Paul Washer emphasizes the vital need for prayer for future ministers from Matthew 6:9-11. This message will benefit all Christians who desire to grow in God-centered prayer.
How to Make God’s Kingdom More Important Than Money
Money and materialism can be a real hindrance to the Christian life and love for God. Yet these things are a necessary part of life. How do we seek Christ’s kingdom first without letting money get in the way? Jesus tells us how in Matthew 6:19-34.
The Destructive Power of Money
Our materialistic culture – it’s the air we breathe.
If you live in a prosperous culture, you have great opportunities to pursue things that so many other people in the world don’t have the opportunity to pursue. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get obsessed with pursuing wealth.
In fact, even our vocabulary reflects how much we value attaining wealth.
Think about the term “success” or “to be successful”. How does our culture define who is successful and who is not?
When we say, “He or she is a very successful person,” it is usually in regards to attaining wealth. It’s a sad commentary on our culture that we often define success that way.
I hope the Great Recession in America a few years ago helped to start waking us up to the negative effects of pursuing wealth as a focus of our lives, effects like:
- High levels of household debt that limit and bind us.
- High levels of anxiety over financial concerns
- Arguments over finances putting stress on marriages
- An obsessive focus on career advancement that leads to a neglect of family and other important relationships
If we had the time I bet we could come up with a really long list about all the ways the pursuit of wealth can hurt people. In fact, some people lose hope when they lose their financial security.
What does the Bible say are some negative effects of pursuing wealth?
Prideful Self-Righteousness and Spiritual Blindness
In the New Testament we have the example of the Rich Young Ruler who believed he was OK because he kept the law but couldn’t give up his great wealth to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22).
In the Old Testament we have the example of the Northern Kingdom of Israel– Hosea 12:6 – “‘Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin’” – when in fact Israel was guilty of oppressing the poor, lying, murder stealing, adultery, Baal worship, and possibly even human sacrifices.
Wealth produced in these people a profound spiritual blindness and self-righteous confidence that lead to disastrous consequences.
The Desire for Wealth Can Cause Serious Interpersonal Conflicts
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”
– James 4:2
James 4:2 warns that our desires for things we don’t have leads to fights and quarrels. Have you ever seen anyone fight over money? Just ask anyone who has had to deal with inheritance and estate issues with their siblings. You’ll see all kinds of dark and nasty fights over money.
Furthermore, James says that coveting even sometimes leads to murder. Just read the newspapers about people being shot during armed robbery.
We see an example of this in the Old Testament when King Ahab of Israel had Naboth murdered because he wanted his vineyard for a vegetable garden (1 Kings 21).
Worst of All The Pursuit of Wealth Can Keep Someone From Being Saved From God’s Judgment
Pursuing Wealth Can Keep People From Believing the Gospel
In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains the soil that receives seeds but is ultimately choked out by thorns.
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.“
– Matthew 13:22
Jesus is speaking of people who had a chance to hear the gospel but ultimately reject it because they are more interested in money.
Pursuing Wealth Can Cause You To Turn Away from Christ
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
– 1 Timothy 6:9–10
Jesus clearly states the dangers of wealth’s deceitfulness when he asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
What is the point of all this?
The pursuit of wealth can destroy you. We need to wake up to the many dangers of making money and possessions the focus of our lives.
Fortunately, Jesus understands these dangers and wants to save us from the dire consequences pursuing wealth can bring which is why he says the things he does in our passage today.
Jesus wants to turn our hearts away from the foolish and destructive pursuit of wealth & orient our lives around His kingdom purposes.
How does he do that? In this passages, Jesus teaches us to:
- Value Eternal Wealth (v.19-23)
- Make Sure Your Allegiance is to God Alone (v.24)
- Pursue God’s Kingdom Agenda First and Foremost (v.25-34)
Before we look at the passage, let’s see what we’ve learned about Jesus so far in the book of Matthew and why we should listen to Him.
In Matthew 1, the promised Messiah has arrived, the rightful king of Israel in the line of David has come to lay claim to His throne. This is the king the Jews have been waiting centuries for. He’s here!
