Since our first article on this passage included introductory matters, we decided to give ourselves some extra space to more fully develop a discussion of the contents. We began by noting that this “Sermon” is the longest and most detailed one recorded in the Gospels.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus preached this profound sermon showing how people converted and committed to the cause of Christ were to live. The lessons contained in it seem endless and apply as much today as they did when first spoken.
It was John R.W. Stott who said, “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best known part of the teachings of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood and certainly it is the least obeyed. With obedience in mind, let us consider some of the important sayings of Jesus that call for decisions and action.
How a Christ-follower should arrange his or her priorities: (chapter 6)
Jesus was Mr. Real! He was genuine and forthright as a human being, yet also God in the flesh, speaking the words of his Heavenly Father as he was guided and indwelt by the Holy Spirit!
His teaching in verses 1-8, include constructive criticism directed toward those known for bias and bigotry.
Jesus warned against “practising one’s righteousness” for the purpose of being seen by ‘men’. He ‘calling out’ a common practice among religious leaders, who did not so much want to do the right thing as to be seen doing it. Jesus pointed out that in seeking the rewards of societal approval they were forfeiting the one that God really wanted to give.
It does not seem possible that anyone would ever criticize charitable giving since the benefits extended to those who received it were undeniably good. God actually intended for the benefits of giving to be experienced at both ends of the transaction. But giving for the purpose of being ‘seen’ substituted the rewards of human approval for the eternal benefits of divine approval. Once again, a tragic trade-off.
In verses 3,4 Jesus corrected the practice that he had just criticized. Giving ought to be done in private, in a way known only to oneself and to God. Therefore “Let your giving be in secret and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (verse 4). Forfeiting the praise of men allows us to be richly rewarded by our Heavenly Father.
Jesus then applied this same principle to prayer, saying: “When you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you!(Verse 5)
When our children were young we used to read to them from Bible story books. One, fresh in my mind, showed a man praying in the company of many, with one eye open! With that eye he scanned the crowd looking for admirers. Jesus said “do not do that!”. Leading a congregation in prayer is not the same thing as praying for the purpose of gaining the admiration and approval of others. Prayer seeks an audience with God. Public prayer on behalf of a congregation brings the whole church into the presence of God. It is His approval that we seek – therefore we pray to be heard by God.
In verses 9-13, Jesus offered a model prayer for his disciples. We often refer to this as “The Lord’s Prayer.” It begins with praise to God and honour to his name followed by an appeal for the arrival of his kingdom on earth to the end that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then and only then does it turn and address the needs of the moment in the context of all that God is doing and planning to do. He wraps up with an appeal for forgiveness and conditions this upon our own willingness to forgive.
There is no question that Jesus underscored the importance of prayer and the value that God places upon it when it is offered in a way that is pleasing to Him. (Verses 14,15)
In verses 16-18, the subject changes from Prayer to Fasting. The only day upon which God had commanded his people to fast, was the Day of Atonement. Jewish tradition demanded much more, leaving the impression that fasting for its own sake was pleasing to God. Those who fasted were going ‘above and beyond’, and those who were seen to be fasting, set the standard for others. Jesus taught that we should keep all such things to ourselves – things done for the purpose of serving or honouring the Lord. They are between us and God, and not display items to put in the front window – or to post on the internet.
In verses 19-24 Jesus turns to some ‘nitty-gritty’ issues whose principles have universal application. Treasure in heaven has some obvious advantages. It is safe and secure, guarded by God. The benefits are spread over eternity – like an annuity that will never fail. And those who choose it will not fail to have what they need in this life. Those who live to accumulate treasure on earth may lose it in life and will certainly leave it behind when they die. But the greater danger is that treasure on earth may steal our heart away from heaven, so that we never take hold of the treasure that endures. God knows what we need and is not disappointed when we handle His money responsibly. But should it get in the way or begin to control our lives, let us heed this warning.
The temptation to secure our lives with money is strengthened by worry. God knows that we need food, clothing and somewhere to live. He provides these through his providence and more directly through the benevolence of His church. Those who seek first God’s kingdom and the righteousness that is found through union with Jesus find that God also ministers to their physical needs through the loving care of their brothers and sisters. When concerns for our physical needs are made to stand in line behind our spiritual ones, both are supplied by our Heavenly Father.
The last of this invaluable counsel is found in Matthew chapter 7. We will deal with six separate sections in our next article on chapter 7
Matthew 5-7 is a portion of God’s Word that we should know well. In this one place alone do we find this material all together. May we study this, absorb it, live by it and teach it as we have opportunity!