The Sermon on the Amount
The Sermon on the Amount
November 20, 2005
Focus: Stewardship means investing 100 percent of everything we have with God.
I heard about a little girl who experienced a major breakthrough in her life when she learned to tie her own shoes. Instead of excitement, she was overcome by tears.
Her father asked, “Why are you crying?”
“I have to tie my shoes,” she said.
“You just learned how. It isn’t that hard, is it?”
“I know,” she wailed, “but I’m going to have to do it for the rest of my life.”
My hunch is that some of us feel the same way when it comes to Christian stewardship. We learn that it’s exciting to give. But isn’t there just a tiny bit of dread because we know we have to do it over and over again for the rest of our lives?
So let’s read today’s passage. If you have your Bible with you, please open to Matthew chapter 6 and we’ll start reading at verse 19: “
"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.
"Your eye is a lamp for your body. A pure eye lets sunshine into your soul. But an evil eye shuts out the light and plunges you into darkness. If the light you think you have is really darkness, how deep that darkness will be! "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
As I thought about preaching on stewardship, it occurred to me that maybe we should just skip the stewardship thing for a year. It’s been a tough year for many: there are so many bills to pay, so many obligations to meet, the dollar has hit new lows, and the national debt has hit new highs. Why don’t we just skip it this year? Are you all nodding!
You know why we don’t skip it? Stewardship is not an annual fundraising campaign. It is a lifestyle to which God has called us. I don’t want anybody here to burst into tears because of this news, but stewardship is never over. Every Sunday is really Stewardship Sunday.
We have to define our terms a bit here. It’s not just about giving money. Christian stewardship is really nothing less than all we do with all that we have. That includes money, a subject about which the Bible has a lot to say. Someone has taken the time to calculate that the Bible has about 500 verses on prayer, about 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Let’s take at look now at a few of the parables Jesus used to spiritual application:
· In Matthew 13:44-45 He referred to investment in Jewels and treasure to illustrate the importance of investing in the kingdom of God.
· In Matthew 13:52, He referred to saving new treasure as well as old treasure to illustrate the importance of storing up both old and new truth.
· In Matthew 18:23-35, He used indebtedness to illustrate the importance of forgiveness.
· In Matthew 20:1-16, He referred to hiring procedures and wage structures to illustrate God’s sovereignty and generosity in treating all with equality, forgiving sins, and rewarding people with eternal life.
· In Matthew 21:33-46, He told a story about a fruit farmer who leased his property to illustrate the way the chief and Pharisees were rejecting God and His Son.
· In Luke 19:11-27 He discussed capital, investments, banking, and interest to emphasize our human responsibility to utilize God’s gifts in a prudent and responsible way.
· In Luke 7:41-43 He referred to money lenders, interest, and debt cancellation to illustrate the importance of love and appreciation to God for canceling our debt of sin.
· In Luke 12:16-21 He spoke of building barns to store grain for the future while neglecting to store up spiritual treasure as a very foolish decision.
· In Luke 18:9-14, He contrasted the proud Pharisee who fasted and tithed regularly with the humble tax collector who acknowledge his sin of dishonesty and greed to illustrate that God acknowledges humility and rejects self-exaltation.
· And, finally, In John 4:34-38 He used a grain-ripened field and harvesters to illustrate “spiritually ripened hearts” in Samaria and the part the apostles would have in harvesting people’s souls.
Jesus talked a lot about money. Of his thirty-eight parables, almost half tell us how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses deals directly with the subject of money. Money is not all that stewardship is about, but stewardship includes money.
The passage we read from the Sermon on the Mount is one of those stewardship passages
Firstly, let’s look at evaluating investments: Earthly ones vs. Heavenly ones
You’ll notice the passage begins with Jesus’ recognizing that people are born with an investment instinct. People are born to save and treasure and to store up, as the passage says, “to value something.”
That desire isn’t bad. From Jesus’ point of view, it’s all a matter of focus. What are you saving for? What are you storing up for? Where are we depositing our resources of time, talent, and treasure? As one translation has it, Jesus says, “Don’t keep making big investments for yourselves here on earth. Instead, make big investments for yourselves in heaven with God.”
The passage is telling us that earthly treasure is a bad investment. Jesus says that sooner or later the moths are going to get to it. Our cashmere and cotton sweaters will begin to unravel someday. But even if our fortune is under lock and key so moths can’t get to it, the rust will get at it and begin to corrode it. If the moth and rust don’t destroy it, you can sure bet that thieves are going to get it.
There’s an old Jack Benny joke (you’ve heard of Jack Benny, haven’t you or am I the only one old enough to remember him?) in which a mugger accosts Benny and says, “Your money or your life!”
There’s a brief silence, and the mugger says, “Well?”
Jack Benny says, “Don’t rush me I’m thinking. I’m thinking!”
Thieves will always come, and they will not always be so patient. They may not give you much
I love the way Clarence Jordan says it: “The thieves don’t always poke a pistol in your ribs. Most of our assets are not taken with a pistol but with a pencil—just like that.”
The most serious thief we face is death itself. You can be sure that, in the end, death will take it all.
Several years ago, construction workers were laying a foundation for a building outside the city of Pompeii. They found the corpse of a woman who must have been fleeing from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius but was caught in the rain of hot ashes. The woman’s hands clutched jewels, which were preserved in excellent condition. She had the jewels, but death had stolen it all. That’s the bottom line in life. Worldly treasure is not a wise investment because you can’t take it with you.
Jim Elliot, a missionary who was martyred for his faith, understood this reality when he wrote in his journal, “A person is no fool to give up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” This is one of the most profound statements of all time, so let me read it again: “A person is no fool to give up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” It’s not foolish to give up what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose.
That’s what the text is calling us to. Don’t make big investments for yourselves here on earth. Instead, make big investments for yourselves in heaven with God. We are born with an investment instinct. Notice that Jesus doesn’t remove our desire to invest, but he does redirect it. Make big investments for yourselves in heaven with God.
Heavenly treasure is a good investment because it’s a sure thing. When we enter into a divine partnership, depositing the resources of our time and our talents and our treasure in the business of building God’s kingdom, we are valuing what’s really valuable. Nothing can diminish the worth of that kind of investment because it’s an eternal investment
Because the dividends are out of this world, we are making heavenly investments. We try to figure out what God is up to and invest there. We’re not trying to buy our way into the kingdom, but with God, our assets are safe and secure forever.
Secondly, we cannot invest in both – we must make a choice , a big choice, between the two options.
Jesus doesn’t let up in this passage. He goes on to underscore the impossibility of investing both ways, of having it both ways. In verse 24, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and Money.” Some versions say you cannot serve God and Mammon. Mammon includes money, but it’s more than just money. It’s bigger than that. It’s possessions. It’s the attitude of wanting to get ahead, of striving after success. You cannot serve God and the good life. It’s either/or.
We want to have it both ways sometimes. Don’t we generally want to diversify our investments? That’s one of the ways we play it safe. We want the prizes of both God and gain to be in the portfolios of our lives. So what if it causes us to be a little schizophrenic? Many of us would tend to agree with the inflation-fighting czar of Jimmy Carter’s administration, who once said, “Anybody who isn’t schizophrenic these days just isn’t thinking clearly.”
We can’t have it both ways, just like it’s not possible to look in two directions at one time. Verses 22 and 23 point that out. “In order to see clearly, our eyes have to be sound,” the RSV says. “Healthy” is the word the new RSV uses. Focus on one thing at a time. If you have one eye on one thing and another eye on another thing, everything becomes blurry, and you will be in the dark.
That happens with your sight; it happens with your heart. When you’re focused on one thing, God, and you’re focused on another thing, gain, you really will be in the dark, Jesus says.
Jesus wants us to get focused. He’s calling us to consolidate the capitol of our lives and to be about God’s business with all that we are and all that we have.
Notice how strong the language is: “No one can serve two masters.” It’s impossible. Jesus didn’t say it’s not a good idea to serve two masters, or you really shouldn’t serve two masters. He said, “You cannot serve two masters.” It’s impossible.
That word “serve” is a strong one. There’s no way of watering down that word. To be a servant is to be a slave. Jesus is telling us that we can belong to God or we can belong to getting it and making it. The question is: Does God own us, or does gain own us?
