Matthew6v19to24: LAY UP TREASURE IN HEAVEN

Introduction. Read Matthew6v19to24.

In this passage Jesus teaches the right relationship to possessions in three ways: We can store up treasure on earth or in heaven; our eye can be full of light or darkness; we can serve God or money.

(A) WE CAN STORE UP TREASURE ON EARTH OR IN HEAVEN.

(1) The reasons people amass treasure on earth.

They can do so for:

(a) The satisfaction it gives.

On August 9th 2016 there was this headline in the Daily Telegraph: Cars, Cakes and Pink Pyjamas in Auction of Oddities. David Roberts, having spent nearly 60 years collecting oddities like Napoleon's wallet, Queen Victoria's knickers, John Lennon's cufflinks and Field Marshall Montgomery's pink pyjamas, was auctioning off his collection. None of these are useful or particularly beautiful but they must have given him pleasure. He owned them - and no one else. They are all tangible objects. People like amassing tangible things: Bird's egs, stamps, snuff boxes, vintage cars and so on. Collecting can become an addiction!

Christians can prefer to spend money on tangible things like the fabric of the church rather than missionary endeavour. Geof Strite speaks of the time the fellowship he lead raised money for a new church building - something tangible. At the same time the United States was hit by recession. Members of the congregation were out of work and struggling to meet their bills. Pastor Strite suggested that the church abandon the building project and use the money to help people who had lost their jobs. Everyone broke into applause - all agreed. The suggestion was unanimously approved. Geof Strite said he had never felt prouder of the church he pastored.

In many churches a decision like this would have resulted in controversy, division and bitterness - all because Christians take pleasure in tangible things.

(b) The status it confers.

Premier League footballers negotiate huge salaries. The latest acquisition of Manchester United, Pogba, earns over 220, 000 a week! This player doesn't need such a huge amount of money but the value of the weekly wage shows where the star comes in the pecking order. Is he the main man! It is all about status.

One of the main reasons people buy huge houses, ultra expensive furniture, Porsche motorcars and designer clothes is to show how important they are. I saw a photo of Mr Cameron in the Daily Telegraph last week wearing designer swimming trunks that cost 225. Surely he could swim as well in something cheaper. I could buy 11 or 12 shirts for 225!

There are Christians who worship in the great Cathedrals of our land who would never enter a tin tabernacle. God can be worshipped just as well in the latter as the former. Sadly the church in the past invested huge sums in palatial buildings for the status it conferred. Perhaps the instigators of these massive projects forgot that Jesus spent much of his time teaching in people's homes or outdoors.

(c) The security it promises.

I have probably saved more money than is really necessary because of the security it brings. If I broke a leg and needed to go into a nursing home for six weeks I could afford it.

The rich farmer in Jesus' parable felt secure in his riches. He had nothing more to worry about. He had much goods stored up and could relax and enjoy himself in the future. We all know what happened to him!

(2) The risk of amassing treasure on earth.

(a) Many robbers exist.

In Jesus' time it was not easy to protect fine clothes from the moth, grain from locusts, weevils and rats or coinage from the thief.

Things are little better today. People invest in a pension fund for years and then discover that for one reason or another they will not receive anything like what they were promised. Some companies like BHS become unprofitable and go bust because of the amount of money they have to pay out in pensions. Money in the bank for last few years has earned next to no interest and so, in real terms, has lost value. These are all consequences of a low bank rate and the Government printing money. Many private pension funds in the past have depended on the yield from Government bonds. As this has become negligible due to Government policy the value of pensions has dropped.

(b) The biggest robber is age.

The greatest treasure of many people is their health and strength. Some are almost fanatical in their determination to preserve it. They are ultra-careful about their diet and exercise daily. However, everyone's health will fail in the end. I played hockey and cricket well into my sixties. When I retired I loved to go on long walks in the Suffolk countryside. I sit in my study writing this today, on August Bank Holiday Monday, with the sun shining through the window, knowing that if I ventured out I could only manage 400 yards without needing to sit down and rest my aching back.

