heathen’ or are you still anxious about your needs?

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.

God’s people were carrying a burden of anxiety and worry, when they should have been casting their cares on God and trusting in him to meet their needs.

Let’s not make the same mistake.  If you have done all you can do to meet your needs, then trust God to make up any lack that you have.  You will be surprised at what he will do!

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

As Christians, we have more important things to be seeking after than food and clothing.  We need to seek the lost and introduce them to Jesus.  We need to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit so we have the power to minister to those who are in bondage to Satan.  We need to seek God’s will for our lives.

Here is a guarantee that will set you free to seek God:  Jesus promises that if we seek him first, the daily necessities will come.

Matthew Henry puts it this way in his commentary:  “O what a blessed change would it make in our hearts and lives, did we but firmly believe this truth, that the best way to be comfortably provided for in this world, is to be most intent upon another world!” 

Matthew 6:34 – Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Part of the definition of anxiety is concern/fear of something that is future or uncertain. ‘Tomorrow’ clearly fits that category.  Satan wants to bait you into spending all your time and energy worrying about things that God already has under control, or worrying about things you cannot change.

Don’t take the bait!  Be prudent in your affairs, then trust God.  Spend your life seeking God, and he will take care of you!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

God loves you more than you know or realize.  Never doubt that!  Use the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 to reassure you of his love.  Based on the knowledge of that love, start to make some changes.  Recognize when you are trusting in yourself, then stop and turn it over to God.  Even if the change occurs little by little over time, that is okay.  Begin to trust God at whatever level you can, then build on that trust until it is complete.

Let me offer you some relief: 

Are you overwhelmed and plagued with anxiety about life?  You don’t have to be.  Make some prudent plans for the future, then when trouble or problems come, seek God.  Let Him make up the difference in what you lack.  YOU were NEVER designed to carry around those heavy burdens, so LET THEM GO.  Cast those cares upon God, and let him worry about your provision.  His supplies are unlimited!

Let me offer you some strength: 

Perhaps you are guilty of being anxious (my guess is we are all guilty to some degree), but you don’t have to stay in that mindset.  God is bringing it to you attention right now, because the time is right for you to deal with it.

It seems like a scary thing to do, but the rewards are rich and eternal.  God would not ask you to do something that you weren’t capable of doing.  So start today.  Give him your concerns regarding provision, then willfully set your mind on spiritual things.  Praise Him.  Worship Him.  Pray for others.  Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Mind the things of God, and He will take care of you!

You have the strength to make the change – and Jesus will walk with you every step of the way!

Matthew, Chapter 6 – Part 2

We continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount.  In our last post we noted an important truth that Jesus was teaching the people:

The true Christian is not to perform acts of righteousness in such a way as to bring glory to themselves.  If they do, they have no reward from God.

Jesus then gave three specific examples to his listeners.  Last week we studied gifts to the poor and prayer.  This week we will look at fasting.

Matthew 6:16 – And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Our first question should be ‘what is fasting’?  Generally, it means to voluntarily abstain from something (usually food) for a time, as a token of penitence or grief for religious reasons.

What is the historical context of fasting?  Abstinence from food is the natural result of deep sorrow.  The sorrow could be caused by any number of things such as death, disease or some other kind of loss.  The length of time a person did not eat became known as a fast.

In a religious context, the deep sorrow is caused by sin.  A person extremely troubled and grieved by sin would experience a loss of appetite, which resulted in a fast.  Because of the grief they were experiencing, people who fasted had a sad countenance.  Often, they did not wash or put on clean clothes.  As a result, it was fairly easy to spot people who were fasting.

In the old covenant (Old Testament Law) God had appointed one day each year for the Israelites to fast.  It was the Day of Atonement, the day that the priest shed blood and put it on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people.

Now fast-forward to the time of Jesus.  The religious leaders had taken the concept of fasting and made it an art form!  They made it a tradition to fast at least two times a week (Luke 18:12), sometimes more.  During their fasts, they put on sackcloth instead of regular clothes and they put ashes on their heads instead of the usual ointments.  Thus, you could easily spot them anywhere they went.

