Sermon on the Mount — 4

Monday, June 25

Read: Matthew 6:1-4

Consider: Jesus didn’t like photo op righteousness. We’ve all seen it. Someone makes a huge contribution to a worthy cause. So far, so good. But then something spoils it. They make a 3-foot by 5-foot replica of the check and invite the media to watch and take pictures at the presentation. Now it’s complicated. The benefactor no longer knows why he or she is doing this. Is it for the cause, or is it for the recognition? Is it to encourage others to give, or is it to encourage admiration of the giver?

Jesus had a very simple solution to the motive dilemma.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” (6:1)

“When you give to the needy, do not announce it…to be honored by others.” (6:2)

“When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” (6:3-4)

We see with these admonitions the same thing we see with so much of Jesus’ teaching. He’s liberating us. He’s giving us the freedom that humility brings. He’s teaching us that we can do what he wants us to do without having to constantly doubt our own motives. He’s showing us the joy of giving.

When we give anonymously, we are free to live, love and laugh as we give. When we don’t care who gets the credit, we exult in the opportunity to give, because we’re acting like Christ—the ultimate Giver.

We all know this is true, but sometimes we need to be reminded. Sometimes we need to be prompted to give, wanting nothing in return. Sometimes we need to see anew that the joy of giving is enough reward. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said that “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (6:4).

Use your creativity and give anonymously today. It may be a note of encouragement. It may be money or something else of material value. It may be a deed that will go unnoticed. Give with the hope that you will not be seen, but that God’s grace and love will be seen and experienced.

Pray: “Lord, show me anew the joy of giving.”

 

Tuesday, June 26

Read: Matthew 6:5-8

Consider: What is true about our giving (6:1-4) is also true about the other spiritual disciplines—prayer, fasting, solitude, simplicity, meditation, etc. When we no longer need to be recognized by others—when we no longer measure ourselves by how we are perceived—we are liberated for authentic life with Christ.

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (6:6)

And what is that reward? Will God give us a bunch of stuff because we prayed in secret? Will he eventually show the people around us just how spiritual we are? I doubt it. (I hope not!) No, I believe the reward is his presence. When we pray with authenticity—when we’re real before God, rather than trying to fulfill some religious obligation—we experience the presence of God.

Authenticity is the key. Jesus said it is not about the kind of words we use— “babbling” to impress others (6:7)—but it is about revealing ourselves fully to God. Of course, God knows us fully (“your Father knows what you need before you ask him”—6:8). But we still need to be spiritually naked before him, trusting him with our whole being.

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

That truth—that authenticity—in prayer opens us up to experiencing the presence of Christ. Could there be a better reward?

Pray: Close out everyone and everything. Get into a private, safe, comfortable place. Pour a cup of coffee (or whatever you would do if conversing with a close friend) and share your dreams, desires and fears—that is, share your heart—with God.

 

Wednesday, June 27

Read: Matthew 6:9-15

Consider: The Lord’s Prayer is stunningly simple. “This is how you should pray…” (6:9)

With humility — “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12)

With gratitude — “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (6:9)

Recognizing our dependence on God — “Give us today our daily bread” and “deliver us from evil” (6:11, 13)

Humility. Gratitude. Dependency. But there is something else in that prayer—commitment. Jesus also taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10).

Have you ever repeatedly asked God to do something for you? Over, and over again, you asked God to work something out on your behalf, or for someone you love. Then, after a while, you began to see that God did want to do a special thing, but that he wanted to do it through you.

I believe that when we get in the habit of praying for God’s kingdom to be a reality on this earth in this present day, God will begin to show us our role in that kingdom. He will show us that he intends to bring it about through us. He will teach us how to live kingdom values in a fallen world.

As simple as the Lord’s Prayer is, it can be a dangerous prayer to pray. It may change you. It may require something from you. It may call for you to give the entirety of your life to God.

Pray:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

 

Thursday, June 28

Read: Matthew 6:19-21

Consider: Where do you store your greatest treasure? Jesus said…

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (6:19-20)

Most people associate the concept of heaven with the afterlife. But if heaven is only a future reality, Jesus is telling us, “Don’t plan for this day, simply plan for eternity. Don’t value your present reality or the amazing creation I’ve given you, for the only treasure that exists is beyond your present reach.”

