This lesson is a continuation of The Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. The manual reminds us that “the Sermon on the Mount is one of the best-known discourses in Christianity.”
The text starts out by addressing the proper motives for giving. In the Lord’s time, begging was commonplace. The Pharisees were willing to give but because of their hearts and the way they had interpreted godliness, their giving was very ostentatious. In a faith where everything ought to be done from the heart and unto the Lord, everything would be done without a care for what others see. In order to assess the, actions we take, we might ask ourselves WHY am I doing this? For what purpose and to what end? As it says in Matthew 6:1 “to be seen of them” – in other words, “to be seen of men”? Or, to completely honor God? The praise of men – their noticing us – the recognition they bestow goes a long way in feeding our pride. Jesus makes it clear that He wants His disciples to get motivated and enthused by other means. In the end, the only way to follow His directives is to ensure that the reason we give alms, or pray, or whatever it is we do – is because we love the Lord above all other things.
What are our motives for giving? Jesus warns about being a hypocrite in doing something right for the wrong reason. Matthew 6:3-4 “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and they Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” It is really, difficult to not tell somebody when you do a good deed. It’s hard to keep it a complete secret. Our pride seeks some acknowledgement. Instead, all recognition and praise for the opportunity to serve someone else should go to God.
Jesus continues on to a new subject with the very same message. Matthew 6:5 “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Jews, Muslims, and some Catholics today will suspend whatever they were doing to pay their devotions and offer prayers. There is no problem with that as, long as it is not just to be seen of men.
Matthew 6:6 “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to they Father which is in secret; and they Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” A place where no ear will hear you but His ear, and no eye can see you but His eye. Maybe it’s your car, backyard, bathroom, or bedroom, you might get the urge at, the moment regardless of where you are, to just to close your eyes and pray. It says in, Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Psalm 34:1 “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every, thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And remember, praying for someone is just as effective and powerful as anything we can do for them.
Matthew 6:7 “But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” The manual states “People often understand ‘vain repetitions’ to mean repeating the same words over and, over again. However, the word ‘vain’ can describe something that has no value. Using ‘vain repetition’ in prayer can mean prayer without sincere, heartfelt feeling.” Jesus here was referring to any type of religious communication that was delivered for reasons other than humble conversation with the Lord. Christ does not fix the length of our prayers. When we pray be sincere, speak from the heart, and don’t think that certain formulas or special phrases are necessary. Matthew 6:8 “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
The LDS Church has three set-prayers that must be recited perfectly without variation – The baptismal prayer, and the two sacrament prayers by which baptismal covenants are renewed. The baptismal prayer found in Doctrine and Covenants 20:73, typically happens once in a Mormon’s life-time. Sacrament prayers found in Doctrine and Covenants 20:77–79 – one for the bread and the other for the wine (today water) – are repeated each Sunday throughout tens of thousands of Wards and Branches around the world. Again, those prayers have, to be repeated verbatim. Any mistakes in giving those prayers, and they have, to start over from the beginning and given perfectly – which can create some awkward moments in church. Could those weekly prayers be considered vain repetition? I guess if members are partaking of the sacramental emblems without much thought as to the what they are doing – that could be considered vain repetitions.
Growing up in my home, we were taught to say the blessing on the evening meal. This is the exact prayer we always said “Our Father in Heaven, we’re grateful for this food; bless the hands that prepared it; bless the food that it will give strength and nourishment to our bodies. Amen.” We would say it as fast as we could so we could get to the food. Even then, I thought as a child how boring it must be for Heavenly Father to hear those prayers day after day. Especially, when they lacked sincerity.
The Savior now gives us what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” It is a beautiful example of prayer. But there are people who have made it a prayer in and of itself, which to me, makes it a vain repetition. The Lord’s Prayer is in Matthew 6:9-13 and, also recorded by Luke 11:24. But there it reads differently. I think the fact that the apostles never utter these exact prayers in scripture proves this is the model not the mandatory method for prayer.
Jesus then emphasizes from that example-prayer that one of the most important principles is the matter of forgiving others.
And then He talks about what our priorities in life should be about – are we laying up treasures upon earth or laying up treasures in heaven?
The Savior in Matthew 6:25-34 now turns from the multitude and addresses specifically His Apostles and some disciples, telling them how they will be taken care of by the Father during their ministries. Some people have misapplied these verses, thinking it was meant for everyone. For instance, they quit their jobs and trusted that the Lord will take care of them. The Lord was telling His Apostles that they will have enough daily troubles in preaching the gospel, without the distraction of worrying about their physical needs. They had a special call on their lives and were about to learn first hand what it would mean to TOTALLY trust and rely upon the Lord.
Matthew chapter 7 has some great teachings but for the sake of time, I will focus on one important warning that has to do with false prophets. Here the manual asks the Sunday School instructor “How can you help them understand how to discern false prophets and teachings from true ones?” Verse 15 warns us, “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” He is saying – they may seem harmless but are very dangerous to your spiritual well-being. A true prophet is one who was regarded as a religious teacher. A false prophet is a teacher of incorrect doctrine, or one who falsely lays claim to Divine inspiration or offers false information. Notice how Jesus describes them – “which come to you in sheep’s clothing.” Sheep are an emblem of innocence, sincerity, and harmlessness. To come in sheep’s clothing then is to assume the appearance of sanctity and innocence, when the heart is actually evil. Jesus is referring to false teachers who appear acceptable but are inwardly full of ravenous doctrine. Ready to destroy a person’s life with their falsehoods.
