Having Possessions and Being Possessed

Matthew 6:19-21 marks a transition in THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. In the first half of this chapter, Jesus explains how righteous people practice religion. Verses 1-4 address how righteous people give. Verse 5-15 address how righteous people pray. Verses 16-18 address how righteous people fast. In the later half of this chapter, Jesus moves from warning his disciples about the consequences of hypocrisy to calling his disciples to embrace the values of the kingdom of heaven. Verses 19-34 make it clear that true righteousness transcends religious activity. To be a citizen of the kingdom is to adopt a countercultural mindset toward material possessions. In other words, righteous people do not, cannot live for the Lord on Sundays and live for money the rest of the week. We show where our devotion rests by seeking the eternal rewards of heaven rather than the passing riches of this life. This does not mean that Christians must be poor to be righteous. The Lord does not condemn giving, having, or using material possessions. Money is morally neutral. It is our attitude toward money that is either godly or evil. And having material possessions is not a sin. But being materialistic is.

A rich man with a miserable attitude visited the local minister who lived a simple life. They were not together long before the minister got a wonderful idea on how to illustrate to the man that his attitude was wrong. He led him over to his window and said, “Look out the window and tell me what you see.” The said, “I see some men and women and children.” “Fine.” Then minister then led him across the room to a mirror. “Now tell me what you see.” The man frowned and said, “Obviously, I see myself.” “Interesting,” replied the minister. “In the window there is glass, in the mirror there is glass, but the glass of the mirror is covered with a little bit of silver. And no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, only yourself.”

If the Lord allows you to see financial prosperity, you are blessed. But it is a curse if that is all you can see. We must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and trust that God will take care of our needs. That is what Jesus is teaching here in this text. Go ahead. Lay up treasure for yourself. Just make sure you lay it up in the right place. Do nit live for material possessions that will not last. Live for what 1 Peter 1:4 calls “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Let me bottom-line this for you. It is not wrong for you to have possessions; it is wrong for your possessions to have you. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus teaches us how to have possessions without being possessed by our possessions.

I. BE CAREFUL OF WHERE YOUR TREASURES RESIDE.

Verse 19 issues a prohibition: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” In the ancient Near East, one’s wardrobe was considered a part of one’s wealth. In 2 Kings 5:22, Gehazi attempted to swindle Namaan out of two changes of clothes. And In Joshua 7:21, Achan sinned by stealing a beautiful cloak from Jericho. Fine clothes were considered great wealth. But Jesus says do not treasure your clothes, because moth will destroy then. Likewise, precious metals were considered a part of one’s wealth. But Jesus warns not to treasure precious metals, because rust will destroy it. And whatever other valuables you has stashed in your house, don’t treasure them. Thieves will break through the mud walls and steal them.

Then verse 20 gives a parallel exhortation: “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither most nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Notice that the issue Jesus addresses here is not whether you lay up a treasure. The issue is where your treasure resides. And the location of your treasure – earth or heaven – indicates the character of your treasure – worldly or spiritual. Laying up treasures on earth speaks of worldliness, materialism, and covetousness. Laying up treasure in heaven speaks of trust in God, communion with God, and blessings from God. The point is that in order to have possessions without possessions being possessed by them, you must have a godly value system. You must make sure your priorities are in order. You must adopt a heavenly attitude toward earthly things.

There is an important play on words here. More literally, verse 18 reads, “Do not treasure your treasures on earth. But treasure your treasures in heaven.” And in verse 19 is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids an action that is already in progress. In other words, Jesus says, “Stop treasuring your treasures on earth. But continue to treasure your treasures in heaven.” If you are not going to be possessed by your possession, you must resist treasuring worldly things, and persist in treasuring spiritual things. Proverbs 23:4-5 says: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When yours eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his good income; this also is vanity.” And in Matthew 16:26, Jesus says: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?”

Mark it down.
• Money can buy amusement, but not joy.
• Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.
• Money can buy companions, but not friends.
• Money can buy a house, but not peace.
• Money can buy a medicine, but not health.
• Money can buy sex, but not intimacy.
• Money can buy therapy, but not redemption.

Matthew 19:16-21 records the story of a young man came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit the heavenly treasure of eternal life. Jesus told him, in essence, to obey THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Interestingly, though, Jesus skipped over the first commandments that deal with how we should relate to God. And he only mentions the later commandments that deal with how we should relate to our neighbor. But this guy totally missed the point. And he replied, “I learned those commandments when I was a little boy. And I’ve been keeping them all of my life.” Jesus said, “Good, but there is still something missing. Go sell all your stuff and give the money to the poor and come follow me. And if you do this, you will have treasure in heaven.”

