A Time to Keep and a Time to Throw Away
A Time to Keep And a Time to Throw Away
During days of inflation, there is very little chance of saving anything. With the rising costs of food, gas, and clothes—not to speak of medical and other expenses—the paycheck shrinks before we know it. All this makes us very conscious of the word "investment." If we are wise in our financial affairs we try to save, whatever the cost. While this is important in the material realm, how seldom do we think of the spiritual realm! The Bible says, "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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
At first glance, there seems to be very little difference between the statements, "A time to gain, and a time to lose" and "a time to keep, and a time to throw away" (Eccl. 3:6). On closer examination, however, it is evident that the first part of the verse has to do with the matter of choice, while the second part relates to the consequences of choice. When a person has chosen to walk God's way, rather than man's way, he will also take steps to invest in heavenly things and to divest himself of earthly things. Franz Delitzsch (1900, 258) captures this thought when he renders the text, "To lay up has its time, and to throw away has its time." With this in mind, it is plain to see that there is:
A Time for Heavenly Investment
One of the subtlest devices of the devil is to blind sinners and saints alike to the concept of eternity, or what D. R. Davies (1946) used to call "the world we have forgotten." On the other hand, the Scriptures exhort us to "set [our] mind[s] on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2). As citizens of heaven, we should be thinking constantly of our heavenly investments. The New Testament, in particular, teaches that there are at least three investments that should be made in the light of eternity:
1. There must be the investment of life. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2). The word "bodies" can be rendered "faculties," embracing spirit, soul, body, and everything else that is involved in the human personality. Only as these faculties are worthily and totally yielded to God can a person prove "what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." And, of course, only "he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). To be conformed to this world is nothing less than to love the world and all that is in it, even "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). And we are warned, "the world is passing away" (1 John 2:17). How important it is then, that our entire lives should be submitted to the will of God so that our living and serving may abide forever.
Our example in this matter of knowing and doing the will of God is our Lord Jesus Christ. He could say, "I have come to do Your will, O God" (Heb. 10:9); "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34); and finally, "Not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). In the model prayer He taught His disciples, He inserted as the central phrase, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).
We are obliged to recognize, therefore, that to live for the world is ultimately to lose everything, whereas to live for the will of God is to abide forever. This is the wise investment of life.
2. There must be the investment of time. "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16). Time is one of the most precious commodities that has been made available to mankind. Time, moreover, has been forever sanctified by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because He entered time He has enriched it with an eternal significance which is both creative and redemptive. With Paul we can say, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).
For this reason no one can understand the creative and redemptive purposes of God and dare to waste time! Indeed, we shall be judged one day in relation to our use of time while here upon earth. Thus we are exhorted to redeem the time, or buy up the time; and according to the apostle, this involves living a Spirit-filled life, for following the words "redeeming the time" he says, "Be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). How shattering to realize that moments, hours, or days lived apart from the mastership and leadership of the Spirit are totally wasted! It is imperative, then, that the Holy Spirit be received, enthroned, and obeyed. If we have never initially received Him, then we must "repent, and ... be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and ... receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). We must also recognize that "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14)—and enthrone the Spirit, for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). Only when the Spirit is enthroned as Lord can He liberate and lead in daily life. But more than this, we must know in personal experience that God gives "the Holy Spirit ... to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). The Christian life is not an aimless journey down an unknown way, but rather a mapped out plan and pathway that we can find, follow, and finish under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit, therefore, is to redeem the time and invest in eternity!
3. There must be the investment of wealth. Jesus said, "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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). There is an earthly investment that results in ultimate wastefulness. This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth." Then He went on to point out that earth is the place of moths, rust, and thieves. The connotations behind these words conveyed a tremendous challenge to the eastern mind, for wealth in those days was evaluated in terms of cloth, grain, gold, and so on. You will remember that Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, coveted "changes of garments" (2 Kgs. 5:22), and Achan lusted after "a beautiful Babylonian garment" (Josh. 7:21). Garments like these, however, were soon destroyed when moths invaded the house or tent.
