Thanksgiving Day - Matthew 6:19-24
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
A friend of mine was once having tea in a restaurant with his family, when he was approached by an old lady. The lady said: "Iím very sorry to bother you, but I wonder if you would do me a big favour. You see, I lost my son a few months ago, and you look exactly like him. I wonder if could you just wave to me as I leave the restaurant and shout: "Goodbye Mum." It really would mean the world to me and bring a bit of happiness into my otherwise sad life." Well my friend thought that the old woman looked innocent enough and surely it couldnít do any harm. So he agreed, and as she left the restaurant he turned to her, waved and shouted, "Goodbye Mum." Well about twenty minutes later, my friend asked to pay the bill. The owner of the restaurant brought over the bill and then said: "Oh, and by the way, your Mum said youíd pay for her as well!"
Well today is a wonderful opportunity for us a church. Because it is a day set aside in our church calendar to give thanks to God for all his good gifts to us materially and for us to take stock of how we use his gifts for his glory. But it has to be said that what we are doing in this building this morning is something the rest of the country would find utterly extraordinary. For we are acknowledging as Christians that all we have is not ours, but Godís. And we are considering how best we can use what he has given to us for his purposes and his glory which cannot be measured by the standards of this world. And that is something the non Christian cannot understand. Because for the rest of mankind, wealth is by and large there to be used for personal gain, or at the very least how we want, even if we decided to give some away for some good cause. But for the Christian, there is to be a counter cultural mindset and action which means we do not consider our wealth and possessions our own but Godís.
Now living counter culturally is what Jesus is commanding us to do as his people in the Sermon on the Mount, a part of which we are looking at this morning. Contrary to what many people think the Sermon on the Mount is not about how we should live in order to get to heaven. Itís not a collection of rules and regulations telling us how we should live as good people. Itís about how to live as forgiven people, as Godís new people. Itís about living in the light of the grace of God. And as such Godís people are to be counter cultural. They are to have a different mindset and lifestyle that is distinctive to the world around us. Because we live with Godís agenda and with Godís priorities.
And if ever there was an area that we need to be constantly vigilant in it is the area of wealth and possessions. Because itís here that we are possibly in greatest danger. Now you might think that I am perhaps over reacting a little. Surely itís not that big a danger for the Christian? Whatís wrong with wealth and possessions anyway? Well listen to these words from one minister who leads a church in one of the most wealthy parts of England. He asks: "What trips up most Christians nowadays? What keeps our Christian lives at a low level? It seems to me that it is not often the big sins such as theft or adultery that erode the spirituality of the general mass of Christians. What really undermines us spiritually is that we are trapped in the by-path meadow of the trivia of a consumer society. The banal TV, with the distraction of sport or soap operas; our cluttered lives caused by thousands of choices that we can make, with every one of them distracting us and taking us this way and the other, so that we are not focused any more on the one great matter in life- our God. Consumerism robs our focus and it is that which chains many of us down in our spirituality. Although such aspects of consumerism are not necessarily wrong in themselves, they rob us of our focus."
And the Bible would agree. In fact it may surprise you to know that the Bible speaks far more about money than even things like faith or prayer. Apparently, though Iíve not counted them myself, there are about 500 verses on faith in the Bible and about 500 on prayer, but a staggering 2350 on money! Clearly it is something that God believes we need much teaching and encouragement on. And that is why at the heart of Jesusí most famous sermon, he gives an extended session on how to handle wealth for Godís glory. And his aim is not to make us feel guilty. But to get us to think very seriously about how different we are from the world around us. Are we living counter cultural lives in this area of wealth, or are we being shaped by the world around us. Are we being authentic Christian disciples in this area, or are we being pagan in our thinking and practice. So to help us Jesus points us to three areas concerning wealth where we are to be different:
1) A Different Place to Invest (Vv 19-21)
2) A Different Master to Serve (Vv 22-24)
3) A Different Ambition to Follow (Vv 25-34)
1) A Different Place to Invest (Vv 19-23)
So first then we see a different place to invest. And that becomes clear in verses 19-23. Letís read from verse 19: "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." Now Jesus talks here first in the negative, what we are not to do. And he tells us not to store up, literally treasure, treasures on earth. These are things this world finds attractive and valuable. Commodities, clothes, mod cons, jewellery, cars, that sort of thing. Donít store up for yourselves such things, says Jesus. Why? Because they are all fading. They donít last. Moths eat clothes, thieves steal precious items, rust eats through the nice car, fancy things break and fade with age. Now itís important to see what Jesus is not saying. Heís not against wealth or enjoying good things. Wealth is not inherently evil. If good things come our way, we should give thanks to the giver of good things. Nor is Jesus against saving wisely. The Bible contains good advice on using our wealth well and saving wisely. What it is against is the love of money, the hoarding of wealth, a trust in material things. A concern to get as much as we can. Thatís the danger. If our treasure is all that this world has to offer, then we are seriously misguided. Because everything this world has to offer, no matter how good, is fading. Itís just daft to put all our energy into storing up for ourselves things in this world. Itís foolish and ungodly to be obsessed with the treasures of this world because such things wonít last. And Jesus rams the point home in verse 21: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." The heart in Jewish understanding was not just the emotions, but the very driving force of your life. It meant your ambitions, your desires, your priorities. Everything. And Jesus is saying that what you treasure most in life will define you. What you value most highly will affect the decisions you make, the ambitions you have, the goals you set yourself. John Calvin the reformer of the 16th century said this: "If honour is rated the highest good, then ambition must take complete charge of a man; if money, then greed takes over; if pleasure, then men will certainly degenerate into sheer self indulgence."
