The Lord's Day Morning
October 29, 2006
“Is Your Treasure Showing?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew 6, and be looking at verses 16-19. This is the passage from which the theme of the stewardship season comes. Our Stewardship Committee has chosen once again to emphasize that stewardship is a matter of the heart. You’ll see why as we work through this passage today, but the battle hymn of the Reformation, which you just heard the choir sing, admirably points us to this in its very final stanza: “Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God's truth….” …still stands, doesn't it? Because his kingdom is forever. And so Martin Luther is reminding us that though the goods of this world may go, though our lives may be taken from us, there is something that lasts, is of greater value, and it puts everything else in perspective. And I can't think of a better thing for you to have on your heart as we begin to consider the issue of stewardship.
I love to talk about stewardship, because it is a matter of the heart. And our committee consistently over the last ten years that I've been at First Presbyterian Church has wanted to emphasize that. Jesus makes it clear that what we do with our material resources is an index of our love for God or our love for something else. As far as Jesus is concerned, stewardship is a test, and the Stewardship Committee wants to emphasize that. Stewardship first and foremost is a matter of the heart. Secondly, it's a matter of what you do with everything that God gives to you, not just that which you give to the church; and, thirdly, it is a matter of how much you care about God's kingdom work that is done through the local church. And so I love to talk about stewardship because it's a spiritual issue, and especially in our day and age.
We live in the most prosperous country in the world. We live in the most prosperous country in the history of the world. And that means that as pastors and elders, if we don't help you figure out how to navigate that prosperity, we are guilty of dereliction of duty. C.H. Spurgeon, the great English Baptist minister, once said, “Afflictions are a great trial, but there is no trial like prosperity.” And it's so true. We've seen friends who through affliction have become embittered to God, although we've also seen friends who through affliction have become sweet, trusting, strong, powerful believers. But for every friend that we have seen embittered because of afflictions, we have seen ten fall because of prosperity. And there's a reason for that: When we have much in this world, we are tempted to forget the Giver and focus on the gifts. We become so wrapped up with what we have that we forget Who gave it in the first place.
Secondly, when we have much in this world, we are tempted to find our security in that rather than the God who gave it. When you have much, what starts happening? You start trying to hang on to it. Why? Because you think your security is in hanging on to it.
And then, third, and most serious, when we have much, we are tempted to love the gift more than we love the Giver, and so our hearts are torn subtly away from God and we begin to love things–stuff–what the Bible calls mammon–and what does the Lord Jesus Christ say in this very passage? “You cannot serve, you cannot love, you cannot worship, both God and stuff.” One is always going to have the upper hand.
And so stewardship is a matter of the heart, and so as a gospel minister who is most concerned that you will love the one true God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength…as a gospel minister who is most concerned that you will trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, I love to talk about stewardship because it allows us to get to the issue of the heart. It's one of those things that gives us a visible representation of what's going on in our hearts, and that's vitally important.
Jesus, of course, in Matthew 6 (and go ahead and allow your eyes to scan back over this chapter)…Jesus is getting at that very issue with the disciples. You remember the matter that He is taking up in Matthew 6 is people who look religious on the outside, but on the inside there's really no love for God. They’re hypocrites, in other words. They may pray and they may fast, and they may make a big deal about what they give to the temple, but in their hearts they are not lovers of God, they are not worshipers of God, they’re not believers in God, they’re not followers of God. They’re hypocrites.
And the Lord Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they avoid falling into that very trap of religious formalism or hypocrisy. You remember Jesus’ great word to them is ‘You've got to look at your heart, and you've got to ask questions about your motivations and desires.’ And of course the disciples’ immediate response is going to be ‘Lord, how can I look at my heart? I can't see my heart.’ And the Lord Jesus says ‘Oh, yes, you can!’ And the disciple says ‘Look, I can stand in front of the mirror and I can take off my shirt, and I still can't see my heart.’ And Jesus says, ‘Oh, yes, you can. Here's how. First, you look at your treasure–what you treasure in this world–and you draw a line from your treasure back to your desires, because your treasure shows you what your desires are, and your desires [draw a line back to your heart]…your desires show you what your heart loves. And so it reveals the state of your heart. Your treasure in this world, Jesus says, reveals the state of your heart.
In this passage, Jesus, in helping His disciples work through this issue of religious hypocrisy, from this part of the chapter, from verse 19 on, will tell His disciples that what they desire and what they fear tells them much about their hearts. Now we're not going to get to the issue of what they fear–what they’re scared of. He deals with that later in the chapter. But we are going to focus in on His words to them about their desires, because our approach to our material possessions, our approach to the prosperity that we enjoy, is an index of our hearts.
