- Identify the Passage to be studied.
I will be studying Matthew 6:1-4.
- Who wrote the book in which my passage is found?
The author of this book is technically anonymous, yet it is attributed to the apostle Matthew (Arnold 3).
- Who were the original readers of the book?
The original readers of the book were the Jews, yet Gentiles are not excluded from these messages (Arnold 7).
- When was the book written?
The exact date is uncertain, but scholars traditionally date this Gospel around 60 A.D. (Arnold 7).
- What circumstances or events in the lives of the author and the readers may have moved the author to write the book?
Matthew’s purpose in writing this Gospel is to establish the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, and that he is the one to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament. Matthew is also claiming the identity of the church as “God’s true people, who transcended ethnic, economic, and religious barriers” (Arnold 7). Matthew is also heavily focusing on what being a disciple of Jesus looks like (Arnold 7).
- What types of literature (what genres) do my passages and the book within which It is found represent? What are the characteristics of this genre (or these genres)?
Matthew is written as a narrative. It is uniquely structured, switching between narratives and teaching discourses (Clifford 109). These are put into a chiastic structure with chapter 13 as the center. This technique allows for a neat and structured outline for the book (Clifford 113). Matthew also contains miracle stories and parables in the narrative sections (Albright cxxiv-cxxxii).
- What are the major themes or emphasis of the book in which my passage is found?
Matthew’s book has several key themes which include: the bridge between the Old and New Testament, the new community of faith, the church (being built and maintained by Jesus’ continual presence), a “great commission” for evangelism and mission, and a focus on discipleship (Arnold 3).
Place your passage in its literary context.
- How does your passage fit into the flow of the book?
Matthew 6:1-4 is a section of scripture taken from the first discourse, which is the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount takes place in chapter 5-7 in this gospel. This sermon is addressed to all of Israel that is gathered to hear Jesus speak. In this sermon, Jesus is teaching his followers how to live their lives as obedient disciples of God (Harrington 76). The overall purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus wants to transform his hearers by teaching them the proper way of discipleship (Clifford 220). Jesus’s authority shows through in this discourse as he is being shown in the role of a teacher (Brooke 48). These followers of Jesus already recognize his authority and great power, but they need to recognize him as a teacher and want to be taught by him. Chapter 5 includes the beatitudes and the commands (antithesis) that is given by Jesus. Chapter 6 follows with the devotions and goals. Chapter 7 focuses on the sums and warnings that Jesus gives. Matthew 6:1-4 comes from the devotion section of chapter six (Harrington76).
- How does it advance the overall message or carry important themes of the book?
The main issue that is addressed in this passage is the motives behind personal acts of piety (Keener 136). Jesus is teaching his followers that in order to receive rewards from God, they must be obedient disciples and work at their relationship with the Lord. This passage focuses on developing the key theme of discipleship and Jesus as a teacher (Martens).
- How does it relate to the material before it and the material after it?
This passage directly correlates to the passages before and preceding it. This passage follows the beatitudes and antitheses sections of chapter 5. In this third part of the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 6), Jesus teaches on these three actions of piety: Almsgiving (1-4), prayer(5-15), and fasting(16-18). Following these sections is the Lord’s prayer and teachings of the forgiveness of sins. These three teaching sections all encompass the same message which is the avoidance of displaying ones acts of piety. For each of these acts, Jesus is criticizing those who bring recognition to their own fasting, those who pray in public for the purpose of being seen, and those who spotlight their own almsgiving. Jesus is calling attention to the motives behind these acts of piety, for if they are not pure, there will be no further reward from God (Harrington 96). These three sections give an image of the discipleship we should strive to develop (Clifford 199-206). The last section of the Sermon is chapter seven, which deals with the treatment of others and wraps up the discourse of the Sermon on the Mount (Clifford 217) All three chapters in this sermon are filled with the teachings of Jesus, on how to be better disciples of God (Martens)
Discuss in detail the passage verse-by-verse, paying close attention to the flow of thought in the text.
Note: The verses quoted are taken from the NIV version.
- 6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your father in heaven.”
This first sentence in chapter six introduces and summarizes the topics to be addressed in the rest of the chapter. Jesus is telling his followers to not demonstrate their own piety, which include alms, prayer, and fasting, in public with the intent to be seen by others (Arnold 43). The first sentence of this verse is focusing on practicing these acts of piety “to be seen by others”. Those last five words define the warning Jesus is giving. Jesus is leading to the fact that approval from man hold no weight in the kingdom of God, that true piety is impressing God alone and his approval is all that matters (Keener 135). Although Jesus warns about seeking public attention, he is not saying to not let anyone see your good deeds. Public acts will most certainly receive attention from others, but what is of concern is if you are doing these acts for God’s glory or if we are doing them to glorify ourselves (Keener 136). In Matthew 5:16 Jesus tells the disciples, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. Jesus is promoting others to see the good deeds that you do if they are for the glory of God. The consequence that Jesus gives for false piety is that there will be no reward given from God. Doing deeds to seek Gods glory makes an act truly righteous, but doing deeds in seek for public applause doesn’t warrant any reward from God (Harrington 94).
