There are three reasons, at least, why I rejoice to speak to you today and next Sunday about money and about giving. And these are reasons why you and your friends should be glad that I am, and should come to hear what is said.
First, speaking pointed words about money and possessions puts me in good company, namely, with Jesus. Randy Alcorn reckons that “15 percent of everything Christ said relates to this topic — more than his teachings on heaven and hell combined” (The Treasure Principle, 8).
One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. (Mark 10:21)
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven . . . Woe to you rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:20)
Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:25)
A person’s life does not consist in the possessions that he has. (Luke 12:15)
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses in heaven. (Luke 12:33)
Zacchaeus . . . said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. . . .” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:8–9)
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)
Jesus saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.” (Luke 21:1)
But God said to [the man who built even bigger barns], “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20–21)
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. . . . Follow me.” (Luke 9:58)
“If you were set free to give, you would be the happiest people on earth.”
Over and over Jesus is relentless in his radical call to a wartime lifestyle and a hazardous liberality (“she put in all that she had”). One time he refers to the Old Testament minimum of giving a tenth of your income, endorses it, and then calls for a way of looking at life and money way more radical than the mere tithe. “You tithe even your spices,” he said to the Pharisees. “That’s right. You should. But you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
So I am in good company with Jesus, not to mention the stories of the book of Acts (“They were selling their possessions . . . and distributing the proceeds . . . as any had need,” Acts 2:45), or the words of the apostle Paul (“In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity . . . God loves a cheerful giver,” Corinthians 8:2; 9:7) or James the brother of Jesus (“The flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits,” James 1:11).
Today I am in good company and I am happy to be here. I will try to be faithful to what the Lord said.
An Avalanche of Mercy, Missions, and Financial Means
Second, if we as a church — indeed if the entire Christian movement — were gripped by the radical life and open-handed liberality that Jesus taught, and if we tasted the freedom from fear and greed that Jesus bought with his own blood, what an avalanche of mercy and missions and financial means would be released among us! Oh, what a responsibility we rich Americans have in this world of suffering and need (see Luke 12:48).
The average church donor in America contributed a mean of $649 to churches in 2000.
Nearly one-quarter of all born-again Christians (23%) gave no money to a church in 2000.
Twelve percent of born-again Christians tithed their income to churches in 2000.
The mere possibility that God might be pleased to release an avalanche of mercy and missions and financial means among us makes these messages a joy to think about.
Giving People Are the Happiest
Third, if you personally were set free to give the way the New Testament talks about giving, you would be the happiest people on earth. I say that in spite of suffering. I say that because of countless testimonies (read some in Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle), and I say it because of what the Bible teaches.
Happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (Proverbs 14:21)
He who is generous will be blessed. (Proverbs 22:9)
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9)
It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)
Oh, that young people would learn quickly, and older people before it’s too late, that there is no positive correlation between having many things and being very happy. A life of simplicity, with a governor on your spending and a passion to advance the kingdom through giving, will be a far happier life than a life of luxury.
I plead especially with teenagers and the young single people to learn these things early because statistics show that the young are less likely to give anything than the older, and the single are less likely to give anything than the married. In Christ, you do not need to be old or married to be smart and Christlike. I hope you will prove the pollsters wrong in your case. So for these three reasons I am happy to speak on money and giving.
It puts me in good company.
It might, God-willing, release an avalanche of mercy and missions and financial means.
If you embrace the call, it will make you happier than all the wealth and luxury in the world.
Three Commands of Christ
In the text that we will focus on today and next Sunday (Matthew 6:19–34), there are three main imperatives, three commands — very happy commands. Everything else is meant to help you see the commands as wise and right and joyfully possible. The three commands are
“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” found in verse 20 (I am lumping the negative command, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” together with this one as a negative way of saying the same thing).
“Do not be anxious,” found three times. Verse 25: “Do not be anxious about your life.” Verse 31: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” Verse 34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” found in verse 33.
How Do These Imperatives Relate?
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” is the large, overarching command — be passionate about experiencing the saving, purifying, empowering, love-producing, reign of God in your life and over all the world. “Thy kingdom come!” — in my life, and over the nations.
“There is no positive correlation between having many things and being very happy.”
Then “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” is a specific instance of what seeking God’s kingdom involves. Seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness involves not trying to be rich on earth but trying to be rich in heaven, that is, rich in God. Seeking the kingdom means treasuring God and freeing yourself from the drag of earth.
Then “Do not be anxious” is the condition of the heart by which we break free from our addiction to earth-treasure and give ourselves with passion to heaven-treasure. By faith in his promises, God frees us from anxiety, and in this freedom, we don’t crave treasures on earth anymore.
Those are the three main imperatives in the text. That is what Jesus wants us to be like: free from anxiety, seeking his kingdom, laying up treasure in heaven and not on earth. That is the fruit of trusting Jesus as our Lord and Savior and Treasure. This is the normal Christian life — radical freedom from earthly things and earthly security, with a joyful pursuit of God and his righteousness as our treasure.
