30 June 2013
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
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.
The Lamp of the Body
22 "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
You Cannot Serve God and Riches
24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
This week we turn to a familiar passage of the Sermon on the Mount. There are countless lessons, sermons, and studies based upon You cannot serve God and Money. This phrase has led to many discussions about the usage of money and the Christian Life. It is important for us to consider it as well, not just because money is an important topic, but also because it is an important part of the argument for practicing righteousness that Jesus is presenting in the Sermon on the Mount.
We need to remember that this passages comes in the section of the Sermon prefaced with Matthew 6:1. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven." The issue of "practicing righteousness" is also apparent in the way we deal with our own money. Previously the sermon spoke of how one's gives money, so when we look at this passage we must keep in mind that the topic is more concerned with the way in which the Christian handles his/her's own money, and from that we can also include the possessions with which one spends one's money.
In general we must make the point in this lesson that there is a righteous way to handle your money and possessions and there is an unrighteous (or self-righteous) way to handle it. We will walk through this passage thought by thought to show how we are to practice righteousness with our money and possessions.
Invest in what Lasts
When we come to this text the first thing that we must notice is the imperative that sets off the section don not lay up. This phrase is important to notice because it is a command. Jesus is talking to us directly and telling what not to do. In this command one is confronted with the age old decision of obeying or not, but before that decision is to be made the reasoning for such a command are given as well.
In this passage we are told not to lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. This last phrase points out the temporary status of the things that we have on this earth, including money. Everything that we have will fall apart at one point. The clothes we buy will wear out, the gadgets we gather will be obsolete in a year, even the larger investments, like homes and vehicles, will ultimately fail us. The things of the earth are temporary; they can be destroyed, decayed, or stolen and we are left without them when that happens.
If you follow the idea of fasting and prayer to express your dependency upon God, then you can understand that our finances also express our dependency on God, and a desire for His eternal kingdom.
In comparison to not laying up temporary treasures on earth is the command to lay up treasure in heaven. The basic meaning of this is that what we have in heaven is eternal. Nothing can break it, destroy it, or steal it. The treasures of heaven are those things serving God. Our relationships with God's people, our investing in God's work, and ultimately our relationship with God Himself, all are treasures we can lay up, investments in the eternal. What we have in heaven will last forever.
This text is very similar it 1 John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
In this passage we also have a negative command: to not love the world. When one love's the world one is incapable of loving the Father. There is a mutual exclusivity between the two. Moreover, this text in 1 John indicates that what is in the world is passing away. The Greek language here indicates a downward spiral. Thus, we can say that the things of this world are not worth investing in because they are progressively getting worse. Temporary things are a bad investment.
The close of this section of Scripture states it simply: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. An illustration we used here before is to imagine carrying all your valuables with you in a duffle bag. And anytime you set that bag down your focus would be constantly drawn to that bag. To watch it, keep it and protect it. In that behavior is the natural understanding that earthly treasure can be lost, devalued, even destroyed as with all temporary things.
Consume what is Healthy
The next paragraph in the text seems to be odd at first reading. It may appear that Jesus is now just quoting proverbs to His audience, but that is not true. Though this is proverbial, it is nevertheless germane to the topic. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, 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 in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
There is a behavior called tunnel-vision, which is being so focused on one thing that you miss all the other things around us. If your focus is already on the light of God's kingdom, then that focus will enlighten everything you do. But if you can only see the temporary, and focus on those things then your life will full of darkness.
Think of the current campaigns to stop texting and driving. The campaign is important because when we are texting our eyes' attention is on our phone instead of on the road in front of us. In a way we have darkened our eyesight to that which is most important in the moment: keeping watch on the road.
Though our eyes are small they take in much around us that aids us in our bodily tasks. It is also true of our spiritual lives. The things we allow ourselves to see have a great effect on the way in which our spiritual life functions. If we allow ourselves to consume the evils of the world, the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes and pride of life, (as 1 John said) we will be left with something that will fade away and darkness is all we will see. On the other hand, if we choose to focus on that which is light, that which is Holy, then we will have great light and will be able to see better.
This illustration of the eye has direct implications to the money and possessions we have in life. If we look to them to fulfill the God shaped vacuum we all have in our hearts (Pascal) then we will find ourselves groping around in darkness. However, if we look to God and His righteousness then we will know the proper way to utilize the possessions and money that God has afforded us in this life.
Choose what is Holy
Finally, we are given the task of making a choice. In the beginning of this passage the two imperatives leave us with a choice. The final part of this passage finalizes the extent of that choice.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
At first glance this passage seems to have the treasures we are laying up as neutral things of the world. We may believe they are just things and we should lessen some and increase others. However, this last sentence denies such a reading. The treasures we lay up can become Masters for us. In other words we can become slaves to money or be slaves to God. Dave Ramsey likes to say that money makes a good servant, but a terrible master. He uses this to emphasize making a budget every month so that your money goes where you tell it and nowhere else.
Though the word-choice of slave is important for it shows that, though we can choose between which masters we have, that is the extent of our choice. If we choose to seek money (Mammon as a personification of wealth) then we must know that serving money will dominate our lives. If we choose to seek God then make ourselves a servant if Him and His kingdom. There is no middle ground. One cannot have the proverbial cake and eat it too. A choice must be made between God and Mammon.
There is a fine line between owning things and having things own you. Once we buy these things they have to be maintained and insured, and if we finance them, then they have to be paid off. Use extreme caution concerning material possessions. Always remember they are temporary, corruptible, and depreciate constantly. We must not forget that it is difficult for a rich man to enter heaven. (Matt 19:23) This does not mean that owning things is bad, God blesses us in diverse ways. What it means is that we must not let our hearts turn from God to the temporal things of this world.
Where is your treasure and where is your focus? These things reveal who or what really has our heart. The First commandment is to love the Lord with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Lord means Master, so the relationship is clear. If God has your heart it's easier to fix the things where we stumble. But if our affections are on this world, and God only has a small slice of our life; then we lose our motivation to focus on and serve the eternal. We become eternally blind.