Transformed in My Possessions

| Matthew 6:19-24

The Point:  Possessions don’t last. Your relationship with God does.

Treasures in Heaven:  Matthew 6:19-24.

[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. [22]  "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, [23]  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! [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.  [ESV]

“Jesus taught more about wealth than about any other social issue – more than marriage, politics, work, sex, or power. His teaching about money stands in a discussion of discipleship and loyalty to God. Few people set out to live for wealth. No one wants to serve wealth; we want wealth to serve us! Yet the love of money can gradually take control of our hearts. This is the danger, the false god, that Jesus addresses in these verses.

Two Treasures [19-21].  Jesus begins with two simple commands: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Next, He offers two reasons not to store up treasures on earth: moth and rust destroy (two evil agents do one evil thing). Where thieves break in and steal (one evil agent does two evil things). Jesus forbids the hoarding of treasure, whether the hoarding is for selfish indulgence today or for the future. He forbids the forms that hoarding took in antiquity: valuable clothes, which moths might eat, and precious metals, which might corrode. If He spoke today, He would address our houses, cars, furnishings, and retirement plans. Jesus mentions two kinds of loss. First, we suffer the passive harm of rust, moths, and decay. Things fall apart. Second, we suffer active harm. Jesus says thieves break in and steal. Thievery represents all violent acts that destroy property: wars, fires, floods, and all the rest. Therefore, we should store up treasures in heaven, where they are safe, guarded by the God who also guards us. Jesus does not ban savings or financial planning or ownership of property. Indeed, the Bible praises those who work and prepare for winter, for the lean season [Gen. 41; Prov. 6:6-10]. Parents should save for their children [2 Cor. 12:14]. The Bible expects us to use God’s good creation joyfully. God richly provides us with everything to enjoy [1 Tim. 6:17]. But Jesus does ban the godless, selfish accumulation of goods – heaping up possessions and savings beyond the ability to enjoy or spend them. The same godlessness that leads to hoarding also leads to a hard heart – to neglect of the needy and exploitation of the poor [James 5:4-6]. Jesus also forbids the dream that life consists in the abundance of our possessions [Luke 12:15]. He warns us not to tether our hearts to this world. When Jesus says, do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, He does not forbid joyful living or financial planning. He does forbid greed and love of money and selfish luxury. The New Testament stresses that we store up treasures in heaven by giving generously of them on earth. If we live in covenant faithfulness, in loyalty to the Lord, we will be Christlike and give sacrificially [see Ps. 112:5; Prov. 11:25; 22:9; 1 Tim. 6:18; 2 Cor. 9:6-7]. Because God is generous and full of grace, we must be generous. The motivation is not duty or compulsion, but joy in God’s gifts. God gives liberally and provides for us daily. Our generosity keeps the cycle going. That does not mean that if we give money away, we will automatically receive yet more in return. But liberality is part of the blessed life. By our generosity, we lay up treasures in heaven. When we give our money to God’s causes, we show where our heart is. We lay up treasures in heaven by investing in God’s causes and God’s people. The effects of such investments last forever. We store treasures in heaven by worshiping God, growing in knowledge and grace, and growing in love for God and neighbor. Financially, we store treasures in heaven by using money for kingdom causes, by giving money to the church, to missions, to the poor. When we store treasures in heaven by investing our money in God’s people, our investment will bear dividends for eternity.