Yet there are hints he is no ordinary Israelite king:
- His birth is completely unique and initiated by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of a simple Israelite woman
- We are told his birth fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah and says he will be called Immanuel meaning “God with us”
- He is worshiped by foreign dignitaries that follow a strange star that lead them to Jesus’ birthplace, bringing valuable gifts fit for a king
- His very birth disturbs King Herod so greatly that Herod has all the male babies of Bethlehem murdered in an attempt to kill Jesus in order to secure his throne
- Later in his life, Jesus’ ministry is announced by a strange prophet named John the Baptist who quotes Isaiah connecting Jesus to Yahweh, one of the names of God in the Old Testament
- At his baptism, Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit of God, a type of divine coronation and empowerment to start his ministry
- Jesus then defeats Satan, the greatest enemy of mankind, simply by the power of His words as the two face off in the desert
- Jesus then announces that his presence means that the Kingdom of God has arrived and he proves this through miraculous healings, casting out of demons, and teaching the people the word of God.
And that is where our passage lies – in the midst of a lengthy sermon as the King addresses the wayward people of Israel, teaching them what it looks like to be subjects of His kingdom.
So far Jesus has taught on a wide range of subjects like anger, lust, divorce, retaliation, loving one’s enemies, etc. In almost all of them, he is trying to get the Jews away from mere rule-keeping by addressing matters of the heart.
So it’s no surprise that in this passage Jesus deals with our heart attitudes toward wealth.
Value Eternal Wealth (v.19-23)
“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. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, 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 in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
– Matthew 6:19–23
Here Jesus starts with a negative command (“do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth”) followed by a positive command (“lay up for your selves treasures in heaven”) followed by a reason (our hearts follow our treasure) and an illustration of the eye and the body which we will talk about in a minute.
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
First, let’s look at the commands – “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
I think what Jesus is saying here is that everything we value should be in eternal things because those are the things that will last. Everything on this earth – our bank accounts, our possessions – are perishable. They are not made to last forever. Our possessions are temporary tools with which we serve the Lord and which He uses to meet our needs.
But if that is the case, why do we get so captivated with pursuing earthly goods?
The Bible warns of the foolishness and futility of building temporary wealth.
Consider the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. Here Jesus tells a story about a rich man who built more barns in order to hoard his wealth so he could “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Sounds like most people’s financial dreams doesn’t it? A life defined by not having to work, simply hanging out and doing whatever pleases you.
Why was this man foolish? Because God knew he was going to die that very night and those things would be given to someone else. Jesus called him a fool because ultimately his wealth was designed to bring himself pleasure rather than using it for God’s purposes. This is like the popular saying “you can’t take it with you.” Ultimately, since all of this man’s treasures were bound to this earth, he had invested nothing that would benefit him in the next life.
The things of this earth are temporary and passing away. Acquiring wealth that we cannot keep is not very wise.
Additionally, the wealth of this world can be easily lost. Jesus gives 2 reasons: theft and corruption.
Earthly Treasures Can Be Lost
All our possessions can be corrupted and lose value in some way.
Edmunds has a neat infographic showing how much a new Nissan 370z car that costs $29,873 loses value over time.
- 1 minute after driving it off the lot – 9% of its value ($2,559 up in a puff of smoke)
- 1 year – 19% of its value ($5,687)
- 2 years – 31% of its value ($9,260)
- 3 years – 42% of its value ($12,546)
- 4 years – 51% of its value ($15,235)
So after 4 years, your formerly new car is worth half of what you paid for it. On average, Edmunds says that after 5 years, your car is worth 37% of what you paid for it (lost 63% of its original value). I still can’t figure out why people buy new cars (here’s a hint: buy a quality used car that’s at least 5 years old!).
That is the unfortunate power of depreciation.
There are all kinds of things that can damage personal property. That is why people spend so much on car insurance and home owner’s insurance. Natural elements like fire, lightning, water, wind, and hail all damage the things we own and take away their value.
Investments can be a great thing for building wealth if they are done wisely. However, how many people lost thousands in during the Great Recession a few years back? If you didn’t ride it out and panic sold you lost a bundle.
Houses? If you buy at the wrong time in the wrong place and the housing market goes south, you could lose a lot of your net worth pretty quickly.
There are so many other things that can diminish the value of our earthly possessions.
