A different attitude - Matthew 6:19-34
We have just had St Patricks day and as some of you know I have close links with friends in Ireland and they do love to tell stories, usually based upon national distinctives. One they told me when I was over there was a meeting between an Englishman, Scotsman, Welshman and an Irishman. The Englishman said: My son was born on St Georges Day, so we called him George. The Scotsman said My son was born on St Andrews Day, so we called him Andy. The Welshman said, Well, interestingly enough, my son was born on St Davids day, so we called him David. That is fascinating said the Irishman, I must go home and tell Pancake. We all have ways of identifying ourselves and others dont we? But what should be one of the defining features of the Christian?
Well, according to Jesus, in our attitude towards money-possessions. Matthew 6: 24 is the clincher. '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.
The world, and the Pharisee, however, says: There is no problem, of course you can serve God and mammon. We are not stoics, God has made the material world and so it can be enjoyed. But Jesus is not talking about enjoying, he is talking about serving, being under someones authority. You either serve the Creator and that is freedom or you serve the creature and that is idolatry. The gifts of food, drink and clothing are meant to lead us to the Giver with gratitude, but what we have done is to so focus on the gifts that that Giver is in effect forgotten or at least marginalised. We have to get the order right which Jesus does for us- vv 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. If you put the Kingdom first, you put the King first and what he wants and then everything else follows in their proper order.
So first of all lets look at this impossible possibility in v 24, You cannot serve God and Money. That is categorical. There is no half way house, as the President of MacDonalds once said: On weekends my priorities are these : God, family, MacDonalds, for the rest of the week it is in the reverse order. Jesus says, it is an impossibility. You will hate the one and love the other, that is, you will end up hating God because he will insist that you stop loving that which you are enraptured by-money or you will be devoted to the one- God and despise the other, for money will mean nothing to you, in fact you will treat it with a fair degree of contempt.
So why should we not be serving money? Well, because it is foolish -v19. What is the point of putting your hope, your trust and tying all your aspirations to those things which are passing away? That new dress and designer jeans you have been so busy saving for will only serve as moth food. That car which is your pride and joy is either going to be vandalised, stolen or end up in the junk yard. Those stocks and shares are going to plummet, as is happening at the moment, all we need is another twin towers episode which is possible or another war , and -crash. So why put your security in these things? In fact to speak of them as securities as we do is a contradiction in terms. You see, when Jesus says, you cannot serve two masters, he probably has in mind the idea of slavery or at least of patronage. We tend to think of slavery as a bad thing, which today it is. In Jesus world it was a much more necessary part of the fabric of society and did provide many benefits like security. The owner , the Master, was to provide for you and your family if you were a slave. If he was a good Master he treated you well and you could become more or less the assistant managing director of the business with all the benefits and prestige that brought. You were entrusted with tremendous responsibility. And so to get a good Master was a terrific blessing. But to get a bad Master who wasn't so good in handling business, meant that you were insecure too, you could be sold off and separated from your wife and children. And as a matter of Roman law you couldnt be the slave of two Masters, divided loyalty was no good for anyone. Well, the point Jesus is making is that we need to ensure we have a good Master and all the security he provides-God, not a bad Master, Mammon and all the insecurity bound up with that. It is so precarious. Just the other week one of Frances leading Chefs committed suicide. He put a shotgun to his mouth and pulled the trigger. Why? Because he had just lost a star in the Michelin Good food Guide. All his life he had worked so as to have a four star restaurant. He lived for that, he was a slave to that by working every hour God sent. He became rich and famous. But what took it away was not some moth or rust but a snooty conousuire who thought he knew more about food than that chef.