Then Jesus spoke about the rust, or more accurately, the "rot that doth corrupt." Here He was thinking of the grain stored away in barns. This, likewise, was wealth until the rats, the mice, and the worms started to eat away and spoil the harvest.
Then He described the thieves who "break through [to] steal" the treasures hidden away in the home.
What a warning this is to those of us who lay up treasure here upon earth! "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Tim. 6:7). And even worse than this, while in the world, clothes can be antiquated, our grain can be dissipated, and our gold can be confiscated! Times may have changed, but the relative worth of earthly treasure remains the same.
On the other hand, there is a heavenly investment that results in ultimate wealthiness. So the Master said, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt. 6:20). In this context Jesus had been speaking of giving as worthy of heavenly recompense. Concerning this giving, Jesus said, "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly" (Matt. 6:3-4). It is the disciplined and unostentatious giving, performed in the presence of God, which constitutes laying up treasure in heaven.
The Lord Jesus emphasized this again in the parable of the unjust steward, where He summed up the lesson in these words, "Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home" (Luke 16:9). In effect, He was saying that if you have money, you are to use it in such a way that when you get to heaven the people who have benefited from it will receive you with joy. The same truth is expressed by Paul when he exhorts: "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
Jesus concluded His teaching on heavenly investment with the words, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21; Luke 12:34). How true this is! Show me a man who is engaged in heavenly investment, and I will show you a person who is totally devoted to Jesus Christ. Paul dramatically exemplifies this when he ends his last epistle with that noble testimony: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7-8). And then with heartache he adds, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world" (2 Tim. 4:10). Whether we love the Lord Jesus and anticipate His coming, or we love the world and concern ourselves with its interests, one thing is certain: we can't do both at one and the same time.
Are we investing in heavenly things or in worldly things? On what are we staking our lives, our time, our wealth?
The story is told of a very wealthy Englishman who lived in a palatial home on his own estate. Among his servants he had a gardener who was a perfect saint. The life he lived and the testimony he bore were real and radiant. For some years the Englishman despised his gardener, even though he could not criticize his work. Little by little, however, the gardener's witness overcame hostility and won his master to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Soon after this the gardener became seriously ill and died. Filled with grief at the loss, this wealthy Englishman one night had a dream and found himself in heaven. He requested at once to see his old gardener, and an angel in white conducted him down the golden streets of that celestial city to an exquisite mansion.
"This," said the angel, "is the abiding place of your former gardener." The Englishman was completely overcome, but then asked, "But where will be my mansion?"
"Down this way," replied the angel, and on and on they went until they came to the most unpretentious little house at the end of a side street. "This," emphasized the angel, "is your place of abode."
"How can that be?" objected the man, "I have lived in a mansion when I was on earth!"
"That is precisely it," explained the angel; "your gardener was forever laying up treasure in heaven, and the mansion he possesses was built with the material that he sent up here. At the same time you laid up treasure on earth, and what little you did forward to heaven has been put to good use."
This was only a dream, but it is also a parable. Are you, am I, laying up treasure in heaven, or are we laying up treasure on earth? There is a time to lay up. All this leads us to deduce that there is:
A Time for Earthly Divestment
Just as the New Testament has much to say on heavenly investment, so it has clear teaching on what we are terming earthly divestment. Perhaps the most comprehensive statement on this is found in the 12th chapter of Hebrews where we read:
Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
From this we learn two things. First, there are weights in our lives that must be cast away. "Let us lay aside every weight" (Heb. 12:1). The word "weight" denotes "bulk" or "mass," and therefore metaphorically stands for an encumbrance. The rich young ruler had a weight—his riches. When he was challenged to lay his weight aside he refused, and that, in turn, led to his rejection of Christ.
If there is something in this world upon which you have set your heart, that is your weight. In and of itself, it may not be wrong, but as long as it weighs you down, it has the potential for tripping you up. Whatever the weight is, it must be cast aside.
