Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMatthew 6
Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (continued)
The prohibition in this verse is against a false motive for righteousness, namely, "to be seen." Secrecy is not here enjoined in any absolute sense; because Christ also said, "Let your light so shine ..." (Matthew 5:16). However, secrecy is by far the best, where possible, as a test of one's personal motive for deeds of righteousness.
When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward.
The area of instruction covered here is personal and individual, the broad assumption being that every true follower of Christ gives alms; that is, helps other people. Christ did not say, "If thou doest alms ..." but "WHEN"! One's obligation to be mindful of human need and suffering is not totally discharged by the support, however generous, of any church budget. The reference to "sounding a trumpet" refers to an ostentatious practice of the Pharisees, termed "hypocrites" by the Lord; but here it has a much wider application and constitutes a prohibition against all forms of boastful and vain-glorious conduct. The idiomatic expression "blowing one's own horn" is perhaps derived from this very passage.
Note also the contrast of rewards in these two verses. There is the genuine and eternal reward in heaven, on the one hand, and the ephemeral, uncertain, and unsatisfying reward of popular applause or approval, on the other. The child of God should always have respect to the greater.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.
This is a heavenly guideline for maintaining the desired privacy as applied specifically to alms-giving.
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.
It is notable that there are especially compulsory requirements for secrecy in this area of righteousness. Secrecy in giving personal aid and assistance to helpless or unfortunate persons is commanded by Christ and has these easily discernible qualities to commend it: (1) It assures purity of motive in the heart of the giver by removing the temptation to hypocrisy. (2) It protects and honors the privacy of the recipient, a privacy that is indispensable to his recovery and rehabilitation. (3) It protects the benefactor from a proliferation of calls upon his generosity. (4) It provides a noble basis for the development of true love and friendship between the helper and the person helped. (5) It honors this specific commandment of Christ; and, to the Christian, this is the most important of all. The tragic consequences of failure to observe this principle of secrecy are today clearly visible on a national scale where the state's ostentatious helping of the poor has degraded millions who, stripped of every dignity, must stand in line, bare the innermost secrets of their souls to "case workers," and finally sink into a state of permanent and professional poverty and the complete abandonment of self-esteem, self-reliance, and responsibility. Not even a government can violate Christ's commandment in this important business of human welfare without sustaining extensive and irreparable damage both to itself and to its citizens.
And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.
As in the matter of alms-giving, it is not a case of "if" but "when." Prayer is a vital and constant condition of the truly spiritual life. In this passage with verses following, Christ exposes the entire area of hypocritical and ostentatious prayers. The proper exercise of the privilege of prayer is violated (1) by the choice of an improper place of prayer, (2) by the use of vain repetitions, and (3) by the employment of long and verbose monologue. Each of these violations receives our Lord's specific attention.
(1) Improper place for prayer is indicated by "the street corners." How about crowded restaurants and public places? Thanksgiving for private meals is surely enjoined, but semi-public prayers of thanks could be another matter. To be sure, prayer may be offered anywhere at any time, from the belly of a whale, from the cross, in a storm, during battle, in a garden, ANYWHERE! Yet, there are some places that do not fit the purpose of prayer. Prayers offered before congregations, at public gatherings, and in halls of parliaments and legislatures are not proscribed; but any occasion or place selected that invites public scorn and contempt for religion is a far different matter. Prayers offered at mealtime are best when offered in the quiet reverence of private situations. Whether or not, then, a Christian should offer thanks for meals in public places would have to be decided upon the basis of the particular time and place, sometimes yes, and sometimes, possibly, no. It is usually not very difficult for a person to know if he is in a street-corner situation or not.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.
(2) The best place for prayer is characterized by secrecy, privacy, and quietness. The secret place, the private room, the inner chamber, the shut door - these are the best situations in which acceptable prayer may be offered.
And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
(3) The third area of abuse of the sacred privilege of prayer is in the matter of vain, empty repetitions. The customs of Gentiles in regard to this abuse were well known. Water wheels, wind chimes, endless chanting over and over of prescribed words are old and widely observed characteristics of pagan prayers; and these have continued down the centuries until these very times. About 1960, Life Magazine printed numerous samples of such "rote" prayers in an article on the Far East. One such example was the following:
Hail, Jewel in the lotus flower;
Hail, Jewel in the lotus flower;
Hail, Jewel in the lotus flower ..., etc.
