Exposition of Matthew 6:19-24

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”(Matt 6:19-24, NAS)

“Worldly-mindedness is as common and as fatal a symptom of hypocrisy as any other, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul, under the cloak of a visible and passable profession of religion, than by this; and therefore Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of the world; in this also we must take heed, lest we be as the hypocrites are, and do as they do: the fundamental error that they are guilty of is, that they choose the world for their reward; we must therefore take heed of hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness, in the choice we make of our treasure, our end, and our masters”- Matthew Henry


This paper intends to give an exegetical interpretation of Matthew 6:19-24. We will accomplish this task by proving a programmatic thesis. This thesis will then be proven to be the case from the immediate text and surrounding contexts. This paper will seek to determine the meanings of particular parts of the text organically with the whole Sermon on the Mount. Attention will be paid to the argumentation in Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, and this text’s function within that greater argument. This holistic and organic method of interpretation will also pay attention to the usage of terms and the connotations in their particular semantic context.

The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, has received a great deal of attention by commentators. It is often the whipping-boy of various theological debates.[1] Further, many wonderful commentaries have been written on the text. One wonders why there would be a need to interpret the text further when such giants as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, R.T. France, Leon Morris, etc have roamed the land. Nevertheless, there is a pair of important contexts many commentators neglect, which shed light on the sermon’s genre and context. These are the rhetorical nature of the Sermon on the Mount, and the presence of the kingdom. It is our contention that both of these pieces of context are necessary for a holistic interpretation of the text.   

The interpretative programmatic thesis is: in Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus illustratively exposed the secret allegiance of the dull-hearers to their true master, namely wealth; since they ignore the internal application of the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to convince them to be doers. This has several components which will be proved throughout the paper. First, Jesus used illustration to convince his audience of his larger point. Second, Jesus exposed the true allegiance of his hearers by these metaphors. Third, the occasion against which Jesus made this case was that his hearers were dull to application of the presence of the kingdom. Fourth, the present life is motivated by that present kingdom to store up treasure in heaven. Fifth, and finally, the purpose which he sought was to convince His hearers of the main point of the Sermon on the Mount, namely, to be doers of the word, which means those who apply the word to their hearts.

  1. 1.      Illustrative:

The Sermon on the Mount is a sermon. The William Hendrickson commented about the rhetorical style, “The sermon itself is well organized. This is true with respect to all the reported discourses of the Lord… Jesus never rambles. He chose a theme. In the present case that theme is the gospel of the kingdom (4:23)… The sermon has well-defined “points.”  These are not stiff or formal- the bones do not stick out- but organic.”[2] These are all marks of the sermonic nature of the Sermon on the Mount. It is rhetoric.

This is nothing too profound, but it is helpful, because the genre of discourse as a form of communication plays by certain relatively constituent rules. This piece of context is helpful for understanding the place our text, 6:19-24 plays in the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount. Pieter J.J. Botha argues that all ancient writing was written for the sake of public speech.[3] In this sense, Matthew’s Gospel, as a whole, would have been written to be presented orally. The Sermon on the Mount is a sermon within a story. The rhetorical nature of the text is thus expected in the text.

This sermonic style is attested in the rhetorical form of the text in question. There are several elements of oracular expression in 6:19-24. For example, Jesus used illustrations, which would lead his audience from generally familiar realities into a clear understanding of the point which he was making. He used three illustrations. First, he used “treasure” or wealth accumulated before death (vv. 19-20). Second he used light and darkness of the eye, i.e. blindness (vv. 21-23). Finally he used a slave-master relationship (v.24). We will revisit the exact meaning of these in the third section below. These illustrations confirm the kind of genre which we are dealing with. It is a sermon. As such, these illustrations take part in the process of convincing the audience to be doers of the word, not only hearers (5:19-20, 7:15-23).  

Further, Jesus used antonymy in his presentation. For example, Matthew 6:19-20 are parallel except for minor variations which change the meaning to antitheses.

Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς,

ὅπου σὴς καὶ βρῶσις ἀφανίζει, —2 nouns, 1 verb

καὶ ὅπου κλέπται διορύσσουσι καὶ κλέπτουσι· 2 verbs, 1 nouns

θησαυρίζετε δὲ ὑμῖν θησαυρούς ἐν οὐρανῷ,

ὅπου οὔτε σὴς οὔτε βρῶσις ἀφανίζει, 2 nouns, 1 verb

καὶ ὅπου κλέπται οὐ διορύσσουσιν οὐδὲ κλέπτουσιν· 2 verbs, 1 noun

He used parallels in verse 19-20 to describe the rust and destruction, breaking and stealing, but he changed the verb to the negative in the latter verse (ou). The change is very subtle, but the subtlety is very loud. He then breaks the pattern of parallelism in verse 21, and gives the reason/rational, “For where your treasure is, there also is where your heart is” (Matt 6:21). These parallels continue in verse 22:

ἐὰν οὖν ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ἁπλοῦς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου φωτεινὸν ἔσται·

ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου σκοτεινὸν ἔσται.  

Here the only distinction is the descriptive predicate “haplous” and “poneros.” He again, broke the parallel to give interpretation in verse 23a, “Therefore, since [first class condition, assumes protasis is true] your light that is in you is darkness, how pervasive is that darkness?”[4]

Lastly, these antonyms form antithetical parallels. The sentence structure is short and crisp, with several parallel sentences. These sentences illustrate one another by antonyms. It is not Greek sentence structure, but Aramaic. Aramaic sentence structure follows the pattern:

Verbà subjectà objectà indirect objectà relative clauses etc…

This is the pattern which much of Matthew, and especially here, follows. Verses 19, 20, 21, 23b all follow this pattern. It is not the highest Greek, but it has a charm and beauty. For our purposes, it is clearly rhetorical. It is incremental. It is memorable. Most of all, it is clear. He did not use long drawn out sentences, but made his point with short crisp antithetical parallels.  

            The nature of a sermon is that it seeks to convince the hearer of some truth. In the context of Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used these devises to engage his readers with things with which they were familiar, and then illustrate his main point. That is, he was convincing them to be singularly devoted to the kingdom, and not another master (see vv. 21, 23, 24).     

2. What the Text Is Doing

Jesus exposed the true allegiance of his hearers by three metaphors. He used three illustrations. First, he used “treasure” or wealth accumulated before death (vv. 19-20). Second he used light and darkness of the eye, i.e. blindness (vv. 21-23). Finally he used a slave-master relationship (vv. 24). These illustrations’ role is to expose the true allegiance Jesus’ audience. The issue is undivided allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven. This claim will be supported by an analysis of the structure of the larger passage and our texts role in that larger context.  

As demonstrated above. Matthew 5-7 was a sermon, or sermonic discourse recorded in Matthew. It is a sermon inside a narrative. It is not a sermon simply for the sake of informing the mind, but for changing the heart. It is an experimental sermon.[5] In fact, it seems to be a sermon about experimental application to one’s inward man. The Sermon on the Mount’s thesis is that the disciples who have been imparted the kingdom, i.e. in the Beatitudes, are not only to be hearers of the word but doers also (Matt 5:19-20).

It is necessary to define the term experimental. Experimental application is not a Gnostic higher meaning derived from self realization, but simply the act of personal application of the word of God. It is personal application of a specific doctrine. It engages the mind and thereby calls for a return to the truth set forth in scripture. Those who possess salvation (i.e. the kingdom of heaven) now are those who bear the fruit of the presence of salvation. That is not to say that they bear fruit and thus are saved by that act, but rather a posteriori are affected by the present possession of eternal life, and seek after God’s kingdom and righteousness. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount models this method of preaching in Matthew. He called the disciples to be doers, not just dull hearers.       

