We flip the page to Chapter Six of Matthew’s Gospel, recalling that we’re still in Jesus’ great sermon. Staying grounded in our context helps us remember that Jesus is laying a foundation for our faith by teaching us what kingdom living looks like now.
This part of the sermon hits on three important practices for all followers of Jesus: giving, praying, and fasting (v.1-18). For each, He offers an example of how not to do these practices, which helps us understand that these spiritual disciplines are not meant for show or for the applause of people. Rather, our financial gifts, prayers, and fasts are meant to be done in secret so that the only approval we seek is the One who calls us to them.
Jesus also calls us to secrecy because it’s in those quiet, secluded places with Him that we are most likely to surrender our desires for control and selfish motives to Him. When we give, pray, and fast, Jesus knows the state of our hearts. And if we do any of these for any other reason than to honor and glorify Him, then we are no different than the self-righteous Pharisees.
I recognize the temptation to do these for my own glory. As one who desires words of affirmation, it’s easy to slip into people pleasing instead of God pleasing. Jesus’ words here are not to become another form of legalism–like never pray out loud or fast with a group–but ways to keep our motives in check. Getting alone with God so we can pour out all our insecurities, fears, and temptations is a means of getting right with God. In other words, these practices, when done for the right reasons, become avenues that lead us into intimacy with our Savior.
Next, Jesus warns us about treasures (v.19-24). As citizens of God’s kingdom who still live in the world, believers face financial and temporal temptations. Jesus knows the pull of possessions. He knows that whatever we value, that’s where our attention will go. It’s what we’ll want to do and look at and become.
Jesus drives home the point with a metaphor about ‘masters’ that is meant to shock us. The idea that we’ll be a slave to whatever we treasure most grabs our attention because we don’t like the idea of being mastered by anyone or anything. Yet, how easily we succumb to money’s allure. How quickly we give way to the world’s trappings. How imperceptibly our resolve for Jesus fades as our attention shifts from Him and onto the object, person, or value that has captured our hearts.
The warning has no exclusions. Every single human–rich or poor, man or woman, pastor or church member–can stumble into the pit of serving a master other than the King. It’s why the leaders we’ve put on a pedestal have fallen so hard and credit card debt is so high. It’s why parents make kids the center of the universe and people in the pews see themselves as an audience. Our focus misses the mark. Because we’ve not made Jesus our one and only master, we scrape our knees as we tumble from our high places or struggle to get free because we’ve entangled ourselves with the sins of pride and greed and lust…
The solution is simple. We make Jesus our singular treasure and Master. He is the Way to keep us anchored to His kingdom, which enables us to live in the world while not getting pulled away by it.
Not only am I a people pleaser, but I’m also a worrier. As such, it’s easy to take Jesus’ teachings so personally that I feel worse about myself after reading this chapter. But, Jesus’ goal here isn’t to make us feel guilty. Rather, He is trying to warn us about all the snares of the world and our tendencies toward self-focus. So, as we read the list of all the “do not worries” in the final passage of Chapter Six (v.25-34), it helps us to remember Jesus’ heart–He wants us to succeed in living for His kingdom now.
Perhaps I’m a little slow to connect the dots, but only in the last few years have I understood that dread, worry, and anxiety all fall under fear’s umbrella. Once I grasped this, I began to feel the truth of it in my body–because fear has a way of causing physical issues. Like headaches or heartburn. Like knotted shoulders or sleepless nights.
In this passage, Jesus addresses worry. Coming right out of His warnings about our focus on treasures, He exhorts us not to worry about the things we’ll need while living here on earth. In fact, if we make Jesus our focus and Master, then our trust should be in Him for all our needs. Hear how The Message words this:
“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.”Matthew 6:25, MSG
I think for many in the Kingdom, this comes as a relief. Jesus provides!
For the rest of us, it’s a conviction. We spend way too much energy worrying about where we’ll eat and what we’ll wear–such distractions from kingdom living.
Those in the world who do not yet belong to the Kingdom fret and fume and fuss over food and clothing (v.32). There are so many things to worry about every single day that the only way to get through the days without succumbing to all the fear is looking to Jesus.
In fact, some have called verse 33 the thesis statement of the entire Sermon on the Mount:
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”Matthew 6:33, NLT
Jesus may have used food and clothes as examples, but in this statement He tells us we have no need to worry at all because we have Him. When we look to Him first and most, when we live like kingdom dwellers, He meets our needs. Maybe not in the way or the time we think best, but He always delivers on His promises.
Friends, we’re meant to have a holy faith in the One we call King. He’s told us point blank–when we seek Him, we’ll have all we need. Even when we mourn or are persecuted…
Intimacy and Interaction
Like any well-organized sermon, this one builds upon itself. Practices like prayer help us interact with Jesus, and they give us strength to bear up under our daily troubles. They arm and anchor us against the temptations that threaten to pull us under the world’s ways (Matthew Henry Commentary). The more we interact with and look to Jesus, the deeper our intimacy and trust will be, so we just don’t need to worry.
Trust me. I know it’s a lot easier said than done. But I have discovered that when I live seeking Jesus first and as rightly as possible, I worry a whole lot less. Jesus’ words help us navigate the world we live in. That’s why Angela Thomas says, “When I don’t know what to do, I lean into Matthew 6:33 and ask myself, ‘How can I seek the kingdom in this moment? How can I pursue righteousness?’” (Thomas, 85).*
King Jesus calls us to a narrow way of living in this kingdom of His. But He doesn’t leave us on our own, to fend for ourselves. He’s given us solid teachings that equip us and the Holy Spirit to empower us for kingdom living now. So, don’t worry! Be happy (aka: blessed)!
- What new revelations did you have as you feasted on the salt and light passage from Matthew 5:13-16? I invite you to comment below so that we can grow with and learn from each other. I’ve heard from a few of you, so don’t be shy to share!
- Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Fast some food. The lesson this week on fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) comes from the Pharisee’s practice of fasting food and drink as a result of being so focused on God and their own spiritual condition. These days, most Christians practice abstaining from food as a way to center hearts and mind and bodies on Christ. At least one day this week, skip a meal, and when you would normally sit down to eat, turn your mind to Jesus. Pray, journal, take a walk while listening to praise music, sit silently in His presence, or whatever helps you best focus on Him.
- Sandra McCracken’s song “Lay My Worry Down” is a great song to sing along with–its catchy tune and lyrics that pull from our “do not worry” passages. So good. And, it’s on our Spotify Playlist!
- This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.