Matthew 6:19-24: The Christian's Ambition

It is official. We are heading for the biggest slump since the 1970's. Yesterday JDS, the world's biggest maker of optical components, announced annual losses of $51 billion. That's right - $51 billion. That's bigger than the entire GDP of countries like Hungary or New Zealand. Even the blackest of clouds has a silver lining however, and recession does not, as long as you play your cards right, necessarily mean financial doom and gloom.

'Seven ways to survive when the going gets tough'
Published in the Times this week, here is the antidote to recession blues. Follow these top tips and you will not only survive but even prosper — while the economic storm-clouds gather over Britain and the USofA.

1. Be nice to your boss
Rule number one for surviving a recession is to make sure that you have an income. You and your boss may not see eye to eye, and you may not think that he or she is always right — but save your complaints for when times are good. Now is definitely not the time to be a troublesome employee.

2. Go for your boss's job
OK, so you failed at the first hurdle and simply could not resist antagonising your superior. Don't panic; recessions often give junior employees a chance to shine. Think about it — your company is increasingly desperate to save money, and your boss is much more expensive to employ than you are. So start being nice to your boss's boss and you never know — that promotion you've always dreamt of could finally be yours.

3. Find your vocation
So tips one and two did not work, and you're jobless. This is your chance to find out what you are truly good at, to try things you would never have dared to try had you stayed in your cosy nine-to-five job. Write that book, start that company. You never know where it might lead.

4. Join the Tories
Opposition parties tend to do better in times of economic strife, so if you fancy yourself as a politician, now could be the time to shine. When Iain Duncan Smith, one of the two contenders for the Tory leadership, lost his job in the late 1980s, he decided politics was the way forward. Follow in his footsteps and you, too, could be challenging for a top political job (or even the leadership of the Conservative Party) in a year or two's time.

5. Move to a bigger house
In a depressed property market, the price gaps between small and large houses tend to become narrower. The five bedroomed house on Wentworth Estate that was way out of your reach in the good times now suddenly seems affordable. So pay a visit to the bank (interest rates are low in recessions and you should be able to afford the loan), go to see the estate agent, and invest in property.

6. Buy into the stock market
When share prices crash, all companies — good and bad — tend to suffer. Now is the time to be brave. If a company seems undervalued, buy its shares. When the upswing eventually comes, you could find yourself in the money. If all six fail and you are still desperate to find a way to save on living costs.

7. Spend some time at Her Majesty's pleasure
Simply commit a white-collar crime (lie in court, let's say). No need to worry about housing benefit or income support, the State will provide for all your needs — and in the meantime you can work on that best-seller as a nest egg for when you get out. So seven ways to beat the recession. Unfortunately, recession or no recession, earning more will not actually make you happier any way. A sudden windfall will not make you any happier than your annual 3.5 per cent pay rise.

A study into levels of happiness in America has found that our desire for material possessions rises in direct proportion to increases in our income. Put simply, the more we have the more we want. The research, published this week, by Richard Easterlin of the University of Southern California, found that the very richest people are on average only 1.5 times happier than the very poorest, simply because they are able to buy some of the things they want. However, overall happiness levels do not rise if we get any richer, no matter where they start on the income scale and no matter how much money they accumulate. Writing in The Economic Journal, Professor Easterlin concludes that we are trapped on a pleasure treadmill, never getting ahead of our material wants and, as a result, never getting any happier. Esterlin's research simply confirms what Jesus said 2000 years ago. We would save a lot of worry, hassle and grey hairs if we took Jesus seriously.

In these verses Jesus paints two stark portraits. There are two alternative treasures. 6:19-21 (on earth and in heaven). There are two opposite bodily conditions. 6:22-23 (light and darkness). There are two mutually exclusive masters. 6:24. (God and Money). Then in 6:25-34 Jesus asks five rhetorical questions to drive his argument home. Jesus wants us to choose well and enjoy a long, stress free life living in harmony with our God and with one another.

1. The Question of Treasure 6:19-21
2. The Question of Vision 6:22-23
3. The Question of Loyalty 6:24

1. The Question of Treasure (6:19-21)
Read 6:19-21. Jesus is comparing the relative durability of two treasures. It ought to be easy to choose which to store up, he implies, because treasures on earth are corruptible and therefore insecure, whereas treasures in heaven are incorruptible and therefore secure. If you were offered two savings accounts - one offering 1% and one offering 25% which would you choose? If our object is to lay up treasure, which will give greater protection against depreciation or deterioration?

It is important to face squarely and honestly the question. What was Jesus prohibiting when he told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? It may help if we began by listing the things Jesus was not forbidding.

1.1 Private Property
There is no ban on possessions in themselves. Scripture no where forbids private property. (see Acts 5:4)

1.2 Insurance Policies
"Saving for a rainy day" is not forbidden to Christians either. Life assurance policies are only a kind of saving by self imposed compulsion. On the contrary, Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, (Proverbs 6:6) and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).

