Do Not Worry (Matthew 6.25–34), Part 3


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Like most men, I didn’t think much about what style of clothing I wore until I became interested in girls, which was sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Then, I became very concerned. Thankfully, I avoided the parachute pants and Members Only jacket craze of that era and went straight to preppy. I’ve been wearing button-down shirts and khaki pants ever since. Fortunately, I married a woman who thinks I dress just fine.

I tell you that in order to tell you this: Most people choose clothes in order to gain the esteem of other people. Dressing fashionably is really an attempt to be popular or well liked. And attempting to be popular can induce a great amount of anxiety in the attempter. If you don’t believe me, try telling your teenage daughter that she can’t wear the latest fashion and see what emotional reaction that produces in her.

In Matthew 6.28–30, Jesus had this to say about our clothing: “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. 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?”

Have you ever thought about the connection between fashion and faith? Jesus did, and he drew three conclusions: (1) The lilies of the field are more beautiful than Solomon’s splendid clothing. (2) The lilies don’t exert effort to be beautiful. And (3) God will clothe you more beautifully than the lilies. Please don’t think Jesus is promising Tommy Bahama shirts for all Christian men and Ann Taylor dresses for all Christian women. I think, instead, Jesus is promising to provide us with something better than mere outward adornment. What he is promising is true character and inward beauty—that our little faith would grow up and become great—the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3.4)

Pay particular attention to that last phrase. True character or inward beauty is of “great worth in God’s sight.” I wrote earlier that most people choose clothes in order to get the esteem of other people. Since fashions change, most people must constantly change fashions in order to remain popular. What the Bible teaches us is first that what really matters is God’s esteem, not that of people. And second, what people esteem most is not what a person wears but how a person acts. True character and inward beauty never change. People always seek out friendships with those whose lives are characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.22, 23).

If through God’s grace we clothe ourselves with those virtues, we will never lack for friendship, regardless of how fashionable our clothes may be.

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DO NOT WORRY (MATTHEW 6.25–34), PART 2


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Have you ever seen a wild starving bird? Me neither. In Matthew 6.26–27, Jesus tells us why: “Look at the birds of the air; 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?”

Pay close attention to Jesus’ first sentence: “Look at the birds of the air….” Theologians sometimes distinguish between general revelation and special revelation. The former refers to God’s revelation of his existence and character through reason, nature, and history. The latter refers to the revelation of God that is contained in the Bible. As Christians, we believe that God reveals himself through both the World and the Word. Jesus’ statement is an example of using general revelation to prove a point.

So, back to the birds: I have never seen a starving bird because birds always have plenty of food. A seed here, a grain there, bugs galore, etc.—birds feast like kings. Or rather, God provides plenty of food for them. All that they must do is eat what God has provided.

But how exactly does God provide? Jesus mentions that the birds do not “sow or reap or store away in barns.” Based on this passage, some people might wrongly infer that God provides for us regardless of whether we work hard or invest wisely. I don’t think that is the correct interpretation. After all, what Matthew 6.25–34 prohibits is worry, not work. Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that we ought to work so that we can provide for ourselves (1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12). And in 2 Thessalonians 3.6–10, Paul prohibits the church from providing charity to people who can work but don’t: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” When we cannot work, the Bible teaches us to rely on our families and churches for help (1 Timothy 5.3–8). So, in the ordinary course of events, God provides food for us through our work, through our family’s love, and through the church’s generosity.

What, then, is Jesus’ point? If he is not saying that God will provide for us regardless of whether we work, what is he saying? He is saying, it seems to me, that we ought to approach work and relationships with an “abundance mentality.” An abundance mentality begins with the assumption that God is good and generous. That is to say, God desires to bless people and provides them with more than they need. Because of this assumption, people with an abundance mentality work hard and share generously with others. Why? Because a good God will always provide. By contrast, people with a “scarcity mentality” believe that the world’s resources are limited and that getting them is a “zero sum game” in which if one person gains, another person loses. People with a scarcity mentality worry a lot, and they hoard rather than share.