Of all such repetitious exercises, Christ said, "Use not!" Any person familiar with the Rosary cannot fail to wonder how such a thing could be observed among the followers of Christ; that is, if considered in the light of Jesus' words in this passage.
They think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
This not only condemns rote, repetitious prayers, but also limits the amount of speaking in prayer. How often and how outrageously this divine injunction is violated, and sometimes by the very best of people! A classical example was the harangue of Cardinal Cushing on the occasion of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Mislabeled "a prayer," it ran on and on for 17 minutes and 30 seconds. Even that was exceeded by Aimie Semple McPherson whose 31 minutes and 10 seconds of "prayer" before the Democratic convention that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt the first time must have set some kind of record at Chicago in 1932. The scandalous length of such prayers was rebuked on that occasion by the humorist Will Rogers who immediately followed her and quipped, "Well, I didn't know anybody could think up that much to impress the Lord in favor of a Democrat? This remark touched off a full-fledged demonstration!
Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what thing's ye have need of, before ye ask him.
This, of course, is elementary wisdom. A God who needs to be told what men need could certainly not help if told! Prayers, giving God information, are as ridiculous as they are impious.
Verses 9, 10
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
THE LORD'S PRAYER
By a strange coincidence, this prayer is translated by 66 words in the King James Version, and by 39 words in the Luke account in the Revised Version, corresponding respectively to the 66 books in the Bible and to the 39 books in the Old Testament. The above rendition of the prayer has 55 words, due to the omission of the doxology.
After this manner ...
The Lord did not say, "Pray in these words," but "After this manner." How strange it is that this very prayer should have become the very thing it was designed to prevent, namely a rote prayer! Surely, the very mystery of iniquity is evident in such a development. And what is the "manner of this prayer"? It is: (1) short, (2) spontaneous, (3) God-oriented, the first three petitions being for things of God rather than for things of men, (4) extemporaneous, being given in two forms by Christ himself as evidenced by the Matthew and Luke accounts, (5) to the point, and (6) full of humility.
Our Father who art in heaven ...
The Biblical image of God presents Him as a loving Father. This is especially true in the teachings of Christ which refer to Him as "Father" no less than 160 times. Men are constrained to acknowledge common parentage, equal need, and community status as to their sins and requirements in order to supplicate God for his blessings. Christ could and did pray, "My Father," but his disciples must ever pray, "Our Father." God is man's Father because he created him, sustains him, and provides all that man needs. In this petition, God's Fatherhood is presented on a higher level, namely that of the new birth (John 3:5). As Paul expressed it, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). Since God is man's true and only spiritual Father, it is sinful and improper to refer this title, spiritually, to any man (Matthew 23:9,; 23:9, which ). God's Fatherhood was dimly perceived by the Hebrews but is far more graphically presented by Christ. God loves men enough to give his Son (John 3:16); a sparrow cannot fall without his care (Matthew 10:29); if people become prodigals, the Father waits patiently to welcome their return (Luke 15:22); and if people become cold, merciless bigots like the elder brother, the Father entreats even them (Luke 15:28). Oh, what a Father to fallen man is God!
Christ revealed that heaven is the place where God is. No childish, naive, materialistic concept of heaven as a kind of upstairs beyond some convenient cloud is meant. Heaven is "up" in that a total set or system of higher values and principles is in operation there. God is not merely "in" heaven but is "everywhere" (Acts 17:28). Therefore, the Scriptural definition of heaven is primarily not a place at all, in the ordinary sense, but a state of being higher and nobler than our earthly life, invisible to mortal eyes (1 Timothy 6:16), not subject to material limitation, nor to the presence of death or sin, and yet a true reality of the most transcendent importance and glory. The Christian faith is a heaven-centered faith. Christ's teaching places the utmost emphasis upon it, making it the abode of the Father, the ultimate home of the redeemed, and the source of all blessing. The word "heaven" was ever on his lips. From heaven he came, of heaven he spoke, to heaven he pointed the way, from heaven he brought the Father's message, from heaven angels came to support him in the wilderness of temptations and in the garden of Gethsemane. In heaven the skies were darkened when he was crucified; from heaven angels came to roll away the stone from his grave, not to let him out, but to let the witnesses in and to announce his resurrection to the disciples. To heaven the angels escorted him to receive the everlasting kingdom; from heaven angels warned the disciples about gazing idly into heaven; and in heaven he is interceding at God's right hand. From heaven he will come a second time to judge the quick and dead, to cast evil out of his universe and to welcome the redeemed into the home of the soul.