The dull-hearers are those who hear the word and understand but do not seek internal application. Jesus then made his point from the Old Testament (5:21-47). He exposed, in each of these cases, that there was a deeper and more internal implication for these “laws” than meets the eye. Thus he concluded the section, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48). He then went on to confront and expose his hearer’s secret allegiance to either worldly-needs, or worldly-accolades. Rather than having sought the kingdom as the highest good, they sought, implicitly, their own satisfaction and safety (6:1-34). He concluded this section with, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33). We will analyze this section more closely below. Finally, Jesus concluded his sermon with a return of his main theme, namely being doers, not dull hearers (Matt 7). He thus concluded that those dull hearers would not enter His kingdom in the eschaton, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:22-23).

William Hendrickson had a similar outline: The main point is to seek the kingdom, and concludes with the need to be doers of the word.

First, Jesus Speaks about the citizens of the kingdom (5:2-16)

Second, The Lord sets forth the righteousness of the kingdom (5:17-7:12)

Third, Jesus concludes his sermon with an exhortation to enter the kingdom (7:13-27)[6]

Our outline would follow a similar pattern: Seek first the Kingdom

      First, Jesus extends the kingdom to his disciples (5:2-16)

      Thesis: Doers have the kingdom, not dull-hearers (5:17-20)

  1. Exposes the Complexity of Righteousness (5:21-48)
  2. Exposes the Secret Allegiance of the Worldly-minded to accolades and wealth (6:1-34)
  3. Exhorts to Be Doers, since Doers have the kingdom, they will enter the kingdom (7:1-27)  

The Sermon on the Mount as a whole seeks to convince and convict the audience to be doers, not just dull hearers. 

Our text, 19-24, thus fits into this larger argument. It is part of point 2, Exposes the secret allegiance of the worldly minded to accolades and wealth (6:1-34). As such, it is illustrative of the fact that men seek this secret allegiance to either worldly-needs or accolades. This section can be outlined along these lines. 

5:48, Command to Perfection

6:1-18, Exhortation to not Seek Worldly Accolades by Religion

6:19-20, Illustration of Treasure

6:21-23, Illustration of Blindness

6:24 Illustration of Serving two Masters

6:25-34, Exhortation to Undividedly Seek the Kingdom, not Wealth

The outline helps place this text in its context. It is one point out of two, which Jesus used to illustrate his hearers’ secret allegiance to the world. The sin is doing righteousness for gain (6:1). Thus, vv.19-24 exposed this secret allegiance to either the soft capitol of accolade, or the hard capitol of wealth. Neither was evil per se but they became evils when they were sought as the only reason for righteousness.

 The text acts as part of this larger argument. He convinced the audience to be undivided doers of the word, and does so by exposing the secret allegiance to another master. Therefore, by these illustrations, Jesus clarified that his hearers were divided in their allegiance (6:19-24). His next section then exhorted them to an undivided allegiance to the kingdom and righteousness (6:25-24).

3. Their True Allegiance

In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus illustratively exposed the secret allegiance of the dull-hearers to their true master, namely wealth. This section will focus on the occasion against which our passage and the Sermon on the Mount polemicized. The occasion against which Jesus made this case was that his hearers were dull to application of the scripture beyond their outward conformity. The opponent was the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:19-20). Jesus responded to them by arguing that the righteousness of the kingdom is pervasive beyond simple external conformity. Our text therefore exposed their dueling allegiance in order to convince them of their need for inward devotion (5:48; 6:1, 19-24).

Accumulating wealth in this life was their true master. Jesus illustratively exposed the secret allegiance of the dull-hearers to their true master by three metaphors. These are, first, the treasure and the heart (vv. 19-21); second, the lamp of the eye (vv. 22-23); and third, the slave and two masters (v. 24). We now turn to the meaning of each of these metaphors. After this we will describe their function within the larger argument.

The method which we will follow to interpret these illustrations is to first seek the meaning of the thing described, then to define that in context, and finally to determine its referent and use in this text. This method differs from that of many, likely drinking from Robertson’s Word Pictures as the fountainhead.[7] His method of interpreting these was by discovering what faculty they described. He did not try to capture the unified meaning or rhetorical function of these three illustrations, but rather looked at them separately and abstractly. Thus, we shall seek to take the literal, figurative, and contextual senses in order to determine the meaning.


