Good morning. Let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, help us now by your Spirit to hear the voice of Jesus and to learn from him. Amen.
We need encouragement at a time like this. One way we can find it is in the generosity of our church family. Early in the pandemic I attended an online seminar about church finances. We were urged to make sure that we had contingency plans in place for the year ahead, with scenarios both for a significant drop in giving, and for a very severe drop in giving. But in fact, last year we actually saw giving for the life of JPC increase. I for one am rejoicing at that evidence of the Holy Spirit powerfully at work among us.
It’s clear that many of us have been profoundly changed by the Holy Spirit over the years, as we’ve listened to what God has to say on the subject of money, and have at least begun to take it on board. After all, what God says is so mind-blowing that it takes a lifetime to absorb. This morning we’re just going to look at three verses – Matthew 6.19-21. But these verses turn upside down the conventional wisdom about money and possessions – that is to say, the more the merrier. There are three simple lessons here – lessons that Jesus teaches us for own good. Maybe you’ve already begun to learn them. Maybe you need to begin. Either way, we all need to hear them afresh. The first is this:
First, Earthly treasures get destroyed
Matthew 6.19 – Jesus says:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…
Money and possessions don’t last, and the habit of accumulating is one we need to break. We need a radical change of attitude and action if we’re not going to come a cropper. The word translated rust has the more general meaning of ‘that which eats away’. And it’s amazing how quickly our possessions do corrode away, let alone our money. Mental corrosion can happen even more quickly than physical corrosion. We long for something new, which becomes the one thing we simply must have. It may be that new car, that far off dream of a holiday to an exotic location, a new phone. Whatever it is gets a kind of mystical aura around it while we wait. This thing will satisfy us. But no sooner have we got it than the aura corrodes away. It doesn’t satisfy us after all. And then before long it begins to look tatty and faded. And we start to long for the next thing.
In one way or another earthly treasures get destroyed. We need to learn that they’re not all that they’re cracked up to be. That’s not to say that wealth in itself is wrong. The Bible elsewhere says we should provide for relatives, and make provision for the future, and enjoy the good things that are the gifts of our Creator. Note what Jesus says here: Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. It is the self-centred pursuit of wealth that we must turn our backs on. As John Stott puts it, this verse doesn’t prohibit:
being provident (making sensible provision for the future) but being covetous (like misers who hoard and materialists who always want more).
So serious giving is liberating. It’s a very effective vaccine against the dangerous disease of always wanting more. It helps us to have a healthy realism. After all, we can’t take money with us. 1 Timothy 6.7:
for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
Giving is also, in a rather topsy-turvy way, a very effective protection against recession. If you’re not leaning heavily on money, then you don’t fall over when it goes. Moth. Corrosion. Theft. Whatever. Let’s be under no illusion. Something will get it in the end. Earthly treasures, financial or physical, get destroyed. In the short term, the pursuit of them for ourselves is a high-risk strategy. In the longer term, they are a dead loss. Only our giving really indicates whether we’ve understood that. The next thing for us to learn is this:
Secondly, Heavenly treasures are indestructible
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Heavenly treasures are the eternal rewards that come our way when we put Christ before money and possessions in our lives. We’re told that the economic crisis caused by the response to the pandemic is the worst for hundreds of years. But an economic crisis devalues treasures in heaven not a jot. What are these eternal rewards? The Bible is not explicit. But we do know that the apostle Paul’s great eternal goal was simply to know Christ. Any other rewards will be bound up with that. And beside knowing Christ, anything else will pale into insignificance.
How do we store up this heavenly treasure? Obedience to Christ; suffering for Jesus; forgiving those who sin against us: all these things are promised rewards in the Bible. And so is a willingness to share what we have in order to meet the needs of others. So here’s 1 Timothy 6.18-19:
They [that is, those who are rich – which is most of us] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Earthly treasures get destroyed. Heavenly treasures are indestructible. Put those two lessons together and it’s clear there’s only one sensible conclusion:
Thirdly, Invest in eternity
Why? Matthew 6.21:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If we think that our lives depend on something, we won’t let go of it. If we think that our lives depend on money above all, then we won’t let go of money. But when we know that our lives depend on Christ, we won’t let go of him. Money will come way down on our list of priorities. Investing in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that if you give £1,000 one day you will get an anonymous cheque in the post for £2,000 the next day. God wants to bless us, not spoil us. But the blessing is real, here and now – let alone in heaven. So if we decide we’re going to invest the money that God has given us in eternity, what should it go to?
There are various kinds of need that we’re specifically told to give to in Scripture. There’s, full time Christian workers. As the apostle Paul puts it so delicately in 1 Corinthians 9.9, quoting Deuteronomy:
You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.
Then we should give to the poor. For instance 1 John 3.17:
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
We should not neglect family in need. 1 Timothy 5.8:
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Then according to Jesus (and this is more than a touch disconcerting!) we should give to the one who begs from us – that’s Matthew 5.42. Giving is powerful. Target your giving strategically to where there is need, and to where you are well placed, maybe uniquely well placed, to help.So how are we to give? Here are three guidelines for giving, all to be found in the teaching of the apostle Paul.
First, our giving should be carefully considered. 2 Corinthians 9.7:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart…
We should sit down and think through our giving in the presence of God. And we should consider above all not the size of our bank balance, but the extent of Christ’s giving for us.
Secondly, our giving should be regular. 1 Corinthians 16.2:
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper…
Regular giving builds the habit in us, and it enables those to whom the money is given to plan.
Thirdly, our giving should be proportionate to income and wealth. The money we set aside for giving should be, in the apostle’s words, as [we] may prosper. That is, we should work on the principle ‘the more you get, the more you give’. 10% - a tithe – was the starting point in the Old Testament, endorsed by Jesus. But there’s no need for us to to stop there. We shouldn’t put any ceiling on our giving to God.
So in the light of these lessons, let’s think afresh about how we’re using our money. Let’s rejoice at all the investing in eternity that we see around us. And let’s join in, for our good, and for Jesus. Lets’ pray:
Lord Jesus, please teach us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Amen.