In Matthew 16:21, Jesus explicitly told this man how to have treasure in heaven, which refers to eternal life. But this guy refused to follow Jesus’ instructions. Matthew 16:22 says that he walked away in great sorrow, because he had a lot of stuff. Or, according to the CHARLES INTERNATIONAL VERSION: “His stuff had him.” Now, when Jesus told this young man to divest himself of his wealth, he was not condemning the rich of calling for charity toward the poor. Jesus was addressing what was most important to this guy. Although the young man said he wanted eternal life, the truth was that he wanted his stuff more than he wanted eternal life. And that’s the danger and power of materialism. The quest to get, have, and spend money can so pull you away from God that you can get to a place where you don’t really even care whether you go to heaven or hell – as long has you can have your cash, cars, clothes, and other stuff in this life. That’s why Jesus says stop treasuring your treasures on heart and keep treasuring your treasures in heaven.

II. BE COMMITTED TO TREASURES THAT REMAIN.

Luke 12:13-21 records how Jesus responded to a guy who interrupted his teaching and asked him to settle a financial dispute he was in with his brother. “Make my brother split the inheritance with me,” he said. Jesus replied, “What do you thing this is? The People’s Court? Who made me a judge of an arbitrator over you?” And in Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then Jesus illustrated warning point with a parable. Once upon a time, there was a man who had a great harvest. His bumper crop was so plentiful that he didn’t have room to store it all. And with that premise, the story proceeds to show us the smallest package in the world – a man wrapped up in himself. He didn’t know what to do with his great harvest. So he went into counsel with himself and said, “Self, we’re rich! We’re loaded. In fact, we’re overloaded. What will we do? Where will we put it all? Yeah. That’s a great idea. Let’s demolish these barns and build bigger ones. We can store our harvest and we won’t have to worry about anything for years to come. We can just eat, drink, and be merry.”

But while he toasting himself for his great business savvy, God intruded into the conference room of this man’s heart, and said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus called this man a fool, because he was shortsighted. He cared about his bankbook, but not his soul. He thought about tomorrow, but not eternity. He knew what he would do if there was a drought next season, but he did not know what he would do when he had to stand before God. So God called him a fool. And in Luke 12:21, Jesus warns: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” That’s a disturbing statement, because we here this story all the time. The media regularly spotlights the stories of people who live, act, and think just like this man. But the world calls these celebrities smart, stars, and successful. But God calls them fools.

Indeed, the world around us is filled with people who are doomed, because they have embraced two foolish myths: more is better and now is better. But there is one big problem with our “get-more-and-get-it-now” way of life: the material things of this life do not last. Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where most and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

When Jesus commands us to lay up treasures in heaven, he is not in any way suggesting that one can earn his salvation by the performance of good works. Romans 3:23-25 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Sinners are saved from eternal judgment by trusting what God has done for us through the blood and righteousness of Christ – not by anything we do or do not do. So Jesus is not teaching a works salvation here. He is teaching that there are those who are saved by grace through faith should live in light of the fact that there is coming a day of reckoning and reward.

1 Corinthians 3:11-14 says, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.” The matter that is before us in our text is this: make sure you are investing your life in things that will last. In his book, The Treasure Principle, RANDY ALCORN sums it up neatly: “You cannot take it with you, but you can send it ahead of you.” If that is true, then you should only invest your life in things that are going to last.

• How important will your house be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your car be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your diploma be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your career be a hundred years from now?
• How important will your accomplishments be a hundred years from now?

Some things we invest so much of ourselves into will not really matter ten years from now, much less a hundred years from now. How about 100 million trillion years from now?

In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus declares the FACT of life’s loses. The old saying jokes that the one who has the most stuff when he dies wins. But the serious question is, wins what? In Job 1:21, Job confesses, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The inevitable reality is that earthly treasures do not last. This may be the most valuable lesson of the board game, MONOPOLY. At the end of the game, the board is folded, everything is put away, and the lid is placed on top of the box. It’s a little reminder that someday our lives will be over as well. Then it will hardly matter who owned how many railroads and utilities, or who owned boardwalk. Earthly treasures do not last. Likewise, Jesus declares the FACTORS of life’s losses. Verses 19-20 name three factors that guarantee the loss of material possessions: moth, rust, and thieves. Moth speaks of nature: tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc. Rust speaks of time (depreciation, wear-and-tear, out-datedness, etc. And thieves speak of people: swindlers, car-jackers, family members, televangelists.

Furthermore, Jesus declares the FORCE of life’s losses. Jesus mentions three factors that he places into two groups: moth and rust being one; thieves being the other. Moth and rust destroying your stuff says that some things we will lose passively, subtly and eventually. But thieves digging through and stealing says that we will lose some things abruptly, immediately, violently. The point is that, be it over years or overnight, earthly treasures do not last. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly live.” If you are going to have possessions without possessions having you, you must be committed to treasures that remain.

III. BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT YOUR TREASURES REVEAL.

MARTIN LUTHER, the father of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, coined a slogan. In Latin, the statement is: Sacra Scriptura sui interpres. It means: “Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter.” That is, the word of God explains itself. I wholeheartedly agree. Consequently, a significant part of my personal Bible study involves the process of discovering what the rest of scripture has to say about the specific passage of scripture I am studying. And I did that in my study of Matthew 6:19-21. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a big book of cross-references, is the primary resource I use during this part of my study. The first passage it mentions in relation to Matthew 6:21 is Genesis 21:14. It says: “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” This reference is a backdoor into the meaning of Matthew 6:21.

God called Abraham away from his family and homeland in order to walk with him. This call was accompanied by the promise that God would make a great nation through Abraham seed. Abraham trusted God and obeyed. But after years of following God, Abraham still did not have a son, his wife Sarah was barren, and old age was gaining on him. So Sarah devised a plan where Abraham would have a son through her maid Hagar, before it was too late. He did. But that was not the son that God had promised. God intended to give Abraham a son through his wife, Sarah. And sure enough the Lord visited Sarah and she conceived and had a son named Isaac. After this, it did not take long for the already-present tension between Sarah and Hagar to grow, concerning the respective boys they had borne to Abraham. And Sarah demanded that Abraham kick Hagar and Ishmael out. Abraham’s heart was distressed, to say the least. But God told him to do what his wife said. Genesis 21:14 records that early the next morning, Abraham prepared a meal, gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent them away.

Sarah represents the sovereign and guaranteed promises of God to bless Abraham. Hagar represents Abraham’s doubt-filled and flesh-centered attempt to do what God promised to do. Juggling these two realities brought inevitable distress to Abraham’s heart, because the two realities couldn’t live together under the same roof. It would have confused and compromised God’s plans for Abraham. Likewise, you are I today are either standing on the sovereign promises of God, or we are attempting to accomplish in the flesh what God has promised to do if we trust and obey him. Both realities cannot live in the same heart. The only way to ensure that you do not confuse or compromise God’s plans for your life is to heed the voice of Jesus: “For where your treasures is, there your heart will be also.”

When the heart is mentioned in scripture metaphorically, as it is here, it refers to the seat of personhood, the totality of our inward being, who we are underneath the skin – the mind, the will, and the emotions. So when Jesus says that your heart follows your treasure, the point is clear, precise, and stinging. Your treasure is revealed by what you think about the most. Your treasure is revealed by what you choose to do and do not do. And your treasure is revealed by what you are passionate about. R. KENT HUGHES said it well: “If anything in this world is everything to you, it is an earthly treasure.” In order to have possessions without your possessions having you, you must be concerned about what your treasures reveal. And note that Jesus makes this statement to his own disciples. But even though the disciples were following Jesus, their hearts could still be lead astray into an ungodly fixation with things. And the same thing can happen to you. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” So you must be careful about what your treasures reveal.

Acts 8:14-25 records how the church at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to verify what was going on, after the Holy Spirit fell on the Samaritans. When they saw that the Lord was now moving among the Samaritans, they affirmed it by the laying on of hands. A magician named Simon watched all of this curiously. And he offered the apostles money if they would show him how to do that “laying-on-of-hands” trick. Acts 8:20-21 records, “But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.’” I submit to you that we need people today who are courageous enough to say to this covetous generation of so-called Christians, who are only concerned about health-and-wealth. “Your heart is not right.” Be careful about what your treasure reveals. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In Matthew 12:35, Jesus says: “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” And Hebrews 3:12 says: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” I repeat: Be concerned about what you treasure reveals.

When I first engaged this text in a meaningful way, it had a radical and revolutionary effect on my view of life. I assumed that your treasure follows your heart. That made perfect sense to me. You invest in that which you love. Your resources follow your affections. That makes perfect sense to me. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. But Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Counter-intuitively, Jesus teaches us not to invest in earthly treasures – be it a goal or relationship – that you do not want to love. Only invest in that which is worth loving. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The more I invest in the kingdom of heaven, the more my heart will be drawn toward God the Father. But if I only invest in earthly things, then my heart will never be drawn toward the things of God. So let me challenge you to make a new commitment today to invest your life in the things of God. May FANNY J. CROSBY’S song be your prayer:

DRAW ME NEARER, NEARER, BLESSED LORD
TO THE CROSS WHERE THOU HAST DIED
DRAW ME NEARER, NEARER, BLESSED LORD
TO THY PRECIOUS, BLEEDING SIDE

One day, a shipwrecked sailor was seized by the natives, hoisted on their shoulders, and carried to the village, and set on a throne. He later learned that it was their custom once each year to make some man a king. King for a year. He liked it until he began to wonder what happened to all the former kings. Soon he discovered that every year when his kingship was ended, the king was banished to an island, where he starved to death. The sailor did not like that, but he was smart and he was king for the year. SO he put his carpenters to work making boats, his farmers to work transplanting fruit trees to the island, farmers growing crops, masons building houses. So when his kingship was over, he was banished, not to a barren island, but an island of abundance.

