Big Idea: Invest in God and his kingdom, not in stuff.
I don’t mean to brag, but I will anyway. I’m really good at reversing words.
An example: I was giving directions. I meant to say, “Turn right at the red light,” but what came out of my mouth was, “Turn red at the right light.” Anyone can do this occasionally, but I tend to do this on a regular basis, especially when I’m tired. You can pray for Charlene.
The text we have before us seems to be a case of reversed word order. In the passage we just read, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Here’s what I’d expect Jesus to say: “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” In other words, your money follows your heart. But Jesus says the opposite: your heart follows your money. How you spend your money matters more than you realize. Your heart follows your treasure.
Randy Alcorn says: “Our approach to money and possessions is central to our spiritual lives.” He continues:
My heart always goes where I put God’s money…
What we do with our money doesn’t simply indicate where our hearts are. According to Jesus, it determines where our hearts go…
As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. This is a remarkable truth. If I want my heart somewhere, all I need to do is put my money there.
Jesus didn’t get things backward at all. Jesus understood an important truth.
We’re in this series on building a Liberty Grace Rule of Life. We’re asking ourselves what rhythms and practices we need to put in place communally in order to love God and love others. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to check out https://libertygrace.ca/ruleoflife/ and contribute to the discussion there.
I wasn’t going to talk about money in this series originally, but then I got this email:
Is it possible to do a sermon about finances being a rule, or perhaps a separate talk?…As we had conversations about cost of living, practicing hospitality, and the sustainability of the church, this may be beneficial.
If we’re going to develop rhythms and practices that help us love God and others, we have to include money, because, as Jesus says, how we use our money determines the direction of our hearts.
The Power of Money
Jesus begins in this passage by talking about the power of money. We already know money is powerful. If you have enough money, you can quit work. You can travel wherever you’d like. You can buy a house in Toronto. But that’s not the kind of power Jesus talks about in this passage.
Jesus describes three kinds of power using three word pictures. Each of these presents a stark contrast. There’s no in-between. It’s one or the other.
Money can set the direction of your life
Jesus uses the picture of two treasures in verses 19 to 21:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
One guy (John Mark Comer) paraphrases these words:
Basically: don’t invest all your time and energy (and money) in things that get old and rust and go out of style and can be snatched from the back of your car if you park too far from the streetlamp. Instead: put your life into things that matter, like your relationship with God and life in his kingdom. Because where you put your resources is where you put your heart. It’s the steering wheel to your engine of desire.
According to Jesus, Your heart follows your treasure. Your heart is the control center of your life. Jesus says that what you treasure will determine everything about you. You will give our loyalty to whatever has primary significance in your life.
There’s nothing wrong with having a house or condo or retirement plan. He’s not condemning possessions. The Bible actually protects our possessions. Read the Law and you will find commands about not to take what doesn’t belong to you. The Bible isn’t against you having stuff. God is actually a generous God. Everything we have is a gift from him.
What is Jesus concerned with? He’s not talking about what we have. He’s talking about our attitude toward what we have. Jesus is concerned with “the insatiable longing for more of material possessions and a consequent lack of contentment and absence of trust in God our Father who has promised to supply all needful things to His children” (Ralph Martin).
Scot McKnight explains what Jesus is talking about:
The word “treasures” here surely involves possessions, but it is not the same as possessions. Instead, it refers to the accumulation of things as a focus of joy. It refers to the spirit of acquisitiveness or the desire to acquire.
“Whatever is uppermost in your affections is your god and will shape every aspect of your life” (Matt Chandler). Holding money as a treasure will shape your heart and the direction of your life. Money has the power to shape the direction of your life.
Money can cloud your vision
In verses 22 to 23 Jesus says:
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!
Here’s what I think Jesus means. We all want to see clearly. When your eyes function properly, your whole body benefits. You don’t bump into things, for instance. But if your eyes are diseased or damaged, your whole body exists in a state of darkness. Even if it’s light out, you won’t be able to see that light and benefit from it.
Jesus is stating that money has a way of blinding us. When we try to divide our attention between God and money, we lack clear vision, and our lives are plunged into darkness. It is not a good situation!
Money changes the way we see things. Money can cloud our vision. It has the power to blind you to what’s really important. And when you’re spiritually blinded, it doesn’t just affect your eyes. Your whole being is plunged into darkness. That’s how powerful money is. If you’re not careful, money can blind you.
Three: Money can compete with God
Not only that, but money can rival God. That’s what Jesus says in verse 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. (Matthew 6:24)
There’s really no in-between. You can’t straddle these. These are two fundamentally different ways to live. Your heart will either be loyal to money, or it will be loyal to God. You can’t be loyal to both at the same time. You must choose.
Jesus actually presents money as a rival god. Here’s the choice: you can serve a heavenly Father who is intimately involved with you and knows your needs and provides for you, according to verses 25 to 34. Or, you can serve money, or Mammon, which will not love you back, which lasts for only a short time, will blind you, and leave you anxious. Your choice.