Loss from Theft
Lastly, Jesus warns about the dangers of theft. Think of these scenarios:
- One of your employees steals money out of the till or some of your goods. Even if you can prove it good luck getting it replaced.
- Somebody calls you up on the phone, convinces you they are the IRS and you give them your social security number.
- Someone hacks into your bank account or steals your credit card number.
- If you are a store owner, consider the problem of shoplifting. A National Retain Federation Survey found that American shop owners lost $48.9 billion from shoplifting in 2016.
Anyway you get the point, the wealth of this world is temporary and all too often easily lost. If that is all we have invested in, all our investment will be worthless to us one day when we die anyway.
Invest in Heavenly Treasures
Instead, Jesus wants us to invest wisely by storing up treasures in heaven that will never lose their value and cannot be stolen.
So what does it mean to store up treasures in heaven? Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t have any material wealth? No, it would be hard to function in this world without any material goods – plus you would have to be dependent on someone else’s wealth to live.
To store up treasures in heaven I think means that what we value more than anything is the things that are eternal.
- It means that when we have stuff, we are thankful to the God who gave it to us.
- It means we use our stuff for God’s purposes – we provide for our families, we share with people in need, we support Christian ministry and ministers who are dependent on us to do their ministry.
- It means we are willing to sacrifice the things we want in order to meet the needs of others
- It means we spend our money wisely so that we maximize the resources God has given us.
- It means we are constantly thinking about how our financial decisions impact our ability to be faithful disciples with God’s resources.
We need to think eternally about our financial decisions. Again, I think Jesus is less concerned about our itemized list of possessions than he is about our hearts which is what we see in this passage. It is about having a greater purpose for life than just accumulating stuff to please ourselves.
Look at the main reason why Jesus wants us to invest in eternal things. It certainly isn’t because God needs our stuff, it is because Jesus is concerned about our hearts.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
– Matthew 6:21
That’s really the main point. Your heart is connected to what you value the most. If you value money and possessions, that is what your life is going to be centered on and that is what will control your actions and motivations. But if your heart is set on heaven and God’s purposes in this world, that will control your actions and motivations.
That is why I think Jesus gives the eye illustration in v.22-23.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, 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 in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
– Matthew 6:22–23
Literally, the eye is what lets light into our bodies allowing us to see and make our way through life. Jesus uses that fact as a metaphor to make a bigger point.
I think what Jesus means is that he doesn’t want us to be like blind people groping around in the dark. He wants us to see clearly what we are to pursue in life. Those that pursue wealth as an end in itself are like blind people waiting to fall off a cliff. It is a foolish and dangerous pursuit.
So we need to make sure that our pursuits in life, that our hearts desires, are set on heavenly things and not the perishable and temporary things of this world. We can’t let the lure of wealth distract us from what we are to be doing and what we are supposed to value. We need to value eternal things.
The second main point is that Jesus wants us to make sure our allegiance is to God alone.
Make Sure Your Allegiance is to God Alone (v.24)
“No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.“
– Matthew 6:24
Here is another problem with pursuing wealth, it won’t let you serve God
I think sometimes American Christians want it both ways – they want to pursue their financial dreams and they want God at the same time. I think this is how the prosperity gospel flourishes in America because so many American Christians have divided hearts. I suspect they love money and they don’t want to give up that love. But they want God too and they want religion in their lives so they can feel good about themselves.
But Jesus is having none of that. Disciples of His kingdom cannot be divided. There is only one master they can serve.
God has made it very clear in Scripture that He will not tolerate rivals and is jealous for our affection:
- Ex. 20:3 – The very first of the 10 commandments – “You shall have no other gods before me”
- Ex. 34:14 – “you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”
- Deuteronomy 6:5 – “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”
- James 4:4-7 (in the context of coveting and fighting with others) – “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
God is jealous for our worship and affection. When money becomes our ultimate pursuit, it is like worshiping an idol because we value money and wealth more than God. That is why Jesus says you cannot serve God and money. Only one thing can be the object of your ultimate affection and pursuit.
So it is worth asking yourself some diagnostic questions:
- So where is your heart regarding money? Do you desire wealth and stuff and financial security more than God Himself?
- What consumes your focus? What do you want more than anything else in life?
- What do you think would bring the most happiness to you in life?
