MATTHEW CHAPTER 6
Of Giving of Alms, Praying, and Fasting. Matt. 6, 1-18.
The first part of Christ's sermon had treated of the right interpretation of the Law, shown by many examples. From scribe law He now passes to Pharisaic practice, holding up the false righteousness in its hollow mockery. A very prominent feature in the religious life of the Pharisees: V. 1. Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. The reference to a universal practice would be understood at once by all. it is a warning against the common form of showing probity, of practicing charity in the sight of all men, with the intention of bringing one's own person into prominence. Christ's idea is that the good works shall be seen and speak for themselves, but that the person of the doer be kept entirely in the background. The Pharisees took great pains that they should be seen while performing works which they falsely thought good. Theirs was a theatrical virtue; they sought only their own honor, a reputation as saints. Any one thinking himself a disciple of Christ, but guilty of such hypocritical ostentation, can expect no reward from the heavenly Father, and is foolish for indulging in a hope based upon such a false foundation. He has nothing in common with the disposition of the Lord.
The false way to give alms: V. 2. Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogs and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. Christ mentions no names, but with one word characterizes those that make a show of their charity. Hypocrites they are, actors; they are acting for effect, there is nothing real and sound about the righteousness they affect. The sounding of trumpets, the attracting of attention was their object, not the helping of the poor. When the collection was made in the synagogs, they were most prominent in the act, though not in the gift. When beggars stopped them on the street, they were sure to attract the attention of all passers-by before making a show at almsgiving. They want the glory which properly belongs to God alone, chapter 5, 16. In bitter irony, Christ says of them that they have their reward. The word is taken from the language of the banks. " They can sign the receipt of their reward: their right to receive the reward is realized, precisely as if they already had given a receipt for it." 54) They have nothing more to expect, they will get nothing from God.
The right way to practice charity: V. 3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, v. 4. that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret, Himself shall reward thee openly. Not the act of almsgiving was condemned by Christ, but only the manner. The work was well-pleasing to Him. Give with simplicity of heart, with so little show of self-glorification that even the left hand, so to speak, shall not be admitted into the secret, lest the satisfaction which one may feel on account of having done another good work detract from God's glory. The works shall shine brightly, but the donor shall, remain hidden to all but God, who knows the secrets of men's hearts and actions. He knows all the sacrifices that are made, and at the proper time He will give the reward of mercy; He will make public announcement on the day when He will reveal everything.
The wrong manner of praying: V. 5. And when thou prayest, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogs and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Prayer is the communion of the soul with God, a confidential imparting of all needs, desires, and conditions of feeling to the heavenly Father. The faithful Israelites had the custom of observing the hours of prayer, either in their own homes or in some secluded spot in the Temple, Dan. 6, 10; Acts 3, 1. But the Pharisees proved themselves true actors also here. They love to stand, it is dear to their hearts, they make a practice of it which is pleasing to their vanity and conceit. Standing in the most conspicuous places, in the synagog before the assembled congregation, at the corners of the streets, at cross-roads, where they might expect a great number of loungers and passers-by to watch them in gaping admiration, they made their prayers. Their real object was, of course, to be observed of men, to attract attention, for which purpose their very standing posture was an ostentation. Strange that the hour of prayer always overtook them in the most public places!
The true manner of praying: V. 6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. An emphatic contrast, "But thou." Be as different from these hypocrite's as possible, lest thy manner of praying savor of their hypocrisy. Christ does not restrict the praying to fixed hours. Whenever you feel the need of communing with God, as often as you wish to be undisturbed with Him alone. For such a purpose a room in the interior of the house or on the housetop, secluded from all interference and intrusion, will be found most appropriate. Christ advises even the shutting of the door to emphasize the intimacy which such a prayer implies. Here, with no one to disturb you, with no one present but Him who is in the secret places, whose omnipresence invites you freely to confide in Him, you may open your heart freely, even in regard to matters which may fitly be hidden before the eyes of the whole world. Every one accustomed to private prayer after this description of the Lord will receive full edification also from the public prayer in home devotions and in congregational worship. His heart has been trained to be centered in the Lord alone and to banish all distracting thoughts Note especially that the Lord emphasizes "thy Father," which tenderly invites and urges childlike trust and confidence. "Though I be a sinner and unworthy still I have here God's command, which commands me to pray, and His promise that He "will mercifully hear me, not on account of my worthiness, but for the sake of the Lord Christ. With this trust thou canst put away all thoughts and doubts, and kneel down cheerfully and pray, not regarding thy worthiness or un-worthiness, but thy trouble and His word, in which He commands you to put confidence." 55)
A lesson in regard to the form of prayer: V.7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. The chief characteristic of the prayers in heathen worship is a gabbling or babbling, a repetition without end of the same forma of words, 1 Kings 18, 26; Acts 19, 34. Such customs were familiar to the Jews as well as to the Galileans, on account of the mixed population and the presence of strangers in their midst. The idea supporting such meaningless repetitions seems to have been that the very flood of words should argue for the sincerity of the worshiper and practically weary the gods into complying with their wishes.