Years ago I used to visit my old Biology mistress and former colleague, Miss K. She had a lot of lovely things in her home: books, pictures and ornaments. Eventually she became unable to cope. She had to go into a care home where there was no room for her many possessions. It was a grim prelude to death as all of them were left behind. I have to face the fact that when I die the two things I value most - my diaries and my website will die with me.

(3) We cannot take earthly treasure with us when we die.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that. 1Tim6v6to8.

The possessions we amass in this life will not benefit us one iota in the life to come. One of the things some people value above all else is their reputation. When we die the vast majority of us are soon forgotten.

What counts is our reputation in heaven.

The well-to-do farmer in Jesus Parable of the Rich Fool had many goods stored up. He doubtless had a reputation as a canny man. But, neither his goods or his skill or his reputation counted for anything with God who decided his time was up before he could enjoy his accumulated wealth.

(4) We are urged by Jesus to lay up treasure in heaven.

(a) Treasure is safe there.

Peter says in his epistle that a Christian has an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you. 1Pt1v4.

(b) Treasure in heaven can be enjoyed for ever.

Some will be honoured more than others in heaven depending on the quality of their work. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 1Cor3v13and14.

(c) It is our work for Jesus that determines our status in the new dispensation.

This seems to be the teaching of the Parable of the Talents. See Mt25v14to30. The servants in the parable who used the capital entrusted to them to the benefit of their master were rewarded - but the lazy servant who just dug a hole and buried his talent was punished for idleness.

(5) So how do we lay up treasure in heaven?

The short answer is that we need to give. We need to give:

(a) Ourselves to Jesus. That is the way to be sure of the inheritance Peter writes about.

            All to Jesus I surrender,
            All to Him I freely give;
            I will ever love and trust him,
            In His presence daily live

This should be true of us.

(b) Unobtrusively. We should give without drawing attention to ourselves. Jesus tells us to give in such a way that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. He promises: "Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Mt6v1to4.

(c) Sacrificially. Jesus commended the certain poor widow who gave to God all she had left that day to live on. Just two lepta! See Mk12v41to44. Two lepta were worth 1/64 of a denarius - the daily wage of a labouring man. So if we assume that a labourer today might earn 80 a day the woman gave 1 pound and 25 pence - enough for a baked potato and a little cheese. The widow gave her main meal of the day to God.

(d) For Christ's sake. Jesus said: "Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name, because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." See Mk9v41.

Whenever I take my brother Paul out for a meal I treat him. This is not because I love him - although I do. It is because he chose to become a Grace Baptist pastor and endured poverty while I became a school teacher and have never been short of money. I am glad to treat my brother for Christ's sake.

It is appropriate to conclude this section with the cautionary words inscribed on a tombstone: What I spent I lost. What I saved I left. What I gave I have.

(6) The ultimate danger.

Jesus expresses the danger just so succinctly and memorably: "Where your treasure is there your heart will be also."

This is a clear warning not to be over:

(a) Protective of our earthly treasure. This might apply to our wealth, our health or our children. If Paul had been over concerned for his health it is doubtful whether he would have ventured on his missionary journeys.

Some parents are very, very protective of their children. They opt for home schooling. Is this the best preparation for the world we must all eventually engage with? Christians are in the world but not of it.

(b) Possessive of our treasure. We can be unwilling to share: our homes, our valuables, our loved ones. There are some husbands who grudge their wives to church work. There are wives who resent the time spent by their husbands in sermon preparation and visitation.

(c) Proud. It is so easy for some folk, albeit they are Christians, to be proud of their salary, status, reputation and talents. My friends, we have nothing to be proud about - nothing. We are only sinners saved by grace.

CONCLUSION.

Recently I visited my old Christian friend Peter Chaffey in a care home for dementia sufferers. What remains of his health, wealth, talents, accomplishments and reputation? Very, very little. He has almost nothing left to give. Yet each week he has several visitors. One aspect of his life has survived the awful depredation of Alzheimer's disease - the relationships he made and retains.

Our relationship with Jesus will outlast everything. Nothing can destroy the relationship between the Saviour and the saved. We belong to him.

          His for ever, only His;
          Who the Lord and me shall part!
          Ah, with what a rest of bliss
          Christ can fill the loving heart!
          Heaven and earth may fade and flee,
          First born light in gloom decline;
          But while God and I shall be,
          I am His and He is mine.

(B) OUR EYE CAN BE FULL OF LIGHT OR FULL OF DARKNESS.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

Introduction.

There is some disagreement about the meaning of this saying of Jesus. From the context it must have something to do with getting our priorities right with regard to material and spiritual well being. I think the good eye refers to a generous spirit. If we have a generous spirit our whole lives will be lit up. We shall be like a room flooded with light. Conversely if our eye is bad our lives are dominated by a grudging, mean spirit and we are like a room that is dull, gloomy and dingy for lack of light. If our guiding light is the very spirit of meanness and acquisitiveness then how great will be the darkness of our lives.

I want to look at three characteristics of a well lit room:

(1) It is cheerful.

I really enjoyed my trip to Japan in May 2002 with my friend Tommy Bamber. It was the first time I had flown and the first time in nearly forty years that I stayed in an hotel. The hotel in Morioka, where we spent a night, had a beautiful breakfast room. It was very bright and cheerful. It was such a sparkling room that it put me in a good mood. I am usually very grumpy first thing in the morning but not that morning in Morioka.

In stark contrast was the lean-to attached to the old manse in Brockley where I grew up as a boy. It contained a lot of junk and the copper used to heat up water for chapel teas. There was no window and no light of any sort. It was a dreadful place - dark, dank and dirty - festooned with cobwebs, overrun with mice and smelling of cat's urine.

Such is the contrast between a man of generous spirit and a man of grudging spirit.

We will cheer others up if we are generous with:

(a) Our welcome. It is very heart warming when folk are pleased to see us. Tommy Bamber and I were going to spend time in Hokkaido with Mr and Mrs Sagawa during our Japanese adventure. They were waiting for us, with their colleague Shiho, at Sapporo station. What a warm welcome we received. They were on the train to help us with our luggage before we could get off. They carried our bags to the waiting car. Within a short time of arriving we were sitting in Mrs Sagawa's dining room eating a variety of delicacies that she deep fried for us - dabs, prawns, scallops, burdock root, ferns, asparagus.. . I shall never forget the sweet little dabs and the merry atmosphere. Next morning two of the young lady teachers at the Sagawa's English School got up at 4am in order to take two strange Englishmen bird watching in the local forest! The trip to Japan was an enormous boost to my morale because of the extraordinary warmth of the welcome we received.

A grudging welcome is very different. When I was a little lad I would go with other boys in the village to the home of Garry Grubber. Mr and Mrs Grubber owned the first television set in Brockley. We would be allowed into their farmhouse to watch, 'The Lone Ranger.' I can still recall the older son, Gerald, coming in one day, looking at us, and saying, "What are they doing here - they only come to watch the TV. Tell them to go home." That was a depressing thing to say!

Churches can give visitors either a warm welcome or a grudging one. When we discontinued our evening services at the struggling Baptist church at Brockley I was very sad. I went instead to the larger General Baptist church in Bury St Edmunds. They gave me a warm welcome that raised my spirits and was balm to my troubled heart. Many years earlier I made my way to the society for Baptist students studying in London. It met in Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church under the leadership of a chaplain whom I first encountered as a boy at a Christian camp. He was a charismatic figure and I loved him greatly. I expected to be greeted with open arms! His first words on seeing me were, "What are you doing here? This is no place for you." Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church was a hot bed of liberalism and they didn't want a reactionary Strict and Particular Baptist to strike a note of discord. It was a terrible, terrible, disappointment to get such a lukewarm welcome.

(b) Our appreciation. It is very depressing to be taken for granted. I sometimes entertain visiting speakers to our church. I do my best to cook them a nice midday meal. It is quite discouraging when they eat the meal without making any comment. I find that if I entertain the speaker and his wife - it is always the wife who is most appreciative!

