As Kevin said earlier, tonight and for the next five weeks we’re going to be looking at some of the things in our culture that hinder people from believing in and following Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re here tonight because this is where you always are on a Sunday evening. Maybe you’re here because a friend has brought you along. Perhaps you’ve seen one of the posters somewhere in the various locations around our city or you received a postcard inviting you to come and be here. Whatever brings you tonight, I’m very glad that you are with us. And my hope is, as we explore some of these issues together, you will immediately recognize them certainly in our society at large and perhaps even in your own heart and life. Some of them are common objections often raised in discussion and debate as barriers to belief. And others of them, like our subject tonight, are rather more subtle perspectives and attitudes that compete with and sometimes hinder faith in the Christian Gospel. And tonight we’re going to start by thinking, as Kevin said earlier, about the issue of money and the way that our ideas and our attitudes about money and wealth affect and shape us. And to help guide our thinking, we are going to look together at part of the gospel of Matthew where Jesus really deals with this subject head on. So if you’ll look in the pockets in the pews in front of you, you’ll find a copy of the Bible. If you would, please take one and open it to page 811. About halfway down the right hand column on the page you’ll see verse 19 and we’re going to read down through verse 24 of Matthew chapter 6. We believe the Bible is the Word of God and so before we read it, it is our custom to pause briefly and to pray and to ask for God to help us understand it’s message and embrace it’s truth. So let me invite you if you would please, to bow your heads with me as we pray.
Our Father, we do pray that you would help each one of us to hear you clearly tonight as we read and explain the Bible. Speak to us now such that we may learn where to make the deepest investment of our love and our trust. Please show us from the passage before us the bankruptcy of a life lived only for the things we can accumulate here, and especially, would you show us how knowing Jesus changes everything. And then, would you draw us to Him? For we pray all this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Let’s read Matthew chapter 6 verse 19 to 24:
“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 treasure 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.”
Our Search for More
You will find it helpful if you’ll keep your Bibles open at the passage we’ve just read together so we can refer to it as we go. A New York Times best-selling author, Kabir Sehgal, has written a fascinating new book about money, called, Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us.” In one point as he draws his analysis of how we think about money today to a conclusion, he says this, “Using economic logic, we desire more money because it helps us obtain resources necessary to survive. Up until this point, this entire book has been predicated on the logic that more is better. More is better. Whether it’s our evolutionary algorithm or our reward circuitry in the brain, we’re constantly in search of more money which has come to symbolize attributes like success, status, and privilege.” More is better. That’s the basic premise of his analysis of the way we think about money. And I think it’s generally on target, wouldn’t you agree? Many of us work extremely hard to make ends meet or to attain a certain standard of living. More is better. We want to do more than merely survive. We’re constantly in search of more money. We want success, status, and privilege, all of the things he says money has come to symbolize. And yet as Jesus will help us see in our passage tonight, a life lived in the pursuit of money has a down side.
Let’s take a look at the passage, the text together, shall we? Jesus uses three metaphors, three images to get at how we think about money and what it can do to us. We’re simply going to consider each of them in turn. They’re right there on the surface of the text. Can you see them? Verses 19 through 21 the metaphor is treasure. Then in 22 and 23, light. And then verse 24 the final image, slavery. Treasure, light, and slavery.
Let’s think about the image of treasure first in verses 19 through 21. We expect Jesus to say, “Treasure - bad; Poverty - good” as if there was something inherently good in austerity. We sort of expect spiritual people to be ascetic and monk-like, I suppose. But Jesus is quite different. And that’s not at all what he says here, is it? He does set up a contrast, true enough, but it’s not a contrast between treasure and poverty. It is a contrast, rather, between two different types of treasure. There’s treasure on earth, verse 19, and there’s treasure in heaven, verse 20. Many of our lives, a bit like the argument of Sehgal’s book, remember, have been predicated on the logic that more is better. But can you see here that Jesus actually isn’t disagreeing with that logic at all. More really is better, so long as the treasure we accumulate is the right kind of treasure.
Look at what happens to treasure on earth. He says, “Moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.” Stuff doesn’t last, does it? Money and the things it buys, well they corrode, they fade away, they break, they get old, they lose their luster, they become obsolete. People rob us, vandals deface property. The latest gadget seems like it’s out of date as soon as you buy it. No sooner is it out of the packaging than you need to buy the next one. Can you see the danger of making earthly things your treasure? It is to wed your deepest love and your highest values to a fleeting object. “Don’t do it,” Jesus says. It is never, never going to satisfy and He wants to spare us that.
But then on the other hand - treasure in heaven. Spiritual rewards, spiritual blessings. Treasure in heaven is impervious to the effects of time and the predations of criminals and the fleeting whims of fashion. It’s the kind of treasure Jesus wants us to seek - lasting, eternal treasure that never fades, never grows old, never fails to satisfy. Who would not want treasure like that? Never fades, never grows old, never fails to satisfy.