Out of the Salt Shaker

THE SALT OF THE EARTH
Matthew 5:13

Sodium Chloride – SALT – gets a lot of bad press. It is blamed for everything from hypertension to obesity to heart disease. The need for salt is questioned. Its use is discouraged. And its presence on many tables is often more decorative than anything else. But this was not the case when Jesus announced to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” In the cultural world of the ancient Near East, salt was an essential and valuable commodity. For example, the Roman government often paid their soldiers’ wages in salt. And a good, faithful man was said to be “worth his salt.” In fact, our English word “salary” comes from the Latin word, salarium, which means to trade or barter with salt. Salt served a wide array of purposes in the ancient world. Interestingly, scholars have just as many interpretations of what Jesus meant by this statement about salt in Matthew 5:13. But of all the possible meanings, there are three primary interpretations that deserve our attention.

First of all, SALT PREVENTS DECAY. In the ancient East, families did not have refrigerators or freezers. To prevent meat from spoiling, they would pack it in salt. The salt would slow down the process of spoiling. That is what it means for Christians to be the salt of the earth. The presence of the saints in the world is a sovereign act of restraining grace. We are the salt of the earth, without which the forces of evil would have little or no resistance in the world. Secondly, SALT PROMOTES THIRST. When you intake a lot of salt; you become thirsty. And that is what it means for Christians to be the salt of the earth. We ought to live in such a way that we cause people to be dissatisfied with the passing pleasures of the world and to become thirsty for the living God. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

The most obvious use of salt, in both the ancient and modern world, is that of a flavoring agent. SALT PROVIDES FLAVOR. It seasons. It makes things taste better. One little boy said, “Salt is what makes food taste bad when it’s not on it!” I believe this is the primary point Jesus makes when he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” The latter part of the verse supports this, as Jesus warns about the consequences of salt losing its flavor. Christians are to the earth what salt is to food. As salt makes food taste better, followers of Jesus Christ are to influence this sinful world for the kingdom of God. We are to be kingdom condiments. We are to be sanctified seasoning. We are to add godly flavoring to this insipid world. To be the salt of the earth that Christ calls us to be, we must live our lives for God, not for this world. We are the salt of the earth. But we are salt for God. We live for the pleasure of God in order to make a difference in the world.

Here’s the issue. God is holy. This world is sinful. And our holy God cannot tolerate sin. So he has left the church on earth to salt it so that he can tolerate this sinful world. Of course, that does not mean that Christians are perfect. Rather, we are people who have experienced the goodness of God in Christ and who, as a consequence, live to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The presence of citizens of the kingdom of heaven makes this corrupt world palatable to the holiness of God. We are the salt of the earth. This principle is illustrated throughout scripture.

• We see this in Noah and the flood.
• We see this in Joseph and Potipher’s house.
• We see this in Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
• We see it in Paul and the pagan sailors who were shipwrecked with him.
• And we ultimately see it in the church of Jesus Christ.

We are the salt of the earth. But are we living and serving and representing the kingdom as Christ has called us to? VANCE HAVNER wrote, “For too long we have been tickling palates with fancy flavors, spicy relishes, and clever recipes borrowed from the world. Too many pulpits serve gourmet theology with menus from Hollywood and are trying to please the jaded appetites of the fed-up humanity. But what we really need is some old-fashioned salt. And if we do not start producing more of it in our churches, we shall be good for nothing.” I agree. And I stand to say let the church be the church! And what is the church? You are the salt of the earth. In the scientific chart of elements, salt is sodium chloride. But in Matthew 5:13, Jesus gives us the place of salt in the kingdom chart of elements.

I. JESUS DESCRIBES HIS FOLLOWERS AS THE SALT OF THE EARTH.

The first two words of Matthew 5:13 are crucial: “You are…” These two words tell us that this statement is a description, not a prescription. It is not a command or an exhortation. Jesus is not challenging his followers to some ideal behavior; he is simply stating the nature of kingdom citizenship. You are the salt of the earth. Jesus does not say, “You should be salt.” He does not promise, “You will be salt.” He does not command you to be salt. He does not exhort us to act like salt. He does not encourage you to strive for saltiness. And he doesn’t exhort us to pray that God will make you salt. He says, “You are the salt of the earth.” In this statement, our function as salt is assumed. But our nature as salt is explicit. In fact, it’s emphatic, “You, and only you, are the salt of the earth.” The fact that Jesus says salt is what you are makes a vital point about maximizing kingdom influence. The Lord considers who you are to be more important that what you do. And the Lord is only pleased with what you do when it flows from who you are.