A while ago I came across a very striking illustration of this point when I was on holiday in Italy. We were visiting the ancient city of Pompeii just outside Rome which was the scene of a famous volcanic eruption in AD 79. The whole city was covered in volcanic ash and people were literally entombed as they ran for cover. Archaeologists have discovered people encased in ash and they were on display for us to see. There were adults and children lying under tables and dying where they hid. Mothers were found clutching their children. But one find was very disturbing. And that was of a woman who was found lying on the ground with hundreds of precious jewels encased in the ash around her. You see she had run away from her home clutching her precious gems, but she had delayed too long. Her love for her wealth had quite literally been the death of her. And now her gems lay scattered for a museum to display. "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also." Her treasure was her jewels, and they were the death of her, quite literally.
So if we should not invest in this world, then what positively should we invest in according to Jesus? Verse 20: "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." Jesus says there is a far better place to invest, and that is heaven. We should be concerned to store up treasure in heaven. That is be concerned for the things of God, things which last for eternity. Jesus is talking about the need to adopt Godís kingdom priorities. Our treasure will be things which last forever. So for example supporting good gospel work. Such work always needs money. And the only people who will give to gospel work are Christians. Because only the Christian can understand how important it is. It will mean investing our time into things which last forever- perhaps a childrenís group, or visiting an elderly Christian who needs encouragement. Perhaps suggesting to a younger Christian to meet up and pray and read the Bible together. And the reason it is worth investing in such heavenly treasure is that these things last forever. We will see the results in heaven. God willing, we will see people converted through the student ministry we have supported financially. God willing, we will see men and women who became Christians through the childrenís work on Newland Avenue. We will see someone praising God in whom we invested hours and hours of time. These are the sorts of things rust and moths and thieves cannot take away from us. They are the sorts of things that last for eternity. Itís not that we earn our place in heaven by doing all these things. Rather because we are children of grace, saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, then we know what is worth investing our time and money in. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also. What you most value, your treasure, will shape your priorities, the way you use your bank account, the way you use your time, the way you bring up your children, the sort of things you buy your children. All these decisions are shaped by what you value most. And the question is do you value Godís treasure more than what this world has to offer.
Let me put it like this. Can you imagine a conversation in heaven in a billion years time about what sort of DVD player you owned in this world, or what sort of car you had. Can you imagine chatting with another believer about the type of kitchen you had, or whether you went to Brid or Bali on holiday. Of course itís not that having these things are wrong. But itís a question of what drives us. In eternity such things will be irrelevant. But not treasure which lasts for ever. Compare that with what the apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians. There he says that the Thessalonian church is his glory, his crown, his joy. He is saying that his treasure is this church in Thessalonica. That is what most thrills him, that people have been converted through his preaching of the gospel. His delight is the fruit of gospel ministry. His treasure is heavenly! And I for one cannot think of anything better to invest my time and money into.
Now a day such as today gives us the opportunity to think long and hard as to whether this is our perspective. What really is our treasure? What is the thing we most delight in, most get excited about? Is it earthly or heavenly treasure? Where are we investing? What story would our bank statement tell or our diaries if we allowed someone to take a good look at them. Because Jesus is challenging us to be distinctive. To show our true Christian colours by storing up treasure in heaven. For the first key difference that Jesus explains about the Christian is that they are investing in a different place.
