"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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Those words I've just read come from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.19-21. So he obviously thought it was essential to teach about money or possessions. Actually it is reckoned 15% of all Jesus' teaching relates to money or possessions. And that is more than he taught about heaven and hell! So the question is, 'Why is that?' Well, because there's a fundamental connection between your spiritual life and how you deal with your money. You may think there is no connection, but God sees things differently. As Jesus says:
"where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Well so much by way of introduction. What I want to do as we start this giving review, is focus on Jesus' own teaching on money. First, I want to talk about Jesus and Treasure (or money) more generally. Then my second heading will be Jesus and His Warning. And thirdly, Jesus and His Command. My fourth heading is that all this is A Matter of Vital Importance.
1. Jesus and Treasure
We've, of course, got some fundamentals from Jesus' teaching on money in our verses for tonight. They come from his Sermon on the Mount, as I've said. But in Matthew's Gospel, the next block of fundamental teaching after that sermon, is in chapter 13. There Matthew majors on Jesus' parables. So while keeping your finger in Matthew 6 can you turn on to chapter 13 and the very first parable. It is the Parable of the Sower. Among other things the Parable of the Sower answers this question: Why is not everyone who hears the gospel converted to Jesus Christ, and then follow and live for him? One reason, says Jesus, is because the word sown ("sowing" is a metaphor or picture language, of course) in their minds or hearts is like a farmer sowing seeds that (chapter 13 verse 7) …
"…fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them."
And a little later, in verse 22, Jesus explains to his disciples what "thorns" and "choking" means:
"as for what was sown among thorns, this is the one [or the sort of person] who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."
Who, tonight, is having the word of God choked? Who tonight doesn't realize they are enslaved to the "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches?" And riches especially can be such a serious spiritual enemy, because they seem so innocent. That is their "deceitfulness". To be seduced by riches isn't like leaving your wife and going off with some other woman. Or it's not like a terrorist killing totally innocent people. No! It is so respectable and so private a sin. And it is the sin where worldly cares can make you too busy for God. And, yes, your busyness helps you get rich. But rich and comfortable you think you need nothing because you can buy all you need. So, is there anyone here tonight who is not thinking about God and eternity and the judgment seat of Christ in relation to their money? Are you, in some way, like the Rich Man in another parable who is described as a rich "Fool"? For he said to himself (this is in Luke's Gospel 12.19):
"Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."
But, Luke 12.20:
"…God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
Who tonight is laying up treasure for him or herself and not rich toward God? Well, heed Jesus' warning about what can be called 'worldliness' – not in the sense of going out and getting drunk every night or sleeping around. Rather when people do good work in the secular world and gain a good reputation and enjoy legitimate pleasures, but let all that crowd out God. They don't really think about God and his view of their money. And may I say, this is a particular temptation for many in the modern Western world and so for some of us in this church, who work hard and are not poor. For such people can so easily let…
"the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."
If that is you, Jesus warns you for your own good in our verses for tonight about treasures. So that brings us to our second heading:
2. Jesus and His Warning
Back, then, to Matthew 6.19:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."
Jesus is emphatic.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth".
But what was Jesus prohibiting or forbidding? First we need to consider what he wasn't forbidding. For, one, he wasn't forbidding money or possessions in themselves. The Bible doesn't forbid money. It is the love of money that is wrong, as Paul says…
"the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils"
(1 Timothy 6.10)
And Hebrews 13.5 says:
"keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have."
Two, nor is 'saving' being forbidden, or an insurance policy. The Bible tells us to study the ant and how it prepares for the winter, as we heard in our Old Testament reading from Proverbs 6.8:
"Go to the ant … consider her ways … she prepares her bread in the summer."
And in the New Testament Paul tells us to make provision for our families (1 Timothy 5.8):
"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."
And, three, a right enjoyment of the good things of life is not being forbidden. So Paul also tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6.17 to charge the rich…
"…not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy."
But what is forbidden is wanting to, verse 19,
"… lay up for yourselves treasures on earth".
It is selfish laying up with no thought of God and his purposes. Also "laying up for yourselves" implies spending time and energy in being selfish and not spending it for God or others. And "on earth", of course, implies there is no thought for the things of heaven or eternity. Any money hoarded, therefore, does nothing for the kingdom of God. It just helps those who lay up treasure on earth (in the course of their selfish and materialistic lives that are lived without any active concern to give for God or for others). So how we all need to pray…
"Our Father… lead us not into [this] temptation".
We are now passed Luther's 500th anniversary year. But let me still repeat something Luther famously said:
"Whenever the Gospel is taught 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."
This church was founded to deal with "false preachers who corrupt the teaching" as we were thinking two weeks ago at our Foundation Service. And how we thank God for those Founders, and how important today we follow in their tradition and (in their words):
"maintain and promulgate sound scriptural and evangelical truth."
But what about Sir Greed, with whom these verses deal? They ask the question: Will you take seriously this Giving Review, and pray that God helps you obey this teaching of Jesus?
Yes, some of us can only give a little. Some of us are students; but how important we learn Jesus' teaching on money early in life! Some of us like Zacchaeus, in the New Testament, can give a lot. But all of us can and should regularly pray for our financial needs. And pray for God to supply them through us and through others. Yes, it is difficult to start with – not laying up treasures for ourselves on earth. But as we shall see, it is so sensible in investment terms and such obedience has a guaranteed good outcome. For the foolishness of laying up for yourself treasures on earth, is that they have a guaranteed long-term bad outcome. They have a finite life-span. For you will always be parted from any treasure you have on earth.