Matthew 6:19-20 exposed the secret allegiance to accolades by the command to lay up treasure in heaven. Verse 19 began with alluring advice. It makes sense to lay up treasures in heaven since they yield eternal dividends. He contrasted this superior treasure to the treasure on earth which moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal (v. 20). The metaphor referred to physical wealth in this life.[8] The meaning for this text is that work in this life leads to wealth and prosperity. Similarly, the age to come will yield the fruit of this life in eternal felicity with God.

The function of this figure was to unearth their earthy mindedness, not simply to characterize inaugurated eschatology. There are three elements in this metaphor, the actor, the object of the actor’s affection (wealth), and the ultimate worth of the thing gained. Jesus exposed that where their treasure was, was really where they set their heart’s affections.  

The word “kai” is usually a coordinate conjunction. However here it takes the meaning of intensification. This is because it is in third position in the clause, “ἐκεῖ ἔσται καὶ.” It is not a postpositive conjunction like “de,” or “gar.” Here is takes on the sense that the “real” the actual allegiance of the heart is to this life.

Heart, he kardia, in verse 21 referred to the inward man. What did he mean by the inward man in this context? A parallel in Matthew 12 illuminates the meaning well: “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is bad.” (Matt 12:34-35, emphasis added). In Matthew 12, the heart and treasury were synonymous. They both denoted the nature/disposition of man which was constrained by the object of their affections. However, in our passage, 6:21, the  heart, as inward disposition/or nature is paralleled by the term treasure as the inward man’s affection. It is not just necessarily physical treasure which is beloved by the disciples, but anything in principle which takes away from the summum bonum of the kingdom and righteousness of God. The heart set itself affectionately upon a controlling object, either the treasure of the current life, or the treasure of the life to come. This treasure profoundly affects one’s ethical categories as a rudder steers a ship  


The second metaphor regarded eyesight. The eye let light into the body.  Literally this regards an eye seeing or not seeing. The eye is either dim (i.e. blind) or enlightened (i.e. seeing). These were metaphors from the Old Testament (Deut 34:7; Job 17:17). Figuratively, in the context of the Old Testament, light from a lamp was a figure for the illumination which the Word of God gives to the disciple (Psa 119:105; Job 29:3; Prov 6:23; Matt 5:15). It was a wisdom category which required diligence for application of the will of God to life.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21). The referent of this metaphor was the same as above with the heart set affectively upon some object. Here the eye controls the body. If the thing favored, or sought was not righteous then the body was not righteous. The eye was the controlling object. The eye is the light in relation to the body. It illumines the body to wisdom or folly. The referent here is the same as above, the controlling principle of the disciples’ lives was either the kingdom or wealth.

On the literal level the meaning is blindness versus sight. The “body’s” condition is determined by the antonyms, “ἁπλοῦς” and “πονηρὸς.”[9] The light for the body is the eye, but if the eye is dark, i.e. sick (πονηρὸς) rather than clear (ἁπλοῦς), then the body also is in dire straits. The referential meaning for this metaphor is not just the necessity for wise acting, but reveals the relationship of the affection to the lifestyle. Affections are set upon either the “ἁπλοῦς,” or “πονηρὸς.” Again, this is the controlling principle. If the controlling principle is bad, then the whole thing is also.

Jesus ended this metaphor with the rhetorical question, “since[10] the light which is in you is darkness, how great is that[11] darkness?” The whole person is darkened. The point of this figure is to, again, reveal the disciples’ affiliation to their true master. Jesus did so by showing that the telos of their work was the controlling factor. They set their minds on darkness, i.e. perverse things.   


The final metaphor is that of the master and the slave. It is the most terse of the three, and has the simplest interpretative clause. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24). The metaphor refers literally to the master slave relationship in order to illustrate the impossibility of divided allegiance. The context of this relationship is quite clear. The master is served () by the slave (doulos). The referent of this metaphor was wealth. This was the sign of the divided allegiance to the kingdom in their external conformity, but accumulating wealth in their internal intentions.[12]  The law of non-contradiction plays out here. Jesus argued that any division of allegiance betrays one in preference of the other.

