Across history, various rabbis have been known for their particular teaching, notable perhaps for emphasis on a particular aspect of Torah or focus on a specific attribute God’s nature or a unique interpretation on an historical event. Disciples are supposed to be able to articulate their rabbi’s particular teaching. More than that their lives are supposed to reflect that teaching.
Yeshua, too, has a specific body of teaching attributed to Him. The essentials of it are contained in what is famously known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount.” This morning we continue making our way through this great teaching that is well known but not necessarily well-studied. People who don’t read the Bible still know about it and will speak of its loftiness and beauty. The reality, however, is that this is far and away the most difficult teaching ever given in terms of our inability to attain to it.
Yeshua undoubtedly shared these truths far more than just one time. On multiple occasions He would have taught one or a few of them as a particular situation called for it. But at one point Matthew records that Yeshua gave a much longer sermon – the essentials of His teaching.
Overview of the seven-part series:
I. Blessed are they… (The Beatitudes, part 1) (5:1-9)
II. Blessed are YOU… (The Beatitudes, part 2) (5:10-12)
III. Who we are and aren’t (5:13-20)
IV. You have heard… But I say (Yeshua’s Torah) (5:21-48)
V. When you… (give, pray, fast) (6:1-18)
VI. The futility of materialism (6:19-34)
VII. Things that could keep you out of Heaven (hypocrisy, following the crowd, false teachers, refusal to act on Yeshua’s teaching) (7:1-29)
The futility of materialism (Matthew 6:19-34)
“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 moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
A more literal Greek translation would be “Don’t treasure for yourself treasures on earth…” The lesson we’re supposed to learn seems obvious enough, doesn’t it? Here on earth stuff breaks. Everything breaks down. Every day we experience fallout from the Fall. Our clothes wear out from use or become moth-eaten. Everything made of a metal eventually begins to oxidize, and then rust sets in. And what doesn’t wear out or rust might very well be stolen out of your house or your garage. Or in a Michigan winter your pipes might burst… oy!
The point Yeshua is trying to make is that nothing here lasts. So, if you’re wise, you’ll invest more of your time, your resources, your energy and your affections in the things of Heaven than in the things of earth since whatever you give of yourself for the sake of Messiah’s Kingdom pays much greater dividends and it is secure! For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Whatever you value the most is going to affect you the most should something happen to it.
A friend of mine recently purchased a 2015 Harley Davidson CVO Street Glide. It’s a limited edition with custom paint, custom chrome rims, top-of-the-line sound system – the whole megillah! I asked him how much he had invested in it. His answer was “About $50,000.” I don’t know about you; but, if I owned that machine, I’d be paranoid about parking it anywhere in public; and I’d wonder “How soon before it’s stolen?” At that point, it seems to me you are not the owner; you are the one owned.
And you know, there’s a pretty simple gauge for determining what you treasure the most. It’s your thought life. Messiah Yeshua used the term “heart,” which we associate with our affections; but perhaps it has less to do with emotion and more to do with mental energy – what you think about the most when you’re not otherwise occupied with work.
It isn’t so much wealth that concerns Messiah. It’s our loyalty. There are and always have been godly individuals who were rich by earthly standards but whose first love and greatest priority were Him. It isn’t material wealth but materialism that is the problem. And think about it: you can’t take any of it with you! After all, when was the last time you saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul behind it?
Think back to when you first gave your heart to the Lord; do you remember those early days? Weren’t you overwhelmed with His goodness, and didn’t you love those hours spent in the Scriptures discovering things about God and about life? Well, I have good news: God is able to rekindle that flame. He can help us return to our first love. But it would behoove us to follow the advice of Rabbi Paul and take honest personal inventory. He said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). If your priorities have shifted and you know you need realignment in order to travel that straight path, ask God to help you do that; and He will. Rabbi Paul also wrote, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua” (Phil. 1:6).
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Have you ever wondered what on earth Yeshua meant by that? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, few English translators made the effort to understand the Jewish context of the Gospels or the use of Jewish idioms such as Yeshua employs in these two verses; and as a result we are sometimes left with shallow or even wrong interpretations.
