In our last study, I showed why I believe that Jesus, while not specifically addressing the Pharisees, certainly had them in mind when He explained what it would take to earn admittance into the Kingdom in one’s own strength.
But I would remind us that the Pharisees are not all dead yet. There are many in the Church today who teach that unless we add our own efforts to the salvation equation, either in earning it or maintaining it, we’ll be in for a big shock when we stand before the Lord, seeking entrance into His Kingdom.
Matt. 5:21-48 can as easily be intended for people who teach a works based approach to eternal life now, as it was for those who taught obedience to the Law in the Lord’s time. I say that because any works we do in an attempt to supplement what Jesus did for us would have to meet the same standards as those the Lord outlined for the Pharisees. And as we have seen, that’s impossible.
Do these people intend to stand before God to offer their substandard efforts, and expect Him to use them to complete the work of their salvation which, in their opinion, the selfless death of His own perfect Son only began? When will they learn that the reason He requires nothing more than belief from us (John 6:28-29) is that we have nothing else to offer?
The reason I separated Matt. 5:21-48 from the balance of the Sermon on the Mount is because I am convinced that His summary statement at the end ofMatt. 5, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) completed the Lord’s comments on the need for perfection in striving to enter the Kingdom by human effort. I believe that for the most part what followed is good advice for all of us.
I know that some people use the fact that the Church was not born until after the Lord’s ascension to support their claim that the Gospels don’t have much to say to us, but are meant primarily for Israel. A smaller number is even convinced that the Gospels really belong to the Old Testament. But I believe Matt. 6-7 contain many good pointers in our quest, however futile, to live in a manner pleasing to God; not to add anything to what Jesus has done for us, but as a way of expressing our gratitude for it. Let’s take a look.
Giving To The Needy
“Be careful not to practice your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt. 6:1-4).
Today most people don’t bring a brass band with them when they donate to the poor. Modern methods for calling attention to oneself are less direct. But these more subtle forms of recognition are intended to achieve the same purpose, which is to make others aware of their generosity. Jesus said if recognition is our motive, the praise and expressions of gratitude we receive from people here is all the reward we are going to get. If we want to be rewarded in heaven we should be so secretive about our giving here that if possible our left hand would not know what our right hand is doing.
“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matt. 6:5-8).
Prayer is not for the purpose of showing others how spiritual we are, nor is it to provide information to God. He already knows everything. Prayer confirms that we recognize God’s involvement in our life by giving Him the credit He is due for the blessings we receive, and by asking for His help with the problems we have. We are sovereign beings and have the right to conduct our lives the way we see fit. Prayer acknowledges that we have subordinated our will to His and are seeking His blessing, His guidance and His direction.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’ (Matt. 6:9-13).
This prayer begins with “Our Father”which means only believers can pray it, because only believers have the authority to become children of God (John 1:12-13). It outlines what should be the most important priorities in a believer’s life.
First and foremost, we should want the Lord’s kingdom to come, and for His will to be done in Heaven and on Earth, because that’s the way things were when He created everything. In the meantime, we should want our needs for the day to be met. We should want our sins to be forgiven, because we’ve been faithful to forgive those who have sinned against us. And we should want protection from the schemes of the evil one, lest we fall into temptation and risk putting a strain on our relationship with the Lord.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt. 6:14-15).
This is an expansion of the sentence, “And forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors” to make sure we understand what He was talking about.
Remember, this is a prayer for believers. Believers are unconditionally forgiven forever when they come to faith (Ephesians 1:13-14). Therefore, the forgiveness the Lord was speaking of is not that which brings us salvation. Rather, it’s the forgiveness that keeps us in good standing with the Lord after we’re saved.
Being saved doesn’t prevent us from having problems with others, but it does require us to forgive them when we do. Whether it’s our fault or not is irrelevant to the Lord. It wasn’t the Lord’s fault we sinned against Him, but He forgave us just the same. Now He expects us to forgive others.
This expectation was summarized in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:21-35), a lesson on how to protect the quality of our earthly relationship with the Lord. In the parable the Lord had the king (representing Him) say to an unmerciful servant (representing you and me) “You wicked servant. I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33). Our salvation has been guaranteed forever, but remaining in fellowship with the Lord in the here and now requires that we forgive those who sin against us just as the Lord has forgiven us.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others 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”(Matt. 6:16-18).
Notice it doesn’t say “if you fast” but “when you fast”. The Lord wasn’t referring to Levitical fasts here, but to fasting people undertake personally, to draw nearer to God or when seeking His answer to a perplexing question. This type of fasting was mentioned in the Book of Acts (Acts 10:30, Acts 14:23) and by Paul in 1 Cor. 7:5 and tells us fasting is not just for those under the Law.
As it is with our giving and praying, fasting is to be done in secret, to be revealed only to God. This passage also shows us that giving, praying, and fasting are all things for which God will reward us.
Treasures in Heaven
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:19-24).
Figuratively speaking, our eyes “see” what our heart desires. If our heart desires to be with the Lord in Heaven, that desire will be reflected in our eyes. They will be healthy, our body will be full of light, and our energy will be focused on storing up treasure in heaven.
But if our heart desires the things of this world, our eyes will reflect that desire instead. They’ll be unhealthy, our body will be full of darkness, and our energy will be focused on storing up treasure on earth.
Jesus said it will be one or the other with us. Whatever our heart desires most will become our master.
Do Not Worry
“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 than food, and the body more than clothes? 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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—you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6: 25-34).
Worry is a symptom that identifies our problem as a lack of faith. In difficult times people wonder, “Will I be able to support myself and those who depend on me?” They worry because they don’t have faith in the future.
Jesus promised that those who are focused on the next life need not worry about this one. If we believe wholeheartedly that the kingdom is coming soon and if through His death and resurrection we have attained the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21-24), He will see to it that our needs in this life are met. When our faith is in the Lord we have no cause to worry.
In 2 Cor. 4:17-18 Paul confirmed all of this when he spoke about what believers should focus on. He said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
From an eternal perspective, our life in this world is only a fleeting moment, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It’s our next life that’s important because it’s the one that will last forever. When we get our priorities straight and pay the most attention to what’s the most important, the Lord will make sure our needs in this life will be met as well.
We will conclude this study next time with Matt. 7. See you then.