Giving: An Act of Worship

Sermon by David Strain on Nov 1, 2015

Matthew 6:19-34

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The stewardship committee of the diaconate each year designates this as Stewardship Sunday so I think it would be helpful to understand that Stewardship Sunday is not the ecclesiastical equivalent of NPR Drivetime. This is not a fundraising telethon. No matter how long it may feel to you as you listen, I promise the sermon really will not go on and on and on until you give more money. Actually we’re breaking this morning from the series that we’re involved in. We have one more to go in the series, “The Last Things - Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.” I thought it was wise that we not preach on hell this morning, Stewardship Sunday. I didn’t want you to feel threatened in any way into giving more money! No, Stewardship Sunday really is not about shaking the coffers under your noses and guilt-tripping you in an attempt to squeeze from you a few more of your hard earned nickels and dimes. No, Stewardship Sunday, rather, is an attempt to recognize that to follow Jesus Christ is to answer a call to sacrificial generosity and servant-heartedness. To follow Jesus Christ is to be called to sacrificial generosity and servant-heartedness. And yet the fact is, we live in a culture that pushes us to live for the accumulation of things - more money, more power, to be an acquisitive society, to be all about consumption. And so the truth is, we can use all the help we can get to be the kind of Givers, with a capital G - sacrificial, generous, servant-hearted - that Christ calls us to be. And that’s what Stewardship Sunday is for. Every year we try to be focused and intentionally in helping the people of God think through what it means to live in a spirit and an attitude and a posture of sacrificial generosity and service in obedience to the call of Jesus Christ in a take, take, take culture like ours.

And the Stewardship Committee have identified, as you’ve heard already, Matthew chapter 6 verse 21 as the theme verse for this season of stewardship in our church’s life. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And we’re going to consider the message of that verse in its context, so let me ask you now to go ahead and take a copy of God’s Word in your hands from the pew racks in front of you and turn with me to Matthew’s gospel chapter 6, and we’ll be thinking about verses 19 through 24. Matthew 6:19-24, page 811. We’re going to read it in just a moment. Before we do that, let me ask you first to bow your heads with me as we pray. Let’s pray together.

Open our eyes, O Lord, that we may see marvelous things out of Your Word. Deal with us in Your mercy and grace. Wean us away from the dissatisfying, counterfeit treasures our world offers, and bring us anew or for the first time to the pearl of great price, the Lord Jesus Christ, that having Him as our great treasure we may know unending satisfaction beginning now and lasting forever, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Matthew chapter 6 at verse 19. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“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.

 

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!

 

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.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

Supplanting the Urge to Consume

In a fascinating article for The Huffington Post, Professor of International Relations at George Washington University, a man called Amitai Etzioni said that consumerism is, quote, “the obsession with acquisition that has become the organizing principle of American life. A culture,” he goes on to say, “in which that urge to consume dominates the psychology of citizens is a culture in which people will do almost anything to acquire the means to consume - working slavish hours, behaving rapaciously in their business pursuits, and even bending the rules in order to maximize their earnings. They will also buy homes beyond their means and think nothing of running up credit card debt. It therefore seems safe to say that consumerism is, as much as anything else, responsible for the current economic mess.” And then he makes this really helpful and important point, revealing point. He says this, “Consumerism will not just magically disappear from its central place in our culture. It needs to be supplanted by something.” It needs to be supplanted by something.

Now, he has no intentions of aligning himself with the teaching of Jesus, and if you read the rest of his article you’ll see what he thinks we should supplant consumerism with, and yet at this one point Etzioni is right on target. How shall we fight the pull, the ensnaring draw of a culture that says that life, in order for it to be full and happy and joyful and significant, must give itself to the pursuit and the accumulation of more - more money, more stuff? How will you fight the pull of consumerism and materialism in your own heart? It must be supplanted by a superior appetite. It must be supplanted by a superior appetite. And that, as I hope we’re going to see, is actually Jesus’ point precisely in the passage before us. Would you look at it with me please, Matthew 6:19-24? Notice the three simple word pictures that Jesus paints. First, 19 through 21, two treasures. Then 22 and 23, secondly, two lamps or two lights. And then finally, verse 24, two masters. Do you see that in the text? Two treasures, two lights, two masters.

