Matthew 6:19-34

Each of us has an identical problem in being a spiritual person. The problem? We each are physical. We all have an identical problem in living the life of a righteous person. We are all physical beings in a physical world. Consider two rather simple realities about life in this physical world: (#1) evil opposes righteous living in the physical world; (#2) evil uses the physical world to discourage those who seek to be spiritual.

This is the constant challenge that I face in my life: how do I promote and nurture the spiritual in my life while I responsibly care for the physical in my life? Finding the best balance, the healthiest balance, the balance that God wants me to have, is a never-ending search. I never locate and permanently fix the ideal point of balance. Permanently establishing the ideal point of balance is impossible because my life is constantly changing. What is a good, godly balance between the spiritual and the physical in one set of circumstances becomes a spiritually hurtful balance in a different set of circumstances.

We all have this problem. All of us are beckoned by two extremes. Extreme #1: "God will take complete care of me; I don't need to do anything. All I need is faith in God." This is the extreme of no responsibility. "I have no responsibility. God will take care of everything." When I was a teenager, I lived in a poverty area in the mountains of east Tennessee. One of my adult Christian friends took this position in the midst of stressful economic conditions. He decided if he did nothing God would take care of him. That decision came close to producing major disaster.

Extreme #2: "God takes care of those who take care of themselves." This is the extreme of total responsibility. "God does nothing; I do everything. It is all up to me." Many years ago a preacher was visiting a prosperous farmer in a remote rural area. The man had a beautiful farm that was very profitable. The preacher walked over the farm with him and commented, "The Lord surely has blessed you!" The farmer replied, "Perhaps so, but you should have seen this place when the Lord had it all by himself."

Both extremes are seriously out of balance.

Tonight Jesus talks about how a righteous person views his physical circumstances.

  1. As always, we need to set the context and understand the circumstances.
    1. The two major religious influences and two major sources of spiritual leadership in Israel were the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
      1. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, or in spirits, or in angels.
        1. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin, Israel's supreme court, was composed primarily of Sadducees and Pharisees.
        2. When Paul was brought before this court in Acts 23, he knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees had already decided to cooperate in condemning him to death.
        3. So he shouted out in court, "I am a second generation Pharisee, and I am being tried because of the hope and resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6-8).
        4. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection, so he successfully divided the court and avoided trial and sentencing.
      2. What spiritual effect did not believing in the resurrection have on the Sadducees?
        1. They believed all God's blessings were physical and took the form of material prosperity.
        2. According to them, genuine faith in God meant that you were a materialist.
      3. In as many things as the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed, they shared a common attitude toward money and prosperity.
        1. Luke 16:14 declares that the Pharisees loved money.
    2. The people to whom Jesus spoke were people who always had lived under a religious leadership that either (1) said that the only way God blesses you is through physical blessings or (2) loved money.
      1. There was a distinct materialistic focus in Judaism's leadership.
      2. These common people lived in a socio-religious climate that stressed and emphasized materialism as a spiritual focus.
      3. Most of them lived in poverty, and in poverty people long for material security.
      4. Jesus' statement that we now examine was truly a radical statement.