Hallowed be thy name ...
The very first petition of this prayer is solicitous for the honor of God's name. Top priority belongs to the things of God and not to the things of men. Man's spiritual well being, dependent entirely upon his relationship to God, is infinitely more important, even than daily bread - a point of view which comes difficult indeed for sinful men. The Third Commandment in the Decalogue emphasizes this same point, that being negative, this positive enlightenment on the same truth. Men hallow the name of God when they honor His word, His church, His doctrine, His Son, His laws, and His name.
Thy kingdom come ...
It should be remembered that at the time Jesus gave this example of an acceptable, spontaneous prayer, the kingdom was yet future. The establishment of his kingdom on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled this petition, i.e., answered it. The kingdom his disciples were instructed to pray for is now rounding out nearly two thousand years of successful existence on earth, and it seems strange indeed that men still pray this prayer in exactly the same words. Should this be? No! Especially if it is prayed with any thought that God's kingdom is not yet established. Thus, if one limits these words to their obvious, primary, and original meaning, they form no proper part of a prayer today. However, a word of caution should be observed. These words may be, and undoubtedly are, capable of another meaning. The Britannica World Language Edition of Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary gives no less than NINETEEN meanings for the word "come," and the fifth of these is: "to attain an end or a completion. Thy kingdom come."
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth ...
Men may know what is the will of God through study of his word and resultant renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). In a certain sense, the will of God is now being done. Nothing, not even evil, can exist apart from God's will; but this prayer is a petition that men's hearts may be responsive to God's will for man.
As in heaven ...
is a reminder that the highest order of intelligent beings, even angels, comply with the will of God. To what extent are floods, earthquakes, disasters, etc. the "will of God"? People fancy that their knowledge of medical science, for example, removes such things as the Black Death of the 1300's from the category of God's will and relegates them to the status of man-controlled and understood inconveniences. It is true that here and there man has plucked a feather from the wings of the angel of death or discovered one of the Grim Reaper's ambushes; but, in the larger view, he has eliminated neither suffering nor death. These exist by God's permissive will. Such things as catastrophes, epidemics, plagues, tornadoes, hurricanes, and all such things are a part of our world as God made it, or at least as he allows it to be. The ancient who bowed his head under the duress of sorrow or disaster and meekly said, "Oh God, thy will be done," in all essential areas, stood upon the same ground the Christian occupies today when he prays this prayer. It is wonderful that the lines of this prayer are so often on men's lips, especially in view of the divisions that have marred Christendom. Whatever the state of unity and harmony in heaven, it is God's will that the same unity and harmony should prevail upon earth. This prayer, therefore, rebukes the common heresies and schismatic divisions so rampant in the name of religion.
Give us this day our daily bread.
The Greek term here translated "daily bread" is not found elsewhere in the Bible, and scholars do not agree on how it should be rendered. Weymouth translates it: "our bread for today"; Moffatt has it, "our bread for tomorrow"! Origen believed it referred to the word of God, and Dummelow suggests the meaning as "heavenly bread. F1 We feel no embarrassment in choosing the common version. Note that the prayer is not for cake, or wine, or luxuries, but for bread, and that for only one day at a time. Millions today do not pray this prayer meaningfully because they have a week's supply in the refrigerator, including luxuries. One should not pray for "my" daily bread but for "our daily bread." Thus is reaffirmed the principle of man's interdependence upon his fellow creatures and the community of interest pertaining to the whole human race. This prayer bespeaks a profound trust in God. "Bread for a day" reminds one of the words of J. H. Newman:
"I do not ask to see the distant
scene, One step enough for me." F2
It also suggests moderation. "Daily bread" brings one back to the level of actual need. Dependence upon God is also taught. True, man may have a month's provisions stored up, but whether he lives to use them or not is totally dependent upon the Father's will. In the comprehensive sense of this prayer, daily bread comes only from God.
