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Matthew, chapter 6: The Privacy Principle (6:1-21), and The Priority Principle (6:22-34).

Updated on August 31, 2015

Week 8 of 10 in "Healing and Good Health in the Sermon on the Mount, Sunday, August 16, 2015

Scripture reading today comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, the second of three chapters this gospel devoted to what Jesus taught on a Galilean hillside (known since the days of Augustine as "The Sermon on the Mount").

Matthew in this chapter presents two more major segments of the early teaching of Jesus to crowds who came to him from far and wide for medical treatment in the Capernaum area (located on the northeast coast of the Sea of Galilee) shortly after he began his public ministry to the villages of Galilee (context described in Mt 4:12-25, and 5:1).

As we saw in chapter 5, Jesus once again clearly shows his concern for the physical needs and problems of everyday people, even as he guides them toward human spiritual effort. He scorns the artificial, showy spirituality of religious people and urges his listeners to pray in private, accept divine forgiveness by being forgivers, and look to the realm of the heavens for solution of every-day physical problems.

Some scholars think these 34 verses provide our closest glimpse of the young man Jesus, the human Jesus, at odds with public religious gatherings and displays, but peacefully at home in the fields of the Galilean hillsides. Everywhere this Jesus looked in nature, he saw evidence of his own loving, caring Heavenly Father.

The following outline is no substitute for reading the text, but serves merely as an organized guide to our particular insights and interpretation. During this class, we expect students to have in front of them their own copy of the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, for each item in the outline, we read aloud the text in a standard English translation, and we encourage class members to comment as they feel inspired to do so.

6:1-21. The Privacy Principle.

Introduction. 6:1. Do your righteousness not in front of people, but privately in front of the Father.

First of three examples. 6:2-4. Give your charitable gifts not for the public, but in private, where the Father sees.

Second of three examples. 6:5-15. Pray your prayers not to be seen by others, but in private, where the Father sees.

. . . . . 6:7-15. Not with wordiness like Gentiles (ethnics, ethnikoi), but rather, for example, like this: The Lord’s Prayer.

Third of three examples. 6:16-18. Do your fasting not for public show, but in private, where the Father sees.

Conclusion. 6:19-21. Earthly treasures deteriorate, but heavenly treasures last forever.

6:22-34. The Priority Principle.

6:22-23. A healthy eye fills your body with light; an unhealthy eye fills you with darkness.

6:24. The fallacy of serving two masters: you cannot serve both God and Mammon (wealth).

6:25-34. Move from chronic worry to living in the Realm (the sovereign home of the family) of the Heavenly Father.

6:25. Stop being anxious about the essentials of your everyday life: food, drink, apparel.

6:26. Birds don’t sow, reap, or gather in barns, yet the Father feeds them.

6:27. Can worry add a single hour to the span of your life?

[6:27. Traditional King James Version: Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?!]

6:28-29. As for clothing, do lilies make cloth? Yet even Solomon was less well clothed.

6:30. If grass, here today, gone tomorrow, has clothes, won’t you also be provided for?

6:31-32. So stop worrying like the Gentiles (ethne, nations), “What to eat?! What to drink?! What to wear?!”

6:33. Conclusion: Seek first the Realm and its concept-of-right-and-wrong (its righteousness),
and all your everyday needs will be met.

6:34. Afterthought: Let each day’s trouble be sufficient for itself.


References to Gentiles, lit. ethnics, verses 7 and 32. The author of Matthew compiled this story of Jesus for a mixed, late first-century Judean-Gentile Christian community. He insisted on showing Jesus as the teacher he surely was in his earliest ministry, one talking effectively to Galilean peasants in language they could understand. He was not yet the world-renowned spiritual super-hero, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected to give hope of life eternal to believers in a new world-wide religion.

Matthew's Jesus here finds sick and poor local villagers who need a fresh understanding of their own heritage located in the Hebrew Bible, which they could not read, but where Yahweh cares for the poor among his "chosen people," and only rarely transcends toward the universal Creator God, Maker and Ruler of Heaven and Earth described in much later Christian (and Jewish) tradition.

For everyday Judeans, the Gentiles (non-Judeans, non-Israelites) commonly lay outside that universal framework, but more especially no doubt, for poor, uneducated farmers and villagers. They would naturally consider Gentiles outsiders, as "the barbarians" were to the Greeks, or "the heathens," as some Christians have been known to call non-Christians (and even some other Christians with different ideas).

Chauvinistic terminology pejoratively defining "other people" is human nature, virtually universal, and uniquely expressive. For a current example, when a young Mississippi couple recently got arrested near Starkville on the way to join radical ISIS in Syria, a college-oriented 34-year-old musician saw police cars near the local Islamic mosque and guessed that "some idiot redneck did something to the mosque." "Rednecks," whatever they may be, are obviously not people like him! (Story in the Saturday New York Times, Aug. 15, 2015, pages A1, A13.)

"The Realm," verse 33. The critical Greek text puts brackets around the words "of God" to indicate their omission in the best early manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc.) and disagreement in how modern scholars interpret that evidence (as discussed by Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, 1975, p. 18).

Discussion questions

1. Where would these teachings lead an original listener in 28 or 29 C.E. (or where do they lead a modern reader in 2016?) to begin searching for the Realm of the Heavens?

According to this text, where does one start "seeking first the Realm" of the Heavens, the Realm of the Heavenly Father?

2. How in the world could “seeking first the Realm of the Heavens” possibly solve all the other earthly problems and needs suffered by the dirt-poor Galilean villagers in the hillside audience? What was Jesus actually teaching here?

Reader comments and questions

We welcome and value any comments and questions, whether in class, or in our extended Internet class.


Copyright © 2015 by Max J. Havlick, Fay M. Havlick, and Matthew Studies Institute, a nonprofit activity of New World Community Enterprises, 16 W. Vermont St., Villa Park, IL 60181-1938, all rights reserved.

Max Havlick first presented this outline Sunday morning, August 16, 2015 as Lesson #8 of 10 in "Healing and Good Health in the Sermon on the Mount," a summer course in the Matthew Studies Class at the First Baptist Church of Oak Park, Illinois (American Baptist). Our church is well-known for its racial, ethnic, and theological diversity, and its wide range of activities related to Christian discipleship and service outreach.

Through Matthew Studies Institute, Max and Fay seek serious students at all levels of background and previous education. In addition to the abundant resources for study in the Chicago area, we also have a massive private library of scholarly and devotional books on the Gospel of Matthew, the Bible in general, and all related subjects.


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