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Matthew 6:16-24

Jesus has been speaking to the Jews about their acts of piety toward God, which most Jews thought would
result in meritorious reward from God - possibly even salvation.

Jesus has shown that God will look at the motive of their hearts - whether these pious acts were done for
the praise of men, or for their heavenly Father alone.

But the Father would still only be able to recompense the pious Jew in exact accordance with his work -
and this, assuming he was keeping the Law perfectly, as well.

Could pious acts ever earn the Jew a way into the kingdom of God? Never; that exceedingly great reward
is reserved for those who come to God by faith in the One whom He sent - Jesus.

Last time, we looked at the example of prayer that Jesus gave to the Jews - a prayer that a true son of God
might offer, to his Father in heaven.

Jesus emphasized with the Jews how their forgiveness by God was dependent upon them forgiving all
others, who offend them. Of course, only someone who has received the love of the Father in Christ can
truly forgive.

For these unbelieving Jews, this would leave them in a state of unforgiveness, with God - resulting in their
final condemnation, by Him. What we recognize is that Jesus was continuing to reveal to the Jews just how
poor in spirit, they actually were.

Jesus then returned to His discussion of Jewish piety, with one last meritorious act, which the Jews
performed, toward God; fasting.

This begins in verse 16.

[Matthew 6:16-18]

It’s interesting that there is nothing in the Law about the Jews being called to fast, on a regular or personal
basis. The only call to fasting was on the Day of Atonement.

On that day each year, the High Priest made atonement for the sins of all the children of Israel. It was a day
when the people were to “afflict their souls” (Lev 16:29). The idea in this is self-inflicted inner pain,
expressing contrition.

The Day of Atonement was a Sabbath of solemn rest (Lev 16:31); the people were to do no work on that
day, which would include preparing food. This fast allowed the people to devote their undivided attention
to “afflicting their souls”. What do you think the LORD’s intended goal was, for the people afflicting their
souls? Genuine repentance for their sins.

Although fasting is not otherwise commanded in the Law, we find numerous examples of individual Jews
fasting (2 Sam 12:16-20, 1 Ki 21:27-29, Dan 9:1-3), as well as the nation, as whole (Judg 20:24-27, 2 Chr
20:1-4, Est 4:16) - frequently in response to a special and urgent situation. In association with prayer,
fasting often served as a humbling act of submission to God, with the supplicant seeking God’s intervention
and aid.
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However, the OT reveals that fasting was not always done with sincerity (Is 58:1-10, Jer 14:12). By the
time of Jesus, fasting had generally become externalized as an empty ritual, in which a pretense of piety
was presented as a public image - as Jesus shows here.

In fact, fasting became the distinguishing mark of the pious Jew. There were both public and private fast
days; voluntary and involuntary fasts; fasts that accompanied vows, prayers, and penitence - at least,
outward remorse, that is. And all fasts of the Jews were assumed to be meritorious acts, which would earn
them reward with God.

But just as for almsgiving and prayer, Jesus indicates that it comes down to the motive of the heart. Once
again, Jesus uses the scribes and the Pharisees as His example, of religious hypocrisy.

Many of them would fast frequently; some, twice a week (Lk 17:12). And when they were fasting,
everyone knew it - by their change in personal grooming.

Besides washing the face, it was common in that arid climate to rub oil into the skin and hair, to protect and
condition them. But those who wanted others to know that they were fasting didn’t do this; in fact, the
word in verse 16 translated “disfigured”, literally “to make invisible”, probably is used to indicate the
practice of covering the face with ashes, during a fast.

You might say they were hiding their faces, in order for their fasts to be seen! But just in case others didn’t
notice, they also made sure that their pious misery was evident by the expression they wore, on their faces.

Jesus tells the Jews that the approval of men is all that these religious hypocrites would have - for that is
what they were seeking. God cannot approve of that which is not done for Him. Instead, the fasting Jew
should present himself before men in his regular manner; well-groomed, with a smile on his face; and in
that way, his fasting would be offered to his Father in secret.

For the Jew who did this, still of course seeking to be accepted on the basis of his works, the Father would
not reward, but recompense him for his effort - providing there was no motive in his heart except to please
God. But could an unbelieving Jew really have such selfless motivation? Not any more than any other
natural man.

It’s interesting that, just as fasting is not commanded in the Law (except on the Day of Atonement), we also
don’t find any exhortation concerning it, in the church letters. In the book of Acts, we find a couple of
occasions upon which believers fast, in seeking the Lord’s will together (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). Paul also
suggests fasting and prayer, on one occasion (1 Cor 7:5).

