DON’T WORRY

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DON’T WORRY

Matthew 6:25-34 NET

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Our English word “sidetrack” comes from the railroad industry in the 19th century. To move a rail car onto a sidetrack was to divert it from its connection with the other cars. It didn’t take long for that term to be used for anything that distracts a person from what he really should be doing.

The Pharisees were sidetracked. Even though they did all the things that Jesus commanded his disciples to do — give, pray, fast — they did it for human praise. God’s kingdom was not their purpose. They were too busy accumulating treasure on the present earth to invest in a future in God’s coming new earth.

In today’s text, Jesus reveals another thing that can sidetrack a person: worry.

We shouldn’t worry, because we are more important than what we worry about (25-27).

Jesus says we should not worry about our life, what we will eat or drink, or about our body, what we will wear. We know that bodies wear clothing, but we don’t usually say that our “life” is eating or drinking something. It’s a bad translation. The Greek word translated as “life” there is the word ψυχή. In the Bible, the word often means “neck” or “throat.” That is the more appropriate word to use here. We use our throats in the process of eating and drinking.

Incidentally, I think the reason the translators didn’t do this is that the Greek word ψυχή is often translated as “soul.” Lots of people think of a soul as an immaterial part of a human being — like a ghost inside the body. They can’t imagine an immaterial soul eating and drinking. So, the translators avoid the problem by substituting the generic word “life” instead.

Jesus used the word ψυχή because the throat is a good metaphor for the appetite. Hunger is a serious problem that we have to attend to regularly, several times a day. Jesus had talked about fasting in this same sermon. Voluntary fasting was a way to set aside time to focus on God. But what Jesus is talking about here is involuntary fasting: not eating because there is nothing to eat. Jesus instructs his apostles not to worry about where their next meal is coming from.

Everybody has to provide for themselves, and that includes planning regular meals for themselves and their families. Jesus is not telling us that we should just ignore this need. He is telling us that we should not spend all our time worrying about it. Worry sidetracks us from doing the things that our king has commanded us to do.

But Jesus goes on to tell his apostles why they don’t have to be sidetracked by worry. He tells them that their throats are more important than the food and drink they put down their throats. Their bodies are more important than the clothes they wear on their bodies. In other words, God loves them for who they are themselves — not for what they have.

To illustrate this, Jesus directs them to look up into the sky. Remember the last time you looked into the sky and saw a flock of birds flying in formation? What an awesome thing that is! It makes you wonder who programmed those things. Jesus told his apostles that those birds don’t plant berry bushes or build worm farms. But they are fed. Who feeds them? Note these words: “your heavenly Father.”

We shouldn’t worry, because we are more important than what we worry about. We shouldn’t worry because we have a Father in heaven who is watching over us, making sure that our regular needs are met. We pray to him for daily bread, so we don’t have to worry about where the next loaf is going to come from.

The next thing Jesus says is that worrying does not accomplish anything positive. He asks his apostles if any of them can add any time to their life span by worrying. He didn’t need to look around to see if either of them raised their hand. It’s a rhetorical question. They all know that worrying may take hours off their lives, but it never adds an hour to them.

We shouldn’t worry, because our heavenly Father knows what we need (28-32)

To illustrate what Jesus said about clothing, he directs their attention to the flowers of the field. They don’t plant cotton fields and build factories either. But even Solomon in his best royal robe couldn’t be decked out any better than the flowers. His point was the same: you are more important than the clothes you wear. You have a heavenly Father who will clothe you.

We have a Father who is looking out for us. That does not mean we have a Santa Claus in heaven and we can send our Christmas list to him. We don’t need a lot of toys. But there are some things that we do need. God has already demonstrated that he can be trusted to provide the bare necessities of life.

Look at that wild grass! Acres and acres of nothing but green. That shows you what God can do with only one crayon from the box. But Grass is temporary. It is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven. But if our heavenly Father goes to all the trouble to provide for that temporary grass, imagine what he will do to take care of your needs. You have the potential to live eternally.

Jesus says that “this is the will of my Father — for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). That means that if you are a believer, eternal life is your destiny. You are more than the grass which is clothed in green today and burns up tomorrow. You are destined to be clothed with immortality.

In light of that fact, it doesn’t make sense to worry about what we are wearing. If you have clothes, that should be enough. You shouldn’t waste time worrying about whether your clothes are new enough or fashionable enough. Jesus said that the “unconverted” pursue these things.

