Seek first the Kingdom

Chatswood Baptist Church

Matt 6:19-30 

The need to focus

One of the things we’re trying to teach our kids is to focuson what they shouldbe doing, rather than on the endless little things they wantto do right then and there. We’re trying (struggling!) to cultivate in them self-motivation to focus on the right thing – to focus on what they need to do, and trust that they will get to do what they want to do all in good time. For a small child the whole world is full of things that seem more interesting than what you’ve asked them to do – even if it’s as simple as putting a pair of shoes on. Sometimes it feels like we need to be drill sergeants in the army to get the kids ready for school…

You see the irony is that when the kids are distracted from getting ready for school because they want to do other things ‘right now!’, nothing really works out well – they don’t really get to enjoy playing or drawing or whatever, because they’re being hassled and punished for not doing what they’re meant to be doing, and they also end up being late. But if they just focus on getting ready, everything works out well. They are ready for school in plenty of time, they actually feel good about it, they’re rewarded and affirmed by us, and they even get to do what they wanted to do in the first place and actually enjoy it without being hassled!

It’s the danger of double vision, and it’s something that affects all of us – not just kids! We all know the struggle to focus on what we are supposed to be doing, and not be distracted by all sorts of things that seem more interesting, compelling or pleasurable right then and there. And the irony is that this kind of distracted, double vision just leads to frustration all round. We sabotage our goals and the distraction itself ends up being bittersweet, because we know we should be doing something else.

In our passage today from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus challenges and encourages us to focus our attention, our desires, our hopes, our energy on God and his coming kingdom, rather than being distracted by wealth and the ‘stuff’ of this life. And he warns us that double vision – trying to give our hearts and minds to bothGod and money won’t work. If we think we can pursue both God andwealth, we will just be fooling ourselves. Jesus confronts us with the question: what is filling our vision for life? What’s capturing my attention, my heart, my time and my energy? Is it God and his Kingdom? Or is it in fact the pursuit of wealth? Seeking to secure and enjoy the stuff of this life? 

For those of us living on the North Shore of Sydney and seeking to follow Jesus, there is probably no greater temptation or threat to genuine discipleship than the pursuit of wealth and the mindset of consumerism. 

Three short, punchy sayings (v19-24)

Our passage begins with three short, punchy sayings from Jesus in verses 19-24 that challenge us directly about the focus of our hearts and minds and pose the question: is it God or money?

Where and what is your treasure?

First up, from verse 19, Jesus challenges us to stop storing up treasure on earth and instead to store up treasure in heaven. Why? Because what we treasure, what we invest in, what we work for, what we strive after… that’s what has captured our heart, and what has captured our heart has captured our soul. What we treasure is what we worship, and what we worship determines our destiny.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

On one level, Jesus is just offering us smart investment advice isn’t he? Why store up treasure that is so vulnerable? Some investments are just bad ideas aren’t they? 

Hoarding cash under your mattress has been a tempting option for some, but is generally not a great idea. About two years ago in Ireland a woman was moved into a nursing home after authorities found her living in very poor conditions with large amounts of cash stored in the house. But it was fortunate she still had enough money to cover the nursing home, because they found that a substantial amount of the money had already been eaten by rats!

Jesus wasn’t joking about thieves breaking in to steal and vermin eating up earthly wealth. Last year there was a rat in India that actually fit both categories! It forced its way into an ATM and ate about $20,000 worth of bank notes. Both the bank and the rat were pretty unhappy afterwards…

But Jesus isn’t encouraging us to invest in prime property rather than hoarding up cash under mattresses… He’s saying that allearthly ‘treasure’ is temporary and fragile in the end. Why spend all our time and energy investing in and storing up treasure that could be here today and gone tomorrow when we can be investing in eternaltreasure that can never perish, spoil or fade? 

But it’s not even just about being ‘smart’ and investing in the right kind of treasure… as Jesus points out at the end, the real issue is that what we work for, what we store up, what we invest our time and energy in and put our hopes in for the future… this is where our heart is. What we treasure is ultimately what we worship. And of course, that’s why ‘treasure in heaven’ is not some heavenly version of gold coins or possessions – it’s God himself. Storing up treasure in heaven is about choosing God over the stuff of this world. It’s about making decisions to trust God and his promises, even when it means missing out here and now, because we want to be with him and enjoy his coming kingdom more than what’s on offer here and now. What we treasure is what we worship, and what we worship determines our destiny.

