Sonidos Serranos

Sonidos Serranos: Sounds of the Sierras...
Reflecting some of my family's interests: God's wonderful creation (especially mountains and hills!), music, and language...

Psalm 121:1-2 (NASB)

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.

02 October 2008

Invest where there is a guaranteed return!

Store up treasure in heaven!

Our pastor has been teaching from the book of Isaiah on Sunday evenings, a series begun a year ago (if I remember correctly). On September 28, in the providence of God, he preached from chapter 23: Vanity Fair Overthrown. (Did John Bunyan perhaps have this chapter in mind when he wrote that section of The Pilgrim’s Progress?)

For a good summary of the sermon, click here. (By the way, I didn't read Andrea’s thoughts until I had finished writing out my own!) In the context of Isaiah 23, application was made from three New Testament passages. And I’ve been meditating on those passages this week…

Question for application: Am I controlled (enslaved) by a love of money?

Matthew 6: Verse 24 is the pivotal point of the passage: No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“No one can serve [lit. slave for] two masters…” Why? Because a master demands ALL of his slave’s time! And the Greek term for wealth in this context is worth noting: mamonas, for Aramaic mamon (mammon); i.e. wealth, etc. personified as an object of worship. The use of the term mammon implies that slaving for wealth is idolatry. If I’m serving wealth, I am not serving God; I cannot serve two masters because the demands of one master occupy all my time, thoughts, energy, etc. So, who then is my master?

Test: On the one hand, where am I storing up treasure?
In verses 19 to 21, Christ says: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Test: On the other hand, am I worried that I won’t have enough?
After saying: No one can serve two masters... You cannot serve God and wealth. Christ then says: For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Mind-numbing, stomach-churning worry is slavery! Worrying about not having enough and slaving to store up treasure are two ends of the same stick. Those who think themselves “poor” and are slaving, worrying about how to get more, are just as enslaved by the love of money as those who are “rich” and slaving to get more. Christ says that I must stop slaving to store up treasure on earth and I must stop slaving by worrying that I don’t have enough and need more.
Question: How much is “enough” for me – for any child of God through faith in Christ?
In I Timothy 6, the apostle Paul under divine inspiration states (in verses 6 to 8): Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

Consider the warning in verses 9 to 11, instructing against slaving for material gain and encouraging God-honoring pursuits instead: 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. 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. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness…

Consider the specific instruction in verses 17 to 19 for those who have been blessed (by God!) with abundant material possessions: Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

And who among us, especially living here in the United States of America, has not been blessed with material possessions? Besides food and clothing, most have homes larger than 500 square feet in relatively safe neighborhoods, plus several modes of transportation, not to mention the daily blessings (so often taken for granted) of running water (cold and hot!), electricity, air conditioning and/or heat at the touch of a button, clothes washers, dryers for rainy days, etc.

God seems to emphasize that having food, clothing, and covering is “enough” and that with those we must be content! Yet even when those may seem scarce, He instructs us not to worry. Look at how He provides food even for the birds and how He clothes even the flowers of the field – and HE knows our needs!

So we are instructed to be content with “food and covering” and “not to be conceited or to fix [our] hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” – and we are instructed “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” and thus “store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven.”

Question for application: So am I controlled (enslaved) by a love of money?

Test: How do I respond to others?
In James 2, the apostle James under divine inspiration writes (verses 1 to 4): Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?

How do I respond to the people that God brings across my path? How do I treat the rich? How do I treat the poor? Do I make distinctions? Am I prejudiced? Do I shun those I view as unable to do anything for me but treat nicely those I view as able to do something for me – because I have “evil motives” (of potential personal gain) in mind?

In verses 14 to 17, the apostle James provokes us to serious self-examination: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

True faith in Christ (as defined in the Scriptures as a whole) involves repentance – an inward change of mind/attitude, agreeing with God’s revealed truth – a change that is proven by outward actions. And in verse 27 of chapter 1, the apostle James prefaces this definition of living faith with a definition of “pure and undefiled religion” – that is, following Christ's perfect example. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Am I a true disciple of Christ? Am I following His perfect example? Am I looking only for opportunities to gain? Or am I also looking for opportunities to give? Am I concentrating only on (economic) frugality? Or am I also seeking specific opportunities to demonstrate generosity?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Concluding thoughts: Christ instructs me, in Matthew 6, to not be enslaved either by trying to store up treasures on earth or by worrying about food and clothing. And then He reassures me: Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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