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The Treasure Test

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 7, 2010

Matthew 6:19-21

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The Lord's Day Morning

November 7, 2010

Stewardship Sunday

Matthew 6:19-21

“The Treasure Test”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

That is a radical hymn [Take My Life and Let It Be]. Many of us have sung that hymn dozens, if not hundreds, of times. If we really believed what we were singing and lived like it, everybody around us would know it. And that's really what this stewardship message is about today.

Our deacon stewardship committee has chosen Matthew 6:19-21 as our theme passage this year and I want to turn your attention to it. So if you’d turn in your Bibles with me to Matthew 6:19-21, I want us to see the treasure test that Jesus speaks about here. And as we look at this passage, I want you to think about this — what we love determines how we live. Your life reflects what you really love. And of course it's also true that what you love determines how you give, but your giving is a part of a bigger picture, and that picture includes what your heart really loves and then how you live the totality of your life in light of what your heart really loves.

You know, the deacons for the last number of years have really wanted to stress to us that stewardship is a matter that is much, much bigger than what you give to the church each year. And that is so true and that is so Biblical. Stewardship is not only about what we give to the church; it's about how we view everything that God has given us. And whether we view ourselves essentially as owners or as stewards, whether we view the stuff that we have, the resources that we have, as ours — some of which in our generosity and beneficence we kindly give to the Lord and to His church — or whether we view ourselves as stewards of what the Lord has given us. And all of it belongs to the Lord and we have the privilege of giving out of that abundance that the Lord has given to us to the work of His church and we have the responsibility of stewarding all of it for His glory and using all of it for His glory.

And, of course, stewardship is even bigger than that. Stewardship is bigger than just how we use the resources — material and financial — that the Lord has given to us. It's about how we view our life because it's not just what we own that we are called to be stewards of, it is ourselves that we are called to be stewards of. That's really what we've just been singing about when we say, “Take my life.” It doesn't say, “Take my dollars and let them be,” though it does say, “Take my silver and my gold,” but it's “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee.” And so that is about stewardship. So stewardship is an issue that is big as all of life.

But very often, because we talk about it at this time of year, we zero in on the matter of what we're going to give to the church and we view this as a time in which the preacher is going to exercise emotional leverage against us so that we grudgingly give more than we gave the last time. And I want us to look at the very big picture and especially at the issue of the heart because that's what Jesus is talking about here. In fact, in this passage, I want us to see that Jesus is teaching us that treasure is a trap and it is a test and it is a testimony.

So let's pray before we read God's Word and ask His help as we study it.

Lord, this is Your Word. We ask that You would arrest us, that You would grab our attention and that we would not be able to daydream through Your Word again but that You would do business with our hearts and You would speak to us in a dramatic way, Your Spirit bearing testimony in our heart to Your Word so that we really hear the Word of God and respond to it in belief and in obedience. And we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it. Beginning in Matthew 6, verses 19-21:

“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.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

What you love will determine how you live and how you give. In just a few minutes, the choir is going to sing, after the benediction, those powerful words that we often sing around the Lord's Table. Isaac Watts penned them many, many years ago — “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my soul, my all.” Now of course at one level, Isaac Watts’ words are about our response to the amazing finished work of redemption completed by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and the love that is evoked in our hearts as we realize God's grace to us in Jesus Christ. But there is another aspect of that verse that is about stewardship. In other words, it's saying that what God has done for us in Christ evokes from us a whole life stewardship so that even if we were the personal possessors of the totality of material possessions and resources that can be owned in all of nature, that would not be enough to give God in thanks for the redemption we have in Christ. No, the only appropriate gift that we can give in response to that is ourselves. Even if we personally owned and could give all of the material possessions and resources in the world, that would not be enough. We must give ourselves in response to this great gift to us. The choir's going to sing that and that's a verse about stewardship. That's a truth about stewardship and I want you to understand that.