2) A Different Master to Serve (Vv 22-24)
But secondly, not only do we have a different place to invest, but we also have a different master to serve. Now Jesus sets up his teaching about which master we serve by his saying on light in verses 22-23: "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!" Jesus is using an illustration here to help us see that we need to be single minded on Godís kingdom. You see almost everything we do depends on our ability to see. If we can see then our whole body, our lives, are good, in the sense that we can do what we need to do. And if we cannot then life is much harder. But Jesus is not giving us a lesson on eyesight. Heís making a spiritual point. He is saying that just as the eye affects the whole body so our spiritual vision, our spiritual focus affects our whole life. The word Jesus uses here for "good" is literally single minded. So if our spiritual eyes are single mindedly focused on Jesus and the heavenly treasure we should be storing up, then our whole spiritual lives will be full of light. But if our spiritual vision is clouded by materialism and selfishness, then our whole lives will be affected. Materialism is like a cataract that affects our sight, or like ice on a car windscreen which affects our ability to drive. Weíre blinded and cannot see properly. Our vision is impaired and we cannot drive. So the cataract needs to be surgically removed. The ice to be scraped off. Only then can we see properly, spiritually speaking. Thatís how dangerous materialism is. It clouds our vision. In fact, in the parable of the sower Jesus himself warned that one of the ways people fall away from the Christian faith is the lure of materialism. Now we might say that would never happen to us. But it can and it does if we are not careful.
So what do we need to do? We need to be clear who we are serving! We need to decide which master is Lord over us. Verse 24: "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." Jesusí point is very simple. We need to choose which master we serve. Now for us in the 21st century world this is hard to understand. Because many employees have two masters. People work for a number of different employees. But that is not the illustration Jesus is using. He is using the illustration of slavery. And he is saying you can only have one master. Only one person can own you. And it will either be money or God. And as a result you will either hate the Lord and love money or hate money and love the Lord. Your heart cannot be divided. Itís either one or the other. It was Dietrich Bonheoffer, the pastor killed by the Nazis in 1945, who said: "Our hearts have room for only one all embracing devotion, and we can only cleave to one Lord."
Now the problem for us as Christians if we are honest is that we constantly try and walk the tightrope between God and money. And we find ourselves compromising again and again. Itís a bit like the story of the farmer who went to his wife one day with great joy and said that their best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. And he said: "You know, I have suddenly had the feeling and impulse that we must dedicate one of these calves to the Lord. We will bring them up together, and when the time comes, we will sell one and keep the proceeds, and we will sell the other and give the proceeds to the Lordís work." His wife asked him which calf would be dedicated to the Lord. "Oh, thereís no need to bother about that now, he said. We will treat them both in the same way, and when the time comes, we will do as I say." Well some time later, the man came to his wife looking very miserable. When his wife asked him what was troubling him, he said: "I have bad news to give you dear. The Lordís calf is dead." "But I thought you hadnít decided which calf was to be the Lordís calf." "Oh yes I had. He replied. I had always thought that the Lordís calf was to be the white one, and itís the white one that has died. The Lordís calf is dead."
You see who we serve is made abundantly clear by our actions, just as what we treasure reveals where our hearts lie. But for us Christians, there is only one master, the Lord himself. And that means we must be totally devoted to him. It will mean that we hate money. Not that we despise Godís good gifts and are stingy or monkish when it comes to the things of this world. Rather we know who is boss. We will sit light to this world. We wonít be concerned for monetary gain or material increase. But of course itís easier said than done. When two jobs become available, who of us is not tempted to go for the one with the bigger salary, rather than the opportunities either job might give for serving God. Our mindset tends to be scaling up when it comes to the next car or the next house. Rather if we serve God, the godly attitude is one of satisfaction and contentment with what we have. Second best is fine, if it does the job. And when we live in a society that is thirsty for more, contentment with what we have is a great witness. Because a contented Christian knows who is boss, who is the Lord. He loves his Lord and has no concern for money. For the Christian has a different master to serve.
3) A Different Ambition to Follow (Vv 25-34)
And that brings us lastly to one final difference that Jesus highlights for us. that Christians have a different ambition to follow. And there are two parts to this ambition. First we need to trust the Father. Verse 25: "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?" Jesus tells us not to worry in the light of all he has said in the previous verses. Because Christians are those whose treasure is heavenly, whose vision is heavenly, whose commitment is to the Lord, we have no reason to worry. If we have the right priority and focus in the most important thing of life, if our hearts are satisfied in the biggest issue of life that is our relationship with God, then the smaller details are not something to worry about, because quite simply God is in control. He will care for us.