Let's read God's word, and before we do so, let's look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, the word that we are going to read is plain and clear. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand what Jesus is saying, and yet, Lord, for a variety of reasons we sometimes miss the point. Sometimes it's because we don't want to hear the point, because the point is too close to home. Sometimes it's because it's because we're busy applying the point to somebody else instead of ourselves. But, O God, You have written this word that we might behold the living God; that we might know the way of salvation; that we might grow in grace and in discipleship; so, by Your Spirit help us not to miss the point, but to get the point for us. For Your glory and our good we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word in Matthew 6, beginning in verse 19:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant and authoritative word. May He add His blessing to it.
Jesus’ one point in this passage is simply this: Stewardship shows your heart. Your approach to things (material blessings), your approach to money, your priorities with regard to material blessings, your stewardship of what you have been entrusted with (with regard to all the earthly blessings of this life) shows your heart.
In other words, as far as Jesus is concerned, stewardship is a test. Your material blessings are a test. They reveal the state of your heart, and so I want to consider with you four things today as we unpack Jesus’ one main point: that stewardship is a test, that stewardship shows the heart.
I. There are two kinds of treasures: earthly and heavenly, those that last and those that don't.
First, I want you to see in both verses 19 and 20 the two treasures that Jesus talks about. Secondly, in verse 19, I want you to see the temporary treasure that He warns us against putting too much stock in. Thirdly, I want you to see the true treasure which He says we ought to aspire to; and then, fourthly, I want you to see the treasure test that He speaks about in verse 21.
Let's begin in verses 19 and 20, and look at these two treasures that Jesus speaks about. He calls them treasures on earth (verse 19), and treasures in heaven (verse 20). Jesus says treasures on earth can be destroyed or they can be stolen. In other words, they don't last and they can be lost; whereas, treasures in heaven (He says by way of contrast), cannot be destroyed and they cannot be stolen. In other words, they last forever and they can never be lost. And so Jesus tells us there are different kinds of treasures out there. All treasures are not created equal, He is saying. All that glitters is not gold, He is saying. “There is a way that looks right to a man, but in the end it leads to destruction.” So what Jesus is saying is ‘Friend, be careful what you treasure. Be careful what you treasure, because there are treasures that last and treasures that don't; and there are treasures that can be destroyed and treasures that cannot be destroyed.’ And so Jesus is asking you to think hard about what your desires are set on. He's asking you to take stock of what you really want in this life.
Now, so often the world is saying to you, “If you will trust in God, you can get all that you want.” That's part of the “prosperity gospel.” Jesus is saying something very different. He's saying what you want is going to be what tells you whether you want God or not, whether you know the living God, whether you worship the living God; and so, He's saying, “Friend, take stock in what it is that you care most about…in what you really treasure in this life, because it will tell you something very important.”
II. Don't set your heart on things that are passing away
Now that leads us to the second thing, and you see it in verse 19 very clearly. He warns us there against–what? Against not just temporary treasure, but He warns us against trusting in temporary treasure, or loving temporary treasure too much. Look at what He says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” In other words, He's saying ‘Friend, do not set your heart on things that are passing away.’ Jesus is saying that there is an eternal danger in setting your heart on temporary blessings. There are eternal consequences for treasuring temporary blessings over the things that matter the most.
Every man has his treasure. It's that which he sets his heart on, that which he delights in. And Christ, notice, is not saying that you shouldn't have treasure; He's saying make sure that you are wise in the choice of your treasure. He is warning against making the things that are seen but temporal — the things which are earthly, but will pass away — your ultimate treasure. He's warning against your making the things which are good your aim, and excluding the things that are best. He's warning against your making the second things the first things. He's warning against your so enjoying the blessings of this world that you forfeit the blessings of the next. He's telling you you shouldn't count temporal things as the best and most important things in life. You shouldn't be absorbed in accumulating an abundance of the things of this life, because they can't ultimately satisfy you; that you shouldn't place your security in the temporary things of this life, and you shouldn't find your contentment in the things of this life. Jesus explains that these things are subject to the law of diminishing returns, and the law of impermanence.
First, the law of diminishing returns. Have you ever had something that you really liked, and in the repetition of enjoying it over time eventually you got bored with it? Remember that bike you got at Christmas? It was the greatest thing since sliced bread! And five months later, you’d leave it out on the street at night. We get bored with our toys because God made us for Himself, and no toy can fill the void that only He can fill. And so everything in this life is subject to the law of diminishing returns. We eventually get tired of it. It loses its staying power.
And it's impermanent! It corrupts — it rusts, it breaks. Remember that toy that you got at Christmas, and one day later it was broken? It doesn't last. And so if you choose that for what you really want, you’re going to be disappointed. Now, the Lord Jesus is not saying that possessions are bad and that Christians ought not to have them. He's saying — No, no, no! You just don't put your ultimate desire and hope into your possessions. He's not saying that you shouldn't save or invest, or buy insurance, or be provident and prudent. No! He's just saying you don't put your trust in earthly things. He's not saying that you shouldn't take pleasure in enjoyment of your possessions. He's just saying do not take your highest joy in them.
Nevertheless, Jesus is making it clear that possessions are a tremendous stumbling block. You remember what He would say elsewhere?
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Why? Because the rich man is tempted to focus on the gift and forget the Giver; because the rich man is tempted to find security in the gift, and not the Giver; and the rich man is tempted to love the gifts more than the Giver.
John Ortberg, the pastor of teaching at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, tells the story of his most delightful memory as a boy–going to the lake in Wisconsin and playing Monopoly with his grandmother–and she was a robber baron when it came to playing Monopoly! And as a little boy, she would smear him in Monopoly. He kept wanting to hang on to his money, and she would end up getting it all. But finally, having played Monopoly with his grandmother many, many times, and losing, he understood the first lesson of Monopoly: ruthless acquisition! And so he was ready for his old Grandmom when it came to summer. And they were going to the lake house, and the Monopoly board came out, and the money was divided up, and the pieces were put on the table–and he slaughtered her! He took her every last dollar until he lifted that last Monopoly bill out of her hand and left her bankrupt. With a great sense of personal satisfaction, he had won the game! And then, his grandmother took the board and folded it together and poured it all back into the Monopoly box and she said, “Now you’re going to learn the second lesson, and it is more important than the first: When the game is over, it all goes back in the box.”
Many of us live life as if it doesn't all go back in the box, and that is exactly what Jesus is getting at here. He's saying ‘Remember, My friends, when the game is over it all goes back in the box. And if you’re trusting what goes back in the box, you’re going to be very, very disappointed at the end of the game.’
You know, the Puritans were so good about reminding us of this, especially at funerals. Funerals…it's one of those few times, even in modern culture, where we pause to reflect on eternal things. We’ll occasionally take stock of our lives. And so even as they wanted to comfort family members who had lost a loved one, they always wanted to make sure that the gospel went out in the funeral message, so that unbelievers would pause and think about life. And Richard Baxter had this thing that he once said on the occasion of a funeral. He said this:
“Both believers and unbelievers, Christians and non-Christians, both want heaven. But the believer prefers heaven above earth, whereas the unbeliever only prefers heaven over hell, and consequently he will not have heaven.”
Do you see what Baxter was saying? He was saying there's a difference in the desires of heaven that men have. Some want heaven only as their “Plan B” because they really love earth more than anything else; but the only ones who will get heaven are those who prefer it even over the earth. He's getting right back to what Jesus is saying here: Don't let the second things become the first things. Don't let the temporary blessings become the primary blessing. Don't set your heart on things that are passing away.
III. Set your heart on things that will last forever
And then Jesus says a third thing in this passage. You see it in verse 20. He's told you that there are two treasures. He's told you about that treasure which is temporary and will not ultimately fulfill. Now He points you to the true treasure, and He urges you to place your highest value on that eternal treasure. Notice His words: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
What He's telling you is set your heart on things that last forever. Christ is counseling you to make the joys and glories of the eternal world the first things of your life, and He's asking you to look at the way you use the treasures of this life and see whether you really value those eternal things over the treasures of this life, because what you value shows up in what you aspire for and desire…what you pursue, and how you spend your time and energy and money…where you put your money. He's urging you not to place the highest value on things that will pass away, but to value those things that will last forever. Does your use of earthly things reveal that you care more about heavenly things, or about earthly things?
There's a very moving scene in Stephen Spielberg's screen adaptation of the story of Schindler, a German Catholic entrepreneur who was using over 1,000 Polish Jews to build a factory. And in the course of his life, Oskar Schindler fell under the pangs of conscience because he realized that these Jews in the country of Poland were being shipped off to concentration camps where they were being exterminated…where they were being made to be the victims of genocide. And he was moved by this, and he began to use his wealth to literally buy back those Jews from their German captors. In the scene in which over 1,000 Jews are freed and they finally made their way to freedom, Schindler breaks down, if you’ll remember. He had a Jewish accountant who helped him, a man named Sterne. And just as Schindler and these Jews have made it to freedom, Schindler begins to speak to Sterne, and he says, “I could have gotten more out! I could have gotten more out if I'd only used my money more wisely. I could have gotten more out.” And Sterne, this Jewish accountant, says to him, “Look, there are 1,100 people alive today because of what you've done.” But he said, “I wasted so much money! And he pointed to his car. He said, “See that car? I could have sold that car and ten people would be alive and free today, if I'd only sold that car! And you see this Nazi party pin? I could have sold that pin…it's gold. I could have gotten money for that, and two more people would be free and alive today if I'd only used my money more wisely. I could have saved more.” And he was stricken with remorse that there were not more alive because he had not been wiser in the use of what he had.