So where does this leave the believer, with fasting? I would say it leaves him with fasting if the Lord
shows him to do so - for the Lord’s purposes, with him.

This would never include ascetic fasting - an extended fast in which the body is being starved for food, and
the mind begins to hallucinate. Paul wrote to the Colossians that these things indeed have an appearance of
wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the
indulgence of the flesh (Col 2:23).

Jesus then continued teaching the Jews, on what might seem to be an entirely new subject. We continue in
verse 19.

[Matthew 6:19-24]
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At first we might be inclined to think that Jesus has moved on to something completely new here. He
begins speaking of treasures, in verses 19 through 21 - wealth, riches. Then He continues with an enigmatic
statement about eyes and light and darkness, in verses 22-23. And then Jesus speaks in verse 24 about
serving God, or serving mammon - a word sometimes used for riches. So, is the subject wealth? But what
about verse 23? Is that different?

In fact, what we find in this teaching of Jesus are three contrasts, each a unique perspective on a choice all
men make, which Jesus is laying out before the Jews: the choice between heaven and earth; between God
and this world; between the spiritual and the material.

And it is closely associated with what Jesus had just been teaching the Jews about their acts of piety -
which, in being done for the praise of men, would not earn them a heavenly reward.

Jesus draws on the theme of reward from their Father in heaven (6:1) - a reward that the Jews greatly
desired - speaking of it under the metaphor of treasure.

But first Jesus speaks of actual treasures, on earth. In verse 19, He exhorts the Jews not to lay up for
themselves treasures on earth - literally, “Do not treasure up for yourselves treasures on earth”. The form
of the verb suggests that Jesus was commanding them to stop doing this. What does that tell you? They
were doing this.

So what was the nature of these “treasures”? They were things that could be destroyed by moth and rust.
The word Jesus used in the Greek is not the common word for rust, but a word that simply means “eating”.
He may not have had rust in mind, at all; but instead, vermin; rats - mice - eaters - that nibble away at

What kind of “treasure” could moths and vermin eat away at? Clothing. Costly garments were highly
valued, in that day; many changes of fine expensive apparel were one kind of treasure, that could be stored
up - a way of amassing material wealth. But they could be easily destroyed, by these pests; consumed by
them; and then they would have no value in this world, at all.

Jesus also mentions treasure that thieves could break in and steal. This would refer to things such as
precious metals - coins - or gemstones. People usually kept such treasures in their homes; they didn’t have
banking institutions, to speak of.

The word for “break in” actually means to dig through - a vivid description of a burglar’s forced entry
through the mud-brick wall of a house. It’s not difficult to break through clay.

So is Jesus saying that earning money is wrong? Or that saving money is wrong? No; both are necessary
in this world, and with the changing circumstances of life. That is not the point Jesus is making, at all.

The point is not to “treasure that treasure”; not to invest yourself in it - count upon it - as being your
“treasure” - why not? Because that treasure is not going to last, is it?

Clothing will eventually deteriorate and wear out, not to mention the moths and the vermin. And there’s no
security in money and gems; they tend to be here today, gone tomorrow - even if it isn’t thieves who break
in and steal them. Jesus is not saying don’t have it, or don’t use it. He’s saying, don’t make that your
treasure - what you highly value, in your life.
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Instead, Jesus said to the Jews, start treasuring up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Now, what are
treasures in heaven? Well, we can see they’re not like treasure on earth; they can’t be eaten away by moths
and vermin, like clothing; they can’t be stolen, like coins and gems.

But Jesus did intend those things as a metaphor for the Jews, for the treasures they could have, in heaven.
As clothing is the covering for the body - the outer man - so the body is the covering for the inner man - the
soul of spirit-being.

Due to sin, the earthly body is subject to the corruption of death. Like the moth or the vermin, Death
consumes the body.

And the Jews would have understood this metaphor. Turn to Job chapter 13. It was during the time of his
great affliction that Job uttered these words.

[Job 13:28] From this early record, man understood the body to be like a garment for the inner man - a
garment that was subject to the decay of death.

[Return to Matthew 6]

So what would be the heavenly treasure that Jesus was exhorting the Jews to seek, that neither moth nor
vermin could eat away at? A glorified body of spirit-life - a body in which the inner man can live, forever.

Peter spoke of this heavenly treasure. Turn to First Peter chapter 1. Peter was writing primarily to Jewish
believers who had been scattered into Asia Minor, due to persecution.

We’ll begin with the body of the letter, in verse 3.

[First Peter 1:3-9]

v. 3 The Father had begotten us - given us life - when we were born in the flesh, as sons of Adam. Jesus
came in a flesh body prepared for Him, and through His death and resurrection, brought forth eternal life
for the body, for mankind.

When we believed into the Lord Jesus Christ, we were begotten again by the Father as His sons; born of
the Spirit to that living hope - of an eternally living body.

Peter goes on to describe that body as an inheritance - for we received it through the death of God’s son.

v. 4 the body of glory cannot be corrupted or defiled - death cannot destroy it - and it will not fade away,
speaking of the passage of time - it is an eternal body. It is reserved for the believer in heaven in the sense
that from God’s eternal perspective, outside of time, it’s already there - and the believer, already in it.

v. 5 The perspective on salvation here is not deliverance from sin, but from death. God has secured the
believer through the work of Christ; the believer already has eternal life, in him, and God’s Seed remains in
him, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).

The revelation in the last time will be when that eternal life bears the fruit of a glorified body, when Jesus
returns for His true church.
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So Peter has written of the heavenly inheritance, awaiting the believer - a glorified body of spirit-life. That
was just part of the treasures, that Jesus spoke of, to the Jews. But He alluded to more than that, which
Peter writes of also, as he continues.

v. 6-9 Peter writes of faith; much more precious than gold that perishes. What the Christ One possesses,
concerning the Lord Jesus Christ - that which he has taken in of Jesus, that which he has genuinely
believed, as proven by God’s testing of him, in the trials of his life - that’s the heavenly treasure that he has,
in his inner man. The truth he has believed for himself of Jesus will be transmuted to glory, the outshining
of his Lord that he will possess in his heavenly body, for eternity.

The completed salvation of the soul of the believer (v. 9) - the inner man - is when it is delivered from
death, through the glorification of his body.

Jesus has told the Jews that a thief could break through and steal a man’s earthly treasure; breaking through
that clay wall of his house. But Death will be powerless to break into the glorified body, and steal the soul
of one whom Christ has saved. For the one who has treasured the heavenly treasure, Christ will assure his
eternal security.

[Return to Matthew 6]

Of course, the Jews listening to Jesus that day did not have Peter’s words, to clarify everything He was
saying. But their Scriptures told them that the righteous who sleep in the dust of the earth would awake to
eternal life (Dan 12:2-3); their bodies would be raised from death.

And David suggested that his treasure would be when he saw the LORD’s face in righteousness; when he
awoke in the LORD’s likeness (Ps 17:13-15), again alluding to the resurrection from the dead.

In addition, the Jews also had the witness of Job, one of the predecessors to the nation. Turn to Job chapter
19. This was what Job declared, from the midst of his suffering.

[Job 19:25-27] Job looked forward to his future hope, when his living Redeemer came to the earth to set up
His kingdom, and Job was raised from the dead in a body of glorified flesh, to see Him. This was Job’s
certain hope; what his heart yearned to become his present reality; and it is what every Jew desired - to
awake to eternal life, in the kingdom of God.

[Return to Matthew 6]

Jesus said, where the Jew’s treasure is, there his heart will be, also. But this doesn’t mean what the Jew
stores up for himself determines where he will set his heart. The actions don’t direct the heart; it’s the other
way around; the heart directs the actions.

What Jesus is saying is that the actions reveal where the heart is. If it is seen that a man devotes himself to
earthly treasure, it’s because that’s what he values in his heart. Likewise, if a man values the heavenly in
his heart, that will determine how he lives.

Jesus was saying to the Jews, stop treasuring earthly things; start valuing that which is truly heavenly. The
examples of piety Jesus has raised brought out this idea; the hypocrites sought earthly reward - the praise of
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Jesus was saying, seek the heavenly reward of the Father - as a glorified, ever-living son of God. He will
continue to point to this, and the way to obtain it - by faith - throughout His entire discourse.

Having spoken of the heart, Jesus now continues with new imagery, to bring out a point concerning it.

v. 22-23 So Jesus has changed His imagery to light and darkness, to make a new, but related point. He
begins with the organ of the body which takes in light - the eye - calling it the lamp of the body. We
normally think of a lamp as radiating light, but in the illustration, the idea is that the eye enlightens the
body, by enabling it to see.

That’s if the eye is good, meaning healthy. This word for “good” in the Greek is unusual. It actually means
“single”. A healthy eye sees things singly, and not doubly; it sees things right; without distortion.

And how about a bad eye - meaning unhealthy, here? It doesn’t see things right, does it? And if it is bad
enough, the person cannot see by it, at all; they’re left in the dark.

