A Commentary by John Stott

Matthew 6:19-34. A Christian’s ambition: Not material security but God’s rule.

In the first half of Matthew 6 (1-18) Jesus describes the Christian’s *private* life ‘in the secret place’ (giving, praying, fasting); in the second half (19-34) he is concerned with our *public* business in the world (questions of money, possessions, food, drink, clothing and ambition). Or the same contrast could be expressed in terms of our ‘religious’ and our ‘secular’ responsibilities. This distinction is misleading, because we cannot separate these into water-tight compartments. Indeed, the divorce of the sacred from the secular in church history has been disastrous. If we are Christians, everything we do, however ‘secular’ it may seem (like shopping, cooking, totting up figures in the office, etc.) is ‘religious’ in the sense that it is done in God’s presence and according to God’s will. One of the emphases Jesus makes in this chapter is precisely on this point, that God is equally concerned with both areas of our life – private and public, religious and secular. For on the one hand, ‘Your heavenly Father sees in secret’ (4,6,18), and on the other, ‘Your heavenly Father knows that you need’ food, drink and clothing (32).

In both spheres also the same insistent summons of Jesus is heard, the call to be different from the popular culture: different from the hypocrisy of the religious (1-18) and now different also from the materialism of the irreligious (19-34). For although the Pharisees were largely in his mind at the beginning of the chapter, it is the ‘Gentiles’ whose value-system he now bids us renounce (32). In fact Jesus places the alternatives before us at every stage. There are two treasures (on earth and in heaven, 19-21), two bodily conditions (light and darkness,22,23), two masters (God and mammon,24) and two preoccupations (our bodies and God’s kingdom, 25-34). We cannot sit on the fence.

But how shall we make our choice? Worldly ambition has a strong fascination for us. The spell of materialism is hard to break. So in this section Jesus helps us to choose well. He points out the folly of the wrong way and the wisdom of the right. As in the previous sections on piety and prayer, so here regarding ambition, he sets the false and the true over against each other in such a way as to invite us to compare them and see for ourselves.

This topic confronts us with fresh urgency in our generation. As the world’s population continues to mushroom and the economic problems of the nations become more complex, the rich are still getting richer and the poor poorer. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the facts. The old complacency of bourgeois Christianity has been disturbed. The sleepy social conscience of many has been stabbed awake. There has been a fresh discovery that the God of the Bible is on the side of the poor and the deprived. Responsible Christians are uneasy about affluence and are seeking to develop a simple life-style which is appropriate both in the face of world need and out of loyalty to their Master’s teaching and example.
Tomorrow: Matthew: 6:19-21. 1). A question of treasure.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.