Secret ServingErwin W. Lutzer | January 25, 1998
Selected highlights from this sermon
While many people attempt to serve themselves and God simultaneously, Jesus said that we can only truly serve one master, and that money is often God’s primary competitor.
It’s time to examine our hearts. In this message, Pastor Lutzer challenges us to test our affections, our attitudes, and our actions. Let us stop investing in things that will fade away and give our full devotion to heavenly pursuits.
So I begin today with a question. Do you love God? By the way, how many of you would say yes to that question? Could I see your hands please? All right, I hope that that’s true of all of us, that we love God because God loves us, and I invite you to turn to Matthew 6.
We have been sharing secrets with God. You’ll notice in these messages that we talked about secret giving. “When you give your alms, give them in secret, and the Father who sees you will reward you.” We’ve spoken about secret praying. “When you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut the door, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” And last time we spoke about secret fasting. When you fast don’t tell people about it, but wash your face, look good, go about your normal duties that it may not appear unto men that you are fasting because your Father sees it.
We’ve stressed during this series the need to develop those kinds of secrets, things that you do for God. Why in secret? Of course that doesn’t mean that you should just do it in secret. But the reason for the secrecy is to help us with purifying our motives because you and I know how powerfully easy it is to do things because other people see us and we like to look good. That is just a part of who we are. And God says, “Why don’t you do some things just for Me?”
The other thing about secrecy, of course, is that it helps keep us on track. It helps to remind us of the fact that there are some things that are very important, and that is who we are on the inside, because remember that what a man or woman is before God, that is who he or she is, and nothing more. That’s all there is. As a man thinks in his heart so he is. It’s the revelation of the heart to God. In fact, in the Old Testament He says, “I’ve gone from one end of the country to the other, looking for someone whose heart is perfect towards Me. I am looking for a good heart.”
Well, today we’re not going to do Heart Check America, but we are going to do some searching of our hearts, and we are going to go into God’s clinic, and we’re going to see how our hearts are. I saw a cartoon this past week of a man on his knees praying. And the caption as I remember it said something like this. “In keeping with the Freedom of Information Act, please show me what you have on me in your file.” Well, that’s what we’d like to do. In keeping with the Freedom of Information Act, oh God, show us the goods that you’ve got on us. Let’s do a little bit of heart analysis. Let’s look at what’s going on, and let’s check where we are and where our loyalties lie. All right, are you ready for the tests?
Test number one is a test of our affections. You’ll notice that the text says (and we’re in Matthew 6:19), “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 destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In ancient times there were three different forms of wealth. There was first of all clothes, and they were very important because clothes, even today in poor countries have a great deal of importance attached to them. Do you remember reading the Old Testament and you frequently come across phrases like this? In making a deal with somebody it says, “And he gave him two changes of raiment.” We might look at that and say, “Why that?” We don’t exchange clothes or suits today when we make business deals, but in those days they were a rarity, and to have a good coat was to have something that was valuable. We noticed when we were in Belarus how people hang on to their clothes because they can’t afford new clothes. And Jesus said, “Don’t put your treasure someplace where moths can get to them.”
I remember when we were growing up out on the farm there in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, we used to have people who lived next to us who used an awful lot of mothballs. I don’t know if you have had neighbors like that or not, but we could tell them if the wind was right at a distance of about 20 yards. Now there was a reason. In those days they didn’t have mothballs, and the moths would go in and they would ruin the clothes. Some of the clothes had very beautiful linings and the moths would go in and destroy them.
There’s a second kind of wealth and that was corn – barns of corn. And Jesus says here that the rust destroys. Actually the Greek word is that which eats away. And it could be rust. There is also rust on grain, by the way, but very probably Jesus has in mind the mice and the rats – the rodents that go in – and then they take these beautiful barns that might be filled with corn and grain, and they eat and they destroy and they disfigure and they make dirty that which you intended to eat.
And then there was a third form of wealth, and that was silver or gold (precious metal) and people would take that (They didn’t have banks in those days.) and they would dig a hole in the tent or wherever it is that they lived – their home – and they would dig a hole there, and that was the safe in those days. And when they were gone, someone would break through the house, that baked clay that was used to build houses, and they would dig up and take the treasure, and you’d come back and it would be gone.
Now here’s Christ’s point. Do you know what the problem that those kinds of treasures are? It’s not wrong to have treasure but it’s the wrong place for them because number one, it is very temporary. It’s here and it’s gone tomorrow. It disappears. People steal it, and it gives you a false sense of security. You are not as rich as you think you are because somebody can take your wealth away, and if somebody does not take it away from you, most assuredly you will be taken away from it. Therefore Jesus said, “Make a better investment.” He says, “Put your treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot corrupt and where thieves cannot break through and steal. Do something good with it to take it out of the high-risk that you have when you have it in this world.”
