STUDY GUIDE 84
These chapters continue Jesus’ extended teaching called the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 5 Jesus gave the moral basis for life in His kingdom: Jesus’ people are transformed from within, and their godly values are expressed in a holy life that fulfills not just the letter of the Law, but its spirit and intent. In chapters 6–7 Jesus described the lifestyle of those who live in His kingdom.
The major emphases in these chapters indicate that the person who lives, in any age, as a citizen of heaven’s kingdom will:
• seek to please God, who sees in secret, rather than men who judge by what is on public view.
• trust God completely to meet material needs, and so concentrate on God’s kingdom and righteousness.
• express trust in God in prayer, and by looking to Him to meet every need.
• act on and obey the words of Jesus, which are the only sure foundation for the kingdom lifestyle.
Christians who develop the lifestyle Jesus explains in these two exciting New Testament chapters will experience the presence and the power of our God.
è Kingdom. A “kingdom” is a realm in which the will and power of a king are expressed. We live in the kingdom Jesus rules when we do His will. Then He will act in our lives and circumstances.
Jesus’ listeners were hungry for the kingdom. His message was a jolting one, yet many followed and listened eagerly. They sensed that this Man, who taught with authority, had to know the way to the experience for which they yearned.
That hunger, that longing, is something you and I can understand. We’ve yearned for a fuller experience of God. We too have been looking for the kingdom where Jesus reigns and acts. All too often we’ve missed it. All too often we’ve concluded, wrongly, that the kingdom is wholly future, only to be known when Jesus comes again.
Part of the reason why we tend to look at the kingdom as future only is that we’ve missed the kingdom when we’ve looked back into history. Our view of history is distorted, a caricature that has little resemblance to reality. Often the caricature is drawn something like this: “Everything was great as long as the apostles lived. Then it got bad, with the church hardening into a dead and restricting institution paganized by Rome. Then Luther and Calvin brought the Protestant Reformation, and it was alive again for a while. But soon that drifted into deadness as well. Today we’re just holding on (sometimes with a feeble grip), waiting till Jesus comes.”
This portrait of church history is faulty. It comes in part from the tendency of historians to focus on the institutions, the popes, the cathedrals, and the books written by establishment men to sum up the wisdom of their age. But neither Thomas Aquinas’ Summa nor John Calvin’s Institutes expresses the kingdom! The kingdom is expressed in the living witness to Jesus which the Holy Spirit has burned into the lives of those whose hearts turn to the Lord.
For instance, in the twelfth century, the Waldensians, the Poor Men of Lyons, appeared. They gave the Bible to the people in the common language, stressed repentance and conversion, and also emphasized living a Christian life guided by all Scripture—and especially by the Sermon on the Mount.
Long before Luther, John Huss led a great revival in Prague; a revival later forced underground by the persecution which led to Huss’ death. For 300 years an underground church existed in Bohemia, with the Gospel passed quietly from father to son, from grandparent to grandchild. Finally these people found refuge in Germany on the estate of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Now called Moravians, this group provided impetus for a great missionary movement leading to revivals in Germany, Holland, the Scandinavian countries, France, Switzerland, and America, as well as England. It was Moravian missionaries who met John Wesley while on a ship going to America and introduced him to the possibility of personal faith in Jesus Christ. So, many years before Luther, small prayer and Bible-study groups dotted Germany; when God called Luther to the Reformation leadership, followers had already been prepared.
Today the United States sends out thousands of missionaries across the world. But as late as 1800, there was no missionary movement to reach abroad. Then in 1806, students at Williams College in Massachusetts began to discuss their part in sharing the Gospel with the non-Christian world. A sudden rainstorm sent them dashing into a haystack. Praying there together, God called the first American missionaries. Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice, and Samuel Mills were to lead a host of young men and women, who crossed the oceans to take the Gospel to the world.
These illustrations, which can be multiplied to touch every century and every nation where the Gospel has taken root, bear a striking similarity. A movement of God began in a quiet, hidden way. As far as what has become known as “church history” is concerned, the movements often lie outside the worldly events historians choose to record. Yet the haystack, not the cathedral, is most likely to be characteristic of the kingdom!
True, these movements have often forced their way into the history books. A city set on a hill cannot be hid; a light placed on a candlestick cannot be ignored. But all too often, whether the movement has been Catholic or Protestant, the historical record is one of persecution and antagonism and fear. As in Jesus’ day, institutions tend to teach the traditions of men rather than those of God. And such institutions feel threatened by the kingdom.
