Getting it Right with God
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.
But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
“No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own"
I don’t know if you have ever thought about the title we give to passages of scripture. I often think one of the biggest misnomers is the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t know what the word sermon suggests to you. To me it suggests structure and some careful thinking about how you are going to put the point across. Some people carry this to extreme like when the cleaner who found the pastors sermon notes in the pulpit. She was intrigued by the notes more than their content. For example “Pause for effect.” Or “Point” or “Look serious”, but the one that really intrigued her was the note that said “Shout very loud - argument very weak”.
I don’t think in the Sermon on the Mount you are looking at a carefully constructed talk. What you are looking at is Jesus sharing his heart, as it occurred to him, and he certainly taught much of this material more than once. It is perhaps made worse by the fact that the gospel of Matthew was written anything up to 45 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and whilst I am quite convinced that the Holy Spirit was guiding again the disciples were recalling what Jesus said as he shared his heart.
I am saying that because the passage we are looking at today is part of that at best loose structure. I cannot escape the thought that had it been submitted as an essay to the Nazareth College of Theology Jesus might have been asked to redraft it paying more attention to the structure of his work.
Having previously taught on prayer and fasting Jesus suddenly plunges in to a section in Matthew 6 v 19 – 34 that could be called
“Warnings about worldliness.”
This is not my title. I have unashamedly borrowed it from a Bible commentary but it seems to me to sum up what this passage is all about.
I think we ought to start by defining what we mean by worldliness.
I don’t know about you but the tradition I grew up in put great store on avoiding worldliness. In practice it meant:
1. Having little social contact with non Christians
2. Avoiding entanglements with e.g. trade unions and political parties
3. Filling up your life with church based activities
4. Non attendance at e.g. cinema, theatre and even football.
The underlying reason for this was the conviction that Jesus was going to return at any moment, we would be whisked out of the world before things got really nasty. Therefore against that day we must maintain our separation from the rest of society. We had no real responsibility for what was going on out there. The rest of society could do what it liked. We were the church and we would keep ourselves separate from it apart from evangelism, which I must say in defence the church I was part of was very active in.
I do not believe it has anything to do with a list of do’s and don’ts. It is certainly not stepping aside from what is happening in the world. I searched for a definition of worldliness and could not find one so here is one I made earlier:
“A belief system wholly based on humanistic beliefs and takes no account of God and His Kingdom. This may or may not take some measure of responsibility for the society we live “
Let’s talk for a couple of minutes about our responsibility for the world and what is happening or not. This is important because there is still a tendency in some parts of the church to want to ignore or simply tut tut at what may be happening in society. Jesus had clear ideas:
See Matthew 5 v 13 – 16:
Jesus makes it clear:
1. That we have a responsibility for what is going on in society
2. We are not to hide our good deeds but rather whilst not boasting about them we are to be up front about them.
The most outstanding current example of this working I know is Stephen Timms, the M.P. for East Ham. During my career I worked briefly with him whilst he was the Leader of Newham Council. Now an M.P, since October 2008 he has been Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Now visit his web site and you will see that he is in politics due to Christian convictions. He wants to be salt and light to society. He does not hide his Christianity. In case you are feeling cynical his expenses are amongst the lowest recorded. Unlike the previous Prime Minster he does God! To my knowledge he is the only M.P. who has in “Who’s who” his club as Plaistow Christian Fellowship. It seems to me that whilst I do not agree with everything Stephen Timms says he is in the great tradition of Christians who saw their calling as being salt and light, in working through the political and social systems to make things better. He stands full square in the tradition set by William Wilberforce, General Booth, Elizabeth Fry, Keir Hardy and many others.
However the other side of the coin is summed up by Paul in Romans 12 v 2 where he says “Do not be conformed to this world..” In other words don’t have the attitudes, patterns of behaviour of the rest of the world. Don’t accept the underlying philosophy or thinking of society which by and large is not godly. It is humanistic or worldly.
In Matthew 6 v 19 – 34 Jesus is answering the question how we do this. How do we ensure that our attitudes and lifestyle is in line with what God wants and not the what society wants of us. Here are some of the answers.
V 19 -21: What are your priorities?
This appears to give a problem. Is it wrong for the Christian to be rich, or to pursue a career that has high wages? Well:
1. Philemon who worked with Paul in the early church was rich enough to own slaves (please don’t get side tracked as to the morality of slavery in the 1st century)
2. Jesus’ body was looked after by a rich man – Joseph of Arimathea.
The key is in 1 Tim 6 v 10 which does not say money is the root of all evil. The love of money is the root of all evil.
This passage in Matthew is talking about priorities. It is possible to spend many hours accumulating wealth, or qualifications or career progression and neglect God. Nothing wrong with any of those things but they are not priorities. Let me tell you about three men:
1. Stephen Timms. Good class degree destined for a lucrative career in the city when God called him over a period of time to go and live in Newham and serve the people firstly as a councillor and then an M.P.
2. Ian Rawley destined for a well paid career as a barrister when God called him into full time ministry.
3. The man in Luke 12 who only had time to expand his farm and at the peak of his success when God said: “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you: then whose will these things be that you have provided” I do not think that will be said to either Stephen Timms or Ian Rawley at the end of their lives
You see the simple challenge here is “What is your priority? Is it the acquisition of money, comfort career, pleasure – put in what you like – or is the kingdom of God? Because what your priority is starts to define you are like as person.
Another thing that defines you as a person is what goes on between your ears and for that we turn to:
V 22 and 23: what goes in comes out!
