Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:19–21

Matthew 6:19–21
“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Where do you do your spiritual banking?

At the shooting range, you learn early that the proper sequence is: Ready; Aim; Fire!

Too many of Jesus’ disciples are living their lives by the sequence: Ready; Fire; Aim. If you leave the aiming of your life to the end, do not be surprised when that trajectory takes you somewhere you do not want to go. What is the spiritual target you are shooting for? How is your aim?

The introduction to this lesson asserts that too many Christians are aimless about how they conduct their lives. Of course, they are not the only ones. Recently an American actor died after living a life in which he starred in two popular movies, drank a lot of alcohol and took a lot of drugs. Yet he was called a legend. I think not! But he did accomplish what he aimed for.

Jesus raises with his disciples the question of how their lives are being lived; he does so using the metaphor of accumulating treasures. He combines that metaphor with the powerful contrast between the phrases on earth (6:19) and in heaven (6:20). Those two locations describe potential storage points for the accumulated treasures (6:19, 20).

Craig Keener informs us about wealth in the world of the first century: “Views on wealth varied among thinkers in the Greco-Roman world, but most people then like most people today pursued whatever material advancement was available. . . . Because people often kept all their monetary savings in strongboxes in their own homes or buried beneath their floor, the danger of thieves and corruption was quite real.”[1] Since homes for most people were made of sun-dried mud bricks, a thief had only to dig through the outer wall of the house.

Greek grammar experts[2] make the point that Jesus was likely using forms that mean the disciples must “stop storing up for yourselves treasures on earth” (my translation of 6:19a). In other words, they had already been doing the wrong thing and must quit!

The strongly parallel wording of verses 5:19–20 focuses attention on the few words which differ. The word not, present in verse 19, disappears in verse 20, because Jesus switches from a prohibition (5:19) to a positive command (5:20). The main focus falls on the phrases on earth (5:19) and in heaven (5:20). This means that any disciple aiming earthward is making a dire mistake; instead, they must focus heavenward. Obeying Jesus is all a matter of where a disciple aims.

Verse 5:21 gives the reason for what Jesus commands. Treasures exert something similar to gravitational attraction. The more we accumulate treasures on earth, the more our hearts will be pulled to the concerns of the earth. But the disciple of Jesus will give priority to the demands of the kingdom, and that will result in treasure in heaven. For this reason, one mark of a Christ-follower is to give generously to the needs of others; that giving is contrary to earthly values. So is serving selflessly, another mark of one who obeys Jesus’ words.

The pronoun “you” in the form your (6:21) is singular. Jesus is bringing the responsibility to guard the heart right down to the individual level. No one can do this for you!

David Turner makes a significant point when he says, “Seeking heavenly treasure, however, does not amount to avoidance of earthly involvement.”[3] We are sojourners on the earth as we watch for the return of Christ, and he does not call on us to retreat into monasteries.

Time to check your aim

Since we have found that living aimlessly is opposite to what Jesus commands his disciples, we have to assess what we are aiming at.

You may strike out on earth, but the chief goal of life is to hit a home run with God. Make sure you are swinging for that heavenly fence!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999) 230.

[2] See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 724, and A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1919) 851–852.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 196.

 

Theology: The Word and the Spirit

Since the Word of God and the Spirit of God have both been given to us to lead us to Christ and then on toward maturity, there should never be any conflict between the two. Yet the history of the church shows that some Christians gravitate toward the Bible and its analysis while others cultivate the life of the Spirit. (No such split is justified!)

Each group stresses its own advantages and tends to reject the other emphasis. Spirit-led Christians think of Bible-led believers as spiritually lifeless and lacking in intensity of devotion. Bible-led believers often consider Spirit-led Christians to be shallow in understanding and subject to gross distortions of ideas such as prosperity and healing. It seems that some Christians are all heart and the other believers are all head.

One man who bucked the trend is Gordon Fee, who Charisma magazine says is the “first Bible scholar of the modern Pentecostal movement.” Fee is a New Testament scholar who has made strong contributions in the areas of Christology, commentaries (1 Corinthians, Revelation), and Bible translation.