How cheering to be appreciated. I had an e-mail this week from an old pupil thanking me for being such a funny teacher. Well, that was better than nothing! Last summer I took my brother Paul out to do some bird watching. After we had finished I put my binoculars on the roof of the car while I took off my boots and changed into shoes for the drive home. I drove off with the binoculars still on the roof. Fortunately they were insured! The insurance company asked me to get a written statement from a reputable dealer that the binoculars were damaged beyond repair. So I went to see an old school acquaintance who works in a shop in Bury St Edmunds that sells optical equipment. He was most obliging and wrote a statement confirming that the binoculars were irreparable. He then advised me on the best replacement and I bought a new pair. As I left the shop, I said, "Many thanks, you have been a great help." Just for a moment, a face drawn by the onset of Parkinson's disease, lit up.

An appreciative nature is like a sunny room - it cheers the heart. I have just finished reading Guanlong Cao's account of his childhood in China. In the chapter entitled, 'Rotten Fruit,' he describes how his mother would send him out with 10 cents to buy a bagful of badly bruised peaches from the market. They could not afford undamaged ones! Guanlong Cao was a canny dealer and often managed to buy the best of rotten peaches for his 10 cents. On the way home, nostrils assailed by the sweet scent of ripe fruit, he resisted the temptation to sample the goods. He writes, I think it must have been mother's praise that gave me the will power. He returned home with a full load and his mother made such a fuss of him. She extolled his ingenuity at getting so many peaches for 10 cents. He says, I listened to her flattery a million times - it never bored me. He concludes: Mingled with the sweet scent of rotten fruit, it is a memory that will remain with me all my life.

We can all be appreciative. It is a virtue to cultivate because it transforms our lives as surely as switching on the light transforms a dark room. It transforms our lives for the benefit of others.

I love the story of Ruth and Boaz. See exposition on Ruth2. What a welcome Boaz gave Ruth to his barley field. He said, "My daughter listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. .... And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled." Ruth2v8and9. You are certainly more likely to get a warm welcome if you are young and attractive than if you are bald, bandy and well worn. Boaz also showed great appreciation of Ruth's conduct. He said to her: I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord the God of Israel under whose wings you have come to take refuge. Ruth2v11. There is nothing like a good man's commendation to rejoice the heart.

(2) It is attractive.

Shopping malls in large cities are brightly lit places. It is never gloomy in Sainsburys or Marks and Spencers. The pictures in an art gallery are cunningly illuminated to show them off to the best advantage.

I very much dislike dimly lit rooms. When I went to parties as a student in London I could hardly see the person I was talking to. It was impossible to inspect the food and if you dropped something you could never find it. I think candlelit dinners for two are as overrated as breakfast in bed. I was brought up in the era before the electric light and I know what it is to live by oil lamp. Rooms had dark corners and shadowy places then.

A man with a generous spirit is as attractive as a room flooded with light. We can be generous with our time, talents and possessions to:

(a) Help others.

I read quite recently the obituary of Margaret Hewson in the Daily Telegraph. She had a traumatic childhood. One of her brothers and sisters died in childbirth, one died of asthma and neglect and three committed suicide. Her own life was blighted by asthma. Yet her obituarist could write: Just as sardonic humour nearly concealed her underlying bleakness so her exemplary stoicism almost made one forget her chronic asthma. But her most triumphant ransome from a haunted childhood was surely the extreme patience and kindness she lavished on anyone unhappy and thwarted.

Margaret Hewson's life was like a fine, brightly lit, room - a thing of beauty.

(b) Give others a good time.

The Daily Telegraph contained another impressive obituary at about the same time. Graeme Jameson was a popular landlord of the Wykeham Arms in Winchester. He was a man of extraordinary generosity. He was a beaming, articulate and always immaculately dressed figure who made every customer feel more than welcome and deserving of special attention. Regulars celebrating a birthday or some personal achievement were invariably rewarded with a bottle of good champagne. Bouquets of flowers went to homes where there was illness and elderly people were always treated with special respect. There was nothing dingy or gloomy about Graeme Jameson!

We do not forget people who put themselves out to give us a good time. I will never forget the efforts of Mr Takeda and his two friends who entertained us in Japan. One day they took us 200 miles by motorway to the most famous Shinto shrine in Central Honshu. From there we travelled to a lowland park renowned for its wild flowers and then high into the mountains to an upland bog to do some bird watching. Finally we travelled to a holiday home in the forest for a wonderful supper followed by a good soak in naturally warm water from a volcanic spring.

