As most of you are aware, we are studying the Sermon on the Mount, which is the first recorded sermon that Jesus preached. I think it would be better titled, the Manifesto of the Kingdom of Heaven. Because what Jesus is teaching is the characteristics of the citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. He was preaching to Christians, to His disciples. So it’s not a message for unbelievers, per se. But a message for the church.
And in this message He laid out as of first importance that the citizen of the kingdom of heaven is someone who has been born again. It is a person who has a new nature, a spiritual person, who has become remade in the image of God. He is a new creation, and so he acts in a way that is different than the natural man of the world because he has a new nature, a nature like God. That is really the only way to understand the Beatitudes which Jesus gives at the beginning of the sermon. They are not natural characteristics. They are the characteristics of a person that has been born again, made a new creation.
But just as in the natural world, a child which is born of their parents then must be raised by their parents in order that they grow up to be the right kind of person, to have a successful life, so in a similar fashion those who have been born of our Father in heaven, who have been given a new spiritual nature, who are made righteous through this spiritual rebirth, must now be raised to practice righteousness, raised to grow up to be like Christ, which is the process called sanctification. Sanctification is a process of maturing as a result of our salvation by which we begin a new life. So our Heavenly Father teaches us how to live.
And this is the instruction that Jesus is focusing on in this part of His sermon. He has told us how we are to respond to persecution, how we are to keep His commandments, how we are to love, how we are to give, how we are to pray, and how to fast. All of those types of things He is giving us the Father’s instructions on how we are to live now that we are the children of God.
As a parent, I think one of the dilemma’s I have faced, and I am sure I am not alone in it, is figuring out how to instill the right traits, the right kind of character, the right kind of behavior in our children. And for a good parent, that should be the priority of our life once we have kids. We try to instill in them certain characteristics because we know that they are going to suffer in life if they do not have them ingrained in their nature when they are older. And in a similar manner, God our Heavenly Father uses His word, and the indwelling conviction of the Holy Spirit, to teach us and lead us so that we continue to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Because only in this way can we have a successful life. ( I mean successful of course not in a financial or material way, but in a spiritual way, that we may be complete, lacking in nothing.)
The difficulty that we have though as Christians is that even though we have been given a new nature, and are taught a new way to live, there is still present within us the old nature. The sin nature is still there, though it should have been put to death in us if we have truly died with Christ. Paul spoke of this necessity in Gal. 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
This old nature is what the Bible calls the flesh which we must daily put to death. And we also have to fight against the desire of the world and the deceit of the devil. So we have three fronts in which to fight; the flesh, the world, and the devil. We have been given the means by the Spirit to overcome the temptation of those things, but it is a constant battle of our affections. If we love the world and the things of the world, then John said the love of the Father is not in us. The secret to a victorious spiritual life is to love God supremely, above all else and to love not the world.
And it also needs to be said that we are to love God as our Heavenly Father. There is much talk in the church today about the need to have a personal relationship with God. And that is true. But the devil has a relationship with God, doesn’t he? What kind of a relationship are we to have, and on what basis? The kind of relationship we are to have is as a child of God with our Heavenly Father. And we have as our basis for that relationship the fact that Jesus took our sins upon Himself and took our place in death, that we might be forgiven our sins, and be made the children of God. So it’s as our Father, who is God Almighty, that we love God and are obedient to Him, and we want to please Him. He has given us life, and He has promised to reward those who diligently seek Him.
So as I live for Him, then I can consider these instructions Jesus gives us here in that context. Because Jesus is warning against returning again to the desires of the old nature. The pull of the world is still a very real danger for the Christian and we must guard against it. The word world is one of those church words that perhaps needs explanation. It’s not talking strictly about the physical universe, or even the people populating the world, but it’s referring to a mentality, an outlook, a way of looking at life. It’s the natural perspective of man. And it is informed by the sin nature which all of us were born into in our flesh, and which is orchestrated by the devil as part of his strategy to keep us captive. Ephesians 2 vs 1 talks about the course of this world which the devil has orchestrated in order to hold captive those who indulge the lusts of the flesh and the mind.
