Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Sermon on the Mount

Consider the Lilies

Matthew  6:19-34

Lesson audio

Treasure in Heaven

Matthew 6:19-21 NASB  "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  (20)  "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  (21)  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

What Does That Mean?

Sometimes it helps to be literal minded. Just how does one store up treasure in heaven? After all, it’s not like you can send it by FedEx. So just what is one supposed to do? I suggest there are two well-established methods:

·         The first has to do with common charity. I would point out that, contrary to some current teaching, the most common form of common charity is personal. That means you give a non-deductible, not tax-free gift to someone in need. The gift itself might not be money; it might be getting someone a job, for instance. Whatever it is, it’s you sacrificing for someone else. This also includes the less common form of common charity, which is giving to some organization which provides charitable services to others. The authors home church, for example, spends 15% of its income on missions in other parts of the world. Like many such missions, these missions are a combination of evangelism and practical assistance.

·         The second method is quite simple: tithe.  This gets one of two interesting reactions. Those who do not tithe often can tell you, mathematically, just why it’s impossible for them to do it. This, in the richest country in the world. Those who do tithe have quite different reaction. They usually shuffle their feet, look down, and then tell you something like, “well, the Lord has blessed us so much…” My usual statement is this: if you want God to bless you, tithe.  Then you can buy your calculator.

It’s a matter of getting your financial priorities straight. Even if you’re one of those sophisticated investors who has a financial planner to assist in the process, the planner will tell you first things first — know what your objectives are; know what your priorities are. For the Christian, the first priority is God; the first objective is laying up treasure in heaven. The rest is mathematics.

If Not Money, What?

This strikes many people as absurd. After all, they ask, what’s more important than making money? We can give you a few answers to that.

Solomon put it this way:

Proverbs 16:16 NASB  How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.

 

Let me put it another way. A rich fool is just that — a fool. If you need an example, let me give you two words: trophy wife.

You have to have a positive way to approach this; a life composed entirely of “thou shalt not” just doesn’t work. As I said, you need to get your objectives and your priorities straight. The Scripture puts it this way:

1 Timothy 6:17 NASB  Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

 

Put your hope in God; it works. To do this you are going to need to learn to accept the poverty you have. This is almost ridiculous in America, a land where even the beggars are rich. But for the Christian it is part of the experience needed to mature. The apostle James put it this way:

James 2:5 NASB  Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

 

It does seem that riches may indeed be a barrier to the rich faith that God wants you to have. Think it through; are the blessings of God only for the rich? No; God is no “respecter of persons.” Is it not logical therefore that the blessings he chooses to give us are those which are unrelated to money? I have served in a rich church and in a poor church; I regret to tell you that the rich church is really the poor one.

Why Is This so Hard?

Americans in particular seem to find this most difficult. The abundance of money in America creates problems for the Christian. I would point out three reasons why most Americans have such difficulty accepting the idea that there treasure should be in heaven:

·         First is the desire for security. When there is a lot of money around, it seems that security can be attained by having a lot of money. If your society is dirt poor, the possibility doesn’t exist. In America, it appears all around us. But if you please, look at the fine print on your brokerage statement. It will tell you that all investments are a risk; things could go wrong and you could go broke. There is no real security in money. If you have money, use it wisely — build up treasure in heaven.

·         Perhaps more important is the sin of envy. We don’t want to build up treasure in heaven because were so busy using it on earth to keep up with our next-door neighbors. If my neighbor gets a bigger boat, I must have a bigger boat. Think about this: suppose you didn’t buy the boat at all. Suppose you decide to sacrifice the money you had set aside for the boat for the sake of those more in need than yourself. It’s a change in attitude, but it is laying up treasure in heaven.

·         In my opinion the biggest problem of all is pride. It comes in two forms. The least common form is that of saving face; we want to appear respectable. We have to keep up appearances. The more common form is the ostentatious pride of someone who has to tell you just how wonderful he is, as evidenced by his wealth. The horrible thing about that last option is that such a person can be proud of his wealth — and proud of his giving. Do not let your right arm know what your left arm is doing!

Lamp of the Body

Matthew 6:22-24 NASB  "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, 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 that is 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 one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

 

Definitions

Before we go too much further, we need to do a little explanation of the Scripture as the original hearers would’ve understood it.

·         The word “eye” is a common metaphor for the desires of the human heart. We often say something like, “he’s got an eye for…” or “keep an eye on her.” This goes along with the ancient Greek conception that site was something that happened because the eye generated some sort of ray which did the seeing. So what Christ is talking about here is keeping your desires clean.

·         The word used in this translation, “clear”, is also translated “simple.” The original meaning is something that was applied to cloth. If a piece of cloth was laid out unfolded it was said to be clear. In other words, you could see all of the cloth, not just the part the merchant wanted on display. The generalization of this was anything that was in right order. Applied to the eye, this would mean that you had clear vision.[1]

·         The word “Mammon” is taken from the Chaldean language. For the ancient Hebrew it had to uses: it could mean simply money, or it could also mean one of the Greek gods who was worshiped as the God of wealth. So there is a touch of the idea of idolatry about this word. It brings to our mind that it is possible to worship money.