1.3 Material Blessing
Thirdly, we are not to despise, but rather to enjoy the good things which our Creator has given us to enjoy. "Everything God has created is good" says Paul to Timothy. (1 Tim 4:3-4, 6:17) So neither having possessions, nor making provision for the future, nor enjoying the gifts of a good Creator are included in the ban on storing earthly treasure. What then is Jesus talking about?

1.4 Selfish Accumulation
Notice the text says, "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Jesus is criticising extravagant and self centred living; the hardness of heart which ignores the cry's of the poor. Jesus is condemning the foolish fantasy that a person's significance and value is determined by how much we earn, by the clothes we were or the car we drive or our postcode. In a word, to "lay up treasure on earth" does not mean being provident but being covetous. Jesus is not saying no to making sensible provision for the future, but being greedy and always wanting more. "Whenever the Gospel is taught", wrote Luther, "and people seek to live according to it, there are two terrible plagues that always arise: false preachers who corrupt the teaching, and then Sir Greed, who obstructs right living." The earthly treasure we covet, Jesus reminds us, "grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal." (6:19)

We may and try and protect our treasures with insecticides, rat poison, mouse traps, rustproof paint, padlocks, CCTV and burglar alarms, personal equity plans and offshore bank accounts. But even if these measures succeed we are still vulnerable to inflation, devaluation, taxation and disintegration. Even if our treasures carry life time warranties and guarantees, or we have them buried with us, we cannot take them with us into eternity. Job was right when he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return."

But on the other hand treasure in heaven is incorruptible. What is this "treasure"? Jesus doesn't explain, but it must have to do with earthly activity which lasts for eternity. For a start, Christ-like character is the only thing we take with us to heaven - things like faith, hope and love. Then there's investing in leading other people to Jesus who will share eternity with us. As we saw a couple of weeks ago the giving of our money to Christian work has eternal consequences. So if you want to see your treasure in heaven you need to send it on ahead. The Question of Treasure. 6:19-21.

2. The Question of Vision (6:22-23)
Read 6:22-23. Jesus turns from the comparative durability of the two treasures to the comparative benefit derived from two conditions. For the way we view the world will determine what we treasure. The contrast here is now between someone who is blind and someone who can see. Read 6:22. Almost everything we do depends on our ability to see. We need to see in order to walk or run, drive a car, cross a road, cook, paint. The eye illuminates what the body does through its hands and feet. In the Bible, the eye is frequently synonymous with the heart, our motivation, our desire. Just as the eye gives light to the body, so a Christ-centred heart throws light on everything we do. If you look at the circles on the sermon notes you will see the point Jesus is making. Its not simply about two kinds of treasure or motivations. Ultimately its about loyalty.

3. The Question of Loyalty (6:24)
Jesus now explains that behind the choice between two treasures (where we store them) and two visions (where we fix our eyes), there lies the still more basic choice between two masters (whom we are going to serve). It is a choice between God and money, between the Creator himself and any object of our own creation. We cannot serve both. Notice Jesus repeats himself in verse 6:24. When I was a teenager, one summer, I had two part time jobs on the go at the same time. I worked in a fish and chip shop at night, and a garage as a petrol pump attendant during the day. Neither knew of the existence of the other. It worked out fine. Until that is, August Bank Holiday Monday. Both employers assumed I would work all day and neither was happy to learn I was working for someone else. I had to choose.

It may be possible to work for two employers, but no slave can be the property of two owners. For single ownership and full-time service are the essence of slavery. Anybody who tries to divide his allegiance between God and money has already given in to money, since we can only serve God with an entire and exclusive devotion. "I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other." To try to share him with other loyalties is to opt for idolatry. God has entrusted us with all we have. It is the supreme treason to prize the gift above the giver. When the choice is seen for what it really is - a choice between Creator and creature, between the glorious personal God and a miserable thing called money, between worship and idolatry - it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. Yet many do.

That's why I wanted to end with a cartoon from Peanuts. Charles Shultz was a Christian. His cartoons contain many profound truths. The one in your notes is an application of these words of Jesus. I wonder whether you have been in the situation portrayed? If not with a pet, then with a child. What would you say to a child worried about their next meal? You would reassure them. You will provide for them. If it is as simple as that why can't we trust our heavenly father in the same way? Read 6:31-33. A question of treasure, a question of vision, a question of loyalty. The intrinsic worth of knowing and being known by the Living God, and the intrinsic worthlessness of being known for our attachment to money. Which god are you going to choose today? This Summer? This year? For eternity?
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Lets pray.

with grateful thanks to Warren Wersbie, John McArthur and John Stott for ideas and material used in this sermon