We’re in the Sermon on the Mount, and this week, we take on just three short verses. But, what a lot is packed into them. Let’s check them out, and then see what God might have for us.
Matthew 6:19-21 - 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.
Jesus has continually highlighted how citizens of his Kingdom are going to be different from most people walking around on planet Earth. They’ll be different in how they talk, how they handle money, and sex, and their commitments, how they deal with anger issues. Jesus’ goal is to so bless citizens of his Kingdom that those who are not part of it will want to be. Sad to say, sometimes Christians are not operating in a manner that makes Jesus’ rule and reign very appealing. But when they do, it’s not because it happens by accident. Indeed, it’s quite on purpose, as we’ll see in these verses.
Jesus essentially says that there really are only two places we can invest, and his followers should be investing heavily in the kingdom, not laying up stuff for themselves here on earth. Now, investing in the stock market can be challenging—thousands of companies, thousands of mutual funds, and that’s just here in America. It can be tough for the novice, so most people grab themselves a so-called expert to help them for a fee. Jesus is our expert if we’re his followers—and he recommends investing in the kingdom. By investing, he’s talking about our money, for sure, but also our time, energy, creativity, passion, and intelligence. Use all the resources God has given you, in other words, to invest in kingdom things and not just stuff here on earth to consume.
To be frank, then, Jesus commands us not to be materialists, where everything terminates just on us. A materialist, for example, gets a raise, and sees that as an opportunity to increase his own standard of living, his own quality of life. It’s time to get a bigger house, better car, new clothes, a boat, a house on the beach, another in the mountains, a ski chalet in Colorado. Everything is about them.
The problem? There is no place in Jesus’ kingdom for a materialist. Jesus was fairly direct when asked to solve a family dispute over an inheritance. See Luke 12:13-21.
Luke 12:13-21 - Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But 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.”
Notice what the guy did, and what he didn’t do. He talks only to himself. He never brings God into the equation. There’s no, “God, what would you have me do with this incredible abundance.” He only thought about consuming it all for himself. Jesus’ point is simply this—this man was a fool. Tough words, no? And why was he a fool? Because he was departing this life that very night, and he wouldn’t be taking any of his stuff with him to where he was headed. Even had he not died that night, Jesus in Matthew 6 makes it clear that a bunch of stuff stacked up here on earth is at risk—moths (or inflation, or volatile markets) eat it; rust (or depreciation, or a housing crisis, or a recession) destroys it; or thieves (or con artists, or identity theft, or insurance companies who jury rig things so they don’t have to pay for your medical bills) steal it. Stuff here on earth can be here today, and gone tomorrow.
Can you imagine signing a one-year lease and then investing all your savings to renovate the place? Who would do that, given that you’re going to be moving out at the end of the year? And when you depart, you will not be taking that apartment with you. It makes no sense to do that with an apartment; why do it with your life? And to contrast this, Jesus claims that things invested in the kingdom are secure, safe from rot, decay, and theft. You think compound interest works well here? You ain’t seen nothing until you see how it works in heaven.
Now, I get it. A materialist hears all this and mocks. But the resurrection of Jesus tells us all something. This is not the only life we’ll get. The mantra, “You only live once!” is patently false, and the resurrection proves it. We’re all coming back. It’s just that some will come back to be welcomed into the glory God has for them, and the others will come back to hear the sentence of judgment. And for those of us headed to the kingdom of Jesus, there will be rewards fashioned in large part by how we lived our lives in the here and now.
To make sure I’m not confusing anyone with this, let me remind you that we are saved by grace apart from any works. Nothing we could ever do to merit God’s favor. That only comes through faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone. But, once saved, we are told that we are saved to be about good works. Of course, those are carried out by people who are in submission to Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out those works. Our job is simply to be willing to let the Holy Spirit operate in and through us. But if we do, Jesus says that rewards for that willingness results in storing up treasures in heaven and rewards coming our way. As Randy Alcorn said, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”
So, if you’re going to invest your money, time, resources into the things of God, what will that require? Let me mention three specific things.
Number 1: You must get to know God. You’ve got to get to know what matters to God. Listen, if you get a new job, would it be wise to get to know your new boss? To know what he or she expects from you, to know what he or she would consider “success” for you in that first year? Does it make any sense at all to just lumber along trying to guess, only to find out at performance review time that you disappointed that new boss on several major items through the year? Of course not. So, if you’re in the kingdom of Jesus, it makes sense to find out what Jesus is all about, what’s on his heart, what does he care about, and then be about those things. Get into the Word, get into a small group where you can grow and encourage others to do the same, discerning what it is that God cares about.
