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Go to Bible: Matthew 6
“acts of righteousness.” This is the figure of speech, metonymy.a The result, righteousness, is put instead of the action that produces it. A more literal rendition of the verse, without the figure, would read, “Take care that you do not do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them….”
[See figure of speech “metonymy.”]
“you have.” The Greek is in the present tense, “you have,” and it is making the point that God is storing up rewards now, and will dispense them later.
“no reward laid up with your Father.” This is a very strong warning for people to watch the motives that drive their actions. If a person does good deeds, which normally would be rewarded by God in the future Paradise, but he only does them to impress people, when people are impressed that is his payment. God will not pay us for work we do not do for His glory. Instead of “from your Father,” the more natural meaning of the Greek preposition para, translated “with” in the REV, is “beside,” but that is not as clear as “with” is to the average reader. If we have the translation as “with,” or even more literally, “beside,” combined with the present tense of “having” a reward, then the translation is: “you have no reward laid up beside your Father.” The picture being painted by this verse is very biblical and very oriental: God is in heaven sitting on His throne, and he is watching what people are doing on earth and making up rewards and setting them beside Him so that He can give them out in the future. The biblical picture is that God makes the rewards as the people do the good deeds, He does not manufacture them in the future and distribute them at that time. Of course, we learn from other verses, such as 2 John 1:8, that if we are not faithful, we can lose the rewards we have stored up for ourselves.
|Mat 6:2||- (top)|
|Mat 6:3||- (top)|
“repay you.” The word “openly,” which occurs in versions such as the King James, was added by scribes to some Greek texts, but it is not in the original text.a
“delight in.” The Greek is phileō (#5368 φιλέω). See commentary on John 21:15.(top)
“inner room.” A room in the interior of the house. Calling it a “closet” misses the point, since most people think of closets as a place to store clothes. Jesus was saying to go into an inner room where no one would see, so your devotions could be private.
“repay you.” The word “openly” occurs in some versions but was added by scribes to some Greek texts. It was not in the original text (See commentary on Matthew 6:4).(top)
“keep repeating the same phrases.” The Greek word is battalogeō (#945 βατταλογέω), and it means, use the same words again and again,a “to babble” in the sense of trying to achieve success in prayer by heaping up repetitions.b Williams translates it as “keep on repeating set phrases.”c That is what many religions do, repeat set prayers because “they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
“your Father knows what you need.” It is often asked, “If God knows what I need before I even ask Him, why do I need to ask Him?” The reason has to do with the fact that God gave people free will to choose their own way and their own life. Many people do not want God’s help and/or they choose not to have Him help, and God cannot give people the power to accept or reject His help but then take that choice away from them by barging into their lives when they need Him.
Parents often experience this with their children. A child may need help with their homework but not want any help. In that situation, the parent has to wait until the child figures things out for themselves or asks for the help. Similarly, we may need help, and God knows we need help, but until we ask Him for it He is not free to give it. That is why prayer is so vital to the Christian life. Prayer is asking God for things, and when we ask God for the help we need, He is free to give it. No wonder God says to be steadfast in prayer (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2) and to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Here in Matthew 6:8, Jesus told the people that God knew what they needed before they asked him, but he was teaching about prayer, so the context was that the people would be asking God for things as part of their prayers. Jesus’ comment that God already knew what they needed even before they asked was to give them confidence in their prayer life that God cared for them and was listening to them.(top)
“in heaven.” The Greek text literally reads “in the heavens.” While Jesus would have been speaking Hebrew (possibly Aramaic), and in Hebrew, “heavens” is always plural, the Greek text reflects this Hebraism that Jesus would have likely been using here. It is always best to represent the idioms of the culture accurately if possible in English. Sometimes that means replicating them literally and other times it means adapting them to the understanding of the reader.