The Scribes and Pharisees had lost the true meaning of fasting.  No longer was it grief for sin, or a time set apart for reflection upon God.  Instead it became an empty ritual of self discipline, as well as a source of pride.  This kind of fasting made them hypocrites, because they were only seeking the praise or admiration of other men. 

Jesus warns his listeners that when you fast this way, you have received the only reward possible – the empty admiration of men.  

Matthew 6:17-18 – But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who s in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Now Jesus speaks of true fasting.  When one of his followers fasted, they were to dress, wash and otherwise appear normal.  He or she was to hide their inward contrition or mourning from the world.  They were to open their hearts and express their grief and sorrow only to God.

Jesus promises that even though men are unaware of your sacrifice, God sees and honors it.

This might be a good time to reaffirm that God always sees what is in our hearts – ALWAYS.  So keep a careful watch on what you allow your mind to dwell upon, because those are the things that will determine the thoughts and motivations of your heart.

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

By way of summary, we see that the religious leaders had taken spiritual or true religious acts (giving to the poor, prayer, fasting) and corrupted them!  They continued to perform the outward acts, but their hearts were centered on their own glory, not the glory of God.

Jesus is calling his followers back to true religion – to make sure that our hearts and motivations are pure before God as we perform these actions.  In this way, our service will bring glory to God.

Matthew 6:19 – Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,

What is the historical context of this statement?  Back in the times of Jesus, wealthy people accumulated and kept their treasures at home.  Treasure could include (but is not limited to) gold, silver or brass in the form of dishes, goblets/glasses, utensils or coins.  Richly ornamented articles of clothing and jewelry were especially desirable.  Hence, moths, rust and thieves were the principal dangers in losing your fortune.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘you can’t take it with you’, and this sums the idea up pretty well.  Earthly treasure is just that – earthly.  Since your life is short (average American lifespan of 75-80 years), you only have that long to enjoy it.  After you die, all your earthly treasure will go to someone else, or even worse, the government.

Matthew 6:20-21 – but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus implies in these verses that every man will have his treasure.  You can certainly have earthly treasure, and you will need at least some of it in this life for obvious reasons.

But Jesus commands us to lay up eternal or heavenly treasures.  Treasures in heaven are durable and lasting; they are eternal.  They do not wear out or disintegrate and are not subject to being stolen.  They never lose their value.

Here’s the catch:  both earthly treasures and heavenly treasures are earned during your time on planet earth.  So you get to decide how much of each you will pursue.  And whatever you pursue the most, your heart will pine after.

How do we earn heavenly treasures?

I Corinthians 3:11-15 – For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it because it will be revealed by fire and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Now don’t misunderstand the scriptures.  You CANNOT earn your way into heaven by good works.  There is only one way to be reconciled with God, and that is through the blood of Jesus.  But once you are reconciled to God, you can store up treasure in heaven by obedience in performing good works with a sincere heart.

Most of us seek out opportunities for earthly gain then dedicate ourselves them, whether that be a job or a business, etc.  Why not keep your eyes and heart open for opportunities to do good works – they are all around you!  Train yourself to look for them; ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to you and soon you will have all you can handle.

Matthew 6:22-23  – The eye is the lamp of the body.  So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

In the physical realm, the eyes direct the rest of the body as it walks.  Imagine that you are on a busy city street and in the distance you see an art museum (or an ice cream parlor if you prefer!) and you decide to walk there.  As you walk, your legs, feet and arms move where the eye directs.

  Your eye will steer you around puddles or rocks or broken glass.  It will assist you in stepping off the curb without falling and stop you when traffic is coming.  All the while, the eyes keep the body steadily moving toward the ultimate goal, the art museum.  Eventually you arrive there and enjoy the rest of the afternoon, courtesy of your eyes.

Something similar happens in the spiritual realm.  Your ‘spiritual eyes’ or your heart, lead your spiritual man around as he walks through life.  Your heart can be set on one of two things:  either light or darkness.  These are mutually exclusive; your heart can only be set on one.

Darkness represents misery, adversity, death and alienation from God.  In short, darkness is being in a state of sin.

