STUDY EIGHT: THE NEW VALUES OF THE KINGDOM [Matthew 6:1-24]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

In this session we will look at some of the things that Jesus wants his disciples to value. We will find that these stand in stark contrast to the value systems of the world, and even, to some extent, to the values of contemporary Christianity, both individually and corporately as the ‘church’.

A. RADICAL VALUE ONE: THE SUPERIOR VALUE OF HIDDEN GOOD DEEDS [6:1-4]

As humans we value recognition and praise.  Some of us only function well when we are recognized and praised; some of us tend to shrivel up and die [emotionally and functionally] when there is an absence of recognition and/or a presence of criticism. But Jesus calls each one of us beyond this to a superior value – the value of hidden good deeds which, although not seen by men, although gaining for us no praise or recognition from men, gain for us something more significant and lasting – recognition by our heavenly Father and the honour and joy of doing something for him and his glory.
[Note: Christ is not saying that we shouldn’t recognize or praise others; he is teaching us that, from our personal perspective, we should not be doing good deeds in order to get human recognition and praise.]

Reflection on Matthew 6:1-4; 23:5-7; Matthew 5:16. Use the questions below to discuss these verses.

What does Jesus tell us not to do?


Why?


What is the godly alternative?


What will happen to us when we embrace this value?


What will happen to God?


In what way will the radical identity of the disciple described in Matthew 5:1-12 help you to embrace this radical value and at the same time obey Matthew 5:16?

 

B. RADICAL VALUE TWO: THE SUPERIOR VALUE OF HIDDEN SPIRITUALITY [6:5-8]

What Jesus said in relation to doing good deeds in order to get praise and recognition he also applies to spiritual actions, specifically to prayer, the most personal expression of spirituality. The purpose of prayer is not to gain the praise of men, or to gain a reputation of being ‘spiritual’ or ‘pious’.  Rather, the purpose of prayer, indeed, its whole significance, is communion with our heavenly Father. Jesus emphasised the superior value of unseen prayer that nobody even knows is occurring. He also emphasised the value of quiet, confident prayer that trusts him as a heavenly Father.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments:
‘The essence of the biblical teaching on sin is that it is essentially a disposition. It is a state of heart. I suppose we can sum it up by saying that sin is ultimately self-worship and self-adulation; and our Lord shows (what to me is an alarming and terrifying thing) that this tendency on our part to self-adulation is something that follows us even into the very presence of God. It sometimes produces this result; that even when we try to persuade ourselves that we are worshipping God, we are actually worshipping ourselves and doing nothing more.’
‘The trouble with the false way is that its very approach is wrong. Its essential fault is that it is concentrating on itself. It is the concentrating of attention on the one who is praying rather than on the One to whom the prayer is offered.’ [Vol.2 p.22,23, ibid]

When Jesus warns his disciples about false spirituality, he mentions two points in particular:

[1] Our motive in praying, and in the way we pray, should not be ‘to be seen by men’ [6:5].
[2] Our manner in praying should not reflect the long and repetitious prayers of pagans who do not have an omniscient God [6:7,8].

Reflection: What do the following texts teach us about our attitude to our spirituality, and the difference between inner, real spirituality and external, observable spirituality?

Proverbs 21:2-3

 

 

Isaiah 29:13

 

 

Matthew 15:1-9

 

 

Luke 16:15

 

 

Luke 18:10-14

  

 

John 4:23-24

 

 

1Corinthians 4:5

 

 

 

Response: Now discuss the following and record your conclusions. Give Biblical reasons for your answers.

Is all prayer in public wrong? If not, what makes some public prayer wrong and some public prayer right?

 

Is all prayer in private right? If not, what makes some private prayer right and some private prayer wrong?

 

In what ways do Christians’ attitudes to their ‘quiet times’ stand in potential danger of falling under the judgment of Christ in Matthew 6:5-8?

 

What particular temptations would be faced by people who regularly engage in public prayer, in the presence of large groups? [e.g. worship leaders and pastors]

 

What aspects of contemporary Christian worship practices have a high risk factor of being done ‘to be seen by men’? 