Light and darkness are very common themes in Jewish literature of the First Century; but this isn’t about eyesight, not at all. First of all, what is the context? Messiah is giving a discourse on the pitfalls of materialism and the importance of having a heavenly mindset and godly priorities. These two verses are right in the midst of that larger teaching. It would make no sense whatsoever to suddenly interject something having to do with eyesight.
So let me tell you how this probably should be understood. The term “evil eye” has to do with one person regarding another person with malicious envy or disdain. At a lesser level, it might be nothing more than his or her shooting the other person a nasty look. But the more significant meaning has to do with a person’s disposition. Historically, in Jewish thought, to have a “good eye” meant to be a generous person whereas to have an “evil eye” meant to be a miser — tight-fisted, stingy, selfish to the point of callous indifference to another person’s plight. Yeshua’s words echo Proverbs 22:9, which uses the same expression: He who has a good eye (i.e., is generous) will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.
Let me add that there is a great deal of superstition associated with “the evil eye” that has infected Jewish thinking. It is evident in people wearing what is called a “hamsa” (an ornate pendant in the shape of a hand with an eye in the middle of it). Not everyone who wears this knows what it means, but its origin is rooted in superstition. Supposedly this amulet will ward off the evil eye should anyone have malicious intent towards you.
To Yeshua’s point: if you have a “good eye,” it means you are generous with your resources, you give to support the house of God, you give to help meet the needs of the poor, and you allow yourself to be touched by the concerns of others. You love your neighbor as yourself. To have a “bad eye” (“evil eye”) means you are selfish with your resources. You withhold financial support of God’s work, you disregard the needs of the poor, and you harden your heart rather than risk being moved to take action. Do you have a good eye? Are you generous? Or does preoccupation with financial issues cause you to be tight fisted and cold? Are you a George Bailey or a Henry Potter? (Do you remember It’s a Wonderful Life?)
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
If this seems very black and white, that’s because it is. If it seems intolerant, that’s because it is. God will not be worshiped alongside another. Israel had to learn this lesson the painful way when they thought they could serve both Adonai and Ba’al. And the truth is, to whatever you dedicate your free time, your thoughts, your energy and your money, that’s what has you. That is your master. Now please don’t misunderstand. Yeshua isn’t condemning money nor suggesting there is inherent sin in our having possessions. The question is where do your affections lie?
In the ancient world, slavery was much more common. It has been suggested by historians and scholars that nearly 80 percent of the people living in the Roman Empire at that time were slaves. There was literally no such thing as a slave serving two different masters.
Consider that Rabbi Paul, despite having so much authority in the early Messianic Community, nevertheless, sent Onesimus, the runaway slave-turned-believer, back to Titus his master requesting that Titus consider freeing and sending Onesimus back to Paul.
Just as a house divided cannot endure, neither can we serve both God and money. It’s simply an impossibility. We are expected to work diligently at our jobs. Men are expected to provide for themselves and, when they marry and have children, to provide for their families. Earning money is a proper and good thing so long as money itself isn’t the aim. But your job isn’t what defines you. Your job pays the bills and keeps food on the table, but it is your priorities that define you. Who is your master? Don’t serve money. Let your money serve the Lord, and He will cause your needs to be met. We’ll revisit that truth when we get to verse 33.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”
There’s no need, Yeshua says, for us to be anxious or to obsess about the basic things of life. Sure, we all need to have food and drink and be clothed; but that’s not the stuff of life. Your life, He says, is so much more important than that. You were created and ordained to live in this world for a purpose. Do you remember Mission Impossible as a TV series in the 1960s? “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come into a personal relationship with God through Messiah Yeshua and to do whatever God tells you to do.”
Let’s continue right on to the next verses as Yeshua reinforces these truths from the Creation itself.
Verses 26-27 (Analogy: consider the birds)
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Birds are such beautiful and simple creatures. And they seem to manage pretty well. They don’t plant fields or build silos to store grain. For that matter, they don’t analyze cost-to-benefit ratios, pore over quarterly spread sheets, or publish annual reports for shareholders. There’s no anxiety there. Day by day they find the food they need for themselves and their young because God the Father cares about them… and they’re just birds. Yeshua tells us we should learn from bird-watching as it were. They don’t stress out over food.When they head south for the winter, they don’t go to Costco to pick up a bigger suitcase. They leave their nests behind. They know they’ll be able to build new ones when they get where they’re going. They live in simplicity and trust, and the point is that so should we; for the same great God cares for us!