Jesus means the same thing when at verse 21 he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The heart is the center of a person’s life. We talk about our heart’s desire. My allegiance, my commitment is going to be to my heart’s desire. What you value, what you treasure will be what you’re committed to at your core. Loyalty is indivisible. You can’t parcel out pieces of ultimate allegiance. It’s really all or nothing. Jesus said there are two choices: God or Mammon.
Professor Dale Bruner put it this way: When we try to be a part time devotee of the god success, we will lose touch with the living Lord. We cannot work mainly for God and then moonlight for success. It’s simply one or the other.
There are lots of misconceptions about stewardship
Jesus is saying some strong things here.
Jesus is not saying we can’t earn a living. There’s a big difference between earning a living and serving gain. Earning a living is necessary, but when we begin to make our net worth the sole indicator of our self-worth, we will come up short. There will be a spiritual deficit in our lives.
Jesus is not saying it’s wrong to be rich or talented or have a lot of time and energy on your hands. In fact, I pray that there will be a lot of rich, talented, and energetic Christians in this world. The issue is what those people are doing with those resources. Where is their capital being invested? Right here, or for the kingdom’s sake?
Jesus is not saying that we cannot have things. He is saying to watch out for thinking we own our possessions. We may wake up someday to find the possessions own us. Be careful.
Some of us say, “That’s not such a big deal for me because I really don’t own that much. I don’t have to worry.” The truth of the matter is we don’t need to deal in mega-salaries to be a slave to Mammon. We can just as easily be enslaved by desire for what we don’t have. Nobody gets off the hook in this passage. All we need is a selfish and materialistic set of values that gives to things, whether we have them or not, a worth they do not deserve. Jesus is not anti-material goods. Jesus is anti-grab all you can.
This morning we took time to make known to the Lord our financial commitments to the church. This passage from the Sermon on the Mount can help us with that. In fact, I think this passage could appropriately be renamed the Sermon on the Amount. The amount Jesus is talking about is a pretty big amount: it’s 100 percent. Stewardship is not just about how much of what I own will I give to God. It’s about how much of me have I given to God.
Stewardship is not simply worrying about balancing the budget, as important as that is. It’s about believing in God with all that we’ve got.
Stewardship is not about paying dues. Sometimes I wish it were because that would be easier: just tell me how much I owe, and I can pay the Lord just as I pay the bills. It’s not paying dues. It’s about deliberately making deposits of my time and my energy and what I own into God’s business.
Stewardship is not fundamentally a fund-raising program. It is fundamentally an issue of faithfulness. It is a matter of where we focus. We need to clearly understand that God does not have a cash-flow shortfall. Giving is not to meet His needs! Our giving is a step of faith! And the result will be that God will bless us as a result (not necessarily, but possibly, in a material way) Our giving is ultimately for our blessing!
Conclusion: Attitude and Action
I’ll never forget when this idea of the Sermon on the Amount hit me for the first time. I’d been reading Clarence Jordan’s commentary on this passage. He lived what he taught and preached. But he said that it won’t work to hire out to Mammon and give a tenth of your wages to God, not even if you raise God’s cut to one-fifth or even one-half. Fundamentally, stewardship begins with giving 100 percent of who I am to God.
How much of your income, then, should you give to the church? I don’t know. With God’s help, you figure it out. For some of us, the biblical tithe of 10 percent will be a step up. For others it will be something to go beyond. The important amount to keep in mind as we think about that is the amount of 100 percent. What we give to the Lord in terms of tangible money and goods comes out of a life that is committed to him 100 percent.
In 1815 Napoleon was defeated in the battle of Waterloo, and the hero of that battle was the Duke of Wellington. The duke’s most recent biographer claims to have an advantage over all the other previous biographers. His advantage was that he had found an old account ledger that showed how the duke had spent his money: that, says the biographer, was a far better clue to what the duke thought was really important than reading his letters or his speeches.
Can you imagine that? If someone wrote your biography on the basis of your checkbook or your income-tax return, what might it say about you, your loyalties, your focus, and about whom you serve?