Scripture: Matthew 6:19-24
This morning we will study a well-known part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus addresses the sin of materialism, encouraging His disciples to consider the way they think about money and possessions. We will begin reading from Matthew 6 verse 19.
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.
In the old 1960s television series “Batman”, with Adam West, there was a common scenario. The Joker or the Riddler would often present Batman with a challenge – two people he cared about would both be in danger and time was running out. It looked as if Batman would only have time to save one of them and it was always a cliffhanger as the show cut to commercial.
It left the audience wondering which one Batman would save. Which person did he care about more? But somehow, Batman always managed to save them both.
Jesus doesn’t leave us with that option. You can serve God, or you can serve money, but you can’t serve both.
This knowledge is so important to Jesus that He uses three different illustrations to make the same point – two treasures, two eyes, and two masters.
First, Jesus says we can lay up or store up for ourselves two types of treasures. Treasure is something we value – something we desire. According to Jesus, there are treasures on earth and treasures in heaven.
Treasures in heaven are durable. Treasures on earth are decaying and vulnerable.
Preachers often illustrate this by asking, “What we are planning to take with us when we die?” And that’s a fair question. It echoes the words of both Job and Solomon.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.” In other words, I’m not taking anything with me when I die. For this reason, Jesus says that storing up treasures on earth would be foolish. Many of them are lost even before we die.
What treasures then can we store up in heaven? What does He mean?
Storing up treasures is investment language. So, another way to ask that question is, “What am I investing in?” Probably, Jesus intends for us to think of this as an investment in God’s mission and in God’s people. The one thing I CAN take to heaven with me – is other people.
Second, Jesus talks about two eyes: a healthy eye and a bad eye. A person with a healthy eye can see clearly. A person with a bad eye sees only darkness. But what does Jesus mean by this?
He’s talking about vision, or purposeful direction. We tend to move towards what we are looking at. Why do people get lost in the woods even when it feels like they are going in the same direction? It’s because they tend to focus on objects close to them instead of something farther away.
You can test this by standing in a field, looking down at your feet, and trying to walk in a straight line. When you look up, you will most likely discover that you were not walking in a straight line at all. Your focal point was too close. This is why people are taught to follow the North Star or something else far away when they get lost.
Jesus is asking a diagnostic question here – what am I looking at? What am I longing for? What am I obsessed with? If not the vision of God’s kingdom, then how am I supposed to be a source of light for others? How can anyone follow me if I keep getting distracted along the way?
Finally, Jesus teaches that we cannot serve two masters. The word “serve” is the verb form of the word “slave” in Greek. Jesus uses this specific word to make his point clear. You may be able to work two jobs for two employers, but a slave only has one master. And before you get tripped up by the word slave, notice that this is a chosen slavery and a chosen master. It is not a forced servitude.
But this final point gets at the value or the worth of each option. Only one is durable. Only one provides lasting benefits. But only One is truly worthy of our allegiance. Our loyalty.
Jesus is teaching that money can become a rival god. We enslave ourselves to it. And there will be moments when we must choose – we must decide who gets our loyalty.
It is incredibly easy to seek our ultimate security in money. It’s not only the wealthy that struggle with this. Young children who have missed meals or felt extreme hunger at some point will often unconsciously hoard food later in life. There’s an anxiety that comes from not feeling like we have enough of something, and Jesus will address that specifically next week.
But this morning we need to think clearly about how to apply this challenge. Where is our treasure? What has our attention? Who or what gets our loyalty?
It would be easy to walk away with the impression that money itself is evil, and that rich people are evil because they have a lot of money. That’s simplistic and completely misses the point. The Bible encourages us to be good stewards with our money – to invest wisely, to save, to give. We can’t do any of that without handling money.
As with everything else in the sermon on the mount, Jesus wants us to consider our heart.
One of the applications of this text is certainly that we should avoid materialism, but even that falls short of the meaning. Materialism is just one form of storing up bad treasures, and ultimately the point Jesus makes here is not about bad treasures, but good treasures.
More important to Jesus is that we see the world from the perspective of God’s kingdom. What matters? What will last? What is worth my time and effort and money?
That doesn’t mean we can’t have things. But our attitude must be that they won’t last. And we must be willing to give things up or lose things if that’s what God ordains.
There’s a scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean” when a ship is trying to get away from the Black Pearl. The captain orders the crew to throw any unnecessary weight overboard. Why? To make the ship lighter and faster. The same thing happens in Acts 27 on Paul’s final voyage to Rome. They encounter a violent storm, and the men decide to throw the cargo overboard to try and save the ship.
I think this is the attitude Jesus is calling us to have. It is not that stuff is bad. It’s that we are headed for a greater existence in glory and everything around us is ok to lose because it isn’t lasting anyway. Even pirates would throw their gold overboard if it meant saving their lives.
Missionary Jim Elliot was famous for saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
And what is the treasure we can’t lose? It’s the kingdom of God – God Himself and His people. Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Everything else is worth losing for the sake of God and His kingdom.
This is a difficult teaching for our culture because we are obsessed with money and possessions.
We celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday, and we spend the very next day obsessed with finding good deals on all the stuff we want. Only in America…
We need God’s Spirit to convince us that the treasure we are being offered in Christ really is far greater than anything the world offers us. And the best place to see that treasure for what it is – it’s at the cross.
Jesus lost everything for our sake when He went to the cross. They left Jesus with a loincloth and a crown of thorns. The soldiers played dice for His clothes, even his undergarment. They took even the shirt on His back. He lost all material possessions, all His friends and companions, all His dignity. Why? Because He treasured His Father and His people more than anything else the world had to offer.
Do you believe Jesus did that? Do you know all the promises God makes to His people? Do you believe those promises?
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
“My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19
“And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” – 1 John 2:25
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4
By some estimates, there are over 7,000 promises made by God to His people in the Bible. If you don’t believe Him, then you are wasting your time here this morning. But if you do believe Him, then take a moment and evaluate your priorities.
That’s what I need to be doing, because even though I love and trust God and I believe His promises, many days I function as if I’m a slave to this world.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!