In relation to the Pentecostal movement, Fee has proven both an inspiration and an irritant. I recommend you read this article from Charisma to see how a home-grown biblical scholar has shaken up a Christian movement that is wary of such critters. Interesting!

Several of Gordon Fee’s most important works are the following:

How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth (with Douglas Stuart)

Pauline Christology

The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

A Model for Christian Life – Part 3 (end)

[This post ends this three-part series. Be sure to read the first two parts!]

Our Identity in Christ: “New Man”

A second aspect of our identity is that of the “new man.” Consider the following verses from the Bible:

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices 10 and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator” (Col. 3:9–10, HCSB[1]).

“you took off your former way of life, the old man that is corrupted by deceitful desires; 23 you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; 24 you put on the new man, the one created according to God’s [likeness] in righteousness and purity of the truth” (Eph. 4:22–24, HCSB).

“knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6, NKJV).

The person-you-were-before-salvation died with Christ, and that person is the “old man” or “old self” (NIV) that Col. 2:9 says we have stripped off. The person-we-became-after-giving-our-allegiance-to-Jesus is the new man that Col. 3:10 says we have put on.

Romans 6:6 states a crucial truth about the old man when it says, “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (NKJV). We learn here the crucial facts that our old man was crucified with Christ, and the purpose was to break the dominion of sin by rendering it powerless.

I draw your attention to the fact that the “new man” language refers to both men and women in Christ. As we find in Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our Identity in Christ: “People of God”

While the previous two aspects of Christian identity take on an individualistic hue, the fact that we are part of “the people of God” is plainly relational. The “people of God” language is key to 1 Pet. 2:9–10. However, in 1 Cor. 12:12–14 and Eph. 4:4–7, 15–16, we find that we are corporately called the body of Christ. Consider as well that of the hundreds of commands to believers in the New Testament, almost all are given in verbal forms that are second-person plural. In other words, we are responsible as the people of God to carry them out.

The Touchstone: Pleasing Christ

As life-managers, new men and women in Christ, who together comprise the people of God, we should make decisions and take actions with only one principle in mind: pleasing Christ. Consider the following verses:

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9–10). See also Col. 3:17.

Resources for Our Journey

As we think about the resources we have for living to please Christ, we must start with the knowledge that, by God’s kindness, we lack nothing:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet. 1:3)

Our first resource is knowledge of the Word of God. See 1 Pet. 1:23–25; Col. 1:9–10, 3:10; 2 Tim. 3:14–16; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 7:24. Remember that Jesus said, “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The Holy Spirit indwells us to provide a constant infusion of insight, power and protection. See John 14:26; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16.

By Christ’s powerful sacrifice to win us access to God, we may approach God with our prayers at any time. See Heb. 4:16; Col. 4:2; Phil 4:6.

We also enjoy the company of the people of God as our companions on the journey. See Eph. 4:1–13 and the numerous “one another” commands.

Context for Life-Management

God has given us a great deal of information about the context in which we live out our Christian lives. First, it is not a monastic life of individualism (“just-me-and-God”) but a shared life of shared joy and challenge (Eph. 4:1–13).

It is also a life of continuous transformation. Sometimes the Word speaks of this change as something being done to us by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), but in most cases this transformation is embodied in a command to us (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 4:23).

While the transformation process has many elements, several deserve special attention. First, there is growth in knowledge (Col. 1:9–10; Eph. 4:13–14). Second, there is our exercise of faith as an active, open response to the truth (Matt. 9:17–22; Luke 8:4–15; Heb. 4:2, 11:6; James 2:22; Gal. 5:6). Third, we are expected to manifest active love (Gal. 5:6; 1 Cor. 13; John 13:35; Matt. 25:40). Fourth, we are reminded that the purity of our perception makes a profound difference (Matt. 6:22-23; Col. 3:2–3).