In order to understand what this means, let us suppose that you and I knew that the American dollar was someday instantly going to be devalued and cancelled, and the only money that survives is the British pound. Let’s suppose that that were the case, and today though you can get a good rate of exchange. Wouldn’t you take your money and translate it into British pounds and keep only as much American money as you need to live from day to day because you don’t want too much of this stuff because it is going to be cancelled absolutely? That’s what Jesus is saying.
You know, whenever Jesus talks about money we begin to get somewhat skittish and a little bit on edge because the topic touches us at a place where we don’t like to be touched. But actually Jesus is doing us a favor. He is saying, “Hey look. You have a good investment but just invest them in the right places. Put them into heaven where you don’t have this erosion of values. And when you have your heart there, your treasure and your heart are going to be in the same place. They are going to be in heaven.”
You say, “Well, how do we do that? Do we do it by giving money? Yes, of course, by giving money, but that’s only one way we do that. It’s by giving energy. It’s by going to Cabrini Green and holding a Bible study. It is by ministering to Angel Tree and becoming a prayer partner. I mean, there are so many different ways that we can begin to lay up treasures in heaven. I remember reading stories about a couple that was on a worldwide tour. Every place that they went they bought some gifts and they couldn’t keep them with them, so they sent them back home. And they were anxious to get home then to see all of the gifts that had accumulated during those months that they were gone. The treasure begins to get home because that’s where you sent it on ahead. And in the very same way we think about heaven and the more we have in heaven the better off we are, and then we begin to think heavenly.
I frequently am asked, probably not every week, but very frequently when we are out with friends, if I am a grandfather yet. And I always have to pause a little bit and I say this very gently and nicely, “Yes, we are grandparents, but our little Sarah is in heaven.” You know, when you say that you begin to realize that the more you have in heaven, the more you look forward to seeing the people you loved here on earth, or even as in our case, someone we didn’t get to know. Your affections begin to be heavenward because that’s where your treasure is, and Jesus is saying, “Do those kinds of things that have heavenly value. Have lots of treasure and when the time comes for you to go it will be easy for you to go because your treasure is already there.” It’s like the young woman who said, as her dad was dying of cancer, that in the weeks before he died he spent more time in heaven than he did on earth. Jesus is saying, “Make good investments.”
Now I know that he does not say expressly here to do it in secret, but of course this is a further exposition on what He talked about when He said, “In the giving of alms, do it in secret, that your Father will reward you openly.” It only makes sense because our money is going to be cancelled, so put it into something that will survive the crisis.
So here’s a question for you. The first test of our hearts today is the test of our affections. Do we really love God, or do we love the things of this world, whatever they may be? Is a relationship more important to us than the will of God? Is it possible for us to say, “Yes, I want this relationship even though God says no because I want what I want when I want it?” And that is idolatry, and that is not the way you lay up treasures in heaven, and you really in your heart do not love God. You don’t love God. So that’s the first test. Let me ask on a scale of one to ten how would you rate your affections - an 8, a 7, a 6, a 5, a 9, a 2, a 1, a 0? They are not forgotten.
Let’s go on to a second test. This has to do with our attitude. Jesus is still speaking here in Matthew 6, and He says in verse 22, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Now in order to understand that, let’s talk about buildings first of all. If you have a building and all of the walls and the doors are closed, the only possibility of light is through the window. And whether or not much light comes through, whether the room is flooded with light or not really depends on the window. It depends on its size, of course, but also on the glass. Is it glass that has been painted? Sometimes you see painted glass and the light that comes through it is dingy. At least the room looks very dingy. Or you can have a very clear glass. You can have a clear window and the light just streams through and the whole room is flooded with light.
Now Jesus said that in the very same way (And this is an analogy.) that the light of the body is the eye. If your eye is single, if your eye is clear, as the translation says here, your whole body is going to be flooded with light. But if your eye is a bad eye (That’s what it talks about.) it says then your body, your soul, all of you is going to be flooded with darkness, if you can flood something with darkness.
Now what does Christ mean by a good eye? He says that the eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good your body will be filled with light. Do you know what a good eye is? Really, the Greek text means it is a generous eye. He’s still talking about money. He’s still talking about investments. He’s talking about people who have an eye toward generosity, who can rejoice with others and who can generously give of their time, and their money, and their faithfulness, and their efforts, and they do so with gladness because freely they have received and freely they give. God loves that kind of spontaneity. That’s why He loves a cheerful giver. It’s someone who gives because he loves to give. Now that’s a good eye. The Bible says in the book of Romans, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cleave to that which is good.” A good eye is someone who has a ring of truth and honesty and openness and transparency.
