Thursday, March 06, 2014
"Where You Treasure Is" Sermon: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21
“Where Your Treasure Is”
[Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21]
March 5, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What was Jesus talking about?
Jesus was saying that whatever you love the most, whatever gives you the most joy, whatever you most long for, whatever you desire the most, whatever the primary reason is for what you do and who you are, that is going to be your motivation – that is going to be the purpose – the reason – behind what you do and who you are.
We are looking at four selections from the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus addresses this issue and in which we see:
The reason we ought to do what is right is to be obedient to God.
The reason we ought to pray is to be in communion with God.
The reason we ought to fast is to be in communion with God.
And the primary reason God that blesses us is to glorify God.
First, the reason we ought to do what is right is to be obedient to God.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Notice, immediately, it is good and right to do what is right – and to help the needy. Jesus is not saying that we ought not to do what is right, nor that we ought not to help the needy. We are to “practice our righteousness” – we are to do what is right, and we are to help the needy. We ought not to read this as an excuse not to do what is right, nor to neglect the needy. Jesus says, “when” you do these things – they ought to be done – Christians will obey God and do these things.
The problem is the reason – the motivation – behind the things we do: if we are doing what is right merely or primarily to be seen by others – to have people notice us and pat us on the backs – that our name would be known for the good works that we have done – then we have done good for the wrong reasons and we will not be rewarded by God for what we have done. God is not pleased when we do what is right merely or primarily for the applause and the recognition of others.
Jesus tells us that when we do what is right and when we help the needy, we ought not to come with our entourage, wanting to be seen – wanting people to applaud us. We are not to do what is right and help others so we will be rewarded and acknowledged by people.
For example, the Chamber of Commerce gives out a civic award every year to someone who has shown care and generosity to the town. If someone did good and charitable acts simply to get the award, that would be sin.
There was a church I was part of that I found out awarded the positions of deacon and elder based on the amount of money that you gave to the church – that was sinful – and if anyone gave money, knowing this, to get the position, that was sinful as well.
If we called the media to come to see our generosity in serving our Community Lunch so we would be praised for the good we are doing, that would be sinful.
Jesus gave the example from His day of people who would come with an offering for the needy, and they would employ people to draw attention to them by blowing trumpets so that people would notice that they were giving and how much they were giving. They were primarily looking to be noticed and applauded by others.
And some will say, “Well, I make a big deal about my charitable work to inspire others.”
But that’s not really true, is it? If you want to inspire someone to do what is right and to be charitable, you would explain why we ought to do what is right and why it is a good and right thing to give to others, you wouldn’t boast about what you have given.
Rather than putting the spotlight on ourselves, Jesus says we are to do what is right and give to the needy “in secret” – that is, without any fanfare. It’s not wrong for people to see you serving at the Community Lunch, for example, but it is wrong to blow your own horn about it – to use Jesus’ example.
And it’s not wrong to be thanked by others for doing good and helping the needy, but it is wrong to seek out being thanked. We ought to do what is right and help the needy because it is right and others need help and we have the means to help them – we ought to do what is right, whether or not it is known or if we ever receive thanks, because God has called us to be obedient to Him in giving and helping those in need.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV). We are to do what’s right, because God commands us to obedience, and if we really do love God and our Savior, we will obey.
If we do what’s right – obeying God and helping the needy, we will receive a reward from God. All our works will be judged. If we did things merely to be noticed and rewarded on earth, then that’s all we will receive. But if we do what is right in obedience to God, no matter if anyone ever knows or responds to it on earth, then we will be rewarded by God.
Second, the reason we ought to pray is to be in communion with God.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Notice, first again, that Jesus says, “when” we pray. We are expected to pray. God invites us as His children into His throne room that we might lay before Him our prayers for Him to answer.
Jesus gives an example from His day of people who were “praying” – so to speak – so that others would see them and hear them and remark about how wonderfully they prayed: if we are praying simply to have others tells us how wonderfully we have prayed, we have sinned – we have not prayed at all.
