Bible Commentaries
Matthew 6

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-34


1. The Better Righteousness.(Matthew 6:1-18 .) 2. Kept in the World; Single-eyed; Trusting God.(Matthew 6:19-34 .)

Our Lord said: “For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in nowise enter into the kingdom of the heavens” (Matthew 5:20 ). This righteousness He had taught in His confirmation and expansion of the law, but now He speaks of something higher still. He makes known the motive of this true righteousness, which the heir of the kingdom is not alone to possess but also to practice. The motive is in all to act in the presence of the Father. The first eighteen verses of the sixth chapter shows this in a threefold relation. First, in relation to man (Matthew 6:1-4 ), then in relation to God (Matthew 6:5-15 ) and lastly in relation to self (Matthew 6:16-18 ). The word Father is found ten times in these first eighteen verses of the sixth chapter. The Father sees, the Father knows; therefore all is to be done before Him, the Seeing and Knowing One. Here, then, relationship is acknowledged and made prominent, such a relationship which was unknown in the Old Testament. How we are brought into this relationship to God as Father, and to know Him as our Father, so as to act continually as in His presence, is not taught in the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of John makes this fully known. There we read all about eternal life, the reception of this life, being born anew, born into the family of God, etc. “As many received Him (Christ, the true God and eternal life), to them gave He the right to be children of God, to these that believe on His name; who have been born, not of blood nor of flesh’s will nor of man’s will, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ). This is all anticipated in Matthew, and the Father here is not that “All-Father,” as the modern twentieth-century teachers of a Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of men teach, but He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His great mercy, has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead (1 Peter 1:3-5 ). Only such as are begotten again, born into the family of God are children and though they are little children, yet do they know God as their Father. “I write to you, little children, because ye have known the Father” (1 John 2:13 ). Only such who are children and partakers of the divine nature can act as in the presence of the Father; with all others this is an impossibility; for how can they act and walk before One and do all out of love for One and to please that One, whom they do not know? This is another proof how impossible it is for the unregenerated, who have taken the sermon on the mount as a so-called rule for conduct, to do that which is taught.

Our Lord begins with alms. In the first verse the word alms is best translated (as several old manuscripts read) by “righteousness.” “Take heed not to do your righteousness before men to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens.”

Alms are good deeds towards others, charitable actions, bestowing upon the poor, needy and afflicted. Such deeds of mercy and kindness are generally designated by Jews as righteousness. In their prayers on New Year’s Day they profess that repentance, prayer and Zodoko--righteousness will influence God and change the evil to come upon them for their sins, into good. Under righteousness every orthodox Jew understands alms. It must have been so during the days of our Lord in the midst of His earthly people. How was it done? We believe that the description our Lord gives here was a literal performance by the self-righteous religionists. Alms were given so as to be seen by men, a trumpet was sounded before them and the sums they gave to the poor were heralded through the streets. And is it not so now even in the midst of Christendom? How much almsgiving and charities would there be if it were not for a big display? Such almsgiving, such deeds of mercy are not pleasing to God. Such a righteousness, and done by such a motive, are but filthy rags which give no covering and defile. But so it is among Jews and professing Christians, almsgiving, charities without end, good works to appear before men as religious, and no knowledge of the Father. “Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand does; so that thine alms may be in secret and thy Father who sees in secret will render it to thee” (Matthew 6:4 ). The lesson here for every true believer is that all our good works are to be done as to our Father and as before Him alone; when we have done all things that are commanded, we are to say, we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10 ).

Prayer is the next which follows. Prayer is that which relates to God. How much might be said on that most precious duty and privilege -- prayer! But we cannot digress here. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hyprocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the street, so that they should appear to men.” What glaring contradiction to pray in words which are addressed to God, and in motive they are but uttered so as to “be heard by men! What our Lord describes any one can witness still, on any Saturday morning on the lower East Side of New York City. In synagogues and private dwellings many a Jew can be seen marching up and down, or standing still, or swaying his head and reading his prayers. He is attired with the philacteries (prayerstraps), a purely rabbinical invention, and his shoulders are enshrouded by a prayer-mantle. His whole behavior as he takes a prominent stand in the synagogue or before an open window, shows but too well that it is done so as to appear before men. “Hypocrites” is the word with which our Lord designates such men. Yet, is it any better in Christendom? The modern “church prayer meeting” shows only too often the same spirit. We have known men and seen them standing in public places to lead in prayer, and before them a very carefully worded prayer written beforehand, which was read with much pathos. Some observer of religious movements spoke of a leading New York preacher a short time ago as making “beautiful and very flowery public prayers.” Alas! without sitting in judgment upon any one, the flowery prayers, human eloquence in prayer, are only too often a form of address to God but only uttered to be seen of men. None is excepted of this danger which comes with public prayer. It should be with much godly fear and earnest looking to the Lord when a brother rises to lead in prayer. It is to be done as before God and not before men.

Next our Lord tells us that prayer, like alms, is to be done in secret, as unto the Father and not unto men. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to the Father who is in secret, and thy Father who sees in secret will render it to thee.” No one would conclude from these words that our Lord forbids public or united prayer. It is seen only that He speaks against the mode and manner of public prayer. A believer praying in public should be as before the Father in secret. Later our Lord says, anticipating the church, “Again I say to you, that if two of you shall agree on the earth concerning any matter, whatsoever it may be that they shall ask, it shall come to them from my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19 ). United prayer of the assembly and that not in secret alone but in public, yet as before the Father, is a great privilege and attended by untold blessings. “They gave themselves all with one accord to continual prayer” (Acts 1:14 ). “And they persevered in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42 ). “But we will give ourselves up to prayer and ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4 ). Unceasing prayer was made by the assembly to God concerning him (Acts 12:5 ). Such was the practice in the apostolic age, and the exhortations given to believers in the New Testament are in harmony with it. “As regard prayer, persevering” (Romans 12:12 ). “Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving, praying at the same time for us also, that God may open to us a door of the Word to speak the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:4 ). “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ). Secret prayer is here mentioned by our Lord, and surely the true believer is doing this as he looks to the Father only. What joy, comfort and strength it does afford to be alone before God. Here it cannot be done as unto men. The hypocrite does not know nor practice secret prayer, and the professing Christian often makes an attempt at it in a legal way so as to satisfy his conscience. “The Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.” Some manuscripts have “openly.” The day will be when all the secret prayers, that precious ministry of prayer given to the saints who are holy priests, will be made known. What revelations there will be and what reward to the saints for such faithful and persevering ministry in secret!

“No sooner had Saul of Tarsus passed from death unto life, than the Lord says of him “Behold he prayeth!” Doubtless he had as a “Pharisee of the Pharisees” said many long prayers, but not until he “saw that Just One and heard the voice of His mouth” could it be said of him, Behold he prayeth (Acts 22:14 ). Saying prayers and praying are two totally different things. A self-righteous Pharisee may excel in the former; none but a converted soul can enjoy the latter. The spirit of prayer is the spirit of the new man; the language of prayer is the distinct utterance of the new life. The moment a spiritual babe is born into the new creation it sends up a cry of helpless dependence toward the source of its birth.” -- C.H.M.

“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as those who are of the nations: for they think they shall be heard through their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like them, for your Father knows of what things ye have need before ye beg anything of Him.” Martin Luther says on this: “Here He censures the abuse of prayer, when they that are praying make use of many words and babblings; He calls this a heathenish practice, a loose, idle and useless talk, of such who think they would otherwise not be heard. The spirit of the worshiper prays, and because he knows that God will hear him, he dares not use such endless, idle talk -- the fewer the words, the better the prayer.” (Luther’s notes on the Gospels.) The Pharisees had their long prayers with many vain repetitions. One only needs to take up an orthodox Jewish “prayer book” to see the numerous vain repetitions, repeating phrases over and over again. That our Lord had this first of all before Him seems clear. Yet what else is Christendom but, as one has said, “an unauthorized revival of a departed shade”? (Adolph Saphir on Hebrews.) It is an aping after that which no longer exists. The rituals of Christendom with their liberal use of the Psalms in responsive readings, set forms of prayer for all occasions, their chant and rapid delivery, are but the daughters of the old mother -- Phariseeism. Here we mention especially rituals which are used at the Lord’s supper, generally called by that unscriptural word “sacrament.” There are used repeatedly phrases like “Lamb of God, have mercy on us,” “Almighty God, have mercy on us,” “O Lord, save us.” These indeed are vain repetitions, and at the Lord’s table when they are used by a believer (who only has a right to the Lord’s table) they are worse than vain. Vain repetitions, however, may also be used by such who use no formal prayers, ritual and prayer book. This is often done when the name of God and the Lord is falsely used in public prayer as well as other oft-repeated phrases. Others have gone into an extreme and have declared that the Lord teaches here that a petition should be made only once, and that if we have asked in faith for something once, to ask again is only proof of our unbelief. The Lord teaches no such thing. Our Lord Himself in Gethsemane made the same petition three times, and Paul with his thorn in the flesh had besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him (2 Corinthians 12:7 ).