·         We should not need to define the word “other.” However, the word used in verse 24 in the original Greek implies an opposite. So it’s not something like “red or blue.” You’re not picking from two similar items, but making a choice between two opposite items.

Single-Minded Devotion — Why Not?

So why do we find this so difficult? Why is this something we don’t choose once and leave it set? There are a number of reasons:

·         For some of us the art of flip-flopping seems to come naturally. We have to have the latest fashion, the latest fad. Often enough we are influenced by others around us so much that we can’t really make up our own minds; we have to borrow theirs.

·         More commonly, some of us are socially acceptable hypocrites. We want the best of this world and of God; and we want to be able to pick and choose. It’s not hard to figure out which choices are socially acceptable, even though hypocritical. Pursuing the almighty dollar is one of these.

Single-minded devotion is not an emotion, despite the emergent church to the contrary. It is an act of the will; it is a decision. As such it has two primary characteristics:

·         It begins with a decision made any rational, calm manner. If you make this decision in an emotional high, you will quickly repent of it. You will save yourself, “well, I was feeling really enthusiastic.” Make this decision when your head is level and your feet are on the ground.

·         It continues by reaffirming this decision on a daily basis. Like any habit, it must be practiced. There is a reason that people (including this author) write daily devotionals.

How to Do It

So, how does one go about doing this? I would make two suggestions:

·         First, set your mind on things above. Deliberately decide to focus on the things of God, not on the things of this world. It’s a decision; make it. Don’t let it happen by accident.

·         Then decide to enjoy what God has given you. That too is a decision. For example, I have decided to enjoy the wife of my youth rather than chase down a trophy wife (because I already have one.)

Providence

Matthew 6:25-34 NASB  "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to 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, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  (27)  "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  (28)  "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  (29)  yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  (30)  "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  (31)  "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'  (32)  "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  (33)  "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (34)  "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

The Concept of Providence

Of course, the obvious question is this: if I put my trust in God, what is he going to do in my life? The normal answer is that of Providence. Simply put, Christ is the sustainer of the universe. The reason the laws of physics work today the same way they did yesterday is because God so wills it. He sustains his creation. That sustenance also includes you. He tells you that he will provide, which is, of course, Providence. It generally comes in one of three flavors:

·         Direct Providence. An example of this would be Elijah being fed by the ravens in the wilderness. It means simply that God is intervening in your affairs, letting you know exactly what is going to do, but not doing so in terms of an obvious miracle. This is rather rare.

·         Instant Providence. This is the kind of Providence you hear stories about. God’s, it seems, has a penchant for providing for his children in exactly the right amount the right time. It’s not miraculous, but it’s one heck of a coincidence. This is the kind of thing that strengthens your faith, but it’s still pretty rare.

·         Overriding Providence. This is the normal kind of Providence. Things just seem to work out; you just have to hang in there long enough. Remember Jacob in prison? It took a while to get him out, but God had not neglected him. The reason this is the normal kind of Providence is that it both provides for you and trains you for the future; God is kind of economical that way.

God Can — but Will He?

Most Christians have no problem accepting the idea that God is powerful enough to do whatever he pleases, including provide for them. We’re thrilled to hear stories of missionaries who receive checks for the exact right amount of money exactly on time. The question however for most of us is, will he do that for us?

That’s what Christ is answering, by example, in this passage. He points out to us some of the common objects around us which clearly benefit from God’s care. As Christ sustains the universe, he sustains the birds of the air. If he didn’t, they would soon go extinct. Now he does that for the birds, how much better will he treat you? That’s essentially the argument is going on here; you, the child of God, are much more important to him than birds or grass. So he will take much better care for you; it’s part of his character. That point is quite important; when you pray it’s usually a good idea to appeal to God’s character rather than your own merits. After all, his character doesn’t change. Your merits do.

But there is a condition to this: you must be a faithful Christian. That means – as pointed out in this chapter — that you have one master, God. This is known as being a “real Christian” — as opposed to the kind that shows up on Sunday morning, sings and listens, and goes out unaffected for the rest of the week. Do you think the coach can’t tell a lack of sincerity? How much more God? If the only reason you’re on the football team is to attract the girls, you’re going to sit on the bench a lot.

Seek First

If you are to seek first the kingdom of God, it helps to have a little advice on the steps to take. I submit there are three things that every Christian can do:

·         First, seek to understand the kingdom of God. If you are uneducated in the Scriptures, remedy this as soon as possible. Know what it is you are seeking.

·         Next, seek to participate in the kingdom of God. There is a reason God gave us the church.

·         Finally, seek to serve others in the kingdom of God. Your Lord did not come to be served, but to be a servant.

In the course of this you must also seek righteousness, for God is righteous. That means that you must seek it for yourself, to always be a righteous person. That means you must seek it for others; let your eyes be open to see injustice and correct it where you can.

Other than that, don’t worry. As the motto of the Royal Navy used to be, “Fear God, Dread Naught.” In particular, remember that you can do nothing about yesterday, for yesterday is history and history belongs to God. Nor can you really do anything about tomorrow; you really only have the present. Focus your thought and effort, therefore, on using the present wisely. Consider the lilies of the field.



[1] The author of these lessons wears an eye patch over his right eye. This point about having clear vision is therefore quite dear to his heart — and his left eye.

Previous     Home     Next