Jesus goes on in another section of the Sermon on the Mount to talk about people who pray long, fancy prayers so that others will hear them and in an attempt to impress God. God is not impressed by our trying to be fancy and wordy in our prayers. God is certainly not impressed when we direct our prayers at the praise of others instead of God.
Why should we pray? Not to get God to change His Mind. James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). God does not change because God does not need to be corrected or informed. God is Holy, Holy, Holy, and He knows everything. God does not need us to give Him information He does not have, nor to suggest a better way than what He has predestined from all of eternity.
We pray because God has commanded us to pray, because prayer is in part worship, and in prayer, we commune with God as we come into conformity with His Will.
We pray, not because God is ignorant, but, as a loving Father, He wants us to come to Him with our thanksgivings and concerns, as we request that His Will be done and that our will would become the same as His. Prayer changes us as we interact with God our Father. We grow as His children as we commune in community with Him by talking with Him.
Now, Jesus says to pray in “secret.” Does that mean it is wrong to pray in public or with others? No, what Jesus is saying is that we ought to be praying to God, seeking to commune with Him through prayer, not praying for the sake of impressing others.
Again, if we are only seeking to impress others with our ability to pray – we may do so, but that is the only reward we will receive from it. If we pray to commune with God, we will receive the reward of growth in God and in hearing His answer to our prayers.
Third, the reason we ought to fast is to be in communion with God.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Similarly, Jesus again says, “when” you fast. Fasting is an appropriate spiritual discipline in which we seek to commune with God – to have better control of our bodies and our fleshly desires that we would, instead, be focused on the things of God.
But, fasting can also become sin, when our desire in fasting is to have others see us and applaud our efforts at fasting, or see us and pity us for denying ourselves to show such devotion. There were people – and there may be people yet – who would go on a fast and make themselves up to look as wretched as possible so others would ask what was going on and the person could respond that he was on a fast.
Drawing attention to yourself in such a way when you are fasting is doing the exact opposite of what you are looking to achieve: rather than taking time to deny the flesh and learn to control the flesh while learning to seek and rely on the things of heaven, you are giving into the flesh and parading your flesh that it would be all the more encouraged in sinful ways.
There are many different types and ways of fasting, and we don’t have time this evening to go into that, but if you do choose to fast as a spiritual disciple, and you are doing it to commune with God, to seek after Him and His Righteousness, then you ought to look as though what you are doing is a joy. (And do not fast without seeking medical counsel – if you are taking medication or have a health issue, you may need to restrict the type of fast you participate in.)
Again, if you fast merely so others will look at you and feel sorry for you, or so they will look at you and think you are so spiritual, that is all you will receive from it. But if you fast to better center your mind on the things of God and commune with Him, then God will reward the discipline.
And some may wonder about the times we read in the Bible when whole communities or families go on fasts – is this not going against what Jesus said about fasting in “secret”? No, we can fast in secret with others – we can join together with others in fasting, just as we can in prayer, but we do so together for the joyful purpose of communing with God. What Jesus was saying is that we should not draw attention to ourselves when we fast.
In these three teachings, Jesus shows us that the treasure of doing what’s right and helping the needy, praying, and fasting can either be to draw attention to ourselves – to be praised and thanked – or it can be to obey and commune with God. Depending on which you are going for, it shows a different inclination of the heart – one of sin and self-idolatry, or one of worship and desire to be with and like our God.
If our treasure is to be the center of attention – to be noticed and applauded – that is all we will receive as a reward for our sin and idolatry. If our treasure is to commune with God – to obey Him – to grow in faith and obedience, God will reward our actions.
Fourth, the primary reason God that blesses us is to glorify God.
“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.”
Have you read or seen any of the movie productions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Ebenezer Scrooge is an example of someone who laid up treasures on earth. (For your Christmas cocktail parties, you may want to talk about the contradiction of the character’s name – the hypocrisy of the name of the character – “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” and refers to reliance on God, whereas “Scrooge” means “one who hoards money or things.” He was “Scrooge” at the beginning of the story and “Ebenezer” at the end.)
