Pastor Mike Spaulding: Matthew 6:19-48 – The Dangers of Religious Formalism

sermon-on-the-mount

Over the last several weeks we’ve been learning the difference between authentic Christianity as presented by our Lord Jesus and religious formalism demonstrated by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and many who profess faith today.

The apostle Paul would refer to this latter group as people who held “a form of godliness although they have denied its power.”  Paul’s exhortation concluded with the warning to “avoid such men as these.”

Jesus simply called them what they were – hypocrites.

As we look back at this great teaching that started in chapter 5, we come to understand more and more why Jesus says what He says.  For example, “You have heard it said, but I say to you” can be seen as Jesus saying “Your religious formalism demanded (such and such) but authentic Christianity, true righteousness is demonstrated by (such and such).”

This led up to 5:20 and actually explained how it could be accomplished.  “You have heard it said, but I say to you” is meant to point out to all those listening then and now that self-effort can never accomplish the righteousness that God requires.

Jesus’ use of financial giving, prayer, and fasting hit home with the crowd on the mount that day.  They had all witnessed people making a big deal out of giving money; they had seen people standing on the street corners wailing away in supposed prayer; and they had witnessed the near-death looks of all those people who made sure others knew they were fasting.

The point Jesus brought to bear with great force was that an authentic relationship with God the Father began by faith in Him and was a matter of the heart before it was anything else.

Jesus is teaching us as well that true faith, true love for God is demonstrated by actions that seek to glorify Him with no thought for self-promotion or for the applause of men.

As Jesus surveyed the crowd that day I’m sure His heart ached for all those who were not getting the message.  I’m sure there were many who sat there listening and agreeing but not understanding that He was speaking to them.

We begin our study this morning at – 6:19-21.

If there was ever a clarion call for Christians today to get focused on what it really means to be a “Christ-follower” then this is it.  Jesus is saying that we need to make life matter.  Now obviously in order for Jesus to make this exhortation the opposite must be possible – we can live a life of no consequence.

In fact I see 3 possibilities in this context of living that Jesus is speaking of.

  • We can waste our lives.
  • We can spend our lives.
  • We can invest our lives.

Perhaps you’ve never considered life in this way before.  You can waste your life.

  • You can waste your life living “for the moment,” partying, doing drugs/alcohol and being sexually promiscuous. Many of our modern idols do this – Hollywood stars and pro athletes.
  • You can waste your life being lazy; procrastinating and throwing opportunities down the drain.

You can spend you life.

  • You can spend your life trying to be the best in the things you think are most important, trying to reach the top of the ladder.
  • You can spend your life doing whatever it takes to reach your goals, running over whoever it takes to get there.
  • You can spend your life being focused on self, looking out for #1.

Or, you can invest your life.

  • You can invest your life by give back out of the things you’ve been blessed with.
  • You can invest your time and talents to make a difference in the lives of other people.

The apostle Paul seemed to understand this when he wrote to the Galatian Christians:

“You were called to freedom brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh; but through love serve one another.”

And he follows that statement by saying this:

“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Now, what Paul is saying in that passage is that the Galatians had been blessed so much by the freedom Jesus brought through the cross.  Their old manner of living that made prisoners of them to the rituals, rules, and regulations of men was destroyed.  He was warning them of the tendency to pervert and abuse freedom for self-serving purposes.  He exhorted them to use their blessings to bless others.

Is that a new concept?  It shouldn’t be.  When God blesses us it is not for our own indulgence but it is so that we can make an investment in the lives of others.

This speaks directly to one of the most deadly and debilitating diseases in America today – affluenza.  No, I didn’t say influenza (that’s the flu).  I said ‘affluenza.”  Perhaps you know this disease by its more common cultural name – materialism; or perhaps by its biblical name – greed.

Martin Luther wrote, “Whenever the gospel is taught, and people seek to live according to it, there are two terrible plagues that arise: false preachers who corrupt the teaching, and then Sir Greed, who obstructs right living.”

Can anyone seriously argue that Americans by and large are intoxicated with an “obsession for possession?”

Let me ask you a question.  What’s the most outrageous thing you would do for money?  Don’t blurt out an answer – I don’t want anyone getting in trouble this morning.

A few years ago a Chicago radio station offered $10,000 to the individual who would come up with the most outlandish act to win a prize.  More than 6,000 people entered the contest.