"Back of the loaf is the snowy flour
And back of the flour the mill;
And back of the mill is the wheat and
and the sun and the Father's will. F3
And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
The word "trespasses," generally used in the common recitations of this prayer, comes from William Tyndale's translation, whence it came into the Book of Common Prayer, and thence into general usage wherever the English tongue is spoken. Luke's account uses the word "sins," but "debts" certainly includes the same thought. This indicates that Christ did not think his disciples would lead sinless lives (1 John 1:8). Forgiveness is absolutely preconditioned upon the petitioner's forgiveness of others.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
This indicates the danger in temptation and stresses man's weakness. Think of all the holy names lost amid the storms of temptation, the hosts of the slain in the encounter with the Prince of Evil. Only a fool could face the subtle and invisible powers of evil with any feeling of superiority or overconfidence. This line is intended to impress the worshiper with the incredible force which evil can exert to lure men from the path of honor and safety (1 Thessalonians 3:5). The reference to the "evil one" is a reminder that man's foe is a PERSON, a ubiquitous enemy who sows tares in the wheat (Matthew 13:28), snatches the word out of men's hearts (Matthew 13:19), and goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). See more on Matthew 4:1ff.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
These words are not improper, merely because they have been omitted in the English Revised Version (1885), since the Lord did not give it as a rote prayer to begin with. The doxology is most appropriate and has a positive value in affirming the fact of the kingdom's being already established. This is inherent in the use of the present tense. The addition of this doxology automatically requires another construction upon "Thy kingdom come" other than that of a petition for the kingdom to be established.
Verses 11, 12
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
This is a reiteration of the divine prerequisite for forgiveness, namely, a forgiving heart. This is an absolute condition. True, Luke quoted our Lord as saying, "If he repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:3); but this applies specifically in those cases where a brother is tempted to withhold forgiveness even from one who has repented and must not be construed as an amelioration of the condition laid down here.
It appears that forgiveness actually has two centers, human and divine. Christ forgave the ones who crucified him, saying, "Father, forgive them"; but it is clear that this forgiveness was extended on the human level only and did not mean that the murderers of our Lord were pardoned immediately in heaven. Some of them, at least, repented and were forgiven when they obeyed the gospel on Pentecost. THAT forgiveness was from above, in heaven (Acts 2:36ff). The same two levels, human and divine, are observable in the case of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7:58-60). Stephen forgave him (on the human level) as the deed was done; but Saul was forgiven in heaven when he had obeyed "from the heart that form of doctrine" (Romans 6:17). It is the Christian's duty to forgive all men without regard to their repentance. If he should think to forgive only those who repent and ask it, his forgiveness duties would be practically eliminated altogether!
Verses 13, 14
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men to fast. Verily,, I say unto you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou be not seen of men to fast, but of thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall recompense thee.
Fasting, like prayer and alms-giving, is clearly indicated as a Christian duty, but is delimited by these words to the status of a private, personal, and individual devotion. Widespread neglect of this duty does not countermand it. However, it certainly does not lie within the province of any religious organization to "command" fasting or to prescribe abstinence from certain meats. Such church regulations are identified with the apostasy by Paul who said,
In later times, some shall depart from
the faith ... commanding to abstain
from meats, which God created to be
received with thanksgiving by them
that believe and know the truth. For
every creature of God is good, and
nothing is to be rejected ...
(1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Lay, not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth; where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal.
Christians must curb the acquisitive and hoarding instincts. "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). Earthly possessions cannot satisfy. This can be illustrated in nearly any community, indeed in almost every life. Say that one is a collector of souvenir spoons, plates, salt shakers, stamps, coins, or ANYTHING, and that after, many years one's collection numbers hundreds or thousands of items, is the thirst for another item thereby assuaged? No! If one has any number, however extensive, he desires always another, and another, and another. The pursuit of earthly treasures is a disease that feeds and increases upon itself. If one is collecting "thousands" or "millions" of dollars, the possession of any number of units does not satisfy the "collector" but only sends him avidly in search of more. This hungry pursuit of wealth, or any earthly achievement, pierces the pursuer through with many sorrows, temptations, and snares, as well as thrusting him into many foolish and hurtful lusts "which drown men in perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9,10). In addition to this, there is the uncertainty of earthly treasures. Christ here mentioned moth and rust and thieves, elementary sources of loss which have hardly changed since our Lord spoke these words. Riches make themselves wings and fly away (Proverbs 23:5). If one is tempted to disbelieve it, let him ask any man who has seen a flood, a tornado, an earthquake, a volcano, a change in fashion, a war, a revolution, the death of a partner, the betrayal of a sacred trust, a serious illness, or an automobile accident, or any of a million other things that continually illustrate the truth of this divine wisdom. As an antidote to man's covetous instincts, Christ taught that "It is more blessed to give than to receive," and requires that his followers shall give of their means, as they have been prospered, for the support of the Truth.