We shouldn’t worry, because we have a kingdom to pursue (33-34)

We, believers, have better things to do than focus on the externals. We have a kingdom to proclaim, a righteous life to live and a just society to build. Let the unbelievers worry themselves into an early grave. We have the gospel to preach.

After warning us not to get distracted by worry, Jesus redirects us to the right track. He says that we should pursue God’s kingdom and righteousness.” We pursue the kingdom by learning and obeying the commands of the king. Note that Jesus did not say that we are to simply wait for the kingdom. He says that we should pursue it. You have to chase something if you haven’t caught it yet. There is a sense in which we are already citizens of the coming kingdom. Our names are on the list. We have a permanent inheritance.

But if we want to secure our permanent inheritance, we need to live like sons of the Father from whom we will inherit. We are currently living in one of the kingdoms of this earth. The kingdom that is coming down from the sky is not here yet. We pursue that kingdom by living according to its rules. That is what the sermon on the mount is all about. If you want to live by someone else’s rules, it disqualifies you from the coming kingdom. That is why Jesus told his apostles to not follow the hypocrites. He said unless their righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, they will never enter the kingdom.

To make it clear that Jesus was talking about how we live our lives today, Jesus’ command here is that we should pursue God’s kingdom and righteousness. Now, there are two aspects to the meaning of the Greek word for righteousness that Jesus used here. The word δικαιοσύνη means the righteousness of justification internally, and justice externally. We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and the results of that justification are the forgiveness of sins and positional sanctification. We are then called to represent God’s kingdom on earth today by seeking justice and fairness for others. Pursuing God’s righteousness means chasing both these things.

Worry becomes a problem when our worries keep us from seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. But the solution to the problem of worry is not going to come by focusing on what we are worrying about. Jesus didn’t tell his apostles to get together in small groups and go through therapy sessions about their anxieties over eating, drinking, and their wardrobes. No, he told them that their worries were sidetracking them from their purpose. Their purpose was to pursue the coming kingdom, in their personal lives, and in society. He told them that if they would keep on track and not get distracted, then God would provide for their needs.

His final instruction on this subject was to remind them that they would face problems every day. But the solution to these dilemmas is simple. They should take life one day at a time, and not worry about tomorrow. If we focus on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness today, we can avoid getting sidetracked by worrying about what might happen tomorrow.

_______

NOTES:

“If we trust God rather than Mammon, we won’t worry about the necessities of this life. Worry about such things is sin, for it is an expression of doubt that God will do what he has clearly promised to do. Yet we frequently worry because of the weakness of our flesh. Here Jesus tells us how to deal with our worries. First he tells us not to worry about life, food, drink, or clothing, and then he tells us why we need not worry.

His first argument compares the greater to the lesser. If God has given you life, which is far greater than any material possessions, will he not provide you with the lesser gifts of food, drink, clothing, and shelter? Would it make any sense at all for God to give us life and then be unconcerned about sustaining that life? The obvious answer is No.

Then he compares the lesser to the greater. If God provides for the needs of the birds of the air, who don’t even sow or reap or store up food in barns, will he not provide for your needs? You have the advantage over the birds of being able to sow and reap and store up the fruits of the field in barns. You also have the advantage of being far more valuable in God’s sight. … Can you imagine that he will be less concerned about you than about the birds? Or look at the wildflowers. The lilies of the field do not labor or spin; yet God dresses them in finery that even Solomon in all his splendor could not rival. We can “labor and spin.” We have that advantage over the lilies. So why should we worry about having the necessary clothing? The grass of the field was used as fuel for cooking in areas where firewood was scarce. It was here today and gone tomorrow, and yet God also made the grassy fields a thing of beauty. Can we imagine that God has less concern for us? Impossible!

With these observations and reassurances in mind, Jesus gives us a word of advice that might well serve as our motto for Christian living day after day: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (verse 33). He is telling us to make his kingdom and his righteousness the number one priority in our lives.”

Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996. pp. 99-100.

“The delightful irony about slavery to God is that the master entrusts to his slaves the very wealth from whose bondage he delivered them (6:24, 33b; cf. 25:14-30); that persons preoccupied with God are able to enjoy earthly wealth; that those who ‘store up treasures in heaven’ can find pleasure in things others are hoarding on earth. God’s slaves — the Father’s children — now perceive wealth for what it really is, the handiwork and gift of God. They view life’s necessities with new eyes (6:22): besides being nourishing, meals are found to be tasty, one reason being food’s exquisite colors; a woolen coat is appreciated for both its warmth and its beauty; which helps to explain believers’ contentment with food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). Now, perhaps for the first time since childhood, they ‘behold the birds’ and ‘consider the flowers,’ and stand in wonder before the Creator’s endless wisdom and artistry.”

Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010. p. 450.

“When Jesus says, ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear, he is not referring to people who are destitute but rather to people who are relatively well-off. People should not make food and drink, one’s body or one’s clothes into idols or fetishes. Rather, Jesus says, ‘Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you.’ In Matthew’s gospel, seeking God’s kingdom and seeking justice (righteousness) are not two distinct quests. There is no authentic search for the kingdom except in a quest whose immediate goal is God’s justice: justice here on earth that makes a real difference in people’s lives, especially those who are poor.”

Fogarty, Philip. Matthew. Dublin: Columba Press, 2010. p. 38.

“In normal circumstances, our cushioned Western lifestyle leaves little scope for the sort of “worry” about basic provisions which this passage envisages. It is perhaps at times of economic catastrophe or of drastically changed personal circumstances that its message applies most directly, and that it becomes clear how far our essential priorities enable us to trust rather than to worry.”

France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids (MI: Eerdmans, 2007. p. 267.

“We hear Jesus say the only thing that casts out anxiety is trust. Like nonbelievers, we’ll find ourselves agonizing about our circumstances. But when that happens, we should review the choice that belief first presented to us: do you want God’s kingdom, or do you want to build one for yourself? We should then renew our decision to accept God’s kingdom [vv.31-33]. This spells out in detail the advice with which Matthew tells us both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (see 3:2; 4:17). Turning away from self-absorbed anxiety, and turning to the kingdom, is what we must do day after day after day [v.34]. All we need will be put in our laps along with the kingdom [v.33b]. Good News!”

McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012. p. 30.

“There is a subtle transition from greed in 6:19-24 to anxiety in 6:25-34 (Gundry 1994: 115). These verses begin with a general prohibition against worrying about life. Two (or perhaps three; see the additional note on 6:25) staples of everyday life are singled out to explain what is meant by “life’—-what one eats and what one wears (6:25). God’s provision of food is then stressed in 6:26-27, and of clothing in 6:28-30, before the general prohibition against worry is restated in 6:31 and again in 6:34 (cf. Luke 12:22-31). Rhetorical questions underline the incompatibility of anxiety with faith (Matt. 6:25, 26, 30) and stress its impotence (6:27).”

Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. p. 198.

“Living totally without worry sounds, to many people, as impossible as living totally without breathing. Some people are so hooked on worry that if they haven’t got anything to worry about they worry that they’ve forgotten something. Here, at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, is an invitation that surprisingly few people even try to take up. Why not learn how to share the happiness of Jesus himself?”

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004. p. 67.

“Some worries we bring on ourselves directly. According to one estimate, the average American family has $8,000 in credit card debt, and almost half of all families spend more than they make in a year.’ We have more things to spend money on and more ways to spend it than ever before. Our greed traps us in a cycle of worry and fear.

This is not what God wants for his children! God does not want us to be slaves to worry or to be trapped by our selfish desires. The life Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount is a life characterized by trust and dependence rather than anxiety and greed. To live lives free from anxiety and greed, we must discover what is truly important. We must focus our lives on God’s way, rather than on gaining material things. As we trust God and focus on God’s way, God calls us to change our treasure, our outlook on life, and the kingdom we seek.”

Younger, Carol D. The Gospel of Matthew: Hope in the Resurrected Christ: Adult Bible Study Guide. Dallas, Tex: BaptistWay Press, 2008. p. 84.

20221023 DON’T WORRY.mp3

WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS

WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS

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Matthew 6:19-24 NET

19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus wants us all to obey his commands and teach others to do so. So far, in Matthew six, we have seen Jesus highlight three commands. By following these three commands, we display the righteousness associated with the kingdom of which Jesus is the king. When we display that righteousness, we show that we are sons of the Father in heaven. We can also influence the world around us to join the kingdom.

Unfortunately, the hypocrites have hijacked each of these commands. They give to the needy, not because they have the Father’s compassion for the needy. No, they give so that they can be praised by others. They give in order to get a reputation for being generous. They also pray — or at least look like they are praying. They give long, repetitive public prayers. Their motivation for praying is the same as their motivation for charitable giving. They pray in order to be seen praying. Their words are designed to impress the human ears who hear them. The hypocrites even fast in order to impress other human beings with their humility. They are proud of their fasting because it makes them look so spiritual.