The difficulty is that it’s something which our sin nature is inclined to love, inclined to think and do. It’s instinctive. And so we can easily slip back into the course of the world if we are not actively pursuing God and denying the flesh, so that we might walk by the spirit.
So to guard against that tendency or temptation, the Lord gives us a guiding principle; “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Notice that there is a negative and a positive aspect to this injunction. First let’s consider the negative. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” It’s important that we do not limit this text to speaking about only money. I think that money is certainly included in this principle, but it’s not limited to money. Treasures can be related to a whole host of things. The point is that whatever things they are, they things that the world treasures. He is speaking of things that the world thinks are good, that define success. It may be money, it may be fame, it may be power, it may be even something like family or love. But whatever it is, it’s something that we treasure, that is limited to this life and this world.
What does He mean when He talks about storing up these treasures of the world? It may mean hoarding and amassing wealth. It may be speaking of a person who is a workaholic. Who is building an empire, so to speak, on earth. But again, I think it has broader implications than just those things. It may be speaking of things which are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but ultimately they are done for our glory. The key is they stored up treasure for themselves. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” It’s things meant to enrich your life, to make your life more pleasurable, more enjoyable, more satisfying here on earth. To bring glory to yourself.
But on the positive side, notice what Jesus says we are to do. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Now we must be careful here in interpreting this passage not to go against the greater body of scripture and say this refers to achieving your own salvation. That would be to deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone which is clearly presented in the gospel. But again, this is teaching for the church, for those already saved.
A good illustration for this principle is found in Luke 16, the parable of the unjust steward. Jesus said in regards to that, “make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, whether it is money or whatever resources you have, use it in this world so that when you arrive in heaven the people who were benefitted from it will be there to receive you.
Paul echoes that principle in 1 Timothy 6:17, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. [Instruct them] to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
So to be rich in good works, to be generous, and ready to share is a way of storing up treasure in heaven, Paul says. It’s investing in the kingdom of heaven. We do all sorts of things now to invest for our future, so that we will have plenty when we get older. But so many times we fail to invest in the kingdom of heaven. That should be our priority. What we have here in terms of talents and treasure are to be invested in heaven, because that is where our eternal home will be. That is the attitude which pleases our Father, and which will be rewarded by Him when we are joined with Him in eternity.
Now in addition to this commandment, or injunction, the Lord gives us reasons for obeying it, to encourage us to obey Him. He gives us these incentives for obedience in the remainder of the passage. The first argument that Jesus gives is that we should not store up treasures on earth because moth and rust destroy and thieves break through and steal the things of the world. In other words, worldly things are temporal, they are decaying, they are transitory. The things of this earth are not permanent, but they inevitably perish. That beautiful flower you pick is beginning to die immediately after you pluck it. The beautiful colors of fall that surround us in nature right now are the last gasps before the leaves turn brown and fall to the ground, leaving the trees bare.
The perfect physique will soon give way to old age, the most beautiful countenance will one day have wrinkles. Moth and rust are a picture of decay and death that is the end result of the things of this world. And the Lord adds, thieves break through and steal. I think one of the great thefts is is that of time itself. Time is flying past. I quoted Jeremiah 8:20 the other night at Bible study, which has always seemed to me a haunting statement regarding the deceitful passage of time; “Harvest is past, summer is ended, And we are not saved.”
There used to be a saying my mother repeated to me from time to time. She said, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Time is fleeting, and the no one knows that better than the devil. He is a thief and a liar. He comes to steal and destroy. And one of the things the devil steals from us is time. He constantly tells us to wait. Tomorrow there will be more time, or a better time. And before you know it, the opportunity has passed you by and you can’t get it back.