The master slave relationship in the 1st century was common. It would have been as clear as making a time-theft illustration in contemporary offices. He thus made his conclusion, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” There is debate whether the word mammon referred to a deity or simply to money. The parallelism of these illustrations attests that this whole section deals with wealth. Therefore, in order to preserve the theme, and to remain simple in our interpretation, “wealth” is the best rendering of mamona. Here, internal neutrality was rendered a myth. Internal devotion was a must, because Jesus clearly said, they could not serve his kingdom and earthly wealth. These illustrations thus unearth the wealth of this world as a potential threat to the supremacy of the Kingdom of God in the life of the church. The disciple’s attempt to serve two masters, by mere outward conformity was unearthed by these three illustrations.

Function in the Larger Argument:

The common thread between the three metaphors is that they all function to expose the dual allegiance. Each had a summarizing sentence (v. 21, 23b, 24b.). They all perform a movement from familiar things (wealth/treasure, eyesight, master/slave relationship) to the unfamiliar, or the unchecked. This serves to expose the disciples’ lack of inward devotion. He went from describing and defining the way things ought to be (Matt 5:20, 48; 6:1-18) and now moves into application of the principle of the complexity and the need for a righteousness beyond the mere external conformity. In the discourse, these metaphors play the role of unearthing the true allegiance to another master, the soft capitol of men’s approval and accolades.

4. The Kingdom as Motivation

In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus illustratively exposed the secret allegiance of the dull-hearers to their true master, namely wealth; since they ignore the internal application of the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this section we will argue that the reason that these illustrations were made was because the people of God are part of the new creation. As such, they bear the fruit of the new creation. The presence of the kingdom was the invigorating principle of the obedience of the saints. However, the Scribes and the Pharisees failed to apply it beyond the outward conformity to the will of God (Matt 5:20). This tendency was true of Jesus’ disciples as well, and thus he called them to a holistic devotion to the kingdom, rather than just outward conformity.

As mentioned in the introduction, the second piece of context often neglected by commentators is the presence of the new creation in the Sermon on the Mount. Because the kingdom was present, then inward devotion was possible, and seeking that devotion was the goal of discipleship. Jesus’ argument was that the kingdom of heaven was present among his disciples (5:2-12), therefore they should repent (4:17, 5:18-20).

The Kingdom as Present:

 The kingdom is nothing less than the new-creation described by the Old Testament prophets (Dan 7:9-10, 13-14, 26-27; 9:24; Isa 65:17, 66:22). This new creation breaks into the present world by regenerating and sanctifying the saints of God. This is the presence of eschatological salvation now, yet not consummate.[13]

Some commentators deny the presence of the kingdom.[14] The kingdom’s present reality in the salvation and sanctification of the disciples accounts for the text. First, it account for the text because it was the foundation for his sermon (Matt 4:17). He stated that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:2, emphasis added). He had already imparted his kingdom to them, thus all that came after assumed that point.

Second, the presence of the Kingdom is response to the Pharisees and scribes. It is not a kingdom of mere outward allegiance, but of personal-experimental love for God. Thus Jesus said, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:19-20). The Pharisees were hearers only, and thus did not teach the complexity of the Law. The presence of the kingdom now responds to this at its root, namely, that they rejected the internal application of the word of God.

The Kingdom as Not Yet Consummate:

The future consummation of the kingdom accounts for existential pain and suffering in this life, as assumed in the Beatitudes (5:2-12). The future fullness of the kingdom also account for the current text as it assumes that this life has the temptation to value wealth in this life over righteousness. The temptation is to deny that the present life matters and weighs on the next. The presence of the new creation implies that new creation work may be done now. This is particularly in the lives of the people of God who have experienced the new creation through regeneration and sanctification. Jesus’ command to “store up treasure in heaven” is based in his larger contextual argument that the kingdom is present (Matt 6:19). Thus the kingdom is the summum bonum even in this age since this life may be spent storing up that which lasts, namely regeneration and sanctification.   