Now, the reason that I gave that summary of the first eighteen verses of Matthew six is that Jesus is continuing the same line of thought in this section of his sermon. He is not introducing a new subject. He is still talking about those hypocrites. He is still warning us not to do what they are doing. Every good deed they do is for their own personal enrichment.

You know what a hoarder is. A hoarder collects stuff. He has piles of stuff in his garage, in his closets, and stacked all over his house. Wherever he goes, he gets more stuff. He is obsessed with accumulating stuff. He’s not collecting this stuff for someone else. He is hoarding it for himself. He can’t seem to give away any of his stuff. It’s not for the needy, his stuff is for himself.

The hypocrites were hoarders. Their motivation was always self. Even the things that people are supposed to do for God, these hypocrites insisted on doing for themselves. All their daily decisions were being made on the basis of how it could benefit them personally. When they gave to others, it was to benefit themselves. When they prayed and fasted, it was for their benefit. God had nothing to do with it.

All the stuff done for self is temporary (19-21).

Jesus is not just talking about collecting money here. But he uses that language because what happens when people just want to get richer and richer is a perfect example of what he is talking about. If you spend all your time and make all your decision based on how big it is going to make your bank account, the best thing that can happen is that you keep most of your money until you die.

Jesus warns his apostles not to accumulate for themselves treasures on earth. Back in Jesus’ day, people did not put their money in banks. They invested it in things that they could store in their houses, or in money they would hide in their houses. But the moths got to the stuff, causing it to become worthless. The stuff would decay, causing it to become worthless.

If the moths and rust did not get to it, the thieves would. Thieves would break into your house at night and find where you have hidden your stash. Then all that work would be for nothing. If it wasn’t thieves, it would be unemployment, bad investments, sickness, or family needs, or the government. Either way, that stash was not going to last.

But Jesus recommended laying up treasures in heaven. He was not talking about tithing as such, although tithing is not wrong. He was talking about all the things you can do to serve God and honor him. Some people take this passage to mean that all the money you invest in God is being reserved for you up there. That’s ridiculous. When Jesus returns, all the money in the world is going to be worthless. Money is for this age, not the next one.

I’m reminded of that story of the rich man who had a wheelbarrow full of gold bars, and he asked permission to bring it with him into the new Jerusalem. The Lord gave him permission, but then all the people gathered around him. They wanted to know what he planned to do with all those paving stones. The streets were already paved with gold!

All the stuff done for self turns your light into darkness (22-23; cf. 5:14-16).

Jesus had already taught his apostles that they are the light of the world. He said that a city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, he said, let your light shine before people so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Now, he is returning to that subject. He tells the apostles that their eye is the lamp of the body. If then their eye is healthy, their whole body will be full of light. But if their eye is diseased, their whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

We see through our eyes. If something interferes with our eyes and keeps them from seeing, it will not be just our eyes that are turned dark. Our whole person will be blinded.

The word translated “diseased” in verse 23 is the Greek word πονηρὸς, which is just a generic word for “bad.” An eye can be bad if it is diseased, but it can also be bad if its owner chooses to focus on the wrong thing. If you are driving and you choose to focus on your cell phone instead of the road, it doesn’t matter how well you see. A bad eye is one that is focused on the wrong thing.

What Jesus is telling us is that if we are not being the light of the world as he called us to be, then the world will not have any light, and neither will we. Selfishness puts out our light. The light is God’s love. When we show God’s love by giving to the needy, God’s light shines through us. When we choose to hold on to our hoarded stash, the light goes out.

It is not just giving though. All the stuff done for yourself turns your light into darkness. Praying to be seen, fasting to be seen, everything we do for ourselves is flicking the switch.

Your eye is the lamp of your life. If it focuses on your stuff, then all that stuff will block the light. If your light does not shine, then people who need the Father will not find him

All the stuff done for yourself can prevent you from serving God (24).

Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The word translated money here is μαμωνᾷ, the name of the Syrian god Mammon. It represents stuff people waste their lives on. The word sounded like the Aramaic for “what (ma) you trust in (amõn).” In the end, we serve what we trust in. Jesus warns his disciples that trusting in a closet full of treasures is a stupid thing to do. Trusting in a reputation for good deeds is a stupid thing to do. Trusting in a reputation of spirituality is a stupid thing to do.

