Sunday, July 8, 2012

Putting It All Into Perspective - Matthew 6:19-34

Money, Money, Money

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

20 "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 "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!

24 "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."

I see this passage making two arguements against the pursuit of riches: it's pointless, and it's evil.

Let's look at pointlessness first.  Think of all the things that can happen to wealth: your stocks can crash, a natural disaster can wipe out phsyical property and overrun insurance can't cover it, a thief can steal it (physically or electronically), the ecomony can crash and your money will be worthless.  Or, you could just die, and then it's completely worthless to you.  With all the time and energy devoted to wealth, how is it worth it?  Talk about a wasted life!

The other side is that the pursuit of wealth is idolatry, because money will take God's place in your life.  How?  A few ways: your TIME (time spent working overtime, researching stocks, etc. that you could spend studying the Bible, praying, or in ministry), your FOCUS (every extra second spent thinking about money is one less second spent thinking about God and how to show His love to others), and your PERSPECTIVE (by always thinking about money, you'll start to think in terms of the physical world and forget that this is just one tiny portion of eternity).

Now, what's this whole "eye is the lamp of the body" talk?  To be honest, this verse has baffled me for years, but I think I'm *finally* starting to figure it out...maybe. :-)  Here's what I *think* it means...  Back in the time when this was written, after the sun set, you had to carry a lamp around with you to see things.  So, whatever you shined its light on was what you saw - and only that.  So, if your eyes (literal and spiritual) are focused on the things of this world, that's going to permeate your whole life, but if you're focused on the things of God, He is going to permeate your whole life.  Moreoever, if your lamp is somehow bad (like if the sides are dirty and clouded or cracked), you're going to get a skewed picture of reality.  Likewise, looking at the world through bad eyes (eyes focused on the non-eternal) is going to give you a skewed picture of reality.

Now, while we're on the subject of wealth, I want to talk a bit about our culture of consumerism.  I know from personal experience how hard it is not to get sucked in - trust me, I struggle with it every single day of my life!  We are surrounded by a million messages telling us that it's normal to want more, that we need more, that it's our right to have more.  Clothes, entertainment, expensive coffee drinks, the newest iWhatever...we waste SO much money on things that don't matter!  People have lived in huts with just the clothes on their back, eating the cheapest food they can find, for thousands of dare we insinuate that we *have* to have more just to live a "normal human life"?  I am here and now making a commitment to seriously rethink my budget and commit more of it to eternal things.  Will you join me?

One more rant before we move on to the next passage of Scripture. :-)  There are some denominations, authors, and speakers out there who claim that God wants you to be rich, that being rich is evidence that you are a good Christian, and pray for money more often than anything else.  This is a completely anti-Biblical, despicable, and sinful teaching.  God sometimes blessed His followers with wealth in the Old Testament as a way of drawing unbelievers to Him, but now that we are under the new covenant, He has the same goal, but is approach is radically different.  Aside from today's passage, also consider Matthew 19:24 and James 1:9-11, or check our studies on "Materialism" and "Wealth" under the "Studies by Topic" section to the lower right.

No Need to Worry

25 "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

26 "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?

27 "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,

29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.

30 "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!

31 "Do not worry then, saying 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'

32 "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."

I love this *beautiful* passage.  It's a love letter from God to us, saying, "You don't have to worry - I will personally take care of you."  We can rest assured that even when something catastrophic happens - losing your job, your house catching fire - it's not like God has forgotten about you or is angry at you.  It's just that He's got a bigger plan you can't see all of right now.  He's still taking care of you.

Some may say that it's a nice enough passage, but is an empty promise that doesn't play out in real life.  I beg to differ!  Sometimes God uses supernatural means - for example, I know a poor family that went through a particularly rough time whose cabinets "somehow" never became empty until the next paycheck arrived.  Other times, God prompts other people to take care of you - for example, a family from my church had an enormous personal crisis and it was shocking how many people they didn't even know came out of the woodwork to offer them support and aid.

However, this is not an excuse to be lazy, loaf around the house all day, and just *expect* God to take care of you.  Check out what Paul has to say about that in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12!  We are to know that God does take care of us, but not demand that he arrange everything for us so we never have to work a day in our life!

Finally, let's go over verses 33-34.  I'm going to type them again because I think they're so important: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Jesus is saying here that our job is to focus on Him; His job is to take care of us; and it's nobody's job to get all worked up over tomorrow because that's just pointless.  If we focus on God instead of worrying about finances and schedules, we'll be focusing on what really matters.

Let's Make It a Discussion

What do you get from the whole "the eye is the lamp of the body" analogy?  How have you struggled with getting too wrapped up in focusing on money?  How has God provided for you in your life?  How can we shift our focus from this world to God?  Anything else you'd like to ask, point out, or comment on?

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