Matthew's Book Leader Notes - Session 9

Matthew 6:1-18 In this session we move into chapter 6 and Jesus continue to theme of addressing our inner life as it relates to our faith.  In the previous sessions we learned that obeying the Law was not only a matter of our outward actions, but also a matter of our inward thoughts and attitudes.  Similarly, in this session, we learn that internal motivations are just as important as the outward expressions and practices of our faith.  Jesus highlights three common faith practices (giving, prayer, and fasting).  By highlighting these practices, Jesus is first indicating that He expects His followers to be doing these things.  If we are not doing them at all, our inward motivations can hardly matter!  Like before, Jesus tells us that God is concerned about more than the outward practice alone.  He says that these practices are for God and about God and He should be the only audience that we are concerned about.  When we practice our faith for the observance of others, we squeeze God out of the equation and the result is an empty exercise.

Interestingly, Jesus did not dismiss the concept of a benefit to us as we do these activities.  He says those that do these things for the observance of others already have their reward (esteem, applause, influence, etc.).  But He also says that those who do these things for God alone, will also be rewarded (verses 4, 6, 18).  He doesn’t tell us what that reward will be (a closer connection with God is already a great benefit), but I imagine that God has a much better “prize box” than the one available those around us!

Verses 14-15 may create generate some questions for your group.  On the surface, it seems to contradict the concepts of God’s free forgiveness and unearned grace.  Jesus seems to be saying that God’s forgiveness is dependent on our own forgiveness of others.  Jumping over to Matthew 18:21-35 will give us greater understanding on the matter.  Here, Jesus tells the parable of a servant who was forgiven a great debt by his master but then refused to forgive a small debt owed to him.  The message of the parable (and 5:14-15) is that accepting God’s forgiveness should have a profound impact on our hearts which would give us the capacity to also forgive those that wrong us.  Therefore, if we do not have forgiveness toward others in our heart, we have not truly received God’s forgiveness.  Like most things in our spiritual journey, this is not a switch that is instantly flipped, but rather a process of learning to expand our capacity to forgive others in the same way that God has forgiven us.  The fact that Jesus includes this in His prayer tells us that He knows we will work on this and grow in this on a daily basis.