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28. Practicing The Discipline Of Simplicity (Matthew 6:19-24)

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“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24 (NET)

Application Question: What is the spiritual discipline of simplicity?

In Matthew 6:19-24, Christ continues to teach about the character of kingdom citizens. Those who are a part of the kingdom of heaven should not accumulate treasures on this earth. Instead, they should practice the spiritual discipline of simplicity—living on less to protect their hearts from materialism and to give more to kingdom work. The word “accumulate” has the connotation of “stacking or laying out horizontally, as one stacks coins.”1 It pictures wealth that is not being used—it is stored up so others can see and/or for overindulgence.2

Scripture speaks on wealth more than any other topic, as there are particular dangers that come with desiring and having wealth. It also has many stories of those who were greatly hurt by having a wrong relationship with wealth. In Israel’s conquest of the promised land, Achan took a garment from a conquered land, which God had forbidden. This led to God disciplining Israel and, ultimately, Achan’s death. Solomon fell away from God in part because of his great wealth. In the early church, Ananias and Sapphira experienced an early death because of their lying about wealth. Demas fell away because he loved this present world—possibly referring, in part, to its wealth. Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches believers how to relate to riches. His followers should not store up wealth, which has often been referred to as the spiritual discipline of simplicity.

Simplicity is a discipline that has been lost among the church in developed nations. God has prospered much of the church; however, instead of using this wealth to have the Bible translated into foreign languages and to send missionaries, the wealth just gets stacked up and indulged.

Interpretation Question: When Christ calls believers to not store up treasures on earth, what is he clearly not referring to?

  1. Christ is not saying it is wrong to own property. In the Ten Commandments, we are commanded to not steal, this implies that we can own property and that we shouldn’t take the property of others.
  2. Christ is not teaching that we should despise material wealth. First Timothy 6:17 says God “richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.” God gives us good things to enjoy, which often includes wealth.
  3. Christ is not teaching that we should neglect saving for future needs. Proverbs 6:6-8 tells us to consider the ant who stores in the summer. In 2 Corinthians 12:14, Paul also talks about how children don’t store up for parents, but parents for their children. First Timothy 5:8 also says whoever doesn’t provide for his family is worse than an infidel. We must provide for our families and saving is part of how we do that.

So, what is Christ talking about? Primarily, he is rebuking “selfishly” accumulating wealth. He says, “Do not accumulate for ‘yourselves’ treasures on earth.” God gives us wealth to provide for our daily bread, to help others, and to spread his kingdom. Luke 16:9 says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.” We should not hoard our wealth, as though it is for our needs alone. God has called us to be channels of his blessings and not reservoirs. As with Abraham, God blesses us, so we can bless others (Gen 12:2).

In this study, we’ll consider other reasons why we should not selfishly store up wealth on this earth and instead practice simplicity.

Big Question: According to Matthew 6:19-24, why should believers not store up wealth on this earth and instead practice simplicity?

Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Earthly Riches Are Temporary

“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6:19-20

Observation Question: What kinds of earthly treasures is Christ referring to in Matthew 6:19-20?

In Matthew 6:19-20, Christ basically compares earthly riches and heavenly riches. He seems to describe three of the ancient world’s riches—clothes, food, and money.3 As expensive as clothes often are, they are destroyed by moths and the process of decay. The word “rust” literally means “an eating.”4 Some versions translate it “vermin.” It seems to refer to rats, insects, foxes, etc., that eat up stored food. Other valuables like money and jewelry were often stored in one’s house—probably in a hole in the ground. Thieves would dig through the roofs and steal those valuables. For us, our valuables are lost because of inflation—the money we stored up doesn’t go as far as it used to. The housing market crashes. Our cars break down. Essentially, all earthly wealth is temporary—it will decay, or we’ll leave it at death—so we shouldn’t put our hope in it. Our hope should be in God.

In comparison, heavenly treasures cannot be stolen or destroyed—they are eternal. First Peter 1:4-5 describes our heavenly inheritance as something that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” and that it is being reserved in heaven for us.

Interpretation Question: What are heavenly riches and how do we store them up?

Christ doesn’t describe what they are. But, as we study other texts, we can discern something about their character. In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Paul says:

For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

At the judgment seat of Christ, believers will be judged based on their works (2 Cor 5:10). They will not be judged for their sins, for that happened on the cross. Paul pictures our works as either temporary—wood, hay, or straw—or eternal—gold, silver, precious stones. Temporal works—things not truly done for the kingdom of God—will not survive Christ’s judgment. But works done to spread God’s kingdom, including our daily endeavors done with a right heart to the glory of God, will be eternally rewarded.