You may join a church, and call yourself a Christian, but your daily decisions are based on your loyalty to your real master. We accumulate treasures in heaven every time we love others with God’s love and compassion, putting their needs above our own. We accumulate treasures in heaven every time we seek God in prayer when nobody else is watching. We accumulate treasures in heaven every time we give up what we want in favor of getting what God wants.

What we have to understand is that when we signed on to be part of Christ’s coming kingdom, we declared that from now on, Jesus is going to be our king. We have no other master. We may have a whole bunch of bosses, but we can only have one master. Previously, the self was on the throne. Now, there’s a new king.

Our master is the one that we are serving. Every choice we make has to be informed by his wishes — his commands. We can obey the laws of the land — as long as those laws do not contradict his law. We can please our families as long as our families do not demand that we disobey him.

If we try to live for and serve two masters, we are always going to fail. This is especially true if the other master is essentially ourselves. Mammon — what we trust in — is a terrible master. It will force you to betray Christ. It will make you a hypocrite like it did the Pharisees. It will make you spend your entire life accumulating worthless stuff that has no eternal value.

But we do not have to live like that. We can choose to obey Jesus with every choice we make. We can choose to deny ourselves and take up our crosses, following him. Every step we take in following Christ gets us closer to our eternal inheritance. That is what it means to accumulate treasures in heaven.


NOTES:

“If he is single-minded, of ‘sound eye,’ he will choose rightly” (Albright, William F, David N. Freedman, and Christopher S. Mann. The Anchor Bible: 26. New-York: Doubleday, 1971., p. 82).

“A person decides what constitutes a treasure in life, and the heart and energies of that person will soon follow” (Anderson, William A. Gospel of Matthew. Place of publication not identified: Liguori Pubns, 1999., p. 26).

“Heavenly wealth (fellowship with God and the service of God) is incorruptible, and very different from the amassing of earthly riches, which so far from decreasing worry about the future, actually increase worry lest they be stolen or perish” (Argyle, A W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979., p. 58).

““Mammon” is a Chaldean word for the money-god. It is a word which speaks of the systems of materialism which are so very dominant in human experience. The disciple is to give undivided loyalty to the Master; mammon is to take a very inferior place” (Augsburger, Myron S. Matthew. , 1982., p. 92).

“The reference here is to the man who had hoarded up in his house a little store of gold, only to find, when he comes home one day, that the burglars have dug through his flimsy walls and that his treasure is gone. There is no permanency about a treasure which is at the mercy of any enterprising thief” (Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew. , 1958., p. 242).

“Thieves ‘break through (and steal)’—literally ‘dig through’—either by digging up a pot of coins that has been buried in the soil (a common way of safeguarding money; cf. Mt.13:44), or (more likely) by digging under the wall of the house. All this is cast in terms of the ways of the ancient world, where there were no safe deposit boxes and no police forces; everyone had to take his own precautions for protecting his goods. Often enough, all such precautions are vain; one way or another, the hoarded treasure is apt to disappear” (Beare, Francis W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982., p. 182).

“Mamona is not inherently unrighteous; but it acquires this character when it is enthroned as a god, and receives monotheistic worship from those who possess it, who crave it (1 Tim. 6:9) and who steal it. Jesus later warns that ‘the deceitfulness of wealth [ploutou] will choke the word’ of the kingdom (Matt. 13:22) by convincing people that they will prosper more under wealth’s rule than under God’s. While love for God results in many a good (22:37-40), ‘the love of money [hé philargyria] is a root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10; cf. 2 Tim. 3:2-4: [philargyroi, ‘lovers of money,’ versus philotheoi, ‘lovers of God’] and 1 Tim. 3:3 and Hebrews 13:5 [aphilargyros, ‘not loving money’]. (In Luke 16:14, immediately after the parallel to Matthew 6:24, Jesus calls the Pharisees philargyroi, ‘lovers of money’: which suggests that one important respect in which disciples’ righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees [Matt. 5:20] is their attitude toward wealth” (Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010., pp. 442-443).

“Like the happiness it brings, earthly treasure is only for a season; it is destined to pass away” (Davies, W D, and Dale C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Volume I: Introduction and Commentary on Matthew I-Vii. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988., p. 629).

“What a person covets or lusts after shapes his or her life” (Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008., p.39).

“the single eye corresponding to the single (undivided) heart (v. 21)” (Green, H B. The Gospel According to Matthew in the Revised Standard Version: Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: University Press, 1975., p. 93).