Dr. Joseph Macaulay recounts the story of a Scottish preacher by the name of William Guthrie who wrote the classic, The Saving Interest. He was a born sportsman; he loved the rod and the gun. After his conversion under Samuel Rutherford and the dedication of his life to God for the preaching of the gospel, Guthrie realized that the great estate to which he had become heir would be a weight to a man of his temperament. He, therefore, signed over his property with the full possession of the land to a younger brother, that he might devote himself to the work of the gospel. This did not mean that he never fished or hunted thereafter, but it did ensure that he was not encumbered with the responsibilities, as well as the temptation, of the wealth that was formerly his. As a result of this sacrifice, Alexander Whyte could say of him, "No one could hold a candle to William Guthrie for handling broken hearts and guiding anxious inquirers" (Macaulay 1948, 227-228).
I love the young man who came up to me after a meeting in Birmingham, England, and asked with transparent sincerity, "What can I give up in order to be a better follower of Jesus Christ?"
There are the weights that must be laid aside. Like an athlete running in a race, it is essential to lay aside anything that might hinder.
Secondly, there are wrongs in our lives that must be cast away. "Lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us" (Heb. 12:1). It is suggestive that the phrase "every sin" is literally "the sin which doth so easily beset us." Apparently it refers to the specific sin of unbelief which contrasts with the remarkable examples of faith which are found in the former chapter (Hebrews 11). The phrase "easily beset" denotes being "well surrounded" and carries the idea of a clinging garment that would trip a runner. For the Hebrew Christian to whom these words were first addressed, the sin mentioned was clearly unbelief, but for you and me it might be something else. What is the sin which persists in tripping us up?
The New Testament has three comprehensive definitions of sin, and it is good to examine them in order to decide what must be cast out of our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sin is a disobedient act, for "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). To transgress the clear teaching of Scripture constitutes disobedience, and in God's sight this is sin. This is why it is so important to attend on the preaching of the Word of God. To be hearers and not doers of the Word is to sin, and to sin seriously.
Sin is also a disloyal act—"To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). God has called us to a life of goodness and holiness. Not to fulfill His purpose in this regard is to sin. The apostle Paul teaches us in his Epistle to the Romans that our loyalty to God must be that of a subject to a king, of a servant to a master, and of a wife to a husband (Rom. 6:12-7:6). Anything less than this is disloyalty, and therefore sin.
But once again, sin is a doubtful act, "Whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Where there is no clear revelation on a certain matter there must be patient waiting upon God and further research into His Word. To act impulsively or carelessly, especially when in doubt, is to sin. The fact of the matter is, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]" (Heb. 11:6). In the light of such teaching, let us ask ourselves again, What sin so easily entraps us? Whatever it is, it must be laid aside. Now you and I cannot do this in our own strength. Only the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus can make us "free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). But thank God, through faith in the Christ who died for us and rose again, we can know the releasing power of the Spirit over every weight and every wrong.
There is "a time to cast away." Let us make sure that we divest ourselves of all earthly hindrances in order that we shall "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:1-2). What a challenge this presents to our modern generation. With all the secularism of a technological age we are tempted to live as if there were no world beyond our own. We forget that we are creatures of eternity and very soon will have to face death and the judgment to come. With this in mind, we need to prepare for our departure by heavenly investments and earthly divestments. God enable us to see to it that we take time to lay up that which is eternal and cast away that which is ephemeral, for the Holy Book says, "The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17).
It is not without significance that the famous American evangelist, D. L. Moody, often quoted this verse. No wonder he died exclaiming, "Earth recedes, heaven opens before me" (Pollock 1963, 317). Here is the testimony of a man who held loosely the things of this world that he might gain the things of the world to come.
Can you look into the face of the Lord Jesus and say, "I count all things but loss that I may win Christ and be found in him"? (See Phil. 3:8, 9.)
Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)
In the light of the truths we have considered in this chapter, I invite you to weigh up prayerfully in the presence of God the following quotes (Wirt and Beckstrom 1974, 68): "The choices of time are binding in eternity" (Jack MacArthur). "Live near to God, and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities" (Robert Murray McCheyne). "We have all eternity to celebrate our victories, but only one short hour before sunset in which to win them" (Robert Moffat).
— Time for Truth, A