As Barry just said in his introductory video, over the next few weeks we are going to explore together what the Bible has to say about money, possessions and generosity… subjects that Barry admitted can be uncomfortable to talk about for lots of reasons. Barry was right when he said that many people have used ‘so-called Biblical teachings’ on these subjects to abuse and shame others for their own ends… and we are aware of the alarm bells that can go off in your minds when ‘religious’ people start talking about money… and the last thing we want to do is set off those alarms! What we are hoping to do over these next few weeks together is to discover anew what the Bible actually says about these subjects. Our promise is that we won’t twist scripture to fit some agenda... we will do what we aways do when we prepare sermons… we will do the hard work of looking into the context… the language… the background and everything else related to the passages we talk about so that you can be certain that we are honestly teaching what the Bible has to say about money and possessions and generosity. My request is that you stick with us… I know it’s easy when you hear, ‘4 weeks on money?’ to think, ‘I know where this is going. I think I’ll pass!’ But please, do stick with us! Our hope is that all that we say will, first of all, be true to what God has said about these important subjects and secondly, will be helpful for everyone… our prayer is that as we look at this important subject our hearts will be changed in ways that bring honor to our generous God.
So, with that said, the first passages we will be looking at are generally considered two of Jesus’ most direct teachings on money and possessions; the first teaching is found in the middle of what is easily the most recognized of Jesus’ sermons: the Sermon on the Mount. And the second is a similar passage found in the 12th chapter of the book of Luke. Now, what we will find as we move through our series is that all of Jesus’ teachings on possessions and generosity fell squarely in line with what the law and the prophets said about these things centuries earlier. Jesus was not trying to create new ideas about gratitude and generosity… in fact, what I believe we will find is that Jesus’ teachings were purposed to take the Jewish people back to the values God had originally intended for them in the beginning. This will become obvious when Barry talks about possessions and the law in a future message. Still, we are followers of Jesus… and as Jesus’ followers what he has to say on this subject, a subject he talked about often and directly, should be foundational to our lives. So, let’s begin our series by looking at a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. The passage is Matthew 6:19-34… You can find this passage on page ??? in the house Bible. And as you are looking up this passage, I want you to know that both of today’s passages are long… very long… we won’t be able to cover everything I’d like to cover in the time we have…. Still, let’s pray and then get after it.
In Matthew 6:19 Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. First, it’s important to know that the word translated as ‘store up’ here, literally means to ‘stockpile for a coming day of need’… but what we really need to keep in mind is that most of the Jews listening to Jesus that day, easily as many as 85-90% were so poor that they could only dream of ever having enough of anything of value to ‘stockpile for a coming day of need.’ They were living hand-to-mouth every day! And to make matters worse, most Jews were also being told, by the religious elite no less, that you got what you deserved in life… you earned your circumstances… as in, if you were rich, it was because God was blessing you for your righteous life. But if you were poor… and most of the people present that day were poor, well, you deserved to be poor! And here is Jesus telling a crowd of people, most of whom have almost nothing and feel like they are nothing, that they shouldn’t be stockpiling for a coming time of need! I am certain that many in the crowd were wondering, ‘Does Jesus even know who he is talking to?’ Now, when Jesus said don’t store
up earthly treasures where moths and rust can destroy them, we know he was talking about storing up clothing, which moths did eat, and storing up coins… money, which often did, as the Greek literally says, ‘rot away to nothing.’ And coins tended to rot away because most poor people buried any extra money they had in the ground for safe keeping… to keep that money hidden from thieves… which, as Jesus pointed out, was also a continual problem then. Again, these were mostly poor people, people who usually only had one set of clothing… people who necessarily worried about having enough… of anything. I’m sure many in the crowd wondered if Jesus was living in some other world! But don’t think for a minute that Jesus was tone deaf to the world around him when he said these things. In fact, he was dead right on this one, especially when it comes to the 10 to 15% of his crowd that lived lives of plenty. He was simply saying this: if our thoughts are constantly on the concerns of earth, then our hearts, which, by the way, ancient people believed was the part of our being where we made the rational decisions that directed our actions, if our thoughts are continually on storing up these earthly things, then our hearts will be grounded on earth. But if our thoughts are primarily on the concerns of heaven… on the things that God would want us to ‘stockpile,’ things that are so valuable they can never be eaten or rot away… then that is where our hearts will be! Jesus wasn’t saying anything all that disconnected from the real world; he was simply saying that where we put our energies will say a lot about what we truly care about. I don’t think it’s too hard to accept that our actions will say loudly and clearly what we consider to be treasure.
