Read the Passage: Matthew 6
Good Deeds (6:1–4)
In the first section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was correcting bad interpretation and teaching from the Old Testament. This is seen in the repeated use of the phrase, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” In the second section of Jesus’ message, recorded in Matthew 6, Christ teaches on additional areas of behavior and living in which a believer’s faith has an impact. These areas are good works, prayer, and material possessions. While many view Christianity as solely an eternal life insurance policy, Scripture teaches that it is a worldview. There is no area of one’s public or private life where the gospel ought not to have an impact. Indeed, the gospel must impact the life of Jesus’ followers, for as James taught, “Faith, by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (Jas. 2:17). Likewise, works without faith are dead (cf. Isa. 64:6).
The first area that Jesus teaches upon is good works or charitable deeds. Here Jesus was not confronting the religious rulers’ teachings, but rather their lifestyles. A commonality between these two sections is that Jesus is showing that both negative prohibitions and positive duties cannot be just external. Since all men, like the scribes and Pharisees, are born as legalists (whether they keep the law or break it), Jesus’ teachings here apply. In this passage Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of engaging in good works just to be seen by others. Such deeds are really not good, for they are motivated by a distorted love of self, not by love of others. The one who engages in a good work motivated by love for God and the love of another, which are the only proper motives (cf. Matt. 22:37–40), ought not to care about recognition, thanksgiving, glory, or awards. Indeed, it is hard to engage in good works that are not tainted by sinful motives.
Prayer and Fasting (6:5–18)
In this passage Jesus addresses prayer and fasting. As with their good deeds, so the religious leaders had turned their prayers into a works-based righteousness event and engaged in prayers for the purpose of recognition. In Matt. 6:5–7 Jesus teaches that such prayers are offensive to God and will not be heard. Prayer is rooted in one’s relationship with God and entails personal intimacy. As such, Jesus gives a model prayer in Matt. 6:8–15. This prayer, the so-called Lord’s Prayer, is not a liturgy to be copied but a model to be followed. Note the prayer’s brevity, simplicity, and comprehensiveness. This prayer contains six petitions, 3 of which are directed toward God and 3 of which are asking from God. Essentially, in this prayer Christ praises God for his holiness, recognizes God’s sovereignty, and asks that human material and spiritual needs be met.
Money and Anxiety (6:19–34)
In this passage Jesus addresses a proper view of material possessions, which is the one area about which many Christians worry more than anything else. In Matt. 6:19–24 Jesus gives several successive, related teachings about material goods and one’s view of them. First, in Matt. 6:19–21, Jesus teaches that it is foolish to put one’s hope in material goods, for all material things are subject to decay and loss. Second, in Matt. 6:22–23, Christ gives an illustration to show how one’s view of the material world will either help or hinder one as we seek to live out our faith. Third, in Matt. 6:24, Jesus gives the simple teaching that we can have only one master. If God is our Father, then we ought to live as if this is true and worship Him. If the things of this world are our god, then this will be evident in our lives. Christ teaches, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
By way of exhortation to make God one’s master, Jesus argues from logic in Matt. 6:25–32. Christ’s argument contains three main parts. First, Jesus makes the point that worrying about material goods and needs is completely impotent to solve one’s material problems. Second, Christ appeals to the record of God’s provision for lesser entities than human beings, including the animals and foliage. Third, Jesus teaches that God the Father knows our material needs more fully than do we. Indeed, it is ludicrous to trust God in regard to one’s eternal destiny and yet to distrust Him in regard to one’s temporal needs. If God can solve our greatest problem, surely He can meet our present needs. The solution that Jesus gives here is enlightening, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
- What is the relationship between good works and faith? Do good or bad works influence the favor or disfavor a Christian receives from God?
- What does Jesus mean with His repeated teaching in the passage, “Your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18)?
- How can we tell if our good deeds, as well as the good deeds of others, are truly being motivated by love for God and love of others?
- Why do we ask for forgiveness if we’ve already been forgiven of our sins? What does Jesus mean in saying the Father will not forgive those who do not forgive?
- Do you find yourself frequently worrying about material things? What is the balance between labor, stewardship, and trusting in God?