The kingdom comes into conflict with the world, even as Jesus ultimately was forced into open conflict with the religious men of His day, who demanded, with insistent shouts, “Crucify Him!”
Recognizing the Kingdom: Matthew 6:1–7:23
It would be wrong to conclude from what I’ve just shared that the kingdom of heaven is always in contrast with the established or institutional church. The Wesleyan revival led to the formation of the Methodist Church. The touch of the kingdom was not removed as soon as this church became institutionalized. Today there are Methodist churches which are living expressions of the kingdom—and Methodist churches which know no touch of kingdom life.
The point made by church history is that institutions can never be identified with the kingdom. The kingdom can sweep into man’s edifices—and sweep out again. To perceive the kingdom, we must look beyond outward appearances to the fleshed-out life of Christ in His body.
This is hard for seekers to grasp. You and I, who are looking for the kingdom of Jesus and are eager for Him to reign in our lives, often become confused. We look to the wrong things for light to guide us. It is exactly this tendency to miss the inner reality of the kingdom in the outward trappings of religion which Jesus dealt with in the next section of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus gave four warnings—warnings against plausible pathways which will inexorably lead us farther and farther away from the kingdom’s presence in our daily lives.
Visible piety (Matt. 6:1–18). “Be careful,” Jesus says, “not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them” (v. 1).
It’s a very natural thing to want to be appreciated as men and women of God, and to be looked up to with respect. It’s healthy to want to be a leader. But there are many religious games that people of every age play, which draw them away from the reality of the kingdom.
In Jesus’ day, one game was to have a trumpeter announce when someone was going to give alms (charity) to the poor. The poor would come—and so would a host of admiring observers. Everyone would watch as the giver earned a reputation for piety and generosity.
Another common game was played with prayer. When a man wanted to pray, he would go to a busy street corner or a well-filled synagogue and stand, to pray aloud. Often he would pray prolonged and wordy prayers, giving evidence to all that he was pious. Even when men took a vow to go without food, they would be sure to look pained, and would rub dirt into their faces so all could see how much they were suffering for God!
These games were not played for God. They were played for other men, to be seen by them, and to win a reputation with men for piety.
Tragically, many in Jesus’ day thought that such people were truly pious! They felt that the way to find the kingdom was by imitating such public acts. Thus an earnest seeker could be drawn into a hypocritical, “play-acting” lifestyle.
In contrast, three times in this passage Jesus instructs, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (vv. 3–4, italics added). And about prayer, “Go into your room … and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (v. 6, italics added). Fasting too is to be seen only by “your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (v. 18, italics added).
It is tremendously important for us to grasp the impact of this repeated emphasis. Kingdom reality cannot be measured by the external things which, done to be seen by men, are singled out in each age as evidence of spirituality.
In one of the churches I attended as a young Christian there were a number of external measurements: attendance at the meetings of the church, praying in King James English at prayer meetings, teaching in the Sunday School, carrying tracts to hand out at the subway station, refraining from smoking and drinking and movies—and from close association with anyone who did indulge in the forbidden three. Most men and women in our little church conformed to these externals. Yet, I know now that beneath the surface of public piety many suffered the emptiness and pain of alienation, and were unfulfilled. I know also that when I struggled to find reality through conforming, I too wandered away from the reality.
What then is the authentic road? If we are to look away from the ways our culture measures public piety, to what do we look? Jesus’ answer is that we are to look to an “in secret” relationship with God as our Father. We are to cultivate awareness that He is present, though unseen, and we are to act to please this One who sees us in secret.
How significant is the four-times repeated “in secret”? The world around us does not see the Father. Even our brothers and sisters may see no visible sign of God’s presence. In this age, before Jesus comes in power, the kingdom and the Father exist “in secret.” But the God who sees us in secret does reward us. The God who sees us is, and He does act in the world of here and now.
If we seek the kingdom, we dare not let the traditions of the men of our age draw us away from the God who is. It is our secret life with Him which is the key to our experience of the kingdom.
© Link to Life: Youth / Adult
Write on the chalkboard, “Games Christians Play.” Have your group members read Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18 and identify “games” played by the religious of Jesus’ time. Divide into teams of five. Each team is to locate the three “games” described here by Jesus. They are to define the rules of each game, and how a person might count a score.
When this has been done, ask each team to describe at least three similar games modern Christians play. Again they are to define the rules of the game (tell how it is played), and tell what constitutes a score.
Come together as a whole group to share. Then discuss: “Why do people play these games? How do they keep us from experiencing the kingdom of Jesus? What are the rules to play by if we are serious about living for Jesus rather than for the approval of others?”