When you’re in the dark, you don’t know where you’re going. You can be going the wrong way, and you
not know it. Which means you can wind up somewhere you never intended.

Jesus used the word “lamp” intentionally here, to make a connection for the Jews between His illustration
and their Scriptures; to a proverb they would know well. Turn to Proverbs chapter 20.

[Proverb 20:27]

The spirit is the innermost part of a man - the inner depths of his heart. It is the part of a man by which he
has consciousness of God; awareness of Him. By his spirit, man can understand spiritual realities; and as a
believer, he can understand the deep spiritual realities of God, and have fellowship with Him, through his
spirit - spirit being of humanity, to Spirit Being of Deity.

The writer calls man’s spirit the lamp of the LORD. Through it, the LORD searches out the motives and
intents of the heart, and reveals them to a man - who doesn’t really know his own heart.

The LORD can get men to see the truth, about themselves - and to see if they are in accord with the LORD’s
standard of righteousness - if they are willing to see it. The spirit of man is what takes in this light of truth
from God, so that the man can see - like the eye does, the body.

But not everyone wants to see that, do they? They want to live by their own standard of righteousness - a
relative standard, based on what they consider to be “their truth”. We hear that often, in our day. Everyone
has their truth. There’s only one truth - God’s truth - and anything that is not in line with God’s truth is not
some “other truth”; it’s a lie.

[Return to Matthew 6]

Jesus spoke of the light that is in the Jews being darkness. The problem was that their “eye” was bad. In
their spirits, they were willfully blind to the truth that God had given to them, in their Law and their
Prophets; in their Scriptures (Rm 10:3). The Word of God sought to enlighten the Jews to their spiritual
impoverishment, to their need to repent and turn to the one who could save them from sin and death - their
Messiah, Jesus.
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But most of the Jews refused to take in that light. Instead, they chose to take in another light - the religion
of Judaism - which revealed the way to God, through a system of works. It was a false light, that
illuminated a false way. But the Jews, taking that in, now had the darkness in them - and it kept them from
seeing the truth.

How great is that darkness, Jesus declared. The Jew was going the wrong way, and couldn’t see it; he was
going to wind up somewhere he never intended - where the darkness would envelop him, forever.

But the Lord is powerful; He is able to restore sight to the blind, isn’t He? Jesus was attempting to do that,
right now; to get the Jews to see the truth; to take in the true light. They must take off the blinders of
religion, in order to pursue the heavenly treasure.

Now, religion provides men with the illusion - for themselves and for others - that they are pleasing God;
while in reality, the individual continues to have the say, over his life - and to live to please himself. He
does so by pursuing the strong desires of his flesh and of his mind - for which he seeks satisfaction in the
material world.

As Jesus continued to teach the Jews, He points out to them that if they truly want to pursue God and enter
His kingdom, their pursuit must be whole-hearted.

v. 24 The statement that Jesus made loses some of its punch because of the way it is translated. In the
context, the Greek word for “serve” would be better translated “be a slave of”.

Service can be rendered to various individuals; but a slave virtually always had only one master, which is
the idea Jesus is presenting to the Jews.

No one can be a slave of two masters. A slave always does the bidding of his master; he lives to obey his
master. A slave that had two masters would have a conflict of interest, if the wills of the masters did not

Here Jesus presents two masters - God, man’s rightful master, and mammon. So what’s mammon? It was
an idol worshipped by pagans as the god of riches; of material treasure. In the Aramaic, it came to mean
possessions or money; but Jesus appears to be personifying it here; for some Jews had, in effect, dedicated
themselves to following after it, in their quest for earthly gain.

The problem was that this master was always in direct conflict with man’s rightful master, God. Mammon
would have man serve himself, out of love for himself. But God would have man serve others - and to do
so out of love for God. That’s a real conflict of interest!

The only solution is to have just one master. The Jews desired for God to take them into His possession, as
part of His kingdom, but Jesus warned them this meant that God must become their one and only master;
their Lord.

Nothing less than undivided, single-hearted loyalty constitutes acceptable service to God. Worldly desires
have no place in the heavenly kingdom.

Their treasure: valuing the heavenly. Their light: taking in the heavenly. Their master: devotion to the
heavenly. All choices; all matters of the heart. The Jew was getting a new vision, as to what the kingdom
of heaven was like. And as Jesus continues, we’ll see it could also give him new perspective concerning
things on earth.
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Reading: Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:15-34; 1 Tim 6:6-19; Eccl 5:10-20.