How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 5, Anxiety about Provision

In part one of this post, we learned of the Gospel and the restoration that Jesus bought for us on the cross. We learned about the atonement that Jesus, fully God and fully man due to his birth to a virgin by the Holy Spirit, accomplished, bringing us peace with God.  This was the most crucial step toward healing the world and mankind of the effects of the fall and Adam’s rebellion. 

We learned that Jesus paid for all our sins, and that he showed us what it truly meant to be human, what it was supposed to have meant all along to be an image-bearer of God put on the earth with authority to create and rule.  When we believe and put our faith in Jesus, he causes us to become a new creation, no longer enslaved to the sin that bound us and kept us from pursuing life for the glory of God, or our own sake, and more importantly, for his sake and his glory.  Because we have been made new, we can begin to live the way God intended.  

Then we began to look at the sermon on the mount to see what Jesus considered to be the mindset and attitude of a godly image-bearer.  We learned that the inward condition of the heart is more important than the outward actions.  In general, our outward actions will be a reflection of our inward state. But in our fallenness, we often have some dishonest and selfish reasons to put on an outward show.  Whether it is about controlling anger and lust, giving or fasting in secret, taking oaths, loving our enemies, or anything else, why we obey God is more important than that we obey him.  True belief will lead to an obedience that is not done for the reward of the praise of men.  Rather, true belief leads to an obedience born out of the certainty that to obey God is the abundant life. It will lead to good results, but more profoundly obedience is the good result.  It is the reward, because it means that we are free from the necessity of sin, or what Jesus called, “slavery to sin” (Jn 8:34).  

Seeking the Kingdom

Now we will look further into the sermon on the mount, away from deeds practiced to be seen by others, and into states of being, states of the heart.  Look now at Matthew 6:19-21:

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And then, in 24:

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Now Jesus is talking about one of his favorite subjects, money. He doesn’t seem to be speaking of it in the same terms as he was in Matthew 5.  There the emphasis was on the nature of giving and why you should not give to charity in order to be seen by men.  Here it seems Jesus has in mind the heart attitude that loves money for its own sake.  Whether the issue is the desire for luxury and comfort or security and status, the issue is the same. You can’t take money with you into heaven, and you cannot serve money and the accumulation of wealth without becoming a slave to it, a worshiper of it.  And if you worship money, you do not worship God; in fact. you will despise him for getting in the way of your money-making.  

You may have heard that money is evil.  It is not, just as it is not the root of all evil.  “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6 ), but even then, you need to understand that money itself is neutral.  Here’s what happened. When men accumulated on the earth, they likely struggled with one another because of sin. But at some point, sinful though they were, they realized that they could trade with one another value for value.  One had a pig he didn’t need, and the other had a bundle of spears he wasn’t using. “How many spears will you give me for this pig,” said one.  “Twelve,” said the other. And they made a good trade. The pig was more valuable to the new owner because he needed it, and the same goes for the spears.  At some point, someone figured out that they could substitute metal and jewels for products, because it was hard to carry a pig to the spear market every time you wanted to shop.  But if a pig is worth three pieces of metal, then the pig farmer could carry twelve small pieces of metal that would represent four pigs.  This is much easier than carrying four pigs.  And money was born.  

Money wasn’t in itself a problem, because you could be as greedy for pigs or spears as you are for money.  Love of money is the problem, because greed is the problem, and money is usually associated with it. But if you took away money and currency and still had bartering, you’d still have a greed problem.  The love of money may be a root of all kinds of evil, but greed is the root of evil concerning money.  Jesus used money. Jesus was not evil, so he used money in a way that was not evil.  

Now that that’s out of the way, what is Jesus warning against? It seems that, although Jesus often addressed the issue of accumulating wealth for the sake of appearances and status seeking, here he seems to be speaking simply of the security that one feels will be attained by the accumulation of wealth.  In this case, the admonition is against laying “up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (19). The reason has to do with the heart.  Profoundly, he points out in verse 21 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead he counsels to lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.  It’s easy to think that Jesus simply means give all your money away to charity and you’ll be rewarded in heaven.  But we know that God expects us to provide for ourselves (2 Thes 3:10), and for our families (1 Tim 5:8). We know that if our rent is due Friday, but we get paid Monday, we need to save our rent money at least until Friday in order to be good stewards and show good character to our landlords, reflecting well on the God we serve.  

Surely it does mean, to some extent, that we would give money away.  That seems like common sense.  But it also means using the money for what money is used for, which Jesus and his disciples did, but in a way that displays trust in God and keeps him first, our purposes in him second, and money, only as a neutral tool in the process. In verse 24 it says that, “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” If God is your master, then you are his servant.  As his servant, make money your servant, so you can fulfill your job as his servant.  

This really started to make sense to me when I realized something about the responsibility I have at the church where I serve as an elder and pastor.  One of the responsibilities of our elder board is to steward the money that the members give to the church. We pay the rent on the building, staff salaries, insurance premiums, giving outside the church, and a host of other things that a nonprofit “business” like a church needs to operate.  I have a hand in both budgeting that money and spending it.  And, compared to my personal finances, it is a whole lot of money to manage. Over the years I’ve stewarded millions of dollars for the purposes of the church.  Here’s the thing: 

I’ve never once been confused about whose money it was.  It was not mine, although I helped manage it. 

It belongs to God and his church for the purposes that he has called us to in our city. Simple as that. For me to help myself to some of it (I do get a salary by the church.  I have nothing to do with what I am compensated. There are other men responsible for that) would be evil and wrong, theft even. It would disqualify me from ministry and qualify me for prison.  