This is followed by a model for prayer which the King now gives. This prayer is generally called throughout Christendom “the Lord’s prayer.” Where is the authority in Scripture to call it by this name? If any prayer can be called the Lord’s prayer it certainly is the one contained in John 17:1-26 . It is not the Lord’s prayer, but the disciples’ prayer. This model for prayer has become the formal prayer, the ritualistic prayer of every sect in Christendom. That which our Lord forbids, vain repetitions, is practiced with this divine model by those who call themselves Christians. In the Roman and Greek Churches , so-called, it becomes a good work to repeat so many “Our Fathers,” and the poor deceived souls expect blessing in this world and in eternity from the mechanical repetition of so many prayers. This of course is very little different from the prayer machines of Thibet, upon which a certain number of prayers written on paper are placed and unwound before some god or goddess. In “evangelical” denominations it is not much better. We remember well in childhood, being strictly brought up in the Lutheran denomination, how constantly this prayer was used. In sickness, in pain, in danger, at mealtime, in the morning and at night, in severe storms, etc., it was ever repeated as if a miraculous power indwelt these words sufficient to dispel sickness, deliver from danger and bring blessing which otherwise would not come. It is one of the rags which Luther brought away from the old Roman sepulchre. Yet it is the same in other denominations. In one of the strongest it is used at the burial of the dead, sprinkling of infants, Lord’s supper, “ordination” of deacons and elders, “consecration” of bishops, and it is repeated in public by the congregation. All this practice, the use of this model for prayer, as the Lord’s prayer given to the Church, to be used by the Church, is wrong, decidedly unchristian, nor can it be proven from the New Testament that it is intended for the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles we read of the breaking of bread, the gifts of the Spirit, the assembly of believers, the baptism of believers, but do we read anywhere in the divinely inspired record of the beginning of the Church that the so-called Lord’s prayer was used by the apostles or by the primitive church? Is there a hint anywhere in the New Testament that the prayer is to be repeated in public and used by believers? Not even the faintest hint that this should be so, but many strong proofs and arguments that it should not be so. Centuries passed before it became a settled custom to make the prayer the King gave to His Jewish disciples the prayer for Christians and to use it in the form and in the way it is used now. An unknown hand then added something to the last petition, “Deliver us from the evil one.” The words, “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever -- Amen,” are an interpolation. They do not belong into your Bibles, for the Lord never uttered them. The revised version (though so imperfect in many of its revisions) has done well in omitting them altogether. When it was decided to use this model for prayer as a prayer, this ending was written by some one and added to it and thus making it a prayer with the “Amen” attached to it. No such “amen” belongs there.

This perfect model of prayer was given by our Lord to His disciples to be used by them individually and previous to the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was then all on Jewish ground; they were Jewish believers and as such they received this model prayer and used it in the transition state. There came a day when our Lord said another word to these very disciples who had come to Him with the request, “Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.” It was in the upper room where He spoke all the precious words concerning the Comforter, all that which was so new, altogether new, that which would take them upon a new ground. He said, “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name; ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. ... In that day ye shall ask in My name” (John 16:24-25 ). This message alone ought to give perfect light and understanding to any of our readers who are in doubt about this matter. “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in My name.” This shows two things: (1) They asked of God, and (2) They asked not in His name. They had then used the prayer He had taught them, and it was a prayer not in His name. Now He tells them that they were to ask in His name. This, then, is Christian prayer to ask God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. When He says “in that day” He means the day which began when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven, and this day is still present.

“When the Holy Spirit was given, and the child was able to draw near to the Father in the name of Christ, you have something different. The Lord’s prayer so-called does not clothe the believer with the name of Christ. What is meant by asking the Father in that name? Can it be merely saying “in His name” at the end of a prayer? When Christ died and rose again, He gave the believer His own standing before God, and then to ask the Father in the name of Christ is to ask in the consciousness that my Father loves me as He loves Christ; that my Father has given me the acceptance of Christ Himself before Him, having completely blotted out all my evil, so as to be made the righteousness of God in Him. To pray in the value of this is asking in His name. Is there a soul using the Lord’s prayer as a form that has a real understanding of what it is to ask the Father in the name of Christ? I believe they have never entered into that great truth.” -- Notes on Matthew by W. Kelly.

The latter is, alas! too true; “they have never entered into that great truth.” How sad to see the great mass of professing Christians without a knowledge of what grace has done, without assurance of salvation, constantly “unchristianizing” themselves, cumbered with much service, running to and fro. -- A.C.G.

