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Mastering Materialism - Part 5

Tom Pennington • Matthew 6:25-34

  • 2013-08-25 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons


Well, today in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we come to one of the great peaks of divine revelation. We come to one of those passages that all of us who teach feel woefully inadequate to begin to explain, and yet that falls my duty today. So, that's what we're going to do. I invite you to turn with me to Matthew 6, and let me read for us once again this paragraph. Matthew 6:25. This is what Jesus our Lord says to us.

"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they don't toil, nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or "What will we wear for clothing?" For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

So, do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In the second half of Matthew 6, our Lord is addressing the danger of materialism. And as we've learned here in the verses that I've just read for you. Specifically, He's telling us how to overcome the dangers that are inherent in a material world and in materialism. And he teaches us how to overcome the danger, by taking us back to the fountainhead. Because often materialism begins by an undue worry about our future needs being met. And so, he deals here in this text with the temptation to worry about our financial future. Will I have the necessities of life? Will I have enough? The paragraph opens in verse 25 with Jesus' command not to worry. Notice verse 25, He simply says, "Do not be worried about your life," as far as what you eat, and what you drink, and what you put on. The rest of the paragraph is a series of arguments that Jesus gives us, arguments about why we shouldn't worry regarding the needs of this life.

We have spent the last few weeks looking at the first argument Jesus gives us as to why we shouldn't worry about the future. And that is the argument from God's character. In essence, He says, "You don't need to worry about your future needs being met, because you can trust your Father. And He uses examples from creation to show us that we have a good, generous Father who will care for us. You don't need to worry, because He'll care for you.

Today, we come to Jesus' second argument. It's the argument from kingdom priorities, the argument from kingdom priorities. We now are different than we used to be, and we live for God's kingdom. It makes no sense for us to worry about the necessities of this life, because of the change that God has produced in us. When you came to Christ, I want you to think back for a moment about when you, came to understand that you were a sinner, that you needed God's forgiveness, that you needed grace, or you would be swept away with your sins into eternal judgment.

You remember the day when you repented of your sins and you put your faith in Jesus Christ. At the moment that happened, a miracle happened. You know, Christianity is not about doing certain things. Christianity at its heart is about God intervening in a person's life and producing a miraculous change in that person. We call that regeneration. Jesus referred to it as being "born again." Having a spiritual birth. And at the moment you believed, that happened to you. You were regenerated. You had given to you a new heart.

Now what do we mean when we say, you had a new heart? We mean that at that moment God gave you a new capacity to obey Him. He also gave you new desires, and new loves, and new affections. The things you once loved, you begin to hate, and the things you once despised, you begin to be attracted to and desire. At the same time, He gave you new priorities. Different things suddenly began to be important in your life. And now as a believer in Jesus Christ, you don't pursue the same priorities you once pursued. We now live for kingdom priorities, and so worrying about the necessities of physical life is wholly inconsistent with the new person we've become, and the new spiritual priorities that have been burned into our souls.

Now as Jesus unfolds these thoughts to us, He begins yet again by repeating the prohibition against worry. Notice verse 31, "Do not worry, then saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'" Now, this is another time Jesus is saying this to us, go back verse 25. The whole paragraph begins with his saying "Don't worry," but the Greek structure in verse 25 could be translated, "Stop worrying." I know you, I know your hearts, I know this is already going on, "Stop worrying."

But the structure here in verse 31 is different. And it comes out clearly in the Greek text; the syntax here could be translated like this, "Don't ever worry. Don't ever worry." Jesus here prohibits all worry. Worry for a Christian is never justified, it is never excusable. Why is that? Well, because of what He's just taught us about God, because of the kind of God and the kind of Father that we have.

Listen, if your God is like the gods of the nations, if your god is an idol, then you'd better worry. Because your god doesn't know what you need. Your god doesn't care what your needs are, and your god can't help you.

Our Father, on the other hand, isn't like that at all. In verse 32, Jesus says our Father knows. He knows what we need. In verse 26, He says "Your Father cares." You are far more valuable to God than any of the rest of His creation. And not only does our God know and our God care, but He has the power to do something about it.

