When we belong to Jesus, God becomes our Father and we His children. Then we have the right to let go of anxiety about material things. Seek first the kingdom of God in Christ and His Father will take care of you.
[June 22, 2008] Today we continue to listen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. After the revelation from heaven at the Jordan singling Jesus out as the beloved Son of God, the One in whom God is well-pleased, and after Jesus denied His own most holy soul in the desert, accepting only the Father’s will, He entered the scene in Galilee announcing that the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near in His own person. He is the “place” where God has overcome all opposition and rules freely. At once He called disciples to follow Him, to enter the “sphere” in which He stood, and they dropped everything and gave Him their allegiance. As crowds flocked to Him on account of the many signs He performed, He took His disciples apart and gave the Sermon on the Mount, like it was an invitation for them to enter the place where He found Himself, and where they could be through His grace.
It was more than an invitation, however. It was a place they had already entered by belonging to Him and from which they could no longer escape. In this place—the place to which they were called and impelled by God’s voice which they heard when Jesus spoke, the place in which they found themselves by God’s action upon them, the place where they knew God’s absolute forgiveness and acceptance of them no matter what their past—in this place, they also came under God’s judgment and discipline because everything was now measured by God’s kingdom. Standing on the ground of the church, of unconditional acceptance and favor with God, without the option of leaving, they were accountable to the kingdom of God—called to fulfill God’s purpose.
His Father Is Our Father
After describing the beatitude—the blessedness—of this place (5:3-16), Jesus describes how His disciples are to be toward one another and all others (5:17-48), and then how they are to be in relation to the Father (chapter 6).
When we give ourselves to Jesus, in faith and allegiance, by God’s grace we enter into His relationship to the Father. The Father declared, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight” (3:17). The Father is unconditionally committed to the Son in love, and the Son is unconditionally committed to the Father in love. This relationship is divine—way beyond anything moral or religious, it is the essence of the divine life, God’s life—God IS this relationship between the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. Without exaggeration or sentimentality we say that “God is love.” God is more than a “what.” God confronts us in a personal relationship as a WHO, because He places us inside the dynamism of His own personhood. He addresses us in Christ. We do not even know what is going on. It happens, and then slowly, over years, the immensity of what God has done begins to dawn on us.
As Christ’s own people, we live before the Father in this relationship. We live as those who pray with Christ, “Our Father.” Therefore, we do not live according to how others judge us but by how the Father, who sees in secret, judges us. Those who live for man’s approval already have their reward. But if we live before the Father, for His approval only, then He will repay us. Thus we acquire treasure in heaven.
We are not trying to justify ourselves before God. If Christ has called us and we are in Him by God’s own doing, we are justified to the extent that Christ Himself is. We have no justification of our own. But if we love the Father, then we long for His smile, His approval on our life. We may not know His approval in this life at all, not until we appear before the judgment seat of Christ. This is different than the Father’s unconditional love for us based on Christ alone.
If we understand this—living before the Father alone, consciously aware that we are in His presence—then we can move on to what Jesus says in 6:19-34. The next thing Jesus says is that we can and must live in dependence on the Father alone—since He is committed to caring for us. If Jesus could depend absolutely on the Father, so can we, and so should we.
Where Is Your Heart?
The first question is, where is your treasure? Treasures that moth and rust consume and which thieves dig through and steal refer to clothing and treasure-chests and money. To store them up means to have more than you can use so that you can have insurance for a rainy day. They are your security. The world makes many promises that it cannot keep. We think wealth gives us security, and to an extent it does, but it also gives us a great deal of anxiety, sometimes as much as poverty does. If we are invested in it, when something happens to it we can be devastated—inwardly I mean—more than when the poor one suffers a loss. It is because we have made our wealth our security.
If it is our security, it owns our heart. Where our treasure is, that is where our heart is. We can fool ourselves into thinking that our real treasure is where our heart is—because we do not know our heart. We can tell ourselves that our heart is in heaven, but the proof is in the location of our treasure. What treasure are we building up? Where does our safety and security lie?
Jesus says we need to change the bank where we are keeping our money. If we invest in earthly treasure, we stand to lose everything, and it will take our heart with it. If we invest in heavenly treasure, we have real security which neither moth nor rust nor thieves can take. This is hard because we can see one but the other we cannot see. The heavenly treasure seems less real. But Jesus says that looks deceive. Heavenly treasure is more real.
How do we build up treasure in heaven? It is by what we give up for Christ’s sake, just as Christ was rewarded—exalted to the throne of God—when He gave up everything, or rather offered up everything to the Father, on the cross. Jesus told the young man with many possessions to “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in the heavens” (19:21). In Luke 12:33 He says, “Sell your possessions and give alms; make for yourselves purses which do not become old, an unfailing treasure in the heavens, where thief does not come near nor even moth corrupts; for where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.” If we let go of our earthly treasure by giving it away, we deposit treasure in heaven, and our heart follows it. With nothing on earth to depend on, we look to God, and our heart follows. Our heart follows, not because our earthly treasure is taken from us but because we cheerfully let it go and depend willfully, without resentment, on God.