Warning against such absurd practices: V. 8. Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him. The Christians should differ from the heathen by a sharp distinction. They shall not be like the heathen; there shall be no point of resemblance between their worship and that of the heathen. Their idea of prayer is essentially unlike that of the Gentiles. "Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue. The eloquence of prayer consists in the fervency of desire and the simplicity of faith. The abundance of fine thoughts, studied and vehement motions, and the order and politeness of the expressions, are things which compose a mere human harangue, not a humble and Christian prayer. Our trust and confidence ought to proceed from that which God is able to do in us, and not from that which we can say to Him." 56) Another point bringing out the absurdity of "babbling prayers: our needs are known to God before we make them known in our prayers. As a true Father He is concerned about the wants and troubles of His children, and gets His information often before they are aware of their lack, Is. 65, 24. "God commands us to pray, not indeed that we with our prayer should teach Him what He should give, but rather that we should realize and confess what kind of goods He gives to us, and will and can give much more; so that by our prayer we instruct our selves more than Him." 57)
A model prayer to show that an infinite variety of wants and requests can be compressed into a few humble petitions: V. 9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. It does not detract from the value of the prayer that many of its words and thoughts are found in the Old Testament and in the formulas in use among the Jews at that time. The marvel of its beauty lies rather in this, that the Lord arranged the petitions with reference to the importance of human wants and imbued them with His spirit, thus making the brief formula the most perfect prayer in the world. Note how He brings out this point. Thus, after this manner, not after that of the heathen, shall be your habitual prayer, for you are people who stand in a different relation to the Deity, you know the one, true God, to whom all prayers should be addressed. Father, He calls Him, to bring out the sonship of the believers. Their confidence and trust in Him is that of children sure of the father's love. He is our Father, in the fullest sense, by His work of creation as well as by that of redemption. He is the almighty God and Lord, who reigns in heaven over all the universe and thus possesses the willing power to hear our prayer, Eph. 3, 14. 15; 4, 6; Is. 66, 1; Acts 7, 55. 56. His name, the entire manifestation of His essence, the revelation of His being, which distinguishes Him and gives an idea of His greatness, Ps. 48, 11; Mal. 1, 11, shall be hallowed, praised, glorified. This is done not only by holding Him in all esteem and reverence, by yielding to Him the position which is His by eternal right, by making Him the one object of worship tlie world over, but by leading such lives that every desire, thought, word, and deed will redound to His glory, chapter 5, 16.
His majesty, power and might, omnipresence, and omniscience having been confessed, the thought follows: V. 10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. The kingdom of heaven, the sum total of the gifts and mercies of God in Jesus, which God has intended for all men and which is realized as the kingdom of grace in the believers, shall come. God must grant faith and keep us in faith and thus in His kingdom. John 15, 1—5. But our prayer is also for others, that God may open their hearts and minds to the glorious news of their salvation by sending faithful pastors and missionaries, and that he would soon merge the Church militant into the Church triumphant. This petition implies that such is the good and gracious will of God. It follows, then, that this will of God should be perfectly, ideally done and fulfilled, and that all opposing forces should be broken and hindered. Incidentally, His will and allowance in our own lives should be carried out. Whatever of suffering and trials He is pleased to put upon us shall be borne willingly, since the angels themselves are models in the doing of God's will. At all times, in all places, in all things we pray that His will be done.
Temporal gifts are also included: V. 11. Give us this day our daily bread. In putting the petition in this form, Christ teaches humility and frugality. For this day we pray, taking no thought for the morrow, not yielding to anxious care. And the daily bread we are to ask for, that which is sufficient for the present day, enough to nourish us from day to day. 58) God, in His infinite goodness, includes much more than the things which are necessary for our bare existence, as Luther shows in his explanation of this petition.