That's what Jesus is talking about here. He's telling us that what you treasure will dictate how you live because you will live for that treasure. Your life will be a stewardship of what you treasure. And so your life will bear testimony to what you really love, what you really desire, what you really delight in. And thus, Jesus says, treasure can be a trap because you can value that which ought not to be valued as the greatest gift and blessing in life. You can value the wrong thing. And your material possessions and temporal blessings can be a test, as test as to whether you’re going to value them more than the things that really matter. And the way you live in light of what you love and who you love is going to be a testimony one way or another. It's going to be a testimony that you love that which moth and rust can corrupt and which thieves can steal or it's going to be a testimony that you love that which cannot be corrupted and that which cannot be taken away. And so your attitude towards treasure and what you really love is a big issue in the Christian life. It's not just something to think about one Sunday when it's time to give to the church or to pledge to give to the church for the next year. This is a big issue. This is one reason why we like to talk about stewardship because stewardship is an issue, Jesus says, that presses itself on every person. Every person has to decide what he or she truly loves, desires, delights in, seeks happiness and satisfaction in. And that decision determines everything else in life.

So I want to see three things in this passage today.

I. Treasure can be a trap.

First, that Jesus makes it clear that treasure can be a trap. Your use of treasure and resources or what you treasure — both can be a trap to you. Listen to His words. Matthew 6:19 — “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” Jesus is warning the disciples that it is possible in this life to delight in, to desire more than anything else, to love passionately that which is going to pass away, that which cannot give you lasting satisfaction, that which is not going to go on for eternity. You can put your love, your desire, your heart in the wrong place. And Jesus is saying, “Christian, don't do that. Don't set your heart on the wrong thing.”

And specifically He says, “Don't set your heart on temporary blessings that are going to pass away and that cannot provide you stable, lasting satisfaction - the deepest joy that God means for His children to experience.” And yet many of us, many of us fritter our lives away looking for our satisfaction precisely there, even many of us who name the name of Jesus Christ as our Savior and say that He is our Lord and our King. We find that our hearts are all too divided, preoccupied with petty, small things, thinking that we're going to find satisfaction in just a little more of this or a little more of that whether it's money and material possessions or whether it's social acceptance and friendship and status in the community or whether it's power and authority in our world. There are a thousand temporal things that ultimately will not last, will not give ultimate satisfaction, and are going to pass away that we can find ourselves fixated on and preoccupied with frittering our lives away. And Jesus is saying, “Dear friends, don't lay your treasures up here. Treasure can be a trap.”

II. Treasure is a test.

And treasure is a test, Jesus says. Treasure reveals - what you treasure reveals the state of your heart. The object of your affection, the object of your desire, the object of your delight, that object which gives you the ultimate satisfaction tells you the state of your heart. Look at how He says it in verse 21 — “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, our desires show us who our God is. They are evidence of what we worship, of what we value most. Your treasure, whatever it is, tells you who you worship, who you think is going to give you the deepest joy and delight in this world, in this life.

And Jesus warns in this verse that we make sure that we treasure the right thing, that which is going to last, that which we are made for, the only thing that can give us full satisfaction. And what are they? Jesus says they are treasures in heaven. Look at them. Verse 20 — “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Those treasures in heaven, no one can take away from you in this world. No moth can corrupt, no rust can destroy, no thief can steal — they can't be taken away from you. The longing for more Christ-like character, for growth in faith and hope and love, for growth in the knowledge of Christ, the endeavor to bring others to faith in Christ, the privilege of standing freely justified before God, of communing with God in prayer, of eternal security, of knowing the Father's love, of sharing in the peace and joy of Christ, of the final victory of all of God's people in Christ on the last day — none of those things can be taken away from a believer. No power in this universe can take those treasures away, and yet so often those are not the things that we delight in most deeply.

And Jesus says, “You know, what you treasure, it will give a testimony to the world around you. The world will see what you love in the way that you live and they will know who you worship, one way or the other.” You know, we may make one verbal profession and yet in our lives live in another way, and the world will know who we love and who we worship. Or, the way we live will give a powerful testimony to this world that it will not be able to controvert and all of the great philosophers of the age will not be able to gainsay that witness and that testimony.