Light represents joy, peace, life and citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven. In short, light is being in right relationship with God, through the blood of Jesus.

In this teaching, Jesus once again emphasizes an important truth:  God is looking at the heart of individuals, and whatever is in your heart will manifest in your life

In this teaching, Jesus once again emphasizes an important truth:  God is looking at the heart of individuals, and whatever is in your heart will manifest in your life.

Case in point:  the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  They performed good works (fasting, prayer, giving to the poor) and had religious training, yet their hearts were far from God.  Their hearts (eyes) were set on darkness.  Eventually, they fell into anger, jealousy and bitterness.  They wound up lying and plotting in order to crucify Jesus and they honestly thought they were doing the right thing!  That is what happens when your heart is focused on darkness.

However, if your heart is set on God, it will manifest in good works that bring glory to God.

Case in point:  the apostle Paul.  Early on, he too was walking in darkness as he performed empty works.  However, he eventually came to be in a right relationship with God.  As a result, the focus of his heart was changed.  From that moment on, his heart was set on the light.  Even harsh circumstances, persecution and imprisonment did not shake his faith.  He went on to write the majority of the New Testament and his witness for God reached to the highest echelons of his day! What a magnificent witness for God!

What is your heart focused on?

Matthew 6:24 – No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.

 The concept that “no man can serve two masters” was not a new idea.  It was a proverb that was not only very common back in the times of Jesus, but it was also universally accepted as being true.  Jesus takes this common truth/proverb and applies it to the topic of riches.

When riches hold dominion in the heart, God has lost authority.  When God holds dominion in the heart, riches have lost authority. There is only one throne in your heart; consequently, only one master can reign there.

This is not to say that good Christians are poor, or that those who are rich in worldly goods cannot properly serve God.  Every Christian is a steward of the blessings that God gives them.  Some Christians are well able to be good stewards of vast amounts of worldly goods; to others it would be a snare.

The best thing you can do is to remember that you don’t ‘own’ anything.  Rather, you are a steward of all the people, time, money and goods that are under your authority.  So put God on the throne of your heart, and steward your blessings according to his laws!

Let me give you some encouragement and some relief:  Do you have a difficult time fasting?  Or are you one of the multitude of people who cannot fast for medical reasons? If so, I want you to know that fasting is still possible for you!  While fasting is traditionally food, nothing in the Bible says that you can’t make a substitution.

I am a dedicated coffee drinker.  I once felt that I needed to fast before God for a spiritual breakthrough.  I fasted all coffee for 30 days, and God answered my prayers.  I have also fasted other things that I greatly enjoyed and God has honored those fasts too.

When choosing a non-food fast, make sure the item or activity is something that will truly be a sacrifice for you.  Here are some suggestions:  Stop watching TV for a time.  Stay off your phone for 24 hours.  Commit to read only your Bible for a specific time period.  Stop shopping for a time.  Whatever you decide, make sure you spend your extra time in prayer and seeking God.  He will see into your heart and reward you!

Let me give you some strength:  We have seen over and over in the last couple of posts that God is very interested in the state of your heart.  Sometimes, we do things out of a desire to do good, but they are misunderstood by others.  Sometimes, we do things out of a desire to do good, but they blow up in our faces or people reject them.

When that happens, you may be tempted to quit reaching out to others.  But rather than quitting, stand strong!  Even though you may feel embarrassment, remember that man is looking on the outward appearance, but God is looking at your heart and its motivations.  Just because man rejects your goodness, that doesn’t mean that God does.  Continue to stand strong and bring glory to his name!

Matthew, Chapter 6 – Part 1

Matthew 6:1-  Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Again, this is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus was on the mountainside teaching his followers the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. His teachings were radically different from the legalistic rules laid down by the Scribes and Pharisees.  The minds and hearts of the Jews were stirred up by these remarkable teachings.

Chapter six offers some very practical advice on how to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Jesus begins his instruction with a summary statement in verse one: 

The true Christian is not to perform acts of righteousness in such a way as to bring glory to themselves.  If they do, they have no reward from God.

Jesus then uses the rest of the chapter to give specific applications of this principle. 