Why it matters
And then he helps us to see why all of this matters so very much. Look at verse 21. You see there verse 21 - “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Now you see what He’s saying. Your treasure in this life leads your heart and shapes your destiny. Your treasure in this life leads your heart and shapes your destiny. The things you love as ultimately valuable and precious, the things you live for and aspire to, your treasure, will direct you and shape you not just here and now but forever. There’s a kind of warning here, do you hear it? Jesus wants to help us understand what you love determines both your identity and ultimately your destiny - who you are and where you’re going. Our treasure pulls our deepest selves along behind it until we come to share its fate like a train pulls its carriages along the tracks heading inevitably to the same destination. The fate of merely earthly treasure will be the fate of a heart that prizes it above all else. It perishes. The fate of earthly treasure will be the fate of a heart that prizes it above everything else. It perishes. Treasure.
Then look down at verses 22 and 23. You see the second metaphor, the second image that Jesus uses? First treasure; now light. And here again there’s a contrast, this time between the eye that sees light and the blind eye that can’t see at all. Look at the passage. The eye, Jesus tells us, is like a light, like a lamp that gives light to the body. A healthy eye, it receives and interprets light and directs our steps. If your eye is healthy your whole body will be full of light. On the other hand, a blinded eye leaves us in darkness. Where you look, that’s the metaphor, your outlook, the direction of your most instinctive gaze, shapes you profoundly. That’s the point Jesus is making. What most fills your spiritual vision day after day can either plunge you into darkness or fill you with light. It will either direct your steps in wholesome paths or leave you stumbling in the shadows. If you look to God who has come down to us in Jesus Christ you will be full of light, but if money is the grand object of your attention, that’s where your eye turns most in adoration and delight, Jesus says darkness will cover you. And so verse 23, if the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness. Inner darkness in life leads to eternal darkness forever. What you love - treasure. Where you look - light.
And then the third image Jesus uses to help us wrestle with the problem of money is there in verse 24. Take a look with me. Slavery - To whom do you belong? To whom do you belong? And again for the third time there’s a contrast. There have been two treasures, two ways of seeing, and now two masters. And here at last we get to learn just how it is that money can become a barrier to faith in Jesus Christ. Look at the text. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and serve the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus’ point, if you’ll permit me to quote Bob Dylan - hey, don’t laugh! I like Bob Dylan! It’s, “You’ve got to serve somebody.” That’s his point. Everybody has a master. Everyone is mastered by something. We will worship and serve something or someone. If not God then money; if not money then ego. If not ego then family; if not family then work. If not work then reputation; if not reputation a romantic partner. If not a romantic partner something else, and so on and on and on. Our hearts are made for worship. They are made to be mastered. So Jesus is telling us if you make money your treasure and your eye is fixed on the accumulation of stuff, this is what happens to your heart. You become a slave either to the money you do not yet have but live for, or the money you currently enjoy and all that it can bring you. Whether we are rich or poor, whether we have or have not, if money captures the deepest love of our hearts and the habitual gaze of our eyes, it becomes our master. Do you see?
Materialism has to be one of the great slave owners of our age, holding countless millions of people both rich and poor in its thrall. You may know a little of the story of the Getty family among the richest families in American History. J. Paul Getty Sr. is, I think, a striking example, even if a rather extreme one, of the enslaving power and potential of money. He’s reported to have been so stingy in fact that he installed payphones for his guests at his own Manhattan apartment. When his grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped, Senior refused to pay the ransom. When his son finally prevailed upon him to meet the kidnappers’ demands, Getty Sr. only paid the money as a personal loan to his son at a 4% interest rate. Divorced five times he said, and I quote, “A lasting relationship with a woman is only possible if you’re a business failure. The best things in life,” he said, “are things.” The best things in life are things. If you make a lot of money you can have a happy home life, but who needs it, because the best things in life aren’t people; they’re things, stuff, and the accumulation of possessions. That’s what he believed. Here is a man whose home life, whose every relationship, whose values have been sacrificed in service to the God who claims his worship. He is devoted to money and it has made him its slave.
Only One Master
And when money traps and enslaves the heart and it becomes the great object of our worship, it does exercise an exclusive claim over us. You see that in the text, verse 24? That is Jesus’ point when He says, “You cannot serve God and money.” You can’t serve them both with ultimate devotion and submission and reverence and love. They are incompatible masters. Now certainly you can play at religion. You can show up at church, you can learn to speak the lingo, speak Christianese fluently with the best of them, but you know Jesus isn’t really interested merely in outward performance of religious duties, is He? That is not His target. He is supremely interested in who owns your heart. Who owns your heart? Whose slave are you? By whom or by what have you been mastered? That is the great issue. And if money sits on the throne of your soul, it will not share you with the lordship of Jesus Christ. You can’t be a Christian and make money the supreme object of your heart’s affection. You cannot serve God and money.