The answer to those questions may reveal what you value more than God. If you do value money or wealth or whatever more than God, you do need to confess that and ask the Lord’s forgiveness and help to make Him first and foremost in your heart. It might also help to read through our article, “God is the Greatest Good” to understand God’s value above all other things or Jesus’ command to love God above all else.
At this point you might be thinking: “I agree, I don’t want money to rule my life, I want to serve God first and foremost.” If Jesus has truly changed your heart, that’s probably what you are thinking.
But even if you have chosen to follow Christ and be His disciple, it means you and I will probably still struggle with our relationship to money, especially in the area of worry and anxiety.
And that is really the focus of the final section we are going to look at in v.25-34. In this section, Jesus wants to turn our hearts away from the pursuit of wealth by asking us to:
Pursue God’s Kingdom Agenda First and Foremost (v.25-34)
Here, Jesus addresses our worries about money. He speaks directly to the fears and anxieties of our hearts and gives us several reasons why we shouldn’t worry about money and instead focus on pursuing His kingdom agenda.
Understanding the Nature of Anxiety
First, I want to define anxiety. At its essence, anxiety is worry about the future. As one of the Bible word dictionaries put it, anxiety is “apprehension about possible danger or misfortune.”
Notice how anxiety is worry about things that haven’t happened yet. If you have ever battled anxiety or worry, you may have noticed how the thoughts in your mind constantly dwell on what “might” happen. It is as if we have become fortune-tellers trying to figure out the future (something God has always prohibited His people from doing by the way).
Anxiety is future-focused worry. And if you have ever battled with anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. It can totally shut your life down.
I went through a time in my life with some things my business was going through and I can tell you, all sorts of possible future bad stuff was running through my head. It was a really difficult time for me so I understand if you are dealing with that right now or have dealt with anxiety at some point in your life.
Fortunately, Jesus cares about our anxiety – in fact, He wants to free us from it. That is why he tells us not to be anxious and some ways how we can win the battle with worry.
I want to highlight 7 reasons why we shouldn’t be anxious about our money or our physical needs.
7 Reasons Why We Should Not Be Anxious About Material Needs
First reason not to be anxious about money:
1) Life has a greater purpose (v.25)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
– Matthew 6:25
When we worry about money and possessions, we are simply forgetting what life is all about. We are reducing life to a frantic concern about stuff. That isn’t what God created us to be about.
So Jesus wants to put our worry in perspective. He wants to draw our attention to bigger things by asking a very simple rhetorical question – “isn’t life bigger than what you will eat and what you will wear?”
Listeners are supposed to be saying, “yes, of course it is!” Life is about God and His glory and what He is accomplishing in the world. We will get more into that later.
Second reason not to be anxious about money:
2) God cares for you (v.26)
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
– Matthew 6:26
Jesus is using an argument technique here called “the lesser to the greater”. Basically, this argument says that if you can be strongly confident in this lesser thing, by force of logic you can also have confidence in this greater thing.
Why does Jesus use this argument? Well, sometimes we can doubt that God really cares for us. We wonder if He really loves us and will really provide for us. We don’t have the confidence in Him that we should.
Since we lack faith God’s provision, Jesus appeals to something that we won’t doubt – how birds get their food. Jesus essentially is saying, “do you not trust God to provide for you? OK, go bird watching and learn.” The argument is that just as God takes care of birds, which are of lesser value than man, God will take care of you since you are of much greater worth than birds.
So maybe next time your mind is being filled with anxiety over whether or not you will be provided for in the future, maybe you should just look out the window and watch the birds for awhile. Watch and see all the food that is just sitting out there for them to take. See all the ways God has naturally built in abundant food supplies so birds can eat all they want. And then realize that God cares for you much more than these simple birds.
Third reason not to be anxious about money:
3) Anxiety doesn’t accomplish anything (v.27)
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
– Matthew 6:27
Again Jesus asks a blatantly obvious rhetorical question to get His point across. Anxiety doesn’t do anything for you. It doesn’t make your life better. It certainly cannot lengthen your life.
Bottom line: since ultimately your life is not in your control but in God’s hands, why are you worrying? You won’t accomplish anything.