So the real issue is not having hundreds and thousands of dollars eaten up by rats or having half our retirement fund wiped out by a crash in the stock market… no the real issue is when we ourselves are destroyed along with our treasure, because our hearts and souls are bound up in it.

You have to ask yourself don’t you, whether you’ve basically just spent your life storing up treasures on earth, or whether you have in fact grasped the wisdom, the beauty, the joy of storing up treasure in heaven. Is your heart in your house and your cars? Or are you longing for your home in heaven? 

Is life for you basically a journey of securing the stuff that marks you out as successful in this world? Is your imagination captured by building your dream home here and accumulating things to entertain you here and now? Or are you investing your time, your energy, and your money in God’s vision for your life and for this world while you wait for his kingdom? 

We need to ask ourselves these kinds of questions, we need to be honest with ourselves, and we need to be willing to hear the challenge of Jesus.

How do you see life? 

So first up, Jesus confront us with where and what our treasure is. Then, in verses 22 and 23, he invites us to consider how we see the world around us through these puzzling statements about good and bad eyes and light or darkness in the body. And whilst exactly what Jesus says here is not super easy to make sense of, I think the big idea is that the way we view the world both affects and reveals what’s going on inside us. In particular, in this context, I think Jesus is saying that if we view life as an opportunity to consume stuff and to hoard up stuff for ourselves, and so we set our sights on getting more and more for ourselves, then it reveals a profound darkness in us and only leads to more darkness. But if we view life as an opportunity to enjoy God and bless others, rather than consume and cling onto stuff for ourselves, then it reveals a great light within us and leads us further into the light. 

22  “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Now, as odd as the metaphor is, it’s simple enough – the eye is like a lamp for the body, and so if it’s working properly, the body is full of light. It’s like the eyes allow the light of the world to enter into and illumine the whole body. 

Of course, that not how it works physiologically. The light doesn’t get much further than the backs of your eyeballs into your body! So obviously Jesus is using the simple idea of light entering in through the eyes and enabling us to see the world around us as a metaphor for how we perceive and live in the world spiritually and ethically… he’s certainly not teaching a physiology class.

And there’s a few clues that help us understand the point Jesus is making. Firstly the word translated as ‘healthy’ really means ‘single minded’ or ‘sincere’, and can even express the idea of generosity. 

But secondly, the phrase ‘your eye is unhealthy or bad’ is a phrase that was used to refer to a stingy or greedy person. In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus tells a parable about a generous vineyard owner who employs workers at different points in the day, but ends up paying a whole day’s wage even to those who only worked for the last hour of day. And when the labourers who worked all day complain that he’s being unfair to them, the owner replies he’s not being unfair – he gave them exactly what they expected! – he’s being generous. And he finishes by saying, “Or are you envious because I am generous?” And the Greek phrase there in Matt 20:15 for ‘you are envious’ is identical to the phrase ‘your eye is bad’ in our passage in Matt 6. He literally says, “Or is your eye badbecause I am generous?” 

We see the same phrase getting used in a number of Proverbs in the OT. So the ‘begrudging host’ of Proverbs 23:6 and the ‘stingy’ of 28:22 are really the ‘bad of eye’. And the ‘generous person’ of Proverbs 22:9 is literally ‘one with a good eye’.

So as I said, back in Matthew 6, I think there’s a bit more going on than light coming through good eyes or not coming through bad eyes. Surrounding these verses, Jesus is talking about money and possessions and the focus of our hearts and minds, and I don’t think it’s any different here. He’s saying that whether we see the world through the eyes of a generous person or a greedy, stingy person says something profound about what’s going on inside us. Is our vision captured by money and what it can buy for ourselves? Do we have ‘bad eyes’? Is life for us about consuming more and more for ourselves? If so, Jesus says we are full of darkness. We don’t see reality clearly. And there is and will be a growing and profound darkness within us. It’s not how we’re meant to live and it will won’t end well.

Or do we have healthy eyes? Are we focused with single minded clarity on Godas our real treasurer, so that we are perfectly happy to share what we’ve been given by God in this world? Because this is life in the light. Seeing life through the eyes of someone who happily shares because they’re content in God reveals a light of true understanding within us. Looking at the world like this and living like this leads us further into the light of God’s will for us.

In our time and place, consumerism is the air we breathe. We are constantly exposed to the message that we need more, we need new, we need better, we need bigger… We are surrounded by the example of unreserved consumption as normal. It profoundly influences the way we think, and our desires and our habits. And if we want to follow Jesus faithfully, we need to learn to step back and see the world differently. We need to learn to enjoy food and things and experiences, being grateful to God, but without buying into the mindset that life is all about me consuming more and more.

