Where is Your Treasure?

 

Week of June 12, 2011

 

Bible Verses:Matthew 6:19-34.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about priorities and the real measure of wealth.

 

Collect the Right Treasure:Matthew 6:19-21.

 

[19]"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20]but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21]For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[ESV]

 

In the first half of Matthew 6 [1-18] Jesus describes the Christianís private life in the secret place (giving, praying, fasting); in the second half [19-34] he is concerned with our public business in the world (questions of money, possessions, food, drink, clothing and ambition). In both spheres (secret and public) the same insistent summons of Jesus is heard, the call to be different from the popular culture: different from the hypocrisy of the religious [1-18] and now different also from the materialism of the irreligious [19-34]. For although the Pharisees were largely in His mind at the beginning of the chapter, it is the Gentiles whose value system He now bids us renounce [32]. In fact Jesus places the alternatives before us at every stage. There are two treasures (on earth and in heaven [19-21]), two bodily conditions (light and darkness [22-23]), two masters (God and mammon [24]) and two preoccupations (our bodies and Godís kingdom [25-34]). We cannot sit on the fence. But how shall we make our choice? Worldly ambition has a strong fascination for us. The spell of materialism is hard to break. So in this section Jesus helps us to choose well. He points out the folly of the wrong way and the wisdom of the right. He sets the false and the true over against each other in such a way as to invite us to compare them and see for ourselves.

 

[19-21]In verses 19-21 the point to which Jesus directs our attention is the comparative durability of the two treasures. It ought to be easy to decide which to collect, He implies, because earthly treasures are corruptible and therefore insecure, whereas heavenly treasures are incorruptible and therefore secure. After all, if our object is to lay up treasure, we shall presumably concentrate on the kind which will last and can be stored without either depreciation or deterioration. It is important to face squarely and honestly the question: what was Jesus prohibiting when He told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? It may help if we begin by listing what He was not forbidding. First, there is no ban on possessions in themselves; Scripture nowhere forbids private property. Secondly, saving is not forbidden to Christians. On the contrary, Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever [1 Tim. 5:8]. So neither having possessions, nor making provision for the future, nor enjoying the gifts of a good Creator are included in the ban on earthly treasure-storage. What then? What Jesus forbids His followers is the selfish accumulation of goods (lay up for yourselves); extravagant and luxurious living; the hardheartedness which does not feel the colossal need of the worldís underprivileged people; the foolish fantasy that a personís life consists in the abundance of his possessions; and the materialism which tethers our hearts to the earth. For the Sermon on the Mount repeatedly refers to the heart, and here Jesus declares that our heart always follows our treasure, whether down to earth or up to heaven [21]. The earthly treasure we covet, Jesus reminds us, is subject to decay, devaluation and being stolen. Even if some of the treasure lasts through this life, we can take none of it with us to the next life. But treasure in heaven is incorruptible. What is this treasure? Jesus does not explain but we may say that it is to do anything on earth whose effects last for eternity. Jesus was certainly not teaching a doctrine of merit, as if we could accumulate by good deeds done on earth a kind of credit account in heaven on which we and others might draw, for such a grotesque notion contradicts the gospel of grace which Jesus and His apostles consistently taught. And in any case Jesus is addressing disciples who have already received the salvation of God. It seems rather to refer to such things as: the development of Christlike character; the increase of faith, hope and love, all of which abide; growth in the knowledge of Christ whom one day we shall see face to face; the active endeavor (by prayer and witness) to introduce others to Christ so that they too may inherit eternal life; and the use of our money for Christian causes, which is the only investment whose dividends are everlasting. All these are temporal activities with eternal consequences. This then is treasure in heaven which is not subject to destruction nor theft.

 

Select the Right Master:Matthew 6:22-24.

 

[22]"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, [23]but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! [24]"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[ESV]

 

[22-23]A Question of Vision. Jesus turns from the comparative durability of the two treasures to the comparative benefit to be derived from two conditions. The contrast now is between a blind person and a sighted person, and so between the light and darkness in which they respectively live. Frequently in Scripture the eye is equivalent to the heart. That is, to set the heart and to fix the eye on something are synonyms. Thus Jesus passes from the importance of having our heart in the right place [21] to the importance of having our eye sound and healthy. The argument seems to go like this: just as our eye affects our whole body, so our ambition (where we fix our eyes and heart) affects our whole life. Just as a seeing eye gives light to the body, so a noble and single-minded ambition to serve God and man adds meaning to life and throws light on everything we do. Again, just as blindness leads to darkness, so an ignoble and selfish ambition plunges us into moral darkness. It makes us intolerant, inhuman, ruthless and deprives life of all ultimate significance. It is all a question of vision. If we have physical vision, we can see what we are doing and where we are going. So too if we have spiritual vision, if our spiritual perspective is correctly adjusted, then our life is filled with purpose and drive. But if our vision becomes clouded by the false gods of materialism, and we lose our sense of values, then our whole life is in darkness and we cannot see where we are going. Thus Jesus adds this new reason for laying up treasure in heaven. The first was its greater durability; the second the resulting benefit now on earth of such a vision.

