Matthew 6:19-24: Sow Generously
What would you be prepared to do to earn say £5 million? Attending a game show might not be your idea of a holiday activity, but your kids want to go, so you give in. Now that you're here, you are beginning to enjoy it. The studio frenzy is contagious. The music is upbeat. The stage is colorful. And the stakes are high. "Higherthan they've ever been!" The show host brags. "Welcome to ‘What Is Your Price?’" You're just about to ask your spouse if that is his real hair when he announces the pot: "Five million pounds!" The audience needs no prompting; they explode with applause. "It's the richest game in history," the host beams. "Someone today will walk out of here with a cheque for five million!" "Won't be me," you chuckle to your oldest child. "I've never had any luck at luck:" "Shhhh," she whispers, pointing to the stage. "They're about to draw the name:" Guess whose name they call. In the instant it takes to call it, you go from spectator to player. Your kids shriek, your spouse screams, and a thousand eyes watch the pretty girl take your hand and walk you to the stage. Open the curtain!" the host commands. You turn and watch as the curtains part and you gasp at the sight.
A bright red wheelbarrow full of money-overflowing with money. The same girl who walked you to the stage now pushes the wheelbarrow in your direction, parking it in front of you. "Ever seen five million pounds?" asks the pearly toothed host. "Not in a while," you answer. The audience laughs like you were a stand-up comic. "Dig your hands in it;" he invites. "Go ahead, dive in:" You look at your family. One child is drooling, one is praying, and your partner is giving you two thumbs up. How can you refuse? You burrow in up to your shoulders and rise up, clutching a chestful of one-hundred pound notes. "It can be yours. It can be all yours. The choice is up to you. The only question you have to answer is, `What is your price?"' Applause rings again, the band plays, and you swallow hard. Behind you a second curtain opens, revealing a large placard. "What are you willing to give?" is written on the top. The host explains the rules. "All you have to do is agree to one condition and you will receive the money."
"Five million pounds!" you whisper to yourself. Not one million or two, but five million. No small sum. Nice nest egg. Five million would go a long way, right? Kids tuition paid off. Retirement guaranteed. Would open a few doors on a few cars or a new house on Wentworth. You could be quite the benefactor with such a sum. Help a few orphanages. Feed a few nations. Build some church buildings. Suddenly you understand: This is the opportunity of a lifetime. "Take your pick. Just choose one option and the money is yours. A deep voice from another microphone begins reading the list. 1. "Put your children up for adoption:' 2. "Become a prostitute for a week:" 3. "Give up your British citizenship:" 4. "Abandon your family." 5. "Kill a stranger:" 6. "Have a sex-change operation:" 7. "Leave your spouse:"
"That's the list," the host proclaims. "Now make your choice:" The theme music begins, the audience is quiet, and your pulse is racing. You have a choice to make. No one can help you. You are on the stage. The decision is yours. No one can tell you what to pick. But there is one thing I can tell you.
I can tell you what others would do. Your neighbors have given their answers. In a national survey in a country not far from here people were asked the same question and revealed that money is on the heart of most people. In exchange for £5 million: 3% would put their children up for adoption. 7% would murder for the money. 16% said they would leave their spouse. And wait for it… 25% would abandon their family - for £5 million. Even more revealing than what people would be prepared to do for five million pounds is that most would do something. Two-thirds of those polled would agree to at least one or more of the options. The majority, in other words, would not leave the stage empty-handed. They would pay the price to own the wheelbarrow.
What would you do? Or better, what are you doing? "Get real," you are saying. "I've never had a shot at five million:" Perhaps not, but you've had a chance to make £5,000 or £500. The amount may not have been the same but the choices are. Some it seems are willing to give up their family, their faith, or their morals for far less than five million pounds.[i]
As Bob Dylan put it in that song. You’re going to have to serve someobody” In fact you already are. The question is simply “who”? Please turn with me to Matthew 6:19-24.
In these verses before us today Jesus paints two portraits. There are two alternative treasures: Matthew 6:19-21 (on earth and in heaven). There are two opposite spiritual conditions : Matthew 6:22-23 (light and darkness). There are two mutually exclusive masters : Matthew 6:24. (God and Money). Jesus wants us to choose well and enjoy a long life. Jesus wants us to be stress free and live at peace with ourselves - in harmony with our God and with one another.
To help us choose he asks us three questions.
1. Where is your security? A Question of Treasure (6:19-21)
2. What is your ambition? A Question of Vision (6:22-23)
3. Who are you serving? A Question of Loyalty (6:24)
1. Where is your Security? A Question of Treasure
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Jesus is comparing the relative durability of two treasures. It
ought to be easy to choose which to store up, he implies, because treasures on
earth are corruptible and therefore insecure, whereas treasures in heaven are
incorruptible and therefore secure. What was Jesus prohibiting when he told us
not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? Jesus was not forbidding.
1.1 Private Property
There is no ban on possessions in themselves. Scripture no where
forbids private property. (see Acts 5:4)
1.2 Insurance Policies
"Saving for a rainy day" is not forbidden to Christians
either. Life assurance policies are only a kind of saving by self imposed
compulsion. Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it
will need in the winter, (Proverbs 6:6) and declares that the believer who
makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).