Now what about the bad eye? The bad eye is stinginess. And if your eye is stingy, if that glass, using the analogy, is glass that has been (What shall we say?) smeared, if it is glass that is colored and therefore the light is diffused, then Jesus Christ said that your whole body, the real you, is filled with darkness.
Of course, there are other things also other than stinginess, but since stinginess is the primary meaning… Have you ever lived with someone who is really, really miserly and stingy? Some of you perhaps married somebody like that and so you know right well that you’ve had to live with him or her. And there is something about them that they begrudge the success of everyone else. They are always thinking about their own needs, whether or not they have deep needs or not, whether or not their situation is as bad as they make it out to be. The point is they are always, always begrudging generosity. It’s a darkness, and their whole eye is filled with darkness, and so are their souls.
There are other ways also that we can be filled with darkness, and that is if our eye is filled with prejudice and jealousy and anger and moral impurity. And all of these things – the window of the soul – are therefore cut off from the light. And Jesus said, “Make sure that your heart is right and your eye is right.” Remember it’s symbolic. I mean there are blind people and they’ve never seen the light, and yet their souls are pure and open and filled with light, but Jesus was saying, “Your eye and the way you view things determines actually the amount of light in your body.”
My wife and I have been to Mount Blanc, which is really on the border of Switzerland and France as I recall. It’s one of the tallest mountains in all of Europe if I remember correctly, and it’s gorgeous – a beautiful hill. And you ski there for miles and miles, and probably there are no trees as I remember, so you can probably even make it all the way down. But a friend of mine says that he’s been there many times and there’s a beautiful house there, one of those nice mountain homes, facing Mont Blanc with a whole array of windows, but the shutters are always closed. Now if you like mountains and if you like beauty, you wonder why they keep these shutters closed.
You know that’s the way some lives are. Here is God in all of His beauty and in all of His light and all of His brilliance, who can come into our lives, who can cleanse us from sin, who can deliver us from anger and stinginess and a miserly small-thinking spirit, and who can take all of that, and He can flood us with light. But oftentimes our shutters are closed, and we are determined that no one shall ever open them. And there we are in our own dark, dank soul.
Could I urge you today to just open your life to God? Just simply say, “Lord, I want to open my life to you. I want You to show me what You see. Yes, Lord! You’ve got the files. Show me so that we can deal with all of the things that promote the darkness, the dishonesty, the deceit, the lack of joy, the lack of spiritual freedom, the lack of generosity. Deal with me.” Now you’ll notice that Jesus says, “If the light, which is in you is darkness (In other words, if your eyes are just closed to the light), how great is that darkness?”
Now if the first test that we’ve taken is the test of our affections, the second test is the test of our attitude, and it has to do with whether or not we are full of light or we are full of darkness.
Let me give you a third test that Jesus gives us and that is the test of our actions. “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 both God and money.” Notice that Jesus is still thinking about money. And what He is saying is that when it comes to serving, if we’re going to serve the things of this world and mammon (or money is representative of all the things of this world), just understand that you can’t serve God too. “The world passes away and all of its lusts, but he who does the will of God abides forever.” And the Scripture is very clear and says, “He who loves the world is an enemy of God.” You just can’t do it. And you and I, our hearts are so deceitful and they have thought of so many different ways that we think that we can pull it off.
Actually when you look at this in the Greek text it is much stronger than the English translations. What it really means is that no man can be a slave to two owners. You know that you can’t dance to two different tunes simultaneously, that, is if you are into dancing. I don’t think that you can do that. You can’t take orders from two different military officers simultaneously. And we can’t serve God on the one hand and serve money on the other hand and think that we are pulling it off. If we think that we are pulling it off because we are serving both, we are actually not serving God.
And so, what Jesus is saying is this: The slaves in the Old Testament times and in the New Testament times did not have many rights. The owner could do as he wished with his time of discretion and his free time, but the slaves couldn’t. They had to just do whatever the master told them. They were sometimes misused to be sure, but they had the responsibility of somehow eking out an existence with that kind of a lifestyle. And Jesus is saying that just as slavery in those times could be harsh and cruel and demanding, serving money could be the very same way, and oftentimes it is. And He says, “You cannot serve God and money simultaneously.”
I’d like to help us get a handle on this by making a couple of observations here from the text that Jesus has given us. First of all, slavery is not an option, but choosing our master is. You’ll notice that we are either slaves of God, and that is a privilege, by the way. Paul says, “I am a bond slave of Jesus Christ. I am obedient to God.” And that is the path of freedom. That is the path of fulfillment. That is the path of sensing that you are doing something that is going to survive life. But then there is also another path and that is serving ourselves. And both are slavery. Here’s a man who thinks to himself that he is not a slave, but he has outbursts of anger that he cannot possibly control, things that just overwhelm him. He is consumed by jealousies that he cannot bring under control. In fact, he takes those jealousies and he actually magnifies them. And he thinks that he is in charge of his life, and he is just as much a slave as those who were slaves in the Roman Empire, because when you serve yourself, that is the worst kind of slavery.
