The American dream seems to be the hunt to acquire possessions. Many see shows about America’s rich and famous. Preachers join in the fray telling you the secrets to getting money and lands as though the Bible were a book about getting earthly possessions. The pitch goes like this: “If you only do these three easy steps, then God. Usually buying their book which tells you the key to getting wealthy God’s way is part of the story. After all, aren’t a lot of health and wealth preachers exceedingly rich? Doesn’t it work for them? They will tell you that if you will just do what they did, then they could have all this stuff too. You can have a big house, a fancy car, impressive clothes and jewelry, and lots of money. You can have your “best life now”. But what does Jesus have to say about this? Let us see.
Exposition of the Text
Jesus in Matthew 5:20 says that He is looking for more than the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes. He attacked the orthodoxy of the Pharisees in the rest of chapter 5. They were guilty of watering down Scripture by their interpretation of it and replacing the righteousness of God with their own righteousness. In the previous verses in chapter six, Jesus shows that the practice of the religion of the Scribes and Pharisees was also deficient because they were doing it for show. Both of these attacks, on doctrine and practice (orthodoxy and orthopraxy) really point to a third deficiency. This is a deficiency of the heart.
In this section, Jesus directly challenges the heart of the Pharisees. One of the chief indicators of this heart failure was their love for money. Pharisees for the most part were made up by businessmen and merchants. The rich you ng ruler in one of Jesus’ parables demonstrated this by not giving all that he had to the poor, and then follow Jesus. Jesus responded to this by saying “How hardly will those having riches enter into the Kingdom. This parable perfectly explains here what Jesus is saying here in verses 19-21. Their desire for treasure was for earthly treasure. The rich young ruler was promised riches in heaven, but turned it down. He was more interested in his “best life now”.
Jesus here issues a command to his true disciples to stop their love affair with earthly treasures. He reminds them of the temporary nature of human treasure. Money is here today and gone tomorrow. I think of what happened to my great-great grandfather who became very wealthy running his father in law’s businesses in Toronto and Buffalo. After the Civil War, he took his savings in a carpet bag and came to Charlottesville VA. There he paid $30,000, a princely sum in 1870, and brought the house and estate of John Randolph who was an uncle to Thomas Jefferson. He put $100,000 in improvements in the place. But three years later, the Panic of 1873 left him destitute. He had to fire sale the place for $10,000 to cover his debts. Broke, he had to move in with his brother. Someone else had purchased the estate at a bargain-basement price. But a few years later in Gone with the Wind style, the house burnt to the ground in a spectacular fire. This is the way it is with wealth.
Jesus reminds them that thieves break in and steal possessions, and that moth and rust also take their toll. He could have mentioned the spoils of war as well, but Jesus had clearly made His point. We are only here a short time. Even if we do amass wealth and try to build bigger barns to put them in, we have no guarantee that we will live to enjoy these riches. And riches also destroy families when they argue over the will.
The true disciple of Christ whom Jesus also addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is one whose treasure is in Heaven. This treasure is eternal and will never fade or rust. Even if the believer has little in this life by way of possessions, it is far better if necessary to endure hardship and poverty now and riches in eternity that to eat, drink, and be merry in this life only to be excluded from the feast in Heaven. The Pharisees boasted of their wealth now. They held parties to entertain their own. In this they were no better than the heathen. It is interesting that the word “Canaanite” means merchant. The Pharisees boasted that they were true Israelites, but in reality were the true Canaanites. The Scripture which the Pharisees claimed to revere and uphold told on them. One only need read the Old Testament to see what God thought of the Canaanites.
Jesus then goes on to demonstrate that God must be first in the true believer’s life. The first commandment states “You shall have no other God’s before me.” The rich young ruler who had said he observed all of the commandments from his youth up even though Jesus told him that God alone was good had broken this commandment by rejecting Jesus’ command to follow. To reject the Son is the same as rejecting the Father and the Holy Spirit. He put his love of wealth before his love for God. He was covetous, which is breaking the tenth commandment as well. By breaking the first and last of these commands, he was breaking all of them. After all, adultery, murder, etc. flow out from failure to observe the first and last commandment.
Jesus says that the true disciples has an eye only for God. To gaze upon anything else is evil. The eyes can only focus on one object. Other objects are peripheral to the focus. To gaze upon what is meant to be peripheral is to make God peripheral. This seems to have been the major fault of the Scribes and Pharisees. It is not that peripheral things are evil in themselves. Everything God created, he called good. But it is evil when these objects are exchanged with God as the center of one’s heart.
Jesus continues by telling his disciples that it is impossible to serve two masters. This is similar in a sense to what He has just said about singleness of vision, but goes beyond it to the heart. Trying to live a double life will result in loving what emerges as first in one’s life and hating the other life as interfering with the first love. If one puts money and treasure first, this means that God will be hated for the demands He makes which get in the way of one’s first love. This in a sense was to accuse the Scribes and Pharisees of hating God, a hate they would soon become quite vocal in expressing when they demonstrated their contempt for Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In verse 25, Jesus goes back to address His true disciples who hear His words and put them into practice. God knows we have need of the peripheral goods He has created to sustain us. He is aware of our need for food and clothing, and it is His will to provide these things. The lilies of the field and His care for sparrows are reminders that God cares for things which are far inferior to us. We need to have faith that God will provide for His people. He even cares for those who reject him and the unjust. He cares for the birds and lilies which He created can called “good”. He cares for evil men who have rejected Him. How much more will He care for those whom He has purchased with the blood of His Son.
In verses 33-4, Jesus sums up this section with how the heart of the true disciple should be ordered. A disciple of Jesus is one who seeks the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first and foremost, knowing that He will provide that which is necessary but peripheral. Note that this righteousness that we should seek is the righteousness of Christ. We cannot look into ourselves for this righteousness because this takes our single eye off of God and instead focuses it on ourselves. This is the worst form of idolatry.
The church today is suffering greatly because it has taken its eye off of Jesus and fixed it upon peripheral things like wealth or self. Jesus is no longer center in too much of the American church and American believers but has been reduced to the periphery. How then can we enter the Kingdom with such a Pharisaical attitude? The Scribes and Pharisees were outside the kingdom. If we do likewise, how do we think we will come off better than they? We give lip service. We quote the “Seek ye first” but do it in this way. In a whisper, we say “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”, but shout “AND THESE THINGS SHALL BE ADDED UNTI YOU”. Decide for yourself the truth of this matter.
If we are double minded, thinking that we can live our “best life now” and have the best in Heaven too, we are dead wrong. This is an absolute insult to God. Best is in the superlative degree. If we are having our “best life now”, this means the life we are living now is better than Heaven. If we think about this, we are saying that it is better to live in this world which is marked by violence, greed, theft, adultery, hate, war, disease than it is to be in Heaven. If this is so, then Heaven would be utter Hell. This clearly demonstrates the attitude of far too many who call themselves “disciples of Jesus.” They are trying to love two masters. They love their wealth which means that they hate God and the demands He makes on their lives which get in the way of this lust for wealth and power. They are not seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness but things which are here today and gone tomorrow. They are the fools which hear the words of Jesus and do not put them into practice who will end up being swept away in the flood.
I have just finished using the third person “those” and “them”. We need to examine ourselves lest we discover that the “them” is “us”.