The Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) is one of the mountain ministries of Matthews Gospel. The Lords disciples gathered around Him to listen (5.1); "the people" joined them and "were astonished at his doctrine" (7.28). Such was the power to attract found in the teaching of the Master. What He taught is still relevant today. In a world of turmoil, suffering and uncertainty it is wise to examine that which left the listeners astonished.
He spoke with great authority. Nine times He stated in Matthew 5, "I say unto you" (vv.18,20,22,26,28,32,34,39,44), emphasising that His words have such authority that He can say of the written Scriptures, "Ye have heard But I say unto you" (5.21-22). What He taught that day has passed the test of time and is valuable beyond measure for this present age.
First, He speaks of the secret life that we ought to have (6.1-4). The instruction is to be secret in our righteous acts. Almsgiving, or as we would call it, good works, must not be advertised, but carried out discretely. Good works are necessary in Christian testimony, not to gain salvation but as evidence of being a servant of the Lord Jesus.
We must also have a prayer life that is secret (6.5-15) and it is in teaching this that He gives us a model prayer. Lack of prayer is a factor in impoverishing Christians; consistent and regular prayer enriches them. Our God delights in the approach of His children and in what they have to say to Him in prayer.
There must also be a secret life of self-denial. This is the point at issue when the Lord speaks of fasting (6.16-18). There is an expectation that Christians will be prepared to deny themselves of what is legitimate in order to be more effective servants of the Lord. This is not the putting away of sin but of deliberately having done with anything holding one back, that which will slow one up, reduce effectiveness in service and cool our devotion to the Lord. It is what the Lord Jesus spoke of when He defined the three pillars of discipleship: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mt 16.24).
Second, the Lord speaks of the secure life enjoyed by His people (6.19-23). In a world that lays much emphasis on material possessions and wealth He warns of such an attitude to life. Materialism exposes us to two risks: the danger of moth and rust corrupting, causing devaluation of the assets, or the danger of thieves plundering them. In addition to that the Lord states that "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". Our affections will always be towards what we value most: if that be the Lord, they will be set on Him, if it be on the accumulation of wealth, they will be set on these treasures upon earth. The believer who sets His affections on the treasures of heaven will be laying up in store that which cannot be devalued or lost.
Third, mention is made of the satisfied life that can be enjoyed by those who follow Him (6.24-34). Anxiety about meeting the needs of life often grip men and women. Politicians claim to have policies to remove these fears; charities work to eliminate them; individuals strive to overcome them. Still, however, unease cannot be conquered. This is not, however, the manner of life that should mark a believer. The Lord is very clear in His teaching here. "Be not anxious for your life", He states. The birds of the air do not sow, reap nor gather into barns, but He feeds them; the lilies of the field do not toil or spin, but they are gloriously clothed in a manner greater even than Solomon enjoyed. Anxiety and failure will mark those who have little faith, but if our faith be strong we can enjoy the benefit of knowing that our legitimate needs, not our extravagant desires, will be satisfied.
Seeking the kingdom and meeting our needs are not, therefore, two opposing demands. One compliments the other! "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (6.33) is teaching that is folly to ignore. Only by obeying the Lord in this can we truly enjoy a satisfied and contented life.