“depending on where we put our hearts, we can become people of light before God or we can become useless people. When we devote our hearts to God, we can be useful people to God and other people” (Jong, Paul C. The Gospel of Matthew: I. Seoul, Korea: Hephzibah Pub. House, 2005., p. 197).

“Treasure on earth, such as clothing and linens, can be consumed by moths or insects or stolen by thieves. They also consume one’s attention and one’s heart. The lasting treasure is the heart centered on God, which cannot be dislodged” (Reid, Barbara E. The Gospel According to Matthew. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2005., p. 46).

“Matthew uses “treasure” as a metaphor for that which commands the allegiance of one’s “heart”” (Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011., p. 87).


20221009 WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS.mp3

WHEN YOU FAST

WHEN YOU FAST

WHEN YOU FAST

Matthew 6:16-18 NET

16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Last month, when Penny and I began our focus on the commands of Christ in Matthew 6, I explained what Jesus meant by his instruction to “be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people” (6:1). These displays of righteousness were habits that the religious experts of Christ’s day practiced. They considered these three habits marks of healthy relationships. We have already looked at two of those habits.

The first habit was introduced in 6:2 with the words “whenever you do charitable giving.” Giving to the needy was considered a mark of spiritual maturity, and it helped maintain a healthy relationship with others. If God blessed a person, that person was expected to pass on the blessing to those who needed it.

The second habit was introduced in 6:5 with the words “whenever you pray.” Praying to God was a mark of spiritual maturity and it helped maintain a healthy relationship with God.

Today, I want to talk about the third habit of highly successful religious professionals. That was the habit of fasting.

Fasting is a means of displaying righteousness (6:16).

Jesus says “when you fast.” He did not say “if you fast.” Jesus endorsed every one of these signs of spiritual maturity. He expected that his apostles would be doing a lot of giving, a lot of praying, and a lot of fasting. Like giving and praying, fasting is a legitimate way of showing that you have a commitment to God and you discipline yourself because of that commitment.

The Old Testament prescribed fasting on Yom Kippur – the day of atonement.

“This is to be a perpetual statute for you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves and do no work of any kind, both the native citizen and the foreigner who resides in your midst, for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the LORD. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must humble yourselves. It is a perpetual statute” (Leviticus 16:29-31).

The actual commands were for the Israelites to humble themselves, to remain ritually clean, and to cease all work on that day. Regularly fasting that one day of the year became a way to set that day apart so that God’s people could celebrate what he was doing for them by atoning for their sins.

This is not the fasting that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6. The fasting on the day of atonement was a national fast. Jesus was talking about a personal voluntary fast.

Jesus himself voluntarily fasted, and we read about that earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 4. There, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights, endured temptation from the devil, and overcame that temptation. He emerged ready to do the ministry that God had called him to do.

We learn something about the voluntary fast from that incident. We learn that fasting can be a way to prepare yourself spiritually for something that the LORD is calling you to do.

When you face a decision that you have to make, and you want to make sure that you are making your choice based on God’s will, not just your own inclination, fasting can help you do that.

If you are facing a challenge, and you want strength from the Lord to help you overcome that challenge or endure a time of difficulty, fasting can help you do that. Sometimes people fast over some personal problem or social tragedy or injustice. You might feel that just praying about your concern is not enough – you want to do more. So, the Lord might be inviting you for an extended time of prayer and fasting. If a sin you are being tempted to commit, a loved one’s illness, COVID-19, racial injustice, or the war in Ukraine is on your mind a lot, maybe you should consider praying and fasting about it.

Fasting can be abused (16).

We need to keep in mind that Jesus brought up all three of these habits of displaying righteousness because all three of them had been hijacked by the hypocrites. Jesus told his apostles not to “look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting.”

Just as giving and praying could be ruined by doing it with the wrong motive, the same thing is true of fasting. If you fast just so people can see you fast, that is the only result you’re going to get from your fast.

The question of fasting comes up one other time in Matthew’s Gospel. That is when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask him why he and his disciples were not publicly fasting the way they were. They asked: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” (Matthew 9:14).

Jesus responded: “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).

You see, Jesus was a publicly recognizable figure. Since his apostles were his entourage, everything they did had to fit the mission of their master. Jesus said it was like they were the wedding guests, and he was the bridegroom. While the wedding ceremony is going on, you don’t fast.

But Jesus also implied that something was going to happen to change the situation, and when that something happened, the apostles would have times of voluntary fasting, just like John’s disciples. The bridegroom was taken away.

Fasting can be done right (17-18).