But, before I go any further into what Jesus was trying to tell the crowd that day, I do want you to know that Jesus talking about ‘treasure’ would have had a meaning to the Jews listening to him then that is generally lost on us. You see, most 1st Century Jews would have known that the first place the Bible talks about ‘treasure’ is, believe it or not, in the story of Noah’s ark… and here’s why they would have made the connection between Noah’s Ark and treasure that we often miss. In our English Bibles, God tells Noah to build an ARK. But the Hebrew and the Greek the words that we translate as ‘ark’ actually mean a ‘chest for holding your valuable possessions.’ In other words, what God told Noah to build was a huge ‘treasure chest.’ The Latin word for ‘chest’ is arco, which for some unknown reason, was taken directly into the English when the King James Bible was translated, and so most English-speaking people think the word ‘ark’ is an old word for a boat. Truth is, what God had Noah build was a big treasure chest… a treasure chest for holding his most valuable treasures: his animals and most importantly, his faithful people. So, the overarching lesson in that story is this: God treasures people… we are of great value to God and his desire is to care for us and provide for us and save us… But, I’m certain that most of the poor people listening to Jesus’ Sermon on Mount didn’t feel much like God’s treasure… and for good reasons! So, what Jesus did in the entire rest of this passage was work to convince his listeners that they were not only God’s treasure but they could trust him to take care of them and provide for them and save them while they, then, focused on the things that are truly of value. Let’s look at what Jesus says in verse 24, ‘No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money. The Aramaic word that gives us money here is ‘mamonas’ and it literally means something like ‘the possessions that you put your trust in when trouble comes.’ You can see why it is almost always translated as ‘money’ in our Bibles, since it’s just true… most people in our world DO trust in money to save them when trouble comes. But Jesus has a lot more to say! "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Jesus has hit on the two things that most of his crowd did worry about… continually! But he then turns to showing this crowd their value to God in earnest! ‘Look at the birds of the air, he says. They do not sow or reap or
store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. Many of the traditional Jewish stories about Solomon said that he always wore purple clothes… the most expensive and rarest of all ancient clothing. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? The word that gives us ‘you of little faith’ is actually a noun: (oligopistoi) It’s ‘Oh, you littlefaiths!’ It’s as if Jesus has a nickname for us… we’re all littlefaiths… and I have a sermon’s worth of things to say about this nickname, but that’s for another day… But I will say this, Jesus doesn’t want us to live up to this nickname… this is why he then says, ‘So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom (which, remember, is where God’s will is always done) and his righteousness, (which are the values that are the foundation of his kingdom) and all these things (as in what the pagans run after) will be given to you as well. Now, Jesus does go on to say a few more things about trusting God to take care of us in this sermon, but I’m sure you can see his intention in all of this: he wanted lift up his listeners and tell them in no uncertain terms, that as God’s treasure, they could trust Him… trust him to take care of the things they so often worried about so they, in turn, could concentrate on what was truly worthy of their heart’s attention… and that would be the things that are treasured in heaven. And our second passage today in Luke is where Jesus tells us what IS treasured in heaven… Let’s turn to that passage now… its Luke 12:13-34.
Now this passage begins with someone demanding that Jesus intervene in a family estate dispute… Our NLT translation is much more polite than the literal Greek… which says, ‘Someone in the crowd shouted, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me! Jesus wisely avoids getting involved in this dispute… but he did know exactly what was at the root of this family squabble. Look at what he says in verse 15. He says, ‘Beware! Be on your guard! On your guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own!’ Now, let’s be honest, we all know that how much a person owns is the primary way that most people measure someone’s life these days. It’s as true now as it must have been then. So, not measuring our own lives or other’s lives by how much we own must be a value of heaven. So, there is one thing that we should be ‘storing up:’ not measuring other’s by how much they own! Boy, that goes against the grain, doesn’t it? And then Jesus goes right into telling a parable about a man who believes that the value of his life should be measured by how much he owns, and this man sets out to show the whole world that he owns a great deal by building a bunch of barns for stockpiling a ridiculous amount of grain for the future… and yet he does all of this showing-off-building-of-barns not knowing that his life is about to end! And the moral of this parable is found in verse 21 where Jesus says, ‘Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth, but not have a rich relationship with God.’ Again, we all know that in our world storing up earthly wealth is thought to be a sign of wisdom… it's being the master of your own destiny. Yet, Jesus said having a rich relationship with God, and that would be a relationship built on surrendering to God and trusting Him, is far more valuable and a sign of true wisdom. So, having a rich relationship with God is another way of ‘stockpiling’ in heaven. And then Jesus turns to his disciples and restates almost word-for-word, what he said in his Sermon on the Mount! For 10 verses he repeats what he said to the crowd about life being about more than food and clothing… and how God takes care of the birds… and how the lilies are more beautifully clothed than Solomon… and that seeking God’s kingdom first will lead to God giving us everything we need. But then he says this in verse 33… something unexpected that he didn’t say in his Sermon on the
