Living with Eternity in mind. Matthew 6:1-21
In the last portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been teaching us that our righteousness must be deeper than the superficial box checking of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus challenged us to be whole, to be the same on the inside as we are on the outside, to be real, to be genuine.
Now, he comes at it from a slightly different angle asking us the tough questions of motivation. What is your heart motive? Do you long to be seen by others as someone who is really righteous? Do you do things so that others will think you are something that you really aren’t? Do you do things in the Christian realm just because others are watching, or may be watching? Jesus puts forth the motive of eternity (lasting eternal rewards) as what should motivate us rather than temporal passing things. Let’s look at the passage but read only the first and the last for now…
(be reminded that verse numbers, chapters, and headings have all been added after the fact!)
As you can see, these verses are the main teaching and the verses in between are 3 examples that Jesus chose to use because they were a part of everyone’s religious activity of that day. (As you can now see quite plainly, these verses are not about money per se, but one of the examples is about an expected religious activity involving money.)
Nutshell: Kingdom Living: Righteousness is doing the will of God in things seen and unseen with eternity in mind. Hypocrisy is skin deep righteousness with temporal rewards in mind. Three examples of religious life of Jesus’s day (giving to needy, praying, fasting) are used to drive the point home.
Does this all sound duplicitous to you? Jesus just spent a good bit of time teaching us to be genuine, to be the same on the inside as we are on the outside, to be real people. And now, he says that we should do some things quietly and very privately.
Righteousness boils down to doing the will of God in those things that are seen by others and also (the focus now) in things that are and should be unseen by others. Hypocrisy is skin deep righteousness (not really righteousness at all). The literal meaning is “actor”. It means to have a doubleness between our actions and our inner heart.
What Jesus is really getting at is what is it that motivates us? Is it what people will think of us? Think about the things we say to our children as we raise them…don’t we teach them to be hypocrites? What if our motivation was our reward in heaven? Jesus puts it out there… 5:12, 6:1. How would that change things? Would it matter what other people thought of us? Jesus seems to be teaching us that we can live this life in such a way that we always have eternity in view. Financial gurus want you to have your retirement in view. Jesus wants us to have all of eternity in view.
If we live with eternity with the Father (best translation of vs. 1) in view then we will live very differently. Perhaps we will be more giving! Perhaps we will not be so concerned with our own legacy that we would be willing to make room for someone else to be successful, even helping others to achieve even if it means they get the recognition and we don’t! Perhaps we would love the unlovely. Perhaps we would go to extreme lengths so that others might know the love of God. Perhaps our lives would come into order and we would stop sensing that dragging burned out feeling that is so persistent even within Kingdom People!
(It seems to me that there was a generation that said, “Quit your complaining and eat your brussel sprouts. Then came along a generation that said, “It’s not about the brussel sprouts, we should enjoy eating the steak.” Eventually a generation came along that said, “I am so overwhelmed by the steak that I need a trophy for eating it!”. Jesus’ answer for all of these is Kingdom living with eternity in mind!)
Three examples from every day (expected) life for a God follower:
1. Giving to the needy: Let’s look at the context first so that we can understand clearly what this teaching is about. Giving to the needy had been formalized into something akin to our government welfare system. People were encouraged to give and limits had even been set so a person did not give away more than 20% of their income. The tithe to the temple was still practiced, but Jesus was not talking about the tithe (in fact Jesus never contradicted the tithe from the Old Testament rather he assumed the people he spoke to were giving the tithe!) Some lessons: Perhaps my attitude towards the tax imposed on us by our government to help the needy should be viewed as an opportunity to give? Needless to say, we are called on to give to the needy and to do so in a private way as much as possible. (Mention areas in which we give as a church and areas we can give as individuals.) So…give from the heart and don’t brag about it. (if we take Jesus’ words literally here we must also do the same for 5:29-30)
2. Prayer: Context…Reading of Scripture was done out loud since no one had a “Bible” at home. Thus, praying was also done out loud in the temple/synagogue. In fact, truly committed people prayed 3 times a day at fixed times. So if they were on a street corner when that time arrived they would just begin to pray…out loud! The lesson we can learn is that Jesus says to go into a private place like your pantry and close the door and commune with God privately. We are to develop a “secret place of prayer” where we meet God.
3. Fasting: Context: Fasting was assumed to be a part of religious life by this time. Originally in OT fasting was seen as a special provision for times of penitence or emergency, but by this time had been turned into a matter of routine religious duty. (Isaiah 58:3-7) The kind of fasting that Jesus seems to be talking about is one of choice rather than of routine, “since there would be little point in putting on a show to impress people with one’s fasting if it was already known and expected.” (France p. 255) The lesson is that when I am led to fast it should be something private and not announced to others. If my fast is a long period of time, others may come to be aware of it, but a fast is not a teaching tool!
These three examples are still foundational activities of Kingdom living (no one gets a trophy for doing them!!!), but they are to be done privately as an expression of our hearts. They are to be done with eternity in view, rather than the approval of humankind…not just these, but everything we do. We must ask ourselves the question? Does what I am doing (or about to do) have eternity with my Father in view or am I just thinking temporally? Relationships, resources (money, time, etc) are all to be leveraged for eternity.
Are you overwhelmed? Maybe feeling overloaded with all the things you have to juggle in life? You may need to reprioritize. You may need a rest. You may need to realize that you cannot do everything. (Your children will not die if they are not signed up in every activity known to humankind!!) In ministry, I have noticed that there is such a strong sense of independence in our culture that rather than taking time to ask for help and work with a team, we just push through and do it ourselves. Working with a team forces us to learn to live, love, and work with others. THAT IS WHAT WE WILL BE DOING IN ETERNITY!!!!! The most important thing you can do is get your mind around this truth: God designed us with eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:9-14). Are you living this way? When you serve your family and your eternal family (church) are you doing it with eternity in mind? If not you will burn out!
Ask Jesus today to give you a picture of eternity. Let’s change our focus and thus our attitudes will change.