The problem with money is that it will always leave us anxious. Martin Luther says the “great idol Mammon” has anointed “three trustees—rust, moths, and thieves”—that ought to remind us of the temporality of possessions. You’ve always got to worry about losing your money to one of the three. Money demands your loyalty, and when you give it your loyalty you can’t give it to God. You can’t live a life of overconsumption and serve God. It’s impossible.
Craig Blomberg says:
It is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church … Jesus proclaims that unless we are willing to serve him wholeheartedly in every area of life, but particularly with our material resources, we cannot claim to be serving him at all.
The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard Bruges that in the Western world, materialism has become the new, dominant system of meaning. Atheism hasn’t replaced cultural Christianity; shopping has.
Now if you’re struggling with this — as I admit I am — John Mark Comer says this:
If you’re not on board with Jesus’ view of money, it could be that you, like many Christians in the West (myself included until quite recently and with frequent relapses), don’t actually believe the gospel of the kingdom—the good news that the life you’ve always wanted is fully available to you right where you are through Jesus. Through him you have access to the Father’s loving presence. Nothing — not your income level or stage of life or health or relational status — nothing is standing between you and the “life that is truly life.”
It could be that you believe another gospel. Another vision of what the good life is and how you obtain it.
I think he’s right. If we’re struggling with what Jesus says here, it’s probably evidence that we’re captivated by another gospel, a vision of the good life that has more to do with materialism than the good news of Jesus.
What We Should Do
So what should we do then? Jesus warns us about the power of money, but he also gives us three positive commands. “Everything else is meant to help you see the commands as wise and right and joyfully possible” (John Piper).
The three commands are:
- Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20)
- Do not be anxious (Matthew 6:25)
- Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33)
I’m going to need your help to make this practical, but here are three suggestions.
First: Get rid of stuff that distracts you.
A man went to his pastor and said, “I got five hundred shares of stock in an oil company, and it’s ruining my spiritual life. I keep looking at that stuff it’s like idolatry to me. I’m having trouble with my spiritual life and so I’m here to give it to you.”
The preacher said, “Chuck, I don’t want your spiritual problems, got my own.” But the man insisted, and so he transferred the stocks to the pastor.
Guess what happened? The pastor says:
It messed up my mind … I’ve never had anything like that, and anyway so I was calling up and worrying about that stock and I’d watch it go up and go down. I finally said to myself you know this is messing me up about as bad as it did him, and so I sold it, 50 a share, two hundred and fifty dollars. That was it. But you know I haven’t even thought about that since then until the other day when somebody said, hey do you still have your stock? It’s worth ten dollars a share … I’ll tell you one thing I didn’t even I’m glad I hadn’t had the four years in between to worry about that stuff. You know the things that we possess can become the idols of our lives.
What do you have that you care about too much, that is distracting you from God? Maybe you need to get rid of it.
Two: Learn to be generous.
When we give, we are following the example of Jesus who gave to us.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
William DeJong writes:
God is the giver … as the source of all we are and have. He is also the given, especially in his Son Jesus Christ, through whom we understand and enjoy his other gifts. He is thirdly the giving, inclusive of our ability to return gifts to God, so that when we give we participate in the ongoing life of the Trinity.
We’re never more like God than when we give. Jesus gave his life for us at the cross, taking on our sins and restoring us to God. It’s why we give, because Jesus has been so generous to us. He did it all. We contributed nothing. All we can do is receive the gift of eternal life with empty hands of faith.
But when we do, it’s only appropriate that we develop generosity in our hearts. That’s what we’re going to work toward in a few minutes as part of our worship. Start where you are and build from there. When do you stop? C.S. Lewis said, “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” So wherever you are, bump it up a little. If you give nothing, determine this year to give 1%. If you give 1%, determine this year to bump it to 2%. Keep going, even if it takes 10 years to get to 10%. Wherever you are, give it away. Store your treasures in heaven.
Scot McKnight applies the message of this passage this way: “Jesus summons us to simplify our lifestyle to focus on the kingdom.” He unpacks this for us:
This makes me think that simplification is the natural response to a kingdom vision. In that kingdom we won’t be hoarding or storing up treasures but instead living in the bounty of God’s gracious provision so we can enjoy what he wants for us: to serve God and to serve others.
So some choose to live on less so that they can live a fuller love of life for others, to paraphrase McKnight.
In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer suggests that we should pursue a lifestyle of simplicity, pursuing the things we value and removing everything that distracts from them, doing things like examining the true cost of owning an item, whether or not the purchase is oppressing the poor or harming the earth, refusing to impulse buy, learning to share, and leading “a cheerful, happy revolt against the spirit of materialism.” I love it. He writes:
You can live a rich and satisfying life whether you are rich or poor, single or married, infertile or counting the days until your four kids are out of the house, crushing it at your dream job or at a minimum wage J.O.B. Right now you have everything you need to live a happy, content life; you have access to the Father. To his loving attention.
These are just three ideas. I hope you can help me with more when you go to the Rule of Life page on our website.
Invest in God and his kingdom, not in stuff. Get rid of anything that distracts you. Learn to be generous. Simplify. Jesus was generous with us; we must respond with generosity. Our souls depend on it.
Lord, please help us to hear Jesus’ words. Free us from the love of money. Help us to live generous lives because Jesus gave his life for us. Help us to lay up treasures in heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.