Jonathan T Pennington performed a comprehensive word study of the word “heaven” in the New Testament. He argues that the OT and Second Temple Judaism meanings carry over into the New Testament.  Others argued that these phrases, “indicate faithfulness to the Aramaic.”[15] However, Pennington argues that the plural and singular of ouranos have different meanings. “Matthew generally uses ouranos in the singular to refer to the visible (earthly) world and in ‘heaven and earth’ pairs, and he uses the plural to refer to the invisible (Divine) realm.”[16] In the way he phrased his thesis, it is possible that he had in mind to defend this against Louw and Nida, who argued that there was not difference between the singular and the plural.[17] In our text we have the singular dative masculine however, and it almost certainly has to do with the presence of the kingdom in a semi-eschatological sense, because one prepares for it in the present life on earth.

Pennington even digressed, “There are also occasions where the use of heaven involves a semantic ambiguity, one that exists in instance where the edges of the two meanings overlap, as in promises concerning judgments coming ‘from heaven.’”[18]  He was quite adamant from the Second Temple Judaism context that the collocation, heaven (ouranos) and earth (ghs) refer to the physical realm, not a contrast between this age and the next.[19] Though he would admit that Matthew 6:20 is contrastive and not merismatic as in Matthew 5:18, 11:25, and 24:25.

We argue that even though this usage in 6:20 is not in the plural it refers to neither the Divine realm, nor the heaven and earth merism, but rather to the presence and future of the kingdom. This is because the contrast “on earth” contrast to “in heaven (dative masculine singular)” is later paralleled by seeking first in priority the Kingdom and righteousness of God (Matt 6:33). It is a present time of seeking God’s righteousness, and thus the new creation, and in that sense storing up everlasting treasure which will be in the new creation. The point is simply, pay attention to that which lasts, namely sanctification. Do not have two masters, namely sanctification and earthly pleasure, wellbeing, or public accolades, etc.

The problem which Pennington has is really that he defined the Kingdom solely as the “reign of Heaven.”[20]  The problem with this methodology is that he defines the kingdom by the experience of the kingdom in the present inaugurated state, rather than in its fullness to come. It need not be restricted purely to one aspect, but rather to the general realm, ruler, rule, ruled in the new-creation. That new creation breaks into this realm with regeneration and sanctification of the saints. This myopic view of the kingdom forced him to ignore these variations on the themes which carry over from the LXX and Targums.

Our texts’ variations on the themes should be taken for what they are, a theology of the inauguration of the new creation as the highest good for the pilgrim living life on earth fighting the desires of the world the flesh and the devil.  Matthew presented the Sermon on the Mount in the language of the day, as per the LXX and Second Temple Judaism, but an author should not be constrained only to the categories of those sources. Further, the overwhelming sense of preparation of this life for the next excludes his thesis.[21] It assumes too much to argue that Jesus and Matthew were not innovative.

5. The Purpose: Convince to Be Doers

Fifth, and finally, the purpose which Jesus sought was to convince His hearers of the main point of the Sermon on the Mount, namely, to be doers of the word, which means those who apply the word to their hearts. In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus illustratively exposed the secret allegiance of the dull-hearers to their true master, namely wealth; since they ignored the internal application of the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to convince them to be doers. This section of the paper will seek to determine the intended result of the sermon and our texts’ role in accomplishing that purpose.

Jesus sought to convince his disciples to be doers of the word. That is, those who apply the word to their hearts.  The sermon began with the statement that the disciples’ righteousness must exceed the scribes’ and Pharisees’ (Matt 5:19-20). The sermon ended with this same point in the trees and their fruit (7:15-23). The common thread between the beginning and the send is the contrast between doers and dull-hearers. The latter are those who are wolves in sheep clothing, which is a figure for their clean outside and inward-predatorial disposition. This larger context helps guide the exegesis of our passage because it signals that the sermon is an self contained unit. The point of the sermon was to impart the Kingdom to his disciples and call them to application of the Word of God as a result of the presence of the kingdom. Those who experience new life will live out that new life.

The sections of the sermon demonstrate this.

