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What You Love

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Loyalty to the King

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Date: 2022-02-27
Audience: Grass Valley Corps ONLINE
Title: What do you Love?
Text: Matthew 6:19-24
Proposition: Our focus should be on God’s will
Purpose: Check your motives and change them if needed.
Grace and peace
Our Father in heaven, praise to you and all you have made.
You have extended your kingdom to the world, may we live in it the way you decree.
Do you recognize the beginning of what we call the Lord’s Prayer?
No matter how you say it, this is the meaning of what Jesus was teaching: If we are to live in God’s Kingdom, we must be subject to his rule. Our focus must be on his will, not on following our own urges or the leading of the world that stands in rebellion against him. Our complete allegiance needs to be given to him all the time, not divided between God’s interests and those of others.
Jesus offered his teaching and the prayer form he taught his followers during a gathering on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee early in his public ministry.
He is in the middle of telling people what is expected of those who want to live in the Kingdom of God. He keeps talking about the need for our inward life to match and drive our outward actions.
In the process of explaining how to live out our duties to our King, he offered this prayer that was to be a mirror we can hold in front of our lives to see if they look like citizens of Heaven. These are the things we want to see: A devotion to God, a desire to see his rule strengthen and grow, and a reliance on him to provide as he has promised.
And now Jesus is going to go in depth on each of these, so we can’t miss the goal of life in the Kingdom. He’s giving us the tools to evaluate where we are and move closer to God.
Matthew, chapter 6, starting at verse 19.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [1]
I hate to always be picking on how things don’t translate well to English, but there’s some wordplay Jesus is using here which gets lost that I think we can restore. In Greek he’s using two very similar words to set up a rhythm or cadence to make this a memorable turn of phrase and we’ve turned it into a cold command – don’t do this, do that instead.
It’s not really about what you are trying to keep – it’s about the value you place on it. A better way to say this in English might be:
Don’t treasure your treasures on earth, where munchers and crunchers chew and takers break and take, but treasure your treasures from above, which munchers and crunchers can’t chew and takers can’t break and take. What you treasure is where your heart is.
Beyond the alliteration of rhyming words, do you see that there is a shift in the meaning here as well? Jesus isn’t talking about the need to get better treasures.
The treasures here are actually the expression of who we each are and where we put our allegiance.
Faith in the things of earth is faith that gets gnawed away until it disappears, corrupted, like rust eats away steel, like mice devouring stores of grain, like inflation devalues currency.
What you collect on earth fails. It is of finite value. The richest man in the world, the minute after he dies, is described as formerly being the richest man in the world. Because in that instant of death, all earthly treasure is gone.
And what are treasures from above? It doesn’t seem that it’s a heavenly bank account or a strongbox where God makes a deposit of jewels for every good deed.
What if the treasures from above are things like fruit of the Spirit which grows in the lives of the faithful? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – these things are of immediate and constant value to those who develop them and to those around those who develop them. They are treasures to be treasured! They cannot be eaten away or stolen. They are part of you, grown as you grow in your allegiance to the King who declared this fruit to be the visible evidence of a life lived in his Kingdom.
This is the result of a life lived by one who means it when they pray, “May your kingdom come and your will be done.”
Ancient people regarded the eyes as the windows to the soul. And Jesus uses that belief the explain this concept of inner treasure in another way.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! [2]
There is an old Russian expression which, translated to English, is something on the order of, “Are you hanging spaghetti from my ears?”
I know, it sounds ridiculous. It’s an idiom – a saying that has a meaning which cannot be understood from the word alone. There’s a cultural understanding. Like is I say that I’m pulling your leg. I’m not, but that saying is one that has a meaning very different from the words. When it gets translated, the hearer has no realistic chance of understanding what it means without some explanation.
The Russian saying about the spaghetti? It means about the same thing as “I’m pulling your leg” does.
Jesus, who is NOT pulling our leg or hanging spaghetti on our ears, is referring to a Jewish idiom when he says that the eye is the lamp of the body. This one, fortunately, is easier to understand than the spaghetti one, because it is essentially referring to the way sight works.
An eye that is clear, vision that isn’t blocked or obscured, can be fixed on God, letting his light into the body. That means you can look to him and allow his purpose in to fill your soul. Because the eyes are the window to the soul. See how it all connects?
But if your eye is unhealthy, it says in this translation, then your body will be filled with darkness. Other translations say if your eye is evil. The word we’re translating from is one that refers to a moral evil or, to put it is a simpler way, if your vision is focused on something that isn’t God then the light that comes from God isn’t what’s going to be getting into your soul. Godly and ungodly don’t mix.
So Jesus is saying that the person who tries to divide his focus to take in both God and not-God really can’t see where they are going. They are truly morally and spiritually blind.
Saying that your “whole body” is full of light or your whole body is full of darkness is a warning that this is an all in thing. You cannot give your allegiance to God part of the time and to other endeavors, goals, or hopes the rest of the time.
Which brings us to the final part of this explanation of what it means to focus on the will of God.
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.[3]
Last bit of nitpicking at our translation. That last word, “money,” isn’t quite right. In Greek, which was the common written language in Jesus’ day, in Aramaic, which was the common spoken language of Jesus and most of the Ancient Near East in the First Century, and even in some modern English translations, the word is mammon, meaning money and also anything else that can be possessed. It isn’t just about cash – it’s about everything, stuff and not-stuff, that you can feel like is YOURS. Mostly it means material things, but it can be more too: House, car, furniture, a person’s affections, a right to certain comforts or advantages. These things can be possessions.
