This week's lessons finishes out the account of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.
Quiet Works, Quiet Worship
- In Matthew 6:1-8, we are instructed about how we should serve. The word translated "alms" can also be translated "good acts," and it is in my Wayment translation. We should do our acts quietly, to be seen of God not so that others will think how great we are.
- We should also pray to God in our secret places and not to be seen of others. vs. 5-8. We shouldn't use "vain repetitions." This seems like an injunction about using empty platitudes and words with no feeling behind them than it is about repeating the same pleas or the same petitions.
- After the Lord's prayer (see below), verses 16-18 echo similar wording about fasting. Instead of broadcasting to the world how sad and pained we are because we are fasting, we should fast "that thou appear not unto men to fast but unto thy Father."
- In all three of these instructions, about good acts, secret prayers, and fasting, the Lord appears to be concerned about not just what we do but our desires and motives for doing it. He wants our hearts and souls, not our outward obedience. As Elder Dale G. Renlund said,
"Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.
But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room.3 No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business.
God established a plan whereby we can become heirs in His kingdom, a covenant path that leads us to become like Him, have the kind of life He has, and live forever as families in His presence.4 Personal choice was—and is—vital to this plan, which we learned about in our premortal existence. We accepted the plan and chose to come to earth."
- It occurs to me that never before in the history of the world has it been so easy to break these commandments. With social media, it is possible to broadcast everything one does, from how we pray to how we parent. We all know a friend or two who seems to do things just to look good on Pinterest or Facebook and who tries to project the image of perfection through carefully cultivated social media pictures. Sharing positive things on social media isn't bad, but we could probably all benefit from examining our motives in regards to our social media habits. Are we trying to elevate ourselves? Are we seeking "likes," praise or acceptance? Or are we trying to do good and lead others to do good? We are to let our lights so shine, as last week's reading reminded us, so there's definitely a balance here.
The Lord's Prayer
- Thomas Wayment points out in his translation that while most translators elevate the language of the Lord's prayer "into elegant and flowing English prose," the original "wording of the prayer uses everyday language that intentionally rhymes some of the line endings."
- I love that Christ teaches us to ask for "our daily bread," or "Give us enough bread for today," as Wayment translates it. We are taught to ask for our basic needs each day, not to
- Elder D. Todd Christofferson says, "Included in the Lord’s Prayer is the petition “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) or “Give us day by day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). I believe that we would all readily acknowledge that we have needs each day that we want our Heavenly Father’s help in dealing with. For some, on some days, it is quite literally bread—that is, the food needed to sustain life that day. It could also be spiritual and physical strength to deal with one more day of chronic illness or a painfully slow rehabilitation. In other cases it may be less tangible needs, such as things related to one’s obligations or activities in that day—teaching a lesson or taking a test, for example." Later, he adds, "Asking God for our daily bread, rather than our weekly, monthly, or yearly bread, is also a way to focus us on the smaller, more manageable bits of a problem. To deal with something very big, we may need to work at it in small, daily bites. Sometimes all we can handle is one day (or even just part of one day) at a time."
- The KJV of Matthew 6:14-15 says, " For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Wayment translate that passage as "If you forgive others of their misdeeds, your Father in heaven will forgive you," and notes that "the word translated misdeeds is not the same word that is used elsewhere for sins. Jesus may have intended to refer to common infractions against others and not specifically to the idea of sin against God." I like that expanded view of what we are to forgive. If we want God to forgive us our sins, we need to forgive the everyday blunders of our fellowmen -- the dumb things they say and the thoughtless things they might do -- as well as the larger trespasses against us.
Becoming Wholeheartedly Holy and Trusting in His Provision
- Matthew 6:19-21: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." When reading this, I realized how connected this is to the injunctions to do good quietly, to pray in secret, and to fast before the Lord instead of our fellowmen. Doing those things in that way with pure motives is HOW we lay up our treasures in heaven.
- In verse 22, it talks about having an eye that is single so our whole bodies can be full of light. Wayment translates single as "healthy," and the footnote says the Greek means, "healthy, sincere, without guile." which helps me understand the analogy a bit more. I think of this like a lens in photography. If you take pictures through a dirty lens or a dirty window, you get reduced clarity and blurred parts of your photos. If your lens is filthy, the light inside the camera will be distorted and clear photos are impossible. We are to be pure and focused on Christ, and then our body can be full of light.