Jesus gives us several illustrations from creation where He says, "Listen, our God is so great, He cares for every single bird. He cares for every single wildflower. Do you really think He can't care for you? So, if your god, unlike the true God, our God, if your god doesn't know what you need, and he doesn't really care what you need, and he can't help you anyway, then you'd better worry. But if your God is the God of Scripture who knows, and cares, and has the power to act, then worry is never justified.

Now in verse 31, Jesus really gives us a kind of definition of worry. Again, the structure of the Greek language is informative, but you can see in the English text. You see those questions in verse 31? Those are not real questions. This happens all the time in our lives. My wife asks questions that aren't real questions. When she says, "You're not planning to wear that out, are you?" That's not a real question. I know that. She's not asking me for an answer. She's making a point.

These aren't real questions, either. These questions are not questions, you know, when, Jesus says, you're going to ask, "What will we eat?" It's not, "What are we having for lunch?" "Meatloaf." That's not the point here. Implied in these questions, and you can see it, but it's even clear in the structure of the Greek text, and the way it's put together. These are questions that have implied in them serious doubt and uncertainty. "I just don't think we're going to have enough to eat. I just don't think we're going to have enough to drink. I don't think we're going to have the clothing we need."

There is contained in these questions serious doubt and real uncertainty about what we need to sustain physical life. So, worry, then, as Jesus is defining it here, is fear of the future. And specifically, it is fear that our future needs will be met. It is doubt of God's provision. It is uncertainty of His care. That's worry. Worry is fear. And specifically, it's fear about the future, and fear in this case, about our future needs being met.

Notice what Jesus says in verse 31, "Do not worry, then, saying …" Saying. I think it may imply, you're saying these things, you're raising these doubts in your own heart, but He doesn't say "thinking," He specifically says "saying." Why is that? Because what you say to yourself and to others betrays what's in your heart. If I could capture the words you speak every day, and I could throw them up on the screen behind me, and we could all analyze them together, I would be able to know, and you would be able to know, what's really going on in your heart. Because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

And so, what we say captures what we're thinking. So, in verse 31, then, Jesus commands us, both in our thoughts, and in what we express, which is just our thoughts expressed, that we never worry about the physical necessities of the future. In other words, we are to never to live in doubt, we're never to live in uncertainty about whether or not God will meet our future needs. To do so, listen carefully, is always sinful. Not only because we can trust our Father, as we've already discovered in this passage, but as we're about to discover, because it is completely inconsistent with the new kingdom priorities that we now have as Jesus' disciples. In fact, worry has a lot in common with the priorities of pagans. Worry has a lot in common with the priorities of pagans.

Look at verse 32. "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things." The expression "the Gentiles," here, and in the rest of the New Testament, is referring not merely to those who aren't Jewish. In this context and similar ones, the issue, the primary issue, is not ethnicity. Rather, it's referring to all of those who don't know and serve the true God. The God who has made Himself known to and through the descendants of Abraham. So, Jesus here, with this expression "the Gentiles," is referring to pagan unbelievers, to idolaters, to polytheists. And He says, "Those people who don't know the true God, they eagerly seek all these things." Look around you. The people around you who don't know and serve the true and living God, they eagerly seek all these things.

By the way, the word "eagerly seek," it's the same root word that's translated "seek" in verse 33, but it's got a preposition added to the front of it, which in Greek makes it stronger, more intense. They desire these things with a strong, earnest desire, and they pursue them with their lives. This is what they live for.

Now, what is it they live for? Notice, they eagerly pursue all these things. In context, Jesus is talking about food, and drink, and clothing. In other words, the lives of unbelievers are all about meeting the needs of their body and the necessities of this physical life. That's all they have. And that's what they live for. This has always been true, by the way.