One of the greatest spiritual and temporal needs: V. 12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. We daily contract an enormous, an unbelievable amount of debts before God. And the more we desire the fulfillment of the first petitions, the more conscious we shall be of our shortcomings. This debt, in its nature, being an account of God against us, whether the sin is committed directly against Him, or whether it harms the neighbor and thus transgresses His Law, must stand charged against us forever, rendering us subject to the debtor's damnation, Matt. 18, 24. 25, unless we receive forgiveness, a full and free pardon from the free mercy of God in Jesus, which we here plead for. Revenge and hatred can, of course, not be in any man's heart when he prays this petition. The more conscious a person is of his own mistakes and shortcomings, the more indulgent his heart will be toward the faults of others, even when committed against himself. It would condemn him to everlasting damnation if his forgiveness would not be patterned after that of his heavenly Father, vv. 14.15.
A final plea for help: V. 13 a. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. There are not many that reach the heights of moral heroism by which they welcome persecutions, Matt. 5, 10; Jas. 1, 2. For the average Christian the thought of temptation and trial is in itself depressing. The petition not to be exposed to moral trial, to violent assaults of Satan, to such circumstances as are extremely hard to bear for mere flesh and blood, is therefore very necessary. God sometimes, for reasons of His own, suffers or permits a temptation to come near a Christian, in order to test and strengthen his faith, 1 Cor. 10, 13. We ask that He would so lead us and cause us to walk circumspectly that no evil results of the temptation may strike us, that the final outcome may ever be beneficent. This is included in the "deliver" of the last sentence. Since trials and temptations are sure to come, therefore we turn to God to draw us out of their snares, out of their bondage, and especially to deliver us from the evil one, the devil, who makes use of every occasion to bring us into his power. Thus every possible contingency in the life of the average human being is provided for. And so the doxology is most appropriate: V. 13 b. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. He is our great King and Ruler, who has our well-being at heart; He is the almighty God, in whose power lies the fulfillment of our every need; to Him we therefore intend to give all honor and glory for all the gifts and benefits which He showers upon us so freely. Of this we are so sure that we close the Lord's Prayer with a fervent Amen, to indicate our faith and trust in our Father. 59)
A necessary warning: V. 14. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. V. 15. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. The hearing of our prayer, the granting of the benefits asked for, hinges upon our being in the right relation toward God, which is brought about by the assurance and the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. And this, in turn, depends upon the manner in which we show proofs of the right condition of our hearts toward the neighbor. Our sins toward God were called debts, and these are piled up with horrible swiftness. Our neighbor's sins toward us are described as mere stumblings or faults in performing his duty. To be vindictive under such circumstances is folly in itself, and argues that the mercy of God is not appreciated. If we really desire the forgiveness of God, we must first show that we realize our own sinfulness and its damnableness by forgiving our neighbor his faults.
A lesson on fasting: V. 16. Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Fasting was a part of the religious rites of the Jews, intended to show repentance and humility, in itself an unobjectionable custom. But the hypocrites, acting out their part in all lines, made their fasting another form of self-glorification, not only by observing additional days of fasting, besides those prescribed in the Jewish law, but also by affecting a gloomy face, inviting sympathy and praise. They neglected the daily care of the face, to make the effect of the semiweekly fast appear all the more harrowing. It was an empty show in order that they might play a more important figure and get the reputation of greater holiness. They have all the reward they will ever get. They need expect nothing from the Lord.
The proper method of fasting: V. 17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face, v. 18. that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Again the Lord emphasizes the contrast. A mere outward show of repentance without change of heart does not befit the followers of Jesus. Fasting they may practice indeed; that is a laudable custom and may be productive of good. But in doing so, all ostentation must be avoided. It is the heart that should feel the sorrow and humility, not the body. Therefore the usual daily washing and anointing should not be omitted, in order that men might not even know the conditions. God, their heavenly Father, that lives in the secret places, whose omniscience searches minds and hearts, will know. At the proper time He will make the necessary revelations and grant the reward of mercy.
Warning against Covetousness and Care. Matt. 6, 19—34.
A new topic, introducing an exposition of the first table of the Law: V. 19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. The question of hoarding, the service of Mammon, demanded discussion in connection with righteousness of works and self-righteousness. For it is the self-conceited that is liable to become addicted to covetousness. How foolish such hoarding! The Lord scourges the sin in bitter scorn: to hoard up hoards, treasures of this earth, tainted with the curse of this earth, subject to the corruption of the earth. Whether it be garments, tapestry, and carpets, moths would destroy them, rust, mildew, canker would eat them; and whether it be gold and silver and jewels, thieves would find a way to steal them, even if they must dig through the wall of the house. What uncertain treasures to place your trust upon!
