Summer School

Upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount - Discourse 8 - A Devotional Paraphrase

Sermon 28 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley
By: Michael Roberts

Matthew 6: 19-23, “Treasures in Heaven”

Intention matters. Our daily hope is that the way we engage in our labor and relationships will be a “proper offering to God.” For practical examples, if we pursue our business for our own honor and riches, we are no longer serving God. We will no longer be connected to blessing God any more than if we gave an offering only to be seen by others. We cannot separate sacred and secular activity so easily, for God is at work in all and through all. Our Lord calls us to engage in worship and in work with the “same piety of heart.”

In our lesson today, Jesus uses the metaphor of the eye to explain and enlarge this truth. He says that the eye is like the light of the body. If the eye is focused on what is good, and true, and worthy of praise, then we will be guided into the light. If, on the other hand, the eye is focused on evil, then we will be consumed by darkness. In this metaphor, the eye is the intention. What the eye is to the body, intention is to the soul. As the eye guides the motions of the body, intentions guide the soul. If our spiritual eyes turn from a single focus of God, clouds again with rise. Doubts and fears will come. We will find ourselves “tossed to and fro,” blown about by desires that do not advance us along the path of life. (Ephesians 4:14)

The light of Christ, shining in us, illuminates the holiness to which we are called. In this light, we see that true holiness is not found in judgement, or division, or any semblance of the self-righteousness that we sometimes associate with religion. This light illuminates the way of love. This love is revealed in humility, gentleness, patience, and all the fruits of holiness that glorify God. As we walk in this light, we are transformed, into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another, by the Spirit of the Lord. (II Corinthians 3:18)

Next, this light is characterized by happiness. Holiness and happiness go together. This light brings joy, peace, assurance, and comfort. As we walk in the light of God, we are able to rejoice, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things. (Philippians 4:4-7) In sum, this light guides us into holy happiness.

But we are so prone to stray. We give into desires and temperaments that promise so much, but only yield what is “unprofitable, corrupt, and grievous to the Holy Spirit.” As we move into darkness, the shadows only bring discontent, division, and even destruction. Thus, our Savior gives straightforward advice. “Do not store for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

We may compare ourselves, as good Christians, with the natives in America. My observation is that they are, on the whole, equally temperate, sober, humble, and chaste as the natives of England, commonly called Christians. However, when it comes to this word from the Lord, we must give preeminence to the so-called “heathens.” In my observance, they model contentment with plain food and clothing and are far less interested in storing up treasures on earth. They more readily live the prayer, “give us this day our daily bread.” Too often, even seemingly good Christians pay little attention to this word. Certainly, in the pursuit of increased worldly goods and pleasures, there are many who avoid stealing or defrauding others and engage this goal in a principled manner. But still the focus is on how to properly build earthly treasures. It is amazing how we can deceive ourselves in this way.

To be clear, we are not forbidden to provide for ourselves and our families. We are not forbidden what is needed to carry out our worldly business. But we can so easily go beyond this focus and store up more than is necessary to fulfill these noble purposes. To do this is to openly deny our faith in the Lord who provides.

Hear this word. You may be highly esteemed by people and, at the same time, be an “abomination to the Lord.” How long shall your souls cleave to the dust? When will you awaken and be persuaded to choose the better treasure? When will you seek only to lay up treasures in heaven? For to do otherwise is to turn your heart over to what is finite, temporal, and lacking in power to give any true and lasting meaning. It is to side with death itself.

In this regard, our Lord tells us that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. How hard it is for them not to think of themselves as better than the poor. How hard it is for us not to seek happiness in riches or to become dependent and protective of them. The story of the rich young ruler is illuminating. He sincerely wanted to know what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus tells him to sell all and follow him. He could not do it. Wealth is not evil in itself. It is the desire for it that leads us down the darker path. (I Timothy 6:10) How shall any of us escape this fate? As Jesus says, with us it is impossible but with God are all things possible. (Matthew 19:26)

With spiritual wisdom, let us cry aloud. Do you put your trust in uncertain riches? Will they secure us from any sickness, disease, or pain? Do such realities visit the poor only? No. And there is a greater trouble at hand than all of these. Death will come. Our riches cannot “re-animate this breathless clay?” We cannot take any of it with us, for we came into this world naked and we will return in the same way.

Likewise, do not trust in riches for happiness. To do so is the greatest folly under the sun. An abundance of “things,” stored up on earth, only brings added stress and misery. Put your trust in the living God and you shall be safe under the shadow of the Almighty. God’s faithfulness shall be your shield. And even when this house of earth is ready to turn back to dust, God’s word remains: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who gives victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:53-56)

“Do not store for yourself treasures on earth.” This commandment is as sure as “Do not steal” or “Do not commit adultery.” If we do not use our resources in doing good to others, we use them to hurt ourselves – in nourishing ill tempers, in indulging foolish passions, and supporting vanity. Following these pursuits is like keeping money from the poor to buy poison for ourselves.

Therefore, “store for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt and where thieves do not break in and steal.” The wise steward seeks to be rich in good works, giving freely to support the work of the Lord, to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger, to defend the oppressed, and to heal the sick, not only by miracles, but through the blessings of God from regular and disciplined giving.

By your endeavors to patiently and continuously give to share the blessings of God’s love, may you also be able to await in joy for that great hour when the King of Kings shall say, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. Come now, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34-40) Amen.