 

[24]A Question of Worth. Jesus now explains that behind the choice between two treasures and two visions there lies the still more basic choice between two masters. It is a choice between God and mammon, that is between the living Creator Himself and any object of our own creation we term money. For we cannot serve both. Those who think that they can serve both God and money misunderstand Jesusí teaching, for they miss the picture of slave and slave owner which lies behind His words. While someone can work for two employers, no slave can be the property of two owners, for single ownership and fulltime service are the essence of slavery. So anybody who divides his allegiance between God and money has already given in to money, since God can be served only with an entire and exclusive devotion. This is simply because He is God. To try to share Him with other loyalties is to have opted for idolatry. And when the choice is seen for what it is Ė a choice between Creator and creature, between the glorious personal God and a miserable thing called money, between worship and idolatry Ė it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. For now it is a question not just of comparative durability and comparative benefit, but of comparative worth: the intrinsic worth of the One and the intrinsic worthlessness of the other.

 

Reject Sinful Anxiety:Matthew 6:25-34.

 

[25]"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26]Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27]And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28]And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29]yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30]But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31]Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' [32]For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33]But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34]"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.[ESV]

 

[25-34]A Question of Ambition. Therefore indicates that this teaching is a conclusion of Jesus to His teaching which had led up to these verses. He calls us to thought before He calls us to action. He invites us to look clearly and coolly at the alternatives before us and to weigh them up carefully. We want to accumulate treasure? Then which of the two possibilities is the more durable? We wish to be free and purposive in our movements? Then what must our eyes be like to facilitate this? We wish to serve the best master? Then we must consider which is the more worthy of our devotion. Only when we have grasped with our minds the comparative durability of the two treasures, the comparative usefulness of the two eye conditions and the comparative worth of the two masters, are we ready to make our choice. And only when we have made our choice Ė for heavenly treasure, for light, for God Ė therefore I tell you how to behave. In other words, our basic choice of which of two masters we intend to serve will radically affect our attitude to both. We shall not be anxious about the one (for we have rejected it), but concentrate our mind and energy on the other (for we have chosen Him); we shall refuse to become engrossed in our own concerns, but instead seek first the concerns of God. Christís language of search [32-33] introduces us to the subject of ambition. Jesus took it for granted that all human beings are seekers. It is not natural for people to drift aimlessly through life like plankton. We need something to live for, something to give meaning to our existence, something to seek, something on which to set our hearts and our minds. Ambition concerns our goals in life and our incentives for pursuing them. A personís ambition is what makes him tick; it uncovers the mainspring of his actions, his secret inner motivation. Once again our Lord simplifies the issue for us by reducing the alternative possible life-goals to only two. He puts them over against each other in this section, urging His followers not to be preoccupied with their own security (food, drink and clothing), for that is the obsession of the Gentiles who do not know Him, but rather with Godís rule and Godís righteousness, and with their spread and triumph in the world.

[25-30]Worry is incompatible with Christian faith. In verse 30 Jesus describes those who are anxious about food and clothing as people of little faith. The reasons He gives why we should trust God instead of being anxious are both ďhow much moreĒ arguments. One is taken from human experience and argues from the greater to the lesser; the other comes from sub-human experience (birds and flowers) and argues from the lesser to the greater. Our human experience is this: God created and now sustains our life; He also created and continues to sustain our body. We neither made ourselves, nor keep ourselves alive. Now, our life (for which God is responsible) is obviously more important than the food and drink which nourish it. Similarly our body (for which God is also responsible) is more important than the clothing which covers and warms it. Well then, if God already takes care of the greater (our life and our body), can we not trust Him to take care of the lesser (our food and our clothing)? The logic is inescapable, and Jesus enforces it in verse 27 with the question: which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? A human being cannot achieve this by himself. So just as we leave these matters to God (for they are certainly beyond us), would it not be sensible to trust Him for lesser things like food and clothes? Next, Jesus turns to the sub-human world and argues the other way round. He uses birds as an illustration of Godís supply of food [26] and flowers to illustrate His supply of clothing [28-30]. In both cases He tells us to consider them, that is, to think about the facts of Godís providential care in their case. Since God provides for the birds and flowers, can we not trust Him to feed and clothe us who are of much more value? There are three considerations we should be aware of concerning the application of this child-like Christian faith which Jesus asks of us. First, believers are not exempt from earning their own living. We cannot sit back and expect God to provide for our needs without working for them. The use of means ought not to lessen our faith in God, and our faith in God ought not to hinder our using whatever means He has given us for the accomplishment of His own purposes. Secondly, believers are not exempt from responsibility for others. The fact that God feeds and clothes His children does not exempt us from the responsibility of being the agents through whom He does it. Thirdly, believers are not exempt from experiencing trouble. Christ commands us not to be anxious, but does not promise that we shall be immune to all misfortune. So then Godís children are promised freedom neither from work, nor from responsibility, nor from trouble, but only from worry. Worry is forbidden us: it is incompatible with Christian faith.

