“The Choices We Make Define Us”

Matthew 6:16-24

We are continuing in the Gospel According to Matthew and we are still reading through the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 6 begins where Jesus speaks of three fundamental practices of spiritual life necessary in God’s Kingdom. The first part of this chapter dealt with giving, last week we wrapped up Jesus’ thoughts and example of praying and today we are reading about fasting. 

I find it interesting that the prostestant church holds on tightly to the first two fundamental practices of giving and praying, but whatever happened to fasting? It would make for a great discussion. Obviously Jesus expected His followers to fast, or He wouldn’t have placed it in His sermon. 

During the practice of fasting, Jesus defines the choices one should make. First, when fasting, don’t wrinkle and disfigure your face, like the hypocrite scribes and Pharisees. They did so, in order to show everyone they were doing a holy thing. Typically Pharisees would have fasted twice a week, on Thursday and Monday as they were days that represented the ascent and descent of Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus makes it clear that the practice of fasting produces rewards. The choice is whether the reward is an earthly one or a heavenly one.  Once others sympathized with the Pharisees’ anguish, they had received their reward for the fasting. Jesus wanted the followers of God’s Kingdom to realize the hypocrites had received a reward, but it was chump change in comparison to the reward they would receive in heaven. Poor choice. 

Instead of the grumpy face, Jesus instructed followers in God’s Kingdom should take care of themselves like usual, and keep the fast something secret before God. 

Jesus continues in His focus on choices. Verses 19-21 He talks about the choice we have between two treasures. A warning against covetousness and how we should deal with our material possessions. Watch out! This could come close to home for a lot of us. Over the past couple of generations, consumerism has infiltrated itself into not only our mindset, but also our living rooms. Just for a moment, think back to when you were a child and compare to what is in your home today. Having possessions, even lots of them, is not the problem. It’s when we hold on to then and equate our possessions with our identity, rather than seeing all that we have as something to be steward over.  What Jesus warns against is the treasuring of treasures. 

The reason is that earthly treasures are temporary and fade away. It amounts to a waste of time and energy.  Contrary to popular belief, happiness is not gained by getting more, but rather by being content. 

Instead, we are told to treasure those things that are part of a heavenly kingdom. Why? Because in contrast, they are everlasting and incorruptible. Not only that, heavenly treasures are available now, remember heaven is here. Jesus claims the best way to experience contentment and a sense of well-being comes from being a giver. When we give, we are making investments in our heavenly bank account, in eternity. You can’t take any of your material treasures to the next life, but the good that has been done for the kingdom of God, through the use of our treasures lasts in eternity. 

Jesus goes on to equate that where we have our treasures, we will also discover that is where our heart is as well. It is not possible to store up treasure on earth and in heaven at the same time. 

Jesus continues to recognize that we have choices. This time He directs us to the choice we have with which way we choose to direct our vision. Jesus states the obvious, our eyes are in charge of how we manage our attitude toward material things. Which way are we going to look? Into the light or focused on darkness? Kingdom living means we are focusing on generosity, which brings light into our lives. 

According to Amanda MacMillan, in an article of TIME magazine, “It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know that doing nice things for people feels good.” 

A study published in Nature Communications, by researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland told 50 people they’d be receiving about $100 over a few weeks. Half of the people were asked to commit to spending that money on themselves, and half were asked to spend it on someone they knew. The researchers wanted to see whether simply pledging to being generous was enough to make people happier. So before doling out any money, they brought everyone into the lab and asked them to think about a friend they’d like to give a gift to and how much they would hypothetically spend. They then performed functional MRI scans to measure activity in three regions of the brain associated with social behavior, generosity, happiness and decision-making. Their choices—and their brain activity—seemed to depend on how they had pledged to spend the money earlier. 

Those who had agreed to spend money on other people tended to make more generous decisions throughout the experiment, compared to those who had agreed to spend on themselves. They also had more interaction between the parts of the brain associated with altruism and happiness, and they reported higher levels of happiness after the experiment was over. https://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/

Scientific proof of what Jesus claimed for His kingdom. 

Jesus goes one step further with the analogy of the eye, He reminds us that if we are blind in our eyes, the whole body is blind. How often have you heard a Christian say, “That is only one area of my life.” Forgetting, that with kingdom living we either follow the light or follow the dark. 

As we read in the next verse, “No one can serve two masters.” (verse 24). 

In this example of choices that have to be made, Jesus had the master and slave relationship in mind. According to Jesus, being a slave to two masters was simply impossible. For one thing, the master was said to “own” the slave. It is important for us to not take this out of context. The Israelites had been God’s chosen people since Abraham. They were a nation that was to be set apart and serve God only. Remember the first three commandments given at Mt. Sinai? This was established because every other group of people around them worshiped some other god or gods. In other words, by choosing to worship God alone, the Israelites were the odd ones out. Weird. Different. Who likes being different? On a day to day basis, living in the culture they did, ancient Israel struggled with idolatry. 

They thought they could worship the Lord their God and Baal. Jesus was reminding them, this was not possible. He was also bringing it into the matter of their possessions, or mammon. Mammon can either be used for God’s Kingdom and glory or it can become our idol. Do you serve your money or does your money serve the Lord and it will serve you?

The concept of money itself is morally neutral. However, Jesus was directing this part of His message to the hearts of those listening. Many people say they love God, but when you look into where their money goes, the facts are they do not. There is one good way to tell who or what we are serving, by remembering this principle: 

  • You will sacrifice for your God.

If you will sacrifice for the sake of money, but will not sacrifice for the sake of Jesus, don’t deceive yourself: money is your God. Also remember the group of people Jesus was addressing. They were poor, sick and most likely did not have much mammon. That wasn’t the point, the poor can be just as greedy and covetous as the rich.

Life is made up of a series of choices. We are presented with them on a daily basis. Some are trivial and some are significant. Jesus was teaching His disciples how to distinguish between the two. In this section of His sermon Jesus focused on:

  • The choice we make when we are choosing to do something for the Kingdom. Do we proclaim our good deeds, so everyone can see how Christian we are, or do we keep our focus on God and our relationship with Him?
  • Also, where are you putting your treasures, here on earth or heaven?
  • Are you keeping your eyes on just how many treasures you have, or are you gracious and generous with what God has given you?
  • Where does your money go? Do you serve your money or does it serve you? 

Kingdom principles are just as relevant today as they were in Jesus’ day, and just as difficult to cultivate in a world of sin. Jesus was quite aware of this and had a plan that would give us grace. He paid the ultimate price for every time we made a bad choice. Today we celebrate that plan of grace with the Lord’s Supper.