Earlier today we presented Phil and Lisa Ryken with an original painting by artist Makoto Fujimura. On that painting the artist wrote in gold lettering the very passage we are considering tonight, up to verse part of verse 26, when he ran out of room.
Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 6 set the context for our passage. It reads: “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.”
“Hypocrites” display publicly their so-called righteousness in order to be seen and then to be praised by others. They make a show of giving alms to the poor. They pray in public places. When they fast, they put on gloomy expressions to show their solemn devoutness and sacrifice. What they really reveal is that what they value as treasure is the regard of man as opposed to the regard of God. Righteousness – i.e. performing the duties of religion – becomes a means to win worldly treasure.
Jesus admonishes his hearers not to fall into such a perversion of righteousness. Verse 19-20: "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.”
Notice already the value of the true treasure in heaven. The treasures laid up on earth are susceptible to lost. Nature – catastrophic, as we have had late reminders, or natural processes – commonly harm physical possessions. Homes and other possessions can be destroyed by fire or flood or earthquake or tornado. Valuable information can go down with a computer crash. Not only do we have ordinary thieves who break into our homes, we now have cyber thieves to steal our valuables through the internet. Treasure on earth, because it is on earth, is losable.
The treasures in heaven, on the contrary, are secure. No climate activity can affect them. No thieves can sneak in. No lost of identity. Their owners can go about life in peace knowing that when the time comes to cash in, the treasures will be waiting. They will not receive a message, “We’re sorry, there is no record of you having a deposit with us.”
But there is a deeper issue. Look at verse 21: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. People are willing to take risks for treasure for which they are true believers, treasure that has captured their hearts. And that is the danger, not risk-taking, but setting one’s heart on the wrong treasure. What happens when one eyes the wrong treasure?
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!
Whatever catches your eye, whatever it is that you perceive as great treasure – that so-called treasure will penetrate into your life and, according to Jesus, will either, because it is good, be light that brings life and vitality, or, because it is bad, will fill you with darkness. Not that you will necessarily know. The body includes the mind, and if the mind is darkened, it may well believe it is in the light. It may believe the impossible is exactly what it can accomplish.
And so Jesus goes on: 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.”
Recall the hypocrites Jesus spoke of, the ones making a show of religiosity so as to win worldly favor. These hypocrites have actually fooled themselves. Though in reality they are serving the master of earthly treasure, they have convinced themselves that they are serving God.
How do they do that? Their very pious acts allow them to be blind to their hearts. They think to themselves, “How can one who gives to the poor, who prays regularly, and who even fasts regularly be worldly minded? My heart must be filled with light.” Recall the Pharisee’s prayer to God in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11). See his reasoning? The hypocritical Pharisee gives due credit to God. He looks at the tax collector and says, “There but by the grace of God go I. I would be like that man who is in darkness, but obviously I am not because I do these pious things. All is right between God and me.” Jesus says he may go to his home in contentment, but he is not justified before God. How great is his darkness!
You can’t serve two masters. You can’t set your heart on two treasures. You are not capable of it, whatever you may fool yourself into believing. The Pharisee believed he loved God when, the truth be told, he hated him. The Pharisee was the elder brother of Jesus’ other parable about the prodigal son. Remember the response of the elder brother when the father took back the younger brother? He was furious with his father for being gracious and generous when he, the elder brother, had worked hard and obeyed all his father’s commands. Whatever love and thankfulness he may have professed for his father over the years, he revealed his true heart then – that all of his so-called devoted service was nothing more to him than paying his dues to get the same thing that the younger son had blatantly grabbed for earlier. They wanted money; they wanted possessions. Each went about it in different ways, but their treasure was the same. The only difference is that the elder brother put on a show – maybe even fooling himself – that he loved his father.
Now look back with me at that final sentence in verse 24: “You cannot serve God and money.” The actual word is a Hebrew term – mammon. It certainly includes money but encompasses all of a person’s possessions. And its root meaning involves the concept of trust. Mammon is what you place your trust in. Indeed, it comes from the same root word for “Amen.” Mammon is what you give your “amen” to.
So follow the logic here. People often protest that they serve no one and nothing. Indeed, someone here might be thinking, “I serve neither God nor money. I am my own master. I serve only myself.” Well, how do you serve yourself? You gather about you what you think is most necessary for your welfare and happiness. There is something that you fear not possessing. Perhaps your fear is losing your health, and so you put your effort and money into keeping as healthy as possible. Perhaps your fear is living in poverty, and so you act accordingly to build and protect your financial situation. Perhaps your fear is losing respect and love in relationships, and so you act in such ways as to win and keep those relationships. Whatever your fear and corresponding treasure may be, you must do things and possess things to accomplish your end. You must give yourself to those things, so much so that, even though you do not regard them as your master, you nevertheless end up serving them. Whatever you become dependent on becomes your master; it becomes your treasure.