Number 2: Get to know yourself. Know where you are susceptible to materialism, and then fight it with your whole being. Confess it, repent of it. Again, be in that small group where you can get encouragement and link arms with others doing the same. Also, know how you are wired, or better, how God has wired you. How are you gifted? About what are you passionate? What are the spiritual and physical needs around you that you spot and that you feel need to be dealt with? Maybe God’s calling you to get engaged there. What is it that God points out to you that makes you furious, less because it offends you than the heart of God? A need for foster parents, orphans in your neighborhood, widows struggling to make it with kids to take care of? Listen, there’s nothing wrong with rescuing dogs and cats (well, maybe there is something wrong with rescuing cats—the jury is still out on that one), but scripture tends to suggest people are more on God’s mind.
Number 3: Intentionally neglect some things. See, if you’re going to invest your energy, talents, passions, money, and time in God’s things, you will have to not invest in other things. Folks have encouraged me to participate in office pools and fantasy leagues for years, and I’ve resisted, not because they are evil, but because I wasn’t willing to invest the time in them to do them well. The one office pool for football I did play in for one week kinda forced me to choose the Oakland Raiders to win a game. My problem? I didn’t want the Oakland Raiders to ever win a game. (Sorry, I grew up in the Midwest where we saw the Pittsburgh Steelers every Sunday, and no one roots for Pittsburgh AND Oakland.) But I had to root for them to win that week because of the pool. It really messed me up, so I bagged the office pool. The truth is this: any time you choose to invest in one thing, you are making an intentional choice not to invest in something else. In economics, this is known as the “opportunity cost.” Once you do something with your money, you’ve lost the opportunity to do something else with it.
Here’s our problem. Some of us have disordered loves. We love the wrong things too much and the right things not enough. We love our sports too much, our careers too much, our cars too much, our vacations too much, our houses too much. Nothing wrong with those things. Nothing wrong with a little bit of love for them. I think God wants us to enjoy things. But we can love them too much and expect too much joy to come from them. We can easily forget that God is the one who deserves our honor and our praise for providing any of that stuff to us. It’s too easy to fill up our lives with things that really don’t matter on the scales of heaven. That’s why, in Northern Virginia, it seems there is a storage facility on virtually every corner. We’ve got to have places to store the stuff we can’t even fit into our big houses. It’s why there are garage sales everywhere, to get rid of the treasures we invested in that now have no value.
And this is what Jesus is getting at. Don’t lay up treasures for yourself here. The things that matter to God should be the things that matter to citizens of his kingdom, if they are really in his kingdom and not just kidding themselves that they are. And investing in God’s things will require you and me to intentionally neglect some of those things that don’t matter as much.
We’ve been talking small groups now for several months, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of new groups. If you’re not already committed to being in a small group, for you to make it happen, you are going to have to intentionally decide to give up something or some things to make the time and space for that small group. If you are going to serve others, you are going to have to intentionally choose not to serve just you.
One final note. If you get into this investing in God’s kingdom, please don’t measure everyone else around you based on what you are doing. There is no one on earth who can seriously be engaged in all the things that weigh on the heart of God. God might lead you to be heavily engaged with the homeless. Great! God might, however, lead the person next to you to be heavily engaged with human trafficking survivors. Neither one of you should look at the other person and judge their walk with God as diminished just because they aren’t investing in exactly what you are investing in. Here’s the truth. God’s going to lead us all, each of us individually. He knows what’s best. And my belief is that if we all move as God directs, God will lead The Surge to do exactly what He wants it to do in all the areas that matter to him, not only in our area of Northern Virginia, but globally.
If none of this strikes a chord with you, it could be that I’m a bad communicator. Very possible! But it also might be because the things of God don’t really matter that much to you. Maybe your heart is just not that invested in God’s things. See again, verse 21:
Matthew 6:21 - For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Do you see from this one verse that your heart will follow your investment? It can’t be helped. Whatever you have invested in, your heart will go there, too. If I invest in the things of this world, my heart will go there. They will preoccupy my mind and my passions and my heart. They will monopolize my affections. But if you want your heart tethered to God and His kingdom, you will have to put your treasure in the things that matter to him. As you do, you will find your heart naturally follows along. It can’t help but go there.
Finally, Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything He’s not done. He endured the cross, we’re told in scripture, for the joy set before Him. What was the joy set before Him? It wasn’t just being God in heaven. He already had that before He came to earth. He came to earth to rescue you and me and anyone who would trust in Him. The joy Jesus was anticipating was not just being back in heaven, but being back in heaven with the likes of you and me. Can you believe it? And his joy surges any time a believer ends up with him there, so as long as people continue to accept the gospel down here, the greater the joy Jesus is anticipating having when it’s all said and done. And when we’re investing in the kingdom down here, we’ll be actively involved in carrying the gospel of Christ to those who haven’t heard and helping those who have to grow in that relationship with Jesus. Let’s be about kingdom stuff, shall we? It is the one risk-free investment, guaranteed never to lose value.