Two Visions [22-23].  In Matthew 6:21, Jesus addresses the inner attitude, the heart. In verses 22-23, He speaks of the eye when He says, The eye is the lamp of the body. It might seem that Jesus is changing subject, as He shifts from the heart that desires to the eyes that see. but the terms “heart” and “eyes” can both refer to the inner person that sets life’s direction. The Bible says the issues of life proceed from the heart. Here Jesus says the body finds its direction, for good or ill, through the eyes. A person with good sight walks in the light. A healthy eye gives direction to all of life. The eye affects the whole body, just as the heart directs all of life. Ambition to serve God throws light on everything. Ambition to serve oneself plunges all into darkness. It creates pride, makes us self-indulgent, and crushes charity. Jesus urges us to examine our eyes: if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. Greed flows from a greedy heart. If we see someone hoarding wealth, living for wealth, Jesus wants us to focus our attention on his heart. If the eye sees little but material wealth, why so? Because the eyes are dark, because the heart is set on this earth. We expect unbelievers to live for money. Atheists cannot store treasures in heaven. If there is no God and no heaven, why store wealth there? It would be absurd. Secular people inevitably store their treasures on earth. How could it be otherwise? They cannot trust God to protect or reward them when they deny His existence. Unbelief destroys the capacity to heed this command. Secular people believe that they must provide for themselves, for no one else will. If there is no personal God, no Father in heaven, hoarding is perfectly sensible. Who wants to run out of money in their one and only life? This passage is diagnostic. If a man cannot tear his eyes away from money, if he lives for wealth, it is because his eye and heart are corrupt. If the eye is dark, there is no hope, unless God grants renewal. No one can do what is right unless he can see what is right. Therefore Jesus’ message is not “try harder,” but “examine yourself.” You cannot do what is right without the ability to see it. On the other hand, if you know that you belong to Jesus, and yet you act as if you live for money, that is neither your true heritage nor your true self. You know better. God has set your heart on better things. You will find peace and rest when your heart goes where it belongs. 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. Thus Jesus warns against the bad or unhealthy eye while inviting us to hear Him in two ways. First, Jesus poses a diagnostic question: If your eye is perpetually set on riches, ask yourself, “Why am I fixated on material things?” The answer is, “Because you have given your heart to material things.” It is right, therefore, to repent and ask God to redirect your heart toward Him. Second, Jesus warns us about the danger of jealousy or envy. He commands, “Do not set your eye upon material treasures or upon the riches of others.” It is a sin and can corrupt your heart. The first point is surely the central one. If we find that our eyes are fixed on wealth, we must examine ourselves. Some people focus their lives on wealth because money is their god. But others love God and have fallen into bad habits. We spend too much time looking at the wrong things. We spend too much time in the mall or poring over mail-order catalogues, we behold costly homes, cars, furniture, and clothes. To be practical, when an advertisement directs a man to “picture yourself behind the wheel” of the latest, greatest car or truck, he should not so picture himself. When a magazine directs a woman to consider a kitchen renovation, she should not begin to plot out every purchase. Remember, the Bible says that we should flee temptation. Therefore, we should not stir up envy by eyeing our friends’ cars or fabrics or vacations. Let us be careful where we set our eyes. Let us be careful with advertisements and with visits to our more prosperous friends. It is one thing to admire a beautiful home, another to envy it. In Christ, we have a good, clear, generous eye. The child of God, renewed by the Spirit, has no divided loyalties and no ulterior motives. We seek our neighbor’s good, not his goods. When Jesus commends the healthy eye, He urges disciples to live out their true identity. One way to do that is to set our eyes on the right things. The discipline of the eye reflects a heart that is set on the kingdom. There are two lessons here. First, if you cannot take your eyes and heart off material things, if you live only for this world and its satisfactions, you must ask, “How is my heart?” Second, by setting your eyes in the wrong place, on the possessions of others, on graphic displays of affluence, you can harm your soul. Rather, let us be content with what we have.

