In commissioning Moses to return to Egypt in order to deliver the Children of Israel out of the evil hand of Pharaoh, in Exodus 4, for the first time, God refers to this ragtag nation of slaves as being “His firstborn son” and therefore Himself as their Father in heaven.
In fact, utilizing the father/son dynamic in order to define His relationship with the Hebrews is something you’ll find all over the Old Testament. For example, in Isaiah 63:16, the prophet declares, “You, O LORD, are our Father; our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.”
By my count, on 17 occasions throughout The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will echo this refrain of God being a “heavenly Father” with one significant twist — He personalizes it!
What makes this so revolutionary, and in many ways foreign to those in attendance, was the fact, instead of referencing God as the Father of the Children of Israel in a broad and overarching sense, He brings the relationship down to the individual level… “Your Father!”
One of the components central to Judaism was the wide chasm that existed between God and His people. At Sinai, when the presence of God descended from heaven to earth in order to give Moses the Law, the people were forbidden from even touching the mount.
Then once God’s glory finally came to rest upon the Ark of the Covenant, it was only the priests who were given access to the inner courts of the Tabernacle. Of these men, it was only the High Priest who was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and that was once a year.
While the Jewish people understood they were the Children of God, the nature of the relationship they had with their “heavenly Father” was at best distant. Sure, they knew a lot about God because of the revelation He provided through His Word, but there was nothing personal or experiential about their relationship with Him. In Jesus’ day, God could only be approached at the Temple by making a sacrifice through a priestly intermediary.
When Jesus spoke of God He did so unlike anyone had ever done before. God was His Father and He was His Son. God was not distant from Him or somehow separate. There was no divide. The two were one and the one two. Jesus and His Father had a relationship.
Amazingly, throughout The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was subtly telling His disciples the relationship with God He enjoyed would soon be theirs as well! While this would not fully come until after the cross, resurrection, and outpouring of the Spirit, as His disciples, God would also be their Father. His throne room would be open. He would be accessible.
In Romans 8:14-17, Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
Over the last several verses, Jesus has illustrated how this personal relationship with God the Father should radically impact your religious expressions because it changes your internal motivations. The Christian is to be generous not to earn God’s favor or receive man’s acclaim. As a child of the Father, your generosity should manifest as a simple response to His incredible love — meaning you could care less who else knows about it.
You see instead of making a public spectacle of prayer to project some great spiritual connection with God because He is your Father, God ends up being the only audience you care to entertain. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place.”
In the end, Jesus is highlighting for us the differences between a hypocrite pretending to be spiritual and the individual simply enjoying a relationship with God their Father!
Let’s pick things up where we left them off last Sunday… Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
In a lot of ways, these two verses present another perfect example of how losing sight of the overarching purpose for Jesus’ sermon can lead to faulty conclusions. Don’t forget, this dissertation was not for the unsaved multitudes but was given to His disciples. As such, Jesus wasn’t explaining how to be saved but how to live afterward!
Understand, Jesus wasn’t saying you need to “forgive men their trespasses” in order for God to “forgive yours” — as if your ultimate forgiveness for sins was somehow tethered to a human work. Rather, Jesus is pointing out to His disciples that a willingness to forgive others should be the natural reaction of those who’ve already been forgiven.
I like the way Martin Luther King Jr. defined forgiveness. He said, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.” Said another way, “Forgiveness is the needle that knows how to mend.” I like that a lot.
Christian, there is no avoiding the reality the knowledge of all that God has forgiven you should be all the motivation you need to forgive others freely and sometimes even at great expense to your pride and sense of self-rightness. Never forget, Jesus laid down His life so that you could be forgiven. He acted first and even risked rejection.
Matthew 6:16-18, “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance (literally a sullen disposition). For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
But you, when you fast, anoint your head (literally wash your hair) and wash your face (clean yourself up), so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
According to the Law, the only time the Jewish people were commanded by God to fast from food occurred on the Day of Atonement. This particular custom was called “the fasting day” in Jeremiah 36:6 and later known simply as “the fast” as it’s mentioned in Acts 27:9.
Aside from the yearly mandate, we know from extra-Biblical sources the Pharisees fasted twice a week even though God never asked them to do this. These men “with a sad countenance” would deny their bodies sustenance as a demonstration of their dedication and devotion to God. Once again, the whole exercise intended to project an image!
Not only was Jesus unimpressed by their antics, but He actually accuses the Pharisees of faking the entire exercise! He says, while they claimed to be abstaining twice a week, “the hypocrites disfigured their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting!” Total posers!
Since Jesus will provide a more expansive teaching on the topic of fasting in Matthew 9, I’m going to hold off on my commentary until then. That said, I do want to point out that for the third time in this chapter Jesus has emphasized our Father being “in the secret place.” As a good rule of thumb, anything repeated that frequently deserves our attention.