There's a fascinating letter that was written two hundred years before Christ. It's called the "Letter of Aristeas." It's written by a Jewish man, about Gentiles. Listen to what he wrote. Again, two hundred years before Christ, "Gentiles are those who are concerned with meat, and drink, and clothes. Their whole attitude to life is concentrated on these concerns." He goes on to say, that those who were truly devoted to the true God, "… such concerns are of no account among the people of our race, but throughout the whole of our lives, our main objective is concerned with the sovereignty of God." They live for those earthly things. We live for God. So, two hundred years before Christ, this was true. During Christ's time, it was true. Unbelievers live for, strive for, desire with everything in them, to get these things. They live for earthly life.

Let me just encourage you to take a little exercise this week. I want you to pay attention, not too much attention, to the advertisements that are accosting you, on television, the internet, the radio, magazines, newspapers. And notice what those advertisements are about. You will find that 99.9% of those advertisements are about the things necessary for this life. They never transcend that, because that's how pagans think. That's what they live for.

And do you remember, that's how you used to think? That's what you used to live for, before Christ? That's all you had. And so, this is what you pursued. But God has changed you. He's given you a new heart. He's given you new priorities, new desires. It's inconsistent now, for you to continue to live for those things, like the pagans around you. It's inconsistent with the new person we have become, and the new priorities we have embraced.

D.A. Carson puts it this way, He says, "Jesus' disciples must live lives qualitatively different from those of people who have no trust in God's fatherly care," and listen to this, "and no fundamental goals beyond material things."

Our lives need to be different from those who have only earthly goals. Let me ask you. What are your greatest desires? I mean, I want you to really think about this for a moment. In your heart of hearts, I'm not asking you for the correct answer. I'm asking you for the real answer. In your heart of hearts, what is it that you most want in this life? If I could project those things up here on the screen, let me ask you, would most of them be about the needs of this life? If so, Jesus says, "You're living like a pagan. You're not living like someone who knows the true and living God."

But compare the priorities of pagans with the priorities of Jesus' disciples. Notice the contrast. Verse 32, "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things." Verse 33, but you, My disciples, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." The bottom line is, we are all pursuing something. Every human being is seeking something. As you sit here this morning, every person under the sound of my voice is living in pursuit of something.

Jesus simplifies the entire issue by saying that there are really only two possible alternatives. There may be variations, but every person in this room is pursuing one of two things. Either self-centered goals, or God-centered goals. That's it. You're either living for yourself, or you're living for God. That's what it comes down to. There is no other alternative.

I love the way one author puts it, "Ambitions for self may be quite modest." In other words, your ambitions for yourself may be enough to eat, enough to drink, something to wear, or, he says, they may be grandiose, a bigger house, a faster car, a higher salary, a wider reputation, more power. But then he says, "Whether modest or immodest, these are still ambitions for myself, my comfort, my wealth, my status, my power." And that is contrary to the new priorities we have as Jesus' disciples.

I want you to look again at Jesus' profound statement in verse 33. Every single word of this is critical. It begins, "But …" That is in contrast to how pagans live. "Seek …" This is an imperative. It's is a command. The leading Greek lexicon defines this word, "seek" as "devote serious effort to something. Strive for something. Aim at something. Try to obtain something."

In Greek, as in other languages, other languages perhaps some of you have studied, the number is contained in the word itself. The verb, here, translated "seek," is in the second person plural. In other words, He's not speaking to one person. He's speaking to all of His disciples. He says, all of you who claim to be my followers, this is what I want you to do. I want you to devote serious effort. I want you to strive. I want you to aim. I want you to try to obtain this. It's also a command that's in the present tense. It's not something that you seek once and then you're done. It's something you "keep on seeking," is the idea. It is something that becomes a continual habit of life. Jesus commands us to do this as a habit of life.

And He says, "Seek first …" This word refers not to chronological order, "Do this before you do other things." But rather, this word refers to order of priority, order of importance. Make this your highest priority in life. So, Jesus says, "I want you, all of you who are my disciples, to constantly, continually be striving for, to be devoting serious effort at, to be aiming for," what, as our highest priority? Notice how he encapsulates it, "His kingdom, and His righteousness." "I want your entire life to be aimed at these goals." It's important that we understand what He's saying here. "His kingdom." What does Jesus mean by "His kingdom?"