Jesus gives two illustrations. Verse 26: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away on 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?" His point is simple. If God provides for the birds which are two a penny and which he cares for, how much more does he care for us, people made in his image. Itís not that God hand feeds the birds of the air. Rather he provides them with the ability to hunt for food, to have a world where there is ample available. Itís the Lord who rules his creation so that everything works. If God does that for creation and creatures have their fill, then how much more will he provide for us. The lesson is this: Learn to trust our heavenly father.
"Said the robin to the sparrow: ĎI should really like to know why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so.í Said the sparrow to the robin: ĎFriend I think that it must be that they have no heavenly father, such as cares for you and me.í" Of course, the poem isnít quite right, as the birds simply trust their creator. We trust in a heavenly Father who values us so much more highly than sparrows. And yet why do we worry so much? God is able to keep us. Thereís no point worrying says Jesus. Because it wonít add a single hour to your life. It was Winston Churchill who said: "When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened." Rather trust in the father who provides.
And there is another illustration in verse 28 about the lesson the grass of the field gives us. God clothes these lilies in beautiful clothing, more stunning than that of Solomon in all his wealth. And yet these lilies are simply thrown into the fire. God who values us so much more than lilies, will provide for us. So verse 31, donít worry. Donít pursue, literally Ďseekí, what the non Christian world purses. They are obsessed with feathering the nest and making sure they are OK. Jesus says, God will provide all that we need, not necessarily all that we want, but all we need as long as he sees fit. So donít worry about things that God tells us not to worry about. Trust in the heavenly father who provides for you.
Now itís worth us pausing here to ask ourselves whether this is true of us. So many of us do worry about many things, and Jesusí teaching here is something to take very seriously. Now itís important to see that Jesus is not trivialising our concerns. Heís not saying just forget everything and have a blasť "everything will be alright in the end" sort of attitude. No, many of us will be facing big problems this week, major fears and concerns in our lives. But what Jesus is calling us to do is trust our heavenly Father. For he will provide for us. Maybe that provision will be simply the strength to get through the day, the wisdom to sort out a very difficult problem, the courage to face bad news. Financial provision for the next week. Notice Jesus acknowledges in verse 34 that each day does have enough trouble of its own. Yes we do face trouble, but God promises to give us enough grace to get through today. Tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow God will give enough grace for that day. And many of us will be able to testify that this is true. God does provide, often in remarkable ways.
Listen to these words of Fiona Castle, who had to endure her husband Roy Castle going through the painful process of dying of cancer. She wrote a while ago: "Recently a friend commented to me that many people live their lives as though it were a dress rehearsal for the real thing. But in fact, by tonight, we will have given the only performance of Ďtodayí that we will ever give. So we have to put our heart, our energy and honesty and sincerity into what we do every dayÖ. So as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God to "give us this day" thankfully receiving one day at a time- looking to him to sustain us with everything we need, whether it be food, shelter, love of family and friends, or courage and hope to face the future. And at the same time we echo the words of the psalmist: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."" God knows what tomorrow has in store. So trust him to bring you through and provide all you need as you live for him.
And that brings us finally to verse 33. Because the ambition the Christian is to have is to seek first Godís kingdom. This is the antidote to worry. Verse 33: "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." If we know God will give us what we need for each day, then we can be free to concentrate on the most important thing. That is seek first the kingdom of God. Doing what pleases God. Putting the work of the gospel first and foremost in our lives. If we know God will provide, then we wonít obsess about the things of this world. We wonít run after what our non Christian friends run after. Weíll be committed to Godís kingdom priorities. But the flip side is that if we donít put the kingdom first, we wonít give sacrificially and generously to Godís work, because ultimately we donít trust that he will provide for us. And really that is the heart of this passage. Jesus has essentially been saying just one thing all the way this section of his sermon. Heís simply asking us where is our heart? Is it with him or is it being lured elsewhere? Is it our glory and the thirst for all this world has to offer or is it Godís glory? Because how will answer that question will affect the way we use what he has given to us for his glory. Our attitude to our wealth is a spiritual thermometer. And if we have truly taken on board the challenges of this passage, then we will sit light to the things of this world and we will be free to trust the heavenly Father. We will see with clarity the crying need to put the kingdom first with our God given resources. For then we will live for a different investment, serve a different master, be driven by a different ambition. And contrary to what this world tells us, that is actually the most satisfying and joyful way to live.
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