In many instances, churches emphasize performance and ignore character. We give positions of influence to people based on their talents, longevity, or connections. And we often fail to factor in the things that matter the most – like conversion experience, spiritual vitality, Christian maturity, biblical qualifications, godly wisdom, moral purity, and Christlike humility. But God will not settle for salt substitutes. God is not as concerned with your gifts, talents, and abilities as he is your holiness, godliness, and Christlikeness. With God, character precedes and predetermines performance.

D. MARTIN LLOYD-JONES said, “Christians, by being Christians, influence society almost automatically.” Indeed, you can make a difference in this world by just being who you are. Just be salt. Act like a Christian. Conduct yourself as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. What does that look like in practical terms? Jesus describes the God-blessed, Christ exalting, and kingdom focuses life in Matthew 5:3-12. It is to be poor in spirit. To mourn. To be meek. To hunger and thirst after righteousness. To be merciful. To be pure in heart. To be peacemakers. To rejoice in undeserved persecution. To be the salt of the earth is to live in such a way that your life makes the gospel of Jesus Christ more attractive to this lost world.

There is both good news and bad news here.

I’ll give you the good news first. The good news is that God uses salt. That is, God uses ordinary things. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t describe those he uses as the gold of the earth? Or the silver of the earth? Or the jewels of the earth? Then most of us would not be fit to represent the kingdom of heaven in this world? But God in his sovereign grace uses ordinary people like you and me. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, nor many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Thank God he uses salt. That means that God can use you.

• God can use you without great talents.
• God can use you without a seminary degree.
• God can use you without a lot of money.
• God can use you without social prominence.
• God can use you without physical beauty.

Have you struggled to find your spiritual gifts? Be encouraged and know that God’s personnel department has a wise variety of available jobs. Jesus told us to be the salt of the earth. There are some fourteen thousand industrial uses for salt. That’s a lot of possibilities! All God needs of you in order to use you is all of you. And that is the bad news. The good news is that God can use you. God wants to you use. In fact, God will you use. In John 15:8, Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” In other words, it’s God will to use you. Joni Eareckson Tada writes, “Frankly, I think we’re being redundant to ask God to use us. We’re requesting him to do something he already desires to do.” So if God is not using you to influence this world for his glory, it’s not because he doesn’t want to use you. But it may be because you have not made yourself usable. You may not have made yourself useful. You may not have made yourself available.

Suppose you have buy a house or building, and the former owner comes to you with the keys. There are twelve rooms in the house. But he only gives you six keys. You say, “Where are the other keys?” “Oh,” he says, “You can’t have them! There are some rooms I don’t want you to see. There are some things I want you to move.” Of course, you say, “I purchased the whole house. And I want all the keys!” Likewise, God cannot use you if you don’t make yourself totally available to him. So sometimes God will start shaking things up in your life to make you useful. You are the salt of the earth. But God cannot use you to influence the world for the kingdom if you never get out of the saltshaker. So there are times when God has to take you out of your comfort zone, turn your life upside down, and start shaking things up in order to make you useable for his glory.

II. JESUS WARNS HIS FOLLOWERS ABOUT THE FAILURE TO BE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.

Notice Matthew 5:13 again: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” After describing his followers as the salt of the earth, Jesus raises a dilemma. What if the salt loss its taste, flavor, or savor? What do you do if the salt is no longer salty? At this point, commentators scramble to rescue Jesus. Salt is a stable compound. It never loses its taste. But the commentators, determined to protect Jesus from reproach, explain that the salt made in the granaries near the Dead Sea were actually unstable and could lose its saltiness if adulterated by other substances. When this happened, they say, the salt would be tossed out as useless and trampled under the feet of those who passed along the way.

That sounds interesting. But that kind of cultural reinterpretation of the text gives Jesus protection that he may not want. I think Jesus intentionally turned this word picture on its head to make an essential point about the kingdom influence his followers are to have in this world. Here it is: Salt is different. For salt to influence the taste of food, it must first have intimate contact with it. So much so that the salt dissolves and disappears as it infiltrates the food. But even though the salt becomes so thoroughly entrenched in the food, you know there’s salt in the food because the presence of the salt makes the food taste different. But what use would it serve to put salt on food if it tastes no different than the food you place it on? What good is salt that is not different? If salt becomes tasteless, what do you do, salt it? This ridiculous scenario is meant to be a divine warning about the great contradiction and severe consequences of worldliness in the believer’s life.