I've been around those kinds of people. Just a week or so ago I had the joy of spending ten days in Cape Town, South Africa at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization and I was around gobs of missionaries. And I love being around missionaries because they remind me how trifling so much of my own life is, how filled up it is with things of lesser importance, whereas they are faithfully giving themselves to the one great thing they value, the one great treasure, and they are willing to risk it all for the sake of the Gospel. And I had the privilege along with the other forty-one hundred participants there of hearing testimony after testimony after testimony of people who treasure things in heaven more than they treasure the things of this earth. And they show their stewardship of life by putting their lives on the line. And I only have a few minutes so let me share with you three testimonies that I heard at the Lausanne Congress.

The first one came from Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi who is the Anglican archbishop of Jos in Nigeria. Now many of you have been following, for the last twenty years or so, the religious violence that has been going on in Jos mainly from Muslims committing pogroms against the Christians — Muslims killing Christians by the hundreds in a dramatic way. Christians will be pulled out of their houses, their houses will be burned down, and then men and women and children will literally be slaughtered in the streets. Well, Archbishop Kwashi, the Anglican archbishop of Jos, was there at Lausanne and he gave this testimony about his own experience. And let me just give you this. I'm going to read you a news report of what has been happening in Jos. This is a description of what happened in March of this year:

“The killers (this is a secular news report by the way) - the killers showed no mercy. They did not spare women or children and even a four day old baby from their machetes. On Monday, Nigerian women wailed in the streets as a dump truck carried dozens of bodies past burned out houses towards a mass grave. Rubber-gloved workers pulled ever smaller bodies from the dump truck and tossed them into a mass tomb. A crowd began singing a hymn with the refrain that went like this — ‘Jesus says I am the way to heaven’ — and as the grave filled up, the grieving crowd sang, ‘Jesus, show me the way.’ At least two hundred people, most of them Christians, were slaughtered on that Sunday according to resident aides groups and journalists. The local government gave a figure of more than twice that amount but offered no casualty list or other information to substantiate it. An Associated Press reporter saw himself sixty-one corpses, thirty-two of them children, buried in the mass grave. Other victims were buried elsewhere. At a local morgue, there were bodies of children including a diaper-clad toddler tangled together. One appeared to have been scalped. The others had severed hands and feet.”

Now these are your brothers and sisters in Christ and their children and Archbishop Kwashi is their pastor. Well the archbishop said that in March 7-12 of 1987 he was in another village in the Zaria region where the Muslims burned down a hundred churches and three hundred Christian homes and killed dozens of Christians. And the Lord laid it on his heart and on the heart of other leaders of the churches to go to their brothers and sisters in Christ in the wake of those atrocities and plead with them not to retaliate against the Muslims. Why? Because they wanted to convey this — that they had a Savior worth dying for and a Gospel worth dying for and that they were ready to die for that Gospel and they were determined to proclaim Christ and the Gospel to them no matter what it cost them.

Well, twenty-three years later in March of this year when the event happened that I just read to you, Archbishop Kwashi was the pastor in Jos and he and the other Christian leaders went out to their people and they pled with their people not to retaliate against the Muslims who had killed them but instead to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ so that they would come to faith and be saved from everlasting condemnation. And he gave this testimony:

In 2006, the Muslims had come to his house to kill him. He was not there. He was late coming home from a preaching trip. Sadly, his wife was there. They did unspeakable things to her and she was beaten so badly that she is permanently blind. And yet when the archbishop got home and gathered with his family, his family together agreed that they needed to plead with the people not to retaliate but to boldly proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The next year, the very same time of year in March of 2007, they came and he was there. Forty men got him and began to beat him and brought him out into a circle and he asked them before they killed him could he just pray. And he prayed. And after a while of praying he felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up from praying and it was his son. And he said to his son, “What are you doing here?” And his son said, “Daddy, they've gone.” And he said, “What do you mean they've done?” He said, “They've gone.” And he said, “Only eternity will know what led those men who were prepared to kill him away,” but then he quickly said this, he said, “I am not saying that to glorify my experience because I have had many brothers in the ministry who have died for their faith right here in Nigeria,” and then he went on to say this — “I know that one day I too will die.” And then he urged us all, “but we have a Gospel worth dying for!”