Obviously, Jesus wants his disciples to have an abundance mentality. So, work hard and share generously, but don’t ever worry. God will provide.

Do Not Worry (Matthew 6.25–34), Part 1


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I am a sound sleeper. Even if my wife tosses and turns in bed, I sleep like a baby—except for my freight-train-like snoring. (Perhaps that’s why she tosses and turns?) I can go to sleep anytime, anywhere, and sleep through just about anything. The one that steals my sleep is worrying, especially worrying about money.

Everyone who reads the Sermon on the Mount finds its teachings personally challenging at some point or another. For me, Jesus’ teachings about money (Matthew 6.19–24) and worry (6.25–34) are the most challenging. I can earn money just as well as the next guy, but I’m an undisciplined spender. And the negative consequences of that spending keep me up at night.

Over the next few days, I want to talk to you about worry. If you’re good with your money, what I have to say may not apply to you. But if you, like me, worry about money, pay attention! You need to hear what Jesus says to people like you and me. Here’s how Jesus begins:

“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?”

Sometimes, I think Jesus’ commandment (“do not worry”) and question (“Is not life more important than food?”) are too easy. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I think to myself, “it’s easy to tell people not to worry.” Indeed, I tell people the same thing all the time. But commanding people not to worry doesn’t make them stop worrying. In fact, it may make them worry about their inability to stop worrying!

The key to keeping the commandment is to answer the question: “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” Yes and yes. Life is about much more than food, and the body is about much more than clothes.

Unfortunately, many of us do not live out the truth of this answer. We live as if what we eat, what we wear, where we live, what we drive, and how we entertain ourselves are issues of ultimate importance. If you don’t believe me, just look at your calendar and checkbook. How much of your time and money goes toward food, clothing, housing, cars, and entertainment? If your calendar and checkbook are anything like mine, the answer is, “Quite a lot.”

Obviously, you have to spend money on all these things. Jesus Christ does not call us to a starving life of threadbare, miserable poverty. By the same token, however, he does not call us to a life of anxiety about how we’re going to pay for stuff we do not need and cannot afford. The key thing is to define what’s truly important in life.

Worry, you see, arises from placing a high value on low-priority things. If you put first things first, your life will begin to become less worrisome to you.

NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS (MATTHEW 6.24)


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In Matthew 6.24, Jesus says, “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.”

I have often read this passage and wondered, “Why not?” Why must I make such a stark choice between God and money? Is it not possible to be a rich Christian? And then I have gone on to wonder what precisely it means to “serve” money anyway. I understand what it means to acquire, invest, and spend money—but serve it? Perhaps you have wondered as much too. So, let me offer a few words of advice about this passage.

Consider the master/slave metaphor Jesus uses. When Jesus talks about serving two masters or serving God or money, he is using a metaphor based on a social reality of the first century, namely, slavery. And in light of that metaphor, he is quite right: A slave cannot serve two masters. At some point, one or the other must be given preference.

Since slavery is not part of our social reality, let me update the metaphor and talk about conflicts of interest. Suppose you work for a company that makes widgets. Unfortunately, you do not earn a living wage at that company, so you take a second job at another widget-making company. Now, when you’re in the field, whose widgets do you recommend customers to buy? If you recommend the first company’s widgets, you are doing a disservice to your second employer. But if you recommend the second company’s widgets, you are doing a disservice to your first employer. You cannot honesty represent competing interests.

According to Jesus, God and money are competing interests. How so? Well, take out your checkbook and look at your pattern of consumption. The Bible lays down a number of guidelines about how we ought to spend our money. For example, we ought to tithe our income to the Lord’s work (Leviticus 27.30–33), without, of course, forgetting to perform works of “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23.23). We ought to provide for the elderly members of our family who have need; this is a way of “putting [our] religion into practice,” according to 1 Timothy 5.4. Charity should extend beyond the four walls of our own houses, however. According to James 1.27, “pure and faultless” religion entails looking after “orphans and widows in their distress.”

Now, the Bible says much more on the topic of money than this, but these examples are enough for my purposes. As we look at our checkbooks, do we see a tithe of our income going to the Lord’s work? Do we see time and money being spent to help poor relatives? Do we see a pattern of donations to help the poor? If not, what do we see? Consumer debt? Living beyond our means? The purchase of items we do not need?

If you serve God, then be quick to follow his instructions about the use of money, lest you be drawn into a conflict with his commandments.

The Eye Is the Lamp of the Body (Matthew 6.22–23)


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In Matthew 6.22–23, Jesus says:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

I’d like to point out three things regarding this passage.

First, it draws an analogy between the physical process of seeing and the spiritual process of valuing. In the first century, the scientific mechanics of sight were not well understood. (For that matter, I live in the twenty-first century and don’t understand them!) So, using the homely metaphor of a lamp, Jesus says that seeing something is like shining a light into your body. If your vision is bad, that light is dim. If you are blind, you are in the dark. Similarly, if you value the right things, your whole being is illuminated by the kingdom and will of God. But if you value the wrong things, then the kingdom and will of God become dim or even dark within you. You can’t see them any longer.

Second, this analogy bears directly on the relative value we place in “treasures on earth” (Matt. 6.19), that is, wealth and material possessions. Valuing such things in the light of God’s kingdom and will allows us to enjoy them and share them with others, without becoming attached to them in a greedy, grasping way. By the same token, however, if we place too high a value on them, we become myopic and tunnel-visioned about them. We render ourselves torn between our allegiance to the Creator and our love of created things, and we find ourselves unable to share those things generously with others.

Third, this analogy bears directly on how we can resist temptation. We live in a highly visual culture, and provocative messages are constantly placed before us on billboards, the TV, and in movies. They concern not only sex, but also wealth and the use of violence to solve conflicts or exact revenge. If we choose to watch such things, we become susceptible to the messages—sometimes sinful—that they convey. So be careful what you watch, what you set your eye upon, what you value.

Of course, given the predominance of visual media in our lives, we cannot but help see things that we would not otherwise choose to see. How do we avoid temptation? By remembering what Martin Luther once said about the birds: “I cannot stop the birds from flying overhead, but I can stop them from building a nest in my hair.” Exactly. If you see a provocative building once, shame on the company that posted it! If you look a second time, shame on you!

And finally, we avoid temptation by remembering Philippians 4.8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Where Your Treasure Is (Matthew 6:19-21)


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My wife informs me that I have a morbid personality, and she’s probably right. I have an uncanny knack for spotting the downside of any good situation. Some see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I notice the rust on the pot.

For example, when we lived on the third floor of a secure apartment complex in a good part of town, I was nevertheless obsessed with double- and triple-checking the locks on the doors and windows every night. And with all the natural disasters through the country, I’ve been concerned about what happens if the “Big One” hits here in California. I’ve started to map out a plan for rescuing my wife, my soon-to-be-born son, and my dog.

And that brings me to today’s Scripture, in which 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.”

To understand this passage, you need to read its conclusion first. That conclusion states a neutral principle: Your heart is with your treasure. It’s a neutral principle because it’s true whether your treasure is good or bad, valuable or worthless, eternal or temporary. If you value money, your heart will be with making and accumulating more stuff. If you value sex, your heart will be with getting more and more pleasure. If you value power, your heart will be with acquiring control over others.

The key thing is to value what’s ultimately valuable. Jesus says that “treasures on earth” are penultimately valuable; they are second-order values because they susceptible to destruction and theft. Fortunes can be won and lost. Pleasure wanes with age, as does power. On the other hand, “treasures in heaven” are ultimately valuable because they last forever. They are given by God, and they cannot be taken away by any other. Romans 8.39 says that absolutely nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I think Paul’s statement helps us understand what “treasures in heaven” are. They are not things or activities. Heaven’s treasure is the love of God. When we seek God’s love, when we love him in return, and when we share God’s love with others, we are storing up “treasures in heaven.”

That’s easy to say, of course, and most of us believe it. But are our hearts in it? Dr. Jim Bradford, who was my senior pastor years ago, used to say that our checkbooks and calendars reveal what’s in our hearts. So, here’s my challenge to you. Look at your patterns of spending and your usage of time. Do they reveal a heart set on heavenly treasure? Or do they demonstrate a heart set on food for moths and thieves?

When You Fast (Matthew 6.16–18), Part 4


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What are the purposes of fasting?
 
  1. To express our mourning for sin
  2. To seek and clarify God’s will for our lives
  3. To provide for the poor

We have looked at purposes (1) and (2) in previous devotionals. Today I would like to look at purpose (3). Fasting gives us an opportunity to provide for the poor.

Isaiah 58.1–14 contrasts how Israel fasted with how God wanted Israel to fast. It makes for interesting reading.

According to verse 2, Israel fasted in order to seek and clarify God’s will for their lives: “For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.”

But according to verses 3 and 4, their fasting resulted in the violation of God’s will: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.”

Consequently, God refused to honor their fasting: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” Spiritual discipline must result in moral behavior, or it is a worthless, unprofitable exercise.

In verses 6 and 7, God revealed the kind of fasting that is acceptable to him: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Fasting, you see, has to do with our sins, God’s will, and the world’s needs. God wants his people to commit themselves to justice, freedom, and generosity. Fasting is a way of forcing us to take a look at what is wrong with the world—at what is wrong with us, really—and do something about it.

How does such fasting work? Let me give you a simple example about how fasting can be used to help the poor. I like Starbucks’ Venti Chai Latte. It costs $3.85. I get one two or three times a week on my way to work, especially on Sunday. Over the course of a year, that means I spend between $400.40 and $600.60 a year at Starbucks. What if I decided to “fast” all but my Sunday latte and donate what I would have otherwise spent to a Christian charity or mission? I would have between $184.60 and $369.20 to give to help the less fortunate.

Now, that may not seem like a lot of money to you, but it’s a lot of money for a person who’s poor. So, that’s my challenge to you: Instead of spending money on something you don’t have and don’t need, donate the money to your church or a local Christian charity.

That’s the kind of fasting God wants.

When You Fast (Matthew 6.16–18), Part 3


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What are the purposes of fasting?

First, as we saw yesterday fasting is connected with mourning, especially with mourning for sin. Second, as I hope to show you today, fasting is a way of seeking and clarifying God’s will for our lives. To see this, we need to look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4.1–11).

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

Notice four very important words: “led by the Spirit.” God never tempts us to do evil, but sometimes he allows us to go through seasons of temptation in order to make us stronger. In Greek, the words for “temptation” and “test” are the same. In a sense, all of life is a test that God wants us to pass and the devil wants us to fail. Through his Spirit, God gives us all the resources we need to pass the test. The question is: Are we prepared?

Second, notice that temptation attacks us where our identity and mission as the children of God intersect. Notice how the devil prefaces the first and third temptation: “If you are the Son of God….” The devil knew full well that Jesus was the Son of God. The temptations attempted to distort Jesus’ identity and pull him off mission. The first temptation, turning stones into bread, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use his power for selfish ends. The second, bowing down to the devil, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use the wrong means (worship of Satan) to accomplish the right end (the obedience of the kingdoms of the world; on which, see Matthew 28:18-20 and Philippians 2:9-11). The third, leaping off the precipice of the Temple, attempted to do so by forcing God to rescue Jesus from the consequences of a reckless choice. In each case, Jesus clarified the meaning of his divine sonship and staid faithful to his divine calling. The question is: When we are tempted, do we remember that we are the sons and daughters of God and act accordingly?

Third, notice that Jesus sought God’s will for his life in Scripture. “Man does not live on bread alone” comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. Deuteronomy 6:13 is the source of “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” And “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:16. All these passages come from the period when Israel wandered in the wilderness following its Exodus from Egypt. During that time, the Israelites were tempted greatly and chose to fail often. Jesus, however, read Scripture and learned the right lesson from Israel’s wrong example. He succeeded where they failed by leaning wholeheartedly on the wisdom of God the Father. The question is: Do we know what God has said, and do we heed his words?

Together with prayer and knowledge of Scripture, fasting helps us to seek and clarify God’s will for our lives, just as it helped Jesus.

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