We make life too complex. Jesus simplifies it – he bottom-lines it. And in these fifteen verses, he draws us some pictures and teaches some lessons that are unforgettable. In the first 18 verses of Matthew 6 he talked about the private devotional life of a disciple. Now, in our verses this morning he talks about our daily physical needs. Our God not only sees in private, but is just as involved in the very public. Yes, God is interested in your prayers, your fasting, your giving, but he is just as aware of your need for food and water and clothes.
But in these words Jesus tells us to simplify life – to figure out what that one thing is. And he tells us it begins with a single heart:
“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 moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
It took me a while to learn the lesson, but I finally figured it out: Buy cheap tools and you’ll regret it – they’ll break and wear out and won’t do the job you need them to do and you’ll end up spending more money to replace them – or buy good tools the first time and they’ll always work and they’ll last forever.
So why do we have such a hard time seeing that principle at work in spiritual matters? You can store up treasure that will rot and rust or be stolen or invest in treasure that is eternal. That ought to be easy to figure out. But that is probably the hardest lesson any of us will have to learn.
What is Jesus prohibiting by telling us not to lay up treasure on earth? Is he telling us that possessions are bad – that it is a breach of faith to make provisions for the future – or that we shouldn’t enjoy the comforts and luxuries of our modern American lifestyle?
Are we supposed to live in shacks and drive old cars and eat bread and beans? Should we feel guilty for having more than we need and money in the bank? Those are real questions that I think Jesus makes us ask ourselves. And if we too easily answer “Surely not!” then maybe the answer is more obvious than we would like.
Jesus wants us to wrestle with the hard questions. He wants us to struggle with our priorities and make some tough decisions about how we live. Jesus tells more stories and teaches more lessons about our relationship with money and possessions than anything else – the rich fool, the rich young ruler, the rich man and Lazarus… And what is his point? “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
So, is Jesus telling you that you need to cut back and sell off and simplify? You tell me.
Where Jesus cuts deep and finds this cancerous tumor is the foolish fantasy that wealth and possessions are going to make us successful and happy. Our drive for worldly success and the grip of materialism are hard to break. The tumor he is looking for is found in those key words “for yourselves.” “Do not store up for yourselves…”
Laying up treasure does not mean being “provident” but being “faithless.” Jesus called them “earthly treasures,” and described them as rusty, moth-eaten, vulnerable. Nothing was safe in the ancient world. We modern folks protect our treasures with insecticides, mouse traps, rust-proof paints, safe-deposit boxes, dead-bolt locks and burglar alarms. But they still disintegrate – if not through rust and wear – then through inflation or deflation or economic upheaval. And if we should happen to make it through life with our possessions, we can’t take it with us. Job was right – “naked I came and naked I will return…”
And the contrast Jesus makes is striking – treasures on earth with treasure in heaven. Money spent on things of great cost and no value with investments in things with eternal consequences. That one thing – where you put your priorities is where your heart is going to be.
And Jesus is talking about more than money. Do you value your marriage, your family, your children, your relationship with God? Where do you invest your time and energy? What gets the best of what you have to give? That’s what really tells you where your treasure is.
Next, Jesus talks about having a single focus:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23)
It’s the same subject, but a different image. Jesus says the eye is the lamp – not window, but lamp – not so much what it lets in (thought that’s important), but what it puts out – pure, focused beam.
“If your eyes are good…” He’s not comparing someone with 20/20 eyesight with someone who wears glasses. What this literally says is, “if your eye is single” – that means not distracted, not confused, not spastically jumping from this to that – like a kid in Toys-R-Us (“I want this, I want that, gimme, gimme …”).
It is the ability to see what is of real value – to orient and hold to a single course to heaven.
There are consequences to our focus – good eyes are full of light, bad eyes are consumed with darkness. If we don’t keep our focus, we will lose direction, wander around lost and confused. It is crucial that we have a single focus, that know where we are going. As the Hebrews writer said, “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” That’s a single eye.
