Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
Introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
These past few days have been dedicated to understanding Jesus’ inaugural sermon that is entitled by many commentators as “The Sermon on the Mount”. What is perhaps the ethical and spiritual foundation of the New Testament, “The Sermon on the Mount” takes the reader into the heart of what makes New Covenant Christianity tick. Virtually all of its teachings can be found repeated throughout the New Testament. The acorns of truth deposited by Jesus in this grand sermon will prove to be mighty oaks upon which the Apostles will later climb to take their readers into the realms of powerful, practical Christianity. We have considered what Jesus has to say on powerful, practical Christianity in three areas: giving, prayer & fasting. Today I want to propose some reasons why Jesus targeted these three particular areas. If you and I understand what Jesus was driving at in Matthew 6 and why He said what He said, we can have powerful, practical Christian lives.
Why is Jesus targeting these three areas of giving, praying and fasting?
So why these three areas? Certainly Jesus could had touched upon any other area of the practical Christian life – which of course He does throughout the whole context of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Jesus begins the whole sermon laying out the beginning of the Christian life in conversion, through its growth and progression in suffering to the point where if need be, the disciples will give their life for their Lord in martyrdom. (Matthew 5:1-12) Then Jesus moves onto the fulcrum of the Christian life – the believer’s relationship to the written word of God, which Jesus says will never pass away and is the power source of the powerful, practical Christian life. (Matthew 5:13-20) Then Jesus rounds out Matthew 6:21-48 with how His followers should be expected to act towards those people in their lives, whether family, friends or fellow belivers. Matthew 7 of course concludes the “Sermon on the Mount” as an evangelistic appeal of sorts by Jesus to His listeners. So why these three particular areas in Matthew 6:1-21 of giving, prayer and fasting?
The hunch of this writer is that Jesus knew that of all the areas in which Christianity of any age could be inconsistent – it would be these. Giving is not practice by many, prayer is neglected by most and fasting (at least in American and European Christianity) is virtually unknown. The three effective weapons of the enemy: willful disregard, negligence and ignorance constitute the spiritual rust that eats away at the spiritual and supernatural vitality of Christ’s people. Jesus knew this and as the Great Physician preached on these very three topics. Our churches and our Christianity are characterized by little giving, less praying and no fasting. What is so sad for so many Christians is that there is an untapped supernatural power reserve that God would so desire to release to His people – if only they would avail themselves.
Closing thoughts – We need Powerful, Practical Christianity
If you look further into the next part of Matthew 6, Matthew 6:22-34, you discover that in as much as Jesus offered warnings and instructions on giving, prayer and fasting in 6:1-21, His true intention all along is to urge His listeners on how to practically and powerful seek the kingdom of God. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus says: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The word translated “first” speaks not merely of putting the Kingdom or God and His things as numeral one on a list of priorities, but as the umbrella theme over every nook and cranny of life.1 To seek “His righteousness” speaks of course of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the believer’s holiness, wisdom and righteousness, the credited garment of acceptability whereupon is placed upon the believer at the moment of saving faith. (Romans 3:26; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
Certainly the major areas covered by Jesus throughout the whole of His sermon could be included under this theme of “His Kingdom and His righteousness”. Whether salvation, the scriptures, evangelism, giving, prayer or fasting, all of it describes avenues in which we can practically enjoy the power of God in Jesus Christ. However in those three targeted areas of Matthew 6:1-21, we need to attend more vigilance, being that lack of giving, negligence of prayer and absence of fasting more often characterizes our Christianity. I would urge both the reader and myself to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and avail ourselves of these three targeted areas of giving, prayer and fasting so that we can live the powerful, practical Christian life desired by our Father in Heaven.