Another major element in the context of our life journey has two sides. On the one hand, we are dead to sin, and so we can and should refuse to commit acts of sin (Col. 3:5; Rom. 6:11; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rom. 8:13). On the other hand, we are free to serve God, making the members of our bodies weapons for righteousness in his hands (Rom. 6:18, 22; 1 Pet. 2:16).

Finally our life-management takes place in a setting of spiritual warfare and suffering (Eph. 6:11–12; 1 Pet. 2:11; John 16:33).

To sum up, we live in a shared setting of continuous transformation, spiritual warfare and suffering, while we refuse any expression of sin and live lives of love and righteousness to glorify God.

Responsibilities of Life-Management

We have already seen that the context of life-management includes both the Holy Spirit’s action as well as our own. In this section the focus is on what Christ expects of us.

Perhaps the hallmark of Christian life is obedience (John 14:15; Matt. 7:24; Matt. 28:20; Rom. 6:17; Heb. 5:9; Phil 2:12). Jesus said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:40). It is fitting to note that this obedience often occurs through acts of love and kindness.

Among those commands we are to obey, a wise manager should take note of the great commandments (Matt. 22:36–39; Matt. 7:12) as well as the great commission (Matt. 28:18–20. We should emphasize what our King emphasized.

Another critical area of obedience is to actively cooperate with the transformation process (Phil. 2:12–13; Rom. 6:13, 8:13). Give attention to maximizing things like exposure to the truth, the active exercise of faith and love, and refusal of sin.

Next, our Lord requires us to remain alert at all times, because he may return at any moment (Matt. 24:36–44). We are to watch, not wait, for his return

Expectations That Motivate

Every manager lives with the knowledge that his or her management will come under review, and our life-management for Christ is no exception. We live today knowing that our deeds will be judged for reward (2 Cor. 5:9–10; 1 Cor. 3:12–15).

We live for Christ, knowing there is no greater cause! We look forward to receiving glory and honor in his service (Rom. 2:9–10, 8:17, 8:30; Phil. 3:21).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] HCSB means Holman Christian Standard Bible.

 

A Model for Christian Life – Part 2 of 3

[Part 1 ended with a metaphor of a mental “map” which represents our understanding of God and the created reality in which we live.]

Distortions in Our Maps

Our individual, mental maps have distortions and omissions which make our journey more difficult. These map errors arise from several sources. For example, the family into which a child is born passes its own flawed maps on to the child who knows no other reality. Selective attention also plays a role in producing map distortions. And misinformation can prove worse than none at all!

As a result of these factors, some people become adults with a map that approximates a US topographic map while others have something like a pirate-treasure map from a grade-B movie. What can be done about getting a better map?

“What is truth?”—Pontius Pilate

The dilemma we face is one of finding a reliable standard against which we can correct our maps. To achieve some correction, we can compare our mental maps with those of others through probing discussions. Or we can consult an expert. But it would be naive to accept such input as absolutely reliable. Centuries ago the greatest minds in France advised their king that the Black Plague had been caused by a conjunction of planets. They were completely confident and totally wrong!

Human beings currently suffer from a plague — a plague of subjectivity that resists attempts at a cure. That’s exactly why it makes so much sense for God to communicate with man by means of a Bible which is inerrant in its original manuscripts. As Christians, we need an objective reality-base which can be trusted as we attempt to correct our mental maps.

Improving Our Maps

God has always had access to all available information. No wonder he has the only accurate map. But we still face the distortions that subjective humans introduce during translation and interpretation of the biblical text. So while the Bible is totally true, our personal perception of it is not.

God works from the outside and the inside to refine the map within us. The Bible and the created world both serve as external standards, while the Holy Spirit works within a Christian’s mind to prompt the admission of information. The Spirit does this in a non-forcing way to leave us responsible for what we learn and what we believe.

As the life-manager actively expresses love and seeks biblical knowledge, he or she will grow through changes in the perceptual map of reality. This search for increasing levels of truth will take the form of an uninterrupted series of approximations to actual reality. (I say “actual reality” to distinguish it from the “subjective reality” we each have.) This mental map will draw nearer to truth over time because of the Holy Spirit’s work, assisted by God’s revelation in the Bible.