My uncle David is someone else who made every effort to give me a great time. The summer my father died I spent a week with him in Devon. He devoted every day to doing something he knew I would enjoy. I shall never forget our walk in the Otter valley. See my story: Be still. My uncle was a very attractive man.

Boaz did his best to make Ruth's experience in his barley fields a happy one. He gave her bread to eat and invited her to share his savoury dip. Later he presented the Moabitess with so much roasted grain she was able to take some home for Naomi. He gave instructions to his men to deliberately drop handfuls of barley for her to glean. No wonder Ruth lost her heart to him!

A mean person is by comparison repulsive and hateful. I started to read Arnold Bennett's, 'Riceyman Steps.' It is about a bookseller, Mr Earlforward, who married a well-to-do widow called Violet. He loved her after a fashion but he had a greater love - an all- consuming passion - money. For dinner Mr and Mrs Earlforward had bread, margarine and tea. They had it day after day. One night, greatly daring, Violet cooked her husband some steak. He refused to eat it. He wanted to keep eating bread and margarine and save his money. Mr Earlforward preferred to shiver in unheated rooms rather than spend money on fuel. He made a virtue out of meanness. It was his guiding light! What a dark, dark, life his was. It was dingy room of unremitting gloom. The account of Mr Earlforward's miserly ways so distressed and depressed me that I had to stop reading the book. I was so upset I could not finish it.

We have a choice: to cultivate a generous spirit and to live beautiful lives for Christ or to succumb to the love of money and become black holes of despair.

(3) It is conducive to good work and godly living.

If I am sewing, a job I hate, I have all available lights on. It is the same when I am writing, cleaning or decorating. It is difficult to do good work in the gloom. Samuel Pepys ruined his eyes writing his diary by candlelight and sadly had to abandon his project after only a few years. None of us would like to be operated on by a surgeon in the dark! A well-lit room helps us to work effectively. So we can assist people to live godly lives by being:

(a) Generous in our judgments.

It is not always helpful to draw attention to a person's faults. Paul writes: 'Love is kind. .... it keeps no record of wrongs. ... Love does not delight in evil.... . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.' 1Corv4to7. I think a person generous in their judgments tries to hide the failings of others.

I used to go and visit old Eddie Durrant. In the winter I could not help seeing the old cars his son had bought as an investment scattered forlornly over a paddock gathering rust and slowly disintegrating. In the summer the scene was transformed. The dilapidated vehicles were hidden by a mass of white blooms from the enveloping bindweed or bellbind as we called it in Suffolk. The ugliness was hidden. The man with a generous spirit brings the best, rather than the worst, out of people.

It is so much easier to work with, or for, people who are not too critical. Some of the ladies who attend our chapel were foolish enough to ask their husbands to give them driving lessons. Ivy had tuition from her volatile husband, Cecil. On one occasion she drew up behind Theobalds, the local bus, and asked plaintively, "What shall I do now?" Cecil replied, after a pause, "Drive right into the back of it woman." Ivy never learned to drive.

Barnabas was like a well-lit room for John Mark. He was prepared to overlook his disloyalty and give him a second chance. Paul was more censorious. It was Barnabas that helped John Mark to grow as a Christian and become useful to Paul at the end.

(b) Generous with encouragement.

Some children are brought up in a dark room receiving little encouragement from either parents or teachers. I used to teach a boy called Paul. He looked angelic with blond wavy hair and blue eyes. However he was very tiresome and I wasn't able to give him much encouragement. Paul would come to afternoon lessons stuffed with E compounds after drinking numerous cans of fizzy drink. It wasn't long before he was into his yawn and flop routine. As one gigantic yawn disappeared into another he would sprawl limply across his desk like an exhausted octopus. After I threatened to give him 50 lines for every yawn he marginally improved. One day Paul handed in some work that was somewhat better than anything he had done before. So I gave him an A-. It wasn't long before he was asking all and sundry what grade they had been given and informing anyone who would listen that he had got an A-. He was particularly pleased to have, 'beaten Lewis Rush.' That was the turning point. From then on Paul began to make progress. It shows what a little encouragement can acheive.

