Technology is not to blame though because we have simply found methods of crafting tools that help us “save time.” Where all that saved time goes I have no idea. But the real danger is that we innately crave self-service. What can we do to serve our wants and desires and needs? It really is all about me!
Forget self-denial. That old fashioned Puritanical notion simply will not do in this modern age of enlightened reason. Patience is such a virtue that we are told not to pray for it because we know what will happen if we do – bad things that require patience! Longsuffering simply means once we are fed up with someone/something we find an excuse to jump ship. Who has time to be uncomfortable? And if God really is all knowing and all powerful why is He so slooooooow? Why are we always waiting on the Lord? Hurry up already.
It seems that the symptoms of this right now fast food self-service mentality extend to the way we study the Bible. We have been trained to save time by taking Scripture out of context. It is so easy to do! We pick a verse here and pull a verse from there to make a point and we move on. And we miss so much. Literally. We miss the meaning of so many things when we skip the full context of a passage and we think it a drudgery to take the time just to read the surrounding paragraph of text. What about all of the other aspects of context? Author, recipient, history, culture…wait – that’s why we pay the preacher, so he can distill it down to bite size bits that fit in a spoon for easy feeding.
As a case in point, how often do we read or quote a verse, over and over throughout our lives, and yet we miss what that verse is saying because we have taken it out of context in order to make our application? We stymie our own understanding because we are in such a hurry to get a fix and move on. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We all know these verses. And we think we know what they mean. We are instructed here in the Sermon on the Mount to value things of eternal value, not material, temporal things of this earth. Right? Yes, and no. A quick look at the context (it has to be quick or we won’t look) demonstrates that in Matthew 6 Jesus is telling us about how to serve Him and our fellow man. This is about loving God and loving our neighbor.
Look at the progression of His message:
1. Matthew 6:1-4 – When you do charitable deeds (good works), do not do them before men, but unto God, in secret.
2. Matthew 6:5-15 – When you pray, do not pray before men for their recognition or praise. Pray in secret to God, like this (insert Lord’s Prayer here).
3. Matthew 6:16-18 – When you fast, do not fast in order to impress men with your spiritual depth and discipline. Fast in secret, to the Lord.
4. Matthew 6:19-21 – Do not lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven.
5. Matthew 6:22-23 – We must rightly perceive the world around us in order to discern light from dark, good from almost good.
6. Matthew 6:24 – We cannot serve more than one master at a time. God or the stuff of this world.
7. Matthew 6:25-34 – In the midst of all of this, don’t worry.
If we look at the encouragement to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth inevitably we are led to ask how it is that we do this. And all too often we take the easy way out and simply use this verse as an admonition to make sure that the things we own don’t own us. But that misses what Jesus is saying.
In the context of loving God and loving our neighbor we must fight and kill the temptation to do what we do for the praise and notice of the people around us. We really do care more about what people think about us than what God knows about us! Jesus has told us to give, pray, and fast in secret, before God and not for the applause of others. He immediately follows that with “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” There is the key – if we do what we do for the praise and adoration of men, Jesus says “they have their reward.”
When we do what we do, even if we are doing the “right thing”, for the wrong reason (for the praise of men) then the praise we get from men is all the reward we will ever see. The adoration of others, as short lived as that usually is, that is all we get for what we have done. In other words, live your life before men in the fear of men and for men and you will have your best life now, because it will never be any better than that!
It is when we give, pray, and fast, and do all other manner of “duties” to and for the Lord seeking His approval and pleasure alone that we are laying up treasures in heaven. We reap eternal fruit when we make it our aim to serve Him alone. He must be the Master we obey.
See, laying up treasures has nothing to do with stuff. It has everything to do with keeping secrets. This is at the heart of self-denial. We would much rather trumpet our accomplishments, our big wins, our spiritual progress, and our incredible depth and maturity with those who are easily impressed by such statistics. But when we do that, we have forfeited eternal reward, namely the blessing of knowing that we have indeed done well as a good and faithful servant of the Lord who bought us with His own blood.
When we do acts of worship for the praise of men ultimately we are not worshipping God. When we lay up treasures on earth, in our covetousness we are worshipping self because covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
Today, take the time to worship God and serve others, seeking God’s approval alone. If men praise you, praise God and humble yourself. And learn to keep secrets. Your spiritual health depends upon it.