5:2-12, Beatitudes: Indicative Imparting the Kingdom

5:13-16, Call to Be a Light, Salt, and City

5:17-20, Call to Be Doers of Righteousness

5:21-47, Interpretation of Old Testament as Internally Applied

5:48-6:34, Exposition of Earthy-mindedness

7:1-27 Exhortation to Be Doers, not Dull-Hearers

Our text is within the exposition of the hearts of the hearers. Thus it plays a part in accomplishing the larger whole, but also has its own function, and must be interpreted in that light. With that principle laid down, it becomes likely that this text can be over-interpreted. Commentators, as mentioned above, strained over the exact referent of these three figurative expressions in Matthew 6:19-24. The three metaphors in Matthew 6:19-24, seen as part of the larger argument in point 4 above, have a similar referent. They refer to earthy-mindedness.

This helps situate them in the context of 5:48-6:34. The affections are set on a something earthy rather than the kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:31, cf 33). The conclusion of the passage is the exhortation to seek the kingdom and righteousness, since it lasts. Jesus exposed this dual allegiance to the kingdom and things of this world. This does not pit earthly needs and the kingdom against one another, but rather the issue is righteousness. The goal of pilgrim life (i.e. the life of disciples who seek the highest good of the age to come) is not earthly goods but God’s will.

Specifically, in our text, Jesus concluded with the statement that one is “not able to be a slave to both God and Mammon” (v. 24). The myth of neutrality is exposed, but also the highest good is implied. This negative expression implies that one should indeed serve God, not Mammon. This means that even wealth must serve God! This agrees with the conclusion of this section in verses 33-34, and in the larger argument that disciples ought to be doers. 6:19-24 serves its purpose of exposing the earthy-mindedness, and also serves the larger purpose of convincing the disciples to internal and pervasive application of the word of God.

It does not require a stretch of the imagination to assume that a landlocked, subsistence, agrarian culture would care about their crops, water, wealth, clothes, and homes (v. 31). The context of the people to whom the sermon was addressed is very understandable. These are not middle-class Americans who seek a sort of hippy lifestyle, who leach off those who are productive in society. The context to which Jesus spoke was a subsistence culture. They were poor. They could die from starvation, exposure, or thirst. The weight of Jesus’ words are thus not without profundity. They spoke to the condition of the disciples. Robertson argued that Mammon was a deity from Syria (which it was, but this is an illegitimate conclusion), and thus implies that Jesus’ point was to seek God not this foreign deity’s will.[22] This does not fit the context, since in verse 31 the physical needs of the people become the focal point of the passage. Rather, Jesus used things they needed to survive, in order to illustrate his point that nothing can become more important, or a controlling factor above the kingdom of heaven and righteousness, even that which is needed to live (vv. 31-33).        


In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus illustratively exposed the secret allegiance of the dull-hearers to their true master, namely wealth; since they ignored the internal application of the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to convince them to be doers. The Sermon on the Mount, as a sermon and as a prophetic utterance of the presence of the Kingdom of God called upon those to whom the kingdom had been conveyed to be proper citizens of that Kingdom. At first glance, Jesus seemed to call for the impossible, namely that his disciples excel the Scribes and Pharisees in righteousness, and even to be perfect as God indeed is perfect (Matt 5:19-20, 48). His point was to demonstrate that the Old Testament itself was more than skin deep, as the Pharisees and scribes had been teaching (5:21-47). The righteousness of the kingdom is not just as neutral as the external ritual, but as complex as the human condition. Therefore, the sermon calls for an experimental application to the internal person. It is not simply enough to point out the speck one’s brother’s eye, yet to miss the plank in one’s own (7:4). The kingdom righteousness is one of undivided allegiance. Thus this text, as a part of that rhetorical whole calls to a singular, and undivided pursuit of the master, the Father in heaven. This is not just external conformity, but inward and experimental religious devotion to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Bibliography of Works Cited

Bauer, W., ed. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by F.W Danker, W.F. Arndt, and F.W. Gengrich. 1 vol. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Baugh, S.M. A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Notes and Grammar. Phillpsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999.