And please note that Yeshua says that human beings are far more valuable than birds. There is a God-ordained hierarchy of Creation. He placed man above all other living creatures, and it was to man that He gave dominion and responsibility. Some chafe at the idea of human supremacy, but even their moral indignation is evidence of God-given higher faculties.
Yeshua asks rhetorically, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” As a matter of fact, worrying will actually shorten your life.
Verses 28-30 (Analogy: consider the lilies)
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
I feel like it would almost be a disservice to elaborate much on this. But just as the birds go about their lives without anxiety over food, flowers grow in the fields without anxiety over their appearance. They are beautiful just as they are, and so are you. The One who creates the bird and the flower created you. Don’t let yourself become anxious about food and clothing. He will provide.
Verses 31-32 (Summary: what distinguishes us from the world)
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Here’s something to think about: When Yeshua said, “Do not worry,” was He giving us advice or a commandment? I take it more as a commandment. To worry about food or drink or clothes is to not trust; and we are, after all, called “believers.” Yeshua’s people are expected to be different from the “worldlings.” He refers to them as “pagans” and says they are the ones who obsess about food and drink and clothes – in essence, material possessions. Have you ever been to a party or some gathering where you’re the only believer; and the conversation seem so banal, so shallow? You want to talk about the meaning of life and share the things Yeshua has done, but nobody is interested. They want to talk about cars and clothes and sports and food.
And I confess I am way too easily satisfied with triviality. While we are meant to enjoy life, I find myself lately giving too much mental energy to secondary, even tertiary, things. I think it bothers me too much when the Tigers lose (especially to a team like Pittsburgh). Or I wonder whether I’ll ever get the upper hand on the Creeping Charlie that’s invading our backyard. Or why jeans seems to only come with a 30-inch or 32-inch inseam, and I need a 31.
There is a great hymn from the early Twentieth Century written during a time of revival in America that comes to mind; and the opening verse is this: “Rise up, O men of God; have done with lesser things. Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings.”
Messiah reminds us that God our Father knows we need food, drink and clothing. There may be things in life worth being concerned about, but it certainly isn’t these things. And now Yeshua gives us the key that unlocks everything – the secret to an abundant life.
Verses 33-34 (Stressing out over the future robs you of the present)
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Isn’t that the truth? If you spend your time constantly worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next month or next year, you’ll miss out on experiencing today. And Messiah assures us there’s enough to deal with today that we shouldn’t be anxious about what doesn’t exist yet.
But the key to everything is right there in verse 33, and Matthew 6:33 is one of those verses you ought to commit to memory if you haven’t already. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. If we will make God’s Kingdom our priority, we’ll find that things just tend to go better for us day by day. If we’ll contemplate in our minds the things of eternity, we’ll find that the cares of this world can’t shake us from our composure. The winds and waves will come, but we’ll be anchored and immovable.
The futility of materialism. The key to everything: godliness/contentment.
With Messiah’s help, let’s not allow ourselves to be owned by “stuff.”
Now it so happens that today is the Fourth of July – a day for Americans to celebrate our freedom and to contemplate the high cost that was paid to secure it. But consider the multitudes of human beings who, while politically free, are spiritually still in bondage. And consider that there are some who, while living under oppressive governments and wearing physical chains, experience tremendous personal freedom. I am not suggesting we become Buddhists; but the fact is, if you want to experience true freedom, then don’t let yourself become ensnared by the things of this world.
I am feeling increasingly that, as Rabbi Paul put it, “the time has become shortened.” So, yes, enjoy the things God has given you; but don’t be owned by them. Don’t make the pursuit of wealth your life’s aim; it will leave you anxious and potentially cold hearted. Rather, set your affections on Yeshua, the soon-coming King; and let His Kingdom and His great mission be your priority. In the process you will become so much more a free person.
This is my Master’s Instruction. We have a high calling. Messiah set the bar very high for His followers, and these teachings are difficult to attain to. But to be a disciple of King Messiah Yeshua means to live out His teachings daily. No one said this was going to be easy. As G. K. Chesterton observed,
“Christianity hasn’t been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”