“may your name be treated as holy.” This is a reference to the coming kingdom when the people will “keep My name holy” (Isa. 29:23) and Cp. Ezekiel 36:23.(top)
“May your kingdom come.” The “kingdom” that Christ prayed about had not come in his lifetime and has still not come; it is still future. The kingdom that Christ prayed about, and that the people wanted to come, was the future time when Christ will rule the earth and the earth itself will be restored to a paradise state. Although there are some aspects of Christ’s future kingdom that we enjoy today, such as the presence of the gift of holy spirit in believers, the kingdom itself is still future.
Paul wrote that we are still in the “present, evil age” (Gal. 1:4), not “the kingdom,” and we can tell that just by looking around. Evil is all around us, and believers experience sickness and death, but that will not be the case when the Kingdom comes.
Many verses indicate the Kingdom of God is future.
When the Kingdom of God does come, all the Kingdom promises will be fulfilled. Wicked people will be destroyed and the righteous will live forever on a wonderful restored earth. At that time the deserts will bloom, wild animals will not be dangerous, and there will be plenty of food (Isa. 11:6-9; 30:23-25; 35:1-7; Amos 9:13). Christ called this wonderful time “the New Beginning” (Matt. 19:28) and it will be. The Kingdom of God cannot, and does not, co-exist with the kingdoms of men, but it is coming in the future.
There are a few verses that seem to indicate the Kingdom is here now in some way. These include Matthew 12:28 (Luke 11:20), Matthew 23:13, and Luke 17:21. These few Scriptures have swayed many theologians into believing the Kingdom is here now in some way, but that is not what those verses mean. For example, in Matthew 12:28, Jesus casts out a demon and says, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Does Jesus driving out a demon mean the Kingdom has come? No, it does not. David drove demons out of Saul by his music (1 Sam. 16:23) but that did not mean the kingdom had come. That Jesus, and later his disciples, drove out demons shows what will happen in the Kingdom, that people will be healed of every kind of sickness and disease, was happening in the ministry of Jesus Christ and pointing to him as the Messiah. When the kingdom does come, every person, not just some people, will be healed (cp. Isa. 35:5-6). Jesus told people that his works testified to the fact that he was the Messiah, and that they should believe his works (John 10:25, 37, 38; 14:11). Jesus’ healings pointed to the certainty of the kingdom coming, not that it was actually there, and the people listening to Jesus were not confused by what he said. They knew the Kingdom was future, and the apostles even asked when it was coming after Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 1:6-7).
Another scripture that confuses some people is Matthew 23:13. Jesus said to some religious leaders, “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” What Jesus was saying was that the religious leaders were putting so many rules and regulations on being righteous before God that it seemed impossible to be saved. Jesus called those regulations, “heavy burdens” (Matt. 23:4), and they discouraged people from making the effort to be saved and thus enter the Kingdom when it comes.
The most common unclear Scripture that theologians use to show the Kingdom is here now is Luke 17:21, which in many English versions reads, “the kingdom of God is within you.” This verse is often quoted as if it were the only clear verse on the subject of the Kingdom of God and absolutely self-explanatory. Ironically, it is perhaps the most obscure verse on the subject. First of all, there is no other verse of Scripture that indicates the Kingdom of God is “in” anyone. Many scriptures show that the Kingdom of God is a real kingdom that will be ruled by the Messiah and fill the earth. Furthermore, when Christ said, “the kingdom of God is within you,” he was speaking to the Pharisees, who opposed both him and his Father. It was to them that he said, “You do not know me or my father” (John 8:19). The Kingdom was certainly not within them—they were even in danger of being excluded from it altogether (Matt. 21:23-31, especially verse 31).