In effect, the Bible serves as a travel guide, or a mission order, for the Christian’s journey. It can help tremendously, but it cannot substitute for traveling. Too many Christians conduct their spiritual journey by memorizing their travel guide instead of living out love, freedom and life-management. Nor was the Bible ever intended to be a Christian’s sole source of truth, though all other sources require additional validation.

The entire process involves a measure of struggle which continues throughout the journey. In fact, the absence of struggle over a prolonged period probably indicates that the traveler has abandoned his journey by favoring safety over progress. Inevitably, the changes we have described will result in interpersonal differences with those who do not share a similar map.

Filling in the Blank Areas

While many Christians have an accurate map of the path to salvation in Jesus Christ, a lot fewer have an understanding of what the Lord has mapped out for their growth toward Christian maturity. I intend to offer my view of that plan.

Before I start on the biblical basis for the model, one additional matter needs attention. I do not join those who see the Christian life as a grim, lifelong struggle against sin. Theologian B.B. Warfield called this “miserable-sinner Christianity.”[1] Rather, I believe that Christians are new men and new women in Christ who can please the Lord by performing their life-management using all the resources God has already provided through Christ. All of what follows is part of what such a manager must know.

The Goal of the Christian Development

As I understand the New Testament, the goal of Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ. I arrive at that conclusion through verses such as the following:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” (Gal. 4:19).

“until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).

However, some believers have not advanced beyond infancy (1 Cor. 3:1–3) and others are still at a beginning level of Christian truth (Heb. 6:1–3). These are not managing their lives effectively for Christ, and they can expect little, if any, reward.

Our Identity in Christ: Life-Manager

As Christians we are those in whom Christ dwells (John 15:4–5; Col. 3:11). Alternatively, one may describe believers as those in whom the Holy Spirit lives (Rom. 8:13). Perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing.

In addition to describing us as life-managers for Christ, the New Testament also refers to us as the “new man” and as the “people of God.” These aspects of our identity will be further developed below [in Part 3]; they are part of what we must be in Christ.

I have previously presented the role of life manager for Christ as a useful metaphor for understanding Christian life. Bible references related to this role are: Gen. 1:26–28; Matt. 25:14–28; Luke 19:12–27; Matt. 24:45–51.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Part 3 will conclude the series with more about our new identity in Christ.


[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 1:113-301.

 

A Model for Christian Life: Part 1 of 3

Long ago, when we were children, someone taught us how to assemble a puzzle. It was hard at first, frustrating. In time we learned that each piece has a specific shape that fits a hole somewhere. That helped, but it still took a while to try out each piece in the hole.

Finally our minds developed to the point where we could use the biggest clue of all — the picture on the front of the puzzle box. That made things so much easier! Soon we were able to do the whole puzzle without even using the picture. Our minds had learned a pattern, a picture of wholeness.

Our Christian lives are a puzzle of staggering complexity. Many spend a lifetime trying to bring the many parts into a coherent whole. That’s where this article fits in. It gives a sketch of the picture on the puzzle box—a vision of wholeness and maturity in Jesus Christ.

Toward a Better Conception

What many Christians desperately need today is a change in their frame of reference. To understand what I mean by “frame of reference,” consider an example from history. Until the sixteenth century scientists shared the belief that the earth was the center of the solar system with all other heavenly bodies moving around it. But then Copernicus and Kepler found that astronomical observations matched the assumption that the sun was at the center rather than the earth. That totally changed people’s frame of reference.

The important point is that the old earth-centered system was eventually replaced by a new, different and more useful one. But that didn’t happen easily or quickly.

Like those who wrongly believed the earth was the center of the solar system, Christians often reach a block in their growth because they are still using some simplistic frame of reference for their Christian life, a frame that cannot integrate the complexity of their lives. Seemingly useful alternatives such as “let go and let God” or “you must die to self” eventually lead to disappointment for many Christians. Other inadequate alternatives include perfectionism and the teaching that a second work of grace makes you mature in Christ. I do not accept these alternatives as the biblical means for achieving maturity in Christ.