In the context, treasures that are hoarded and selfishly stored up will not be profitable for the kingdom. They will be left on the earth. However, treasures that are used for the kingdom will be rewarded in heaven. They have lasting value.

Christ gives this comparison to show the greatness of heavenly treasures versus earthly treasures. Logically, the natural inclination should be to store up what lasts, which is heavenly treasures.

Again, what are these heavenly treasures? They seem to be associated with rewards in heaven. In the Parable of the Minas, the master, representing God, rewards his faithful stewards with authority over cities (Lk 19:17, 19). It seems that heavenly reward has to do with ruling in the coming kingdom. In addition, it seems to have something to do with gifting in the coming kingdom—capacity to serve God and others. Again, in the Parable of the Minas, the one steward that did not invest and make a profit from his mina, the master took that mina and gave it to a faithful servant (v. 24). Those who have been faithful with their gifts on earth will be given more gifts in eternity to serve God. To add to this, Scripture also mentions various crowns, which may be part of our heavenly reward (cf. 1 Cor 9:25, 2 Tim 4:8, Rev 4:10).

Whatever the rewards are in heaven, we can be sure they will be much greater and more enjoyable than anything this world has to offer. They are everlasting, which is the major reason that Christ says we should store up wealth in heaven instead of on this earth.

How are these treasures stored up?

Heavenly treasures are stored up as we participate in works that are eternal and not just temporary: growing in Christian character, serving the Lord with all our heart in whatever endeavors God calls us to, sharing the gospel, making disciples, giving to advance the kingdom of heaven. Let us live lives that focus on the eternal instead of the temporal.

Application Question: How does Christ’s command to not accumulate riches apply towards investing for retirement? How do we balance the principle of not storing up and yet taking care of our families, including their future (Matt 6:19, 1 Tim 5:8)? What are some primary ways you are aiming to store up treasures in heaven?

Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Earthly Riches Have a Tendency to Become Idols

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

Matthew 6:21

Interpretation Question: What does Christ mean by saying where our treasure is so is our heart?

Christ commands us to “not accumulate,” not because treasures in themselves are evil but because our hearts are evil. We tend to trust in our wealth to take care of us when there is a storm or catastrophe. We tend to focus on them instead of God. We also tend to believe that treasures will satisfy our hearts, and the world continually tells us so. “This new phone, laptop, house, or car will satisfy you!” the world declares. However, temporary things can never satisfy the eternal longings in our hearts. They will always leave us dry. In Matthew 13:22, Christ called this the “seductiveness of wealth.” Many are deceived by wealth to their spiritual detriment. Christ calls us to not accumulate riches because they have a tendency to steal our hearts and become our idols.

Interpretation Question: Does Christ’s reference to treasure only apply to material wealth?

Though Christ seems to be dealing with material wealth in general here, the concept certainly applies to any type of treasure. A treasure is anything that can become an idol. It is anything we rely on to satisfy us apart from God. It can be a hobby like music, a movie collection, degrees, homes, shoes, etc. It can even be a person or a career.

Application Question: How can we discern what our treasures are?

Kent Hughes gives us five questions to search our hearts and discern our treasures:

1. What occupies our thoughts when we have nothing else to do? What occupies our daydreams? Is it our investments, our position? If so, those are the things we treasure, and that is where our hearts really are.

2. Similarly, what is it that we fret about most? Is it our home or perhaps our clothing? If so, then we know where our treasure lies.

3. Apart from our loved ones, what or whom do we most dread losing?

4. What are the things that we measure others by? (This question is a very revealing mirror because we measure other people by that which we treasure.) Do we measure others by their clothing? By their education? By their homes? By their athletic prowess? Do we measure others by their success in the business world? If so, we know where our treasure lies.

5. Lastly, what is it that we know we cannot be happy without?5

Sometimes, like the rich man, we need to get rid of our riches because of their strong draw on our hearts. Some hobbies need to be let go of and some relationships as well. Their pull is too strong. However, many of our treasures we can’t or shouldn’t get rid of. For example, though our families can become idols, we are not called to let them go or get rid of them. For many of our treasures, God simply calls us to reprioritize them by putting God first and not being engrossed in them (1 Cor 7:31). We must pray in order to discern how God wants us to treat each specific treasure.

Application Question: What are the treasures that you have to guard your heart against idolizing? How is God calling you to protect your heart?

Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Loving Earthly Riches Creates Spiritual Blindness

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Matthew 6:22-23

Interpretation Question: What does “eye” refer to in Matthew 6:22-23? What is a healthy eye and an unhealthy eye?