And so as that tragic story reminds us it is also foolish because it leads to worry and that make things only worse- v 27. How, by worrying about things, can you add an extra minute to your life or an extra inch to your height? You would like to be taller-tough, you are the height you are. You would like to have blue eyes-tough you have the eyes you have. God has made you the perfect height with the perfect coloured eyes-for you. Only a few of us can look like Mel Gibson! Why do you want to be what you are not? Why do you think it will make the slightest difference? A forty five year old American cosmetic surgery advisor gushed to the Sunday Times about her ten year marathon surgery in pursuit of new beauty. She had the works- eyes, nose, chin, tummy and knees-that was just for starters- she had more plastic than a tupper ware party. Then she said, This is the real me. I felt like a misfit in my old face and body; it never felt right. This is the way I want to live, and I couldnt do it with my old face and body- I dont even want to associate myself with that person. She is dead. I cut her up. Do you honestly think that she became a less vain and selfish person because she had a new nose and chin? Hardly. She made the mistake of the Pharisee you see, thinking that it is only what is on the outside that matters not what is on the inside. Christian girls here tonight, can I ask whether you spend as much time trying to make the inside as beautiful as the outside? So that a boy meeting you doesnt just think Wow what a stunner, But, Wow what a Christian? And boys are you spending as much time with the Bible as you are in front of the mirror? You see, eventually without the botox, the wrinkles will appear, the hair will get grey, the flab gets you in the end- but what is it that is going to go into eternity? Your true inner self. That is what you are to cultivate- seeking first the kingdom.
But not only is this obsession with possessions and false security foolish it is ungodly. It reveals lack of faith, a lack of trust in God- v28- 30 'And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour 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? . God will care for you and yet you spend your time on what you eat, what you drink and what you wear. That is paganism. You take any weekend newspaper and pull out the colour supplement- the good living guide and what will you find? You will find a pull out pagan Bible telling you what you should eat, what you should drink and what you should wear. The media is full of this stuff- chef celebrities, changing rooms, bargain hunters. Have you ever been to a wine tasting evening? There you have folk pontificating about what makes a good wine, its bouquet, its body, its vintage. Half an hour later- down the toilet. That is what happens to food and drink. We are simply keeping the sewage industry well stocked up. And yet these people will tell us, this is what life is all about ,the good life. But what we put into our mouths and what comes out of at the other end is a total irrelevance in the grand scheme of things and yet we have built up a whole way of living on just those things- what you eat, what you drink, what you wear. And Jesus pointed out so many years ago that our life is much more than eating, drinking and wearing clothes. We say, You are what you eat- to quote Nietzsche; You are what you wear, or Tesco, ergo sum- I shop therefore I am. The result? Our possessions possess us. You cannot get off the treadmill, because you have got to have that bigger house, that better holiday, that latest toy and so you become a slave to a terrible master-Mammon. That is our world friends. It is the consumer world, and we and our children are being consumed.
But here is the real tragedy. While Christians are meant to be different, we tend to be no different when it comes to this and that is why we are not very good fishers of men. When we are living the same economic materialistic life as our contemporaries around us then we have nothing to say to them. The salt has lost its saltiness, the light has been put under a bushel and the city on a hill has been hidden. And we wonder why in the West the church is not growing. Sure, you will have some churches growing numerically, especially if they simply Christianise the greedy mindset of the non-Christian- Come to Jesus and you can keep your money and be saved into the bargain as one well know British evangelist more or less said on TV recently. This same evangelist when he visits a church with his team insists that he is put up in the best hotel and that he has a gym booked for him on a Saturday morning . There is also a pecking order, so that his senior assistants stay in guest houses or lower class hotels and the junior assistants stay with church members. Hardly Sermon on the Mount that is it? But in terms of the radical Christianity Jesus is speaking of here- these type of churches are few and far between.
You see, we have bought into the same mindset of being upwardly mobile, onto bigger and better things. Our expectations have become the same as those around us. The result- gospel work is being severely hampered- the Kingdom is not being sought first. I was speaking to a friend of mine who is in the church planting business and he was bemoaning the fact that he was having folk come to him, good folk in many ways, bible believing people, wanting to be part of the evangelistic team but still insisted on the same security as everyone else- good house, good pension, good expenses. One girl told him that she must have the best designer clothes because she said I want to show that it is cool to be a Christian. I thought that Jesus spoke about taking up a cross to show you were a Christian and crucifixion is far from cool.
But it is not just younger people-they bear the greatest pressure and our hearts must go out to them, but we are all prone to this. Instead of living within our means we want to extend those means. We have to have more and more and cannot bear the thought with living with less and less. But what did Jesus have? A pension? Hardly. A three bed roomed house? He had nowhere to lay his head. He lived from day to day, dependent upon the generosity of others to support him. And might it not be that he expects the same of his followers- fishers of men- both in terms of Gospel workers being dependent and others being generous?
You see, if our contemporaries look at us and see what we spend our money on, what moves us and excites us, what our plans are for our future and our children's future and see that in fact they are the same as theirs, then with some justification they will think we are the same as they are and so what is so special about being a Christian? You read the Bible, you have an inner peace, you go to heaven when you die- but what about the here and now?