To properly understand Luke 17:21, it helps to know the Greek word translated “within” in many English versions is better translated as “among” or perhaps even better, “in your midst.” There is an impressive list of versions that read “among” or “in your midst,” including the NASB, ISB; NEB; JB; RSV; The Emphasized Bible (by J. B. Rotherham); The Bible: James Moffatt Translation; Complete Jewish Bible (by David Stern); God’s New Covenant (by Heinz Cassirer); and the acclaimed translation in contemporary idiom, The Message (by Eugene Peterson). Jesus was the King, and so he told the religious leaders that the Kingdom of God was in their midst, not in its fullness, but in the person of the king himself.
After telling the people that the kingdom was among them (in the person of the king), he told them that when the kingdom did come they would not have to look for it, they would know it was there. Jesus said that when the kingdom comes it will be like lightning that lights up the entire sky—so everyone will see it (Luke 17:24). That makes perfect sense because the prophecies of the Kingdom show it will fill the whole earth. Jesus went on to say that as it was (in the past) in the time of Noah, so it will be (in the future) in the “day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30). The Flood was universal and some were saved and most were not, and that is the way it will be when Christ comes and sets up his future kingdom.
Lastly, it is a well-entrenched doctrine in the Church that “the Kingdom of God” is a phrase that refers to the rule of God in people’s hearts. But the Scripture says the Kingdom of God will fill the whole earth and destroy the human kingdoms that are on earth. Furthermore, there are dozens of verses that speak of what that future kingdom on earth will look like. There is no scriptural reason to take the clear verses about an actual kingdom ruling over the whole earth and making it into a spiritual kingdom that only exists in the hearts of believers. There is not any reason to say “the rule of God in people’s hearts” is the Kingdom. For one thing, there is no place where Jesus told people plainly that God ruling their lives was the Kingdom. Also, what would it then mean for verse after verse to say the Kingdom was future? And how could the apostles sit with Jesus at a table and eat or rule on twelve thrones over Israel in a person’s heart? Those prophecies are literal and will be fulfilled in the future Kingdom of God on earth. The many prophecies and clear scriptures that tell us what the Kingdom of God is, and that it is future, must be allowed to rule the day and guide us into what the Kingdom is: a wonderful paradise Kingdom that God will set up on earth that will be ruled by His Son.
[For more on the Kingdom of God, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”](top)
“Give us this day our daily bread.” This is very similar in meaning to the line in Proverbs, “provide to me my portion of bread” (Prov. 30:8). That line is in the only prayer to God in all of Proverbs (Prov. 30:7-9). It is quite possible that Jesus got the idea for this line in his prayer from Proverbs, the Word of God.(top)
“And forgive us our debts.” In the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:12, the word “debts” is in the text instead of “sins,” which is what Luke 11:4 has. The prayer is the same, and the Bible is telling us that one way God thinks of sin is that it is a debt that must be paid. The idea that sin was a debt seems to have existed to some extent in the minds of the Jews before the Babylonian Captivity (Lev. 26:34; Isa. 40:2; 50:1), but it became a common way of thinking under the influence of the Aramaic language during and after the Babylonian captivity. In Aramaic, one of the words for “sin” also means “debt.” That sin was thought of as a debt is clearly represented in the Aramaic Targums and is also represented in the New Testament.
When Matthew 6:12 reads, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” but Luke 11:4 reads, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us,” these are not two different teachings. The people listening to Christ and the early Christians reading the Gospels were used to thinking in terms of sin being debt, so to them Matthew and Luke were simply saying the same thing in two different ways—and if Jesus was speaking Aramaic at the time he spoke his prayer, which he most likely was, then both “sin” and “debt” were meant in the same word.
It is common in translations that words are translated in a way that best relates to the reading audience. The more Greek audience of Luke would not be used to thinking of sin as a debt because “sin” and “debt” are totally different words in Greek, so in writing down the words of Christ, Luke would say “sin” to clearly communicate to his audience what Jesus was saying. Matthew, however, was the most Jewish of all the Gospels and his audience would understand that when Jesus says, “forgive us our debts,” he meant “forgive us our sins,” so Matthew has “debts.” We can also tell that “debt” meant “sin” in the Gospel of Matthew because when Jesus starts explaining his prayer to the people, he makes it clear he is referring to sins and says, “For if you forgive people their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people their transgressions, your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15).