You need a bit of background here. The Jews described the eye as the window or light of the soul i.e. what you take in through your eyes to some extent dictates what goes on between the ears. It begins to affect your attitudes and behaviour.
If you do not believe me why are millions of pounds spent each year by the advertising industry? Why have tobacco adverts been largely banned? Because exposure to these images produces a change in behaviour.
Therefore ask yourself – what do you take in through your senses? I talked around this with someone a while ago who said quite fairly: “I don’t watch pornography. “ He probably didn’t and that is probably true for us here but let the Holy Spirit guide your conscience on this. Now I am not going to tell you what to do. I will tell you decisions I have made and over which I have no regrets and you make your own judgement.
1. When our children were young we did not let them watch East Enders. There came a time when we did probably as they moved into teenage years. The reason was quite simple. We were concerned at the attitudes it portrays that they would pick up. I still feel uncomfortable watching it because of the attitudes and lifestyles it portrays as normal. Were we right or wrong? You decide.
2. A few years ago I read the novel “The Eagle Has Landed” by Jack Higgins. It is a good yarn and on the strength of reading that I read other novels he wrote. However although I have got them on my shelf I have stopped reading them because as he developed as a writer he began to concentrate more and more on gratuitous violence and the occult. So what happened? I felt more and more uncomfortable because I found that the threshold of violence I would accept was creeping up quite apart from the occult content. They are still on my shelf but I do not read them. I am having a similar tussle with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharp novels. Really well written yarns but the underlying values!!
Now I hope I am not being precious and I am not going to organise a book burning of Jack Higgins and Bernard Cornwell novels, nor am I going to lead a march on Albert Square. What I am saying is be aware of what you are taking in and the slow drip drip effect it has on you. If you want to be all God wants you to be, be careful what you take into yourself.
V 24: you cannot serve God and mammon:
Mammon is a particular word. It is Aramaic and basically means money but much more. It has to do with the system that money is part of. The Amplified Bible probably has it right when it expands the word to “deceitful riches, money, possessions, or what is trusted in..” We are back to priorities!
Essentially it is saying you cannot serve God and his kingdom as the priority in your life and at the same time serve the accumulation of wealth, pursuit of career etc as a priority. It is not saying building up wealth, pursuing a hobby you really enjoy, pursuing a career is wrong - it is simply challenging your priorities. You cannot sit on the fence. You have to come down on one side as to your priorities. Let me give you two examples of two men for whom this worked out quite differently:
1. In his late twenties Cliff Richards became a Christian. Quite soon he as faced with a dilemma. Did he continue his music career or did he go for Bible College training and full time ministry. In the end it came down to priorities. He chose to seek to serve God in his music career and the rest as they say is history. Although he pursued a music career and I am told some people like his music his priority was serving God and his kingdom in the music industry.
2. I have a friend who qualified as a Chartered Accountant who I remember when I was a young teacher shall we say made me feel like the poor relation. A couple of years after qualifying Martyn obeyed a call to serve God in the Far East, in particular in Taiwan. He gave up a very well paid career. He knew his priorities. What he could not have known was that two years after arriving in Taiwan and sorting out the language the organisation he worked for needed a field administrator and guess what it required the same skills he had used and developed in the City of London.
What you have got there are two men who knew what their priorities should be. In both cases they were out to serve God and his kingdom but did so in quite different ways. Neither of them were serving mammon – the system of which money is a part.
So how do you avoid worldliness? By staying away from TV, radio and cinema? No: but by having the right priorities to serve God and his kingdom as my friend did and as Cliff Richard did but in very different ways.
V 25 – 34: Don’t worry
I am not going to say a lot about this section but before I do look at three quotations about worry:
1. I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time. ~Charlie Brown (Charles Schulz)
2. Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere. ~Glenn Turner
3. People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them. ~George Bernard Shaw, "Family Affection," Parents and Children, 1914
Some are a bit tongue in cheek but worry is a serious issue but look at another one:
“Britain is an anxious nation – and the credit crunch will only make things worse. How can we stop fear taking over our lives?” Simon Usborne writing in “The Independent” Tuesday, 16 September 2008. In that same article Usborne describes how something like 1 person in 50 in the UK is now receiving medical treatment for physical issues caused by worry.
You see worry and fear is almost totally destructive. Sometimes we quite enjoy worry. In the French cartoon series “Asterix” the chief of the tribe because he is in a very secure position worries about the sky falling on his head. He almost needed something to worry about.
You see the fact is there is plenty to worry about. There are people around and that may well include some of us who are facing job insecurity, financial issues, health issues and many other things. Outside our own circumstances we can worry about the world economy, global warming, present wars, future wars etc.
We are absolutely right to be concerned about any one or all of these. What we must not do is let them eat into us and come to dominate out thinking. That great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said:” You cannot stop the birds flying over your head. You can stop them nesting in your hair.”
What was Jesus’ answer to worry? His answer dealt with our priorities, worked on the principle of what goes into our minds comes out and challenges our loyalties and again our priorities:
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you”
Now I cannot really tell you except in the broadest terms what that means to you. It would be so easy to give you a list of do’s and don’ts. That was certainly the church culture I grew up in.
What I can do is to ask you to do just what it says. Recite it to yourself, hang on to it, and let it become part of your thinking.
I started this talk with the possibly depressing title:
Warnings about worldliness
Let me know give you the full title:
Warnings about worldliness or how to be what God wants you to be.
And how do you do this. Try this:
1. Consider your priorities
2. Consider what is going into your mind
3. Remind yourself regularly that as you “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you”.