Who or what are you serving?

So, Jesus asks firstly, “where or what is your treasure?”, and secondly, “how do you see life – how do you perceive wealth and value in life?” And now, verse 24, in the third punchy saying, he asks, “Who or what are you serving?” And his point is that it can’t be both God andmoney – it’s going to be one or the other, no matter what we tell ourselves.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is highlighting that faith in God and devotion to God is meant to be all encompassing, and it’s not compatible with trying to serve another master. And at the same time, he’s pointing out that money very easily shifts from being something we handle and use inour daily lives to something we serve and worship withour lives. 

Money is constantly beckoning people into its’ service. Wealth promises security, power and happiness and demands our devotion in response. It enslaves us, urging us to seek more and more of it so that it might deliver what it’s promised… it’s the god that so many people around us worship, often without realising it.

So Jesus is warning us that money will easily claim the place of a godin our lives, and he’s making it very clear that if it does, it will have taken the place of the God in our lives. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t serve both God and money. There isn’t room in our hearts, and neither ‘god’ will allow true worship of the other.

And so the question for us is, does wealth fit into your devotion to God? Or does God fit into your devotion to wealth? What are you really serving? And which one is merely some aspect of your life for a particular purpose?

Someone who earns and handles money but serves God is content with or without lots of money, because their contentment comes from their peace with God, not their wealth and their possessions. Someone who worships God but uses money decides how they will use their money as one aspect of how they worship God. Their career ambitions and their approach to work is shaped by their submission to God’s wisdom and his plans and purposes in this world. Their hope and their security comes from the promises of God in Jesus Christ, not from a growing bank balance and retirement fund.

But someone who uses God and worships moneyallows their desire and their need to earn and secure their wealth determine what their relationship with God looks like. The boundaries around work are determined by the need to keep progressing in their career, no matter what, rather than by the wisdom and will of the God who made them. Ethical decisions in work are determined by the god of money, and what God says about honesty and the interests of others is relegated to second place. Study serves career, and career serves money. 

Does money fit into your devotion to God? Or does God fit into your devotion to wealth? You need to ask yourself the question, and you need to understand that it’s either one or the other. Of course if it’s money, you can still repent – you can make the call to stop worshipping money, turn around and worship the God who made you and who can actually deliver on his promises.

What are you worried about? 

So Jesus gives these three short, punchy teachings that challenge us about our perspective on life and money in particular, challenging us to worship God rather than money and the stuff of this world. And then he goes on from verse 25 to urge us, therefore,because of what he’s just said, not to worrythe things of this life – what we will eat or drink or what we will wear – and instead to concern ourselves first and foremost with God’s coming kingdom, trusting that God will provide what we really need. Don’t treasure or worship these things; and so don’t worry about them – don’t obsess over them or be anxious about them. And he gives us a whole bunch of reasons to do this…

Life is more than stuff

First, in the second half of verse 25, he reminds us that life is more than food and the body is more than clothing. Both rich and poor alike can make the mistake of thinking that life is essentially about material things, whether it’s securing food, shelter and clothing to survive, or amassing possessions and indulging in luxuries. But we were created for more than this. Life is more than just sustaining our physical existence by securing food, and it’s more than indulging in the latest gastronomical creations. And our bodies are more than just canvases for the latest fashions. 

He makes a similar point in verse 32 when he points out that pagans chase after these things. Worrying about securing material things is what people who don’t know God do! Obsessing over the stuff of this life is what people who don’t have a bigger purpose to their life do. But we know there is more to life than this, and we trust in our heavenly Father to provide.

Is there any place that more urgently needs to be reminded that life is more than food and clothing than Chatswood? Our suburb sometimes feels like a vast complex of temples and alters to the gods of fashion, gadgets and food, and people stream in to worship every day. Consumerism is the air we breathe here. And Jesus is urging us not to worry about this stuff, not to obsess over it or be anxious over it. He’s reminding us that we’re made for more.

God is keen and able to provide what we need 

Secondly, in verses 26 to 30, Jesus points out that God is obviously keen and able to provide for his creatures, and that we human beings are his most precious creature of all, so why worry? Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus explains, “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?

“And why worry about clothes?” he asks in verse 28, “Just look at the flowers of the field! They do not labour or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30If 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—you of little faith?”