Finally, Jesus tells us, we can only serve a single master: “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.” (Matt. 6:24).
This is not a situation where a man might moonlight two jobs – divide his time between two employers. Not a question of difficulty arranging schedules – but an impossibility. This is a slave who can be owned by only one master.
Jesus is specific about the two competing masters – God and Mammon. The word Jesus uses is “Mammon”. Mammon is more than money – it is inclusive of all material things – that which gives security and control and power. It is not a matter of having possessions, but of being possessed by those things.
He is talking about competing emotions and feelings – love and devotion, hatred and contempt. And that’s where Jesus really confronts our self-deception. We tell ourselves – “I’m at the peak of my earning ability…,” “Why shouldn’t I buy and enjoy whatever I can afford – I’ve earned it…,” “God’s just going to have to understand, I’ve got bills to pay, and first things have to come first.”
It’s interesting that when Paul lists some of the most dangerous and insidious sins, he writes in Col. 3:5 – “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” We all understand the danger of immorality and sexual sins, but greed? Greed keeps some pretty bad company. Money can be your idol. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus is saying – a heart that is enticed by earthly wealth and possessions is a heart divided – we so easily let our possessions possess us. We let things become our god, our lord – our question is not, “What is God’s will?” but “How can I get what I want?” God will not share the throne with anyone or anything in your life – he is a jealous God.
Jesus says the same thing three times – don’t divide your heart – don’t lose your focus – don’t sell out to the god of materialism. Let’s keep it in context – what Jesus says is at stake here is not a need for better law keeping, working harder, better morals – but a demand for absolute, single-hearted commitment.
Now, in the concluding verses of chapter 6, Jesus talks about the conflict between faith and worry.
Illustrations: Mickey Rivers “Ain't no sense worryin' about the things you got control over, 'cause if you got control over 'em, ain't no sense worryin'. And ain't no sense worryin' about the things you don't got control over, 'cause if you don't got control over 'em, ain't no sense worryin'.”
Erma Bombeck "I've always worried a lot, and frankly I'm good at it. I worry about introducing a group of people and going blank when I get to my mother. I worry about a shortage of ball bearings. I worry about the world ending at midnight and getting only three hours of a 12-hour cold capsule. I worry about getting in the Guinness Book of World Records under "pregnancy" world's oldest recorded birth. I worry about what the dog thinks when he sees me getting out of the shower. I worry that my daughter will marry an Eskimo and set me adrift on an ice-berg when I can no longer feed myself. I worry about sales-ladies following me into the fitting room, oil slicks, and Carol Channing going bald. And I worry about scientists discovering someday that lettuce has been fattening all along."
In these verses, Jesus isn’t beginning a new subject, but building upon these thoughts – he uses the word, “Therefore” and that always tells us to look at what has just been said.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:25-34)
In verse 30 Jesus says: “O you of little faith” Jesus knows us too well. Worry isn’t a matter of personality, heredity, or even having a trouble-filled, crisis-stricken life – it is a matter of faith. It afflicts the rich and the poor alike. When you’re poor you worry about what you don’t have; when you’re rich you worry about keeping what you do have. Nobody has a corner on the market of worry.
Worry has been called “practical atheism” – we may say we believe in God, but we don’t live like it. When we worry about things, we’re saying we don’t believe that God really will do what he promises – we are convinced that if I don’t look after my needs no one else will.
It shows up in the little things. For those Jews who were listening to Jesus, having enough to eat and drink, keeping themselves and their families clothed and warm in winter – those were real concerns.
We don’t worry about our next meal. We have plenty of clothes in the closet (summer and winter). The water fountain always delivers cool, clean water at the press of a button.
But we have lots of those kinds of worries: Will I have enough money to pay all the bills this month – put my kids through college – there’s 150,000 miles on the car – my kids are hanging with the wrong crowd – I’m starting to find gray hairs in my brush – what will happen to my retirement if the economy tanks again?
What are our friends out in the world concerned with? New car, bigger house, promotion, raise, corner office, blue chip portfolio in a bull market. Sounds like us.