The winner was a man named Jay Gwaltney of Zionsville, Indiana.  His stunt?  He ate an 11 foot birch sapling; leaves, bark, roots, and all.  For the event Gwaltney rented a tuxedo and had a table set up with fine china and sterling silver dinner ware.  It took him 18 hours over a 3 day period to eat the entire 11 foot sapling.  His only condiment was French dressing.

My first thought when I read that was “that’s crazy!”  You probably think its crazy too.  But let me ask you this – would you do it for $10 million?  Ahhh, I see you’re thinking about it.

This was the exact question that authors James Patterson and Peter Kim explored in their book, “The Day America Told the Truth.”

Listen to these statistics that tell us how far people are willing to go in this country for money:

  • 25%  Would abandon their families
  • 23%  Would become prostitutes for a week or more
  • 16%  Would give up their American citizenship
  • 16%  Would leave their spouse
  • 10%  Would withhold testimony to allow a murderer to go free
  • 7%    Would kill a total stranger
  • 3%    Would put their children up for adoption

Folks there is a reason that the most popular shows on TV are all money-themed shows.  “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” was not the first of its kind but it seems to have birthed a whole slew of shows that appeal to one of the most base instincts of human nature – the desire for money and all that it is thought money can buy.

“Fear Factor”, “Deal No Deal”, “Survivor” and the latest I just saw advertised last night, “Show Me the Money” are all about what people will do for money.  Americans are fed a steady diet of materialism in the disguise of entertainment.

We feed people the deadly disease of affluenza and make it look like this is what life is all about.  But then when people follow the instincts stirred up by materialism and begin to kill and rob for tennis shoes or cars or possessions, we are shocked and wonder how people could do such a thing.

One of the consequences of affluenza is that it destroys the ability to be content.  Advertisers constantly bombard us with “New and improved,” “bigger” “faster” “more for your money” products.  Materialism makes it nearly impossible to be satisfied with what possessions you do have.

The next time you are in the grocery store take a walk down the salad dressing isle.  Can anyone serious believe that we need 120 different flavors of dressing?  Not long ago I was in the snack food isle and counted 11 different flavors of “Cheeze-Its.”  Now come on people, do we really need 11 different varieties of Cheeze-Its?

Affluenza has deadly consequences beyond losing the ability to be content however.

  • It creates stress when we think we have to have more and more.
  • It strains and disrupts our relationships because our focus becomes things and not people.
  • It makes material things our master.

It seems to me that many Christians only wake up to this problem between Thanksgiving and Christmas when they complain about the commercialization of Jesus’ birthday celebration.

So, in verse 19 Jesus is telling us to examine our investment.  Are we wasting, spending, or investing what He has given us?

I want to be clear about something here folks.  Jesus is not saying that we should not have money or possessions.  Jesus never advocated poverty as a means of becoming closer to Him or as a means of becoming more “spiritual.”

Some of the godliest people in Scripture were also some of the wealthiest – Job, Abraham, Joseph, and Lydia of Thyatira come to mind.  Jesus is also not saying that we cannot enjoy our possessions.

What Jesus is saying is that we must not make the acquisition of possessions the chief goal of our lives because material things are totally unsatisfying by design.

That’s why earlier in this very sermon Jesus said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”

Solomon, the richest man who ever lived said, “In the fear of the Lord are riches, honor, and life.”

Notice that Jesus mentions moths, rust, and thieves.  He mentions these 3 things to highlight the truth that we are not to trust in things to bring us happiness because they do not last.

Instead of trusting in the things of this earth Jesus says we must trust in the blessings of God that are stored in heaven for all those who are obedient to His calling.  This reveals the heart of the believer.

Campbell Morgan wrote of believers:

“You are to remember with the passion burning within you that you are not a child of today.  You are not of the earth, you are more than dust; you are the child of tomorrow, you are of the eternities.  You belong to the infinite.  If you make your fortune on the earth – poor, sorry, silly, soul – you have made a fortune, and stored it in a place where you cannot hold it.  Make your fortune, but store it where it will greet you in the dawning of the new morning.”

Where we place our treasure reveals where our heart is already.

Verses 22-23

Here we see Jesus expanding His teaching concerning our heart attitude.  Jesus says that if we can’t see clearly what He is talking about then we are walking in darkness.