Jesus told his apostles “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” When fasting is done right, nobody knows about the fast except the faster and the Father. It’s not to display your devotion before others. It’s to spend time with the one you are devoted to.

Now, it’s not always going to be possible for everyone not to know. If you are married, your spouse will know. Your children might need to know why you are not coming to the table. But the best rule is to keep the information as limited as possible.

There is also a danger that we can presume too much because we are fasting. We can get really discouraged if we have expectations that fasting is going to change us into super-saints, and fix all our problems.

Isaiah faced this with his people. They asked God “Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?” (Isaiah 58:3). But Isaiah reminded them that they were not just fasting. They were also arguing, brawling, fist fighting, mistreating each other, failing to take care of the homeless, ignoring the oppressed, and failing to give to the needy. God is not going to be impressed if I’m doing that. It doesn’t matter how many meals I skip.

God wants to know that you love him – enough to spend quality time alone with him in prayer. God wants to know that you love your neighbor – enough to give to those in need. God also wants to know that you love yourself – enough to every now and then stop paying attention to your ordinary needs and focus on the things that can only come from God.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and told his people: “Is this really the kind of fasting I want? Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes? Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the LORD? No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the LORD’s splendor will be your rear guard. Then you will call out, and the LORD will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:5-9).

If you live like the devil, fasting is worthless. But if you live like God wants you to, when you fast, He’s going to show up. When God shows up, miracles happen.

— NOTES —

the Law and fasting

“The third “act of righteousness” of which Jesus speaks is fasting. The Law of Moses seems to have required at the most only one day of fasting per year. (Leviticus 16:29 in the NIV speaks of denying oneself on the Day of Atonement, which is assumed to be a reference to fasting.) The Pharisees, on the other hand, fasted twice a week and boasted about it. They loved to demonstrate how grievously they were suffering when they fasted, and their performances impressed many people. But they did not impress God at all” (Albrecht, 94).

“The Law of Moses seems to have required fasting at the most only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Voluntary fasting on other days might be practiced as a expression of grief or of sorrow over sin” (Albrecht, 135).

New Testament and fasting

“New Testament believers are not required to fast at all. If, however, you want to fast, Jesus says, if you feel that fasting will help you to keep your sinful flesh under control and to concentrate your attention on spiritual matters, by all means fast. But don’t even mention it to anybody” (Albrecht, 94-95).

“Early documents give evidence that the church practiced fasting as a regular discipline quite as assiduously as the members of the Jewish community” (Beare, 230).

motives for fasting

“The communal fasts such as are prescribed for the Day of Atonement (in the Priestly Code, Lev.16: 29-31, etc.) are not envisaged, but only private fasts such as might be undertaken by individuals as an expression of grief, or of penitence, or of preparation for. communion with God (Neh.1:4; Dan.9:3; 10:2f., etc.). Here it is indicated that individuals might undertake a fast as a work of merit, hoping that God will reward them for their piety. The ‘hypocrites’ no doubt entertained such hopes, but they’ also wanted to win the admiration of their neighbors. They, therefore, show obvious outward signs of their fasting; they look gloomy, and even ‘cause their faces to disappear’ (that is the literal meaning of ἀφανίζουσιν yap τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν), perhaps by smearing them with ashes? Whatever they hope from God, their primary desire is to win a reputation for exceptional piety. This is all the reward they will ever get; they are paid off in full by the gain in social prestige” (Beare, 179).

“Matthew says that, in addition to almsgiving and praying (see 6:2-6), Jesus spoke about fasting as another way of reminding ourselves how our relationship with God works. As with every other action, we’re tempted to make the act of fasting about ourselves — “You’re fasting? You’re so conscientious!” [v.l6]. Instead, says Jesus, let fasting help you allow God into your life; let it remind you who knows your need for nourishment better than you [vv. 17-18]” (McCarren, 28).

“As with almsgiving and prayer (w. 1-6), Christians who fast are not to call attention to their pious practice. The verb aphanizo, “neglect their appearance,” literally means “disfigure” or “render unrecognizable.” It may refer to covering one’s head with a cloth (Jer 14:4) or with ashes (1 Macc 3:47), or neglecting to wash (v. 17). The point is that adulation is its own reward, and no further benefit will accrue to one who is ostentatious in fasting” (Reid, 45).

Isaiah 58

Isaiah 58: The Lord Desires Genuine Devotion

1 “Shout loudly! Don’t be quiet! Yell as loud as a trumpet! Confront my people with their rebellious deeds; confront Jacob’s family with their sin!