Where are they at spiritually? Restless wandering, seeking roots, impatient with change – eager to pursue anything that promises to give life meaning. Sounds like us.
For the last decade, we’ve seen a generation of baby-boomers coming back to church. But that’s not all encouraging – they’re coming back with an agenda – “give me choices, options,” “feed my consumerism from the smorgasbord of religion.” Their concern is not “what does God want,” but “what’s in it for me?” “How are you going to meet my needs?”
And we have adapted to that by trying to be relevant and seeker sensitive – we want to relate to the culture and make people feel comfortable at church. And there’s some value in that. But rather than relating to the culture we have mirrored the culture – and people from the world come here and find out that Christians are consumed by the same drives and anxieties as their own – they find people whose lives are as hectic and scattered and meaningless and anxious as theirs and everybody else they know – what kind of an appeal is that?
Instead of more of the same, people need to see Christians who don’t define success by more and bigger and faster – and whose lives aren’t consumed by the same kind of anxiety and fear that they live with.
And Jesus says, you can’t add a day to your life or a hair to your head by worrying. Instead, worrying always creates a dissonance in our lives – a conflict between what we say and what we do, what we believe and how we live.
So how do we break free from the grip of materialism and the stranglehold of worry?
Get things in priority – “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes?”
· If your life is wrapped up in your job, you’re life is out of balance. If you’re too busy to make time for worship, you’re too busy. If making a living keeps you from living for God, then not only will you never make enough of a living, you will never really experience life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” and he wasn’t promising that you would live the American dream – he was promising you a life that is fuller and more meaningful than you could ever imagine.
See things in perspective – Jesus’ perspective is: “Are you not much more valuable than they?”
· Jesus tells us that God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers – they don’t have a need that he doesn’t provide for. But in God’s creation we are so much more valuable and precious than the birds and the flowers. In fact, we are so precious to the Father that he paid the ultimate price for us to live with him forever.
· Part of our problem is that we have a way of getting swallowed up in our problems, and we lose perspective. We get so caught up in the daily rat race we forget we’re not rats. Jesus says that two sparrows sell for a penny, the grass dries up and withers after a few weeks, but he created us to live forever.
· When you start seeing things from God’s perspective, worry just seems like a pretty ridiculous waste of time.
Surrender things to God’s power – “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
· If you can’t add a day, if you can’t change a hair, if you can’t see tomorrow – what possible good will worry do?
· In fact, the only one who can and does make a difference is God. He doesn’t just react to the needs and crises in your life, he anticipates them. He knows exactly what you need, he has the ability to provide better than you ever could. So pry your grip off the steering wheel of your life and let God take over. Trust in him to do just what he promised.
I said Jesus was a bottom line kind of guy. Well, here’s the bottom line – vs. 33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When you figure out what’s most important and who’s in charge, God will take care of everything else.
Illustration – I heard recently about a student named Steve Winger from Lubbock, TX who was taking a challenging class in Logic. Both the course and the teacher were known for exacting and demanding exams. The final exam was looming, and the professor mercifully told the class that each student would be permitted to bring in a single 8½ x 11 inch sheet with as much information as they could put on that one sheet for help during the test. On exam day, each student came to class clutching their precious pieces of paper with as much information as possible. Some students had crammed lines and lines of font so tiny and so numerous onto that single sheet that you had to wonder how they could read it. But Steve walked in with a single blank sheet and a friend who was a graduate student in logic. Steve bent down and placed that single, blank sheet of paper on the floor next to his desk. His expert friend stood on the paper. The professor asked what he was doing. Steve piped up, "You said we could bring in whatever we could fit on a single piece of paper for help on this test, well, this is my help and he can fit on the paper!" He had followed the instructions to the letter and was the only student in that class to score an 'A' since he had his expert friend standing alongside him.
If we have Jesus beside us we have everything we need. There is nothing in this world that should worry us, because we know that he can handle everything that will come our way.