Well, as we've already discovered here in the Sermon on the Mount, the kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, it is the spiritual kingdom over which Christ rules. It is the spiritual kingdom, composed of people whom God has rescued, and who are now are ruled over by Jesus Christ. If you're a Christian, at the moment you became a Christian, you entered into Jesus' spiritual kingdom. He is now your King. You're part of the spiritual kingdom of people over whom He rules. It's the sphere of salvation. Jesus says, "I want you to strive for, devote serious effort toward, I want you to make that spiritual kingdom your highest priority in life. But specifically, what does He mean by that?

Let me give you several ways we seek the kingdom first. First of all, it means that you seek to enter His kingdom. You make sure that you're in Jesus' kingdom. If you're going to seek first the kingdom, it means your first priority in life is to make sure you're in Jesus' kingdom. Has there been a moment in your life when you have come to realize that you live as a rebel against God, and that if God were to treat you as your sins deserve, you would be swept away from His presence at the judgment into eternal hell. That's what you deserve; that's what I deserve.

Has there ever come a moment in your life when you've realized that? And when you have been willing to turn from that rebellion, the life that you have chosen for yourself, and instead to turn to Jesus Christ, and to acknowledge Him as Lord, and ask for God's forgiveness through what Jesus did on the cross, dying for the sins of all of those who would ever believe. Have you ever come to where Jesus begins this sermon? … as a beggar in spirit? Calling out, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"

You better, if you're going to seek first the kingdom, you better make sure you're in the kingdom. The New Testament calls on us who even profess Christ, to examine ourselves, to see if we're in the faith. It calls on us in Peter's epistle to "make our calling and election sure." If you're going to seek the kingdom, you'd better make sure you're in it.

Secondly, "to seek the kingdom" means to submit to the king. I mean, that's what a kingdom is, right? A kingdom is a group of people who are ruled over by a king. And so, if you're going to seek the kingdom, it means that you are going to seek to advance, Jesus' rule in your own life. It means you want Him to rule over every dark corner of your soul. You want Him to reign over every aspect of your life.

Thirdly, it means to spread the good news of the kingdom. It means you're not content merely with being under Jesus's reign, yourself., You want other people to be under His reign. You want other people to come to acknowledge Jesus as King. And you will do everything in your power to ensure that others come to know Him, and to acknowledge Him as their rightful King.

But to seek the kingdom means one other thing. It means to live for kingdom priorities versus earthly ones. It means you make day-to-day deliberate decisions to do those things that will advance His kingdom rather than your own. I love the way one author puts it. Listen to this, "To seek first His kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ." Listen to that again. "To seek first His kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ."

And then he says, "Such a desire for the spread of Jesus' reign will start with ourselves. Until every single department of our life—home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, lifestyle, citizenship—every department of our lives is joyfully and freely submitted to Christ. That's where putting the kingdom first starts." He goes on to say, "It will continue in our immediate environment, with the acceptance of evangelistic responsibility towards our relatives, colleagues, neighbors, and friends." You see, if you want the reign of Christ to spread, you don't want it to stop with your heart, and your life, and your family. You want other people to come under His reign. And it starts with the people around you, that you love and care about.

He goes on to say, "And it will also reach out in "global" concern for the missionary witness of the church." Seeking His kingdom means you're not content with being a Christian, yourself. You're not even just content with the people you know and love being Christians, you have a heart for people around the world. You pray for them, and you give to send people, and perhaps if He calls you, you go, yourself. But you have a heart for people beyond yourself. Seek first His kingdom.

We are also to constantly seek as our highest priority not only His kingdom, and notice, verse 33, "His righteousness." Now, this could be referring to imputed righteousness, the gift of grace that is a right standing before God, where God gives us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is justification. This is what happens at the moment of salvation. I think it's unlikely that that's what it means here because Jesus is talking to His disciples. He's talking to those who are already justified: Those who are already His followers. I think it's much more likely that Jesus here is referring to pursuing personal righteousness. Not justification, but sanctification. A life pattern of doing what Jesus requires and commands. As Lloyd-Jones says, "He is not telling his hearers how to make themselves Christian, but how to behave because they are Christians."