2 They seek me day after day; they want to know my requirements, like a nation that does what is right and does not reject the law of their God. They ask me for just decrees; they want to be near God.

3 They lament, ‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’ Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers.

4 Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls, and fistfights. Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven.

5 Is this really the kind of fasting I want? Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes? Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the LORD?

6 No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke.

7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood!

8 Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the LORD’s splendor will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call out, and the LORD will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully.

10 You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday.

11 The LORD will continually lead you; he will feed you even in parched regions. He will give you renewed strength, and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring that continually produces water.

12 Your perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations. You will be called, ‘The one who repairs broken walls, the one who makes the streets inhabitable again.’

13 You must observe the Sabbath rather than doing anything you please on my holy day. You must look forward to the Sabbath and treat the LORD’s holy day with respect. You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals.

14 Then you will find joy in your relationship to the LORD, and I will give you great prosperity, and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.” Know for certain that the LORD has spoken.

“See Isa 58, in which the prophet declares that God does not delight in sackcloth and ashes but in the fast which looses the bonds of wickedness, frees the oppressed, brings bread to the hungry, shelters the poor, and covers the naked. What counts is not external show but humility; a person’s attention should be directed towards others in order to help them, not in order to learn what good things others think about him” (Davies, 617).

Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished.

3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”

4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple,

6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the LORD your God to the test.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur.

9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the LORD your God and serve only him.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

Matthew 9:14-15

14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?”

15 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.

“Matthew … could be telling the early Church why they should practice fasting” (Anderson, 33).

“There is some discrepancy between 5.4 and 9.15. In this last Jesus declares that the wedding guests (=his disciples) cannot mourn (diff. Mark, who has ‘fast’) as long as the bridegroom (= Jesus) is with them. So the text of Matthew both addresses the disciples as those who mourn (5.4) and at the same time excuses them for not mourning while Jesus is with them. The seeming contradiction, however, is only one aspect of the tension created by the fact that the kingdom of God is both present and coming in the gospel tradition (see on 4.17). And while in 5.4 the weight comes down on the future coming of the kingdom, in 9.15 the presence of the kingdom is being proclaimed” (Davies, 448).

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Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Anderson, William A. Gospel of Matthew. Place of publication not identified: Liguori Pubns, 1999.

Beare, Francis W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982

Davies, W D, and Dale C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Volume I. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988.

Fogarty, Philip. Matthew. Dublin: Columba Press, 2010.

McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.

Reid, Barbara E. The Gospel According to Matthew. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2005.

20221002 WHEN YOU FAST.mp3

Until He comes

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Until He comes — a communion meditation

  • “Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:14-15 NET).
  • “For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26 NET).

Today is worldwide communion Sunday, so we are going to share the bread and the cup today. I’m also speaking in just a few minutes on Jesus’ command concerning fasting. There is a connection between these two rituals — the ritual of fasting where we go without eating, and the ritual of communion, where we eat a special meal in memory of Christ’s death on the cross.

Jesus told John’s disciples that he — the bridegroom — would be taken away from us. He was taken away when he returned to heaven. He is not here among us in physical form. He will not be among us physically until he returns. So, it is appropriate that each of us sets time aside from our normal schedule to fast, to mourn the fact that he is not here.

It is also appropriate that we gather together in his name to remember what he did when he was among us. He is more than the Bridegroom. He is the Lamb of God. His death on the cross paid the price for our sins. If he had not done that, our destiny would be universal death. He is our substitute.

The bread that we eat reminds us of his broken body. The cup that we share reminds us of his shed blood. Sharing this meal is one way that we proclaim his death, and what it means.

There is another thing that connects these two rituals. We are not commanded to fast all the time because the Bridegroom will not always be away. He is coming back. Arthur Wallis wrote in God’s Chosen Fast, “The fast of this age is not merely an act of mourning for Christ’s absence, but an act of preparation for His return. May those prophetic words “Then will they fast” be finally fulfilled in this generation. It will be a fasting and praying Church that will hear the thrilling cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom!” Tears shall then be wiped away, and the fast be followed by the feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb.”*

In the same way, the communion meal reminds us not only of what Jesus did in the past but also of what he is going to do in the future. We proclaim his death until he comes.

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*Wallis Arthur. God’s Chosen Fast How Christians Can Change World Events through the Simple Yet Powerful Tools of Prayer and Fasting. Christian Literature Crusade 1986. p. 32.