But that wouldn’t make much sense in light of what Jesus had just said. Remember, he taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10). Jesus instructed us to pray for heaven to come to earth, right here and right now.

To comprehend this, we must understand that “heaven” means the presence of God. Often it refers to the afterlife. But the concept of heaven also has validity for this life. God’s kingdom and his presence can be a reality here and now. So, when Jesus talks about storing our treasures “in heaven,” he’s talking about values for today and forever. He’s talking about treasuring the things that God treasures, rather than the things that this culture says are precious.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6:21).

That is not a call to be other-worldly minded. In fact, it is a call to be grounded in our humanity and in this world, for it is a call to have our hearts and values reflect the kingdom of heaven. Or, as Jesus said later in this sermon, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…” (6:33)—right here and right now.

Pray: To experience heaven on earth does not mean that you must somehow learn to escape reality. Rather, it means knowing Christ’s presence in today’s reality. Ask the Lord to show you what it means to treasure that which is eternal. Ask him to teach you to know his presence and to be the presence of Christ in our world.

 

Friday, June 29

Read: Matthew 6:19-24

Consider: There are various translations for the last sentence of that passage. The NIV says…

“You cannot serve both God and Money.”

I find it interesting that in some of the earlier versions of the NIV, the translators capitalized “Money.” (Every letter is capitalized in the original New Testament writings, so this was an interpretive move.) That word is mamona or mammon. It speaks about material things—wealth that is characterized by money or possessions.

Perhaps the translators capitalized it to contrast it with the capitalized, “God.” For Jesus is talking about our tendency to transform lower-case stuff—money and possessions—into upper-case Gods. Jesus was personifying mammon when he called it a “master.”

And I love Jesus’ directness. He doesn’t try to finesse or convince. He merely states a fact…

“No one can serve two masters.” (6:24)

You could word it in various ways—two masters, two lovers, two dreams, two kingdoms, two lives. Two just won’t work.

“Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (6:24)

Chasing two things at the same time makes for a chaotic life. There is a term for that, which is found in both the Old and New Testaments — “double-minded,” or literally, “two-souled” (Psalm 119:113, James 1:8, 4:8). The chaos of our lives is reflective of the chaos in our souls. Jesus invites us to choose.

Pray: “Lord, even for those of us who follow you, it is easy to be sidetracked and to ‘chase’ some other master. Purify my heart, making me single-minded in my devotion to my one, true master.”

 

Saturday, June 30

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

Consider: Here we find Jesus doing the work that he so often does—liberating us from ourselves. As we’ve seen this week, we don’t have to be enslaved by the opinions or approval of others. We don’t have to give with strings attached, expecting something in return. We don’t have to prove our spirituality or our righteousness. And we don’t have to serve two masters. We are freed from our idols.

Idolatry is the act of seeking our joy, peace, security and significance in something other than God. And idolatry always destroys us because no other one and no other thing can supply those needs. Our idols never deliver. But when we seek our joy, peace, security and significance in Christ alone, we discover a new-found freedom. Jesus’ words begin to make sense…

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” (6:25)

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (6:27)

“And why do you worry about clothes?” (6:28)

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (6:31)

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (6:34)

That freedom results from our pursuit of only one master. When we crowd our lives with other masters, we forfeit the kind of peace and freedom that Jesus has for us. “No one can serve two masters” (6:24). But seeking his kingdom first (6:33) allows us to live as freed men and women.

There’s great irony here. Most people view the Sermon on the Mount as a stern and demanding declaration. Because they see it as a series of commands to “perform” in certain ways, they find it oppressive. But nothing is further from the truth. Whether we’re turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, giving generously while expecting nothing in return, or living in the present (rather than the past or the future), we keep breathing new, free air. And we look at our feet and see that the chains have fallen to the ground.

Pray: “Lord, teach me to give myself so completely to you that I can truly live out your will for me to ‘not worry about tomorrow’ (6:34). Thank you for the freedom you offer. Teach me to walk in it.”