The prudent accumulation of money, wealth, or property against anticipated earthly needs is not here condemned out of hand and without qualification. Luke speaks in this place of him that "layeth up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21). Even at its best, however, and even when most nearly under control, a man's natural selfishness is a source of awful and constant danger to his eternal welfare.
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
The inducement that giving to righteous causes is for "yourselves" should not be overlooked. All that one gives or does for the kingdom of God will accrue to his eternal credit. Not even a cup of cold water will lose its reward (Matthew 10:42).
For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
The principal concern of the Saviour is seen in this, namely, "Where is thy heart?" The love of Christ and his kingdom, the constant choice of spiritual rather than carnal values, and the preference for eternal things as contrasted with things material and secular, these considerations mark the broad purposes of the new life in Christ. Possessions must be possessed; they must not possess their owners.
Verses 22, 23
The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
This is the topic sentence of this section of the Sermon on the Mount, and it comes in the form of a climax. The subject is human duplicity. Christ laid bare the deceitful and double motives which prompt men in their religious actions. Looking back to the beginning of this chapter, note that: (1) men do alms for two motives; (2) they pray for two motives; (3) they fast for two motives; (4) they even SEE DOUBLE! The evil eye is the one that explores every action, regardless of how sacred it is, for the purpose of discovering what base motive might also be served by the doing of it. The corrupting power of this behavior is total; "How great is that darkness!" Any act, even that of prayer or charity, without the proper motivation, becomes sinful. Christ's words in this place truly described the society into which he came as the Visitor from on high. The problem was one of unmitigated hypocrisy, caused by the attempted service of both God and the devil at the same time, or, in another frame of reference, the dual service of God and mammon, or wealth. The Pharisees of that day had corrupted the inner springs of conscience by the duality of their lives. It is certain that many in all generations fall into the same error.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Dr. F. F. Bruce, noted English scholar and frequent contributor to Christianity Today, compares this verse, especially the words, "No man can serve two masters," with James 1:1 which has "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," and concludes that they are a valid argument for the deity of Christ. James had indeed heard our Lord declare that no man can serve two masters; and it is Bruce's contention that James was not flaunting the fact that he indeed was serving two masters, but that THE TWO ARE ONE!
The sharp truth is that one must choose whom he will serve. The erroneous assumption that he can merely go along with a foot in either camp is a vain and fatal delusion. The heart can acknowledge only one master. Knowing the difficulty that man has in breaking away from material domination, Christ, in the next few verses, reveals God's providential care for his children with a view to convincing man that God will take care of him, if only man will seek God's kingdom first. Knowledge of and dependence upon God's love and protection make it absolutely unnecessary for man to serve mammon as a means of meeting his earthly needs.
Verses 25, 26
Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shalt drink: nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they?
The area of need explored by these words is not incidental but basic. It is a question of food, clothing, and shelter. Jesus' argument is that God who made man and gave him life will also provide him with the means to sustain it, reinforcing his argument by the fact that God does this very thing for the lower creation.
Surely, God could not be charged with watching out for sparrows and neglecting his children! The mystery of how God cares for the myriads of his creatures both great and small is an unfailing marvel. Anyone familiar with wild life is aware of the remarkable continuation of every species from age to age. That God does indeed do this is a certainty. The weight of our Lord's argument here is overwhelming when it is recalled that of all God's creatures, from insects to the great animals of the forest, man alone is constantly anxious about his survival on the planet. What a glimpse this gives of the ruin and wretchedness that have resulted from man's sin and rebellion against his Maker. Anxiety, that sure corollary of sin committed, has invaded man's every thought, destroyed his serenity, and sent him scurrying in all directions; and, most significantly, anxiety only makes things worse!