In the context, “eye” seems to refer to one’s heart—a person’s focus. Christ gives the illustration of an eye being the lamp of the body right after saying where a person’s treasures are, there their heart lies. Also, “eye” is commonly used in the OT as a metaphor for the heart. For example, Psalm 19:8 (NIV) says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” This is a form of Hebrew parallelism—where the second phrase repeats the first in a different way for emphasis. Precepts of the Lord represent commands, and heart represents eyes.

In Matthew 6:22, the word “healthy” can be translated “generous” as in James 1:5 where Scripture says God gives wisdom “generously.”6 In the context, that seems to be the meaning of healthy. A person with a healthy eye is a person with a generous heart. Instead of selfishly storing up wealth, they generously share it with others and use it to build God’s kingdom. The person with an unhealthy eye is therefore greedy or stingy. This fits with the Jewish colloquialism of an evil or unhealthy eye. The KJV uses the metaphor of the “evil eye” to refer to someone who is selfish: “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye” (Prov 23:6).

Christ’s point is that people who selfishly focus on storing up wealth develop a severe spiritual blindness—they are in “darkness” and can’t properly evaluate people or life.

Application Question: In what ways do people experience spiritual blindness from focusing on wealth—how does it negatively affect them?

Again, Kent Hughes gives great insight on the spiritual blindness that comes from a grasping spirit. He says:

1. It … clouds our vision of success. Because of our grasping spirits, some of us have defined success in financial terms and have thereby condemned ourselves to perpetual failure because we never quite reach our goal. What a tragedy!

2. A grasping spirit also clouds our vision of others’ worth. If others do not join us in the scramble for the things of this world, we call them spiritless or lacking in ambition or worse. I have seen missionaries despised by Christians because of their choice to serve Christ in a way that means a lower income.

3. A grasping heart also keeps us from having a healthy vision for our children’s lives. Their chosen profession must fit our economic and social criteria, we think. Never mind that Christ was a carpenter. And our sons’ and daughters’ future spouses had better move them toward our criteria too!

4. A grasping spirit also distorts our vision of God’s will for our own lives. We selfishly assume God would never lead us onto a path that would involve a diminishing of our status, position, or bank account. How different are the Master’s words.7

5. Furthermore, and perhaps most seriously, a selfish fixation on things clouds our ability to understand and profit from the Scriptures. No wonder the Bible is so minimized and ignored by twentieth-century man.8

How many wives are neglected by husbands who have an unhealthy eye—a focus on wealth and moving up the corporate ladder? How many parents neglect their children for lack of clear vision? How many people struggle with perpetual dissatisfaction with life because of bad vision?

How is your vision? Are you missing God’s best and stumbling through life because of unhealthy spiritual sight? A generous person who stores his riches in heaven will be able to discern God’s will and what is best—his sight will be full of light. A person whose focus is storing up on the earth will wrongly evaluate God’s will and purpose for himself and others—his sight is full of darkness. We must practice simplicity to protect our spiritual vision.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen the pursuit of wealth affect people’s vision negatively? What are the effects? How have you struggled with a skewed vision because of treasuring wealth?

Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Earthly Riches Tend to Master Us

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Matthew 6:24

Finally, Christ says that believers should not accumulate earthly wealth because of the tendency of wealth to master and control our lives. When he says, “No one can serve two masters,” he is not using a working metaphor but a slave metaphor. Certainly, people can work multiple jobs and have multiple bosses. However, in slavery, which was common in the ancient world, the slave was owned by his master. One could not be partially owned by a master and partially owned by another.

In the same way, we can only have one master—God or something else. Money has a tendency to control people and keep them from serving Christ. Some try to live for this world—storing up its wealth and pleasures—and, at the same time, try to live for God. However, Jesus teaches this is impossible. One will love one and hate the other. Love and hate in this context should not be taken in an absolute sense. This was a common Jewish idiom meaning to strongly prefer one thing over the other.9 Christ said the same thing in referring to how a disciple must hate father and mother to follow him (Lk 14:26). Of course, it is God’s will for us to love our family. However, Christ must be first. It’s the same with how we relate to riches. God must be our master—for he will not share our allegiance with money or anything else.

Sadly, many, though professing to follow Christ, are really following money—as it controls them. You can always discern one’s master by where their devotion lies. Wealth tells them what degree to get, what job to pursue, what car to drive, what neighborhood to live in, who to marry, and who their children will marry. Wealth is really their master—not God. Financial and career aspirations keep them from ever truly being devoted to God and serving him with all their heart. Those aspirations keep them from ever being as profitable for the kingdom as they could be. It’s a sad commentary on much of the church.