Fourth reason not to be anxious about money:
4) Worry is a symptom of unbelief (v.28-32)
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.“
– Matthew 6:28–32
Jesus uses an illustration about wildflowers in the same way he used the argument about birds. If God cares for this lesser thing, so will he care for you.
But Jesus adds an assessment of what is causing this anxiety – and he calls it a lack of faith.
Notice the phrase “O you of little faith”. That is not a compliment. Jesus is chiding his listeners for not trusting in their Creator for providing for them.
To top it off, he says “the Gentiles seek after these things”. To a Jew, a Gentile was an unbeliever, someone who did not believe in or serve the true and living God and had no relationship with Him. Jesus is basically saying, don’t act like an unbeliever. Unbelievers are constantly worrying about stuff because their hearts are not rooted in a faith and trust in God. So they have reasons to worry, they don’t believe there is a higher power caring for them.
Of course believers have no excuse. We know better. We know God can and wants to provide for us.
So next time you worry, you might ask yourself, “Why am I not trusting God? What is going on with my heart to cause me to doubt Him?”
It might be helpful in those times to write down all the ways God has provided for you in the past to remind yourself. It might be helpful to look at this passage or the many others that show and promise God’s provision for you. I think it helps to identify the root of the problem and confront it so God can help you get over it. Worry is ultimately a lack of faith.
Fifth reason not to be anxious about money:
5) You heavenly Father knows your needs (v.32)
“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
– Matthew 6:32
God is always aware of every single detail of your life. He knows what you need. He has been managing the world for a long time and He hasn’t forgotten about you. He knows what He is doing.
Notice that Jesus uses such an endearing term when He calls God our “heavenly Father.” He is reminding us that God is not detached and disinterested in our lives. To the contrary, He is a loving Father who is aware of and attentive to our needs. He is both powerful and caring and we can take comfort in that.
Sixth reason not to be anxious about money:
6) You should focus on the real purpose of life – God’s kingdom agenda (v.33)
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“
– Matthew 6:33
Here is the core of this entire passage and really the purpose of why we exist. We exist to pursue God and His kingdom agenda in the world.
Life is not about us. It is not about us gaining wealth. It is not about us attaining our goals. It is not about us achieving our career goals. It is not about us finding romance and falling in love. It is not about having a perfect family. It is not about spending your final days on a golf course in Florida.
Life is all about God. It is about the person and work of Christ in bringing His kingdom reign to bear on this earth.
Uniting ourselves with God’s purpose and agenda is the only way we will find meaning in life. So many people try to find meaning and ultimate purpose in so many other things but they are just shams, mirages, and lies that distract from the true meaning of life.
Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to be wayward vagabonds wandering through life and wondering “what am I doing here?” In this verse he gives us all a clear purpose statement – seek God and His kingdom agenda as the ultimate priority for your life.
That’s it, that’s the meaning of life. It isn’t hard. It isn’t unknowable. It’s right there.
What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God? I can’t say it better than biblical scholar R.T. France in his commentary on Matthew. France says, “Jesus is calling people to a commitment & submission to God’s purposes and will as revealed in all of Scripture, always prioritizing God’s agenda above our own.” 1
That’s it, seeking first the kingdom of God is fairly comprehensive. Just submit yourself to God’s will and His agenda in Christ as revealed in Scripture.
When we understand what life is all about, don’t our worries about money get much smaller? Don’t we start to see why Jesus can say “Isn’t life about more than what you will eat and what you will wear?” Of course it is.
Last reason not to worry about money:
7) You have more than enough to do today (v.34)
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.“
– Matthew 6:34
Remember what anxiety is, it is worry about the future. Jesus cuts right to the heart of anxiety and says stop worrying about all that future stuff. You have enough to focus on today.
So there you go, don’t let your mind drift to a future that probably won’t happen and isn’t your concern anyway. Focus on what you need to do today. Let God worry about the future, He’s good at it.
Jesus, our King and Creator, doesn’t want us to be destroyed by the pursuit of wealth. Instead, he wants us to value eternal wealth, make sure our allegiance is to God alone, and pursue God’s kingdom as our first priority.
I hope Jesus’ words encourage you. He cares for you. He doesn’t want you to be lead astray by the lure of money or dominated by anxiety. He wants you to know that your life is for a much greater purpose than the accumulation of stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run.
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