So slavery is not an option. The question is, whose slave are you going to be? The Bible is very clear that we are serving our lusts, and our desires and our worldly pursuits, and those drive us and throttle us and leave us where we are, or else we serve God. Choose your master.
Secondly, obviously we can have only one master, and not two. Now sometimes in our individual life we may slip and we begin to serve a worldly master. We may fall into sin and serve the devil or serve ourselves, but those who are committed to Jesus Christ bounce back. They come to God in confession. They admit to their need. They are broken in His presence. They are grieved because they have grieved God. But there’s no way that you can continue doing that and at the same time be serving both God and the devil. It simply cannot be done.
Do you remember that race I told you about that the Greeks used to have where two horses used to run together and you stood with one foot on one horse and the other foot on the other horse, and the horses galloped together in a duet? And that was very good because when they began to separate you had a decision to make. The Bible says that a double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways. He is unstable at work because he is dishonest, because he is double-minded, and he can’t concentrate on God. He has only himself to think about. He is unstable in his home. He is unstable and unpredictable at church. You can’t depend upon him. If he says he’s going to be at a place and he’s going to have a certain ministry, you can’t be sure that he’s going to be there because a double-minded man has instability in all these different ways. And Jesus said, quoting the words of Joshua, “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” because you cannot serve both. You can’t do it.
And so that’s the bottom line of what Jesus is asking us to do in our actions, and we’ve talked about the fact that there is the test of affections. Who do we love? Where do we put up our treasures? And that, of course, is something that can be done secretly indeed. And there is secret giving. And there’s secretly taking care of people. There is also the test of our attitude. If we have a generous spirit we’ll look for opportunities to give, to be involved, looking for opportunities to sacrifice. But the third test is also the test of our actions. We’ll be looking for opportunities to obey God.
God sometimes leads us to situations in which we have sermon illustrations that come to us just when we need them. Last night, my wife and I were with some other pastors and their wives. We get together every few months to eat together and to think about things, and oftentimes just enjoy fellowship. But a pastor there was telling me that his church was not giving the way they should be giving. And so he called a day of repentance. He said, “We were being disobedient to God,” and he said that as a result of getting rid of that darkness, that dark spirit, the shutters closed at the windows, he said, “God has done a new work among us.” And the whole point of this message that has to be emphasized is the fact that God looks at the heart and says to us again and again, “Give me your heart. Give me all that you are, and I will take care of the rest. But you have to come in honesty. You can’t dispel the darkness unless you come and open your life to Me, unless you are willing to face the music as it were, unless you are willing to say, ‘Yes, I’ll make this right, and this right, and I’ll do whatever You ask me to do. If it means going back to people whom I have wronged, if it means making those things right, I will do all that. Why? It’s so that I will have only one master, and serve You with single-mindedness and purity and devotion and commitment.’”
Do you remember the children of Israel in Egypt and the difficulty they had? God brought them out of Egypt, but He could not get Egypt out of their hearts. And they kept saying, “We want to go back.” God says today, “Why don’t you come to Me and just let Me change your heart?” We sang about that a moment ago, didn’t we?
Change my heart, Lord.
Make it ever Thine.
Take it (and all of the aspects of my life), Lord. I want to give it to You. God, give me that heart check.
You know, there are some of you here today who have never received Christ as Savior, and even accepting Him as Savior is sometimes spoken of in the Bible as having been given the light. And you remember the words of the song “And Can It Be”? One of the stanzas says, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay in nature’s night and in the dungeon.” And then it says, “Thine eye diffused a quickening ray. I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.” There Charles Wesley is describing his conversion when God came into his life and changed him and took his dark soul and granted him the gift of light.
The bottom line: test your heart today, its affections, its attitudes, and its actions. Give God everything that He points out to you. Join me as we pray.
Just before we pray I hope that you have seen the reasonableness of what Jesus is asking because it’s the best investment. It makes the most sense, and brings the most happiness. As we’ve emphasized, people who look for happiness are really looking for holiness and they don’t know it. Whatever God has talked about to you today, would you just give it to Him?
Father, today we say with Robert Robinson,
Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise.
We ask today, Father, that hearts that have been out of tune with You for whatever reason may be brought today in line with your holy will. Lord, we do desire to walk with You with integrity and purity. We do desire, Lord, that all of the double mindedness that we struggle with would be set aside. Reveal Yourself to us, Lord, because that is our great need. And we ask, Lord, that through Your Word and through Your Spirit, that that shall be done. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.