We spend time on so many things that amount to nothing. We consider nothing better than to waste time, to not do anything. We look forward to retiring so we won’t have to do anything anymore. Listen, we need to invest time in the kingdom of heaven while we have the opportunity. We need to use this limited resource of time wisely. Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
But look at the other side, the positive side. Jesus says “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” Peter speaks of this is as “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Our investment in the bank could fail. Our investments in mutual funds could fail. But our investment in heaven is reserved and protected by the power of God, and it is an imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance that will provide dividends for ever and ever.
Then Jesus elaborates on that principle by saying, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The way we live reveals our heart. It’s easy to say, “Oh how I love Jesus.” But our actions reveal what we really love. So if we love the world and the things of the world, then our treasure in on earth, and it is doomed to decay and pass away. There is no eternal treasure in the world. But if love God our Father and the things of God, then that reveals that our treasure is in heaven.
The Bible says the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. But make no mistake, the key to the heart is the through the eye. Jesus says in vs 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Every sin that is described in the Bible begins with looking. Eve looked at the apple and saw that it was good for food and to make her wise like God. So the desire for the world starts by looking, and then the heart begins to lust after it, and then you finally submit to it. That’s why Jesus said if you looked at a woman to lust after her you had committed adultery in your heart. Learning to control what you are looking at is the key to controlling your affections.
And I would suggest that includes things like television and movies and things like that. What you look at has an affect on you. And it reveals that you have a unhealthy love for the world.
1John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
So the Lord encapsulates this principle by saying in vs 24, ”No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” In other words, either God or the world both make a totalitarian demand upon us. The world wants more and more and it is never satisfied. It wants all your attention and demands your full allegiance to self gratification and self glorification. And the Lord is a jealous God, and He desires all of your devotion as well.
He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength.” There is no middle ground. There is no neutral corner. God wants all of you. Notice Jesus says he will either be devoted to the one and despise the other or he will hate the one and love the other.
The biggest mistake we make as Christians is we think we can compromise with the world. We think we can have a little of the world, and a little bit of God. I talked to a man yesterday about this. A mature Christian. Once someone who was really sold out for the Lord. Once considering a call to the ministry. And then he began to compromise with the world just a little here and there. At first it wasn’t so bad. But then one day he came to his senses and he realized that he is far, far away from God. He said he loved God, but in his actions he proved he loved the world.
James calls that sin akin to the sin of adultery. James 4:4 “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
So if a materialistic, worldly outlook is controlling us, then we show ourselves to be godless, regardless of what we might say. What’s worse than atheism is a materialism that thinks it’s godly. Jesus said, “If the light that is in you is darkness, then how great is that darkness.” The man who thinks he is godly because he talks about God, says he believes in God, goes to church occasionally, but is really living for worldly things – how great is that man’s darkness!
It is not what we say that matters. Many at the last day shall say, “Lord, Lord, did we not do this, and do that? But Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you. Not every one that says to me “Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father.”
The question is who do you serve? God or mammon? Mammon means riches, or treasure, whatever they may be. Whom do you serve? The answer is not in what you say, but what you do.
I heard a preacher tell a story about a farmer who went to his wife to tell her some good news. He said the cow had two calves, a red one and a white one. And he said that he had felt an impulse that he should give one calf to the Lord and they would keep the other. The wife thought that was an admirable idea and so she asked him which one was the Lord’s? He said, “Oh, we don’t need to worry about that right now, when the time comes that they are grown we will sell them and then give the proceeds of one to the Lord.”
Well, a few months later the farmer came again to his wife, only this time he was crestfallen and acting very sad. His wife asked him what was the matter, and he replied, “I have some bad news, the Lord’s calf has died.”
That’s the way it is, I’m afraid. It’s always the Lord’s calf that dies. When the finances get tight, it’s the Lord’s calf that dies. When the job is tough to handle, the Lord’s calf is the one who dies. When the family is having trouble, it’s the Lord’s calf that dies. Whatever it is of this world that contends with the things of God, that’s what usually wins out. What is it in your life that has come between you and the Lord? God wants your unconditional, total surrender. And if you are truly His child, then I trust that you will examine yourself and see if you are really serving the Lord, or serving the things of this world. What the Lord wants is your undivided love for Him.