© Link to Life: Children
Two themes are developed in this section which can be helpful to children and are treated in children’s curriculum.
GIVING. Give each child five coins. Have cut-out pictures from magazines of: food, housing, clothes, several toys, a hungry child. Place covered cans or boxes, with a slit in the top, in front of each picture.
Let your class look at and talk about the pictures and what each represents. Tell your boys and girls each is to decide how to use his or her coins. As each comes to “spend” his or her money, you and the others in class turn your backs.
After each has used his coins, talk about how we use money. Some goes to buy things we need to live. People also buy fun things. But we need to think too about people who are hungry or need to learn about Jesus. Explain that no one looked as another used his coins, because God is the only One we should think about watching us as we decide how to use our money.
PRAYER. What do we talk to God about? Make a Lord’s-Prayer booklet. Younger ones can color pictures you have drawn and duplicated; older children can illustrate their own. We talk to God about:
• Himself—Matthew 6:9–10_
(God in heaven, earth)
• Our needs—Matthew 6:11_
(loaf of bread, plate of food)
• Forgiveness—Matthew 6:12_
(two people hugging, hands clasped)
• Protection—Matthew 6:13_
(large figure protecting smaller)
Children can write or print phrases from the Lord’s Prayer on their booklets.
Material success (Matt. 6:19–33). Jesus’ second warning focused on possessions. In His day, even the disciples believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Thus, the rich man was viewed as being close to God, while the poor man was somehow thought of as being under His judgment. Jesus put material possessions in a totally different frame of reference in this passage of the sermon.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (v. 19). Instead, treasures are to be laid up in heaven. Once again we are confronted by the fact that the kingdom in our day is in secret. It cannot be measured by material achievement or any of our other standards of “success.”
Jesus went beyond warning against such a measurement of His kingdom. He said, “Do not” lay up such treasures. Jesus explained why by pointing out that a concentration on material success would lead to the darkened eye and the divided heart. The eye is the organ of perception through which our whole personality is guided (vv. 22–23). If we focus our vision on what the world calls success, our perception will be distorted and the light of God’s revelation of reality will be blocked out. Our whole personality will be darkened.
What’s more, our will is affected as well. God and “success” will compete in our personalities, and our values will be shaped by a commitment to one or to the other. “You cannot serve both God and Money” (v. 24).
Then Jesus went beyond, to lay bare the basic issue. Jesus said we are not even to be anxious about necessities! We reject the laying up of earthly treasures, and we reject concern about what we will have to eat and drink! (v. 31) Living in the kingdom means abandoning our very lives to the Father’s care so that we can concentrate on seeking “first His kingdom and His righteousness” (v. 33).
How can we find the courage to abandon our lives to God’s care? Jesus’ illustration answers us. God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers—and you and I are of infinitely more value to our Father! His power orders every detail of the world in which we live; knowing His power and knowing His love for us, His children, we abandon ourselves to His loving care. We know that He will meet our needs.
© Link to Life: Youth / Adult
Put on the chalkboard a simple illustration linking Jesus’ words about the healthy eye and His words about anxiety (below).
The pagan sees only things he needs, and is anxious because he can rely only on himself to get them. The person living in Jesus’ kingdom senses, in God’s care of birds and flowers, the unseen Father. Secure in the Father’s love, the kingdom citizen trusts, and focuses his efforts on pleasing God.
What Does our Eye
See and What Does It Mean?
Authority (Matt. 7:1–14). “Do not judge” are the warning words which mark off the third section of Jesus’ guidelines for kingdom seekers. It is directed at those who see in the kingdom the right to exalt themselves above their fellow citizens, who are named “brothers” here.
The first warning dealt with seeking approval of men rather than God.
The second warning dealt with having concern for the goods in this world, rather than abandoning such concerns to seek the kingdom and righteousness.
The third warning deals with relationships within the kingdom.
This warning is a vital one; in human society we always go about setting up a “pecking order.” We try to settle the question of who has control or influence over another. The whole “chain of command” approach of the military and the business world reflects the concern human beings feel for authority. The right to judge another is a right which the human heart naturally yearns for.
This is true in the church as in any group. Church history is in a real sense a report of the struggle for control over others in the name of religion. This is not true only in the papal distortions of the Middle Ages. It is true in the local Protestant church of today, where a pastor or a board member may struggle to impose his will on his brothers and sisters. Or where a gossip may claim the right to exalt himself or herself over the person whose reputation is smeared. Pushing others down seems such an easy way to raise ourselves up.
