November 20 – Matthew 6:19-34

This week is a stand-alone week between the end of our Colossians series and the beginning of Advent, and we’re taking a moment at Vintage Downtown, before the holiday rush incapacitates us, to talk about how we relate to our material resources and how those relations often cause us serious anxiety—looking at you, Black Friday. To do this we’ll be turning to Matthew 6:16-34, the Sermon on the Mount.

Don’t let this passage wash over you if it’s super familiar to you because it’s terribly important for understanding the Christian perspective on material resources and, by extension, materialism. Especially this time of year, we’re surrounded by materialism, which assures us all that exists and matters is material and now so securing wealth, comfort, and security is the best use of your time and effort on this earth. And those religious traditions that don’t outright condone materialism often tend to fixate on it (e.g. asceticism or prosperity theology). Plenty of that mentality leaks into the Church (ehem, Christmas), and throughout the centuries Christians have cycled through despising material things and worshiping them. But we see neither of those things in this passage.

Which, to be quite fair, “treasures on earth” could be literally anything on earth your heart treasures, like fame, freedom, security, etc., so Jesus isn’t merely targeting money, though finances will give us plenty to talk about. Most often we get hung up on amounts when it comes to physical wealth. How much is enough? How much do I need to give? When we read, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” we immediately start calculating how much we think we can hold onto. For Jesus it isn’t about amounts, it’s about a binary allegiance. Where you treasure is, there you heart is also, and as he goes on to say, you can’t serve both God and money. If I’m trying to figure out how much I need to give away, perhaps it’s however much will break my allegiance to it.

But Jesus also doesn’t tell us to despise money. Wealth is a tool, and we should ask ourselves, “What does Jesus want me to do with the money he’s given me?” Jesus wants to free us of our attachment to our material wealth so we can then freely use it to accomplish Kingdom objectives in the world. Money is like garden soil—it’s needed to grow things, but at the end of the day you wash it off your hands. Just like our behavior, we should use our money towards eternal objectives, showing that we would rather lose money and have faith, justice, and peace than hold onto our money.

Jesus then transitions to speaking on anxiety, and in our discussion we’ll touch on why those to things are connected. The human proclivity to worry tends to stick primarily in the material realm, not having or securing enough of what you need or want. Jesus specifically mentions clothing and food in his examples, which would’ve been daily worries for his primarily agrarian, subsistence-living audience. Depending on your economic situation those examples might not hit home, but fill in that blank with whatever you tend to fret over: your job, your bank account, your possible success/failures, how other people think about you, etc. To this Jesus would say, “Is not life more than that?”

Interestingly, Jesus uses two material examples, birds finding food and flowers blooming, to illustrate why we shouldn’t worry over material things. When we worry, we tend to isolate ourselves, thinking, “How can I possibly make that deadline?” “Where will I get the money to do that?” We decide it’s all up to us. But Jesus’ point is that we aren’t lone agents in the material world. What we wrongly suppose is a cold universe in which we must fight and fret to attain what we want or need is actually a universe saturated with the presence of a God who is able and ready to provide for us. The bird isn’t just finding food; God is feeding it. The lily isn’t just blooming; God dresses it.

In fact, much of our anxiety is produced by not believing God will hold up his end of this deal. How often do we stress over a lack of provision when God, who created all material things, can provide whatever he wants? In his examples Jesus doesn’t just call our minds back to God’s sovereign control over the universe, though he most certainly does that. He also reminds us about how God feels about us. “Are you not of more value than they?” He picks this back up again in Matt. 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” If we’re worrying over whether God will provide this or that, it’s helpful to ask ourselves whether we’re forgetting God’s control or his care for us, or both.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” isn’t a trite answer to anxiety. If you talk to someone who seriously struggles with anxiety I guarantee they have a story of some oafish friend telling them, “Well just don’t worry about it.” That’s not what Jesus is saying. First off, Jesus gives examples in the world around him not just to prove his point but to give us a strategy for reminding ourselves of God’s control and care. We can look for our own examples, our own birds and lilies, to keep this fresh in our minds.

Questions for Discussion

• Could someone read Matthew 6:19-34 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• Why do you think Jesus is talking about “treasures” and anxiety at the same time?

• What do you most need to hear out of this passage right now?

• How would you describe the life Jesus is encouraging here?

• How might that sort of life bring you joy or freedom?

• Based on this passage, how do you think Jesus wants us to relate to wealth and possessions specifically?