And so we justify ourselves. We say we have earned what we have, we deserve it, we have worked hard for the nice house in the suburbs. We have done nothing of the sort. What we have is Gods gift to us. If you were born in Ethiopia you wouldnt have any of this. Did you choose to be born here rather than in Ethiopia? Did you choose the type of parents you would have and the particular genes and upbringing that has shaped you? Of course not. We dont deserve anything in this life. The kindness of God is to give us a moment to live in and to live for him.
Then we rationalise by becoming altruistic. We say. It isnt for me. Its for the children. I want what is best for my children and what is best is the best clothes, the best education, the best toys. Really? Is that Jesus Criteria for what is the best? Where does seeking first the kingdom of God fit into any of those things.?
In Australia a friend of mine was approached by an English woman to thank him for caring for her son. She said that When he was being born I prayed for him. That didnt surprise my friend because when a child is being born everybody prays. But she was a Christian, a missionary in fact, the boy was born on the mission field. So my friend assumed that she prayed what every Christian parent prayed, that he be born healthy and would become a Christian. She said, Yes, but I really prayed for him. I prayed that he become a missionary. You see she wasnt just concerned about bringing Christians into the world, she was praying that she would bring missionaries into the world. She wasnt going to give her life for mission in India without producing more missionaries for India. One of the great contributions of this woman for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ was five children and she wanted them to be committed to that cause too. She was a clever woman, educated at Oxford from a an upper middle class family. She sacrificed everything for the Kingdom to serve in India under terrible conditions, so terrible that she didnt even know she was having twins until the second one arrived, and she knew he must be a missionary because she had prayed that! So when she and her husband left India they didnt come back to England, that was too far away from the mission field, so they went to Australia to keep the children close to the mission field so that the children could get back to Asia quickly and easily. And sure enough her son is now on the mission field- in Paris.
What do you want for your children? Or if you are a child what do you want for yourself? The best? That is good. But what is the very best? The kingdom of God and righteousness is the very best. And if that comes without a degree, praise God. If that comes without a private education- praise God. If that comes by living in a village in the middle of Uganda or a two bedroomed terraced house in Barnsley, praise God- for if it is the Kingdom of righteousness it is the best.
So let us think about what it means to have a beatitude attitude- there it is in v 33 Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness (right living again-same theme) ,and all these things will be given to you as well.
A minister I know was saying that after a Christian conference one year which focused on the issue of going into full time Gospel work, one of those attending felt convicted by God. He said, Look I really do not feel I have the qualities needed for doing this sort of thing. I am not a Bible teacher, I dont think I am a leader- but here, take my cheque book- its yours. take whatever money you need to fund gospel workers. Something, you see had happened to him hadnt it? He had gone mad. No not really. He had been captured by what Jesus said- he was seeking first the Kingdom of God. Of course my friend gave him back his cheque book. But that man has been funding Christian work now, generously and sacrificially for 20 years. And so the same challenge comes to us doesnt it? What are we going to do with our money? We have workers, who will fund them? We need more workers, who will help them out on a year? I will let you into a secret. God has given me a gift. It is called the gift of begging. I am now getting pretty adept at begging for money for Gospel work. I am not embarrassed by that. It has become a necessity. But I do so wish that I didnt have to do it. I would be much happier and more inclined to praise the Lord if more people approached me and said: Melvin, tell me what can I give to? What kingdom work needs strengthening? I will go without the new car this year or the house extension if it means that we can move forward in some key gospel area. That has happened, but very occasionally- it is called a beatitude attitude and we need to pray for more of it and boy will Gospel work be transformed as a result, as well as our own lives.
Now God doesnt simply want us to get into guilt mode and he most certainly wants us to get out of worry mode, v 34 Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own . Jesus wants us to know the high wire thrill of walking with him and trusting in him. Not being reckless with what he has given, but not being greedy and obsessive either. He wants us to experience the deep knowledge that we do have a Father who will clothe us and feed us. Sure, it may mean shopping at Netto or Dove House, but so what? If that is what we have to live off, lets do it and still give loads away for the Gospel. Because then I will tell you what will happen. The non-Christians will say: You are different! Tell, me why are you different? I am having sleepless nights because of the debt I have run up, but you seem content, what is the secret? And then we shall be fishing for men in such quantities that the net wont be big enough.
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