It occurred to me one day that my personal finances should be thought of in the exact same way. 

My money is primarily God’s money, for God’s purposes for my life. This includes provision for me and my family, investment in business and mission work, and investment for the future care of my needs if possible (retirement), so that no one else has to supply it.  When the leaders of our church are planning and praying for God’s leading in direction for our church and the mission we’re on, profit is never a consideration. Paying the bills is.  Keeping our agreements with landlords and vendors is. Maybe building a reserve amount to have in case of emergency is.  But building a wealthy church is not anyone’s goal, nor should it be.  The same goes for personal finances.  Seeking to make a profit as a good steward is right and good, but trying to rich for the sake of getting rich is never the point. 

With the church’s money we budget faithfully and somewhat conservatively so that we are financially healthy. We follow biblical principles, operate honestly and wisely, and trust God completely. Tomorrow we will look in part 6 at the next section, which shows how Jesus wants his people as individuals to think the exact same way, especially the part about trusting God completely.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 4, Freedom

The Praise of Man

Giving in Secret

The last two posts looked at the sermon on the mount to consider Jesus’s prescription for the restoration of men and women on the earth. First we looked at his words on anger and murder, then his words on lust and sexual sin, and we noted the extreme freedom that his viewpoint brings to those who have ears to hear and want something better than what passes in the world for happiness and fulfillment. 

Next in the sermon on the mount Jesus discusses divorce. In light of what he says about lust, this one should be easy.  Then oaths: If you are a truly honest person, you don’t need them.  Then retaliation: Don’t retaliate, because you are free from anger. And, love for enemies: Having this will free you from anger and the need for retaliation. After this, in Matthew 6, Jesus moves into subtler territory and gets at the heart of a prevalent issue in the human condition: Doing things, even religious things, to collect the praises of man.  

First, he addresses the subject of giving.  Most people have a hard enough time making themselves give away any money at all. Often, ministries and charities make use of our fallen nature to manipulate us to give, and that usually revolves around other people knowing what you give.  Whether it is in a church where the pastors make it known that they see who gives what, or it is a philanthropist getting their name on a hospital wing, most know that people will tend to give more in public than they will in private.  Why is this?  There can only be one answer to this question: Because we are giving what we are giving to be seen by men, rather than God. Jesus saw the problem with this and called it out in verses 1-4 of Matthew 6.  He said, to paraphrase, that we should not let anyone see us giving to the needy.  If we “practice our righteousness before other people,” then we will receive the reward we are clearly looking for, the esteem of others.  When we have received that, then there is no more reward to be had by God.  

This is tragic, because Jesus died to set us free from the shame brought on by sinfulness, first seen in the garden (Gen 3:10).  It is this shame that compels us to practice righteousness in order to be seen. These righteous acts are like the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve.  The reward that Jesus desires for us is freedom from this shame. When we are free, then we are free to give in secret. 

The reward that the Father will give us is that of freedom from the bondage of needing the approval of others that we have been seeking to cover our shame, or our sense of worthlessness.  

Rather than fig leaves, Jesus is the animal skins that the Father so lovingly gave to Adam to cover him by his work, instead of Adam’s.  Jesus says to us by his coming and his death for us that we have no need to hide behind the approval of others. When we as Christians give in secret, we reinforce the truth and starve out the lie.  That reinforcement strengthens us at the core, bringing us more peace, more joy, more stability in Christ, more of the good kind of pride, better fellowship with God, because there is less hiding. The reward of the praise of man is a cheap substitute that will not pay off in the end and keeps us from the real prize.  

Praying in Secret

All the very same principles apply in the area of prayer.  If you want to see someone put on a show, put them in a corporate prayer session.  I am a pastor, and I weekly battle the temptation when praying at the end of a sermon to “perform” the closing prayer.  I don’t even realize when I’m doing it!  It’s easier for me to notice when others are doing it.  Granted, it takes a great deal of freedom to become the kind of person who will pray in front of others in the exact same way that he or she prays alone.  You don’t have to want to put on a show for that to be what happens. I would say that for 99% of us, it is the default.  But Jesus shows us here that by refusing to participate in the normal way of doing it, praying, at least partly, for show, and instead just pouring out your heart to God when you are praying with others, or even praying only alone for a while, we will receive a reward from God in the way of answered prayer, and as with the giving in secret, in the way of a strengthening of faith and character.  

Forgiveness 

Next, after teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples that they must forgive others or they will not be forgiven by their Heavenly Father. This is some strong language.  To fail to forgive others keeps you in the bondage of sin and hell, and proves that you’ve yet to understand and accept God’s forgiveness, either because you don’t think you need it, or you don’t think he is kind enough, or loves you enough to forgive you.  If you are holding any unforgiveness, stop everything and deal with it. God will help you. 

Fasting

Briefly, fasting is a spiritual discipline that can be helpful in learning to abide in Christ.  It is also super impressive to the churchy crowd that is impressed by that sort of thing. Knowing this, Jesus warns against the hypocritical tendency of religious folks to fast and make it clear to everyone how miserable they are because they are so holy and are not eating.  Once again, what is at issue is the bondage of needing to put on a show, for whatever reason, to impress others.  The more you will engage in these sorts of practices without telling anyone, the more you will be transformed into the likeness of Christ.  

The rest of the sermon on the mount deals less with living for the attention and praise of man, and more with an inward heart towards God. We will discuss it further in the coming days.