 

 

C. RADICAL VALUE THREE: BIBLICAL PRIORITIES IN PRAYER [6:9-13]

When Jesus instructed his disciples ‘how’ to pray he did not further discuss the practicalities of where or when or in what company. He outlined the boundaries of legitimate prayer, and by that outline taught us what our priorities and concern in prayer should be.

Reflection and response: Discuss Jesus’ priorities for prayer. 
What does Jesus mean?
How is this concern and focus expressed in other Scripture texts?
How does it compare with contemporary Christian focus and priorities in prayer?
[Do your best to check all the references in each section, but do not stress if you have to omit some.]

‘Hallowed be your name’ = Concern for God’s name
Exodus 9:15b; 20:7; 2Samuel 22:50; 1Kings 8:41-43; Psalm 22:22; 34:3; Isaiah 26:8,13; Ezekiel 36:22-23; Zechariah 14:9 

 

 

‘Your kingdom come’ = Concern for God’s kingdom
Matthew 6:33; 9:35-38; 25:34; Luke 8:1; 9:2,11; 16:16; Acts 28:23; Colossians 1:13; Daniel 7:18, 27; 2Timothy 4:1; Revelation 11:15 

 

 

‘Your will be done on earth’ = Concern for God’s will
Psalm 40:8; 143:10; Isaiah 14:26,27; 46:10-11; Luke 22:42; John 4:34; 5:22-23,30; 6:29; 39,40; Romans 1:10; 8:28; 12:2; Ephesians 5:17; Colossians 1:9-12a; 1Thessalonians 4:3ff; James 4:15; 2Peter 3:9 

 

 

[It is only after this three-fold concern and focus on things relating to God’s name, God’s kingdom and God’s will that Jesus gives us permission and direction to pray for ourselves. Note that all of these prayers for ourselves are plural – our and us, not my and me.]

‘Give us today our daily bread’ = an expression and acknowledgement of our dependence on God for our physical life
Genesis 50:20; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 4:8; 31:15; 34:7; 65:9-10; 145:16; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3 

 

 

Prayer relating to our spiritual needs for [1] forgiveness

Numbers 14:19; 1Kings 8:30-39, 50; 2Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 32:1-5;  51:1-7; 85:1-4; 130:1-3; Jeremiah 31:34b; Daniel 9:19; 1John 1:8-10

 

 

[2] protection under pressure and [3] rescue from evil
Luke 22:31-32; John 6:37,38,40; 10:28,29; 17:11,15,20,24; Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 6:10-12; Philippians 1:6; 1Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2Timothy 1:12; Timothy 3:10-12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:24,25; 10:21-22; 1John 2:1; Jude 24 

 

 


Note: In the Bible the word translated ‘temptation’ overwhelmingly refers not to feeling like committing a moral sin, but to being pressured to the point where one feels like giving up and giving in to whatever the circumstances are, and particularly to giving up on one’s faith and commitment. [2] and [3] form the two sides of the same prayer, asking God not to bring us into situations in which we will be pressured to deny or give up our faith, but rather to wrench us away from such a potential situation before we even get into it.


Thus in his  prototype prayer Jesus is not saying ‘these are the exact words you should pray every time you pray’ but giving us a sample prayer in which he sets the priorities and the boundaries for our praying.

 

D. RADICAL VALUE FOUR: THE ESSENTIAL VALUE OF FORGIVENESS [Matthew 6:14-15]
 
In Matthew 6:14,15 Jesus added a footnote to his statement ‘as we forgive’ in the Lord’s Prayer. Our forgiveness of others will be the focus of a later study so we will not look at it here, but we do need to note in passing that it is one of the radical values that Jesus lists for his disciples.

 

E. RADICAL VALUE FIVE: THE SUPERIOR VALUE OF HIDDEN PENITENCE AND CONFESSION
[6:16-18]

This radical value forms a sub-section of the radical value of hidden spirituality. Earlier we saw that the spirituality that God approves is God-focused spirituality that does not flaunt itself before men to gain the praise or recognition of men, but is the expression of a genuine private and personal relationship with God and concern for his glory not its own.