[For more on “sin,” see commentary on 1 John 1:7.](top)
“Wicked One.” The Greek is poneros (#4190 πονηρός), “pertaining to being morally or socially worthless; therefore, ‘wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, and degenerate.’”a
Poneros is an adjective, but it is a substantive (an adjective used as a noun). A good example of a substantive in English is the adjectives in the well-known Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” The adjectives “good,” “bad,” and “ugly” refer to people (“good people,” “bad people,” “ugly people”), and thus they function as nouns even though they are adjectives.
The Slanderer is the fount and foundation of wickedness. It was in him that wickedness was first found, when he was lifted up with pride and decided to rebel against God. Ever since that time he has been true to his name, “the Wicked One,” and has been doing and causing wickedness wherever he can, which, since he is “the god of this age,” is a considerable amount of wickedness. [For more on substantives, see the commentary on Matthew 5:37).
[For more on the names of the Slanderer (the Devil) and their meanings, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil.”]
|Mat 6:14||- (top)|
|Mat 6:15||- (top)|
|Mat 6:16||- (top)|
|Mat 6:17||- (top)|
“openly.” The word “openly” was added by scribes to some Greek texts, but it is clearly not in the original.a
|Mat 6:19||- (top)|
“treasures in heaven.” See commentary on Matthew 5:12.(top)
|Mat 6:21||- (top)|
“generous.” The Greek word translated “generous” is haplous (#573 ἁπλοῦς), and means “single,” therefore “unmixed.” The key to this saying about the “single” eye and the “evil eye,” in this context of wealth, is to realize they are Semitic idioms. In this context the “single eye” is the “generous” eye, it is unmixed with worldly desires for wealth and possessions, and is therefore generous towards others. In contrast, the “evil eye,” is used idiomatically in the Semitic languages for a person who is greedy, covetous, and envious. Not content with what he has, he casts his eye upon the things that others have, and desires them. The well-known Semitic scholar John Lightfoot writes that the saying about the single and evil eye is “From a very usual manner of speech of the [Jewish] nation. For a good eye, to the Jews, is the same with a bountiful mind; and an evil eye is the same with a covetous mind.a
Romans 12:8 says that the person who gives must give with “singleness” (haplotēs), again, idiomatically meaning “generously.” In James 1:5, the related word haplōs (simplicity, openness) is used idiomatically for “generously.”
It is easy to see how the words “good eye,” or “single eye,” became connected with generosity, and were used idiomatically for someone who was generous. The single eye was an eye that was unmixed with ulterior or selfish motives, and so the person was generous.
In Western cultures, the “evil eye” was a look or glance that meant harm and brought harm. Although this use of the “evil eye” may have existed in ancient Judaism, there is no reason to think it is used in Matthew or Luke. The Semitic idiom of the “good” or “single” eye being generous, and the “evil eye” being greedy, covetous, and stingy, holds true throughout the Bible. The “good eye” of Proverbs 22:9 is generous, and the “evil eye” of Deuteronomy 15:9; 28:54; Proverbs 23:6; 28:22 refers to someone who is greedy and stingy.
Once we understand that the “single eye” is generous, and the “evil eye” is greedy and envious, we can see why Jesus used it in this context. Jesus starts in Matthew 6:19 talking about laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth, and to do that one must have a single eye and be generous, and not have an evil eye and be greedy. Then he explains that no one can have two masters: you cannot try to serve heaven and earth. You cannot effectively love both God and wealth. The dialogue develops from there: if you are truly trying to serve God, then you cannot be worried about your earthly possessions. You must let go of your love for them and trust God to meet your needs.