And I want to tell you, as I had two simultaneous experiences being around people at Lausanne like Archbishop Kwashi. On the one hand, I felt more alive than I've ever felt because these are people living for something big and grand and greater than themselves. And on the other hand, I felt, you know, I fritter my life away worrying and fretting about petty things! My treasure is on temporal things. My focus is on things that are passing away, whereas these faithful brothers and sisters, their treasure is firmly placed in heaven. And so they’re willing to give up everything here for it.

Then, an eighteen year-old North Korean girl addressed the assembly. It was the high point of the first day of our meeting. Her name was Sun Kwong Jew and she told about how her father was an official in the North Korean government and he fell out of favor and she and her family had to flee to China when she was six years old. But while they were in China, some Christians in the house church introduced them to the Gospel, to the Bible, and to the claims of Christ, and they became Christians. A few years later, her father was forcibly returned to North Korea and he was imprisoned for three years. And while he was in prison he shared the Gospel. And then he was allowed to leave North Korea and come back to China to be with his family. And when he got back, he said to his family, “I can't stay here. I've got to go back to North Korea to spread the Gospel.” And his family said, “If you go back to North Korea, they’ll kill you!” And he said, “I know that, but I've got to take Bibles and the Gospel back to my people in North Korea.” The South Korean government came to him and to his family and said, “Look, we will give you political asylum in South Korea and you can live in freedom and safety,” and he said, “No, I must go back to my people in North Korea.” So in 2006, her father went back to North Korea when she was fourteen years old. He was immediately imprisoned and they have never heard from him since. They assume that he has been executed. That young woman stood before the conference and said that she too had become a Christian in China and she is studying in university now and her deep desire in Christ is to go to North Korea and share the Gospel.

I was rebuked by the willingness of this eighteen year old North Korean girl to die because she valued a treasure that will not pass away while I fritter my life away on petty things.

And then, Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias’ ministry — Michael who was converted himself to faith in Christ in a country that was a Muslim country — gave testimony about two missionaries that he knew who were working in a closed Muslim country where becoming a Christian is against the law and brings with it the death penalty for a Muslim and where sharing the Gospel or giving out Bibles brings a death penalty for any missionary.

There was a missionary and his wife who had gone to a particular town in order to meet secretly with Christians who had gathered in a back room of a store because they do not worship openly and publically. He had gone and delivered the resources to them and as he left the store, he noticed a man standing near the storefront. He got into the car where his wife had been praying for his ministry and she said, “You know, I've been praying for that man who's standing by the storefront and I've been deeply burdened and impressed that we need to give that man a Bible.” And her husband said, “You are out of your mind! If I walk up to that man and give him a Bible and he turns out to be an active Muslim I could die! He could be a spy for the local council or if somebody sees me give a Bible to him I could die!” And she said, “But I'm very burdened that we should give a Bible to that man.” And her husband argued with her and finally, as they’re driving out of the village, she began to pray out loud in the car. “Lord, on the Judgment Day when I stand before You I declare that my hands are washed clean of the blood of this man that my husband won't even give a Bible to!” And he said, “Okay, that's enough! That's it! I'm going to die! I'm going to go back and I'm going to die! I just want you to be happy about that!” And he gets out of the car and he walks up to the man and he hands him a Bible in his own language. And the man said to him, “Three nights ago I had a dream that someone was going to give me a Bible and I was told to come and stand in this place until a Bible was given to me. And I have been standing here since there.”