The Christian believer, knowing his perfect standing in Christ Jesus, prays in His name, and that is prayer in the Holy Spirit, who now joins His help to our weakness; for we do not know what we should pray for as is fitting, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26 ). We glance but briefly at a few of the petitions to show how a Christian believer could not use this model of prayer as a form. However, we desire to state once more the perfection of the prayer. Every word here is as divine as He who spoke it. There could be no imperfection about anything He uttered. Many volumes have been written on it and many more might be written to show the perfection of every petition.

As believers we know that our Lord gave the promise and has fulfilled it by the gift of the Holy Spirit, “That if any love Me, he will keep My word and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” We are brought nigh by His blood, and in the person of an adorable Lord we are in heaven seated with Him in the heavenlies. The “Our Father who art in heaven” does not give expression to this nor could it be before the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord. “Hallowed be thy name” is Jewish. Indeed, the Jewish ritual uses the phrase very often. The believer exalts “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Him whom God has exalted and made head over all things.”

“Thy kingdom come.” This petition is for the coming of the kingdom, the kingdom of the heavens, the Messianic Kingdom, which is followed by the doing of the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. Here Christendom is the most confused, expecting a kingdom now; a spiritual kingdom without a king. What our Lord taught His Jewish disciples to pray for is the kingdom of the heavens to come, that which John the Baptist preached, and also the Lord up to the time of His rejection. As Believers we do not wait for the coming of the King and the establishment of the kingdom in the earth, but we wait for the coming of the Lord to take us out of the earth. The prayer of the Church is, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” And the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Without enlarging on the other petitions or attempting a full exposition of them in their full and perfect meaning we wish only to say that this prayer will be heard once more in the earth and will then be used as it was once used by the Jewish disciples when they were sent forth by our Lord. When the Church is taken from the earth a believing Jewish remnant will give the witness and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom once more. They will undoubtedly use this prayer during the great tribulation through which they will pass, the tribulation in which the evil one is in the earth and famine and many temptations will abound. Then can they truthfully ask, “Give us this day our daily bread -- lead us not into temptations -- deliver us from the evil one,” which is the personal Antichrist. “Thy kingdom come.” This prayer will be answered, deliverance will come for them from heaven in the coming of the King. (We pass over the petition, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is a legal, an Old Testament petition. Our forgiveness does not depend upon our relation to each other.)

Then our Lord speaks in connection with prayer of the spirit of forgiveness which every one who is in relationship with God as Father should exercise. If such a spirit of love and patience towards those who have done evil against us is not practiced, it means that we cannot enjoy full communion with Him. Therefore, “let all bitterness, and heat of passion, and wrath, and clamor and injurious language be removed from you, with all malice; and be to one another kind, compassionate, forgiving one another, so as God also in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32 ). That which relates to ourself follows next: “And when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, downcast in countenance, for they disfigure their faces so that they may appear fasting to men; verily I say to you, they have their reward. But thou when fasting anoint thy head and wash thy face, so that thou mayest not appear fasting unto men, but to thy Father, who sees in secret; and thy Father who sees in secret shall render it to thee.” Here once more we have the wrong motive and the true. It was done by the hypocrites in just the way spoken of here. It was an attitude of humiliation of the body, denying self, but only as to be seen of men. What else has been and is all the fasting and asceticism as it has been fostered in Christendom? If one does fast, let the fasting be done in secret as unto the Father and not to appear before men.