Suppose a person accidentally left a steak on the kitchen counter just before leaving on vacation. Upon returning home, he would be welcomed with a horrendous odor. He would stumble to the kitchen, trying to imagine what could cause such a stench. When finding the meat he would not blame the meat for being a rotten slab of beef. He would kick himself for failing to preserve the meat in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, we Christians are often not that logical in our response to this sinful world. We make plenty negative comments and vent great frustrations over this rotten society. But our culture is simply doing what comes naturally. As hard as it is to admit, we should quit leveling blame of decadence on pagans and start asking why the church is not more effectively preventing decay from setting in. And the only way we can make of difference is if our lives demonstrate the difference that Jesus Christ makes. Mark it down.

• It matters how you conduct live each day.
• It matters how you lead your family.
• It matters how you treat your neighbor.
• It matters how you perform your job.
• It matters how you manage your material possessions.
• It matters how you respond to trials and temptations.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Notice the severe consequences for losing one’s saltiness. Jesus said you are good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. Think bout that. Some things that lose their original purpose can still be used for other things. But you cannot do that with salt. There is no such thing as recycled salt. Unsalty salt is worthless. A rabbi at the end of the first century was asked how one could make saltless salt salty again. He replied that one should salt it with the afterbirth of a mule. The problem with this answer is that mules are sterile. But that was exactly the rabbi’s point. Moreover, that is the warning the Lord Jesus issues to nominal, worldly, and unfruitful disciples. Luke 14:34-35 says, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be resorted? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” A disciple who does not live like a disciple is worth about as much as tasteless salt or invisible light.

This warning about the peril of unsalty salt should lead us to examine our profession of faith. Salvation comes when you repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It has nothing to do anything that you do. It is all about what God has done for us through the righteous life and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Salvation comes to those who put their in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin. But true assurance of salvation does not come by merely remembering some day in the past when you professed faith in Jesus Christ. And it does not come by tallying up all of the religious things you do. True assurance comes as God conforms you into the image of his Son by the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” More than just remembering the day when you walked down the aisle and gave the preacher your hand, you ought to be looking into the mirror of God’s word to see if there is evidence of real change taking place in your life.

In his little book, Stop Dating the Church, JOSHUA HARRIS lists ten “must-haves” you should factor in as you search for a church home. The ninth question listed is quite provocative: Is this a church that is willing to kick me out? That may seem to be a harsh factor that would cause you to avoid a church. But, in reality, that’s the kind of church you ought to be looking for. When a person who claims to be a Christian lives in a way that blatantly contradicts all that it means to be a disciple of Christ, a faithful congregation’s responsibility is to begin the process of removing that person from membership and to treat him or her like an unbeliever in the hope that he or she will repent and ultimately be restored.

Now, that may see unloving to you. But I submit to you that what is really unloving is for a person to live in a way that contradict the way of Christ without repentance and be in a church that allows them to think that they are right with God when they are not. I hear people say, “I’m saved and on my way to heaven anyhow?” But that’s not the truth. You don’t go to heaven anyhow. You get to heaven God’s way. So you don’t get assurance of salvation in spite of how you live. You get assurance of salvation by how you live. If you are saved, there will be a difference in how you live.

Let me close with a word to unbelievers and a word to believers.

A WORD TO UNBELIEVERS. Maybe you have refused to accept Christ because of the way you have seen Christians live. “Church people are just hypocrites,” you say. But let me tell you that Jesus Christ is not a hypocrite. And as long as he is who he said he is and as long as he did what he said he did, he is worthy of your trust, love, worship, service, and obedience. In John 14:6 Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Look to Jesus and be saved. Unlike salt, too much of Jesus will not make you sick. To the contrary, he gets sweeter as the days go by!

A WORD TO BELIEVERS. Jesus warns his followers about the consequences of failing to be the salt of the earth. And the severe consequences are that you will not be able to influence others for the kingdom. In fact, just the opposite takes place. You are thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. But notice that it is people who will reject you, not Jesus. If you fail to be what God calls you to be, you rob yourself of the opportunity to be a godly influence in the lives of others. And people may want to have nothing to do with you. But that doesn’t mean that is how God will treat you. God majors in using people who are good for nothing. The emphasis of the text is not the warning. It is the calling: You are the salt of the earth. And the message of the text is that the Lord has placed a calling on your life. The Lord believes in you.

At artist went to visit a dear friend. When he arrived, she was weeping. He asked why. She showed him a handkerchief of exquisite beauty that had a great sentimental value, which had been ruined by a drop of indelible ink. The artist asked her to let him have the handkerchief, which he returned to her by mail several days later. When she opened the package she could hardly believe her eyes. The artist, using the inkblot as a base, had drawn on the handkerchief a design of great with special ink. Now it was more beautiful and more valuable than ever. And sometimes the tragedies that break our hearts can become the basis for a more beautiful design in our lives.