Other ideas divide the nature of man into either two or three parts. The first approach is often expressed as a two-part model of body and soul. The three-part model is usually expressed as the combination of body, soul and spirit. In my view, these concepts lead to psychological/spiritual speculation that cannot be adequately supported by biblical revelation. Instead, I find it more useful to view redeemed man as a whole person, the “new man” of Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and Romans 6 (more on this later).

A Metaphor To Express Our Life Situation

All of us take cues from our situation to help us know how to behave. A football player acts one way and a chess player quite another. A gardener exhibits certain behaviors and a father holding a new baby shows totally different actions. People who get their situations and behaviors mixed up (e.g. a football player trying to dance at the forty yard line) usually wind up in institutions. So it’s vitally important to fit our behaviors together in a sensible way with our context.

I believe that Christians can use one, central metaphor that will describe all their activities. This single metaphor provides a master conception that will guide our behavior in situations where limited formulas about Christian life break down. The guiding metaphor for Christians is that we have been appointed life-managers on behalf of Christ.

The biblical basis for this metaphor starts with Gen. 1:26–28. Jesus imposed this duty on his followers while they await his return (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27).

Naturally, the life you manage is your own, although as a parent you may help manage children’s lives for a time. Even our physical lives come as a delegated resource from God. He also provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), which includes such resources as the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our own capable minds and our Christian relationships.

Though our first priority is to love God, he redirects our attention toward obedience and the expression of love. As life-managers for Christ, we enjoy wide latitude of choice and action. Part of our responsibility includes the active pursuit of Christian growth, but the most frequent focus of our management falls on the expression of love toward others, whether by kindness or evangelism. By using all these resources wisely, we bring lasting benefit to Christ’s kingdom and ourselves. And he generously rewards us for such efforts. On the other hand, any disobedience or sin results in discipline from our Master.

Life-Management during Christ’s Ministry

During Christ’s earthly ministry, the practice of managing another person’s wealth or estate was common. We can best view the arrangement as a capital-services partnership with one partner supplying the capital and the other partner providing the expertise in making a profit.

A servant could function as his master’s financial manager and the servant’s actions were legally binding on his master. In other words, the servant/manager had broad authority to act on his master’s behalf.

In those times it was entirely possible to turn a minimum profit of 100%, and even 1000% was not beyond reason. A servant who returned no profit at all would actually represent a loss to the master who was paying for the servant’s daily living expenses. A servant who made a profit would share in that profit and would likely be given even more to invest or manage in the future.

These typical arrangements stand behind the parables Jesus told about stewards: the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27), the parable of the shrewd steward (Luke 16:1–15) and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23–35).

Approaching Our Goal

No one starts Christian life as an effective life-manager for Christ. Over time, God intends that we move from spiritual infancy into adulthood (Gal. 4:19; Eph. 4:13).

We can illustrate the development of Christian faith with a journey metaphor. No one ever took a journey by standing still! First, a person accepts the need for the journey and then moves out. But even that is not enough. Without an accurate map, a person can wind up farther from his intended destination than when he started; which leads us directly to the role of truth in spiritual development.

Truth and Spiritual Development

It will also prove helpful to use the metaphor of a map for our journey toward Christian maturity. First, we can imagine the reality in which we exist as a vast land. Our mental “map” represents our understanding of that terrain.

We all have such a map. For example, our map contains the concept of grocery stores. Unlike people in some parts of the world, we do not fish, hunt or raise crops to get our food because we know we can get it at the grocery store. But if we tried to use that part of our map while traveling in central Greenland, we would be in for a rude shock!

Sticking with the metaphor, I can define “truth” as God’s map of the terrain. The challenge each Christian faces is to get his internal map to look more like God’s. This happens by transforming our minds (more on that later) and by gaining a greater understanding of what God has revealed through Christ and the Word of God.

Part 2 will show how God helps us correct our “map” of reality.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.