“But if your eye is stingy, your whole body will be full of darkness” The “evil eye” is a Semitic idiom for being greedy, stingy, and selfish. In contrast to the “evil eye,” which is greedy, stingy, selfish, the “good eye,” or a “single eye,” is generous. This statement of Jesus is a serious warning to people who are stingy and greedy. It may be hard for a greedy, selfish person to change, but it can be done, and it will yield great reward.
[For more on idioms involving the good eye, see commentary on Prov. 22:9. For more on the idiom of the evil eye, see commentary on Prov. 28:22.](top)
“two lords.” Matthew 6:24 has three difficult phrases, and to properly understand the verse we must understand its vocabulary and customs. Jesus told us plainly about what would happen if a person tried to serve two masters. One was that the person would love one master, and thus serve that one well, and “hate” the other, and thus not serve that one as well. It helps us make sense of the verse when we realize that in the Eastern mindset and vocabulary, “hate,” does not always mean “hate” as we generally use it today, in the sense of extreme hostility or intense dislike. Especially when used in contrast to “love,” in the biblical culture (both Hebrew and Greco-Roman) the word “hate” often means “love less.”
The second difficult phrase in the verse, in typical Eastern fashion of teaching, is an amplification and clarification of the first phrase. Jesus made sure we understood what he meant by saying that a person trying to serve two masters would “hold to the one, and despise the other.” As in the first phrase about love and hate, we must understand the biblical vocabulary to understand this phrase. The first phrase, translated “hold to” in the KJV, is cleared up for us in most modern versions, which read, “be devoted to” (HCSB; ESV; NET; NIV). However, the use of “despise” in both the KJV and many modern versions, is less clear and needs to be properly understood.
It is surprising that many modern versions continue to use the word “despise,” even though it gives most readers the wrong impression. The Greek word translated “despise” is kataphroneō (#2706 καταφρονέω), and it has a range of meaning that encompasses looking down on someone or something with contempt or aversion; considering something not important and thus disregarding it; and not caring about, or ignoring, someone or something. In defense of the modern version’s use of “despise,” it is true that one of the primary meanings of the English word “despise” is to look down on with contempt or to regard as worthless (this is even the first definition in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). However, the much more well-known use of “despise” is one of its other definitions: an intense dislike and even loathing.
Jesus was not saying a person would be devoted to one master while intensely disliking or loathing the other master. Jesus was making the simple statement that if a person had two masters, he would often be devoted to one and end up ignoring the other.
There are other uses of the Greek word kataphroneō that are translated “despise” in many versions, which can give us the wrong impression of what the verse is saying. One is when Paul writes to Timothy and says, “Let no one despise you for your youth” (1 Tim. 4:12 ESV). No one would hate someone who was young; the better way to understand the verse is just like Matthew 6:24 about the two masters; Paul told Timothy not to let anyone ignore him just because he was young. Similarly, in many versions Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured being crucified, “despising the shame.” It was indeed a shameful thing to be crucified, but Jesus did not “hate” it, he ignored it. In doing that he set a wonderful example for us to follow. Many times we will find that if we are to be a true follower of Jesus, we will have to ignore the shame and mistreatment we endure.
[For more on the large semantic range of “hate” and its use in the Bible, see commentary on Prov. 1:22, “hate.”]
“Wealth.” The Greek is mammōnas (#3126 μαμμωνᾶς). “Mammon” is an Aramaic term for wealth, property, or anything of value. “Mammon” was the Syrian god of riches. Thus, the idea is that you cannot serve both God and the idol of Wealth. In Luke 16:9, “mammon” is not compared to serving God, so simply “wealth” is a better translation there. Furthermore, “Wealth” is a better translation than “money.” There are Greek words that specifically mean “money,” and that would have been used in the verse if Jesus had meant only “money.” In contrast, “Mammon” refers to total “wealth,” including money, property, and possessions, any or all of which some people serve instead of God.