This is what the Sermon on the Mount's about, right? It's to His disciples; about how to live righteously, how to live in a way that honors and pleases God. Go back to Matthew 5: 6. You remember at the core of the beatitudes is this beatitude, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." In verse 10, He tells us, that if righteousness is what we're about, we're going to be persecuted for the sake of that righteousness. Not everybody around us is going to like it. Just like they didn't like Him.

Verse 20, our righteousness has to be a greater righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees. It has to not only affect our external behavior, but our hearts. And He goes on to describe what that righteousness looks like. Listen carefully. To seek His righteousness is to pursue the kind of practical righteousness that Jesus describes throughout this sermon. It is to display the character that's highlighted in the beatitudes. It is to be salt and light with the people around us. It is to deal with our heart and not just our external behavior.

So, in other words, it's not good enough not to murder someone. We have to control our anger. It's not good enough not to commit adultery. We have to control our lust. We must be quick to resolve disagreements with our brothers. We must be people of our word, who can be trusted. We must be quick to forgive those who wrong us. We are to love our enemies as God loves His enemies. In chapter 6, this righteousness expresses itself in spiritual activities not done for people to see, but for God to see. We give, and we pray, and we fast, and all the other things we do as believers and followers of Christ. We do those activities to be seen by God. This is the righteousness we are to pursue. These are the things that are to become our sacred obsessions. Jesus is really here just commanding us to do what He's already taught us to pray for. You remember how the Lord's prayer begins? We studied it together.

He says, the first prayer is, "Lord, hallowed be your name." I'm concerned about Your glory, and I'm concerned about Your kingdom coming, Your kingdom advancing, both the spiritual kingdom and the eventual literal kingdom. And I want Your will—your revealed will—as it's in Your Word to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, Jesus says, "It's not good enough just to pray for those things; I want you to pursue them." So, the priorities of Jesus's disciples, verse 33 says they are His kingdom, and His righteousness.

But notice this passage also includes Jesus' pledge to us. In these verses Jesus provides us with two great promises that encourage us to seek first kingdom priorities. First of all, He pledges that Your Father knows what you need. Your Father knows what you need. Notice verse 32, "… for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." Think about that for a moment. The eternal God who made you and who has now adopted you as His child, every single moment of every single day, He knows if you lack anything that's necessary.

Lloyd-Jones says, "There is no more blessed statement in the whole of Scripture than that. You will never be anywhere, but that He sees you. There will never be anything in the depths of your heart in the innermost recesses of your being, but that He knows all about it." God is with you. You are not alone. And He is your Father. Never allow yourself for a moment to think that you are left to yourself. You are not. Notice back in chapter 6:8, He's teaching us not to pray like the Gentiles, with meaningless repetition, thinking they'll be heard for their many words, verse 8, "So do not be like them, for Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." We're to ask Him. "You have not because you ask not," James says. But we're not to ask Him to tell Him what we need. We're to ask Him to show our dependence on Him, our confidence in Him. He knows.

But there's a second great pledge that Jesus makes in this passage, and that is that your Father will supply what you need. Notice verse 33, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." It's an amazing promise. "… will be added.…" This is what theologians call a divine passive. The doer of the action isn't mentioned specifically by name, but we know who it is. It's God, Himself. God, Himself, is the one who will add these things to us.

The word "add" is a very interesting word because it is a word that specifically means, "to add to something that is already present." So, here's Jesus' point. Listen carefully. If you will pursue as your first priority in life His kingdom and His righteousness, then God, as a gift of His grace, will give you the kingdom and righteousness. He will cause Jesus' kingdom to advance in you and through you, and He will produce real personal righteousness in your soul. Isn't that what the beatitude promises? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" [What?] "for they will be satisfied."

But that isn't all Jesus is saying here. In addition to those spiritual blessings, He says God will also add to you, what? … the supply of your physical needs. He's going to give it all to you. You pursue the spiritual, you obey Him, and you get it all as part of the package. Your needs will be met.