MacArthur said this about the opposing commands of these two masters—God and money:

The orders of those two masters are diametrically opposed and cannot coexist. The one commands us to walk by faith and the other demands we walk by sight. The one calls us to be humble and the other to be proud, the one to set our minds on things above and the other to set them on things below. One calls us to love light, the other to love darkness. The one tells us to look toward things unseen and eternal and the other to look at things seen and temporal.10

Is God, wealth, or something else your master? We must not accumulate riches on this earth because it has a tendency to master and control us.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced how financial and career aspirations can negatively control believers in the church? How should people break free from this control?

General Principles for Practicing Simplicity

Application Question: What are some general principles for practicing the discipline of simplicity?

  1. To practice simplicity, we must learn contentment with what we have. Paul said contentment with godliness is great gain. If we have food and covering we should be content (1 Tim 6:6, 8). If we don’t learn contentment, we will be constantly dissatisfied and running after more—a new phone, computer, TV or car!
  2. To practice simplicity, we must learn to distinguish between a need and a want. This relates to the previous point. God has promised to provide our needs and not our wants. We should learn contentment with our needs. When we’re content, we won’t be continually grasping after more.
  3. To practice simplicity, we must shun anything that produces an addiction in us. Addictions become our idols and distract us from what’s best, which is God. Again, we must ask ourselves, “What is my treasure?”
  4. To practice simplicity, we must practice generous giving. One of the primary reasons that we shouldn’t store up is to help those in need and to aid the spreading of the gospel. Christ called for us to use our wealth to make friends in eternal dwellings (Lk 16:9). We must share generously so others can know Christ and fellowship with us in heaven.
  5. To practice simplicity, we must stay out of debt. Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Debt keeps us from loving others as we should. People can’t go to missions or seminary because of debt. They can’t serve at a ministry that doesn’t pay well because of debt—housing debt, school debt, and credit card debt. They can’t give or serve generously because of debt!
  6. To practice simplicity, we must be willing to live by faith. After Christ calls for the disciples to not accumulate riches on earth, he calls them to not worry about their future needs—what they will eat, drink, or wear (Matt 6:25-34). If they sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all things would be added to them (Matt 6:33). Simplicity is a life of faith. As we pursue God and his kingdom first, we trust that God will provide our daily and future bread. This doesn’t mean we can’t save for a rainy day or for retirement, but it should rid us of the insecurity of worrying about how much is enough and simply storing up out of fear. Our first priority is God and his kingdom, and as we pursue that, we trust he will meet our daily and future needs.
  7. To practice simplicity, we must remain humble. As with giving, praying, and fasting (cf. Matt 6:1-8, 16-18), even simplicity can be practiced out of pride—leading to self-worship and judgmentalism. It is no surprise that after calling believers to practice simplicity and not worry about food, drink, and clothing (v. 19-34), that Christ tells believers to not judge lest they be judged (Matt 7:1). How God calls each believer to practice simplicity will be different. For one, he tells to leave all, like the rich man, and to serve him with only bare necessities. And to another, he calls to live in moderation. As we practice simplicity, we must remain humble—lest it turn into pride which only alienates us from God and others.

Application Question: Why is the discipline of simplicity so important? Do you practice this discipline? If so, in what ways? How is God calling you to grow in this practice?

Conclusion

One of the ways we get free of the clutches of loving, pursuing, and being controlled by wealth is through practicing the discipline of simplicity. Instead of storing up the latest electronics in our home, the fanciest cars in our driveways, etc., we aim to live on less so we can protect our hearts and give and do more for the kingdom of God.

If we choose to forsake Christ’s command to not accumulate earthly riches, the harsh words of James 5:1-3 await us. It says:

Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!

Many believe James is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount since it shares so many similar themes. The closets and garages where we have stored up needless shoes, dresses, suits, and various devices which could have been used to feed the poor and spread the gospel will testify against us in the last days. We have hoarded on the earth in these last days, instead of being generous and storing up heavenly riches. How are you using God’s wealth?

Why does Christ call for believers to practice simplicity?

  1. Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Earthly Riches Are Temporary
  2. Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Earthly Riches Have a Tendency to Become Idols
  3. Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Loving Earthly Riches Creates Spiritual Blindness
  4. Believers Should Practice Simplicity Because Earthly Riches Tend to Master Us

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 409). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 409). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 206). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 411). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 209). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 413–414). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 214). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

8 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 214–215). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

9 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 86). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

10 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 415). Chicago: Moody Press.

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