Finishing the Beatitudes

I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) on Wednesday nights. Last night, I complete the introductory section – The Beatitudes of Jesus (Matt. 5:3-12).

The next section of the passage in Matthew 5:13-16, where Jesus describes the influence his disciples should have on the world for the kingdom of heaven. Using to gripping and dynamic word pictures, Jesus declares, “You are the salt of the earth” (5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (5:14-16).

Following this paragraph, I will be venturing into new ground in my exposition. Over the past two months, I have taken a fresh look at the beatitudes. But I have benefited from study notes that I already had on file. But I am now at a place in the text where I must study each text from scratch. I am looking forward to digging into portions of scripture that I have never studied or taught before. But it will require a lot more work. So please remember my study time in your prayers and my sequential exposition of Philippians on Sundays and the Sermon on the Mount on Wednesdays.

I preached last night from the final beatitude recorded in Matthew 5:10-12, in which Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. I entitled the message, “In the Line of Fire.” It was very hard work. But the Lord is faithful. Here is the sermon skeleton from last night’s message:

Title: “In the Line of Fire”

Text: Matthew 5:10-12

Series: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Theme: The blessing of Christian persecution

Point: The Lord blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Outline:

I. The reality of Christian persecution (5:10-11)

A. You will be reviled (v. 11)

B. You will be persecuted (v. 11)

C. You will be slandered (v. 11)

II. The reason for Christian persecution (5:10-11)

A. You will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake (v. 10)

B. You will be persecuted for Christ’s sake (v. 11)

III. The response to Christian persecution (5:12)

A. Look up and rejoice: “for your reward is great in heaven

B. Look back and rejoice: “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you

Two Special Days with the Master’s College and Seminary Family

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the rare and special opportunity to speak in the chapel services at The Master’s College and the Master’s Seminary in Southern California.

I was invited to speak at the Master’s College last year. But my move to Jacksonville forced me to cancel the engagement. And I concluded that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would never have again. But I was graciously extended another invitation to come. And I was extremely grateful.

Monday, I spoke in the chapel service at the college. It was the beginning of their Outreach Week. It was a moving time of worship. And I was grateful to have such an attentive group of young people to minister to.

Later that afternoon, I taught a freshman class that was opened to the student body. We discussed biblical evangelism and practical strategies for sharing your faith. After a brief devotional like talk, we spent most of our time in questions and answers. I really enjoyed the passion of the young people to reach lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Later Monday evening, I had the opportunity to speak at the chapel service of the Los Angeles Bible Training School. It was the fourth or fifth time I have spoke at the training school. So we are pretty familiar with one another. Likewise, there were some Mt. Sinai members present, who attend the school. Pastor George Hurtt teaches there. He is presently teaching Philippians. It was a great time of worship.

Tuesday morning, I spoke at the Master’s Seminary. I was privileged to attend the seminary for a period. And the ministry of John MacArthur and the wisdom of the faculty has have a tremendous impact on my life and ministry. It was an unspeakable honor to have the opportunity to minister to the young men who are preparing themselves for pastoral ministry.

I pray that God will be pleased to use the messages to be a spiritual benefit to those who heard them in the days and years to come.

Tuesday afternoon, I sat in on a class at the WHW Expository Preaching Conference. Tuesday evening, George and I attended the annual banquet. And I had the opportunity to hear Dr. A. Louis Patterson Jr, pastor of the Mt. Corinth Church in Houston. Dr. Patterson is one of my heroes. And it is always a joy to hear him minister the word.

Tuesday night, I caught a red-eye home. And Wednesday evening, I was back in my own pulpit. There’s no place like home! The Lord blessed our time together, as we continued our study of the Great Commission. I preached on “A Conspiracy of Kindness” from Matthew 5:7.

Thank you for your prayers during this busy week of preaching and teaching.

You Are What You Eat

I resumed my study of the Sermon on the Mount tonight in our midweek worship service. I am still in the beatitudes. My text was Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (ESV). I entitled the message, “How Is Your Appetite?”

