Headlines from First Thoughts

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Holiness and the Priorities of Life
Matthew 6:19-34

In their book, Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen and David Gushee cite a Chinese Proverb: “Ninety percent of what we see lies behind our eyes” (Stassen and Gushee, 65). If we use money generously, we see the needs of others and give generously. If we invest in earthly goods, we hoard possessions and worry about tomorrow.
Jesus discusses these same concepts in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. A person’s vision of the end affects how he treats possessions. Living generously creates a window of light into one’s heart. Obsessing about material things keeps a person in the dark (vs. 22-23). In order to have a vision for healthy priorities, believers should remember two important principles.

God never demands what we are to supply (vs. 19-24).
Modern Christians associate “holiness” and “money” with a word carried over from the Hebrew Bible: tithing. Jesus goes beyond the tithe and points to motives. Believers are to look at their possessions as a steward takes care of property entrusted to him. We put God’s priorities first and prepare for the next life accordingly. Jesus does not urge tithing. He tells his disciples to give everything to God because everything they own is God’s anyway. Our lives of faith are not reduced to a measurement (like a tithe). We live in light of the end, keeping our focus on the light of Christ.
After the Katrina disaster, a friend of mine commented to me, “I’m tired of hearing people say that they hope this might give people a new perspective on their possessions. If 9/11, tsunami, and Katrina don’t change your perspective, nothing else will.” Priorities should be the buzzword of every person facing 21st century challenges. Jesus reminds us that God’s economy changes the value of everything.
We could paraphrase Jesus’ words here in this way: “Don’t just look at the minimum you can contribute; give like you have a 401K in heaven; donate money as if you were investing in a guaranteed return on the interest. When you give, don’t wait for the “thank you note” to come from the benefactor. Don’t concentrate on how the benefactor distributes the money. Focus on your faithful responsibilities as God’s people. In doing so, you will live as if the bank is in heaven, where the dividends pay back in full; and the owner matches spiritual blessing-for-dollar in this life and the life to come. Look for ways to give everything to God, because everything is God’s anyway!”

God always supplies whatever the needs demand (vs. 25-34).
The second principle relates to the first. We are liberated to give resources to God’s causes because we trust in God’s provision. Jesus asks a series of rhetorical questions, reminding the audience that they worry too much about material needs. By trusting in God’s provision first, we become less anxious and more peaceful.
When Hurricane Katrina flooded the Gulf Coast, I called Dr. Jay Hogewood at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. They were serving as a distribution point in their area for hurricane relief. We gathered pillows, bed linens, toiletries, towels, and many other items to load in a semi-trailer truck for a fast trip to Baton Rouge in the wake of the disaster. A day before the truck left, the Red Cross activated our church as a disaster shelter. Suddenly we needed bed linens and towels; we had a difficult decision to make. We had tons of relief supplies to ship to Baton Rouge, but we were facing needs of hurricane victims within our walls. After talking with our leadership, we decided to live out our faith and trust that we would have enough to take care of evacuees here and Baton Rouge.
We sent the truck full of the things we needed for the evacuees. About ten minutes after the truck left the church, another linen supply truck rolled up. They had heard about the evacuees and were coming by to help. They volunteered to provide free bed linens, pillows, pillowcases, and towels and to wash the items for each person in the shelter.
I assure you that I am not the kind of preacher who says, “Write the check, and God will fill the bank account.” Jesus, however, reminded his disciples that God is in charge of supplying the needs when it comes to kingdom of God issues.
Believers can apply these two principles in their lives because they know that the end is not an event to be feared. They see a heavenly kingdom and know that the end of life is only the beginning of an eternal life with God. Their eyes are opened to a new way of seeing things in this life and the life to come.


Boring, M. Eugene. “Matthew.” In vol. 8, New Interpreter’s Bible, 176-207. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997.
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: a Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13. Vol. 33a, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1993.
McLaren, Brian D. "Emerging values: the next generation is redefining spiritual formation, community, and mission. (Emerging Leaders)." Leadership (Carol Stream, IL) 24.3 (Summer 2003): 34(6). Religion & Philosophy Database. Thomson Gale. Knox County Public Library. 30 December 2005.
Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.
Stassen, Glen H. and Gushee, David. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. New York: HarperCollins 1998.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Shiell, thank you for sharing these First Thoughts. I appreciate all the studying you put into preparing each one. I especially benefit from the personal stories.

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