 

[31-34]It is important to see verses 31-33 together. Verse 31 repeats the prohibition against being anxious about food, drink and clothing. Verse 32 adds that heathen ambition focuses on material necessities. But this cannot be right for Christians partly because your heavenly Father knows that you need them, but mostly because these things are not an appropriate or worthy object for the Christianís quest. He must have something else, something higher, as the Supreme Good which he will energetically seek: not material things, but spiritual values; not his own good but Godís; in fact not food and clothing, but the kingdom and the righteousness of God. When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God He was not referring to the general sovereignty of God over nature and history, but to that specific rule over His own people which He Himself had inaugurated, and which begins in anybodyís life when he humbles himself, repents, believes, submits and is born again. Godís kingdom is Jesus Christ ruling over His people in total blessing and total demand. To seek first this kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ. Such a desire will start with ourselves, until every single department of our life Ė home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, life-style, citizenship Ė is joyfully and freely submissive to Christ. It will continue in our immediate environment, with the acceptance of evangelistic responsibility towards our relatives, colleagues, neighbors and friends. And it will also reach out in global concern for the missionary witness of the church. Our ambition, then, is to seek first His kingdom, to cherish the passionate desire that His name should receive from men the honor which is due to it. It is not clear why Jesus distinguished between His kingdom and His righteousness as twin but separate objects of our Christian quest. For Godís rule is a righteous rule, and already in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has taught us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be willing to be persecuted for it and to exhibit a righteousness greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now we are told to seek first the righteousness of God in addition to seeking first the kingdom of God. Godís kingdom exists only where Jesus Christ is consciously acknowledged. To be in His kingdom is synonymous with enjoying His salvation. Only the born again have seen and entered this kingdom. And to seek it first is to spread the good news of salvation in Christ. But Godís righteousness is a wider concept than Godís kingdom. It includes that individual and social righteousness to which reference has been made earlier in the Sermon. And God, because He is Himself a righteous God, desires righteousness in every human community, not just in every Christian community. God hates injustice and loves righteousness everywhere. Now one of Godís purposes for His new and redeemed community is through them to make His righteousness attractive and so commend it to all men. Then people outside Godís kingdom will see it and desire it, and the righteousness of Godís kingdom will, as it were, spill over into the non-Christian world. Of course the deep righteousness of the heart which Jesus emphasizes in the Sermon is impossible to any but the regenerate; but some degree of righteousness is possible in unregenerate society Ė in personal life, in family standards and in public decency. To be sure, Christians want to go much further than this and see people actually brought into Godís kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 34 concludes this section with the command: do not be anxious. Worry is as inconsistent with common sense as it is with Christian faith. All worry is about tomorrow, whether about food or clothing or anything else; but all worry is experienced today. Whenever we are anxious, we are upset in the present about some event which may happen in the future. However, these fears of ours about tomorrow, which we feel so acutely today, may not be fulfilled. So then worry is a waste Ė a waste of time, thought and nervous energy. We need to learn to live a day at a time. We should plan for the future, or course, but not worry about the future.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† Compare the two treasures Jesus describes in 6:19-21. What was Jesus prohibiting when He told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? What is the heavenly treasure?

 

2.†††††††† Jesus speaks of two treasures, two visions and two masters. Note the ďeither/orĒ nature of Jesusí teaching. Our world teaches compromise and tolerance as the basis for viewing life. But concerning spiritual matters (heavenly treasure, spiritual vision, devotion to God as our Lord) Jesus teaches that there can be no compromise. Why does Jesus teach this? Why canít we serve God and money; desire earthly and heavenly treasure; focus our attention of both spiritual and earthly things? What happens to our spiritual relationship with our Lord when we compromise in these areas of our lives?

 

3.†††††††† The Therefore of 6:25 connects the choices we make in 6:19-24 with the command do not be anxious. Jesus is teaching us that the way we live is based upon the decisions we make with our mind and heart (or will). If we compromise in the area of our thoughts and decisions then anxiety or worry is the consequence. What two reasons does Jesus give in 6:25-30 for why we should trust God instead of being anxious?

 

4.†††††††† Verse 34 is the summary statement for this section. What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? How will doing this change the way you live?

 

References:

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar, Eerdmans.

The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Jesusí Sermon on the Mount, D. A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.