In our study of Matthew chapter six, we look at five things that the righteous will do. We will look at the fact that these things will be a part of the Christian walk as well as the fact that our motives in doing these things is important to God.
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'Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.'
Jesus continues to teach about kingdom things in what is commonly called the Olivet Discourse. We see that the things that He is going to teach about were to be a private matter between the believer and God. We also see that our Father in heaven will be rewarding us for our righteous acts. Through the years, this teaching has been misunderstood and twisted to be used to manipulate people. The key to understanding this chapter is to keep in mind that these things will happen in the life of a Christian because they are a Christian. These are acts of the righteous and not acts to become righteous. There have also been those who say that the rewards that are referred to has to do with our salvation. That is a lie straight from the depths of hell! We are saved by faith through the grace of God so that is not our reward. John spoke of the rewards of the believer in Revelation 20.
'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.'
Jesus gives an example with the first act of the righteous which is giving. We notice that he does not say if but when we give. The Pharisees would go out into the streets and blow a trumpet so that the poor would know to come and receive alms. They wanted to do it this way so that everyone else would see what they were doing. In the synagogues people would make sure to throw their coins into the trumpet shaped collection jars so that it would make a lot of noise. Jesus tells us that they received the acknowledgement of the people around them which is what they were looking for.
'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.'
In contrast to the religious, we are to be so secret about our giving that nobody knows. They want to glorify themselves while we are called to glorify God. We trust that God will reward us for our actions and that reward will be better than any fame or fortune we can get in this world.
'And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.'
The second act of the righteous is praying and, once again, we see that it is not if but when we pray. The religious leaders of the day would make a big show of praying loud and in public so that everyone would see how righteous they were. The same type of thing happens even today in the meetings. Once again, Jesus says that they have received the recognition that they were looking for and that is all they will receive.
'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.'
In contrast to the religious, the truly righteous are to talk to their Father in private. In the past, God dealt with nations and groups of people but, through Jesus Christ, we have a personal relationship. We keep other personal conversations private and it should be the same with the time we spend talking to our heavenly Father.
'And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think that 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.'
Now, Jesus speaks of the method of prayer and it is contrasted to the way that pagans prayed. They would repeat the same prayer to a list of so-called gods in hopes of finding the one that could help. The righteous know that God can and will answer the prayers as well as the fact that He already knows our needs.
'"This then is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,"'
This verse begins what is commonly called "the Lord's prayer" but is better called the disciple's prayer because this was for them and us. Jesus begins with the fact that we are to pray to our Father not to a statue, Mary, or anything else. He opens with this because it is important to understand and acknowledge who we are talking to and who is able to answer our prayers. Jesus continues with the fact that God is holy meaning set apart from all things. As we saw before, the pagans would go down a whole list of so-called gods in hopes that they would get one that could help. We are clear from the start that there is only One who can hear and to answer our prayers.
'"your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."'
The kingdom of God is here but this part of the prayer expresses the desire that it would be fully realized. This part of the prayer speaks of the desire to have things be the way that Jesus described them in chapter 5.
'"Give us today our daily bread."'
Bread speaks of our daily need for sustenance and we notice that we do not ask for more than we need for today. We do not even know if we will have a tomorrow on this earth and so we are to be content with God's provision for today.
'"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.'" 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.
The debts speak of offenses that others commit against you whether they apologize and ask for forgiveness or not. Jesus explains that there is a direct connection between our forgiveness of others and that of the Father towards 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.'
We are introduced to the third of the "acts of the righteous" and, once again, we see that it is not a matter of if we fast but when we fast. So, what is this fasting that Jesus was talking about? Biblically it was doing without food and water for a specified period of time. Its purpose was to focus the mind on the things of God and trusting in Him to sustain you. As we see here, it was to be a personal thing to where others did not even know that you were doing it. In the body of Christ today, many have twisted this and made it into sort of a badge of honor and even a show. This is what Jesus was talking about with the "hypocrites" who would make a big show of the fact that they were fasting.