Matthew 6:2 – Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Here is the historical context of this verse:  In the time of Christ, there were Jews that went to the intersections of busy roads, where large assemblies were usually held.  I know that sounds strange to us, but remember, there was no social media or live streaming back then.  People had to actually meet in groups to exchange ideas and information!

In the midst of those crowded situations, they would give money to the poor.  Their motivation was not to assist or relieve the poor, but to gain the applause and approval of others for their giving. 

In essence, they were hypocrites because they claimed to be giving out of devotion to God, but they were really interested in their own glory.

There is some dispute over the phrase ‘sound a trumpet’.  Scholars disagree over whether this was a literal event or whether it is a metaphorical phrase.  In either case, the meaning is the same – Jesus was condemning the act of making a show or spectacle of giving to the poor with the intent of obtaining glory for one’s self.

The Bible makes it clear that it is our Christian duty to perform good works and assist the poor.  It also tells us that there will be rewards for doing so.  Jesus confirms that in this scripture.  Now here comes the interesting part: Jesus points out that there are rewards that come from men and there are rewards that come from God.

Which rewards do we want?  Which rewards are best?

I guess the answer depends on what you are looking for.  The Scribes and Pharisees were definitely looking for the appreciation and praise of men and possibly a reputation for being charitable. Since they got what they wanted, I suppose they were happy with the results.  As a bonus, their reward came in the form of instant gratification, which we all love.  But, I can’t help but wonder…did they cheat themselves? Is the shallow, fleeting praise of men really that satisfying and fulfilling?

If we take a moment to look at the rewards of God, I think we may prefer that option!

Matthew 6:3-4 – But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

If you want to be rewarded by God, you should give generously, quietly and humbly out of obedience and love for your King.  When you do, God takes notice.  And he doesn’t just see the action you performed, but also the motivation and love behind it.

Contrary to what some people think, God is anxious to bless you. Unlike the rewards of men, God’s rewards endure not just for this life, but for eternity.

Psalms 41:1-2  – Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

Revelation 22:12 – And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

I don’t know about you, but I feel this is a much better blessing than the empty admiration of men!

Matthew 6:5 – And when you pray you must not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

The hypocrites manifested the same spirit about prayer as gift giving: it was done in public places solely for public approval. They were not communing with God; they just wanted other men to see how pious and religious they were.

Here is the historical context:  The Jews of old observed specific, regular hours of prayer. You can find evidence of this in the scriptures. 

They are often referred to as the ‘third hour’ which would be 9 am (Mark 15:25)…

the ‘sixth hour’ which means noon (Acts 10:9)…

and the ‘ninth hour’ which would be our 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1).

So basically, the hypocrites took great pains to be in a public meeting place such as a market or the city gates or at busy intersections at the specified times of prayer.  This gave them the opportunity to stop and “perform” the act of prayer.  “Perform” is the right word; they were putting on a show for their fellow man.

Obviously, Jesus is not condemning the practice of prayer.   It is the clear duty of every Christian to pray.  Prayer is communication with Almighty God, our creator, savior and protector.  It is a like a free will offering, dedicated only to him, and given with the utmost desire to know, love and serve Him alone.  Prayer is an admission that we are dependent upon God for all things.  It is not a thing to be trifled with.  When we sincerely come before God and offer heart-felt prayers, we are assured that God hears and answers.

Proverbs 15:29 – The LORD is far from the wicked: but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

To pray is to enter into the very presence of God.  What an astonishing gift! Before the sacrifice of Jesus, the throne room of God was shut; no man or woman could enter in.  Millions of people who desired intimate fellowship with God died without ever having the slightest chance of gaining access to Him.  But when Jesus died, the temple veil was torn in two; the way was open for us to freely enter God’s presence.

Do you enter into intimate fellowship with him through prayer?  If not, why?  You might want to ponder this question before you get to heaven and meet up with one of those Old Testament saints who was denied access. Your shame for spurning this gift would be monumental.

Matthew 6:7-8 – And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Empty phrases (your translation may say vain repetition), refers to idle babbling or using the same words over and over with no purpose, almost like a chant.  This was a tactic often employed by the worshippers of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:26-29).