The only safe treasures: V. 20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. V. 21. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The repetition of the same words serves for emphasis. Treasures you may and shall have, of the right kind. Treasure the treasures of the only lasting kind, in heaven, heavenly treasures, the gift and possession donated by God through grace. Value these above all the jewels and riches of the whole world. "But you, who are not of the world, but belong in heaven and are bought through My blood for this purpose that you should have another, eternal possession which is ready and ordered for you, — you should not permit your hearts to be taken captive here, but, though you be in an office and station in which you must deal with it, do not hanker after or serve it. On the contrary, strive to get those treasures which are kept for you in heaven. For those are true treasures, which moths and rust cannot approach, and safe against all that may eat and steal. For they are so placed that they always remain whole and fresh, and so secured that no one can dig after them." 60) The treasures of the Christians are even now safely included in the Word of Mercy, and their fullness and eternal enjoyment will be realized in heaven, 1 Pet. 1, 4; 2 Tim. 1, 12. 14. And therefore their minds and hearts are centered in heaven, upon their greatest treasure, secure for them in the hands of God.
The parable of the eye: V. 22. The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. V. 23. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! The absurdity and dangerousness of covetousness is here illustrated, probably with reference to the Pharisees, whose attention and affections were divided between temporal and spiritual things, and who therefore became spiritually blind. The eye is the organ of vision and incidentally the seat of expression. To perform its function properly, it should be the light of the body, give light for the body's movement and labor. The candid, open, healthy eye will give this service properly; the bad, diseased eye will cause the whole body to be in darkness, though the person stand in the midst of light. In other words: The light of the body is the eye, because the eye lets light into the body and makes it available to the body. When the eye of the soul is in proper condition, free from the desire to hoard, then true Christian knowledge can control and direct the person unto every good work. But when sordid passions take hold of the soul, Christian knowledge suffers, heart and mind are blinded, judgment is perverted, and nothing but evil results. There is spiritual darkness without a single ray of light, just as the extinguishing of a lamp in a dark room intensifies the darkness greatly.
Warning against Mammon: V. 24. No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. It is a general truth, commonly accepted: For a slave to serve two masters is impossible. True, undivided service presupposes love and attachment, or at least a strong interest. He will regard the one with devotion, the other with aversion; he will take the part of the one, or at least put up with him, the other he will disregard. The conclusion ; It is impossible to be faithful to God and at the same time be a servant of riches, making an idol of them. Christ does not condemn the possession, but the service of riches. Man can have only one highest good and principle of life. The service of heaven cannot be combined with the earthly inclinations, the two cannot be reconciled. If he chooses filthy lucre as his highest good, the service of God is out of the question, and he loses substantial and eternal blessedness. The disciples of Christ will shun covetousness with all their hearts and give their life's devotion to their God and Savior.
Counsel against worry about food and clothing: V. 25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat? and the body than raiment? The connection of thought is this: Avarice flows out of distrust of God, and this distrust shows itself in anxious care. Avoid the one, and you are more likely to withstand the other. Incidentally, the warnings here given are more suitable to the circumstances of the disciples, whose concern would oftener be regarding the necessaries of life than the amassing of treasures. Take no thought, have no concern about, do not let it worry you. Food, even that necessary to sustain life, and clothing, even that demanded for warmth, shall not be objects for worry. Care divides and distracts the mind, causing that distrust which goes before denial. The argument of Christ is from the more to the less important: The natural life is more than the food which sustains it; and the body containing this life is more than the clothing which protects it. Can He therefore that gave the greater, the more important, not be trusted to give the less? Solicitous concern for food and clothing, then, not only forgets the Giver of all good gifts, but weakens the members of the body, so that they cannot properly perform the work of the daily calling.
A further consideration for those of little faith: V. 26. Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Examples of perfect trust in God who has always provided for them: the birds do even less than that expected of human beings in the matter of providing for the future, Prov. 6, 6; 20, 4. For them there is neither seed-time nor harvest; they have no barns and granaries to store food against the coming of famine. And yet, behold them! Fix your eyes upon them and think who keeps them alive, who cares for them. Their table is always set, sometimes with the choicest of foods, sometimes with just enough to sustain life, but — He feedeth them. If He cares for these humble creatures and provides for them, is there not reason to believe that His children will not want bread?
How unprofitable is worry: V. 27. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? In whose case will the fact that he worries about the question continually be of any aid in increasing his height, or rather, in lengthening his life? Ps. 39, 5. It is simply impossible for a person, by taking thought of the matter, both to produce the growth that comes from food and to extend the days of his life. Why, then, not leave these matters to Providence? Christ even points to the inanimate creatures as examples of God's loving care: V. 28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. V. 29. And yet I .say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. To worry about clothing to cover one's nakedness must seem strange in view of the thousand miracles surrounding us. Consider, observe well, take a lesson from the lilies, He says, including in this term all flowers, since those of Palestine are very beautiful. They grow, they become large; and yet they do nothing to provide a suitable dress for themselves; neither heavy nor light work is on their daily program. The situation demands a strong statement, and Jesus deliberately gives it. Solomon, whose riches and luxury were proverbial among the Jews as the climax and pinnacle of gorgeousness, in the very height of his glory and wealth and magnificence, could not be compared, in the splendor of his attire, with one of these flowers. Nothing on earth can equal the rich blending of colors, the velvety texture of the petals of some of the commonest blossoms that are overlooked as weeds by the heedless.
Application of the argument: V. 30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? The lilies, whose blossoms teach such a great lesson, belong to the grasses; they may even be classed as weeds, if their number and persistence interferes with the tilling of the soil. They belong to the creatures with little value, comparatively speaking. The natives of Palestine, to this day, make use of hay, stubble, and withered herbs to heat their clay ovens, round pots, narrow at the top. These plants of the field, then, which stand so low in the estimation of men that they are used for fuel, are yet so highly esteemed by the Lord that He clothes them in splendid garments, more wonderful than the most gorgeous apparel of Israel's richest king. And children of God should permit themselves to be harassed by anxious care as to the clothing that they need? Such conduct must surely be a sign of little faith.
Christ renews His exhortation against worry: V. 31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? V.32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek.) For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. It is in the form of an impassioned peroration that the Lord pleads with His hearers. All the care and worry of providing food and clothing, the continual harping on that one theme, so that it makes up the burden of your conversation, that it is the one subject which engages all your time and energy, is sinful and heathenish. For bread, raiment, wealth, all the gifts which this world has to offer, are eagerly sought as the supreme, the most important things in life, by the heathen. They have no thought beyond the gratification of their bodily desires. As for you: Your Father above knows, He is fully aware of the conditions, He is acquainted with all your needs. His fatherly heart, filled with love toward you, is willing to do what is best for you; so drive all dull care far away from you, lest your worry lead to distrust and your distrust to the worship of Mammon. "That is not sin nor service of Mammon that a person eats and drinks and clothes himself, as the need of life and body demands that he have his food and covering; also not this that he seek and earn his food, but that he worries, that is, that he places his heart's comfort and trust therein. For care is not enclosed in the dress or in the food, but right in the heart; which cannot refrain, it must needs want to cling to it, as it is said: Possessions bring confidence. To take thought, then, means as much as to cling to it with the heart. For what my heart does not dearly love, for that I have no care; and again, that for which I care, my heart must desire." 61)
The care which God demands: V. 33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. To seek, earnestly to covet, to put the whole heart to the gaining of, the kingdom of God, is a most necessary care for the disciples of Christ, for the children of God. For this kingdom is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, Rom. 14, 17. To possess this righteousness, which is well-pleasing to God, to be filled with the fruits of this righteousness, to become rich in truly good works, that is a goal worthy of the Christian's ambition. Such a constant seeking after purity of heart and holiness of life will incidentally stifle all care and worry of this life. And the little things of this earthly body and life will then come as a matter of course, the main object of the quest having been secured. They will be cast into our laps as an overplus, as an addition to the great bargain which our seeking has gained. Therefore, once more: V. 34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Each day brings its own evil, for it is an evil world, and the enemies without and within are ever busy devising schemes to beset the heart with care. These conditions must be met with patient cheerfulness, and each problem taken care of as it comes. To add to the difficulties and troubles of the present day by worrying about what the morrow might bring will not ease the situation confronting you now. To restrict all care to the moment when it begins to nag is to conquer it absolutely. It is only the future that brings anxiety. Put each successive day into the hands of God, and it will bring its own help and deliverance from the love of the heavenly Father, Lam. 3, 23.
Summary. The Lord gives instructions concerning the giving of alms, and on prayer and fasting, and warns against avarice, covetousness, and care, pointing out, incidentally, the seeking of the kingdom of God as the prime duty of every Christian.