'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.'
Once again, Jesus reminds us that it is more important that God sees what we are doing than what others see. We are reminded that He will reward us for the things done with the right motives. We also see that this is a very personal act. There are many congregations that will declare a group fast but there is no biblical precedent for that practice.
'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.'
We are introduced to the fourth "act of the righteous" in a contrast between the earthly and the heavenly. In the earthly realm, treasures is speaking of material wealth while in the heavenly realm it is speaking of spiritual wealth. So, what is spiritual wealth? This is talking about souls that you introduce to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This "act of the righteous" involves serving the Lord in order to tell people about Jesus.
'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'
In Jewish thought, the heart is the center of the being and is associated with thought, will, and emotions. Jesus was saying that, if you store up possessions on this earth, you would constantly be focused on them and not on the things of the kingdom of God. Not only will you be focused on getting more things but you will also care more about protecting what you have than sharing with others to further the kingdom.
'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!'
The eyes speak of knowledge and, here, Jesus is talking about the dangers of materialism. If your eyes cannot see the danger of this, then, your whole body will chase after the things of this world. Chasing after the things of this world only leads to darkness. If you see earthly things as they really are, which is temporary, then your heart as well as your entire body will be focused on kingdom things.
'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.'
Here, we see that a choice must be made and that choice will determine how you live your life. You will serve your earthly desires and chase after them or you can serve God but you cannot do both. I have heard people say that they do not serve money even though their entire life is centered on the pursuit of more things. Many people will do this and attend a place of worship a few times a week saying that their faith is the center of their life. You can tell what your focus is on by how much time you spend on an activity. If you spend more time pursuing the things of this world than thinking about the things of God, then, you are serving money. If more of your time is spent with kingdom matters in mind than in providing things of this world, then, you are serving God. It really is that simple and it is what Jesus was saying.
'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?'
Jesus introduces us to the fifth "act of the righteous" which is trusting in God and His goodness. Jesus begins to teach about worry which is the opposite of trusting in the Lord. This is also closely related to what He was saying about serving money. Fear of not being sustained by God drives many people to pursue more money so that they can provide for themselves and their family. While providing for your family is a good thing, it is even better to trust God and the fact that He has promised to sustain us as His children.
'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?'
Jesus gives us some specific examples and begins with food. He uses the example of birds who go and get their food each day and do not search for more than they need to store it away. They do not have to build another room onto their nest to store up the things that they may need tomorrow. He goes on to explain that God provides for their daily needs and that we are more valuable to God than any bird. The obvious conclusion is that, since we are more valuable to Him, we can be even more sure that He will provide what we need to survive. The righteous will trust God not only for salvation through Jesus Christ but also for their daily sustenance.
'Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?'
Food is necessary for our very survival on this earth but worrying about whether we have enough for tomorrow will not bring about tomorrow. God is the giver of life and we will live on this earth until Jesus returns or until God calls us away from this earth. Either way, our lack of trust in Him will not bring one more second to our lives. This worry only robs us of the happiness that God desires for our lives.
'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?'
Jesus gives another example of the fact that the righteous will trust God. Here, he uses the example of flowers which are so beautiful and are entirely taken care of by God. He makes them to grow and to be beautiful but we are more valuable to Him than all of the plants. Because of that fact, He will clothe us in something even better which is the Holy Spirit. You can wear a tuxedo or a beautiful designer gown but, without the Spirit living in you, you are not as beautiful as you can be. On the flip side, you can be dressed like a hobo but have the Spirit and be better looking than the wealthy without it. By faith, we can know that God will give us the clothes we need as well as the inner beauty of the Spirit.
'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.'
The pagans (those without God) spend their time chasing the things of this world. They run after all kinds of "gods" in search of fulfillment but we are not like that if we are in Christ. The Father in heaven knows what we need and He will take care of His children.
'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.'
The righteous will be focused on kingdom things such as reaching the lost sheep. There is plenty of work to be done in that area each and every day. Tomorrow will come and we will be taken care of just as we were today.