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Sunday, June 22, 2014

39 - Priorities and Money [B]

Matthew 6:19-24 by Robert Dean
"Ahoy, mate. Bring out the treasure map." Who wouldn't like to stumble over a treasure map that led to great riches? Listen to this lesson to learn that the Bible reveals where to find real treasure and how we can store it in a totally secure place. Learn what our attitude toward money should be and how we need to avoid finding our happiness in what we own. Let your generosity and use of money reveal your life's priorities as you realize that all of our resources are from God.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:55 mins 43 secs

Priorities and Money
Matthew 6:19-24
Matthew Lesson #039
June 22, 2014

There is an emphasis in the beatitudes on the kind of character that God expects of those who will inherit the earth and inherit the kingdom. There is an emphasis on the character quality, which is not related to salvation. Jesus isn't saying this is what you need to do to be saved but He is teaching them as those who are saved, saying that this is the sort of life that you should have. That is the focal point of the beatitudes.

Coming out of that He identifies their role as those who are by the life that they are living challenge others to be fruitful. That is what he meant by the phrase, "you are the salt of the earth". Salt was a component of fertilizer in the ancient world and was still used as such in the mid point of the twentieth century when it was usually replaced by other chemicals. The significance of the metaphor "salt of the earth" is not to preserve the world culture around us. God is not concerned about preserving the world system. The word translated "earth" should be translated "land". That is how the word GE is normally used in Matthew and in the Gospels. It is related to either the land of Israel or the physical soil. So we are to be something that generates spiritual production among those around us. That is the role of a disciple. He is the light of the world, introducing that metaphor which has to do with illumination and revelation.

Then Jesus moves from talking about the role of the disciple in terms of the environment around them to emphasis on the standards for the coming kingdom. And in the next section, from Matthew 5:17 through the end of the chapter, He uses six illustrations taking commands from the Old Testament and showing how the Pharisees had so minimized the meaning and application of those that in effect what they had done was nullify or abolished the Law. Jesus introduces that section by saying, "Don't think that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil." Then He said, "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." He is talking about the fact that this needs to be applied.

Then He said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others {to do} the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven …" Notice, they are still in the kingdom. He is talking about believers whose destiny is the kingdom, but they need to learn how to live according to this kingdom ethic. And that kingdom ethic is not the standard of righteousness that the Pharisees are teaching. That is a superficial righteousness, and that is what He means in Matthew 5:20 when He says: "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses {that} of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." He is talking to them as believers. Here is one place (there are others) where the phrase "enter the kingdom" doesn't mean getting justified, going to heaven when you die; but it has to do with entering into the fullness of the kingdom as God intended, and experiencing all of its benefits and blessings once we are heaven.

He then gives six examples showing that they way in which the Pharisees have taught these standards from the Law is to minimize the Law, to teach people to break the least of the commandments, and in contrast He gives His standards. That takes us down to the end of chapter five.

In chapter six, instead of contrasting the wrong way to interpret the Law and the wrong way to apply the Law, on contrast to the right way, He moves from the Law to practice—the practice of worship. He talks about three areas. In verse one He talks about giving: that giving should not be a matter of show, should not be done in public so that it impresses people. Giving is between you and the Lord and it is done to honor the Lord, not to bring attention to one's self in terms of how much they are giving or how sacrificial they are. It is simply a matter of privacy between the individual and the Lord.

Jesus introduces the issue of money and how you handle money in verse four. He comes back to it later on in verse 19. So the first thing He talked about was that giving should be in private. How you handle money should be in private. Then He talks about prayer. Prayer isn't something you do overtly in public to get people's attention as to how spiritual you are and how articulate your prayers are. Prayers should be in private, and then He gave an example.   

The third area of worship that has been distorted by the Pharisees is the area of fasting. They would fast. Nowhere is Scripture is fasting commanded of believers but it is something we witness that they do. We often lose the thrust of fasting today because we live in a modern age with modern conveniences and it doesn't take very long to prepare a meal. But in the ancient world preparing a meal was often extremely time-consuming. And if you had something of importance that you wanted to bring before the throne of grace in prayer, then you couldn't take three hours to prepare a meal because it was too distracting. So fasting was very practical, it wasn't some sort of magical ritual that somehow got God's attention. When we get to the epistles in the New Testament there is nothing said about fasting. Too often people attribute to fasting some sort of spiritual significance, something that is really going to get God's attention. That misses the whole cultural background and significance in terms of food.

Now we come to the next topic, which will really dominate the rest of this chapter. In Matthew 6:19-24 Jesus is talking about our attitude toward money and possessions. In fact, the implication here is that if your belief in God, your focus on the Word of God and your relationship to God isn't impacting how you handle your money, then you need to re-evaluate whether you relationship with God is a priority. One of the most significant ways for any of us to evaluate our own spiritual lives is to evaluate our priorities, especially that in terms of how we use the resources that God has given us.