- "No man can serve two masters." As D. Todd Christofferson said, "To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women. Recalling Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s phrase, let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon"
- Most of us hold onto ideas or philosophies incompatible with the gospel without really recognizing it. When inevitably, the ideas we absorb from our culture and the world around us clash with the gospel of Jesus Christ, what do we do? Are we willing to change to be more in align with the gospel? Or are we too committed to our other master? I've seen individuals get so caught up in a certain political philosophy or movement that when the clash comes, they abandon the gospel rather than their movement.
- The second master that is condemned by Christ is "mammon," or the pursuit of riches or worldliness, and the next section expands on that thought by discussing God's great provision for his children.
- The next part is, according to the JST, directed at the Apostles as they embark in full-time missionary service, but has application for all of us.
- "Behold the fowls of the air," "Consider the lilies of the field" God takes care of these, won't he also care for you? Especially if you are asking each day for "enough bread for today?"
- I went to a presentation once about the geography of the Holy Land and how that can help us better understand the scriptures. The speaker addressed this scripture "if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" He showed the fields of the Holy Land, covered in green grass and wildflowers, then showed another picture of the same field a short time later, brown and dry and desolate. His point was that the climate of the place is such that the grass of the fields just don't last. And yet God clothes those grasses beautifully. He will also care for us.
- I read the last verse as, "Don't borrow worry from the future; today has enough for you to do without fighting tomorrow's battles too."
Judging Righteously, Good Gifts, and False Prophets
- "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged:" This scripture is often quoted and taken out of context. Taken to its extreme meaning, it tells us not to ever judge anything or anyone. Yet just a few verses later, we are told to beware of false prophets and that we can know, or judge, them by their fruits.
- Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke on this subject at a BYU devotional: "I have been puzzled that some scriptures command us not to judge and others instruct us that we should judge and even tell us how to do it. I am convinced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we view them with the perspective of eternity. The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make; and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles. Today I will speak about gospel judging."
- There's a great article in the February Ensign about the subject of judging. "Immediately following these higher-law teachings, Jesus commanded, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Jesus understood that as disciples strive to live the principles and commandments taught in Matthew 5 and 6, it is easy to fall into the trap of noticing where others may be falling short of those ideals. Jesus continued, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matthew 7:2). To drive this point further, Jesus clarified, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). He was clearly teaching that our ability to judge imperfections in others is nearly impossible because of the large construction-sized beams of imperfection blinding our own vision. Additionally, we do not understand all the surrounding issues, struggles, and circumstances that result in motes and beams in others’ eyes."
- One of my favorite videos about judging is this one:
- I love that we are reminded that God gives bread and fish, not stones and serpents, to those who ask, seek, and knock. The Creator of the Universe, who created more stars than there are sands on the beaches of the earth, is interested in us. He listens and cares about us. As Elder Uchtdorf put it,
And while we may look at the vast expanse of the universe and say, “What is man in comparison to the glory of creation?” God Himself said we are the reason He created the universe! His work and glory—the purpose for this magnificent universe—is to save and exalt mankind.8 In other words, the vast expanse of eternity, the glories and mysteries of infinite space and time are all built for the benefit of ordinary mortals like you and me. Our Heavenly Father created the universe that we might reach our potential as His sons and daughters.
This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.
- It is worth noting that the word "strait" in verse 13 does not mean the same as "straight." Instead, the term means something like constricted or tight.
- In verses 15-20, Christ warns of false prophets who come in sheep's clothing but are really ravening wolves.
- I think of the older people I know who are so full of love and kindness from a life full of living gospel truths. They don't see others as people to use or exploit. They see them as brothers and sisters and friends. They seem to glow with peace and charity. That's the kind of person I want to be, that people can't help but feel encouraged by being around.
- This devotional talks about the fruits Elder Corbridge has experienced in his experiences with those who fight against faith. It is well worth a read or a listen.
Building on Bedrock
- In the final part of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminds us that just because we have called on his name and done works supposedly in his name doesn't mean that we are necessarily going to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Instead, the kingdom is reserved for "he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Are we actively seeking out the Lord's will for us and working to do it? Or do we consider that it's good enough to be nominally Christian and do good things once in a while?
- The JST renders the passage as "ye never knew me" rather than "I never knew you." How do we better come to know Christ? Are we asking, seeking, and knocking? Are we working to overcome our weakness?
- This passage is similar to the parable of the ten virgins. Just being invited to the marriage supper isn't enough. We need to be ready for it and prepare ourselves.
- To reinforce the point is the parable of the wise man and the foolish man. I love that in my Wayment translation, he uses the word "bedrock" for the man who built his house on the rock. This isn't any ordinary rock, it is something stable and strong and able to withstand the elements.
- Here's a cute little video illustration I might use for my little ones (probably less disturbing than showing them the videos I found of buildings collapsing during earthquakes!)