I was sitting at the table with two people who worked with Muslims when that story was told at the conference. They said, “We hear that testimony very, very regularly in the Muslim world.” And in fact, Mayder, an Iranian who is working and ministering in London and broadcasting the Gospel back into Iran where, my friends, the conservative estimate is that two hundred and fifty thousand people in Iran have come to faith in Jesus Christ since the Islamic cultural revolution and the overthrow of the shah in the 1970s — two hundred and fifty thousand — that is more Muslims coming to faith in Christ than in all the middle ages since Islam came into being. It's staggering and I'm not just talking numbers. I'm talking about believers and they’re gathering together and they’re worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ and they’re following after His name. And this man said to me, “Oh yes. I recognize that story because,” he said, “my father was a medical doctor in Iran.” They were from a tribe in the northern part of the country. And he said, “My father was living for nothing but money and pleasure and he was empty. He was utterly empty. But he had studied outside of Iran and one of his professors was a Christian.” And he said one night, he was ready to kill himself and as he was contemplating killing himself he remembered that his professor back in England had once said to him, “Jesus is alive and can change your life.” And so he knelt down right at that spot and he prayed, “Jesus, I do not believe in You, but if You are alive, please change my life.” The next day there was a little bookseller who would come around to the local hospital where this doctor worked about twice a year and he would sell books — classical literature, history, various things — and he came to the doctor's office door that day and he knocked and he tried to sell him different things — novels, histories, this and that — and the doctor didn't like anything that he was selling. And he said, “Look, I've got one other book that you might really enjoy reading,” and he handing him a copy of the New Testament in Persian. Now this man had never seen a Bible before. And then he remembered the prayer that he had prayed the last night. And he said, “Could Jesus be sending me the answer to my prayer?” He devoured the New Testament. He read it over and over and over. And he said, “As I read the Gospel, I believed in that Jesus Christ.”

But here's the question that comes to my mind. As I heard Michael Ramsden tell that story, I asked myself the question, “How many of us would give a Bible to someone else if we thought it might cost us our lives?” And I was in a room full of people that were ready to do that because they treasured God, they treasured the Gospel, they treasured men and women, boys and girls, coming to faith in Christ and living everlastingly more than they treasured their own lives. The lady who facilitated my table, Nicole, was a beautiful woman from Madagascar who was a former Muslim. And she and her husband, vibrant Christians, now work among abused Muslim women and she has multiple death threats on her head because she's not only helping those Muslim women, she's leading them to faith in Christ. And she said to me over and over during the week, “I don't care. I don't care if they make death threats against me.” And I thought to myself, “I would be privilege to walk shoulder by shoulder with that woman to the gates of hell itself.” What makes a person be willing to give everything like that? They know the treasure! They know the treasure! And that's why I tell you I felt more alive and I also thought, “How petty are the things that I allow my life and my mind and my heart to be preoccupied with?”

And you know, asking you to give a little money to the work of the church seems trivial, and it is, in light of what those people are giving for the Gospel. But here's the thing my friends — do you want to show that you treasure God enough that you will commit what is a relatively insignificant thing, that is some of the material possessions and resources that the Lord has given you, to say to the world, one — I treasure God more than I treasure this — and — so that men and women and boys and girls will come to faith in Christ through the ministry of the Word in places around the world just like those places where those faithful Christians are ministering. What you love will determine how you live and how you give. You know, if two or three thousand Presbyterians in Jackson started living like we treasured God more than we treasured stuff, I promise you some people in this community would notice. They would say, “What in the world has gotten into those Presbyterians?” And it would be a testimony. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands not just a little of my money, but my heart, my life, my soul, and my all. Join me in that journey.

Let's pray.

Lord God, we know that we have a treasure problem. We treasure the wrong things. We've gotten caught in the treasure trap. We've failed the treasure test. And consequently our testimony isn't very strong. We pray that You would liberate us from concerns about petty things so that we treasure the real thing if we were prepared to be radical in our love for, our delight in, our desire of, and our pursuit of the real treasure. Make this happen by Your Spirit and by Your Word, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now let's sing in response to God's Word in preparation of the giving of our tithes and offerings and the making of our pledges number 432. We’ll sing the first to stanzas of 432.

In just a few moments we're going to receive our regular Lord's Day tithes and offerings but we're also going to make pledges for the commitment of the support of the church's ministry for the year to come. I want to encourage you to commit yourself to give to the work of the church, but to do it as an expression of a heart that treasures the real thing. Let's worship God in our giving.

Would you please stand for the benediction?

Receive now this blessing from the One who's invited you to come to the waters, to receive from the One who is the fountain of all good things. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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