I. Two Treasures

Two treasures, first of all. Verse 19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.” Now just pause there for a moment. Jesus is really not saying, “You know, the temptation to materialism and to consumerism and to living for the pursuit of money, well you know that might happen to you one day so be on your guard. Don’t give into it when it comes.” Actually, a better translation of verse 19 would read, “Stop laying up for yourselves treasure on earth.” Jesus understands the nature of my fickle heart and yours too. The truth is, given the culture within which we live, the challenge to live and find our meaning, value, significance, purpose in the pursuit of and the accumulation of money is profound and relentless. And so He calls us not simply to beware of the potential danger to be tempted to become a materialist, but rather to give up the pursuit of earthly treasure in favor of better treasure altogether. You see clearly, don’t you, that Jesus’ problem is not with treasure; He’s very positive about this whole business of laying up treasure for ourselves. His concern isn’t with treasure but with the character and location of our treasure. There are two types of treasure. There’s treasures on earth, verse 19, and heavenly treasure, verse 20. Earthly treasure is fleeting and temporary. The other endures forever. Earthly treasure is vulnerable to moth and rust and theft. Heavenly treasure - permanent and altogether invulnerable and secure. Someone once quipped that you never see a U-haul following a hearse. You can’t take it with you.

That’s the truth, isn’t it? Moth and rust, thieves; things break. You spend money on some object and soon it’s obsolete. A new phone, and within weeks you need to get the next update. People steal; vandals deface property. If you set your heart on this world’s treasure it’s like living your life on a sinking ship. That’s what Jesus is saying. This world’s treasure is fleeting and temporary and it cannot deliver that for which your heart longs. Don’t invest your heart here. Instead, He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Earthly vs. Heavenly Investment 

There are two types of treasure and here’s why Jesus is so concerned about this, verse 21, the theme verse for this stewardship season. “Lay up treasures in heaven for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” You see what Jesus is saying? Your treasure in this life leads your heart and shapes your destiny. That which you prize and value most will lead your heart and shape your destiny. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Which means there’s both a warning and a promise here. If you live for earthly treasure, Jesus’ warning is simply this. Set your heart on fleeting, temporary, decaying, dying treasure and that will be your destiny too. Live for earthly treasure and you will share its fate. But there’s a wonderful promise. Live for heavenly treasure, permanent treasure, enduring treasure, and you live for a reward that is kept in heaven for you unfading and glorious. Jesus, we might say, is talking to us about having an eternal investment strategy, isn’t He? Most of us have retirement plans of some sort or another, some kind of financial plan for our future. We’re seeking to invest our money and ensure that there are dividends that will provide for us in the years to come. It’s wisdom. Well Jesus has some insider information for us about an investment that will not fail to reap unending dividends. “Invest,” He says, “in heavenly treasure! Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. There’s better treasure for you! Hold your earthly possessions lightly, leverage them when you can for the advancement of His kingdom, develop a ministry mindset, learn to value service and sacrifice, put the priorities of the Gospel first in your home life, in your business dealings, even in your pocketbook and in your financial planning. Invest in heavenly treasure. No stock market crash can undermine such an investment. No marketing failure will so much as dent your heavenly portfolio. Earthly treasure is short-sighted as an investment strategy for the satisfaction of your soul, but heavenly treasure endures forever.”

The True Treasure of Christ

Walter Mischel, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, ran a famous series of tests in the 60s and 70s in which children were offered a modest treat immediately or double the treats after some time elapsed. And then they tracked the test subjects after about ten years and they found a remarkable correlation between those children who were able to delay their gratification for double the treat later and better life outcomes over the ten year period. When it comes to the places we look to for our deepest value, our highest joy, for meaning and significance, many of us struggle to delay gratification. We like the idea of heavenly treasure but when it’s a choice between heavenly treasure or earthly treasure, we’ll take the earthly treasure now, thank you. But if only we knew the value of the treasure to come and the danger we place our hearts in when we fail to invest in it, the terrible disease of acquisitiveness, the hunger for more and more stuff, living for earthly treasure, can only effectively be dealt with when we supplant it with superior treasure, with something brighter and better and infinitely more valuable. We need better treasure, actually the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in a field, who, in Jesus’ parable, when the man finds the pearl or he discovers the buried treasure, for joy over it he sells all he has that he may possess the pearl or buy the field. Compared to the surpassing value of Jesus Christ, nothing else is worth living for or clinging to. He is a treasure that will supplant every lesser treasure to which your heart might turn. You can only fight the pull of materialism, you’ll only ever be sacrificial and generous and servant-hearted the way you’re called to be as a Christian if Jesus Christ is the great treasure of your heart. Two treasures.

II. Two Lamps

Then, there are two lamps. Look at verses 22 and 23. The eye, Jesus says, is like a lamp that gives light to the body.  A healthy eye receives and interprets light, directs our steps. If your eye is healthy, He says, your whole body will be full of light. On the other hand, blinded eyes leave us in darkness. You see the force of the metaphor? Your outlook, the instinctive direction of your spiritual gaze, where your eye turns with longing the most, will shape your nature, character, identity, and destiny. You may walk in the light or you may stumble in the shadows. Your path will follow the direction of your gaze. Where you look will shape the trajectory of your life. That upon which you set your eyes, where you linger most, that for which your appetite hungers will determine who you are. And so, verse 23, “If the light in your is darkness, how great is the darkness!” If it is not shattered and dispelled by the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining from the face of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, then inner darkness in life will lead to eternal darkness forever. I wonder what your eye most lingers over with longing - material things? The house you’ve always wanted? The lifestyle for which you’ve always dreamed? A bigger portfolio? Money in the bank? It is darkness and it is deadly. Or does your eye, is your gaze held by the beauty and the glory of the Light of the World who satisfies your heart?