———. A New Testament Greek Primer. 1st. Phillpsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999.

Botha, Pieter J.J. “New Testament Texts in the Content of Reading Practices of the Roman Period: the Role of Memory and Performance.” Scriptura 90 (2005): 621-40.

Cargounis, Chrys C. “Kingdom of God, Son of Man, and Jesus’ Self -Understanding.” Tyndale Bulletin 40.1 (1989): 3-23.

Davies, W.D. and Dale C. Allison. Matthew 1-7. Vol. 1 of Matthew. Intenational Critical Commentary. London: T&T Clark, 2004.

Hendrickson, William. Exposition of the Gospel Acording to Matthew. Hendrickson and Kistermaker Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973.

Kulikovsky, Andrew. “The Sermon on the Mount fro a Kingdom Perspective.” No pages. Cited 11/20/2010. Online: http://hermeneutics.kulikovskyonline.net/hermeneutics/sermmt.pdf.

Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd. New York, NY: United Bible Society, 1989.

Pennington, Jonathan. Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. Boston, MA: Brill, 2007.

Ridderbos, Herman. The Coming of the Kingdom. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992.

Robertson, Archibald T. Matthew and  Mark. Vol. 1 of Word Pictures in the New Testament. RWP. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930.

Scaer, David P. The Sermon on the Mount: the Church’s First Statement of the Gospel. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2000.

Summers, Ray and Thomas Sawyer. Essentials of New testament Greek. Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman Publishers, 1995.

Wallace, Daniel I. Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

[1] David P. Scaer, The Sermon on the Mount: the Chruch’s First Statement of the Gospel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2000), 35-41

[2] William Hendrickson, Exposition of the Gospel Acording to Matthew (HK; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 262-63

[3] Pieter J.J. Botha, “New Testament Texts in the Content of Reading Practices of the Roman Period: the Role of Memory and Performance,” Scriptura 90 (2005):

[4] Ray Summers and Thomas Sawyer, Essentials of New testament Greek (Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman Publishers, 1995), 121-22

[5] This is a puritan category. Though it is anachronistic, it fist here relatively well. 

[6] Hendrickson, Matthew, 263

[7] Archibald Robertson, Matthew and  Mark (vol. 1 of Word Pictures in the New Testament; RWP; Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), 56-7

[8] The necessity of wealth does not require a great deal of deliberation, since the times have not changed so far as to move us beyond using currency. This is, no doubt, much to the consternation of Star Trek fans who assumed that the 21st century would yield a freedom from currency.

[9] According to BADG the meaning here is “poor in [physical] condition” not in sinful condition (BADG, 1.a). This makes sense because it is a metaphor for physical sight. The ethical evaluation of the metaphor does not come until verse 23b.

[10] Conditional Sentence assumes the protasis to be true, see Ray Summers and Thomas Sawyer, Essentials of New testament Greek (Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman Publishers, 1995), 121-122

[11] Acts as Demonstrative pronoun, see S.M. Baugh, A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Notes and Grammar (Phillpsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999), 88

[12] One wonders, if there truly were a pantheon of gods, when one were to arrive in the afterlife to find some deities angry at him, since he did not show equal devotion at their respective temples. If I were a polytheist, I would want to know an answer to this. But that is neither here nor there.

[13] Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992),

[14] Chrys C. Cargounis, “Kingdom of God, Son of Man, and Jesus’ Self -Understanding,” Tynd. 40.1 (1989): 3-23

[15] W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew 1-7 (vol. 1 of Matthew; ICC; London: T&T Clark, 2004), 90

[16] Jonathan Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Boston, MA: Brill, 2007), 132, the italics are original.

[17] L&N, 1:11

[18] Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 135

[19] Ibid, 139

[20] Loc. 140

[21] L&N 65:10 cf Matthew 19:21. 65:11 the entry under thesaurizo They cross reference the meaning to I Tim 6:19 which has a similar meaning and makes explicit the age to come as the object of this work. They point out that themelion in this reference should be viewed as “something of value.”

[22] Robertson, Word Pictures, 57