Father God we thank you that the Bible is your living word, we pray now that you would soften our hearts and make it come alive in us. Amen.
Well, it's quiz time. So buckle up and get ready to answer a few simple questions. Here goes! Would you rather have:
- A cup of tea and a slice of cake OR a glass of mud and a piece of stale bread?
- A lovely soak in a hot bath with lots of bubbles OR a roll around in a pig's trough?
- A holiday in Barbados OR a fortnight in Bradford?
- A friendly hug OR a punch in the face?
Now, don't worry I'm not threatening you! I'm merely trying to introduce you to Matthew 6.19-21, where Jesus gives us a choice about how we spend our money - which is so stark, that it barely seems any choice at all. It would be helpful if you could have that open in front of you – so do grab a Bible and look it up. And as we do that, we find Jesus is asking us this key question:
1. Where Is Your Treasure?
Take a look at that challenge in verses 19-20:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."
So Jesus is playing a game of spot the difference with us. On the one hand we have treasures on earth. On the other we have treasures in heaven. Can you spot the difference? And the world we live in would say: 'Yes! Here's the difference. One exists, the other doesn't! So try to gain as much as you can in this life, because it's the only life you've got!' And so money becomes a God, having it becomes the key to future happiness, and things like houses and cars and experiences of a lifetime become some of the ultimate goals in life. We live in an acquisitive society – preachers love to lament that, don't they? But we do and we are not immune to it. The cycle of desire takes us from 'want' to 'need' to 'can't live without'. The TV adverts feed our desire, our daydreams often obsess about stuff, and the internet brings it to our door in just a few short clicks. And the cycle never stops, as we always end up wanting more.
But here comes Jesus to once again turn our world's values upside down as he says in verse 19:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth."
Now it's important to just stop at this point and say that Jesus isn't saying that we shouldn't have property, or provide for our families, or even enjoy some of the good things in life. No - it's not having, but hoarding that's the crime. That's what Jesus is warning us of here. It's the covetous, self-centred hoarding of what we do not need. Of course we need to be clothed – and can I just say that I'm so glad you've made the effort this morning! But folks, we can have too many clothes, can't we? Or too much food. Or too many gadgets or box sets or TV subscriptions. Too much stuff. Too big a mortgage. Too much money in our pension fund or tied up in investments. So let me ask you: What have you got too much of? What are you hoarding?
Well Jesus says, 'Don't!' And he says that with good reason: It doesn't work! Our treasure on earth will not last. Can you see that in verse 19? Treasures on earth are perishable and insecure. They wear out, they break down, they go out of fashion, they disappoint you. And though we may be able to keep moth, rust, and thieves at bay these days with all our modern inventions – we know only too well that a burglar alarm won't protect us from a credit crunch. In fact, seeing as I lost the entire value of a pension overnight when the building society I was investing with went belly up – I know only too well that treasures on earth can disintegrate and disappear in a second. You see Jesus isn't against investment. He's just against bad investment. He doesn't want us to waste our money on earthly treasure... because there are much better things to spend our money on! That's Jesus' point in verse 20:
"…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."
Do you see the point? The wise person invests in what lasts and spends the bare minimum on what doesn't. For instance, our houses or flats: The profusion of home improvement shows and our friends' perfect homes and gardens tempt us to try to keep up with the Joneses. But when we die or Jesus returns, we'll leave our homes behind. And what we did to them – the DIY, the new kitchen or bathroom and landscaped garden – will really not matter. What'll last is what we did in them: the hospitality we showed; the housemates and lodgers we cared for; the friendships and marriages and families we built; the ministry we did. Or what about our children? There's great pressure from the world (and let's face it the children themselves) to lavish them with the things we never had when we were growing up. But when we die or Jesus returns, we'll realise with perfect clarity that it's things like spending on youth work and youth workers, on Christian camps, good quality Christian books and CDs and DVDs, and so on… that ultimately matters.
You see – at the end of the day, even if we keep our earthly treasures safe from moth and rust and thieves in this life – we can't take them with us to the next. The only thing we will take with us to heaven is... ourselves! And anyone else who has responded to the gospel. That's all that will last. That's treasure in heaven – people knowing Christ and growing in Christ and going with Christ to glory! That's why I consider the money we spent launching St Joseph's just under 2 years ago as one of the best investments we've ever made. It was a lot of money, but I don't think any of us who have been involved since the start would think it too high a price to pay for all that God has done since. That was money well spent folks. Money well spent.
Jesus is saying: 'Invest your money in eternity.' Invest it in anything that will help you and others gain a Christ-like character. So, the big question therefore is... What are we investing in? Because the more money we keep for ourselves the less there is for the work of heaven. Folks, I'm no economist – but I can get that! It's pretty basic economics, isn't it? Imagine you've got a pot of money. In fact, we all do. Some of them are big. Some small. All of the pots and whatever is in them have been given to us by God. So scoop out 10% – which is the Biblical baseline for giving – and put it on the side. And then scoop out what you need to meet your needs – housing, clothes, food, savings, holidays and a bit of fun. Now what have you got left? For some of us it's not enough! That 10% has made things too tight given our present circumstances, and so we just need to give what we can. But for most of us 10% is not even remotely a problem. So the question is: How could you make it 11 or 12 or 13%, and invest a bit more in eternity? I've even heard of people who have been able to give up to 90% of their earnings in order to get the gospel out.
Folks, wouldn't it be amazing if God moved us to be so generous that we were able to start another church like St Joseph's within the next few years? Wouldn't it be incredible if we started getting begging letters from mission organisations saying: 'We have too much money, we need more workers!' – rather than the other way round? Wouldn't it be amazing to meet people in heaven who were there because we took Matthew 6 seriously and invested in eternity? To which you might say: 'Well all this talk about treasure and money is just because it's the giving review. It's just because the church wants my money.' Well no! In some ways, I couldn't care less about your money. I'm more concerned about your heart. And so is Jesus! As he's not just asking us what we're investing in, he's also asking us:
2. What Rules Your Heart?
Check out verse 21 again:
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Here's the news folks: Our hearts are in danger! You see Jesus isn't just saying that materialism is wasteful. It's also self-destructive! He's telling us that if we're storing up treasures on earth it will pull our hearts after it. That's right, isn't it? Your heart will always follow your investments. You will care most about whatever you're pouring your money into. And Jesus warns us that our wallet or purse could well be leading us away from him. He's saying: 'Listen, show me your credit card and bank statements; show me how you would daydream spending a win on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' – show me all of that, and I'll tell you whether I'm the ruler of your heart.'
So, isn't it time for a heart check-up? If your physical heart is giving you trouble, you'll go to the doctors and get it checked out. The doc will rig you up to the 'Electrocardiogram' – the 'ECG' machine. You'll have all these wires attached to your chest, it will beep and whirr and print out a record of your heartbeat. At least that's what I remember from my two brief encounters with an ECG machine! But the point is this: If you want to know the state of your physical heart then you will get it checked out. And it's the same with your spiritual heart too. The giving review is a great opportunity to have a spiritual health check - a spiritual ECG. So why not treat it that way and book an appointment for this week? Put a time in your diary when you're going to go through the giving literature and do a full review of your money. It's not just important for the finances of this church, it's essential for your relationship with Jesus. If we are to follow Him genuinely we can't afford to be thoughtless about our money.
And if you haven't yet started giving, well here's the encouragement to get going. Maybe you've never really given because you really don't think that what little you might give would make much of a difference. Well it does make a difference! It makes a difference to your heart if nothing else. If you don't learn to make Jesus Lord of your money when you have a little, you probably won't do it when you've got a lot.
The same goes for you if you've just become a Christian – best to start the way you mean to go on. If you want a healthy physical heart you'll get lots of exercise and eat well while you're young. You don't just wake up at 50 or 60 and say: 'You know what? I'm going to change my heart!' Same with a spiritual heart - develop healthy habits as a baby Christian and they'll keep your heart close to Jesus every step of the way. Well folks, it's quiz time again:
- Do you want treasures in heaven, or on earth?
- Do you want to invest in something that will last forever, or disappear in an instant?
- Do you want to do yourself spiritual good, or harm?
We know the right answers, don't we? But the key as always in the Bible isn't knowing it, it's in living it. I hope we will, because if we do God can do amazing things in us and through us.