What does Matthew chapter 6 mean?Matthew 6 is the second of three chapters containing Matthew's telling of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. This passage is one of the few chapters entirely composed of the words of Christ. A primary theme of Jesus' teaching so far is how God the Father cares about the hearts of His people, not just their outward actions. Thoughts and attitudes can be sins, just as much as words and deeds. Here, Jesus expands on this, pointing out that even "good deeds" must be motivated by sincerity in order to be truly righteous. Putting on the appearance of piety in order to earn the praise of others is not pleasing to God.
Christ explains these ideas using several examples. First, He says not to sound a trumpet when you give to the needy. Apparently, in that era, some timed their giving in synagogues and streets to coincide with temple trumpet blasts. This ensured crowds would "catch" them giving and praise them for their generosity. Jesus calls such people hypocrites who have received all the reward they will get. Rather, Jesus tells the crowd to be so quiet about charity that one hand doesn't even notice the other hand giving over the money! His point is that charity ought to bring glory to God (Matthew 5:16), not to the giver. God the Father will notice and reward those who give in humility and sincerity (Matthew 6:1–4).
Next, Jesus warns not to be hypocrites in prayer. He is likely calling up images of well-known religious leaders who prayed loudly in public to be seen and heard by everyone. Jesus tells His listeners to pray behind closed doors where nobody else can hear; they should trust their Father to hear and reward them. As before, His point is not to denounce all forms of public prayer. Instead, Jesus is speaking about motivation: legitimate prayer is not a performance in front of other people. Those who pray in order to impress others are not pleasing God (Matthew 6:5–6).
In the same vein, Jesus adds that it's wrong to pray like the pagans in their idol worship: mindlessly repeating empty phrases over and over. Using babble, mindless chants, or robotic repetition doesn't mean God is more likely to hear or agree. It just means the one praying is using empty words instead of sincerely talking to God. The words, themselves, are not magical spells that have to be "just right," either (Romans 8:26). Sincere prayer means trusting that God knows what you need and speaking accordingly (Matthew 6:7–8).
Jesus gives a simple model of prayer for His people to follow. This has come to be known as the Lord's Prayer, though it's not literally something Jesus, Himself, is praying. This is His outline, taught to believers, explaining the right attitudes and components of prayer. That begins by addressing God as Father, declaring His holiness, and asking Him to accomplish His plans on earth. Then Jesus models requests for daily food, forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from temptation and evil. He adds an appeal for forgiveness from God as well as a declaration, to God, that we have forgiven other people (Matthew 6:9–13).
Christ then underscores how forgiveness ought to be reflected in the life of a born-again believer. This is easy to misinterpret when taken out of context. His meaning, here, is that those who have been forgiven by God are expected to appreciate such forgiveness. That should inspire an attitude of forgiveness towards other people—something Jesus will expand on in later parables (Matthew 18:23–35). In this moment, He is noting that unforgiveness suggests someone who hasn't experienced forgiveness, themselves (Matthew 6:14–15).
After modeling prayer, Jesus returns to calling out the hypocrites who perform religious acts in order to be approved of by others. When they fast, they don't groom themselves and they walk around looking gloomy all day so everyone will know how spiritual they're being. That's all the reward they'll get. Instead, Jesus says, do your fasting for God and not to be seen by others. Wash your face. Don't tell everyone. God will know, and He will reward you (Matthew 6:16–18).
Jesus then turns to the issue of money and the hearts of His listeners. Faithful believers ought not stockpile money and possessions on earth. Material things, including money, are temporary and hard to hang on to. His point is not that wealth is evil, itself. What's dangerous is prioritizing material things over godliness. What's better is to stockpile "treasures" in heaven; this means making right choices out of sincere devotion to God. However a person invests their treasure—including time, money, and emotion—is the real priority of their heart (Matthew 6:19–21).
Those who live for money will live as blind people in inner moral darkness. You must choose, Jesus says. God and money are two different masters. You can't serve both. If you try, you'll end up resenting one and loving the other (Matthew 6:22–24).
Finally, Jesus speaks to those with little or no money. He tells them not to live in anxiety over the basic needs of life, even if they don't know how they will pay for food and clothing. God the Father feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, and His people are far more valuable than that. Worry accomplishes nothing. Believers should make it the point of life to pursue God's kingdom and His righteousness. We can concern ourselves with that, trusting Him to provide all we truly need. Let tomorrow worry about tomorrow. Trust God for today's troubles (Matthew 6:25–34).