We can all encourage others in Christian work. I love the final chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans for the personal comments it contains: Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Rm16v12 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. v13 Just imagine how these comments must have thrilled the recipients and motivated them to keep on keeping on. We all need some encouragement sometimes. I informed my Christian friends last Christmas of the existence of this web site. Most haven't bothered to look at it and only one wrote anything complimentary at all. I find it very hard to understand. The Bible tells us to encourage one another in the Lord.

(c) Generous with good practical advice.

It can be like entering a bright and cheerful room to be with a person generous with advice that helps us to succeed. Such a person inculcates a sense of well-being. See exposition on: Blessed are the Peacemakers. I have found good advice hard to come by. I get most of it from the outside of a packet or from books.

The best advice on how to live comes from reading the Bible and especially the Gospels. Jesus tells us how to live. He teaches us how to please God and do his will. We are left in no doubt about what he expects of the subjects of his Kingdom. That is why Jesus is the, Light of the World. Jesus helps his followers to live good and godly lives.

If we are like Jesus we shall be lesser lights. It is possible for all of us to shine for Jesus.

        Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
        Like a little candle burning in the night;
        In this world of darkness we must shine -
        You in your small corner, and I in mine.

(C) WE CAN SERVE GOD OR MAMMON.

Mt6v24: No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money. NIV.

No man can be a slave to two owners; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cleave to the one and despise the other. You cannot be a slave to God and to material things. William Barclay.

(1) Introduction.

William Barclay's version of Mt6v24 is much better than that of the NIV. It is perfectly possible to serve two masters. We are used to juggling a variety of commitments. When I was a young man I found time to do my work as a school teacher, to serve my church, to be secretary of the village hall building committee, to be secretary and treasurer of Brockley Cricket Club, to captain Bury St Edmunds Hockey Club third eleven and to support my parents. I don't believe my many different responsibilities interfered with the work God called me to do. I never skipped a prayer meeting or turned down a preaching engagment because I was too busy. I spent half of my long summer holiday acting as sports organiser at a Christian camp.

William Barclay's translation jars because we do not think in terms of being a slave to anyone. We value our freedom. The Bible speaks of the sinner being set free. Paul wrote to the Galatians: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Gal5v1. You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. v14.

Jesus told the Jews who believed in him: "If you hold my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Jn8v31and32.

Yet Paul wrote to the Corinthians reminding them that they were not their own but bought with a price. "1Cor6v20." Peter puts it even more strongly in his first epistle: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb withot blemish or defect. 1Pet1v18and19.

These different quotations indicate the importance of context in understanding Scripture. In the passage under consideration Jesus deals with the terrible hold that material well being has on some who call themselves Christian. This is what gives rise to Jesus' remarks about being enslaved.

(2) What does it mean to be a slave.

If you are a slave:

(a) The owner's interests come first. Your interests are neither here nor there. You have no more right to your own interests than a hammer in the hand of a builder.

(b) The owner's will must be done. The number one requirement of the slave is obedience. He doesn't argue with the owner anymore than the nail being driven into a plank of wood.

(c) The owner is responsible for the slave's well being. An enlightened owner will see that his slave is treated well. He will feed and clothe his slave, give him time to rest and sleep, keep him in good health.

(3) What does it mean to be God's slave?

The Lord's Prayer reveals what this involves.

(a) God is our Father and our Master. We acknowledge at the very outset of the prayer that we desire God's name to be honoured. Our conduct should be such that men and women respect God. If we lived according to the Beatitudes we would enhance the reputation of our Master.

(b) A commitment is expressed to do the will of God and to extend his kingdom. Jesus reveals to us God's will. God said: "This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him." Mt17v5. Jesus has given his followers the Great Commission. We are to make converts, to baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit AND to teach them to obey the Son's teaching.

(c) We can expect God to provide for his children. Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread, the forgiveness of our sins and protection from temptation and the evil one.

(4) What does it mean to be the slave of Mammon.