What had happened? In that context of freedom, in that moment of freedom, it had suddenly dawned upon him more fully than ever before what was valued. The vacations that he took, the houses that he owned, the clothes that he wore, the cars that he drove…or human beings with an immortal soul? And, my friends, I wonder what the great day of assize, what the great Judgment Day is going to reveal about how we have used what we have and about what we have really treasured.
Marcy reminded us of that song, Thank You for Giving to the Lord. There was an elder in this congregation who was watching television one day, and he saw a picture of starving children in another country. Though he was deeply moved by the spectacle of their poverty, he was even more moved by the thought that as hungry and thirsty as those little children were for food and water, they also had a need for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he asked himself, “What am I doing to answer the call for their need for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?” And now about half the year he spends going to tell the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in a place on the other side of the world, because he saw the value of an immortal soul. I could go on telling you story after story of what happens with the way a person approaches the treasures of this world when they realize the value of the things that last forever.
IV. Your treasure reveals your heart
And that leads to the last point, because Jesus takes us now to the treasure test. His point is simply this: Your treasure reveals your heart. He says it far more eloquently than that. He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, Jesus is saying that your desires show you what you love, what you treasure. Your desires show you what you worship. He's saying that what you treasure, what you desire, will show you who your God is; that what you value is an evidence of the state of your heart. Remember the trail? From treasure, to desires, to the state of your heart…so that your stewardship of the material prosperity that the Lord has given you is a test of Who you love. The whole tenor of our minds, the whole tenor of our lives, shows our treasure. Our earthly treasures are a test.
Louie Giglio, who works with Andy Stanley and has promoted the Passion Conference for thousands and thousands of young people over the last few years, in his book The Air That I Breathe, says this:
“Everybody has an altar, and every altar has a throne; so how do you know who or what you worship? It's easy,” he says. “You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. And at the end of that trail, you’ll find a throne, and guess what's on it? That's right. What is of highest value to you; what you really love; what you really worship: your treasure. And the trail never lies. We may say that we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.”
So I have a question for you: What's on your throne? What's on your altar? What's at the end of the trail of your affections? What is your treasure? Where is your spiritual vision focused? Who is your master? What do you love? What do you care about? Or, to use the title of the sermon, “Is your treasure showing?” I want to assure you, it is. It's actually not a question of whether your treasure is showing or not: it is. The question is what is your treasure showing about your heart?
As a congregation, if we give like other evangelical Christians give in the United States of America to the work of the church, then we give somewhere around two percent of our income. Now, you’re generous, so let's say you give three percent a year, overall, to the work of the church. Let me ask you to think about that for a few moments.
What does that say about where your treasure is? You see, it's not just an issue of what we could do if the ministry of the church were more faithfully supported by the congregation. Yes, as you've heard Marcy say, forty percent or so of the congregation make a commitment to support the budget of the church for the next year. Fewer and fewer are making those commitments. Money's going up–we're thankful for that–it means that many people here are getting the message.
But what about those of you who haven't got that message? What does that say about where your treasure is? Yes, from the standpoint of ministry of the church, if the congregation were supporting the work of the church more faithfully, it would mean that instead of every October me thinking, “Here we are…$800,000 in the negative in cash flow again. I wonder if they’re going to give in November and December, and if we're going to get out of this trough.” Yes, it means that if you were faithfully giving, instead of supporting this roughly $7,000,000 budget, we’d have $20,000,000 coming in, and we wouldn't know what to do with it! In October, I'd be saying, “I wonder what missionary we want to give $2,000,000 to. I wonder what we’d want to do to expand our outreach in Jackson.” Yes, it means that–and, boy! would I like that! But more, more importantly than that, it's an index of what you love…of where your treasure is…and that, I'm really interested about! Because I want you to set your love on that which isn't going to let you down, and that which is going to be here forever, because “Where your treasure is, there you will be.”
Our Lord and our God, help us not to be tricked by the richness, the fatness, the luxuriance, the wealth, of the things of this world, but to seek that city from above, whose Founder and Architect, whose Builder and Maker is God. Help us, O God, not to love the world but to receive the things of this world as a gift; but to love You more than the things of this world. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's respond by singing the final stanza of No. 546 [The Sands of Time Are Sinking], and notice how Rutherford directs us to prize Christ over everything else.