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Kingdom Priorities
Verse Commentary on Matthew 6:19-34

Jirair Tashjian

In the previous passage (Matt 5), the focus was on the blessings and responsibilities of the kingdom of God. The disciples of Jesus were to be salt and light so that the world "may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). This passage deals with one of those good deeds, the requirement that a disciple trust God completely and seek His kingdom first and foremost (Matthew 6:19-34).

1. Treasures on Earth and Treasures in Heaven (6:19-21)

19. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

19-20. These verses contrast treasures on earth with treasures in heaven. Do not store up . . . treasures. In Greek the verb and the noun have the same root and can be literally translated, "Do not treasure up treasures." A treasure is not only the stored object but also the place of safe keeping. Where a treasure is stored is just as critical as the stored object itself.

Moth was a symbol of destruction, particularly of clothing (cf. Isaiah 51:8; James 5:2). In the ancient world clothing symbolized wealth and status and was often used as dowry.

The Greek word for rust is literally "eating" or "eater." Rust implies that the hoarded treasure is a precious metal subject to corrosion. Yet, silver and gold do not rust. Some commentators think "worm" might be a better translation, implying that the stored treasure is food. Regardless of the exact figure, the meaning is quite clear. Treasures hoarded on earth, whether food, garments or money, are never secure.

Thieves break in. The Greek verb literally means "dig through." Palestinian houses were built with mud bricks, which made it easy for burglars to dig through walls.

21. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In Jewish thought the heart represented a person's very being. Two alternatives are available to a person: heaven or earth. Which of the two one chooses determines one's destiny.

2. A Good Eye and an Evil Eye (6:22-23)

22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

22. The focus has shifted from the heart to the eye. "The eye is the lamp of the body" was probably a popular proverb whose truth was taken for granted. Yet, Jesus seems to challenge this popular notion. The eye, this very source of light, may itself have a problem. If the eye is good, healthy and transparent, all is well. But what if it is not?

23. The Greek word for bad literally means evil.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! It is clear that Jesus was not speaking simply of the physical eye. His concern was for the spiritual health of the disciples.

But what is this inner light of the disciples? And how can such light be darkness? In the Parable of the Vineyard Workers (Matthew 20:1-15), when those who worked all day grumbled that they were paid the same wages as those who worked only one hour, the owner said to one of the grumbling workers, "Are you envious because I am generous?" (20:15). The Greek literally reads, "Is your eye evil because I myself am good?" The evil eye has to do with envy over money matters.

When money becomes a priority in a disciple's life, it snuffs out the lamp of the gospel and turns it into utter darkness. Prosperity aborts Christian discipleship.

3. God and Mammon (6:24)

24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

24. The two words "serve" and "masters" refer to a slave's relationship to a slave-owner. In antiquity it was in fact possible to belong to more than one master, as Acts 16:16 indicates. Jesus means that one cannot serve two masters equally well or at the same time.

Hate and love in Hebraic thought do not mean two extreme and opposite emotions. They often mean less or more love (compare Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37). Similarly, despise means to be less devoted.

The verse ends with a summary statement: You cannot serve both God and Money. The Greek word for Money is Mammon, which was taken from Aramaic, the language of Jesus. It meant wealth, property, or possessions, without the negative connotation usually attached to it.

The Greek word for serve means to be a slave to someone. So the meaning here is that while possessions are neither good nor evil in themselves, one cannot be a slave to possessions and be a disciple in the kingdom of God.

3. Human Anxiety and Divine Care (6:25-34)

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

25. Do not worry about your life. Jesus intended to free his disciples from worry, not from work.

Life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes. This statement is puzzling in view of the fact that life would be impossible without food, and the body needs clothing for protection. How can one be concerned for one's life without any concern for food or clothing?

The word life, which in Greek is also the word for "soul", refers not only to biological life but more importantly to the totality of a person's purposeful existence in the presence of God. In Matthew 16:26 Jesus says, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?"

In these statements, the distinction is not between soul and body. Hebraic thought, unlike Greek philosophy, did not make such a distinction. The distinction is rather between a life which has meaning and purpose derived from God and a life that is merely concerned with the drudgery of daily existence.

In verses 26-30 Jesus explains this truth by giving two illustrations from the world of nature. The first is in verse 26 and the second is in verses 28-30; verse 27 is a digression that interrupts the two illustrations.