Everything else in these 16 verses is foundation and support. Jesus doesn’t just tell us to be this way; he gives us at least twelve arguments to help us. And he spends most of his time giving us reasons not to be anxious in verses 25–34. That is what we will spend most of our time on next week. If you battle with anxiety, I hope you will come back praying that God will make you a free and radical risk-taker for the kingdom of God.
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
Today I want to simply focus for a few more minutes on the meaning of “Lay up treasures in heaven.” What does this mean? Are you doing it? Jesus says to do it. Are we?
Up to a point, the text is plain, isn’t it? Verse 19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on 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 and steal.”
Evidently, there are two ways to live: you can live with a view to accumulating valuable things on earth, or you can live with a view to accumulating valuable things in heaven. Jesus says: the mark of a Christian is that his eyes are on heaven and he measures all his behavior by what effect it will have on heaven — everlasting joy with God.
And something else is clear: laying up treasures in heaven and laying up treasures on earth are not good bedfellows. You have to choose between them. You can’t say, “Well how about both?” That’s the point of 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 the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
There is something about God and money that makes them tend to mastery. Either you are mastered by money and therefore ignore God or make him a bellhop for your business, or you are mastered by God and make money a servant of the kingdom. But if either tries to master you while you are mastered by the other you will hate and despise it. This is why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Much money makes a cruel master.
But let’s be more specific. If Jesus means “devote your life to accumulating treasure in heaven” — which I take to mean increasing your joy in God in heaven — what is the main thing he has in mind that we should do now? My judgment from the context would be that it is giving rather than accumulating. If laying up treasures in heaven is the opposite of laying up treasures on earth, then probably laying up treasures in heaven will be not laying up treasures on earth but giving them away in ways that magnify the worth of Jesus.
Distributing, not Accumulating
There are several other teachings of Jesus that confirm this meaning: laying up treasures in heaven is giving money away for Christ’s sake rather than accumulating it.
For example, consider Luke 12:32–33: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”
Here Jesus explains how you “provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old” and how you “provide yourselves with treasure in the heavens that does not fail,” namely, “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” That’s how you do it.
In other words, possessions on earth are not for accumulating, they are for distributing in ways that Christ is honored and our joy in heaven is increased (see Ephesians 4:23). When we give — especially when we give so generously that we have to sell something to have anything to give — we show that Christ is our treasure and that we love others more than we love our own security and comfort.
You can see the same thing in Luke 14:13–14 where Jesus tells us to give to those who can’t pay us back. Why? Jesus answers, “You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” In other words, when you give freely and generously because you trust Jesus to take care of you, you are laying up treasures in heaven. You will be rewarded at the resurrection of the just.
Randy Alcorn, in that little book, The Treasure Principle, says, “I’m convinced that the greatest deterrent to giving is this: the illusion that earth is our home” (44; see Colossians 3:1–3). It’s not; Christ is our home. And therefore to live is Christ and to die is gain. And it will be all the more gain as we learn to lay up treasures in heaven by giving.
The Education for Exultation Building
At the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, Bethlehem was led, we believe, by the Lord to build a building for exultation — for worship. We moved into the new sanctuary in June 1991. The building was paid for in 1996. We have had no debt since then.
Then with the beginning of the new decade of the new millennium, we were persuaded that the time had come to undergird our commitment to God-centered exultation with God-centered education. We called the vision “Education for Exultation”. The Vision booklet for E4E reads:
“Laying up treasures in heaven and laying up treasures on earth are not good bedfellows.”
It is a vision of our children stepping into adulthood grounded in the word of God, secure in their convictions with an unshakable faith that will weather the storms of life and will not yield to the “spirit of the age.”
It is a vision of a word-permeated people savoring the taste of Scripture and the supremacy of its Author, seeing him as the most important reality in the universe, the most crucial factor in every issue facing any people.
It is a vision of the great God who is utterly committed to joyfully demonstrating his greatness in doing us good, calling us to go outside the camp, bearing his reproach, seeking a city which is to come.
In other words, it is a vision to train our children, our youth, and ourselves to lay up treasures in heaven as we learn to take risks in loving people.
This meant putting a building for God-centered education where the old sanctuary was. We resolved to build without debt, God willing (55,000 square feet for $6.5 million). We raised half of the cash up front. We pledged the other half to be paid off by the time the new building was up (this coming December or January).
The challenge before us now is this. Because of some cost increases and some withdrawn pledges we need about $700,000 in new pledges to finish the bare-bones building without finishing the basement (for youth) and the fourth floor (for offices). To finish those two floors at the same time would take another $650,000.
That is why we are asking any of you who counts Bethlehem your home to consider making a pledge for this year, so that we can enter the building debt free.
This is not the only, or even the main, way that Jesus calls us to lay up treasures in heaven. But it is one way. And I would like to ask you to pray and seek God’s leading over the next two weeks as to how you might invest the money God has entrusted to you. How should you use it to lay up treasures in heaven?
As we move to the Lord’s supper let this be in your mind: if there is any inclination in your heart to treasure Christ, and to love people, and to give for his sake, this is because Christ bought you with his blood and is working in you by his Spirit. And so it is fitting that we pause, even while we ponder the use of our money, and remember the infinitely valuable body and blood of Jesus broken for us. Amen.