1.3 Material Blessing
Thirdly, we are not to despise, but rather appreciate the good
things which our Creator has given us to enjoy. “Everything God has created is
good" says Paul. (1 Tim 4:3-4, 6:17) So, neither having possessions, nor
making provision for the future, nor enjoying the gifts of a good Creator are what
Jesus has in mind as storing earthly treasure. What then is Jesus talking
1.4 Selfish Accumulation
Notice the text says, "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Jesus is not saying ‘no’ to making sensible provision for the future, but being self centred, greedy and wanting more. Jesus is not criticising being provident but being covetous. Earthly treasure, Jesus reminds us, grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves will break in to steal. (6:19). We may and try and protect our treasures with insecticides, mouse traps, rustproof paint, padlocks, CCTV, burglar alarms and offshore bank accounts. But even if these measures succeed we are still vulnerable to inflation, devaluation, taxation and disintegration. Even if our treasures carry life-time warranties and unconditional guarantees, or we have them buried with us, we cannot take them with us into eternity. If we want to have treasure in heaven - we have to send it on ahead. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” urges Jesus.
What is this "treasure" in heaven? Jesus doesn't explain, but it must have to do with earthly activity which lasts for eternity. There are many ways we can make deposits in our heavenly bank account. What shall we be doing in eternity?
Deposit 1: Worship
Bill Hybel says, “One joy-filled investment plan is the commitment to be a regular and passionate worshiper. Worship is never wasteful in the eyes of God. Every act of private and corporate worship is a deposit in your heavenly bank account.” Would you buy a used car with no service history? Bit of a risk isn’t it?
While you might gamble with a car is it worth gambling with your life? Ignore the recommended service history and you are heading for trouble. A breakdown is never convenient.
Your body is no different. The Bible tells us the correct service interval to ensure a long and healthy life is what? Every seven days. If you want treasure in heaven, make the minimum of weekly deposits. Worship is one way of making a deposit for eternity.
Deposit 2: Christ-like Character
”The Bible clearly teaches us that if we want to lay up treasure in heaven, one of the best investment strategies is personal character development.” Bill Hybels. The apostle Peter put it like this:
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)
Christ-like character is the only thing we take with us to heaven, and those who come to know Jesus through us.
Deposit 3: Expressions of Generosity
Every time we show an act of compassion , we add to our treasure in heaven. The Bible says there is a record of our deeds in heaven. “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." (Revelation 14:13).
Ultimately acts of kindness, especially to believers, are made to their Saviour and ours. Remember Jesus’ parable. "The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40).
Expressions of generosity and compassion. If you want to see your
treasure in heaven you need to send it on ahead. Worship, Character
development, Expressions of generosity and compassion. Leading others to Jesus
Christ. The very things we have been left on this earth to do - prepare us and
others for eternity. Where is your security? The Question of Treasure.
2. What is your Ambition? The Question of Vision
“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! (Matthew 6:22-23)
Jesus turns from the comparative durability of the two treasures to the comparative benefit derived from two conditions. For the way we view life will determine what we treasure. The contrast here is now between someone who is blind and someone who can see. Almost everything we do depends on our ability to see. We need to see in order to walk or run, drive a car, cross a road, cook, paint. The eye illuminates what the body does through its hands and feet.
In the Bible, the eye is frequently synonymous with the heart, our motivation, our desire. Just as the eye gives light to the body, so a Christ-centred heart throws light on everything we do. A money-focused life on the other hand leads only to fear and darkness, of introspective self-centredness.
Howard Hughes who died a recluse once said, "I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I'm a billionaire." What do you want to be known for in this life? Greed or generosity? A light to others or a warning to others?
Where is your security? The Question of Treasure.
What is your Ambition? The Question of Vision
It is all summed up in the last question.
3. Who are you Serving? The Question of Loyalty
“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.” (Matthew 6:24)
Jesus now explains that behind the choice between two treasures (where we store them) and two visions (where we fix our eyes), there lies the still more basic choice between two masters (whom we are serving). It is a choice between God and money, between the Creator himself and any object of our own creation. We cannot serve both. Notice Jesus repeats himself in verse 6:24. When I was a teenager, one summer, I had two part time jobs on the go at the same time.
I worked in a fish and chip shop at night, and a garage as a petrol pump attendant during the day. Neither knew of the existence of the other. It worked out fine. Until that is, the August Bank Holiday Monday. Both employers assumed I would work all day and neither was happy to learn I was working for someone else. I had to choose. It may be possible to work for two employers, but no slave can be the property of two owners. For single ownership and fully devoted service are the essence of the role. A question of treasure, a question of vision, a question of loyalty. When the choice is seen for what it really is - a choice between Creator and creature, between worship and idolatry - between the intrinsic worth of knowing and being known by the Living God, and the intrinsic worthlessness of being known for our love of money, it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. Yet many do.
As Bob Dylan put it – “You’re going to have to serve somebody” In fact we already are. Its just a question of….
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Lets pray.
[i] Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name (Word Publishing, 1994) pp.61-65.