And just as much as you may feel you own them, when you love possessions then possessions possess you. And your allegiance is then directed to them. And, as Jesus says here, you can’t serve two masters.
Let’s talk about that for a moment, because sometimes you might feel differently.
It was, for instance, completely legal for a slave to be owned by more than one person. Roman law even allowed for a person to be half-slave and half free! But service divided between two masters, two goals, two destinations, two kingdoms, is service devoted to neither, fully. And what that means is that one will always take precedence.
Jesus puts it in the starkest terms: You will love one and hate the other.
This was a common way to refer to the decision being made to put one person or thing ahead of another. It is a tool of language which simply says that you have or will care for one more than the other, not that you are experiencing or acting in hatred towards the other.
God uses similar language when he talks about how his blessing followed one family line over another in the earliest days of Israel being his chosen people. Jacob chose to follow the LORD, while his brother Esau chased after the treasures of the world instead, and the tribes and eventual nations which grew from those family lines largely did the same over the generations. In Malachi 1, verses 2 and 3, God says:
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” [4]
It wasn’t that God hated the people of Edom, the nation founded by the tribes of Esau. It was that he gave special favor to the people of Jacob, who was also called Israel. To participate in that special treatment, the Edomites would have needed to repent from their worldly path and return to Israel’s Godly one. But because his favor was more on Israel than on his brother, God describes their relationship as loving one and hating the other.
Examples abound, both in scripture and in outside writings, but let me point to one more from Jesus. Luke chapter 14, at verse 26, Jesus says this:
26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.[5]
He isn’t telling them that they need to despise their family. He’s telling them that their first allegiance needs to be to him. If you have to choose between doing what God says and doing what a family member says, that choice is made by your allegiance and priorities.
I have developed a staunch stand for non-violence based on the teachings of Jesus and the practices of the early church. I very much believe that Jesus meant it when he told us to love our enemies and to only return blessings and kindness even when evil is done to us. It isn’t my first instinct, though. I think I’ve gotten better at my self-control over the years and I try to model my actions on the words of Jesus rather than the example of the world.
This isn’t always a comfortable place to stand. In debate about my position I once had someone tell me that he was all in favor of loving enemies, but if they threatened his family, that’s it, he carries a firearm so he can deal with them. Another time an associate told me that he’s sure that Jesus’ teaching is a great ideal, but sometimes “in the real world” we have to be violent to promote peace.
I disagree with them. What I think they are doing is declaring their allegiance to violence. Because what they are saying is that God’s ways aren’t good enough. Their way is better or needed or the only thing they can really trust in.
Jesus didn’t say, “Love your enemies, unless they threaten your family.” He didn’t say, “Bless those who persecute you, unless you have an AR-15 handy, then blow that mother to hell!”
Non-violence doesn’t mean letting people walk on you, but it does mean controlling the impulse to punch some people or to advocate for sending harm on them. It may mean finding a creative way to show love while standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It definitely isn’t something I could or would do if my allegiance wasn’t to the Kingdom of God first above all things.
Remember, we pray to the LORD, “YOUR kingdom come and YOUR will be done,” not “your will be done except in this situation,” or, “your will be done, unless I don’t like where that could lead,” or, “your will be done, unless it isn’t the same as my will.”
Our focus needs to be on God’s will. We need to be vigilant, checking our motives, and changing them if needed, so that we can keep our focus on allowing or helping his will to be done.
Let me turn what Jesus said into three simple questions you can ask yourself to see where your allegiance lies.
He spoke about the treasures we treasure. Ask yourself, “What am I striving for?” That thing is the treasure in your life.
Jesus talked about your eye letting in light or darkness. Ask yourself, “What am I seeing that is leading me to strive for that treasure?”
Jesus said we can only serve one master. Does striving for that treasure for that reason show the world that you are going to trust in God? Or is it showing faith that lies elsewhere?
In his letter to the Romans, Paul of Tarsus wrote:
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?[6]
Where you are putting your faith is the master you are choosing to follow.
As one of my favorite philosophers of the 1960’s and beyond once wrote, “ Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you're gonna have to serve somebody.” (Bob Dylan)
That’s the bottom line. And it’s enough to think about for today.
Let’s pray together.
LORD, we come before you as people who want to be part of your kingdom. The world tries to pull our allegiance away from you at every turn. Help us to be aware of the treasures we are treasuring so we can strive for that which comes from above. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on your light so that we don’t let the darkness creep in and blind us. Help us to keep our allegiance firmly set on serving you, LORD. If we waver or if we suddenly begin to follow another master, make us aware of it. Grant us discernment and endurance. Give us strength to stand up for your Kingdom against all others. Help us to be good representatives of your ways and of your Son in all things. We pray this in the name of that son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Remember, when you go with the God of the Universe, there is never any worldly thing to fear. And wherever you go, God is there. Go light the darkness. Grace and peace to you.
[1] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 6:19–21. [2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 6:22–23. [3] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 6:24. [4] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mal 1:2–3. [5] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Lk 14:26. [6] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ro 6:16.
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