Two Masters [24].  No one can belong to two masters. No slave can be the property of two owners, for single ownership and full-time service are of the essence of slavery. By definition, a master can demand service at any time. Therefore, we cannot serve two masters. This is suggested by the name Jesus chooses for money. The term “mammon,” means “trusted thing” or “that which one trusts.” The name is apt, for we are prone to trust money. Money is not the kind of god that demands exclusive loyalty or direct worship; no prostration in necessary. Money is a god in a polytheistic land. It just wants a spot in the pantheon; a few other demigods can reside there too: status, power, pleasure. It is satisfied with casual worship and a few holy days. Jesus presents a choice between two ways of life. Will we store treasure on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be light or dark? Will we serve God or mammon? This question speaks equally to the rich and the poor, for both can look to wealth for security. Everyone is susceptible to greed. Anyone can think that he would be happy if he had just a little more. This is why Jesus calls money a rival god. People trust in their trust funds. They find security in their securities. They expect wealth to grant them the blessed life. But like every false deity, money disappoints its worshipers. One day its devotees awaken and say, “I have it all, but it isn’t enough. I still don’t know the meaning of life.” To be a Christian is to turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God [1 Thess. 1:9]. In Matthew 6, Jesus names two great idols that threaten to separate us from God. When He taught about praying, giving, and fasting to impress people, He named reputation and status as rival gods. We cannot serve God and status. It is hypocrisy [Matt. 6:1-6,16-18]. Here Jesus labels another choice. God and mammon offer alternative ways of life, and they battle for our loyalty. Jesus forces a choice: Will we store up treasures on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be generous or envious? Will we serve God or mammon? We know whom the Lord wants us to serve. He has told us where the lasting treasure lies. But, for the moment, He presents a choice, not a command: You can store up treasures on earth or in heaven, but not both. You can serve God or mammon, but not both. Certain traits identify those who live for mammon. Some save and save, for they feel secure only when they have a hoard of wealth. Others spend and spend, because they believe money, well spent, can gain them the good life, a life of peace and pleasure. Another set of traits marks those who live for God. They like to give money away, and like it better if no one notices. They are generous with their skills, giving them away (as volunteers) when appropriate, instead of charging for everything. Not many, even among the noblest disciples, can entirely avoid the love of money. What shall we say when we detect service to mammon in ourselves? The same self-examination that reveals a disciple’s sin also reveals deeper truths. Every believer knows and is known, loves and is loved, by God. Money also seeks our love. It attempts to bind us to itself with promises of wealth. But wealth is an elusive lover; the object of affection slips just out of reach. To love God rather than wealth, we must trust Him, rather than worrying. We must not hoard, and must instead give freely to the church and to the poor. By giving, we show that our heart is fixed on the Lord, not on a corruptible cache here on earth. To give our heart to God means to trust Him to provide for our needs. We can scan a dark future and worry, or we can consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and become calm, because God cares for us much more [Matt. 6:25-32]. If we love God rather than mammon, it will show in each sphere of life – in our heart, mind, and strength. To love God with our minds, we first strive to think God’s thoughts about wealth. The Bible says, everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving [1 Tim. 4:4]. Yet Christians should never be engrossed in money [1 Cor. 7:31-35]. We should believe that riches are a good servant, but a bad master, and that there is profit in learning contentment whether with a little or with much [Phil. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 6:6]. To love God with the mind is, second, to accept His laws about money. Mammon tries to establish its own laws, of course. When it supplants God, it reduces everything to buying and selling, value and profit. Money says people can be bought and sold as slaves [Rev. 18:13]. We give our mind to God when we know and live by His laws for wealth. We use it to meet basic needs. We give generously  because God said that the rich in this present age … are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share [1 Tim. 6:17-18]. To love God with the mind means, third, to speak about money in ways that reiterate His truth. For example, we should not start to make our financial decisions with “Can we afford it?” Instead, we should ask, “Does this glorify God? Does it make me a better servant?” When we make decisions, we should let God and His law have the final word, not money. Wealth makes a useful servant, but a poor master. We serve God with our strength by refusing to select a career designed strictly to make us rich. We love God with our strength, first, by laboring to supply our needs. Second, we accept only those jobs that are constructive and lawful. No Christian should be a professional gambler, for example. Third, we should do good to all in our work, by offering them something of value. Christians, by nature, love God more than money. We have committed our hearts to the Lord by entering into His covenant. The challenge comes in the realm of diligence and consistency. We can lose sight of the antithesis between God and money. We can drift, a little bit at a time, toward loving and serving money. We can lose our discernment and our clarity and make one decision, and then another, on the basis of money and possessions. Let us pray, therefore, that the Lord keeps our eyes clear, that He fills us with His light and truth and love. May He finish the good work that He has begun in us.”  [Doriani, pp. 242-254]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How does Jesus command us to handle wealth? Are we to avoid all wealth, considering it evil? Are we to desire and pursue wealth? What are treasures on earth? Treasures in heaven? What is the key difference between these two treasures?

2.         In verses 22-23, Jesus switches from the heart to the eyes. Jesus is teaching that where we fix our eyes is a strong indicator of the condition of our heart. What does Jesus mean by the healthy eye; by the bad eye? What must the believer do if they find their eyes fixed on worldly things? What is the healthy eye fixed upon [see Heb. 12:1-2]?

3.         In these verses Jesus forces a choice: Will we store up treasure on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be light or dark? Will we serve God or mammon? Each day every believer is confronted with many choices concerning what they will think and how they will act. What Jesus wants us to see is that each of these daily choices confront us with the condition of our heart. Do we desire God more than the world? Pray that God will enable you to choose to glorify Him in all of your daily choices.

References:

Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter Varsity.