Friday, September 11, 2009

Matthew 6:19–24

Matthew 6:19–24 (ESV): Lay Up Treasures in Heaven


In this passage Jesus continues the sermon he’s been delivering, by urging us not to “lay up” for ourselves treasures here on earth—“where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (verse 19 (ESV)), but to lay up our treasures in heaven, where they don’t.

He then goes on to say something that seems unrelated:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (verses 22–23 (ESV))
He ends this passage by telling us that you can’t serve two masters; you will hate the one and love the other, or you will despise the one and be devoted to the other, but you can’t love them both, or be devoted to both. One has to win out over the other. Meaning: “You cannot serve God and money” (verse 24b (ESV)).


You could view this passage as the conclusion of the last few passages; when Jesus told us that we shouldn’t do good deeds just to be seen in verses 1–4, and then taught us the right and wrong ways to pray in verses 5–15, and then talked about the right and wrong ways to fast in verses 16–18, in essence they all boiled down to this lesson: don’t lay up for yourself treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. In other words, don’t look for rewards and material possessions during this life, but look for rewards in the next life, and live your life on this earth in such a way as to earn those rewards. (I shudder any time I mention “earning something” from God, but of course I’m not talking about earning salvation, I’m talking about rewards in addition to salvation—Jesus already did the work for salvation—that’s a gift, not a wage.)

The verses I quoted, 22–23, almost seem to be a non-sequitur. Jesus is talking about rewards on earth vs. rewards in heaven, and stops to talk about the eye, and whether your body is full of light or darkness. But really, it’s a continuation of the same thought; Jesus is talking about serving God properly, from your heart, rather than improperly, with false motives. In order to do that, you need to have His love, meaning your body must be full of “light,” not full of “darkness.” One would usually expect to see Jesus talking about the heart here, instead of the eye, and I’m not 100% clear on how the imagery of the eye works. I guess it’s something along the lines of the eye being the window to the soul.

Jesus ends the passage by saying that we can’t—can’t—serve two masters:
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. (verse 24 (ESV))
My gut reaction, almost every time I read this passage, is that there is a level of my mind saying that Jesus is incorrect. That he’s being too black and white, in this instance. Just because you love the one master, doesn’t mean that you hate the other one, does it? Isn’t that a little harsh? (To be clear, this is the sinful part of my mind—or rather, one of the sinful parts of my mind—that’s disagreeing with Jesus. The higher levels of my mind recognize that Jesus is obviously correct—he is God, after all.) Remember, though, that God demands sinless perfection of us, and He demands to be the focus of our lives. Anything that takes our attention (and our love) away from Him is sinful. To choose a seemingly trivial example, any time I decide to lie on my taxes, because I’d rather get a bigger return (or pay a smaller amount) than to be honest, I am, in that moment, choosing money over God; I am, in fact, deciding to obey my love of money, rather than to obey God. I’m saying that I’d rather have more money than to do what You want me to do, oh God. That Jesus calls this an act of hate reinforces what a slap in the face this is to the God who loves me (though I don’t deserve it), and, in fact, sent His Son to die for me, to purchase the redemption that I could never have accomplished on my own.

When you consider how fleeting that little bit of extra money will be, is it really worth it to throw God over for a few dollars? “Thank you, God, for sending your Son to die for me, and buying my soul at an incalculable cost, and giving me the gift of Grace that I could never repay—but I’m going to ignore You and Your desires for a few minutes, while I fill out this tax form, and then come back to You after and pretend that nothing happened.” Is that not a slap in His face? No wonder that Jesus calls this hate.

Sometimes, as Christians, our problem is one of perspective. It just doesn’t seem like a big deal.

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