- 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
In this verse, Jesus is addressing the issue of hypocrisy and how we give to the poor (Hill 132). Jesus is acknowledging the expectation that we have an obligation to care for the poor (Keener 137). In this first sentence, Jesus is utilizing a hyperbola and metaphor to add a more vivid picture to the warning he gives in the previous verse. Although some scholars presume that trumpets were actually blown in the synagogues, Jesus main point remains the same. He is using the Scribes and Pharisees as an example of seeking the applause of man (Keener 137). The “blowing of the horn” is said to illustrate someone who is advertising their own piety. Not only is Jesus condemning the scribes and Pharisees, he is also condemning anyone who makes their personal acts of piety a public display (Harrington 96). Jesus wants to make it known that the goal of giving to the needy is not to try and earn an applause from others. The second part of this verse is saying if you crave public applause for your deeds, that applause is all the reward that you will get. “Received in full” refers to the fact that the public attention that they received in the only praise they will see. They will not receive any reward from God himself (Vincent 43). If the praise of men is the motive behind righteous deeds, there will be no further reward waiting for you in heaven. To simply put it, seeking credit from others does not equal receiving credit from God, but the spontaneous giving to the poor reflects someone who is truly righteous in the eyes of the Lord (Harrington 94).
- 6:3 “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing”
In the first two verses of this passage, Jesus addresses the issue of seeking to impress others, this next verse focuses on the issue of trying to impress yourself and those who are close to you. This verse is meant to be metaphorical, since one is always aware of what they are doing, but it emphasizes doing God’ s will in a way that only God can see (Clifford 200). Not only is Jesus preaching to not let the public know of your doings, but to not even let your closes friend see the acts that you are performing (Harrington 94). By this, Jesus does not want us to seek self-justification through the deeds that we do. Jesus wants to free us from the urge to not only impress others but to impress ourselves as well. Since this sentences is not meant to be literal, it is suggested that by using one hand instead of two, our hands cannot be used in a way that is meant to catch attention (Mounce, 54).
- 6:4 “so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward your.”
By suggesting to give in secret, Jesus is offering a way in which people can keep their motives pure. This solution is not impossible, it is a realistic way in which disciples can glorify God with their actions. Jesus is also trying to remind his followers that God does indeed see what they do when they are in private. Giving in private will result in a reward from the Lord and thus result in a closeness between oneself and God. It is stressed that God is impressed by acts like these, and although no one seems them, all that matters is that God does. God will recognize our good works and deliver rewards at the proper time. His reward is greater than any amount praise from man (Mounce 54). God will reward us by granting us eternal life and a place in his kingdom (Clifford 201).
After you’ve walked through the passage, figuratively turn around and look behind you.
- What do you see?
I see a need for us as followers of Jesus to focus on our discipleship and relationship with God. We should not boast about what we give and do for others in order to seek an applause, yet if we do works with the intention of helping others instead of promoting ourselves, we will be rewarded by God.
- What overall message did this passage hold for its original readers?
The overall message of this passage conveys to its readers that they should not seek affirmation of their good works from man. If one truly wants to be righteous in the eyes of the Lord, their desire to do such works should be born out of a love and obedience for our Lord and Savior.
- How did the author want the readers to respond?
- How do the message and the desired response relate to the themes/emphasis of the book in which the passage occurs?
The desired response to change the way in which we practice our faith directly relates to the key theme of discipleship. By focusing on our discipleship and obedience to God, we are able to develop a closer personal relationship with him.
Consider whether or not the original message and application are transferable across time and space.
- Is the original message of the passage directly applicable to the lives of Christians today?
I believe that the message of this passage is applicable to the lives of Christians today. In our society today, many people use social media as a means of gratification and affirmation to boost their public image. This causes people to focus on the attention they receive from these posts rather than the deeds they are doing themselves. Rather than focusing on the identity they are trying to create by these acts, Christians should focus on lettings these acts display their inner desire to serve the Lord.
- Should present-day Christians respond to it in the same way that the author wanted the original readers to respond? If not, does it reflect a principle or principles that are applicable to the lives of present-day Christians? How should present-day Christians respond? (You do not have to be a Christian yourself to give a thoughtful answer to this question.)
I do believe that present-day Christians should respond the same way the author wanted the original readers to respond because these teachings are timeless. The concepts of pure motives and obedience to the Lord are just as applicable if not more today. A present day Christian should self-evaluate themselves and determine if they are living their life in the same way that Jesus taught us to. If we are not following his teachings we should recognize that and make a change. This involves self-accountability to recognize and change our actions. This self-awareness and change will allow present day Christians to grow in their discipleship with God.
- What does this passage say about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to God?
This passage shows that our God is a jealous God. He wants our full attention and focus on him, not man. We can never gain enough favor in the eyes of our peers for God to accept us. He is also an all-knowing and loving God who will reward you for your actions which stem from your love for God. This passage reveals that we will always feel the need to be noticed and that we want instant gratification for our actions, a reward we can see. This passage shows that we have a personal relationship with God. He is not just someone we know of, but someone who is with us and notices all that we do. God is aware of our actions and wants us to want to grow our discipleship and relationship with him.
- Albright, William Foxwell, et al. The Anchor Bible. Vol. 26, Doubleday, 1997.
- Arnold, Clinton E, editor. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol. 1, Zondervan, 2009.
- Brooke, George J. “Comparing Matthew and Luke in the Light of Second Temple Jewish Literature.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 41, no. 1, 2018, pp. 44–57., doi:10.1177/0142064×18788976.
- Clifford, Richard J., et al. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 8, Abingdon, 1995.
- Harrington, Daniel J., and Luke T. Johnson. Sacra Pagina Series Volume 1: The Gospel of Matthew. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1991. Print
- Hill, David. New Century Bible Commentary. Wm B Eerdmans, 1980.
- Keener, Craig S. Matthew. Vol. 1, InterVarsity Press, 1997.
- Martens, E. A., and Willard M. Swartley. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Herald Press, 1986.
- Mounce, Robert H. New International Biblical Commentary. Hendrickson, 1999.
- Vincent, Marvin R. Word Studies in the New Testament. Vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers, 1887.