Scripture: “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… 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.” Matthew 6:19-21, 24 ESV
Observation: Having instructed his disciples on discretely engaging in the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting with the promise of the Father rewarding their authentic piety in secret, Jesus now builds on good works in this life that yield treasures in the afterlife. But first, he cautions against pursuing rewards here and now that have no merit in his Father’s heavenly kingdom (vv.19-20). And he warns that what we devote our time and attention to will reveal what we treasure most (v.21).
The rest of this segment of his Sermon on the Mount builds on the object of our desires. Just as the heart (the seat of our emotions) inspires us to pursue what we believe will bring us happiness, our eyes (the heart’s portal) spark interest and guide us toward our heart’s desires. Thus, a healthy eye radiates the light of a godly soul, and a diseased one covers evil intent with its cloak of darkness (vv.22-23).
Lastly, addressing the sources of good and evil (God and the devil), Christ explains that we will serve one or the other but not both. Indeed, willingly or unwittingly, we will devote ourselves to one of these ultimate sources of our passions and despise the other. And to make his point clear, Jesus adds that his disciples cannot serve God and money (v.24 above).
Observation: As theologian John Stott maintains, Jesus does not forbid “being provident (making sensible provision for the future) but being covetous (like misers who hoard and materialists who always want more)” (Stott, Christian Counter-culture, p. 155). Paul makes this point clear in his first letter to his protegé Timothy: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV). The emphasis here is on the “love” of and “craving” for money. But Jesus casts a broader net. Beyond monetary obsessions, all lusts for life apart from God will lead us to ruin if unrepented. And this path leads us deeper into the darkness, enslaving us to our insatiable desire for more. Truly, the enemy seeks to shroud us in evil’s darkness and prevent the light of Christ from shining through us to others.
So if our unbridled passions for worldly pleasures that leave Christ out of the equation are the problem, what’s the solution? Turning to the Old Testament, Joshua provides helpful insights. Having settled in the Promised Land, Joshua is concerned that Israel will become complacent in its prosperity. So he challenges his fellow people to make good choices: “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15 ESV). From these two verses, Joshua provides a helpful game plan to stay on course:
- Fear the Lord.
- Serve him in sincerity and faithfulness.
- Put away the gods (the idolatrous traditions) of your family line.
- Choose to serve God this day and every day.
This four-step process starts with a healthy fear of our Lord, who created all things and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. (It certainly helps to keep this perspective when the enemy tempts us to pursue our passions outside God’s will.) On this foundation of reverence toward God, we spend time in prayer, Scripture, and the community of believers (guided by the Holy Spirit) to discern his will and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness. Along the way, when the Holy Spirit and other trusted believers expose our blind spots where we still follow the idolatrous traditions of our family line (including our culture), we seek help to put aside these destructive habits. Lastly, we pause daily to remind ourselves that we choose to serve God because the other master wants to lead us to self-destruction. And when we follow Joshua’s game plan infused by Christ’s grace, we will lay up treasures in heaven.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who is the way, truth, and life. And we are genuinely grateful that he is our Light of the World who restores our souls and guide us in righteousness through the aid of the Holy Spirit. So would you please help us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in learning to serve your Son and you with sincerity and faithfulness so that we might glorify you and lay up treasures in heaven? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling