Priority in Worship

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 6:19-24, “Priority in Worship”

It’s been often said that a person’s priority can be determined by looking at exactly two things: their calendar & their checkbook.  What a person spends his time on & spends his money for (beyond the basic necessities) declares what he/she values in life – it declares to the rest of the world his/her priority.  What our priority actually is might be a stark contrast than what we claim it to be – which is what Jesus is pointing out in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

In this Sermon, Jesus has been teaching what it means to live as one of His disciples – to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Beatitudes started off with the characteristics of a citizen of the kingdom: someone who is completely dependent upon God & reflects God’s own person & character.  Much of Ch 5 spoke about the heart of the law of God – how it in itself was a reflection upon God’s own character, and how the law of God was never about giving legalistic loopholes for people to jump though, but rather showing that God demands perfection.  And yet when we humble ourselves before Christ, Jesus gives us that perfection & gives us the grace to live as His kingdom citizens.  As Ch 6 began, Jesus taught about spiritual deeds and their sincerity.  Putting on a show to be seen by others is not evidence of a true spiritual life; true spirituality is sincere & seen by God who sees in secret, but will reward openly.  Giving finances is good, but it’s to be done for God’s eyes.  Prayer is good, but it’s to be done humbly (and Jesus even gives us a model for how to do it according to God’s will & for God’s glory).  Fasting is good, but we’re not to make a show of it.  All these things are absolutely good and edifying when they’re done in sincerity.  Otherwise, it’s just a show & a waste of time.  We will have received our reward already.

With all that in mind, Jesus continues teaching about these things, but He teaches about how sincere worship declares our priority in worship.  In vss. 19-24, Jesus is continuing to contrast the sincere & insincere worshipper, but He goes on to show the result of their deeds.  The insincere worshipper might put on a good show, but he demonstrates that his priority is worldly.  His stuff, sight, and service are all dedicated to the world, despite what his outward spirituality might seem to be.  Yet the sincere worshipper has a priority upon God & those things which are heavenly.  The true citizen of the kingdom shows that the stuff that he seeks after is Godly – his sight is focused upon Christ – and his service is dedicated unto God alone, with no competition.  Sincere Christians show Christ as their priority & Christ Himself is our reward!

Matthew 6:19–24 (NKJV)
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

  • Earthly treasure vs. heavenly treasure.  We know that each exists – Jesus spoke of the reward that men receive with insincere spiritual deeds and the rewards given someone by their Heavenly Father when his/her spiritual deeds are sincere and based in Christ.
  • What’s the difference?  Their location of value.  Earthly treasure obviously has much value on earth, but little in heaven & vice-versa.  Like monetary currencies of different nations have little to no value in a nation other than its own…  A Mexican peso does not have value in Moscow, Russia, and a Russian ruble does not have value in Cancun.  The only way the currency has any value is if it’s exchanged…  Likewise with earthly and heavenly treasures.  Earthly treasures like money & power have no value in heaven, but they might (depending on what they are) be able to be exchanged.  Obviously no one can purchase their way into heaven with money, but money can be used to share the gospel around the world through missionaries and Bible translation.  Someone’s power & influence on earth means nothing when it comes to persuading God to let them into heaven, but a person might use his/her influence to help the less fortunate & introduce them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Earthly treasure is not inherently evil, but it’s not the end goal.  It’s merely a means to a greater end.
    • Keep in mind that Jesus never tells us to stop earning a living & providing for our families.  These are good things & demonstrations of our love for those to whom we’ve been entrusted.  God makes us stewards of the time & resources He provides us with & will hold us to account for how we used them for His glory & for the purposes He gave them to us.  If we spend our money on wasteful items & let our family go hungry, we’re being just as irresponsible as the person who refused to work.  To use our resources to feed our families is good & necessary.  To be consumed with hording up our resources for our own personal gain is the issue. 
  • Jesus points out the problem with earthly treasure is its longevity…it simply doesn’t last.  It can be destroyed by disaster (moth), time (rust), or even stolen away by others (thieves).  This is true regarding any earthly treasure.  Money can be stolen – houses can rot & decay – physical looks degrade with age – sex lasts only for a few moments – power is fleeting – the list could go on & on.  There’s not a single treasure among men on earth that has any eternal value.  The commercial may tell us that “diamonds are forever,” but ultimately our physical lives aren’t.  Diamonds can only be enjoyed while we’re alive to enjoy them. Yet people are eternal.  Our souls will last forever, either in the presence of God in heaven, or cast into the pit of hell.  Some people are consumed with the thought of saving every penny for retirement, but never give a single thought as to putting away any savings for eternity – yet we’ll spend infinitely more time there than here.  Wisdom demands that we consider where we’ll spend the most time – we need to be prepared for eternity.
  • Moth & rust” – both speak of corrosion & corruption.  The moth eats away at a piece of cloth.  For a culture in which textiles were valued, moths were a specific danger to treasured things.  For us, the moth might be any sort of corrupting disaster.  People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their homes, which can be wiped out in an instant by a tornado, or burned to the ground by wildfire. … Rust comes in over time, oxidizing on iron and eating away at the structure of valued metal equipment.  A sword that was rusted had little use in battle, no matter how much money was spent on it initially.  Likewise our personal treasure can fade with time.  Jesus had just gotten done speaking of people who did spiritual deeds to be seen by men in an attempt to stroke their own pride & ego.  This is especially subject to the ravages of time.  We might remember good deeds for a day or two, but not for long.  To go to the Super Bowl is an amazing accomplishment by our culture’s standards, but how many people can instantly remember the 2nd place team from last year?  Our memories of supposed “greatness” are short!
  • The idea with “thieves” was fairly visual.  The word for “break in” speaks of digging.  For a home constructed out of mud, loose bricks, and wood, and ancient thief rarely had to pick a lock; they just needed to bore a hole through the side of a wall, reach in and take what they wanted.  Today, thieves at our workplaces reach in and take credit for the job we did well, or literal burglars pick pockets or rob our homes of all of the myriad of things we spent so much time & treasure accumulating.
  • Jesus’ point is plain: all these things are temporary.  It’s fleeting!  How much wiser it would be to have the kind of treasure that can never be taken from us.  Tragedy cannot befall your mansion in heaven.  Time does not cause your crown of life to rust.  The enemy cannot steal your salvation away – you cannot be snatched out of the hand of Christ! … Obviously Jesus speaks of more than our initial salvation when He speaks of heavenly treasure.  The context from the earlier part of Ch 6 shows Jesus speaking of reward with charity, prayer, and fasting.  Much of this is a reference to the reward we will receive at the Bema Seat. 1 Corinthians 3:12–15, "(12) Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, (13) each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (14) If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." []  Will it be literal gold & silver & precious stones?  Perhaps – perhaps not.  Literal gold seems to be rather common in heaven – it’s used as building materials.  We’ll find out what it is when we get there.  Whatever the reward actually is, we can be assured that there WILL come a judgment of reward for the believer in Jesus Christ.  THAT is the Day to which we ought to spend every day preparing for now.  What will be revealed on that Day will last us for all eternity – it will “endure.”  But notice we do not acquire it in heaven; it’s already laid up for us there.  We deposit our heavenly treasure in this life; we receive it in the next.
    • And it’s not only the Bema Seat & eternity.  Even the abundant life of Christ is something that every believer can experience now.  We may not always experience close intimacy with our Savior, but when we do, it’s something no one can steal from us.  The only way we miss out on the abundant life now is through our own sin; that intimacy with Christ cannot be corrupted by the world or stolen away by the devil.

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

  • Treasures indicate our priority.  If someone spends much time trading stocks, their treasure is in the stock market.  Someone who spends much time in a gym shows that at least part of his/her treasure is in his/her health & physical body.  Again, neither of those things (or any myriad of other examples) are inherently bad.  They can be used for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.  The simple question is: where is the majority of your treasure?  What’s the purpose for what you’re storing away?
  • Be careful not to write this off as spiritual navel-gazing.  It is vitally important to determine where your treasure is.  Why?  Because your heart (life) will be in the same place.  Take the time to do a gut-check.  Where is your treasure & thus your heart?  Money – stuff – reputation – sex/lust – fun/games?  The world would teach us to value these things…which is only logical because this is the treasure of the world.  But we need heavenly treasure.  Our heart & focus ought to be on the things that have value to God.  Worship/prayer – other believers – widows/orphans – evangelism – the Bible…these are things that GOD values, and thus every believer should treasure.  If we invest in these things with the right sincere motives (as Jesus taught), we can be sure we’re building up heavenly treasure.

22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.

  • Why is the eye like a lamp?  Because it allows light into our mind/body.  Scholars have many different thoughts when it comes to this illustration.  Some believe this is a euphemism for generosity – others believe this could be speaking about “goodness” in general.  Although there’s no doubt that money is involved here (the context of both the preceding & following verses is of money), there’s no reason to limit this to only money.  When the eye gazes upon that which is good, our lives/minds are filled with good things.  Paul gives similar counsel to the Philippians.  Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things." [] We often use the expression, “you are what you eat.”  This is just as true of our minds as it is of our bodies.  If we dwell upon what is evil, we will be filled with evil thoughts.  Yet if we dwell upon the Lord & the things that glorifies Him, we can be sure we will be filled with those same types of thoughts.
  • Take this back to the idea of treasure.  If we gaze upon earthly treasure, then that will be what we value & will be what we labor & sacrifice for.  Yet if we continually gaze upon the things of God, we will value HIM as our treasure and our lives will be filled with His things.

23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

  • Of course the converse is true as well.  A good eye gazing upon good things will produce a life/mind filled with good things.  Yet a bad/corrupt eye gazing upon dark things will reap a life filled with darkness.
  • Have you ever wondered why those who are lost tend to keep sinking into more darkness?  People rarely seem to ever get better “gradually.”  If their life improves, it’s because something drastic has happened – but left to themselves, they just tend to get worse & worse.  IT’s because they are consumed with dark, earthly, corrupt things.  Their eye is already bad because they are without Christ (they’re dead in their sins) and then they don’t even gaze upon Godly things.  Thus they keep singing deeper and deeper into darkness.
    • It shouldn’t surprise us.  We were exactly the same way without Christ!  And if we did not have Christ today, we would return to exactly the same filth tomorrow.
  • What’s to be done?  If someone has an evil corrupt eye & only gazes upon darkness, their whole life is consumed with darkness & things get worse & worse.  What’s the solution?  The situation seems hopeless!  It is – people need to be rescued.  Here’s the good news: God sent a rescuer in the Person of Jesus Christ!  When Jesus died for our sins upon the cross & rose again from the grave, He rescued us, and He offers to do the same for anyone who would but surrender their lives to Him as Lord. …
  • BTW, be careful to note Jesus says nothing about “purchasing” one’s own salvation nin any of this.  We cannot gaze upon enough good things to save ourselves, nor can we do enough good deeds to purchase salvation using heavenly treasure.  When it comes to treasure, we can only invest in what God has already given us (after all, we are but stewards; not owners).  Regarding the eye, we can only use the eye that we have.  We may have a choice of what we look at, but we have no choice if our eye is good or bad.  Ultimately we are dependent upon the grace of God!  God must give us our salvation.  God must give us a good eye.  And praise God that’s exactly what He promises to do in Christ!

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

  • The interesting thing about this illustration is that so often we look at this & focus upon the aspect of choice.  Yet a slave (which is the reference here) cannot decide to choose for whom he works.  His master is chosen for him.  Regarding a Christians, we both choose and we’re chosen.  The Bible makes it plain that God chose us in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).  At the same time we still have to willingly choose to respond to God’s gift of grace.  Like Joshua, all of us have to “choose for yourselves this day who you will serve.” (Josh 24:15)  Yet when it comes to the illustration of vs. 24, Jesus isn’t really addressing the issue of choice so much as He’s simply just stating a fact.  A slave is the subject of one master…period.  There may be several people within the chain of command, but ultimately only one has any final authority.  The slave obeys the one to whom he belongs, and any other competing demand upon him goes unanswered.  There may be respect & value towards another, but compared to the master, it looks like hatred of it when the true master calls.
  • That’s the way it is with us in our service to God, or to anything else.  We may claim God as our master & Lord, but our true loyalty is shown when other potential masters come calling. It seems most obvious when we’re talking about other gods.  True loyalty to God will also inevitably reject the false gods in competition with Him.  Someone cannot simultaneously worship Christ & Vishnu, or Thor, or Zeus, etc.  The recognition of Jesus as Lord precludes the recognition of other gods, by definition.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), which means there is no other.   Yet this is just as true of the false gods of materialism, ego, and power, as it is of Allah, Vishnu, etc.  Service to God (sincere worship) is absolutely exclusive.  If Jesus isn’t 1st place, then He won’t be 2nd place – it simply isn’t an option.
    • Our true master is the one we obey.  Paul makes this same point to the Romans: Romans 6:16–18, "(16) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (17) But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (18) And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." []  It’s a simple test: who do I obey?  Then that one is my master.  Sobering, isn’t it?  Do I obey the things of the world – do I obey my own passions and lusts – or do I obey the One who died for me & lives at the right hand of God?  If we obey Christ, we show ourselves to belong to Christ.
  • The problem then is: if I’m serving someone else as my master, then how can I serve God?  It’s dealt with in the same way as our treasure & eye – we need to be rescued!  A slave changes masters only by being bought/redeemed.  That’s exactly what we receive in Christ: He redeems us!  We’ve been bought with a price! (1 Cor 6:20)  We’ve been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ! (1 Pet 1:19)
  • Yet if we’ve been redeemed, the question then becomes: if we’ve truly been freed by Christ, then we do we still behave as if our lives belong to another master?  Perhaps our former master is more attractive to us than what we’d like to admit.  “Mammon” can be translated “money,” but the word could be bigger than that & could refer to anything that has value – the thing in which we place our trust.  Something that we see as valuable could still hold sway over us as a former master.  For many people it is indeed money – perhaps in the form of security or control or possessions.  For other people, it may be themselves & their own abilities – for them, it’s always about looking out for “Number 1.”  For some people, it’s even their families – everything gets sacrificed for their children so that they can have the “best” things, soccer teams, vacations, etc., no matter what other responsibilities they may have.  Other people are consumed with their lusts & everything in their lives is likely to be laid down at the altar of sex, alcohol, gambling, or other addictions.  The key?  Jesus has to completely replace whatever it is we have as “mammon.”  Jesus has to hold the most value.  It’s not enough to simply hate our sin/idol.  We need to love Jesus MORE than we hate our sin.  We ought to value Jesus more than we value sin/the world.  Christ ought to have NO competition.
    • What do we do if we fail?  Reckon ourselves dead to our flesh & alive in Christ (Rom 6:11).  Praise God that this is exactly the promise we have & upon which we can rely.  Jesus HAS set us free from sin (Rom 6:18 – it’s already been accomplished by His work); we need to remember it & appropriate it & live as if it’s true!  The problem for the Christian isn’t that Jesus hasn’t freed us; it’s that we sometimes live as if we haven’t been freed.  Beloved in Christ: you are no longer shackled to your former slave-master…you are no longer imprisoned to your lusts.  If you feel as if you are, it is simply a feeling…a distortion of reality.  Those who are in Christ are truly free.  Live in your freedom & serve your new King!

Where is your priority?  Take an honest assessment of your life, and your priority will easily be declared to you.  Jesus gave us three areas to evaluate: our treasure (stuff), our eyes (sight), and our master (service).  The difference between sincere & insincere Christians (true & false citizens of the kingdom of Heaven) will be seen in each of these areas.

  • Christians have the right priority in stuff.  We’re sending it on ahead in a great exchange of currency.  We need to understand the value of heavenly treasure as opposed to all the stuff here on earth that will be consumed, corrupted, or stolen away.
  • Christians have the right priority in sight.  We gaze upon the things of God.  We are to be single-minded in our devotion to our Lord & King.
  • Christians have the right priority in service.  We know who our true master is simply be looking at who/what we serve.  The test of loyalty is simple; the solution to the wrong master is simply to die to the one we don’t want.  Death to self; life in Christ.  Christ alone is our King with no competition upon our loyalty.


Is there something in competition with Christ today in your life?  NOW is the time to radically re-prioritize your life.  If you are in Christ, then Jesus has set you free – you just need the strength to live in His freedom.  Ask for it.  Ask for the wisdom to lay up treasure in heaven – ask for the grace to gaze upon the things that are holy – ask for the single-mindedness to be loyal alone to God.  Where we’ve failed, Jesus has already provided for our forgiveness – receive it, and then live for your Lord & King as your priority & reward!

Perhaps you’ve been convicted that not only is Jesus not your first priority, He’s not truly a priority at all.  You’ve claimed to know & love God, but an honest look at your treasure, gaze, and master show that you haven’t cared about God in the slightest…but you know that you desperately want to change.  Right now, you’re enslaved to another master: your sin – whatever it may be.  That sin leads to death, and the price that you will pay will last for eternity.  Please know that Jesus has already paid your debt for you.  He’s already made for your provision – He already offers you His grace.  All you need do is receive it.  Surrender your life to Jesus by turning away from your former sin & asking Him to be your Lord & Master.  Believe upon Jesus that He is the Son of God who died for your sin & rose from the grave, and He will save you & call you His own.


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