In the second half of the sixth chapter we are taken upon another ground. The heirs of the kingdom are seen in this section as in the world, subject to the cares and temptations of the wilderness. We must not lose sight here of its Jewish application. When our Lord sent forth His disciples in the tenth chapter to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom He gave them instructions how they should go about, depending in all things upon their Father in heaven. The disciples thus sent forth with the preaching of the Kingdom Gospel are the types of another Jewish remnant which is to preach once more in a future day the same Gospel, “The Kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh.” To this remnant going through the tribulation the exhortations have a special application. However, we pass this by and apply it to ourselves as believers, for all which our Lord speaks in this section is for every member of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, as such, who are in the earth, pilgrims and strangers, waiting for the coming of the Lord. We are in the world though not of the world, hated by the world as the world hated Him, but in this world we are exposed to all the temptations and the cares and sorrows connected with an earthly life which are ever coming upon the believer. Our Lord tells us now how to behave in the midst of these scenes, passing through the wilderness, what our privileges and comforts are. -- “Lay not up for yourself treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust spoils, and where thieves dig through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust spoils, and where thieves do not dig through and steal; for where thy treasure is, there will be also thy heart.” -- The natural man lives for the earthly things and strives for the things which are seen. His delight is in treasures which are here below, and connected with this life is care, worry, anxiety and at last the loss of that which was cherished and loved. As believers born again we have a new nature and belong no longer to the earth, but we belong to heaven. “If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above, where the Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: have your mind on the things which are above, not on the things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2 ). “We look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things which are seen are for a time, but those that are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 ). While, then, this is our calling it is nevertheless true that the heirs of the kingdom are constantly in danger in this present evil age to forget that they are but pilgrims and strangers here. Alas! only too many are like Lot, pitching first the tent towards Sodom and getting there altogether after a while. In these days especially the danger is exceedingly great and the heavenly calling, the laying up of treasures in heaven is often put into a secondary place. The exhortations in the Epistles are but a continuation by the Holy Spirit of this word of our Lord. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many unwise and hurtful lusts, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is the root of every evil; which some having aspired after, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-11 ). “Enjoin on those rich in the present age not to be high-minded, nor to trust in the uncertainty of riches; but in God who affords us all things richly for our enjoyment; to do good, to be rich in good works, to be liberal in distributing, disposed to communicate of their substance” (1 Timothy 6:17-18 ). “Let your conversation be without the love of money, satisfied with your present circumstances” (Hebrews 13:5 ). How great the danger of looking back to Egypt ! But as we follow the exhortation and lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven and that in view of the judgment seat of Christ, where we shall receive the rewards, our heart will surely be there. Thus having our treasures there and laying them up there they are not alone secure, but our heart will constantly be drawn there and in this way kept from the earthly things. And where do our thoughts mostly rest -- on earthly or heavenly things? If our thoughts are here surely our treasure cannot be in heaven.

Our Lord continues: “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body will be light; but if thine eye be wicked, thy whole body will be dark: If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great the darkness.”

These are most solemn words. The believer has a spiritual nature, a heart in which he sees, “being enlightened in the eyes of your heart” (Ephesians 1:18 ). The Word of God is the light and the entrance of His Word bringeth light. The eye, the heart single -- that is looking only above to the heavenlies, the whole body will be light, there will be not only a realization of a heavenly calling but also a walk worthy of this high calling, a heavenly walk. But light rejected becomes darkness, and how great the darkness! Truth given, light flashed forth from the Word and not used and acted upon, leads into the grossest darkness. (This is the deplorable state of thousands of believers.)

Therefore a double service is impossible. We cannot serve two masters. It is impossible that the eye could look at the same time to the earth and to heaven. Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4 ). Is it then a hard path which we have in the wilderness with no comfort? No, for the very next words of our Lord bring to our hearts that sweet and precious comfort which only he can enjoy who with the single eye looks to things above and walks in separation from the world.

These words (Matthew 6:25-34 ) tell us that we have a Father who careth, a Father who knows and who loves. He who feedeth the birds of heaven provides surely more abundantly for those who are much better than they, and all He asks is trust in Him. “Be not careful” -- oh, how blessedly it sounds -- oh, how full and rich it comes to the believer’s heart. And again it is written “Be careful about nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ). Be not careful for your life, what ye shall eat. ... Be careful for nothing. ... Yet how slow we are to learn it. Anxiety and care, hurry and worry, these God-dishonoring works of the flesh are ever coming up again. How true George Mueller used to say:

“Where anxiety begins faith ends, Where faith begins anxiety ends.”

The lesson can only be learned in constant dependence upon Him in seeking the things which are above.

And what does anxiety and care accomplish after all? “But which of you by being careful can add to his growth one cubit? And why are you careful about clothing?” etc. (Matthew 6:27-33 ). We are then utterly helpless in ourselves. Alas! how often we look in our anxiety, in sickness and in health to something in ourselves and to men and man’s help and not to Him in whose hands we are so secure and leave it all with Him, committing our way unto the Lord. And all this is applicable to even the smallest matters of the daily life. Seeking then first of all the kingdom of God and His righteousness -- that is, the things which are above -- the promise is given, all things shall be added unto you.

And there is another characteristic about anxiety. It looks unbelievingly ahead. Unbelief draws dark pictures of despair and occupies the mind with a day which may never come. How different it ought to be and will be if we but follow His word, “Be not careful then as to the morrow, for the morrow will be careful for itself: sufficient for the day is its own evil.”

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 6". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". 1913-1922.