Now, these things may not be bad in themselves. The problem is when they become the treasures of our hearts over against what Jesus defines as true treasure. According to Jesus, there is a treasure diametrically opposed to the treasures of the world, a treasure that is eternal and secure. There is a treasure that gives life to the possessor as opposed to the darkness rendered by worldly treasure. And every person gives allegiance to one or the other. If that allegiance is in the treasures of the world, it will come out in the worries and focus of daily life. And so Jesus continues:
25“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Life is more than being about food or about clothing. In other words, survival and survival in comfort are not the sum total of life. At the end of one’s life, the value of that person’s life will not be measured by how well fed or well clothed he kept himself. There is something more for which we are made. And if we allow the treasures of this earth to become the summation of what life is about, those very treasures become our anxieties. As Paul Tripp notes:
This way of living [living to fulfilled earth based needs] is always riddled with anxiety and fear. You see, I will never be able to control all the things that need to be controlled in order for me to guarantee that all of my needs will be met. If I am a farmer, I cannot control the weather. If I am a parent, I cannot control the hearts of my children. If I am a husband or wife, I cannot control the affection of my spouse. If I am a worker, I cannot control the economy…. When I carry the meeting of my own needs as the most dominant focus of my living, I will always struggle with the anxiety that comes from the realization of how small the circle of my control actually is. (from A Quest for More, pp. 53-54)
The first step toward gaining peace and breaking free from anxiety is learning to trust our heavenly Father.
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Our heavenly Father knows our needs and he will provide. Trust him; believe him. But the second step is the real key and all that Jesus has been leading up to: 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
If we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness – if we seek first to be in his kingdom, and if we seek first to live for his kingdom and as citizens of his kingdom, well, the rest works out. Remember, our heavenly Father knows what we need and he will provide. What matters to him is that we value his kingdom and trust him to provide, which comes more easily when we value what he values.
It is that principle that has helped me in the church. Consider church planting. It was not until 15 years ago that Tenth became active in planting churches in and around Philadelphia. There are a number of factors why we had not, but certainly one was a concern for the welfare of Tenth. There is a price to pay. We lose members whom we love and who are doing good work here. We lose their donations, creating a hit for our budget. And the price for the long-run is that once those churches are established, it means that people who would have attended a church from those areas are now likely to attend the new churches instead.
These are things to worry about until one thinks in terms of what is good for the kingdom of God. I know that more people are likely to enter the kingdom if a church is near them actively reaching out to them. So what am I to say to God? “Lord, I know planting another church would be good for your kingdom, but I need to think first about the needs of Tenth.” It just doesn’t work, does it? And even if we forgo starting new churches, that doesn’t mean that we will now not worry about meeting our needs. We more likely will reinforced our focus (and thus our anxiety) on meeting our needs. But if our attention and passion is given to God’s kingdom, our trust in God grows and our anxiety decreases. It is hard to be anxious when what really excites you is coming to fruition.
The same thinking has helped me for such a time as this as we lose a family that we love and a minister whose leadership and pastoral care we trust. If I think in terms of what I consider best for Tenth, I worry. Losing Phil Ryken is losing a lot. I was not here when Dr. Boice died ten years ago, but I did not worry for Tenth because I knew that Phil would likely step into the Senior Minister position, and I knew Phil – I knew he was more than capable of handling the challenge. But who is going to follow Phil? Will the right decision be made? Can we hang in there long enough until the right man is chosen? And what is this with going to Wheaton? He is a preacher, a pastor! He is in mid-career, at the top of his game, with us! We are doing so well together. So when I consider what is best for God’s kingdom, well I’m not so sure. It seems to me that God’s kingdom was being well served with Phil Ryken in this pulpit. But then, begrudgingly, I must admit there is much he can do for God’s kingdom at that other place.
But here is the point: I am not being asked to determine what should be done. That is not my burden. The question for me is whether I will accept, not that Phil knows what he is doing, but that God knows what he is doing. And will I accept that God is doing what is best for his kingdom both in regard to Wheaton and to Tenth Church, whether or not I fully understand?
If I can accept that, guess what happens? I am not anxious about tomorrow. I can let “tomorrow be anxious for itself”(v. 34). If I accept that God knows what he is doing and that he is doing what is best for his kingdom, then I can keep attentive to doing what is required of me for his kingdom without being weighed down with care about mine or the church’s needs getting met. I am freed to bless other servants of God who are doing what they know God is requiring of them.
And I may now honestly grieve over what makes me sad – whether it is the loss of a possession or the leaving of a pastor and friend. Jesus does not tell us here what not to be sad about, just what not to have anxiety over. He is not telling what we may not value, just what may not replace the position of God and his kingdom. Feeling the sadness of loss is not only okay, but it is good. For such sadness says that what God gave really was valued, even if for now it must be taken back.
I had no doubt that Phil and Lisa would appreciate the value of their gift, but I was concerned (not anxious!) by the reaction of most others. I thought you might respond the way I first did when I saw it hanging in an art gallery, which was less than enamored. For me, on that first sighting, there didn’t seem to be much to it.
But the gallery director explained that the problem was with the lighting. She turned down the light, and, immediately, colors that had seemed bland took on rich, deep tones. And then, as I continued to watch, colors I did not see before began to appear. Something like white clouds appeared, then red. And then the gold lettering of the text emerged. Paul Tripp explained to me that that was the result of the many layers of application that the artist used. And as the natural light changed, so the qualities of the rich minerals in the painting come out.
God the artist works like that. He applies layer upon layer to our lives, using the finest of materials, and though we don’t understand clearly the process or know the value of the minerals used, nevertheless, if we will patiently study his kingdom work, then the beauty, the magnificence of that work will appear, and we will trust this Artist, our heavenly Father, and we will know his peace.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org