Obviously, there are all kinds of reasons people keep certain things a secret — some good others bad. And yet, when I consider this statement, I think of a true vulnerability. You see a hidden diary is kept secret because it’s the place where your real thoughts and feelings are expressed. At home, with no one around, you can let your hair down and be your true self.
What I love about this repeated phrase is that it affirms two things about God… First, He truly knows me — the real me, not the public persona or a projected image, not even the version I allow my trusted friends to see. He sees me! Everything! Nothing about myself can be hidden from Him. All that I am is laid bare. No thought, feeling, or desire is concealed.
I’m sure you can relate, but since I long to be accepted, there are certain things about myself I keep a secret out of the fear I might be rejected or embarrassed. And yet, while the idea my heavenly Father is “in the secret place” of my life may be scary, I’m absolutely amazed that even knowing everything there is to know He still loves me anyway!
Again, speaking to His disciples, Jesus continues… Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but (or instead of this approach) lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Why is this important…) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Let me begin by defining what Jesus is referring to when He uses the word “treasures.” Contrary to what you might think, the word is much broader than treasure, money, or riches.
Furthermore, it’s inappropriate to extrapolate from the text some notion that Jesus was prohibiting savings, making financial investments, or retirement planning. That’s not only an inappropriate overreach, but it denies the wisdom we find in places like Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.”
Instead, the word Jesus uses here can be translated as treasury or storehouse. In Greek, this was the place you would store things that were precious and valuable to you. In our day, think of this as being a bank, an investment house, or even a safety deposit box.
With this in mind, a more helpful way of reading these verses would be, “Do not establish your treasury on earth, because the things you value are unsafe and vulnerable. Instead, establish your treasury in heaven where the things you value are protected and preserved.”
Realize, the point Jesus is articulating wasn’t really about the location of your treasury being established in heaven or on earth, but rather what the location says about the type of things you value! Let me also paraphrase what Jesus says in verse 21, “You will know what a person values or treasures by where they choose to establish their treasury.”
While this could easily develop into a study of its own, the Bible indicates only four things will transfer from this life into the next: your identity (who you are), the memories you’ve made (you will know others and be able to recall life experiences), people (the family and friends who’ve also accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation), as well as one’s service to King Jesus (in heaven you will be rewarded based upon your works and faithfulness).
I bring these things up because knowing what will and will not transfer from this life on earth to the next one in heaven should have a significant impact on how you spend your time, invest your energies, and utilize your resources. You see if your heart is centered in heaven, it will radically alter the things you come to value on earth.
Likewise, you can also learn a lot about a person and what they really value when they’re consumed by worldly success, obsessed with material possessions, and are driven to accumulate greater wealth. The grand irony is none of these pursuits transfer to heaven!
Brilliantly, Jesus is saying where a person makes their investments (whether it be on earthly things or on what will transfer to heaven) reveals what a person truly values most! President Joe Biden has often repeated a line he credits his dad for saying, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” True words.
In the context of our treasury either being on earth or in heaven — which, as we’ve noted, reveals what it is a person really values, Jesus continues… Matthew 6:22-23, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Admittedly, these two verses are complicated so let’s work through them one line at a time. Jesus begins, “The lamp of the body is the eye.” Because it is through the eye we see and process the world around us, spiritually speaking, the eye is the gateway to the soul.
What this means is the things allowed to enter a person’s mind through the eye will inevitably impact the soul, and what’s in the soul will always emanate out through a person’s eyes. Have you ever seen an evil eye or worse been given the stink eye? It’s simply true you can draw a lot of insights about a person and their life by looking at their eyes?
Since this is the case, Jesus explains, “If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.” The Greek word we have translated as “good” has two meanings that are both applicable. The word can mean single as in singularly focused as well as to be sound or whole. In the context of the previous verses, Jesus is saying if the focus of our minds-eye is heaven every other component of our body on earth will function appropriately.
“But (so in contrast) if your eye is bad (you are not focused on the right things, Jesus says), your whole body will be full of darkness (literally everything will be covered in darkness). If therefore the light that is in you is darkness (if this is the case), how great is that darkness!” Ultimately, where you set your eyes will always determine where your feet will go!
While our Bibles divide these verses into several different sections, I believe Jesus is developing one train of thought… He goes from the location of our treasury revealing the essence of what we value — to the natural consequences of having the right or wrong perspective — to now, in verse 24, addressing the logical application for His disciples…
Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters (no one can be a slave to two masters); for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. (Jesus’ point…) You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Most scholars believe “mammon” was an Aramaic word for earthly riches, treasure, or money.)
As His disciples, Jesus is making it clear two things cannot happen at the same time. You can serve God and you can serve money, but you cannot serve both! It’s impossible!
Please understand, money and material possessions are fundamentally amoral. Money is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing. It’s simply a thing! This is why in 1st Timothy, Paul cautions, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
That said… Because money is a necessary thing (we can’t survive without having it), there is no escaping the reality money demands some kind of relationship with all of us. And again, there are only two options available. We either serve money or our money serves us. As Pastor Joe Focht said, “Money either belongs to us or we belong to it!”
Since this is the case, money presents a dangerous conundrum! If we “cannot serve two masters” and therefore “cannot serve God and mammon,” our money must be kept in its proper place or we run the dangerous risk of idolatry — serving something other than God.
This is why it’s essential we value the eternal over the temporal (“for where your treasure is there will your heart be also”) and also why we need to keep our eyes singularly focused on the right things (“if therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light”).
Before I address a sure way you can safeguard the pursuit of money usurping a necessary dependency on God for His provision, please know money can be a terribly mean and taxing master because it teases our fallen compulsion towards greed and inability to be content. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.”
Understand, centering your life on the pursuit of money isn’t really about money at all. If we’re being honest, it’s about the things money promises: security, safety, satisfaction. Sadly, not only does money fail to make good on its promises, but the pursuit of just a little more never ends because you can always justify needing a little more. Never forget, “The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.”
Ultimately, this is why tithing is so important. You see the moment you get your paycheck and instantly offer to God a portion as the first fruits, you’re keeping money in its proper place by acknowledging the fact you serve God, and therefore everything you have is a gift. It’s all His and as a servant, you’ve been entrusted to be a good steward over these things!
Christian, the calculation of a tithe is not figuring out the percentage of what you made you feel is appropriate to give back to God. Rather, it’s the percentage of what’s His you find appropriate to keep back for yourself! He’s the Giver. You’re a slave.
I love the way Jesus unpacks this thought because He immediately addresses an aspect of giving we’ve all experienced — the necessity of FAITH! You see money provides a way in which self can be sufficient. And yet, a tithe forces you to trust that God can do more with less of your income than you can accomplish with more. With this in mind, it’s no surprise the great enemy of faith in God’s ability to provide is worry!
Matthew 6:25, “Therefore (in light of everything He’s been discussing) I say to you, do not worry 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?”
Why should we not worry? … Matthew 6:26-27, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you (you is emphatic) not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Basically, worrying won’t prolong your life!)
It’s not an accident Jesus once again reintroduces the idea of the sovereign God being “our heavenly Father” within the context of worry. You see if you believe God is both good, in control, and that He loves you, worrying about your provisions is simply inconsistent.
In addition to food, Jesus continues… Matthew 6:28-30, “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider (consider well and know) the lilies of the field, how they grow (these were wild lilies that came about without human involvement): they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
If I could sum up the fundamental challenge Jesus is giving His disciples, it boils down to an issue of faith in the person and ability of God our Father to take care of His children versus our natural compulsion to worry and take matters into our own hands to be self-sufficient. Again, the act of tithing says to your own heart, “God, I completely trust you will provide!”
Matthew 6:31-32, “Therefore do not worry (stop worrying), saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek (people who do not know God). For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Note: His priority is our needs and not always our wants.)
Matthew 6:33, “But (instead of worrying about these basic necessities God has promised to take care of, Jesus gives us something to occupy ourselves. He says…) seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
It’s worth pointing out, in light of God’s provisions and in the presence of our worry, Jesus is not calling His disciples to idleness but to actively “seek” after two things: “The kingdom of God” and “His righteousness” trusting that “all of these other things” will be taken care of.
I love the fact Jesus gives you and me two things to “seek” that both occur apart from our involvement. “The Kingdom of God” will only come when the King returns. And “His righteousness” cannot be achieved or earned by anyone. It must be given — imparted! As such, the idea of seeking referred to our hearts craving after these things.
In Greek, the word used “seek first” did not refer to numbering or sequencing but to importance and priority. You see it’s not that the longing for His kingdom and our desire to live a righteous life should be placed at the top of our list. These things should be the list!
American Poet Jean Toomer, who’s most associated with the Harlem Renaissance of the mid-1920s but who later in life became a Quaker, wrote, “The only way to seek God is to seek God first. Deny the nayward, affirm the yeaward, be true to those stirrings and motions which He starts in us, refuse priority to all else, and be faithful to the sacred.” Amen!
Jesus closes out this section… Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
It’s been said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” As His disciples, Jesus wants us to trust Him and live in the moment accordingly. Not only is God in control of our lives, but so much of what we worry ourselves with ends up being frivolous.
In closing, there is a famous tale Winston Churchill would tell of an old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.
Christian… Value the things on earth that will last for eternity. Keep your eyes to heaven so you can keep the right perspective here on earth. Serve God and use your money to aid in that pursuit. Trust that your Father is more than able to care for your needs. And instead of worrying, spend your time seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
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