Treasures in Heaven: Money is one of those uncomfortable topics that some of us try hard to avoid. But Jesus has a lot to say about our money, wealth, and possessions. Why? Because financial issues seem to run deep in the human heart. How can we learn to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to our care while avoiding the trap of becoming mastered by our money? Watch here. Recorded on Sept 11, 2022, on Matthew 6:19-24, by Pastor David Parks.
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This message is part of our sermon series “The Unexpected Way,” from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 in the Bible. The way of Jesus is totally unique; it’s different from every other way of life, philosophy, or religion. Why? Because the teaching of Jesus — emphasizing holiness, humility, justice, faith, and sacrificial love — leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic. This ancient ethic, if actually practiced, has the power to bring abundant love and joy and peace to anyone, anywhere today. This is the way.
All year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus, which means that all year, we’ll basically be answering the question, “If the gospel is true, how then should we live?” For the past two months, we’ve been working through a very famous teaching of Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount in a sermon series called, The Unexpected Way. If you’d like to go back and catch up on any sermons you missed, you can always watch on the app or on YouTube or listen to the audio podcast. But we’ve said that the teaching of Jesus leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic, a cross-shaped way of life. And it’s a totally different way than the other philosophies or religions of the world. In so many ways, the way of Jesus is counterintuitive, it’s the unexpected way. Last week, our fam had a little Covid time-out, which was not very fun, but Ted did a great job of filling in last minute with a message from a previous sermon series. Today, we’re jumping back into the Sermon on the Mount and will start a two-part section of the teaching of Jesus on money, wealth, and possessions. Jesus actually has a lot to say about money, not because money is necessarily a bad thing. But for whatever reason, money affects us in a way that few other things in life do. The love of money affects our hearts, including the inner drive/desire to earn/consume more and more (today). But also, the many fears swirling around our money affect our hearts, including all the anxiety around getting/losing money (next week). Both love and anxiety run really deep through the human heart, and if we fail to understand these things, they can easily master us and control our lives. So, how should a disciple/follower of Jesus think about money? If you have a Bible/app, please open it to Mt 6:19.
Matthew 6:19-24 (NIV), “19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, 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. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Remember the context of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus teaching his disciples or followers what it looks like to follow his way. In the last few weeks, we considered the teaching of Jesus on doing good works, religious works even, and that there’s a way to do these works without God even being involved. As I said, this section shifts the focus from religious works to our money. Let’s start back at v. 19 and work our way through this text together.
Matthew 6:19-20 (NIV), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” So here, Jesus gives a simple comparison between heaven and earth. In the Bible, heaven is God’s space, a spiritual realm not bound by time and space. While the earth is our space, a space that God has made and sustains that is a physical realm that is certainly bound by time and space. Heaven is eternal, while the earth is temporary. Heaven is perfect and incorruptible, while the earth is far from perfect, and everything seems to be in a state of breakdown or decay. And in this comparison, Jesus presents two options for where we invest our lives, including our wealth. Do you want to store up for yourselves treasures on earth or in heaven? Well, let’s think about that. Where would be the best place to invest our lives and our money? Where would we get the best return for our investment? If you don’t believe there is a spiritual realm, then you only have one option, you only have the here and now. But if Jesus is right, then we have two options: heaven or earth. But Jesus reminds us that treasures on earth are incredibly vulnerable. He says here, that wealth may be destroyed by moths or vermin. Other Bible translations have moths and rust. Either way, we’re reminded that wealth can be consumed/eaten. Expensive clothing wears out or eventually goes out of style. The best food/wine will eventually spoil and rot. It doesn’t matter what you pay for a car, the minute you drive it off the dealer’s lot, it loses value and only goes downhill from there. Eventually, it might catch on fire on your way to church like our car did a few weeks ago. Whether you rent or you own a home, you know that no matter how well you take care of your stuff, with enough time, everything breaks or needs to be replaced at some point. And that’s nothing to say about wickedness or injustice. In this broken world, thieves might break in and steal from us. We might get hacked or have someone steal our identity. Or the market might be manipulated through corruption or incompetence like the 2008 financial crisis. Is this world, and all the corruption and decay, really the best place for us to store up treasure? What does Jesus say? “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” where your wealth isn’t vulnerable, where it will never wear out or break down or lose value. Now so far, this is maybe a good reminder of the temporary nature of life here and now, but this is also pretty basic stuff. But then Jesus takes us a level deeper in v. 21. Look back at that.
Matthew 6:21 (NIV), “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Here, Jesus reveals why money is such a common trap for people to fall into. Because our money isn’t just a tool for buying and selling and assigning value to things in some merely logical or coldly analytical way. It runs all the way down into our hearts. Why? For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The way we were made as human beings, wherever our treasure is, whatever we truly value, that’s where our hearts will be too; that’s what will get our care and affection. This speaks to our desires and motives. So investing our lives, including our money, wealth, and possessions, into only the here and now and the things of this world will mean that this world and the needs of this world and the stuff of this world will capture our hearts and will shape our desires/motives/goals. However, learning to store up our treasures in heaven will mean that the kingdom of God and his commands and his promises and all the beauty of the gospel will capture our hearts and shape our desires/motives/goals. Which do you think will give you a better return on your investment? Let’s continue with v. 22; Jesus gives a different analogy on the same subject.