It should catch our attention that the Greek text does not say “wealth,” but rather retains the Aramaic term that is transliterated in the KJV as “Mammon.” The Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible has the right idea when it translates “Mammon” with a capital “M.” Jesus was speaking of “Mammon” as if it was a god. It was much easier to personify “Wealth” in the Greco-Roman world than it is today because the Greeks and Romans often personified concepts as gods and goddesses. For example, Abundantia was the divine personification of abundance and prosperity, Aequitas (Equity) was the divine personification of fairness, Bonus Eventus was the divine personification of “Good Outcome,” and Mors was the personification of death (the Greek personification of death was Thanatos). Thus, to a person living at the time of Christ, it was clear that Jesus was making a kind of play on words, and saying in a very graphic and clever way, “You cannot serve God and the ‘god of Possessions’” (wealth, things, stuff). In Acts 28:4, “Justice” is personified.(top)
“life” (2x). The Greek word is psuchē (#5590 ψυχή; pronounced psoo-'kay), and psuchē has a large number of meanings, often “soul” or “life.” Here it refers to the physical life of the body, which is why most versions translate it “life,” which is accurate in this context.
[For a more complete explanation of psuchē, “soul,” see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul.’”](top)
|Mat 6:26||- (top)|
|Mat 6:27||- (top)|
|Mat 6:28||- (top)|
|Mat 6:29||- (top)|
“grass.” This is not “grass” as we think of in the United States today, green grass that we care for and cut with a lawn mower. In the biblical world most field plants did not have names, usually only the edible plants had names. The rest of the field weeds were simply called “grass.” Green lawn grass does not burn well, even when dry, but a stack of field weeds burned fast and hot, and was commonly used to start campfires or heat the oven.(top)
|Mat 6:31||- (top)|
|Mat 6:32||- (top)|
“seek.” The Greek word is zēteō (#2212 ζητέω), and it means to seek, to search for, to crave. It is present tense, active voice, imperative mood, which means it is a command that we should be continually doing. “Be seeking first the Kingdom of God!” Charles Williams’ translation reads, “But as your first duty, keep on looking for….” Sadly, people do not “keep seeking first” the Kingdom, but get distracted. Sinners ignore God, and can appear to be doing better (or having more fun) than those who are obeying God, so God admonishes us: “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day” (Prov. 23:17 ESV).
“righteousness.” There are two aspects to “righteousness” and they both apply here. “Righteousness” refers both to having a right standing in the sight of God and also acting in a godly and just manner towards others. “Righteousness” has a vertical meaning to it—how we stand in the sight of God—and also a horizontal meaning to it—how we treat other people. God’s “righteousness” in the Old Testament referred to how He related to other people in godly and just actions. Here in Matthew 6:33, by using the word “righteousness,” Jesus is encouraging people to live in a way that one has a right relationship with God and also is living in a godly and just manner towards others and seeking justice on earth. No one is demonstrating God’s righteousness unless they are being helpful, just, and doing what is right for other people. This is not new information; what Jesus says here in Matthew 6:33 is quite similar to Zephaniah 2:3.
[For more on “righteousness” having the meaning of doing what is right or just (“justice”), see commentary on Matt. 5:6. For more on the meaning of “righteousness” and that word family, see commentary on Rom. 3:22. For more on Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]
“and all these things will be added to you.” This is an example of a promise and prophecy that might be fulfilled here on earth in this life but definitely will be fulfilled in the future kingdom of Christ on earth. It is always God’s intention to bless His people, and the general principle is that if a person is godly and wise they will be blessed on earth. But not everyone who seeks righteousness here on earth gets what they deserve (“all these things”). Sadly, many people are poor and persecuted here on earth and die that way, but even so, Jesus’ prophecy will come to pass because they will get everything that they deserve in the next life, in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom.
[For more on “ideal” prophecies and promises that are not fulfilled in this life but will be in the next, see commentary on Prov. 19:5.](top)
|Mat 6:34||- (top)|