III. Two Masters

Two treasures. Two lamps. There’s a third image. Verse 24 - two masters. Do you see that? 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.” In many ways verse 24 is the key to this whole section. How do you store up treasure in heaven? Well, you serve God not money. How do you, what object do you fix your gaze upon so as to fill your life with light? You set God before your eyes in all His brilliance and majesty and glory and grace, not money. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means determining by the grace of the Holy Spirit no longer to serve money as your master but to serve the living and true God.

The Freedom of Bondage to God

That image of slaves and masters is really critically important as a metaphor for the Christian life. In Exodus chapter 21 there’s a fascinating little piece of case law governing how ancient Israelites should treat their slaves. Slaves in ancient Israel could be released or buy their own freedom, but every now and again there would be a slave in a household who loved their master and refused to leave, wanted to stay forever. And in such cases a little ritual could be performed, seems strange to us, in which the master would take his slave to the doorposts, to the door of the house, and would pierce the slave’s ear with an awl into the doorpost. It was a graphic way of saying, on the slave’s part, “I will never leave. The threshold of this household will be the sphere of my service forever. I will be a doorkeeper in my master’s house all the days of my life. There’s nowhere else I would rather be.” Years later, in Psalm 84, no less a personage than King David himself, in all his royal splendor and power and wealth, chose that image to describe his resolve to live for God, to serve God not money. He said, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper, I would rather be a slave in the household of Almighty God than dwell in tents of sin. I’d rather be like the slave whose ear was pierced through at his master’s doorpost, forever to remain within his household, if my master might be the Lord my God.” And that is Jesus’ point here - serve God, not money. Those who know the Lord as He’s shown Himself to us in Jesus would rather serve Him than live in the supposed and counterfeit freedom of the world. We’d rather have our ears pierced at our Master’s door, never to leave. “Let God master us!” that’s our cry. “Slavery in Your house, O Lord, is a better freedom than the bondage the world offers.”

And as we hear the Lord Jesus calls us to that level of consecration, that level of submission to the rule of God in our lives, serving God like this not money, we need to remember the voice who calls us to it is the voice of one who Himself was given up to it, who endured it, who was Himself pierced through, not with an awl at His master’s doorpost but with nails at Calvary for you. He demonstrated His devotion to the Lord His God by choosing the cross over all the enticements of the devil. You remember how when Satan tempted our Savior he offered Him all the riches of the world if He would but depart from His mission. But our Savior refused to submit to satanic enticements. He gave up riches and embraced the cross. Why did He do that? He did it for a better treasure. 2 Corinthians 8 verse 9, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor that you, by His poverty, might become rich.” Why did Jesus say “No” to the world’s treasure and choose to be pierced through as a servant in the master’s house at Calvary? He did it to make you His treasure. He did it to make you His treasure.

Superior Treasure

Let’s go back for a moment to the comments of Professor Etzioni of George Washington University. He said, you remember, the only way to deal with consumerism, with materialism, with this appetite for more that characterizes our culture, is to supplant it with something better. We need superior treasure. We need a brighter light. We need a better master. And as we look at Jesus Christ crucified for us, saying “No” to the treasure of the world and embracing the cross to make us His treasure, haven’t we found it? Haven’t we found it? Superior treasure, the brighter light, the better master, that treasure that will expel and supplant lesser treasures, make us hold them lightly, enable us to let them go for His glory - it is Jesus Christ Himself, the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in a field, the Light of the world, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords whom to have is to have ultimate treasure and final satisfaction. As we look at the cross aren’t we enabled at last to begin to be radically generous, seeing how our Savior has given all for us and to sing, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. I can let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” I can be radically sacrificial and generous because I don’t live for the accumulation of things. A man’s life, our Savior says, does not consist in the abundance of things. I have found true treasure that never fades and never spoils. I have the pearl of great price. Is that your confession? Is Jesus ultimate, lasting treasure to your soul? Let’s pray together.

O Lord our God we praise You that Christ is truly satisfying treasure. Forgive us that our hearts are so easily beguiled and deceived and tempted to turn to the counterfeit, cheap imitation trinkets of a rebel culture. Instead, would You woo and win our hearts by showing us the endlessly satisfying value of the heavenly treasure that is Christ our Lord? Help us to store up treasures in heaven and to hold earthly treasures lightly and to use them for Your glory, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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