There are a lot of places I could take you to illustrate this. Let me take you to one that's unexpected. Go back to Leviticus 25. Leviticus 25. This is a chapter about the Sabbath year. You remember Old Testament Israel was commanded every seventh year, they weren't supposed to sow the land. They were to let it lie dormant, and God would provide for them. Verse 18, Leviticus 25, "You shall thus observe my statutes, and keep my judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land. Then the land will yield its produce, so that you may eat your fill and live securely on it." Now watch verse 20, "But if you say, 'What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we don't sow or gather in our crops?'" Here's worry about the future. Wait a minute, God. I'm worried that we're not going to have what we need.

He says, now listen, you do what I've told you, verse 21, "and then I will so order my blessing for you in the sixth year, that it will bring forth a crop for three years. When you are sowing the eighth year, you'll still be eating off the crop from the previous years, eating the old until the ninth year when the new crop comes in. What was God saying to the Israelites? Don't worry about your provision. You do what I've told you to do, you put My priorities ahead of your own, and I'm perfectly capable of making sure your needs are met. That's exactly what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6. He's saying, you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. You put God's priorities ahead of your own, and you leave the meeting of your needs to God. Yes, you work hard, you do the things you're supposed to do. But don't worry. God's got it under control. He's able to take care of you.

Let me just ask you—and I really want you to answer this question in your heart—I want you to be honest with yourself. Do you really believe that if you make Christ's kingdom and personal righteousness your chief priorities, that God will not only give you those spiritual things, but He'll also make sure your physical needs are met? Do you believe that? Do you believe Jesus? I'm afraid too often we don't. So, what do we do?

When we worry about the future, what's our solution? If you're worried about your future financial needs, what's your solution? It's to accumulate more, because if I accumulate more, then I won't have to worry. It doesn't work like that. Listen to Sinclair Ferguson, "Anxiety can never be cured by getting more of what we already have." Listen to that again, "Anxiety can never be cured by getting more of what we already have." Many people make that fatal mistake.

"Anxiety can be cured only by the assurance [or the confidence] that all our needs will be met by our King." The only way for you to get over worry and anxiety is when you stop seeking more, as though that's going to somehow satisfy that worry and anxiety, and you start trusting your Father. You start seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, and trusting that He'll meet the needs that you have.

In light of this passage, let me ask you, what is your greatest ambition in life? What is your highest priority, really? Is it to be successful, to be well-known, to have a lot of money, and stuff, possessions, to live a comfortable life, just to enjoy life? What's ultimately your greatest and highest ambition and priority? For us who follow Jesus Christ, our greatest ambition, our highest priority, is spelled out here by our Lord, We are to seek first the advancement of His kingdom in our hearts, and in the hearts of others, and to seek His righteousness. The real, personal righteousness that He produces in our hearts.

But that raises a very practical question. How can we do that in the business of life? How do we do what needs to be done at work, and at school, and in our families, and in our homes, and still make the kingdom of Christ our highest priority? Let me give you two very practical things to consider.

First of all, in the big decisions of life. In the big decisions of life, you must always ask yourself this question, what will most advance His kingdom and His righteousness in my life? When you're faced with life's biggest decisions, you must ask yourself that question. For example, students, ask yourself, "Will this college or this major enable me to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness?" "Does the potential mate that I'm pursuing encourage spiritual kingdom priorities in my life?" "What about the career path I've chosen for me personally, knowing your own heart and soul." Is this what's going to really foster the pursuit of the kingdom and His righteousness in your life?

What about that job that you're weighing? What about the move of your family to some other place in the country to pursue that job? Is it going to foster putting His kingdom and His righteousness first? It may, it may not. But you've got to ask yourself that question. You can start with, "Is there a good church there that I can have my family engaged in?" So, as you make life's big decisions, you must ask yourself that question.

But let's go to the daily and weekly decisions. Secondly, in the daily and weekly decisions of life, you also need to put the kingdom and the pursuit of righteousness first in your own life, and in the life of your family. How do you do that? Well, you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness in daily life in how you invest your time. Do you invest your time?