Here in 6:16-18 Jesus extends this value of hiddenness to fasting. If we study the Bible’s teaching on fasting we find the following:

Fasting is an expression of great grief [Judges 20:26; 2Samuel 1:12; Nehemiah 1:4; Psalm 35:13-14; Joel 1:13-14; 2:12-17]

 

Fasting is associated with repentance, confession [1 Samuel 7:3-6; 2Samuel 12:16-23; 1Kings 21:27-29; Nehemiah 1:4; 9:1-2; Daniel 9:3ff; Joel 2:12-17; Jonah 3:5]

 

Fasting is associated with expression of helplessness [Judges 20:26; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:3,16; 2Chronicles 20:3-13]

 

Fasting accompanied prayer about serious matters [Mark 9:29; Acts 13:2-3; 14:23]

 


In all of the above, fasting was a form of prayer or accompanied by prayer, expressing human dependence on God and generated by human desperation. Frequently this dependence and desperation is in relation to human sinfulness, for which forgiveness is sought by the prayerful action of fasting. In its real function it is a humble, penitent, confessional prayer to God for mercy. But in our human sinfulness we turn it into a meritorious religious ritual by which we seek the approval of man or God.

Reflection: Describe the boundaries Jesus put around ‘fasting’ in Matthew 6:16-18
[1] Don’t:

[2] Do:

[3] Because:

The boundaries Jesus places around ‘good deeds’ [6:1-4], prayer [6:5-8], and ‘fasting’ [6:16-18] must be applied to every area of our spirituality and Christian service. Obviously the ‘hidden’ nature of true spirituality is sometimes impossible in a straight physical sense. As 5:14-16 makes clear, the disciples’ identity as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ must be felt and seen by the rest of the world so that God will be glorified.
 
Just as there is a direct relationship between the radical identity of the disciple of Christ [5:1-12] and the radical ethic to which he calls us [5:17-48], there is also a direct relationship between our radical identity and this ‘hidden’ spirituality that Jesus demands in 6:1-18. And just as Jesus pushed the external commands to their deep inner and spiritual meaning in 5:17-48, so here in 6:1-18 Jesus looks behind and beyond self-focused, self-serving and self-adulating spirituality and calls us to a spirituality which has God as its motivation and focus.

In the Sermon on the Mount we have learned so far:

  •  Jesus describes the radical God-focused identity of his disciples
  • This radical identity is to be expressed in radical God-focused ethic which goes beyond the external action to the inner principle.
  • This radical identity is also to be expressed in radical God-focused values in which our spirituality is never practised for our own advantage, but for God alone.

 

E. RADICAL VALUE SIX: THE SUPERIOR VALUE OF SPIRITUAL TREASURE [6:19-24]

Matthew 6:19-24 has two roles in the Sermon on the Mount:

[1] It ties up the section on radical values;
[2] It leads into the section on radical faith [which we will look at in Study 9].

In describing the deficient value system of those who practise their spirituality ‘in order to be seen by men’ Jesus stated: ‘they have received their reward in full’ [6:2, 5,16]

In describing the radical value system of his kingdom Jesus said: ‘your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly’ [6:4,6, 18]

Now Jesus says:
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … no one can serve two masters’ [6:19,20a,24]

It seems on the surface that Jesus is here moving on to another topic, and indeed he is. But at the same time he is wrapping up all that he has just taught about the value of a spirituality that is practised not to be seen by men to gain instant recognition and praise, but to be seen by God.

What do we treasure? What do we value? This is the question that Christ has answered for us in 6:1-18: what his disciple values is not the praise and recognition of men but God himself.

Reflection and response: In what ways do the phrases from 6:19-24 listed below relate to the radical values Christ has described in 6:1-18?

‘treasure on earth’


 
‘treasures in heaven’


 
‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’

 
‘if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness’
 

‘no one can serve two masters’

 

By this image of earthly wealth and its transience Jesus pinpoints the fragility and uncertainty, not only of material riches but also of human praise and recognition. To value either, to have our hearts fixed on either, is a fool’s game. More importantly, to value or treasure either divides and darkens our focus, placing us in an impossible situation in which we are living contrary to the real identity we have in Christ.  Jesus Christ has not made us his disciples so that we may be praised by men, or so that we might have earthly wealth; he made us his disciples to restore us to a right relationship with God in which God is honoured and glorified. If human praise comes our way, if earthly riches come our way, they are never to be our focus or our goal: they are not what we should value. The greatest treasure, the thing of ultimate value, must always be God and his glory.