Today, we can see such wolves on religious television wanting money and riches in exchange for strange doctrine. But Jesus tells us how to know them. Matthew 7:16 “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” In other words, we cannot know the value of a tree by the color or texture of its leaves, or bark, or the size of its trunk. Neither can we look at the flowers in bloom or its buds. The purpose and value of a tree is primarily its fruit. So, it is with prophets or teachers of the Word of God. Forget how they sound and appear – listen and look, taste the fruit they produce and compare it to the standard by which all truth is tested – the Word of God. The fruit of the tree is the chief reason for its existence and the chief benefit to Man. So, in the parallel, Jesus teaches that it is by the fruit which a person judges a fruit tree and, so also by the teachings do we determine the value of a prophet or teacher. All the pretensions of religion mean nothing if the teachings are false.
The manual asks, “What ‘fruit’s’ or outcomes, does following living prophet’s counsel produce?” Adjacent to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City is the City Creek Shopping Center. It is a beautifully decorated shopping mall with top of the line retail department stores. I remember, in 2012, watching on television the grand opening. Standing behind a giant red ribbon stood the First Presidency of the LDS Church, who helped cut the ribbon – opening the center for business. President Thomas S. Monson shouted, “Let’s go shopping!” I instantly thought – is that what a prophet declares to the world? The cost of that mall was over 5 billion dollars. I know I wasn’t alone in that moment feeling a little sick to my stomach and wondering – why would the LDS Church invest that much money of “sacred” funds into a shopping mall?
City Creek with its beautiful leaves, and bark, and flowers, and shade were magnificent, but what about the fruit? To what does the City Creek cater? To what end does it exist? Especially in, light of verses like 1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
Jesus then adds an interesting line to His point by asking in Matthew 7:16 “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” In other words, every tree produces the kind of fruit it was created to produce. An apple tree won’t produce a bunch of grapes. A peach tree won’t produce a bunch of bananas. Fruit trees produce the fruit they were intended to produce. And both good prophets and bad prophets produce exactly the type of fruits that lie within them. That is why Jesus says in the next verse, Matthew 7:17 “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” Adding to the point, Jesus says Matthew 7:18 “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”
Now this is really, important when talking about prophets – false and true. Likening them to trees, Jesus says a good tree cannot produce both good and bad fruit. A good apple tree will always produce good apples and a peach tree will only produce good peaches. And when we eat these apples and peaches, we can say, “What a good tree.” However, a bad apple tree will produce bad apples. There will be something wrong with them. They’ll be sour, or hard, or deformed because the tree is bad at the core – at the root. By likening this to false prophets we can say that a false prophet will always, and only, produce bad teachings. And a true prophet will only produce good teachings. A false prophet CANNOT produce good teachings. And a true prophet CANNOT produce bad teachings – or he would cease to be a prophet.
Now really think about this. What Jesus is saying is that even if a false prophet produces fruit which appears to good, it cannot be deemed good, because in the end, it will lead to bad. A good prophet cannot produce bad teachings and a false prophet cannot produce good teachings any more than a good tree can produce bad, fruit or a bad tree can produce good fruit. Look at the end product. Judge the fruit for it is by this end, product that you will know them.
Speaking of false prophets Jesus continues saying, Matthew 7:19-20 “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” What about those false prophets that claim to speak for the Lord? Jesus says Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Here Jesus teaches us that not everyone who is using His name will be admitted to heaven but only those who do the will of the Father which is in heaven. This teaching almost makes it sound like we have to earn our place in order to enter heaven. The question becomes then, “How does a person do the will of the Father?” “Is it by becoming perfect in our flesh?” We’ll answer this in a minute.
But in the next verse, Jesus takes a moment to give us an example. Matthew 7:22 “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” In other words there will be people who will justify their place in heaven by claiming to have done all sorts of apparently good and noble things in the name of the Lord. Specifically, He chose these things as examples: “have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” He could have used anything as examples, but He used these three. They have actually – not pretended to, but actually did all those things. And Jesus will say to them Matthew 7:23 “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
In this response we find, in part, what the will of the Father is for all – to know His Son. In the John 17:3 Jesus says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” So, if and, when a person knows Him – He too, will know them. In other words, He knows us, and will confess us to the Father just as we know Him. Doing works in His name without knowing Him – even if successful in carrying them out – does not mean the person doing the works knows Him or that He knows them. Even if a church does MANY, MANY wonderful works but does not teach biblical truth, their works will amount to Jesus saying to them “I never knew you. Depart from me you that WORK iniquity.” The manual asks, “What are the fruits of the work Joseph Smith accomplished?” I’ll let you decide that for yourself whether those fruits were all good or potentially rotten.
What does verse 21 “but he that doeth the will of my Father” mean? We might automatically think it means to do, to work, to earn, etc. Later in John 6:28 the disciples asked, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God.” John 6:29 says, “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him who he hath sent.” The first premise of work for the true Christian is believing on Him, whom God has sent. As a result, believing on Jesus Christ, we begin to manifest and produce fruits of love for Him and others. John taught in 1 John 3:22-23 – one of my favorite passages because it sums up all that is expected of us to inherit eternal life – “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should BELIEVE on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and LOVE one another, as he gave us commandment.”
Well, that concludes our review of Matthew chapter 6 and 7.