Jesus is claiming that we simply don’t need to worry or obsess over securing these things. If God provides for the birds and so extravagantly adorns the grass of the field, will he not provide for us, who are made in his own image, all the more abundantly??

It sounds nice, but of course, you can’t help but think about all those birds that don’t find enough food… and you start to deconstruct Jesus’ analogy with the flowers, and you think, “Hey… but the flowers naturallygrow in the fields… My body doesn’t naturally grow protective and beautiful clothing! Nice try Jesus, but I’m not buying it…I’m off to worry about my next meal and plan what I’m going to wear tomorrow!”

So, yes, clearly the analogy can fall apart, and we need to hear the point Jesus is really making. Martin Luther the great German reformer from 500 years ago, said of this passage, “Yes, God provides food for the birds, but he doesn’t drop it into their beaks.” We need to work for our food. Jesus is not encouraging us all to just sit around and expect food to fall from the sky and clothes to grow over us. The Bible is very positive about working hard to provide for ourselves and others, and even planning ahead and saving so that we don’t find ourselves in poverty. 

But there’s a big difference between working hard and planning ahead, trusting God to provide what we need, and on the other hand, anxiously striving to secure what we think we need. 

Jesus’ is simply reminding us that we have a loving Father in heaven who knows what we need, and who is keen and able to provide. We’re not subject to a world of chaos. God is in charge, he loves us, and he knows what we need. And even if, in the end, we need to wait till the other side of the resurrection to see the fullness of God’s provision for us, that’s ok. We know that’s the final goal of God’s promises. Jesus went to the cross trusting his heavenly Father to provide for him on the other side of the grave, and so can we – all the more because we know that God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead in glory.

If you struggle with this (and who doesn’t!?), then something that could be really helpful is to commit to reading and praying over Psalm 23 every day for a couple of weeks: ‘the Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.’ God knows what we need, and he’s keen and able to provide.

Worrying achieves nothing 

And finally, in the midst of his reflections about the birds and the flowers of the field, in verse 27, Jesus points out that worrying really doesn’t achieve anything. What’s the point? Diligent concern to plan and work hard; that’s great. But worrying, that’s just pointless. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” In fact, scientists will tell you it’s the opposite! Worrying will literally shorten your life, whereas optimistic, content people live longer. Why worry about this stuff when it doesn’t achieve anything, and we know we’re in the hands of a loving God?

Seek first the Kingdom!

Jesus gives us all these reasons, these encouragements, not to worry about the stuff of this life, not to focus our attention anxiously on securing the necessities or luxuries of life. And then he urges instead, in verse 33, to ‘seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness’. If we’re going to ‘worry about’ anything, it should be what really matters. 

This is really the key idea that sums up everything we hear from Jesus in our passage today isn’t it? Don’t store up treasure on earth, don’t view the world as an opportunity to grab more for yourself, don’t serve money, and don’t worry about the stuff you need… no, seek first and foremost God and his kingdom! Put your hope in God’s glorious kingdom to come! Treasure it! Worship and serve God and submit to his claims on your life! 

And focus your attention on this hope, this reality, this purpose to your life here and now with undivided attention, because as we’ve seen, if we try to live for boththis world and the kingdom to come… we’re fooling ourselves, and we’re really just living for this world. We need to cultivate single-minded devotion to God and his kingdom, over and above the claims of this age, because in the end, we will give our heart and soul to one or the other.

And the irony is of course that when you seek first his kingdom, as Jesus finishes in verse 33, ‘all these things will be given to you as well.’ When we are distracted from God by wealth and the pursuit of things, when we give ourselves over to these things, we end up losing the hope of lasting ‘treasure’ and we find that what we pursued at such great cost is empty and fragile anyway… But if we lift our vision and focus on God and his kingdom, we find that he provides all we need in his good timing.

As we seek to follow Jesus on the North Shore, we need to hear the call to seek first God and his Kingdom, and we need to appreciate just how easy it is for concerns over wealth to distract us and claim our hearts.

We need to learn to step back from the tide of consumerism and pray, as Jesus teaches us earlier in this same chapter, 

‘Our Father in heaven,

           hallowed be your name,

          your kingdom come,

           your will be done,

                       on earth as it is in heaven.

          Give us today our daily bread.

          And forgive us our debts,

                       as we also have forgiven our debtors.

          And lead us not into temptation, 

                       but deliver us from the evil one. ’

Why not begin each day this week praying Psalm 23 and then the Lord’s prayer, inviting God to shape your heart and mind around these prayers?

 Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and trust that God will provide all that we need.