  2. Do not live to seek wealth; do not make material security the focus of your life.
    1. Why, Jesus?
      1. Reason #1: material wealth is itself insecure.
        1. That fact is as true today as it was then.
        2. However, then that truth was blatantly obvious in a world of no banks, no security systems, and national instability (Israel lost its independence less than 100 years previously).
        3. Jesus' points were clearly, soberly understood--natural forces destroy wealth, and thieves take wealth.
      2. Reason #2: the only wealth out of the reach of natural forces and thieves is the wealth you store in heaven--only there is it out of the reach of the dangers of the physical world.
      3. Reason #3: your heart will reside with your treasure, on earth or in heaven.
        1. A person always invests his or her heart in that which he or she acknowledges to be his or her treasure.
        2. Whatever is of supreme importance and value owns a person's heart.
        3. You can have wealth and it not be your treasure; if it is not your treasure, your heart does not belong to your wealth.
        4. You may be poor and wealth still be your treasure; because it is your treasure, your heart does belong to the ambition and hunger to obtain wealth even though you are poor.
      4. Illustration:
        1. The human eye is the only window in the human body.
        2. The eye is the only part of the body that can utilize light.
        3. If the eye is healthy, "clear," the whole body is filled with the benefit of the light that comes through the eye.
        4. If the eye has a thick cataract that blocks the light out, the whole body is filled with darkness--and how black that darkness is.
        5. Materialism is the cataract that prevents light from entering the mind, the understanding, the perspective of the person.
      5. Fact:
        1. If you serve God, God is your master--you cannot serve him unless you allow him to be your master.
        2. If you serve materialism, it is your master--you cannot serve materialism unless you allow it to be your master.
        3. Your master is your final authority; it is the controlling force within your life.
        4. You cannot serve two masters--there cannot be two controlling forces in charge of our life.
        5. You cannot serve God and mammon--you cannot let both God and physical possessions be the controlling force in your life.
    2. If you are committed to becoming and being a righteous person, then you will not permit materialism to be your master. To reject the control of materialism, you must understand some basic awareness.
      1. Awareness #1: anxiety will not be permitted to be the controlling force within you. Worry rooted in concern for physical needs will not be the driving force in your life.
        1. Remember: Jesus is talking to people living in poverty.
        2. He declared that physical necessities are not the basic issues of existence.
          1. Concern about food, drink, and clothes do not constitute the basic needs of life or the basic concerns in existence.
          2. There is an existence need that is more important than food, drink, and clothes.
          3. That is an incredible statement to make to poor people.
      2. Illustrations:
        1. God feeds the birds (provides food for the birds to eat).
          1. Birds are incapable of planting and harvesting crops to provide the food they need.
          2. Birds are not irresponsible--they are industrious as they gather food for themselves and their young from daybreak to dark.
          3. God provides what they cannot provide themselves, but what they desperately need.
          4. You are more precious to God than birds.
        2. It is impossible for you to lengthen your life by worrying about physical necessities--anxiety does nothing to feed you, give you drink, or clothe you.
        3. God clothes the flowers in splendor.
          1. They are incapable of making their own colorful attire.
          2. Humans, not even the wealthiest, could clothe themselves in such splendor (very true and a powerful point then).
          3. If God clothes those plants in splendor that soon become fuel to warm the bread ovens, will he not do even more for you, you people of little faith?
    3. Do not allow your life, your thinking, and your actions to be controlled by anxiety, a basic driving force for materialism.
      1. The fundamental questions of life are not:
        1. "What will we eat?"
        2. "What will we drink?"
        3. "Where will we find clothes?"
      2. These are the concerns and the focus of godless people--this is their passionate pursuit.
      3. God is fully aware that you have every one of these needs.
    4. This is what you must understand if you chose God to be your master:
      1. You accept two priorities.
        1. You will seek his kingdom above all else--seeking the kingdom includes the church, but it includes much more than the church.
        2. You will seek God's righteousness, righteousness as it is defined by Jesus.
      2. If seeking the kingdom and God's righteousness are your priorities, God will provide opportunity to have food, drink, and clothes.
    5. This is fact about anxiety or worry (still remember that Jesus is talking to poor people living in poverty conditions).
      1. You cannot address tomorrow's worries today--fretting today about things that you cannot control that may occur tomorrow is lost energy and life.
      2. The only way to be prepared to face and address tomorrow's problems is to responsibly address today's problems.
      3. Taking responsible care of today's troubles will give you all that you can handle--every day has enough trouble of its own.

A righteous person has a distinctively different perspective on physical necessities and on anxiety or worry.

How much do you worry? What do you worry about? Do you understood that being a righteous person changes the way you look at necessities, changes the way you look at security, changes the way you identify needs, and changes the concern you have about the physical?

The righteous person is responsibly active instead of anxious. He trusts God instead of fretting about what is beyond his or her control. He or she uses life to serve God's purposes in his or her life. He or she will not permit anxiety to entice him or her into serving the goals of materialism.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 15 December 1996
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