There was a man so poor that he didn’t have electricity in his home. He didn’t have mains gas, or any gas appliances. He didn’t have a telephone or a television. He didn’t have a car, or even a bicycle. He didn’t have a flush toilet. Think of almost anything you have, and he lacked it. By all of our standards he lived a very poor life, and yet in his society he was rich.
Being wealthy is a relative matter. In his case, he had more than most people. And what little he had, Jesus told him to sell or give away so that he could enter heaven.
Much of life is driven by a desire for religious approval. We’ve talked about how to discover freedom from human religion. Jesus now discusses how we are driven by a constant desire for more material things than the next guy. He tells us how to be free from materialism.
This naturally follows on from what we looked at last week, the prayer for his kingdom to come on earth. It is a case of Jesus calling us to put our prayer into action.
Treasures on earth – bad. Treasures in heaven – good. Good eyes give inner light. Bad eyes fill you with darkness. You can only have one master – God or Mammon. In each case, life is futile if you make the wrong choice.
Treasures on earth rust, decay, and get stolen. Jesus doesn’t even bother to mention the obvious point that you cannot take them with you. Instead he emphasizes that treasure in heaven is permanent and secure. This is a stark contrast, to which he adds a severe warning. Verse 21 – “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
If you say you follow Jesus but your desires are different than his, then you are headed in the wrong direction. Your efforts are devoted to the wrong goals.
His words about good and bad eyes are just as stark.
What are your eyes set on? What do you gaze upon? That will determine how you see things, and whether you are filled with light or darkness. Jesus offers us a new way of seeing that fills us with light. We are learning a new perspective on life.
Third, Jesus hands us the obvious truth that we cannot serve two masters. The point is to demand from us our absolute loyalty to the kingdom of heaven, so that we can be citizens. It isn’t about having two jobs. If you chase Mammon, Jesus says you will start to hate the kingdom of God. And he says that if you serve the kingdom of God, you will start to hate Mammon.
Mammon is not a demonic power. Mammon is a driven love of material possessions.
You might say in today’s society, ‘You cannot serve God and Samsung.’ There is no in-between with Jesus. He demands total allegiance. Materialism is the enemy of heaven.
You can probably make a longer list than me, but here are four consequences of having materialism as your master.
1. Materialism sets restricted horizons for our lives. Everything starts to be measured in terms of money. People become consumers. Bertrand Russell once said, ‘It is preoccupation with possessions more than anything else that prevents men from living freely and nobly.’
2. Materialism excludes the poor. Those from rich countries buy their resources cheaply from poor nations. And sell them expensive military equipment. Rich nations horde their crops to keep prices high, they don’t pay fare wages abroad, they ignore the plight of the poor. This is oversimplified to make a point.
3. Materialism ignores ecology. God gave us planet earth and made us responsible for looking after it. We are destroying it in our burning desire for a frivolous and empty lifestyle of pleasure and comfort. Bees are being eradicated by man-made pesticides. Animals are being hunted to extinction. We are heating up the planet, and this is having a disastrous effect on global weather.
4. Materialism marginalises God. The love of money and stuff pushes God out the furthest edges of life. He becomes a hobby for Sunday mornings. He becomes a nice thing if we have time between work, golf and shopping. Materialism promises to make us special. Jesus told that rich young man to sell everything because he was trapped by his wealth, held in a vice and unable to follow Jesus.
Jesus turns now to a problem that arises when we serve Mammon – anxiety.
Three or four times in our reading today he says ‘don’t worry’. Worrying serves no purpose except to make you ill and kill you.
The three areas of worry he names are likely the same things we worry about today. What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?
Isn’t life more important than these trivialities? If you are worrying about these things then you have lost perspective.
Too much energy is being expended in the wrong direction. It isn’t the material things that are evil, it is your focus and attitude that is wrong. You are not focused on the priorities of the kingdom of heaven.
We are made for relationships, not to ravenously consume food, drink and fashion.
And anyway, Jesus says, worrying isn’t going to make anything better.
Verse 27 – “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
Studies have proved that people who worry die younger. Worry alone can shorten your life by eight years. Worry also causes all sorts of other health problems.
Jesus observes in verse 32 that, “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers.”
He reminds us that we are called to whole-life discipleship. If we worry about those things we are living like unbelievers.
Jesus gives us a way to escape the diseased lifestyle of materialism and consumerism.
This is how to become free from anxiety in your life.
See yourself as the crowning glory of creation. God loves you more than the birds of the air, more than the wild flowers of the field. Cherry blossom in spring is gorgeous, but you are more gorgeous. Discover your value to God and your place in creation, it will bring tranquillity.
Be vigilant in kicking out worry. Jesus is giving you a clear command when he repeats ‘don’t worry’ three times. There is nothing to debate, just kick out worry now.
Remember, we are not governed by the same priorities as unbelievers. As they scurry after material gain, we detach ourselves from these desires. We never allow food, drink and clothes to become our primary concern. Our first concern is the kingdom of heaven. And then we are confident in his promise in verse 33: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
God will give you everything you need.
Here is the eternal focus for life’s energies. God’s kingdom. The kingdom we keep praying will come on earth. We submit to his rule and to his righteousness.
And his righteousness is what we keep coming back to. It is where we started in the beatitudes. We have been told we must be more righteous than the Pharisees.
When we are absolutely loyal to his kingdom, he promises to give us all we need.
We are free to not worry about food, drink and clothes. We are free to not work for the things of the world. We are free from worry, because he has promised to take care of us.
Jesus came to set prisoners free. If you worry about material things you are a prisoner.
In Acts 4:32 and 34 we are told how the first Christians lived like this.
“All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.” And. “There were no needy people among them.”
What Jesus has told us over these three weeks is that he wants to liberate us from bondage. He is setting us free from shallow conformity to human religion, from drivenness of materialism and the paralysis of constant anxiety.
Jesus is calling us to not just pray the Lord’s prayer, but to live it daily.
Yes, Lord, may your will be done.