The Sermon on the Mount: Priorities
Many of the things that we think are important in life, really aren’t that important. For example, money plays a significant role in our lives because it takes money to purchase the things that we need or want in this life. It is very easy to become focused on wealth and the gaining of wealth, using the accumulation of wealth as a measure of our success in life. Jesus, however, points out that focusing on wealth is a waste of time because wealth and the things it gains are temporary. Wealth itself is a transitory commodity. It can be here to day and tomorrow gone without a trace. “Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4-5).
Nor is wealth a solution to problems; instead, it introduces additional problems to a person’s life (Ecclesiastes 5:10-16). Increased wealth brings along increased expenses and concerns about its use and our ability to retain it.
This life is temporary and any wealth we might accumulate remains in this world after we are gone. While funds are necessary for living, the gaining of wealth should not be the primary focus of our life. Instead, we should be focused on eternity. To gain eternity in heaven, we need to lay up true treasures that gain us a heavenly abode (Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:1-3; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). We need things that truly permanent. “Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation; the fear of the LORD is His treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).
You can tell where a person’s heart lies by examining his priorities. People will often say one thing but do something else entirely. Matthew 6:22-23 is bit confusing, but realize that Jesus expanding on his statement in verse 21. People tend to go in the direction in which their attention is focused. If we strive for righteousness (the light), then that goal will influence the things that we do and who we become. But if we focus on sin (the darkness), then we be influenced by it in our lives.
It is unfortunate how many people believe they are not influenced by the things around them. There is a reason why Paul told Christians, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22). What we focus on, what is a priority in our life, will impact who we are and who we become. This is the marked difference between Christians and non-Christians (I John 3:2-9). True Christians focus on righteousness. Sure, at times they slip, but they pick themselves up and continue to strive for righteousness. Worldly people focus on sinful pleasures. Sure, at times they will do some good things, but it doesn’t last because it is not a priority in their lives.
A person can’t compromise between the two positions. You can’t focus on God and the world at the same time because they are incompatible. “Mammon” is the transliteration of an Aramaic word for wealth. Because the New Testament is written in Greek, the translators chose to transliterate the word so that we will get the same impression that a Greek reader receives reading this passage. Jesus is personifying wealth as a deity where people are willing to bow down and worship it rather than God. Either a person will be focused on this life and its cares or he will be focused on eternal life and the will of God, but he cannot focus on both at once.
You can’t claim to follow God while allowing a little “fun” in the form of sin in your life. Allowing even a little sin into our lives opens the flood gates and Satan will overwhelm us. The pursuit of wealth is one of the most common means Satan uses to lead us astray (I Timothy 6:7-11).
Don’t we need some wealth in our lives? After all, we need the basics, such as food, clothing and shelter, and these things cost money (II Thessalonians 3:10-12). Jesus’ point is not that money or wealth is bad, but that we cannot let these distract us from God. God watches over His people and we must trust that God will care for us. Jesus pointed out that flowers of the field and birds of the air receive benefits from God and people are much more valuable than plants or animals. People show by their worries that they don’t truly trust God to care for them.
It is not that we become needy children living of the welfare of our heavenly Father. We are to work. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It is God who teaches us to work and how to work. But our success is not measured in the amount of money we bring home. We must do our best, but we realize that most of life is out of our control (Ecclesiastes 9:11; James 4:13-16). We do what we can and then trust God to handle the things we cannot handle.
This is not a promise that we will be shielded from misfortunate. Jesus already mentioned that his followers will be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). Trials have their place in life. They can strengthen us and sharpen our focus (James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:4-11). We need to trust God that whatever comes our way, it will be for our benefit in the long run (Romans 8:29), but only if we keep our priorities straight and put God first in our lives.
Trouble will come, but they should not be a matter of concern. Focus on getting through one day at a time and things will eventually straighten themselves out.