Above All Else (Breaking the Mould #5)

Above All Else (Breaking the Mould #5)

What you would say that you treasure most in life? The dictionary says that things that to treasure means “to take good care of something because we value highly” it. With that in mind, I wonder also what answers our diaries, bank accounts, social media accounts would give to that question. Perhaps it would be the pursuit of money, riches, property and/or possessions. Perhaps it would be fame, power, control, love, sex, travel or new experiences. None of these things of course are wrong in themselves, but when we come to love and treasure something, it becomes an ultimate love taking its place above all else.

“In order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love.”

Augustine, CITY OF GOD

In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us to make a choice between two treasures, two visions and two masters. Each choice will make a huge difference about how we go about our daily lives. Let’s get into the detail:

1. Two Treasures (v19-21):

Jesus’s begins with the choice between two treasures – those on Earth and those in Heaven. Specifically, He is speaking about what we are storing up or laying up for ourselves:

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
Photo by Eli Francis on Unsplash

Treasures on Earth are described as fragile, temporary, perishable and insecure. It is not a question of whether they will last, but how long they will last. We see this all around us in the material things of this world. They don’t last, and in most cases are not designed to last. Few materials do stand the test of time, but even if they do, they are still liable to being lost or stolen. Again, Jesus is not saying that such things are intrinsically bad – after all we need all kinds of things to live in the world God has placed us in. Rather, Jesus is saying that these things have no ultimate or eternal value. The danger here is that we make such things our treasure! Paul says something similar in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 where Paul warns that those who desire to be rich will fall into temptation and ultimately this will lead to ruin. Famously, Paul also says the following in these verses:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6:10

In contrast Treasures in Heaven are characterised by their security, eternal nature and incorruptibility – i.e., it is without question that they will last! We know only too well that we cannot take with us any of our accumulated material treasures. However in relation to treasure in Heaven, Jesus seems to be talking primarily about things for which their ultimate enjoyment will be in eternity. It is not crystal clear what exactly Jesus has in mind, but the following references do help bring greater clarity:

  • Mark 10:17-30: This passage is about the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to get to Heaven. Jesus pinpoints the very thing that this man treasured – his great wealth. He asked him to give it away but the man went away sad because he was not willing to let go. This leads to a discussion between Jesus and the disciples in which Peter says that they had given up everything to follow Jesus. In response Jesus assures them that “…no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (v28-30). The implication here is that Jesus is assuring them that whatever they have given up, there will be 100fold both NOW and in eternal life. Treasure in Heaven is more than worthwhile now and for the future.
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19: Paul tells Timothy to warn the rich not to “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Instead, he says that we are to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share with others. With riches comes a responsibility to be open-handed… that is the road to riches in the age to come. Paul says “They 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 (v18-19). It is quite the challenge to do this, but in doing so, we store up treasure as a good foundation for the future.

Jesus finishes this section by saying that: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v21). As we have seen throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is most interested in our hearts. Both our treasure and our heart will be in the same place – it is not going to be possible to lay up treasures in both.

2. Two Visions (v22-23):

The 2nd choice is about our vision and though brief, these short verses are somewhat trickier to get our heads around. Jesus says:

22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Matthew 6:22-23 (NIV)

The key question for us here seems to be about the condition of our eyes and whether they are healthy or unhealthy. Some see the eye as a lamp for the body in the sense of enabling the body to find its way. We therefore need healthy eyes to direct us towards what is good. Others picture the whole person as like a room of a house and the purpose of the eye therefore, is like a window that brings life into an otherwise windowless room. Light therefore comes into the body through our eyes and the health of our eyes determines the level of light that comes in.

A second question here is about what Jesus means by healthy or unhealthy. One idea focuses on the idea that the word itself means singleness of purpose or undivided loyalty. That would fit very well with the section as a whole being about unswerving loyalty to God. Alternatively, a second idea is based on the view amongst Rabbi’s that the ‘evil eye’ indicated selfishness. You may notice this notion in the NIV footnotes which say that healthy implies generous and unhealthy implies stingy. This too would fit well with an overall theme about how we approach material things.

Again, Jesus is making the contrast that we will either be focused on earthly or heavenly things. One is full of light and the other is full of darkness. Both generosity and singlemindedness will bring light into our lives. If we get this wrong then it will affect our whole being. These choices have far reaching implications!

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33
Photo by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash

3. Two Masters (v24):

The final choice is rooted in the relationship between slaves and their masters. Unlike modern day employment a slave was bound to a single master and it was pretty impossible to serve two masters in the way that we might have multiple jobs. Jesus says:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

The language Jesus uses here comes across as very black and white. He seems to be deliberately using absolutes like He often does elsewhere. If we were to compare verses such as Luke 14:26 and Mark 7:9-13 we would see the apparent contradiction between hating and honouring our parents. Does Jesus really want us to hate our parents, our families or even our lives? No I don’t thing so! Instead it seems that Jesus is making a striking contrast in order to emphasise that we must love Jesus above all else even our families. In the same way, Jesus is saying in these verses that we must love God above our money and material things. Everything must be secondary to our love for God. If not, then these things will have mastery over us.

This word money is actually mammon. Some think it might be the name of a pagan god, while others see it as having the sense of to trust or to confide. Its meaning here however is clear enough as materialism or the personification of wealth. How on earth will we be able to love God above all else, if our hearts are dominated by something or someone else? Everything we have has the potential to be used to bring Glory to God or to be misused as idolatry. Note also that it is equally possible to serve mammon whether we are living in plenty or in want. This third choice between God and Mammon cuts right to our hearts once more.

“One of the marks that a heart has truly been touched by God is that they count on giving as a privilege.”

Ray Stedman

To finish I just want to draw us back to our three questions: What is that we treasure? Where is our vision? Who is our master? Consciously or not we all have answers to these questions. Can I encourage you today to (1) set your hearts to storing up eternal treasure, (2) ensuring that our eyes are healthy and able to let in the light and (3) deliberately choosing to serve God rather than material things. The quote above by Ray Stedman touches on the topic of giving as an indication of God’s work in our hearts. If we are really set on serving God and storing up treasure in Heaven then we will see it in evidenced through generosity towards others. Above all Else let’s be rich towards God and faithfully care for, and be open-handed with, all that He has entrusted us with.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould

  1. Brave Enough to Follow
  2. A life of Abundance
  3. Living Distinctively
  4. Renovation of the Heart
  5. Above All Else
  6. Why Worry
  7. Building with Wisdom
  8. Faith, Fear and Doubt
  9. The Need of the Hour

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *