The Bible claims (and we believe!) that “all Scripture is inspired by God and useful” (2 Timothy 3:16). However, the usefulness of all Scripture is not uniformly self-evident with some passages seem more obviously applicable and more immediately practical than others!
Arriving at the second half of Matthew 6, we find a text that requires very little explanation as to its modern-day relevance as, in it, Jesus addresses two temptations that each and every Christian has, is, or will battle in their lifetime. These are temptations that threaten to distract us and steal the joy and peace to which we have access in Christ. What are they? They are wealth and worry. All who have a relationship with money—whether you have it, want it, lost it, or need it—and all who experience worry, stress, or anxiety need to hear Jesus’ very useful words.
This morning we want fight exhibitionism and, to do that we’re going to hear from Jesus, the Good Doctor himself, and find help in both diagnosis and treatment.
One of the tasks of a preacher is to demonstrate for his listeners that the sermon they’re about the hear is important, relevant to their lives, and worth their attention. This is typically done by describing the need in our lives that the passage of Scripture in question meets. If I can be shown that a 30- or 40-minute time investment can help me with something I need to do or teach me something I need to know, I’m in!
Admittedly, this is easier with some passages than others. The Bible itself claims—and we believe—that “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful.” But the usefulness of all Scripture is not uniformly self-evident.
Today, as we come to the second half of Matthew 6, we arrive at a text that requires very little work on my end to show its relevance. Starting in verse 19, Jesus addresses two temptations that I know each and every one of us has, is, or will battle in our lives. These are a pair of snares that can distract us and steal the joy and peace we have access to in Christ.
What are they? They are wealth and worry. If you have any relationship with money—whether you have it, want it, lost it, need it—you need to hear Jesus’ words today. If you are ever worried, stressed, flustered, or panicked, you need to hear Jesus’ words today.
What we’re going to find in this passage is Jesus addressing these two perennial temptations and giving us the primary treatment for both. Finally, we’ll end with a prescribed task for us today.
Two Perennial Temptations
The temptation of wealth
We begin eavesdropping on Jesus teaching his disciples regarding these two perennial temptations, beginning with wealth.
“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 neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal … “Matthew 6:19–20
Jesus isn’t anti-saving nor anti-wealth. If he was, he’d be contradicting passages like Proverbs 13:22—“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children”—and rebuking God the Father for making men like king Solomon wealthy (see 2 Chronicles 1:11–12).
Besides that, he actually encourages the pursuit of wealth in verse 20, it’s just a certain type of wealth—it’s heavenly riches we’re to prioritize.
Jesus isn’t anti-wealth, he’s anti-distraction. Whether one has them or wants them, earthly things become problematic when they distract from heavenly things. Jesus warns, “Don’t become so fascinated with ‘treasures on earth’ that you forget about ‘treasures in heaven.’”
Let’s clarify what it is these two competing sets of treasure are. The first, “treasures on earth,” is intuitive enough: Money, houses, vehicles, toys, comfort, family, clothing. It’s stuff we get, own, use, and collect. Again, not necessarily bad things, but Jesus says they can distract from “treasures in heaven.”
Now, what are those? These are rewards that believers can anticipate receiving from God over and above eternal life. Every believer will one day stand before the judgement seat of Christ and have their lives evaluated—not for salvation, but for faithfulness (see 2 Corinthians 5). In fact, that there are rewards available was alluded to early in this chapter (6:1). Speaking to his disciples there, Jesus assumes they know they will be rewarded by God for the pure pursuit of godliness in this life.
Jesus is warning against distraction and calls for a wise investment. Earthly treasures are short-lived and can be taken away. Heavenly treasures are everlasting and kept in God’s bank—the most secured facility in the universe. We all have a finite amount of time, energy, and attention in our lives and Jesus is warning us to spend them where the return is the greatest.
Why is Jesus concerned about our investment portfolio? Because where we invest dictates the direction of our affections.
“… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Matthew 6:21
If you want to see where someone’s allegiance truly lays, “follow the money,” Jesus says. It dictates the direction of our affections. Jesus illustrates this point next.
“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, 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 that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”Matthew 6:22–23
Our inner lives are shaped by what comes through the eyes. If what the eye is focused on is good—in this case, heavenly treasure—it illumines the body, bringing vitality and clarity. But if the eye is focused on the wrong things—earthly treasures, for example—darkness descends and blindness. The implication is that those who become distracted by investing in earthly treasures instead of heavenly ones, will blindly waste their lives building sandcastles next to a rising tide. Pointless. Foolish. Temporary.
Jesus becomes even more explicit in verse 24.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”Matthew 6:24
Divided loyalty is unsustainable, unproductive, and unacceptable. You cannot be devoted to two masters at the same time. One will always take priority and one will always be demoted. So it is with God and wealth. One will rule the other.
We’re put to a choice here. Which will be pick? Which treasure will we stockpile? Which investment will we make? Which master will we serve? One brings disappointment, darkness, futility, uncertainty, and distraction. The other certainty, clarity, illumination, freedom, and joy.
Jesus isn’t anti-wealth, he’s anti-idolatry. He knows that treasures on earth are a blessing until they become our god. When that happens, they rob him of the devotion he deserves and they rob us of the life he desires us to have.