In vv. 19-24 Jesus emphasizes our priorities in relation to our possessions, whether it is material possessions, land, houses, or just how we handle our money. Then in Matthew 6:25-34 He is going to get at the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is often our desire for security. We look to money and possessions to provide security for us. As we look at this it is easy for people to get the wrong impression, so we want to talk about what the Bible teaches here lest we take this out of context.

One thing we have to understand is that behind this whole discussion is the issue of idolatry. Idolatry isn't merely the worship of images made of metal or wood and attributing deity to those images. That is only the external manifestation of idolatry. Idolatry is really attributing to anything that which only God can provide. If you are looking to money to provide security you are saying money will provide that which only God can provide, which is security. When you are looking to money as the source of happiness, or possessions as a source of happiness—having certain kinds of clothes, certain kinds of cars, living in a certain neighborhood, living in a certain kind of house—there is nothing in and of itself with those things, but if our attitude is that those things are going to be the source of happiness and stability and security in a way that only God can provide it, that is when it becomes idolatry. And there are passages in the New Testament that teach this.

Colossians 3:5 NASB "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry".

So the Scriptures clearly teach that greed, covetousness and materialism is wrong. Covetousness refers to the lust for money, for possessions, for things, hoping to find in them that which only God can provide. But there is nothing wrong in and of itself with money. In 1 Timothy 5 Paul says it is not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money which is the root of all evil.

1.      The Bible doesn't condemn money. The Bible doesn't condemn wealth, the accumulation of property or possessions in and of themselves. There are several people in the Scriptures, great spiritual heroes who were incredibly wealthy. Abraham was one; Job was one. There are others that we see in the New Testament who were wealthy and had possessions.

2.      However, the Bible does condemn an inordinate focus on these things because it distracts from our relationship with God and our focus on the application of the Word. When we put the pursuit of possessions and financial security above our walk with the Lord, our time in the study of the Word, our time in the application of the Word in other areas, then it becomes a distraction and a hindrance. It then hinders our spiritual life. Money is just a tool to do other things.

3.      Money is a good and necessary requirement and reality of life. We need to work in order to eat, as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3. We need to work in order to provide our own personal needs of food, shelter and clothing, and also the needs of our families. It is also good to work to have extra in order to enjoy the luxuries of life and in order to be able to pay for some of the things that we desire. There is nothing wrong with that. We need to save money for the future, for the financial security when we are older and we can't work. But the highest priority in terms of the use of our financial resources needs to have something to do with our relationship with God and with giving—whether that is in terms of the local church or just privately helping others that we know if who are in financial distress.

4.      However, we have to recognize that those day-to-day financial responsibilities should not be at the expense of our spiritual responsibilities, which includes giving to local church, giving to Christian ministries and missionaries, and giving to help other believers who are in financial distress. Proverbs teaches that the wise person lays up treasures and an inheritance for his children and grandchildren. Let me suggest that that applies also to ministries.

5.      How we handle our money with reference to financial priorities is a barometer of our own spiritual life. This is exactly what Jesus is getting at in this passage. We have to reach a point in our life where we recognize that all of our resources, assets, physical possessions, are just something that God has provided for us to use ultimately for His purpose; not for our own pleasure and enjoyment, though there is nothing wrong with that. This is not something to do with asceticism. They should also be used recognizing that God has sort of given us the administration or stewardship of those resources so that we can use that in order to bless others.

6.      Thus, how we handle our finances is one of the great tests of our spiritual life. The issue is: are we serving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and money? Or are we looking at our money as our own possession and we just give some of it to the Lord, but the rest of it is mine; I'm going to keep it?

This is what Jesus is emphasizing when He comes to His conclusion in these verses. Matthew 6:24 NASB "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Luke 12:13 NASB "Someone in the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the {family} inheritance with me.' [14] But He said to him, 'Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?' [15] Then He said to them, 'Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not {even} when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions'." 

Our life is not about what we have or don't have; our life is about serving the Lord and our relationship with Him.

There are basically three sections here as we come to the last part of Matthew chapter six. There are three statements: vv. 19-21, 22 & 23, and v. 24. In the first section there is a contrast between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. In the second section, one that is often misunderstood and misinterpreted; and then the conclusion in v. 24.

In the first three verses Jesus is focusing attention on treasure.

Matthew 6:19 NASB "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Verse 20 is a contrast, telling us what we should be laying up for ourselves. [20] "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal". Then He explains it in v. 21. The topic, which shows up in every verse is treasure. We are not to lay up treasures on the earth, but we are to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. How do we do that?