And you will be parted from it in one of two ways. One, it will go from you in this life through depreciation, decay, fraud or theft. Jesus refers to moth, rust and thieves. But then, two, you will go from it when you die, or, if it happens first, when there is that universe transforming event, the return of Jesus Christ. That is when every person will give an account of their lives to God, and then through Christ – yes, through Christ, he:
"will render to each one according to his works"
As Paul said to Timothy and we say at Funeral Services repeating Paul:
"We brought nothing into this world and we cannot take anything out of the world"
(1 Timothy 6.7)
Our earthly treasures will go from all of us one way or other. That brings us, thirdly, to:
3. Jesus and His Command
It is so sensible, by contrast, to obey Jesus' teaching on treasures. Look at 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."
That is so wise. And note four things about Jesus' words. First, they are a command. It is an imperative (to use the grammatical term). It is an order. Jesus is ordering you to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Secondly, like the 18th century economist, Adam Smith, he is appealing to self-interest. Are you shocked? Well, Jesus is saying this. So it must be a self-interest that is good and not bad. How then is it good? It is good because it is not self-interest on this earth and for this life but in, and of, heaven. There, all are winners, when not just you but others also are winners through what you do. Thirdly, this is saying these treasures last for ever and so are incorruptible and invaluable. And fourthly these are treasures to be laid up "in heaven". And how we must think of heaven as the best of the best! For every superlative you can think of fails to describe how wonderful and enjoyable it will be. Paul writes about …
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"
(1 Corinthians 2.9)
So what are these 'treasures' that can be laid up in heaven? Remember, these are treasures from this life that never depreciate or lose value and have effects for eternity. Jesus doesn't spell them out. He leaves them to our imagination. But because others must gain as well, it must include the spending of money so that God can use it to bring more people into his kingdom. This happens as they are converted and then mature in Christ and have a real hope of heaven themselves. And when that happens there is a gain in this life to society and the economy on earth now, as Christians in the present act as salt and light in the world. That is a sociological and statistical reality. But then, of course, there is the wonderful reward of, and in, heaven.
So giving for the maintenance of a Church and so this one and all that Jonathan Pryke will be telling us about later, can be laying up treasure in heaven. That is as people come to faith in Christ and are built up in him and are helped themselves to resist Luther's false preachers and Sir Greed. And giving for Church planting and Christian mission work and what we call Christian 'mercy-ministries' is also laying up Treasure in Heaven. Jesus sent his Apostles out "to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal" - the two need to go together (Luke 9.2). So it involves giving for Safe Families for Children, CAP (Christians Against Poverty), AID (Anglican International Development) and the like.
Of course, we rightly focus on money in this giving review. However, laying up treasure in heaven that God rewards with the utmost security and with other rewards can relate to giving your time and talents in various church ministries and not just money. But Jesus' focus here seems to be on money. And he implies that working for such treasure in this life, that can be laid up in heaven, is a good thing. So how we need Christian businessmen to make honest money but ones who, when rich, are not tempted by, and then give in to, Sir Greed! And Jesus is implying also that you do need to believe in a 'rewarding' God. Do you believe that? Hebrews 11.6 says:
"Without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."
And the Apostle Peter praises God for the fact that …
"…according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you"
(1 Peter 1.3-4)
So, as a believer, you will one day enter into an inheritance in heaven. But that will include the treasures in heaven laid up by all those who have gone on before you and contributed to your coming to faith in Jesus Christ. And, of course, that must include the treasures of the vast number of Christians since Apostolic times. For they have helped pass on the Christian faith to us in this generation.
Nor is this a prosperity gospel: 'tithe or give more than a tithe (10%) and you will double your money in return'. Yes, it is amazing how that often does happen, but not always. And it is an encouragement to give more for God's work. However, that is not to be made into a 'prosperity gospel'. God's reward, surely, is more like a boy or girl given 50p for doing their piano practice. There, the real reward is not 50p but their being a great pianist one day. And that gift of playing is then for their own enjoyment as they play, and also for the enjoyment of others listening. All are winners. Finally, our fourth heading:
4. A Matter of Vital Importance
Look at verse 21:
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Jesus is saying that there is a connection between your treasure and your heart – your spiritual state. For where one is, the other will be also. But what really is "your heart"? In the Bible and common sense psychology, it is the centre for human desiring. So what the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind rationalises. But there is a problem. You were born with 'spiritual heart disease'. Jeremiah says:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick."
But God promised through Ezekiel (36.26):
"I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you."
And Christ is the one who creates that new heart and forgives the deceitfulness of the old heart, including how it deceives about money and riches. Christ gives you his Holy Spirit as you trust in him. And as you live and give, and lay up those treasures for Christ, that new heart is strengthened. And your desire then is to give not for any financial return but in thankfulness to God for his goodness to you through Christ.
I must conclude. I do so with three questions for this Giving Review. One, are you laying up for yourself treasures on earth which are insecure? Or, two, are you laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven – where all is secure and all are winners? And, three, where is your heart?