Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Matthew 6:1-18 Introductory Thoughts

The Sermon on the Mount is a complex section of Scripture. As I’ve been studying it, I recalled something a friend of mine, Alan Knox, said on his blog a few years ago. As one reads this text (chs 5-7) it’s pretty easy not to see the forest for all the trees. While I was preparing to begin chapter 6, I thought it might be helpful if we took at look at this first section from a “bird’s eye view” to give us a bit of perspective on the territory we’re about to enter in this marvelous section of God’s word.

I think one theme that is clear in these verses is motivation. I have often said that people do things for a reason. I get up and got to work because I want to get paid. I eat because I’m hungry. I read God’s word because I am able to draw closer to Him as I come to understand Him better through scripture. As actors often ask “What’s my motivation” we should keep the question of motivation in mind as we study these verses.

For instance, Jesus says three times in the text “They (the religious hypocrites) have their reward in full”. Those people against whom Jesus was preaching, it would appear, were motivated by the reward of being recognized by people as being religious. They loved the spotlight. Honestly, that’s a temptation for everyone from time to time. Who doesn’t love to be the center of attention at some point or another? While there is nothing wrong with wanting to excel at an activity or to pursue excellence the roar of the crowd should not be the motivation that causes us to serve God. In fact, such a motivation sounds suspiciously like Lucifer’s proclamation in Isaiah 14:13-14.

Rather, our motivation should not be to attract the attention of men but to attract the attention of God. In fact, those two mindsets are diametrically opposed—mutually exclusive even. Just as Matthew records Jesus repeating His statement about their reward three times, our Lord also says three times by obeying Him and not following their example our Father will reward us. He sees what is done “in secret”. Some people may not notice our lives when we live for the Lord and try to do what He wants but God sees everything. Just as we can’t hide the bad things we do and the sins we commit the honor and glory we give Him by living out our faith is evident as well.

Those who want to play church do just that—they put on an act and hope people will notice them. In these verses, Jesus seems to be contrasting that kind of life with an authentic Christian life where we live as we are called because we love the One who bought us with His precious blood. That is why we serve. That, my friends, is our motivation.

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