Matthew 6:19 NASB "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Jesus uses a play on words here, a paronomasia. The verb is THESAURIZO, from which we get our word thesaurus, a storehouse of words. Literally, Jesus says: "Do not treasure treasure". He is not saying don't save for the future. He is saying don't be inordinately attached to it. What should you treasure? You should treasure your relationship with the Lord, because all treasures are subject to loss. He is saying that if you lay up treasures on earth they can be lost; they are not permanent.

The contrast is, don't treasure treasure but treasure treasures in heaven. Treasure those things that have eternal consequences. We will come back and talk about how this relates to the judgment seat of Christ. It relates to a topic Jesus mentions several times, which is rewards. In terms of what we have in this life that which we do when we are walking by the Spirit has an eternal consequences to it and an eternal reward, according to 1 Corinthians 3:12ff dealing with the judgment seat of Christ. But that which we do in the flesh has no eternal reward; it has no eternal consequences.  

Matthew 19:21 NASB "Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete [mature], go {and} sell your possessions and give to {the} poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me'."

What He is talking about there is, if you are using your financial resources under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit, are walking by the Spirit, taking care of the needs of the local church, the needs of other believers, the needs of the poor, then this has eternal consequences. It is divine good. You are laying u treasures in heaven and there will be reward at the judgment seat of Christ. It is not a financial reward; it is a reward in terms of our future roles and responsibilities in the kingdom.

His explanation of the importance is that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He uses the term heart often as interchangeable with the word mind. The heart is the core of our being and heart often describes the thinking part of the soul. In other words, as you think about life and the priorities of life, if your focus is on money that is what you will focus on, not your relationship to God. If your treasure is in heaven, on heavenly things, that which has eternal value, then when you arrange the priorities of your life and how you spend your time and your talent and your treasure, it is going to be focused on that which has eternal value. So here He is saying that if you want to evaluate your spiritual life look at how you handle your possessions and your treasure. That is going to tell you what your real priorities are in life.  

The next section is Matthew 6:22, 23. Jesus is using an idiom here.

Matthew 6:22 NASB "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, 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 that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"

That doesn't make a lot of sense to us until we realize that this is building off of a common biblical and Hebrew idiom. We think of the eye as primarily the organ in our body through which light comes, and knowledge and information comes into our soul. The are a couple of times the Bible uses the eye that way but that wasn't the normal way the ancient person thought about the eye. He thought about the eye as that which showed what was in the soul. We think of the eye as the opening that brings light in, whereas in the ancient world the eye is that which reveals what is in the soul. An idiom is a figure of speech that has a consistent meaning so that when we use an idiom it can't mean just anything to anybody. It means something and the same thing to everybody but the terms that are used in the idiom don't have anything to do with the idiomatic meaning. For example, we can talk about when pigs fly. It has nothing to do with pigs or flying. We use that to refer to something that is impossible; it is never going to happen.

So when we look at this idea of the eye Jesus is contrasting a good eye with a bad eye. What exactly does this good eye-bad eye have to do with anything? In one of the parables that Jesus gives in Matthew chapter twenty it is about a landowner who hires workers all day long at different stages through the day. At the end of the day he pays all of them the same. If they worked just one hour or eight hours, they all got the same pay. The workers who worked all day are complaining to the farmer and the farmer responds by saying, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?" Is that an evil eye? No, that is not what this is talking about.

In Hebrew idiom a good eye is showing what is in the soul; that the soul is healthy and generous. Someone with a bad eye is someone who is tight and stingy with money. So what the farmer is saying in other words is, "Are you stingy, are you a tightwad because I am generous?"

Proverbs 28:22 NASB "A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him." This is not saying that every person who hastens after riches is evil, but that the person who is stingy and is a tightwad hastens after riches and does not consider the poverty can come upon him.

Proverbs 22:9 NASB "He who is generous [has a good eye] will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor".

So Jesus is saying that the lamp of the body is the eye. Whether you have a good eye or a bad eye has to do with your soul and what comes out of your eye, not what goes in through the eye. The lamp is the eye; it illuminates the nature of the person. "If your eye is good [if you are generous] your whole body will be full of light". Your whole life manifests your generosity and openness of spirit. If your eye is bad, if you are a miserly tightwad, your whole body will be full of darkness. It will impact your whole life, everything you have if you are stingy. "If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" Jesus is using this to indicate again the significance of how we handle our money. If our treasures are in heaven then we will be generous with those around you to the degree that God has prospered us.

Matthew 6:24 NASB "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth". 

The point is that money makes a difference. How you handle it indicates your spiritual values. And one of the principles of Christianity is that we are to be grace oriented, which means that we are to be generous in our giving.