Matthew 6 Study Notes


6:1 Jesus did not prohibit public acts of righteousness (see note at 5:14-16), but he warned that the motivation for such acts is more important than the bare fact of performing them. All such deeds must be done for God’s glory, not human reputation. Those who seek human acclaim when performing good works will receive no heavenly reward. In Mt 6:2-18, Jesus supplies general principles for performing righteous acts.

6:2-4 The words whenever you give assume that disciples will regularly assist needy people. The prohibition don’t sound a trumpet stems from the fact that the offering chests in the temple (shofar chests or trumpet chests) were trumpet-shaped with a wide opening where coins were deposited and a winding, ever-narrower funnel that, at its narrowest point, exits into the chest. This arrangement prevented thieves from sticking their hands into the chest (Sheqal. 2:1; 6:1,5). Thus, “sounding the trumpet” is likely a reference to tossing coins noisily into the trumpet-shaped coffer and thereby calling attention to one’s generosity. Jesus described such conduct as hypocritical. The word hypocrites (Gk hupocrite-s) originally referred to actors who performed in Greek or Roman theaters. The hypocrites to whom Jesus referred are spiritual actors who pretend to have piety in order to win human approval. The instructions about the left hand and the right hand prohibit a person from celebrating personal acts of righteousness. Give liberally, but never dwell on the fact that you do so.

6:5 Standing in the synagogues (gathering places for Jewish worship) or on the street corners when praying ensured that many people saw the hypocrites praying, but Jesus taught that God has no regard for such actions.

6:6 A private room (Gk tameion) was a room that did not have doors or windows to the building’s exterior. Closing the door granted total privacy. Since the true disciple prays for a heavenly rather than a human audience, privacy is ideal for genuine prayer. Jesus described the Father as the one who is in secret. God is ever-present. The disciple can encounter him in the most obscure locations. Jesus’s words do not prohibit public prayers—which are encouraged in the church (see 1Co 14:26).

6:7 The babbling of Gentiles may refer to the meaningless gibberish that appears in Greek magical papyri. Like the familiar “abracadabra,” these formulas were nonsensical combinations of sounds that were believed to have special power. Ancient texts show that Jews sometimes embraced these practices.

6:8 Genuine and effective prayers don’t need to be long prayers.

6:9 By commanding his disciples to pray like this rather than simply “pray this,” Jesus demonstrated that this prayer was offered as a model rather than a mantra to be recited. The first person plural pronoun Our implies that Jesus intended this prayer to be a model for corporate prayer, i.e., a prayer for when disciples gather as a group. This confirms that Mt 6:5 was not intended to prohibit disciples from praying together publicly in the synagogue or other gatherings but instead prohibited prayers that were motivated by religious showmanship. Your name be honored as holy suggests that Jesus expected his disciples to live righteous lives that honor rather than profane God’s name (5:16; Lv 22:31-32). This is an important precondition for successful prayer.

6:10 In light of parallels with contemporary Jewish prayers and Jesus’s teaching that the kingdom of God is a present reality but also awaits a fuller future consummation, the petition your kingdom come has a present and a future focus. The petition asks that disciples submit more fully to God’s will as subjects of his reign through Jesus. We should daily pray for the future consummation of God’s rule in which he will reign fully and completely over the world.

6:11 Daily bread was the amount of bread necessary to survive for a day. The request is reminiscent of Pr 30:8-9. Jesus wanted his disciples to live in a state of constant dependence on God and his provision.

6:12 The Greek grammar indicates that the disciple prays for forgiveness from God only after having first expressed forgiveness to others.

6:13 Do not bring us into temptation. As James makes clear, God does not tempt anyone (Jms 1:13). Moreover, God certainly permits his people to undergo temptation. The idea is “do not let us fall to temptation” or “do not abandon us to temptation.” According to Paul, though believers experience temptation, they do not have to yield to it. For God provides “a way out” (1Co 10:13).

6:14-15 God forgives those who are truly repentant. True repentance results in a willingness to forgive others.

6:16-18 They make their faces unattractive refers to the Jewish practice of smearing ashes on the face and wearing grim expressions during times of fasting. Although these acts originally expressed true repentance, hypocrites adopted them as a mask of false piety.

6:19-20 Jesus emphasized the fleeting value of worldly wealth. The larvae of the moth could quickly destroy valuable fabrics that were treasured by the ancients. The word rust is literally “eating.” It can refer to the pitting of metal coins or to vermin that ruin valuable food stores.

6:21 Jesus taught that one’s heart truly belongs to what it most treasures. Since a disciple is to love God with all one’s heart (22:37; Dt 6:4), love for material possessions and riches is a subtle form of idolatry (Col 3:5).

6:22-23 In Jewish writings, a good eye represented a generous attitude and a bad eye a stingy, miserly attitude. The bad eye (an improper perspective on wealth) results in a deep internal darkness, a moral blindness that diminishes the ability to see and pursue what is good.

6:24 People have a sinful tendency to make an idol of money, which then competes with God for their allegiance.

6:25 Isn’t life more than food is a rabbinic style of argument. It reasons that if God does a greater thing for us, he will also do lesser things. Specifically, if God created you (the greater accomplishment), he is certainly capable of feeding you (a lesser accomplishment).

6:26 Jesus here reversed his previous argument and reasoned that if God bothers to do a lesser thing (feed the birds), he will assuredly accomplish the greater thing of feeding humans.

6:27 Add one moment to his life-span refers to longevity. Worry is futile and cannot prolong your life.

6:28-30 Jesus revealed that the real cause of anxiety is when disciples have little faith, meaning doubt about God’s power and disbelief in his desire to provide for his children.

6:31-32 Obsession with material possessions displays the warped priorities of Gentiles.

6:33 Disciples who value the reign of God over their lives and who diligently pursue righteous living can trust God to satisfy their needs.

6:34 Jesus did not prohibit planning for the future, but he did prohibit worrying about it. He urged his disciples instead to focus on the challenges of the present.