This is different from repeating yourself in true prayer; Jesus prayed multiple times in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup would pass from him but his prayers were not vain.  Often times when we are moved by our circumstances we too may pray for a situation multiple times as we fervently seek the Lord.

Jesus also warns against using ‘many words’.  This does not mean that long prayers are forbidden.  Jesus himself prayed all night on some occasions (Luke 6:12).

Rather, this refers to another practice of the heathens.  They felt that they needed to fully explain their situations and requests to their gods, so the gods would understand what they needed.

They also believed that the more they begged, pleaded or cut themselves, the more likely they were to receive a favorable answer.  Sadly, they did not understand that false gods are deaf and powerless, no matter how much they might cry out!

We cannot let that kind of wrong thinking enter into our prayers. Prayer is not designed to inform God of our circumstances. Nor do we need to beg him for assistance. Jesus reassures us that God the Father is already intimately acquainted with our circumstances.  He knows our needs, wants and desires.  He can see the motivation of our hearts and our love for him.  He already knows our weaknesses and strengths.  He already has the answer to every question and the solution for every problem we will ever face. We should seek him in prayer at all times and in all seasons.

Prayer causes us to humble our hearts as we acknowledge our dependence on God.  Prayer increases our faith, because in prayer we focus on the power of our God, not the difficulty of our problem.  We should come to God as his children – in simple faith and words, trusting that he will answer and take care of us.

Matthew 6:9 – Pray then like this:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

The portion of scripture in verses 9-13 is often called the Lord’s Prayer.  Sometimes we pray using these exact words, although there is no record in the scriptures of Jesus or his disciples praying this verbatim.  Rather than being a prayer itself, it is a pattern or a framework for the way Jesus wants us to pray.

Our first thought is that God is our Father.  Just like a good earthly father, he is there to teach, guide, protect, provide and love us. He wants us to be victorious in life.  He wants to have an intimate relationship with each one of us.  His goodness towards us knows no limits.

Secondly, God is in heaven, which speaks of his boundless power.  Heaven in his throne and the earth is his footstool.  Everything in heaven and earth are subject to his authority.

So, as our prayers commence, we are quickly reminded that we can place confidence in both the goodness and power of God.

We are to ‘hallow’ his name.  To hallow means to make holy, or to revere.  Therefore, our prayers should start with the praise and worship of God.  In fact, praise is what ushers us into his presence.

Psalm 100:4 – Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

As we praise his name, we are again reminded of his great power and faithfulness towards us.  As he is exalted, our faith rises while our problems shrink!  We have the confidence to approach him with our concerns, knowing that he loves us and he will work all things together for our good.

You don’t need to wait until prayer time to praise his name – you can do it all throughout the day.  Try it.  You will be surprised how you will feel his constant presence with you.

Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The kingdom of heaven began with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The preaching of the gospel expanded the kingdom outside the borders of Judea.  The inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of salvation caused the gospel to spread over the known world.  This kingdom is still growing and will continue to expand until it encompasses the uttermost parts of the earth.  So, when we pray ‘your kingdom come’ we are praying for the gospel message to be advanced and spread throughout the world.

As a side note, we can and should do more than just pray.  We can personally share the gospel with others.  We can be involved in ministries that spread the gospel through radio, TV and social media.  There are almost limitless opportunities to share the gospel.  Are you involved?

To pray for God’s will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ is to pray for the whole world to be in perfect conformity to the will of God.  What is God’s will?

The revealed will of God is that men should love, obey and desire his law.  His law should become the basis for all our actions as well as our inward thoughts and motivations.  God’s law is perfectly obeyed in heaven, and his true children most ardently desire and pray that it may also be done on the earth.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, so praying for our own lives to conform to his law should be a continual exercise.  Here’s another thought:  You can’t obey his laws if you don’t know them, so take time to read the Word!

The object of the first three petitions (hallowed be they name, thy kingdom come and thy will be done) is that God’s name should be glorified, and his kingdom established.  These are more important than our personal wants, and they should be first in our requests before the throne of grace. However, God graciously allows us to make requests on our personal behalf as well.