But if we are to find the kingdom, we have to abandon all claims to a right to judge. “Do not judge,” Jesus said, and for all time He destroyed the pretentions of anyone who would seek to exalt himself over others in the kingdom (vv. 1–6).
Instead Jesus taught another attitude: that of humility and servanthood. “Ask,” Jesus said, commanding us to take the position not of a judge but of a supplicant. We are to approach life in the kingdom with a deep sense of our need for God’s good gifts—and with full confidence that our loving Father will supply us with all we need (vv. 7–11). What is more, in bowing down to God we also bow down to our brothers. We commit ourselves not to judge them but to serve them: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (v. 12).
This truly is a narrow gate. But it leads us to life—the life of the kingdom, now (vv. 13–14).
© Link to Life: Youth / Adult
Set your group members to work in pairs to write descriptions of “a really fine Christian,” “a good Christian,” “a lukewarm Christian” and “a backslidden Christian.”
Compare these descriptions. Then read Matthew 7:1–5 and discuss: “What does it mean to ‘judge’? What ‘measure’ did we use in trying to decide who is a ‘good’ and who a ‘better’ Christian? Would we like these measures applied to us? Why, or why not?”
After the discussion, point out that Jesus told us not to try to measure others, or establish a Christian “pecking order.” Romans says the only debt we owe others is to love them (Rom. 13:8). In Jesus’ kingdom we are to think and do good, not to fall into the trap of judging others.
False leaders (Matt. 7:15–23). Jesus concluded His warnings by focusing on men who will claim Jesus as Lord, but who will seek to use and to savage His flock. How will the false prophet be known? Not by what he says so much as by what he is and does. “By their fruits you will recognize them” is how Jesus put it (v. 20). In context, the bitter fruits are obvious.
Men will come, claiming Jesus as Lord and offering to lead the way into His kingdom. But their lives will be marked by a public rather than a private kind of piety. Their lives will show a concern for, rather than disinterest in, material things. And their lives will be marked by the claim of the right to judge their brothers and sisters.
When these marks are seen, we have Jesus’ declaration that, no matter what mighty words they accomplish in His name, “I never knew you” (vv. 22–23). Such men cannot lead us into an experience of the kingdom.
The Kingdom Found: Matthew 7:24–29
Jesus’ message concluded with a simple yet powerful illustration, which focuses our attention on the one road to experience the kingdom of Jesus now.
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
We stand at a fork in a road that leads only two ways—Jesus’ way, or another. We too have heard the words of the King. We see the pathway He set out as leading to the kingdom.
In Matthew 5, we heard Jesus focus the issue on our inner lives, and we explored the values by which we are called to live. In Matthew 6 and 7, we see how to distinguish between true and false pathways to the kingdom. What have we learned?
We have learned that to live in Jesus’ kingdom, we must abandon concern for the approval of men, and learn to care only for the approval of God. We have learned that we can find release from anxiety over necessities, and so be free to concentrate our attention on righteousness. And we have learned that we are to be humble before God and our brothers: we are not to judge, but to take our place with them as supplicants before God.
Will we find the kingdom if we follow this pathway?
Of course we will. For we will be walking in the footsteps of the King!
Which lesson in this sermon is most important to you personally? Which do you think your group members need most?
1. Have group members list facts from church history. Record on chalkboard. Then ask: “How are the things you have listed related to Jesus’ kingdom?”
2. Or explain the “hidden” nature of the kingdom as the author reviews church history at the beginning of this study guide. Point out that in Matthew 6 and 7 Jesus showed us how to recognize—and find—the way to personal experience of His kingdom.
1. Have teams work together to define “games Christians play.” Follow the approach outlined in “link-to-life.” Help your group members realize that our “in-secret” relationship with God, and constant awareness of His presence, helps us make the choices that keep us on the kingdom pathway.
2. Use the illustration included in “link-to-life,” to help your group members quickly grasp the main point of the passage. Then work as a group to list paired contrasts between the person who is anxious and concerned about necessities and the person who is more concerned about God’s kingdom and righteousness. Lead your group to think in terms of values, choices, actions, attitudes, etc.
3. Or focus on the problem of judging. Use the “link-to-life” process outlined.
OPTION: You may choose to divide into three teams or sets of teams to do each of the three studies suggested. If so, save time for a report from each team or set of teams as a review of the whole passage.
Sum up the teaching of this section, and then read, without comment, Matthew 7:24–27. Close by asking each to pray silently.
Richards, Lawrence O., The Teacher’s Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) 1987.