I'm not talking about amount of time. I know we all have to work 40+ hours a week. I understand that's a reality. But is the priority in your life investing your time in Bible study, in prayer, in the life of the church, in evangelism, the things that matter to Christ. Are they your priorities, in how you invest your time? Let me ask it this way, What do you schedule first? What gets cut from your schedule when you're too busy to fit everything in?

Do you neglect your hobbies and your sports and your entertainment and your extra-curricular activities and your fun, or do you neglect kingdom priorities? When you look at your daily life, you can seek first His kingdom and His righteousness in how you invest your resources. In the context, this is one of the primary points Jesus is making, remember? He started this passage by talking about materialism, warning us about the dangers of materialism. He started by saying, "I want you to lay up your treasures in heaven rather than on earth." Are you seeking His kingdom first as your highest priority in how you invest your resources?

Here's another way. You can seek first His kingdom and His righteousness in daily life by what you choose to think about. Now, listen. We are driven by what we have to do to think about certain things. When you're at work, you have to think about work. When you're at school, you have to think about school. But when you can choose what you think about, what do you choose to think about? Is it Christ and His kingdom? Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." You know what Jesus is saying here? He's saying, "You're not a pagan anymore. So, stop living like a pagan. Live for kingdom priorities."

This week I reread a famous short story. The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote a famous short story simply entitled, "The Bet." One evening over dinner a wealthy banker and a young, poor attorney argued over which method of punishment for murder was better, capital punishment or life in prison. The young attorney was convinced that life, even life in confinement, life in solitary confinement, was better than death. The banker disagreed.

And so, their disagreement escalated into a fight, and eventually came to a bet. The banker said he would pay that poor attorney two million rubles, in that day it was a huge fortune, if he would live in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The young, poor attorney agreed, and so the bet was cast. And his solitude began.

The first year, he asked for books to read. The books he requested were light and frivolous reading: novels and other sorts of entertaining books. In the second year, he asked for nothing but the classics. In the sixth year, he began studying languages, and philosophy, and history. By the tenth year, he had read over six hundred volumes.

After the tenth year, Chekhov writes, the prisoner set immovably at the table and read nothing but the gospels. Theology and histories of religion followed. When the night came for the bet to finish, the fifteen years had passed, and it was the night before he was to win his fortune, and win the bet. The prisoner wrote a letter to the wealthy banker, and this is what the letter said, "With clear conscience, I tell you as before God who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that is in your books, called 'The Good Things of the World.'

"For fifteen years, I've been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine; I have sung songs. I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests. I have loved women. Beauties as ethereal as clouds created by the magic of your poets and geniuses have visited me at night and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. Your books have given me wisdom, all that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages, is compressed into the small compass of my brain.

"I know more than all of you, and I despise your books. I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth. You have lost your reason, and have taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live for, I renounce the two millions of which I once dreamed as a paradise, and which I now despise."

And the short story ends with the prisoner walking out of his confinement just hours before the bet was won and the fortune secured. It shouldn't take us fifteen years of living in solitary confinement to reach the same conclusion. We ought to respond based solely on the command of our Lord, who says to us, "But you, my disciples, seek first as your highest priority, His kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

Let's pray together. Father, use your Word to produce change in our lives.

Lord, we are so earth-bound, we are so tempted to live as we once lived, to live as the pagans around us live.

Father, help us to live for kingdom priorities, and may that keep us from worry about the future, knowing that You will add what we need to us, as we pursue the things that matter to You.

Lord, I pray there would be people here today who would make fresh decisions about their lives, and what they do with life as a result of this passage. Lord, don't let us leave here having looked in the mirror of your Word and having seen ourselves, and leave and forget what we look like and not make any changes.

Father, may we respond to Your truth. I pray for the person here who doesn't know your Son. Lord may this be the day when they realize that they have exchanged heaven for earth. They've exchanged real and lasting beauty for hideousness.

I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Sermon on the Mount