Our heart is our center. God looks at the heart—it says where we are in relation to Him. Taking care of our heart matters more than material things. But our relationship to our material treasures determines where our heart is.
What Kind of Eye Do You Have?
Jesus approaches the same problem from the point of view of the eye. Is our focus single or double? Are our eyes divided, one eye looking at treasure on earth and the other looking at treasure in heaven? If our vision is divided, we will be in the dark. If we have a single focus, on God, on Christ and His kingdom, then we will freely receive light from God.
There is also the look in your eye (see Matthew 20:15; Deuteronomy 15:9 and Proverbs 28:22). A good eye is an honest and generous eye. An evil eye is a calculating, miserly and envious eye. What kind of eyes do we have? If we are generous and open-handed, then we will be full of light. But if we hold onto our possessions tightly, if we are invested in them for our safety and security, for our self-respect and status with others, then we will be in interior darkness. The lights will be turned off. If we want to live in the light and receive light from God, we cannot be attached to all our things.
How Many Masters Do You Serve?
The third question is, how many masters do we have? Money and wealth are called “Mammon” in verse 24. Mammon is a spiritual power. It does not serve us, rather we serve it. The world system depends on this power in order to function. Jesus calls it the “mammon of unrighteousness.” It is inherently tainted. Yet we all have to work for money. The word “serve” means to serve as a slave. The question is about masters. We cannot serve two masters for long. Eventually we will end up serving only one. If we go with the flow, we will serve mammon. If we actively choose to serve Christ, mammon will lose its hold on us. But mammon loses its hold on us when we give it away.
If we let mammon be our master, we violate the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and strength, and we arouse God’s jealousy. We also betray Christ who bought us with His blood. A slave also has only so much time and energy. If a slave devotes himself to one master, he will not have enough time and energy for the other. Between God and mammon, it really is an either/or choice. You cannot be undecided, you cannot serve both.
Preachers deceive you who tell you otherwise. A Christian can be wealthy, but his wealth will always be a problem, and he has to be extremely vigilant.
Give Up Anxiety
Why are Jesus’ words hard to practice? It is because of our anxiety. Our material needs are very real, and so we store up material security for ourselves. Spiritual things have to come second, we think, because they are not practical. They are a luxury. Right now we have to take care of our need for food and clothing. This is how we think because we are anxious.
(Even the church has betrayed Christ in this matter by thinking that it cannot address people’s spiritual needs until it first solves the world’s economic woes. It is so much easier for us to feed the poor than to tell anyone, rich or poor, that they need salvation.)
But Jesus reminds us that we have the same relationship to the Father that He has. If we are to serve only Christ as our Master, if we live in the Father’s presence for His approval only, if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, then God will take responsibility for our food and clothing and everything else that we need. To trust the Father here means to give up our anxiety about these things as if we were in control. Faith has to be very practical. Faith is not a mere opinion but a way of seeing things as they actually are. Faith is acting as if God is in control. It is not what we believe as much as who we believe.
Jesus does not counsel us to laziness. We are still under the conditions of the Fall and must work by the sweat of our brow. “If anyone does not want to work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Jesus does not describing the birds and the flowers as examples for us to follow. He gives them as witnesses to God’s providential care. He is saying, if God takes care of them so well, are you not of much more value to Him? God cares for us because He is our Father, not because we work so hard.
We need to work out of faithfulness to God while trusting in God to provide for us. We should not work as if our sustenance depends on us. Remember the manna in the wilderness. Everyday God provided it, easily. But every day the people had to work to gather it. Lest they forgot, however, they were not allowed to work on the Sabbath. They needed to let go of their own labor and self-reliance. If they gathered manna on the Sabbath, it would spoil. This was to remind them that it was God who provided what they needed, not themselves. So we should work out of faithfulness to God, not because we are anxious about money and about where our next meal is coming from.
If we are not living in faithfulness to God but rather by self-reliance or reliance on other people, we cannot expect to have much faith when it comes to God’s provision. God may well take care of us, but we will be full of anxiety. We need to put God first, seek His kingdom first, live His righteousness first, and then we can trust Him to take care of everything else.
God does not promise to give us a rose garden, not in this life. We will have enough evil—troubles and afflictions—to keep us occupied each day. We need not be anxious about the unpredictable future as well. This does not mean that we should not prepare for the future. Jesus’ words have to do with anxiety and imagining that we have more control than we do. Prepare for tomorrow, but know that we cannot control tomorrow. Commit it to God.
Live as if God is more real than anything else in your life, live as if God is your Father, and live as if you are always in the Father’s loving presence.