So Jesus’ diagnosis of one of the great cultural problems of our age is right on target, don’t you think, even if it is uncomfortable for us to face it? Money can be enslaving. It can plunge us into darkness. It pulls our hearts along with it when we make it our treasure. You remember as Kabir Sehgal in his book, Coined, describes modern American life? Let me read the quote again. “Whether it’s our evolutionary algorithm or our reward circuitry in the brain, we are constantly in search of more money which has come to symbolize attributes like success, status, and privilege.” But then a little later on he adds this. This is fascinating. Listen. “Ironically, yearning for external success can leave one with less time, satisfaction, and serenity. The economic logic, the logic that says more is better, can yield sub-optimal results. This prompts the question, ‘Is there another way?’ If we’re always comparing ourselves to those with more and chasing external success,” he asks, “is there room for an inner life or any peace?”
True Riches Found Only in Christ
He seems to grasp the realities that Jesus has been pointing out to us in this passage rather well, doesn’t he? The great question Jesus’ teaching here calls us to deal with. Is there another way? A better way? Where can we find peace? Jesus’ message has been largely negative. He’s been exposing the spiritual dangers of money but now that we see it, we need help. Right? We need help, don’t we? Is there another way? Where can we find peace? In a beautiful passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and verse 9 the apostle Paul is going to describe the whole Christian message in terms of riches and poverty in a way that actually helps us find the peace that we so badly need. Listen to this. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that through his poverty you might become rich. There is treasure in heaven, Jesus has said, true and lasting riches and only Jesus can give it to you. That’s Paul’s point. Purchased by Christ at the cross at the cost of His own utter impoverishment and depravation and eventual death. He died to forgive sin and break its enslaving power.
Tonight Jesus Christ has been calling us to topple the idols of materialism and to bend our knee in submission to Him. But doesn’t it change how we respond to that radical call to learn that the Jesus who asks us to turn away from the love of money, for love of you Himself, let infinite riches go and was made the object of terrible scorn. He was utterly impoverished and broken. He died so that true riches, everlasting riches, might be yours through faith in Him. Treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Treasure that will never, never fail to satisfy. Who wouldn’t want to bow before such a Master who calls us to let the love of money go and to smash its idol from our hearts when we see Him let riches, infinite riches go, and embrace utter poverty and the horror of the cross to bestow everlasting riches upon us? Who would not want such a Master and gladly bow before Him? More really is better, you know, but let it be more of the treasure in heaven that only Jesus can give you.
Just a few chapters later from the passage we’ve been looking at in Matthew chapter 6, further on in Matthew 13 Jesus will actually describe Himself as treasure. He tells the story of treasure hidden in a field which, when a man finds it for joy over it he sells everything that he has. He lets it go that he might possess the treasure. When you get Jesus, who is Himself the treasure you need, you get what your heart was always made for that money can never, never supply. And it makes letting to treasures on earth, you know, an act of worship and an act of joy. It makes all earth’s pretty bobbles appear for the empty trinkets they’ve always been, compared with the infinite riches that is Jesus Christ. You cannot serve God and money but you can find true, ultimate, lasting riches in Christ alone. Maybe tonight you have found your heart and your life exposed by the truth of the Word of God, you’ve begun perhaps to sense something of the bankruptcy of life lived in pursuit of earthly treasure. I hope you have. It may even be that you recognize Jesus is the one you really need for whom your heart was made.
In a moment I’m going to lead us in prayer. Before I do, I do want to invite you to think about how you will respond. I want you to ask Him to forgive you of your sin. I want you to acknowledge that you have, perhaps, been living under the mastery of the wrong king. Money and its pursuit has had too strong a hold on your life and today Jesus is asking you to smash the idol and to bend your knee to Him. It may be that you have questions after tonight or you want to explore the message of Jesus further. I’d be glad to talk to you after the service or perhaps at another time. There is a discussion group that you could join and Kevin pointed you to the back panel of the bulletin as a way to let us know about that. You can also text us and we will be sure to respond to you and help you get the answers you’re looking for. But please understand, Jesus is the heavenly treasure our hearts were made to cherish and are never satisfied until they get Him. May God be gracious to you that you might find Him, and finding Him become rich indeed. Shall we pray together?
Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus who lives and reigns and who has been talking to us tonight and showing us ourselves and the great temptation to live for the pursuit of money and all that it can buy. Help us to see, as Your Word has sought to show us, how fleeting earthly treasure really is and how perilous it is, to harness our hearts to it lest we perish with it and instead, grant O God, for every one of us tonight, that our eyes may be filled with a longing for different treasure with the beauty and brightness of the riches that are ours only in Jesus. Draw us, we pray, to Him. Show us the gladness that we find in Him that enables us to let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, to hold this world and all its trinkets with a light grip, but never to let go of Jesus. Would You do that in our hearts please? And if there is anyone here who does not know Christ for themselves, tonight, even now, we ask You, O Lord, bring them to Him, change their hearts, give them faith, and make them Your Child. For Jesus’ sake we pray, amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.