26. This first illustration has to do with the birds of the air. These statements of Jesus raise difficult questions for Christians. What about birds that starve to death? Worse yet, what about people who trust God and yet have no food? Is Jesus encouraging his disciples to be lazy? Is it wrong to earn a decent income to provide for one's family or future retirement?

When Jesus said the birds of the air do not sow or reap or store away in barns, he implied that these were normal and necessary human activities. Yet, he also meant that his disciples must live in complete trust in God's providence rather than finding their security in their ability to make a living. The disciples must pray, "Give us today our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). God provides not simply because people grow food and work, as necessary as that is, but because they are more valuable than birds.

27. The Greek word for a "single hour" is a cubit, which was a measure of approximately eighteen inches. The word for life can also mean stature or height. Thus the meaning is either life expectancy or height. In either case, it is utterly useless to worry.

28. The second illustration has to do with the lilies of the field. The Greek word for lilies means generic wild flowers or "weeds" that grow on their own without cultivation (see v. 30).

Whereas in v. 26 the human activities of sowing, reaping and storing refer to men's work, the activities described in verse 28 as labor and spin refer to women's work. This implies that there were women among the followers of Jesus.

29. Not even Solomon, the Israelite king whose splendor was well known (1 Kings 10:4-5), was a match to the dazzling beauty of wild flowers.

30. Since wood was scarce in Palestine, dry grass was used for fire. Even such short-lived weeds whose destiny was the fire were the object of God's care.

O you of little faith. This gentle rebuke, which is one word in Greek, is always addressed to the disciples (Matthew 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20). It is a clue that Jesus was about to teach his disciples a deeper lesson in faith.

31. Verses 31-33 are a summary of what was said above.

People in any age or any culture ask such questions as "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" But the common people of Galilee literally asked such questions. Unemployment was high, as indicated by the idle workers in Matthew 20:1-15. There were many beggars. Economic conditions were desperate.

Yet even more specifically, Jesus spoke these words to disciples who had left everything to follow him (Matthew 4:20). "What then will there be for us?" they asked (Matthew 19:27). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus was in effect saying to them, Don't worry! God will provide.

32. Perhaps "gentiles" would be a better translation of the Greek word for pagans (NASB, NRSV, NKJV). The NIV translates this same Greek word as "nations" or "gentiles" in other places in Matthew (10:18; 28:19). The word indicates non-Jews. Gentiles or pagans were singled out here not because of racial bias but because they worshiped many gods in contrast to Jews who worshiped the one true God. People who don't know God as heavenly Father are prone to run after all these things.

33. To seek first the kingdom of God means to be single-minded in one's pursuit of the life of discipleship. It must become the only concern, in the light of which all other concerns are judged. On one occasion, when a would-be disciple asked Jesus to allow him first to go and bury his father, Jesus tersely replied, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:22).

Jesus never defined the kingdom of God. It simply means God is absolute king in one's life, whatever that may imply in individual cases. In one sense, God as creator has always been sovereign king. In another sense, He must be made king deliberately by individuals who submit to His rule and authority.

The kingdom of God is not an arbitrary power. Its most important characteristic is righteousness. This is a very important concept in Matthew. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said to his disciples, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." But righteousness was also a very important quality required of the people of God in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the Pharisees and teachers of the law had reduced this demand of God into a manageable list of rules and regulations. Jesus was not saying that more was required of the disciples than the Old Testament standard of righteousness. He was simply calling his disciples to the kind of righteousness that God had always demanded of His people. It meant to "be perfect... as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

When the kingdom of God and His righteousness become a consuming passion in a disciple's life, all these things will be given in addition. The verb here means to add something more to what has already been given. The kingdom of God is the primary gift. When one is so consumed with the joy of finding the kingdom of God, other things diminish in value. It is like the man in the parable who found a treasure in the field and in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44).

34. This verse concludes the section that began at verse 25 with the same words, do not worry. Here we find a more pessimistic view of life than the previous verse.

Each day has enough trouble of its own. The optimistic promise in verse 33 must be put side by side with the harsh realities of life that disciples may face. They were to live a day at a time, trusting God for the daily bread and leaving tomorrow in His hands. A beggar is concerned for enough food for one day.

-Jirair Tashjian, Copyright © 2013, Jirair Tashjian
and The Christian Resource Institute - All Rights Reserved
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