Verses 27, 28
And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to the measure of his life? and why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Although the emphasis in this entire context is away from the material and workaday needs of life, there is no repudiation of such prosaic virtues as work, thrift, responsibility, and diligence. These verses are not license to leave the care and feeding of one's family to others or to the state (1 Timothy 5:8). Edgar appropriately gathers the import of these words as follows:
Consider how poor the life is which
makes eating and dressing the chief
thought. A man's life is intended to
be much more assuredly than this; and,
yet, are there not some who have no
thought beyond this? The weight of
anxiety is purely secular and
physical. The devotees of the table
and of the fashions make eating and
drinking all. Now the idea of the
passage is that no one is so
circumstanced as to be compelled to
think only or chiefly of food and
raiment. There is not a poor man but
may feel that he was born for higher
thoughts and things than to "keep the
pot boiling." F4
Verses 29, 30
But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
This entire, rather extended, passage continues to stress man's need for utter trust and dependence upon God who cares for the grasses and the fowls of the air and will surely, therefore, care for his human children. Bryant's immortal lines are in this same periphery of thought:
"He who from zone to zone
Guides through the boundless sky thy
In the long way that I must tread
Will lead my steps aright? F5
God's care for grasses and birds, such as lilies and sparrows, and, in fact, for all the countless creatures that he has made has always made a profound impression upon the thoughtful mind. Benjamin Franklin, the great patriot, exclaimed before the Constitutional Convention that gave birth to the United States of America, "God governs in the affairs of man; and if a sparrow cannot fall to ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?" F6
For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
The word "Gentiles" means "nations," and may also be freely translated as "pagans" or "heathens" and refers to all natural men everywhere as distinguished from the Hebrews who were a people presumably prepared in heart to discern spiritual things and to receive the Messiah when he should appear. Christ found the chosen people very much like the rest of mankind in spite of all the wonderful privileges they had known through contact with the holy prophets and teachers of the Old Covenant. God's knowledge of man's need is enough to assure God's provision of the things needed. The injunction is, "Leave all those things to God, AS FAR AS ANXIOUS THOUGHT IS CONCERNED, and strive for higher things."
But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
This is a divine appeal for men to put first things first. The kingdom of God should be placed first: (1) in importance, (2) in point of time, and (3) in emphasis. The righteousness men should seek is that of Christ, not their own. This means that God's commandments should be honored, rather than men's, and that his doctrine should be received and practiced instead of the commandments and traditions of men. As a result of true obedience, God will add "all these things" to the estate of his children. This is true not merely of individuals, but of nations and states as well. It can be no accident that those areas of the world which are most characterized by attention to and observance of the teachings of Christ are also those areas most civilized, having the highest standards of living and the greatest abundance of "all these things"!
Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Thus ends a rather long and urgent section of Jesus' teachings, all directed squarely toward the removal of anxiety from men's hearts. Bridges should be crossed only when men come to them. Anxiety is impractical, impious, and impotent. William Tyndale translated this place, "For the day present hath ever enough of its own trouble."
Footnotes for Matthew 6
1: J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1932), p. 647.
2: J. H. Newman, Hymn No. 431, "Lead Kindly Light" (Chicago: Great Songs Press, 1960).
3: Maltbie Davenport Babcock, Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1939), from Bartlett's Quotations, p. 731.
4: R. M. Edgar, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1961), Vol. 16, Luke 1, p. 358.
5: William Cullen Bryant, "To a Waterfowl" (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1939), from Bartlett's Quotations, p. 372.
6: Dr. Frank S. Mead, The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations (Westwood, New Jersay: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1965), p. 361.
7: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 640.
8: Elmer W. Maurer, article in The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe (New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1955), p. 205.
9: Doran's Minister's Manual (1947), p. 105.
10: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Matthew (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 128.
11: Origen, from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 547.
12: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 642.
13: Roman Catholic Testament.
14: Revised Standard Version.
15: Emphatic Diaglott.
16: Goodspeed, New Testament in Modern Speech.
17: Williams, The New Testament.
18: Moffatt, The New Testament.
19: Paul Blanchard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press), pp. 138-139.
20: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 16.
21: Ibid., p. 16.
22: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons, Volume 5 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 20.
23: Robert Milligan, Commentary on Hebrews (Nashville: World Vision Publishing Company), pp. 73-74.