Matthew 6:11 – Give us this day our daily bread,

Daily bread refers to all that we need to sustain life, including food, shelter, clothing, etc.  We are instructed to ask daily, so that we remember to depend on God and not on ourselves.  We ask God to ‘give’ it, because it is not something that we can earn, but a blessing that God freely bestows upon us.

Matthew 6:12 – and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

In this verse, debt refers to sin.  We must ask God to forgive our sins because we could never pay the price for them.  As Christ has freely forgiven us, so we must forgive those who sin against us.

I recently posted a three part series on forgiveness. Please refer to those posts for a more detailed discussion and explanation of forgiveness.

Matthew 6:13 – And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

What is meant by the phrase ‘lead us not into temptation’?  We know that God does not tempt man to sin.

James 1:13-14 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

However, God will allow us to be tempted by Satan or by our own lusts.  These temptations are a form of testing for our faith and obedience.  They produce many good and valuable results in our lives including humbleness, trust and dependence on God, conforming us to the image of Christ and displaying the glory of God to the world.

Temptation may also be defined as trial, affliction or anything that tests our virtue.  Trials and afflictions have a fringe benefit – they draw us closer to God.  In times of testing where do you automatically turn?  To your heavenly Father, right?  So trials actually bring us closer to God, which in turn strengthens and sharpens our faith and obedience making us even more mature in Christ.

Therefore in this part of the prayer model, the Christian is to pray for special protection and strength during heavy trials or strong temptations to sin, which are definitely going to come as a matter of everyday life.

Part of this prayer of protection should be that we are delivered from evil.  Based on what we just concluded, we would not expect God to completely remove temptations and trials from our lives, because that would deprive us of needful growth.  However, God can deliver us from evil by removing the temptation when it becomes too difficult for us to bear, by providing increased strength to fight against it, or by lessening its impact.

We can also take comfort in the fact that someday Jesus will remove all evil and sin from his kingdom.  In that day, we will truly be delivered from all evil.

Matthew 6:14-15 – For if you forgive others their trespasses, our heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Here is a truth presented in both its positive and negative aspects.  God has stated his desires twice; if he asks us to do something once we should listen, how much more attention should we pay to a command that is given twice?

In fact, this requirement to forgive others is constantly presented throughout the scriptures.  At some point, it must have irritated the disciples, because Peter asked how many times he was required to forgive someone.  He felt that 7 times was ample.  To this, Jesus responded:

Matthew 18:22 – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

God’s free and unconditional forgiveness of our sin through Jesus is the basis of our relationship with him.  How then, can we not forgive our fellow man?

When we need forgiveness, we want to be pardoned, and treated as if the offence had never happened.  We do not want others to gossip about us or treat us badly.  We should be willing to do the same for our neighbors.

For a more complete study of forgiveness, please consult my three prior blog posts on forgiveness.

In the meantime, let me give you some encouragement:  The trials and temptations you now face are not a punishment but a gift in disguise.  They draw you closer to Christ and strengthen your faith.  Keep your eyes on Christ during these trials.  Pray to him for deliverance and strength to stand. Remember that God will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able to withstand. You can come through this trial better off than when it began!

Let me give you some relief:  I sincerely hope that you are not comparing yourself to other Christians.  Sometimes we look at others and think that they are spiritual giants who are either perfect or never have struggles with family, life or faith.  We sometimes put them on a pedestal and think we can never be as ‘spiritual’ as they are.  This is wrong thinking! Give yourself a break! All Christians have struggles and failures, including the one that you think is perfect!  You can be encouraged by their show of faith, and you can take comfort when you face the same kind of trial as they did, but you cannot feel inferior or condemned by their victory.  Those feelings are a burden that Satan wants you to pick up and carry, because it will eventually burn you out.  Don’t take the bait!

Let me give you some strength:  Sometimes, the Christian life can be hard.  Sometimes you pray, but things don’t change immediately.  During those times, don’t give up hope!  Galatians tells us not to be weary in doing well, because in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not faint and give up.  So if you are in the midst of a protracted situation, DON’T GIVE UP!  Stay the course!  Praise be to God, victory is on the way.