Mount. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven!... And then he again says, ‘Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.’ The first thing to say here is that giving to ‘those in need’ was not a new idea at all… 1st Century Jews believed giving to the poor was a spiritual discipline… in fact, the Gospels even show us some rich Jews making a big, public display out of giving to ‘those in need’… and this kind of giving grew out of the fact that much of the Old Testament Law talks about the need to take care of the most vulnerable in the community… and the law actually names the most vulnerable: widows, orphans and the foreigners living with them. But it may seem to us that Jesus has gone over the top here: Sell all your possessions and give everything to those widows, orphans and foreigners in need? Really? But I want you to know that what Jesus was doing here was a very typical Jewish form of instruction known as a ‘how much more’ teaching. What he was saying, and what his disciples would have understood, is this: if you sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to those in real need, then ‘how much more’ God will take care of you! His bottom line was this: when you show through your actions that you treasure what God values, God will then stockpile what he treasures for you in heaven. Now, I know that this is all somewhat hard to get our hands around, all of this treasure-stockpiling-in-heaven stuff, but take my word for it, Jesus was simply trying to get those of us who call ourselves his disciples to ask ourselves how much we really trust God and what it is that we truly treasure… and he is telling us that our actions will answer these questions.
Something I’ve been thinking about: we know that Luke wrote his gospel for a specific, gentile man, named Theophilus, a man who had chosen to follow Jesus, but apparently had been told, by Jewish Christians no less, that God didn’t really care about the gentiles like him. What we know is that Theophilus’ reaction to being discounted by some Jewish Christians was to ask Luke to do some investigating and find out once and for all if he and other gentiles were a part of God’s treasure or not... and what Luke discovered and what he told Theophilus in his gospel, was, ‘Yes, absolutely, Theophilus, you and all other gentiles are treasured by God.’ And while I’m sure this was great news to Theophilus and many other gentile Christians, we know from history that many, many gentiles, upon choosing to follow Jesus, didn’t have to think about whether they were willing to give up anything because for many, everything was taken from them… they were often rejected by their families, ostracized by their wider communities, denied the right to practice their occupations and turned away in the market places. Their decision to follow Jesus often meant they had to trust God for everything. And I am confident that Luke made certain that somewhere in his story of the life of Jesus he quoted Jesus telling his first Jewish disciples that they too had to have a willingness to give up everything, to trust God and store up treasure in heaven. And what these two passages have shown me is that while much of what Jesus is talking about is related to money and possessions and such, what Jesus was really wanting us all to come terms with is how much do we trust God… do we believe, no matter what our circumstances might be, that we are God’s treasure and that as his treasure he will take care of us… that he knows what we need and will generously care for us… and that our living into his care opens our lives to stockpiling things of real value… things like not giving in to greed and not measuring other’s lives by what they own, and having a rich relationship with God and using what we have been given to care for the widows and the orphans and the foreigners among us. What we will see as we move into the coming sermons in this series is that none of this was new… God has always wanted his world to be a place where each person is seen as one of God’s treasures and where all people have an equal share in the generosity of God’s blessings. But Jesus entered a world where much of this had been forgotten… and much of this is still forgotten. And the call of Jesus, the one we say we are following, is to believe him when he says we are a precious treasure to him and that we can trust him to care for us in ways that make it
possible for us to set aside our anxieties about the things He knows we need, so that we can focus storing up treasures in heaven… now, please don’t think that what we are saying is that you shouldn’t plan for the future or you shouldn’t save for the unexpected… Jennifer and I planned for retirement, we have savings for the unexpected, we have life insurance, a will and all of the things that are truly wise in our world. But, next to this careful preparation is also God’s call on us to trust him enough to be generous in ways that reflect the values of heaven… And according to Jesus, one of the ways you can tell what we really care about is where we put our money. So, in the end, both of these passages are about generosity: God’s continual generosity towards me and my generosity toward the things of heaven… these passages force me to examine my own heart and come to terms with whether I am willing to make the hard decision to avoid the pitfalls of all that the world says is worthy treasure and align my values with those of the abundant and compassionate king of the Kingdom of Heaven. My prayer is that we will all examine our hearts together in these ways over these next few weeks as we continue to discover the blessings that come with taking God at his unfailing word and allowing his Spirit to fill our surrendered hearts with heaven’s generosity.