We get the picture of this character who has horded his wealth and stored it away. He lives in severe conditions and pays his employee poorly, yet has mountains of cash that he takes out and plays with – delights in. His treasure was his money. He didn’t use it. He just delighted in having it and knowing he had it. He heart was set on having more, even if he didn’t need it.
That’s what Jesus is saying not to do – we are not to lay up our blessing on earth – whether cash or abilities or whatever God has given us – we are not to hoard them away and delight in them in the dark, never using them for the good of God or anyone else.
Why not? Besides the fact that God has blessed us that we would glorify Him with our blessings, if we hoard things away for our private delight – and that’s all – we subject them to rust and moths and thieves. It we bury our money in our homes or in the bank, it can be stolen – never mind the FDIC, if the banks and the government go under, you will not get your money back. If you have closets full of clothing and shoes, they will break down and be eaten by critters. If you can play music and don’t share it, the ability will fade away. If you can sing and you don’t share it, the ability will fade away. If you blessed with the ability to do whatever – and you don’t use it – you don’t share it with others – eventually, it will fade away and be lost. No one will benefit by it. God will not be glorified by it and in it. It will just be gone.
If our treasure is what we have and we keep it only for ourselves, that is all we will have. We will have sinned against God’s plan for the use of the treasures He has given us, and we will have committed idolatry by living as though these gifts were given to us only for ourselves.
Now, understand, Jesus is not saying it is wrong to be rich. He is not saying it is wrong to be wise in financial planning. He is not saying that we are to be doormats to everyone and every request that is made of us. He is saying that we have been gifted for something more than our hoarding our gifts away in the dark for our own amusement.
Paul, teaching on the blessings and gifts that God has given us through His Spirit, wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7, ESV).
God has gifted each of us in many ways and He has done so, first that we would worship and glorify Him with all we have been given by sharing those blessings with and in the Church. And in doing so, primarily for the proclamation of the Gospel, and also for the meeting of others’ needs.
If we pile up and save away our treasures and gifts and blessing merely for ourselves and our glory, they will be lost one day – one way or another. And if you are thinking, “Well, at least I will enjoy everything that is mine while I have it,” you are sinning – you are worshipping yourself, you are being arrogant and prideful and selfish and spitting in God’s Face as thanks for all He has given you.
Please understand: there is nothing wrong with being rich or with wise financial planning. The problem is with hoarding away what God has given us and not sharing it and using it to the glory of God. Someone who only gets Social Security can hoard money. Someone who is unemployed can hoard money. The amount of money and blessings that you have are not the issue – the issue is – are you using them for the good of others and to the glory of God? Are you giving generously to the work of the Gospel? Are you using your blessings and gifts and abilities for the good and the enjoyment of others?
And understand, Jesus is not merely talking about doing what’s right, but doing it with the right motivations. You can give to the Church and help people in need and do everything that looks right, and do it to be thought well of. If you want your treasure to be in heaven, you must do what is right and do it because you want to love and obey and glorify God.
Remember what Paul said, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b, ESV).
And, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).
So, in order to have treasure in heaven, you must not only do what is right, but your heart must be in the right place – you must believe the Gospel – you must receive Jesus and love Him and repent of your sins.
Paul explained it this way: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:1-17, ESV).
Let us consider what we treasure: do we treasure self-idolatry? Hoarding up our blessings for ourselves or having others praise us? Or do we love God and want to obey and glorify Him?
If we love God – if we have received the Gospel and love Jesus – if we are seeking to obey Him – let us be people who seek to lay up treasures in heaven. Let us share our blessings with the Church and others in need because we want God and His Gospel to be known. Let us pray and fast and engaged in other spiritual disciplines that we would commune with God and become more like Jesus that His Gospel would be known.
Let us thank God for all the blessings, abilities, and gifts He has given us and ask ourselves first, “how can I use this to thank God and let others know of His Gospel?”
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for all of our gifts and blessings, but especially for Your Son – for sending Him to save His people and for calling us out of the world to be Yours. Revive us and makes us be a people who always seek to thank and glorify You with all that You have gifted us. Free our hearts and hands that we would rejoice in seeing treasures built up in heaven. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.