Matthew 6:22-23 (NIV), ““The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Switching from the analogy of storing up treasure to light, Jesus is teaching the same principle. Instead of two options for the affections of our hearts (heaven or earth), he says there are two options for what we pay attention to, to what we focus on, to what we see. And Jesus says, if our attention is focused on what is good/healthy, our lives will be good/healthy. But if our attention is focused on what is unhealthy, or literally what is bad or evil, then our lives will be lived in darkness. When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Meaning that what you watch/think about/listen to/dwell on has the power to shape your language, attitude, how you treat other people, and frankly, many things in life. I think this is what Jesus is saying, too. Now, this could be a general wisdom principle that doesn’t have anything to do with our money. But it’s sandwiched between two passages that are clearly about money in a larger section of teaching that is all about money. So to interpret this analogy properly, I think we must see how this applies to our money. I believe the connection between the first analogy and this analogy is that they both focus on our inner person. What we truly value, what we treasure, will shape what goes on in our hearts. And likewise, what we focus on, and what we pay attention to, will shape what goes on in our minds. However, I believe there’s an even stronger connection between these concepts. It’s my experience that what I focus on has the power to change what I value, which in turn, changes what I love. The more I pay attention to something, the more I see that it matters to me, and that moves my heart toward it, whatever it is. Let me give you an example. Who here likes to watch the Olympics? Do you prefer the summer or winter games? I think I prefer the winter games, but honestly, I enjoy both. But isn’t it true that during the Olympics, we get sucked into certain events that, let’s be honest, we really couldn’t care less about at all outside the Olympics? Why is it that for two weeks every 4 years, we become temporary super-fans of downhill skiing or whatever? Because of the principle that Jesus is teaching here. Because what our eyes focus on, what we watch, what we pay attention to, we start to value more and more. We feel more invested. And whatever we value/treasure, there our hearts will be also. This is a uniquely human thing. Now, I don’t think it’s really a problem for us with the Olympics because, after a few weeks, the Olympics end, and we all go back to our normal lives. But this can become a very real problem for us when it means that the treasure of our hearts and the focus of our attention is money. Jesus makes it clear what exactly is at stake in v. 24.
Matthew 6:24 (NIV), ““No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” So the third analogy in this teaching is that of a servant or slave and master. The NIV has softened the language to service and not slavery. And that makes sense because the slavery in practice during the time of Jesus was different than the type of slavery we think of that took place in our country in the past. But I actually think the picture of slave and master better fits what Jesus is describing here. Not because slavery was ever a good thing, but because slavery is a relationship of bondage, not of preference. Today, if you don’t like your job, most people have the ability to quit and find another job. It may not be easy but is usually at least an option. But a slave can’t decide they don’t want to serve their master. Or that they’d prefer a different master. I think Jesus uses this strong metaphor to help us see the potential danger of being careless/thoughtless with our money as disciples of Jesus. Because of how we are made, because we tend to love whatever we value, and because we tend to value whatever we pay attention to, we must take great care of what we give our hearts and minds to. Why? Because if it’s anything other than God our Creator, the one we were created to love and serve with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then it isn’t just a bad idea; it’s bondage. It isn’t freedom or liberty, it’s enslaving. If you love money, you will be mastered by your money. If you only pay attention to your possessions, your possessions will possess you. But in case we think we can dabble in both, in loving God and loving our money, wealth, or possessions, Jesus is very clear: No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money. It’s one or the other.
Next week, we’ll continue on this theme, but instead of focusing on the love of money, we’ll see what to do with the worry, anxiety, and fears that come so easily when we think about our financial needs. But today, as we close, let’s consider some of the applications of this teaching. How do we apply this to our lives today? I’ll give you two brief thoughts. First, we must develop a Biblical theology of money. We must understand that money is neither inherently good nor evil. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Ti 6:10). I think that’s what Jesus was saying here, too. Wealth isn’t necessarily right or wrong, just as poverty isn’t righteous or wicked. Rather, according to the Bible, money is simply a tool that can be used for good or for evil. Just as a hammer is a tool that can be used to build up or to tear down, so in the same way, wealth is a tool. Wealth is part of the world that God has made and expects us to steward with all wisdom and care in order to glorify God and work for the good of all people. In the beginning, God placed the man and women in the garden to work it and take care of it. So we are to do the same. None of us are born with all the wisdom and knowledge we might gain regarding our money. So part of our stewardship will include learning how to work and take care of our money. There’s a huge amount of wisdom in the Bible on this topic, but also, we have many brothers and sisters in the church who have experience in this, along with professionals in this field in the world, as well. We should look to all of these and learn from them, seeking to be good stewards of everything God has entrusted to our care. However, as Jesus warns here, there’s a unique danger with money. If we store up our treasures on earth, if we value our things more than the One who entrusted these things to our care, then we will actually become enslaved or mastered by them. They will be the lord of our life, not Jesus.
But how do we guard against this danger? How do we avoid this common temptation, especially since we live in such an affluent and consumeristic culture? First, we need to hold a Biblical theology of money, but second, we must learn to treasure the kingdom of God and Jesus the King of the kingdom more than anything. Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:44-46). Is that how you think about the kingdom of God? Is that how you think about Jesus? As treasure, worth so much to you that you’d lose everything else in order to gain it? If the gospel is true, how could it be any other way? Who or what could be worth more? Why? Because in the gospel, Jesus was willing to give up all the riches and the status and the glory of heaven. Why? To come humbly into this world to live the perfect life and then die the death that we deserve on the cross for the sins of the world. Why? So that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in his kingdom. So that even in our poverty, we might gain a new inheritance in his kingdom. And then, after dying, he rose again from the dead, breaking the power of Satan, sin, death, and hell forever and ever. All this, all this victory, all this freedom in Christ is freely given to us who trust in Jesus to be Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that a story and a person worth focusing our hearts and our minds on? Isn’t he worthy of our love and our attention? Absolutely. This is why Christians still need the gospel. This is why our mission is sharing good news. May we be a people and a church that never forgets where our true treasure is to be found. And may we let this treasure be the focus of our attention, our highest value, and change our hearts and our minds and everything about us in life.