The word translated “clear” in verse 22 is also translated as “single” in the KJV.  Both words convey the idea of have a “single-minded” devotion to God.

I see 2 different contexts here.  The first is that Jesus is saying “if you follow Me in faith you need to clearly understand what that means.  You cannot become consumed by the world’s cares and its pursuits because your life consists of more than this.”  He’s obviously speaking to those who are or desire to follow Him.

The second context is one in which Jesus is speaking to those who think they are following Him but are not.  To those Jesus is saying that without a focus on Christ as Lord of their lives, they are people devoid of spiritual understanding.

The light (understanding) they claim to have is really darkness.  This speaks of deception folks. The sad fact is that there are many people who believe they are right with God for any number of reasons but they are not.

This kind of statement upsets some people who want to believe that “all roads lead to God” and insist on a form of “easy believism.”

Jesus will speak to this issue later in chapter 7.  We’ll be there in a couple of weeks.  But as a way of addressing what Jesus is saying here in chapter 6 turn over to chapter 7 verse 13.  Then skip to verses 20-27.  I don’t want to go into a teaching on this passage this morning but I want you to understand that the people Jesus is talking about here as “mistaking darkness for light” are people who thought they were saved.

Unfortunately they:

  • Choose the wide way instead of the narrow (all roads instead of one road)
  • Relied on man-made righteousness instead of God-given righteousness (did we not prophecy . . . [do all these works] in your name)
  • Were never “known” by Jesus (saved)
  • “Heard” Jesus words but still chose to do it their own way (house on sand).

We are to set our eyes and our mind on the Kingdom of God.  The Bible says in Colossians 3:1-3:

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Jesus says unless our focus is right we will be mastered – verse 24.

Jesus says guard your hearts and have a single-minded devotion to God because if you don’t you will face a choice.

Who will you be loyal to?  Mark Twain was the master of the one-liners.  It is written that he once got into a debate with a Mormon during a visit to Salt Lake City.

The Mormon challenged Twain to find one scripture passage that forbids polygamy.  Without hesitation Twain replied, “Ok, no man can have 2 masters.”

The fact is that our master is whatever or whomever you serve.  Whatever controls your life is your master.  Where your focus is will determine who or what your master is.

Money, possessions, or social position do not satisfy the human heart.  I remember reading about Christina Onassis several years ago, who died at the age of 37.

There was a story in People magazine about her life that included a comment from her sister Henrietta who said:

“She was one of those people who would never be happy.  She would become impatient.  It had all come too easily – all the money, houses all over the world, few real responsibilities.  She lacked a sense of achievement.  What she was striving for was virtually impossible in her situation.  She had houses all over the world, but she never really had a home.”

The apostle Paul gave a young pastor by the name of Timothy this instruction concerning worldly wealth:

1 Timothy 6:6-12

6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.

7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.

8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.

10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

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.

18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

19 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.

There is an interesting story told of an American Indian who visited a friend in New York City.  As they walked down the street one day amidst all the hustle, bustle, and noise, the Indian said, “I hear a cricket.”

His friend was skeptical that anyone could hear the sound of a cricket in all the noise of the city.  But his friend persisted and then walked over to a planter next to a building about 10 feet away and after a few seconds of looking walked back to his friend with the cricket in hand.

The New Yorker was astonished and said, “You must have super human hearing.”  Not at all insisted the Indian who said, “I don’t hear any better than you do.”  “It all depends on what you’re listening for.”

“What do you mean?” asked the New Yorker.  “Watch” the Indian said.  Then he took some change out of his pocket and dropped it on the sidewalk.  Almost immediately 2 dozen people almost caused a pile-up on the sidewalk as they turned to look.

The Indian then very wisely said, “We all listen for what is important to us.”

The lyrics to the hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” comes to mind in this context.  Do you remember them?

They say in part:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold,

I’d rather be His than have riches untold,

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,

I’d rather be lead by His nail-pierced hand.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause,

I’d rather be faithful to his dear cause;

I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,

I’d rather be true to His holy name.

Than to be the king of a vast domain,

Or to be held in sin’s dread sway;

I’d rather have Jesus than anything,

This world affords today.

One day all that we have on this earth will come to end.  Living life in the here and now by that truth brings freedom from the disease of materialism.

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