Mammon is the god of earthly ambition, worldly desires and material wellbeing. The three headed monster expects us to:

(a) Honour those who have done well for themselves. Disciples of Mammon have fat salaries, fine houses, designer clothes and posh cars; their children go to the best schools and their families enjoy expensive holidays.

(b) Desire to be like those who have been successful. Mammon wants us to devote our lives to getting on, getting rich and purchasing lots of nice things.

(c) Provide for ourselves. Our admiration is reserved for the self-made man. Mammon expects us to stand on our own two feet; everything we've got we've earned.

(5) A slave cannot serve two masters.

This is an impossibility. There is a huge difference between being a servant and a slave. I was a servant of Suffolk Education Authority. I had a contract with them in which the terms of service were spelled out. Under the contract I was given a lot of free time which within reason I could us as I liked. I could, for example, taken on a second job - like marking GCSE scripts.

A slave does not have a contract. The slave is owned by his master and has no more rights than the other things he owns. The slave is on call at all times of the day or night.

If a slave has 2 masters:

(a) Who does he serve when the will of each master differs.

(b) Whose instructions does he carry out.

(c) Who takes full responsibility for seeing after him. If one master leaves it to the other, the slave may well end up neglected.

(6) The result of having two masters.

(a) It is inevitable and unavoidable that one master will have priority.

(b) The slave will have a growing attachment to the master he serves regularly and is closest to. He will cleave to that master and despise the other.

(c) The slave will look for provision and protection to that master whose service he prioritises. This is the master he favours. The other master he rejects.

(7) You can't be a slave to God and Mammon.

A man or a woman has to choose whose slave they are going to be. Joshua spearheaded the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land. When the work had almost been done, Joshua assembled the leaders of the 12 tribes at Shechem. Joshua told the representatives to choose whom they would serve. They had a choice: they could serve pagan gods of one sort or another or the Lord God who delivered them from Egypt, protected them in the wilderness and drove out the Amorites from the Land of Promise. Joshua said, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Josh24v15. Joshua convinced the people that they could not serve both God and Mammon - and they chose to serve the Lord their God.

There are many good reasons for choosing God the Son to be your Master. He loves you and redeems you. Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." The rewards he promises those that serve him are immense. He is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will never die.

What does Mammon do for you? A person might have great material wealth but can it buy true love, can it make him right with God and purchase him a home in heaven. No, no, no! Yet the demands of Mammon are great. A huge amount of time and energy is required by the god of earthly wealth. Then there is the anxiety about holding on to your financial assets. Mammon is a very demanding god.

(8) What evidence is there that we put God's interests first.

It may mean:

(a) Taking a lower paid job in order to have time to serve God in the church.

(b) Losing money by choosing to close your shop on a Sunday.

(c) Missing out on things you love doing, or people you love being with, in order to serve God's interests. I remember missing out on the final of the national hockey veteran's cup competition at Milton Keynes because it was held on a Sunday and I would have to abandon my church for the day. I loved cricket. In my early forties I missed playing for 4 years to see after my invalid father. But I didn't lose out! After the death of my father I was able to carry on playing till I was 67.

(d) Reducing your savings to support a Christian charity.

(e) Prioritising church attendance over sleep, errands, chores, work, sports, family and friends.

Ida Grove, who lived in Iowa, U.S.A., played basket ball at a high level. He was down to play in a National Tournament over the Easter weekend in Oklahoma City. Ida Grove pulled out because he wanted to worship God at Easter. His coaches told him not to be so foolish - scouts from all over the country would be at tournament. But he knew where his priorities lay.

(9) Conclusion.

Jesus' teaching on the slave with two masters does not sit comfortably with how we generally organise our lives. We do try and serve several masters. Our lives are made up of juggling conflicting interests. We have numerous responsibilities and multiple commitments. Jesus doesn't say we shouldn't serve two masters - but that we cannot. A slave cannot serve two masters - one is going to have priority.

In time of war a double agent will either serve the interests of one country or another. He cannot serve the best interests of both.

We cannot serve the best interests of God and Mammon. We shall either, love God and serve Him or bow down to Mammon - the god of worldly interests - superficially attractive but powerless to save.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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