I addressed three aspects of this beatitude tonight:

  1. The Menu for True Satisfaction: “righteousness”  
  2. The Appetite for True Satisfaction: “hunger and thirst
  3. The Blessing of True Satisfaction: “they shall be satisfied

There was a section of the first point that I failed to cover. But I thought it was important. I wanted to explain the different ways scripture speak of righteousness and what I believe Jesus is referring to in this beatitude. Here is the section of the manuscript:


            Scripture speaks of righteousness several different ways. First of all, there is positional or forensic righteousness, which is the sovereign act by which God declares sinners righteous through faith in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. This is not what Jesus is talking about in our text. Unsaved or unconverted people do not desire to be justified unless or until God changes their heart and leads them to saving faith in Christ. And those who have declared righteous need not hunger and thirst for it. Likewise, there is what you call social righteousness, which involves caring for widows and orphans, providing for those in need, and seeking justice for those who have been wronged. As important as social righteousness is, this is not what Jesus is talking about in our text. He is not saying that all who desire to see the world become a better place are blessed and will have their desires fulfilled. What Jesus is speaking of here is what is called personal or progressive righteousness. That is, those who have been justified by God through faith in Christ demonstrate their righteous standing by a sincere and strong desire to have their daily life be conformed to the righteous position. This is what Jesus blesses in this beatitude. He affirms the citizen of the kingdom of heaven who desires his or her life on earth to be marked by continual and increasing conformity to the will of God.

I was moved today as I thought about a line from Ray Pritchard’s book, He’s God and We’re Not. Commenting on this beatitude, Pritchard writes: “Whatever righteous thing you desire in the spiritual realm, you can have if you want it badly enough.” Wow! If this statement is true, that means we should live without excuses. We can blame nothing or no one else for our spiritual condition. If this beatitude is true, we can be as close to God as we want to be.

I was glad to be home and in my own pulpit tonight. I was encouraged those who told me that they missed me. It is good to be missed.

Next Wednesday’s Message: “A Conspiracy of Kindness” (Matthew 5:7).

Power Under Control

I continued my new study of the Sermon on the Mount. I am presently through the Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12. What a challenge it is to wrestle with the demands of Jesus. My soul is being stretched and my mind is being renewed. I pray the congregation of SMBC is being blessed by the study so far.

Here is the sermon skeleton from last night’s message:

Title: “Strength Through Meekness”

Text: Matthew 5:5

Series: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Theme: The blessedness of meekness

Point: God blesses the person who lives with confidence that God is in control.

Outline:

I. What is meekness?

- Meekness is not weakness.

- Meekness is power under control.

- Meekness is self-control rooted in confidence that God is in control.

II. What is the blessing of meekness?

- Jesus calls the meek blessed because of their inheritance.

- Jesus promises that the meek will inherit the earth.

* This is a promise for tomorrow

* This is a promise for today

The Blessing of Brokenness

Last week I started a study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in our midweek services at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

The first section of the message records the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matt. 5:3-12), in which Jesus announces those who exhibit certain kingdom attributes blessed.

Last week, we studied the first beatitude on “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). Last night, the blessing Jesus announces on those who “mourn” (Matt. 5:4).

Here is the sermon skeleton from last night’s message.

TITLE: “The Blessing of Brokenness”

TEXT: Matthew 5:4

SERMON SERIES: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

THEME: The blessedness of godly sorrow

POINT: God blesses those who mourn.

OUTLINE:

Consider what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:4 about the sorrow and the comfort of the mourners.

I. The sorrow of the mourners (5:4a)

A. The place of natural sorrow

1. Natural sorrow can be evil.

2. Natural sorrow can be beneficial.

B. The priority of spiritual sorrow

II. The comfort of the mourners (5:4b)

A. God comforts the mourners through repentance of sin.

B. God comforts the mourners through faith in Jesus Christ.

1. Christ comforts believers by his atoning blood.

2. Christ comforts believers by his Holy Spirit.

Tonight, I began a new Wednesday night sermon series through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

I had planned on doing another series, on “Total-Life Stewardship.” It was very eager to get that study going. But I just could not get a green light to start it. I trust that the Lord will allow me to get to it at another time.

For the meantime, I will be in the Sermon on the Mount for a while. I plan to cover the entire passage. And I do not intend to rush through it. I need to spend this time studying the radical, exacting, and counter-cultural principles of the kingdom that Jesus teaches in Matthew 5-7. My congregation needs these encounter with Jesus, as well.

Please pray for us.

I began tonight with the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount, known as the “Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:3-12). God willing, I will go through each of them individually.

Here is the sermon skeleton from tonight’s message:

Title: “Good Credit for the Spiritually Bankrupt”

Text: Matthew 5:3

Sermon Series: “The Sermon on the Mount”

Theme: The blessed paradox of human depravity.

Point: God blesses the poor in spirit.

Outline:

I. What does it mean to be blessed?

A. True blessedness cannot be measured in man-centered terms.

A. It is not about emotional happiness.

B. It is not about favorable circumstances.

C. It is not about material prosperity.

B. True blessedness must be measured in God-centered terms.

II. What does it mean to be poor in spirit?

A. To be poor in spirit is to have a high view of God.

B. To be poor in spirit is to have a low view of self.

1. Spiritual poverty is necessary for salvation.

2. Spiritual poverty is necessary for spiritual growth.

III. What does it mean to have the kingdom of heaven?

A. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit exclusively.

B. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit presently.