The temptation of worry
While wealth is a perennial temptation, so is worry. That’s where Jesus goes next.
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.”Matthew 6:25a
Is Jesus scolding those who plan ahead? Of course not! Like with wealth, Jesus is warning that worry can become a distraction from that which truly matters. The cares of this world can eat up our energy and attention, leaving us with little to dedicate to matters of eternity.
Do you find yourself worried these days? Are you anxious about your future, health, finances, or marital status? Do you find yourself losing sleep because you’re concerned about unmet needs, unrealized desires, or facets of life that seem out of your control?
To be aware of our needs is not necessarily a bad thing. To the contrary, it can remind us of our finitude, limits, and vulnerability. But for disciples of Jesus, this awareness should prompt devotion not despair, hopefulness not helplessness, and worship not worry. This is what Jesus goes on to illustrate.
“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”Matthew 6:25b–32
If God provides for birds and flowers, how could the people of Israel ever think he’d fail when it comes to them, his chosen people?
Gentiles may worry (v. 32) because they don’t have centuries-worth of evidence that God provides. Do you remember Abraham and the promise, Moses and the exodus, Joshua and the conquest? Do you remember God’s mercy, deliverance, protection, and discipline? “You of little faith!” Jesus says to Israel. “You, of all people, should know that God knows your needs and meets them.”
And likewise for us as the NT people of God. We should know better than to worry about our needs to the point where we’re calling into question the trustworthiness of our God. Why? Because he’s already met our greatest needs—reconciliation to a holy God, an eternal home in paradise, hope to endure this vapour of a life, weapons to fight against a defeated Foe, a perfect High Priest tirelessly interceding for us, the Holy Spirit indwelling, sealing, and empowering us every moment of every day. God meets our needs, so don’t worry.
Wealth and worry: Two perennial temptations. When, by God’s grace, we may find victory over one, the other seems to rear its ugly head. They seem relentless, don’t they?
Jesus warns us that we only have so much emotional, physical, and spiritual bandwidth. If most is taken up by wealth and worry, less can be given to that which really matters, things like pursuing godliness, resisting sin, encouraging others, evangelizing the lost, and worshipping him. The temptations of wealth and worry can render us useless.
The Primary Treatment
Jesus doesn’t leave us without direction and, in this text, he provides us with the primary treatment for these perennial temptations.
Jesus has hinted at the treatment throughout the passage. He told his disciples to look up from earthly treasures to heavenly ones. He then told them to look up from earthly cares to God’s provision. But the passage continues to crescendo and build toward the clear declaration of the primary treatment.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”Matthew 6:33–34
If you want to be free from the distracting idol of wealth and if you want to be liberated from the paralyzing burden of worry—and we all want those things!—Jesus is telling us how: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” Everything else will take care of itself.
The word “first” is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …1 Corinthians 15:3–4
Paul says, here’s what’s most important: Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s the foundation of the gospel he calls “first importance.” It’s the priority, the linchpin of the faith! There’s no salvation without those realities!
In Matthew 6, Jesus is saying, here’s what’s of first importance if you want to treat the temptations of wealth and worry: Seek his kingdom; seek his righteousness.
To seek his kingdom means to anticipate the promised future establishment of God’s physical reign on this earth through the god-man Jesus Christ. It means to grow in our longing for that reality. How do we grow in anticipation for something? We think about it, picture it, daydream about it, learn about it, talk about it, doodle about it in our school notebooks. To seek God’s kingdom means to progressively, and knowingly ache for it to come.
To seek his righteousness means to dedicate our lives to becoming more like Christ. Depending on the Holy Spirit, we run head-long, unreservedly after godliness. There is nothing on our to-do lists that is more constant, more pressing, and more long-lasting than to become more holy. This means find people that can help, a church that can support this endeavour. It means killing sin and celebrating grace. That’s what it looks like to seek his righteousness.
Jesus gives the primary treatment for perennial temptations: Seek his kingdom, seek his righteousness. As we spend our emotional, physical, and spiritual bandwidth anticipating that kingdom and pursuing godliness, not only is there not much left for earthly wealth and worry, but they also become less appealing, less powerful, less distracting, less worthy of our attention.
Our Prescribed Task
This is our prescribed task today, to let go and look up! Let go of those temptations of wealth and worry and, instead, avert our gaze to the kingdom to come and the image of Christ we’re to increasingly reflect. Let go and look up!
I’ll share with you what I’ve done this week to help me put this into practice; perhaps it’ll help you think of a way to likewise be intentional. I’ve taken two sticky notes, drawn an upward-pointing arrow on each, and placed one in my wallet and one on my calendar. This has helped me, every time I spend money or review the upcoming needs and demands of my week, to let go and look up.
Jesus isn’t calling us to simply “forget about it.” Remember, he’s inviting us to replace the distractions of wealth and worry with something better. To saturate our minds with realities so glorious that that which they replaced seems pathetic in comparison.
So how do we fight these perennial temptations of wealth and worry? Jesus says, here’s what’s of first importance: Seek my kingdom; seek my righteousness. Everything else will fall into place. Let go of those idols, those distractions, and look up to that which is far, far greater.