One of the greatest, if not the greatest, sermons Jesus ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. Most of us, when we think of this sermon, remember the nine blessings that are outlined in Chapter five of Matthew, but Jesus instruction continues through chapter six and seven, and it is in these chapters we find some of the greatest encouragement regarding our Christian walk in the entire Bible.
For example, Matthew 6:19-21 is a discourse on what true riches are comprised of in contrast with the mere pursuit of wealth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do no break in and steal. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
Notice Jesus doesn’t say anything about making a living and supporting yourself through good honest work. He defines the problem as the pursuit of wealth, that all encompassing drive to make large sums of money at the expense of spiritual growth. Jesus’ description of striving and hoarding money is not pretty. He dismisses the pursuit of wealth as temporal and of no real worth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” If you think about it, He is saying wealth has a huge downside.
It is important for us to remember that Jesus is not saying that money is evil but that the pursuit of it simply gets in the way of what really matters in life. We are Christians and our treasure is not based on the number of dollars we have in the bank or an expensive car, but instead it is in our relationship to Jesus. Our treasure is where our heart is, and for a Christian our heart should belong to Jesus, not materialism.
In North America we have become a culture intoxicated with the pursuit of wealth and its rewards. There are whole television programs dedicated to celebrating the “cult of celebrity” with elaborate stories revolving around their excesses and antics. The media goes on a bidding frenzy to purchase pictures of a glimpse of Kate Middleton’s bare bottom while at the same time all but ignoring the plight of imprisoned Christians. When the fate of a pastor suffering in an Iranian prison is not worthy of inclusion in newspapers or nightly news, but the extravagant wedding by two spoiled self-centered so-called celebrities is the media feature of the day, something is very wrong with our priorities and values.
People follow the lives of the wealthy because deep down they long to be like them. They long for the freedom to live anyway they want and do anything they want without consequences. I can almost understand the attraction for secular people because they don’t really know anything else, but when Christians dream these same dreams of fame and fortune we have lost our reason for existence. In verse 24 Jesus makes it clear that we can’t pursue wealth and serve Him at the same time. ”No one can serve two masters; for 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 God and mammon.”
Mammon means wealth or property and in the eyes of Jesus a true follower of His must make a decision between Him and the pursuit of money. We will be devoted to one or the other because we cannot have two masters competing for our devotion and recognition. This was the stumbling block of the rich young ruler and for countless millions ever since. To put our trust in Jesus and not in our own ability to accumulate is a clear cut dividing line between being a follower of Jesus or a nominal adherent to the religion of Christianity.
Some of you may be thinking this is all easy to say but what about our future and our families that we must support? Again, Jesus isn’t saying not to provide and provide well for your family, but He is saying don’t make the pursuit of wealth (mammon) the driving force in your life. Our chief priority as Christians is to put Jesus and His calling first in our life. We are to be tuned in to the voice of God and open to follow wherever He leads because He has a plan for each of us and through that plan the Kingdom of God will be extended. The calling of God is what led men like Hudson Taylor, William Carey, David Livingstone, and women like Sister Theresa and Mama Maggie to leave the comforts of their home and travel to the edges of the world to share Jesus with the lost and the broken.
Today, the average Christian in North America gives 25 cents a year to missions. We become angry if the church service runs ten minutes over schedule. We leave our churches over the color of the choir robes, and skip church if the weather is too nice or too nasty. In Canada we are so pressed for time that only sixteen percent of us read our Bible once a week. The other eighty-four percent of Canadians can’t find time to pick up their Bible’s even once a week. Our priorities are wrong and we seem indifferent to them being wrong.
Jesus tells us, “Do not be anxious saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” Matthew 6:31-34
This is the key; put Jesus first in your life and put your trust in Him to look after you and care for your needs. He doesn’t promise that you will receive all that your heart desires, but He does promise that He will provide your needs. As followers of Jesus we can do better than simply sitting in church daydreaming while staring at the back of each other’s heads each week. We are called to be disciples and to use our resources and talents for the proclamation of the good news to our neighborhoods, towns, cities and the nations of the world.
When we put ourselves into the hands of God and put our trust in His direction and leading it becomes a bit scary because we don’t know where or how God will lead. For Mamma Maggie it was from the safety of teaching in a prestigious Cairo University to the garbage dumps of Egypt, and for us it may be, as some friends of mine are doing in Oshawa, Ontario, starting a community garden for their neighbors.
I have a friend who had a dream of starting a food bank in the basement of the church he attended, and today that food bank has grown into the major distributor of food for the needy in the entire city. No, we don’t all have to be missionaries overseas, but we all need to put Jesus and His calling in our lives first and foremost in any decisions we make. The church in North America needs revival and that revival might as well begin with us.