What Jesus Says About Priorities

Matthew  6:19-33

What are your priorities in life? You might answer God, family, or work. There are a variety of answers. We all have priorities – those things that are most important to us. They matter to us. They inspire our behavior and inform our decision-making in life. Some priorities are good, some are not so good. Perhaps you’ve heard someone tell another person, Your priorities are getting way out of whack! It happens.

Imagine you have a freshman college student who is enjoying everything at school. It’s his first time away from home, and he’s making new friends. He is in a band and developing a very social life. He’s out every night of the week, but missing classes and not studying.

When he comes home for Christmas, his grades are terrible. What are you probably going to ask him? What are your priorities? A good education or just having a good time? You better get your head on straight!

Listen to this news story out of Texas: It was a 99° September day in San Antonio when 10-month-old baby girl was accidentally locked inside a parked car by her aunt. Frantically the mother and aunt ran around the auto in near hysteria while a neighbor attempted to unlock the car with a clothes hanger. Soon the infant was turning purple and had foam on her mouth. It had become a life-or-death situation.

Suddenly a wrecker driver named Fred Arriola arrived on the scene. He grabbed a hammer and smashed the back window of the car to set the little girl free. Was he heralded a hero? He said, “The lady was mad at me because I broke the window! I just thought, ‘What’s more important, the baby or the window?’”

Sometimes our priorities get out of order, and a guy like Fred Arriola reminds us of what’s really important.

Well, today we find Jesus addressing the whole matter of priorities. He’s telling us that, as a follower of Christ, the central priority in life is God Himself. This reading leaves no doubt about the importance of putting God first.

Jesus again is telling us that we, as citizens of the kingdom of God, are to be different from the world around us. We have a different set of priorities. Some things matter more to us than to others.

God knows us well. He knows we have a tendency to become distracted or let different things take over in our lives, like money, possessions, achievements, and popularity.

Jesus is pointing out to us today that we have some important choices to make and to keep regarding priorities. For instance, we have two kinds of investments in life. One is lasting, and the other is temporary and corruptible. We can choose to store earthly treasures or heavenly treasurers. Earthly treasures are not like a savings account or insurance. Jesus is talking about the selfish pursuit of the accumulation of goods, hoarding and seeking security for oneself, trying to get it all. He’s talking about the attitude of the one with the most toys wins. Jesus says these are temporary things with no lasting value. You can’t take them with you.

However, heavenly treasures – investing in yourself and pursuing things that really do last – are things you can actually take with you. It is the development of Christlike character. Charity, witness, giving away resources to God’s causes, and making a difference in the name of Christ – these things, Jesus says, are things that last. No one can steal them away.

Then He makes this interesting statement. It’s a proverb of sorts: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus is pointing out a fact of life: our interests follow our investments. For instance, if you invest in a certain stock, you will probably follow that stock to see how it’s doing. You’re interested.

When you invest in God and His cause, your focus will be on God. Jesus is talking common sense here. If you are interested in keeping your eye on God and developing a growing relationship with Him, then make investments in His cause and what He has blessed you with. Sometimes it takes a crisis to wake us up to this truth.

Bill Hybels tells a story. “Sudden loss often simplifies life. One man put it this way: When he suddenly found himself in a hospital bed, he wrote, ‘I came to realize I no longer really cared for what the world chases after, such as how much money I have in the bank, and how many cars are parked in the garage. As it says in the book of Ecclesiates, ‘Chasing after these things is like chasing the wind’ anyway. Suddenly the rat race became vanity to me, and I felt naked before God. If I died, I would take none of this stuff with me. Ultimately all that really mattered was my relationship with God, my relationship with family and friends. If it weren’t for the loss of my health, I would’ve wasted the rest of my life chasing achievements and acquiring transitory things.’” His crisis seemed to have served him well.

Jesus talks next about two conditions – having a healthy eye or an unhealthy eye. It compares a sighted person with a blind person. If you can see, you can navigate and walk safely in light, but if you’re blind and you’re walking in darkness, it’s not so positive an experience.

Certain writings in the Old Testament talk about fixing the eye and setting your heart on something in the same breath. You choose where to fix your eyes. If your vision becomes clouded by focusing on false gods like materialism and achievements, you lose your sense of values, your whole life is in darkness, and you can’t see where you’re going. You’re walking blind. Like the proverb says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” But if you have spiritual vision, if your spiritual perspective is correctly adjusted and fixed on serving God, then life is filled with purpose and drive. It throws light on everything we do. God loves to hear you sing, “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart . . .”

Jesus says it all really boils down to the matter of who or what is going to run your life. You have to choose between two masters: God or mammon (wealth), the Almighty God or the almighty dollar. Jesus tells us it is impossible to serve them both.

He is not talking about the necessity of working two jobs like we do today in our own culture. Instead, He’s talking about the impossibility of being a devoted slave to two masters. The slave must decide which master he will serve. An old West African proverb says, “The man who tries to walk two roads will split his pants.”

The truth is, we all serve something. Something governs and determines our priorities. God commands exclusive rights to your devotion. Jesus is not saying money is evil in itself. Money is meant to be used, not served; God is meant to be served, not used.

How can we know if we are being mastered by our money or by our possessions? We need ask ourselves a couple questions. The first one would be, What did I do to get the money? What did I sacrifice on the altar of prosperity? The second question is, What am I doing with my money? Is the cause of God in the world better off because I’ve been entrusted with money, or is God only getting my spare change? Those two questions will help you know if you are being mastered by your possessions.

In summary, Jesus tells us we have two preoccupations in life: our body (security) or God’s kingdom. “Therefore, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.” Don’t let those matters take over your life.

Then Jesus reasons about these sorts of worries. First of all, He says it’s illogical. Life is more than food and clothing. The God who gave you life will give you what you need.

Worrying over those things is also senseless. Look at the birds! God takes care of them, and you’re so much more valuable than birds.

This kind of worry is useless. It won’t add a single moment to your life.

It’s faithless. Look at the flowers of the field – God takes care them, O you of little faith.

It’s also godless. It shows we are little more than the pagans worrying over what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to drink, what we’re going to wear.

Finally, it denies our family ties. The God we trust, you see, is our heavenly Father. He will do no less for us than a good earthly father would do for his children.

At the heart of the universe is Divine love, the love of our heavenly Father. It really comes down to placing your trust in God. Jesus says He knows what you need. Trust in Him.

If you have to be preoccupied, concerned, and worried about anything as God’s citizens, then why not be preoccupied with the big things that really do matter, like God’s name being hallowed in this world, His kingdom coming, and His will being done. Be concerned about bringing God’s kingdom to the world where you are and doing the right things in your network of relationships. Let this be your preoccupation.

The statement He gives us then – so strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness – is the bottom line for priorities. It’s the summary statement. God’s cause – number one in your life – and His righteousness (living the kind of life that brings Him pleasure). This life is one of loving others and seeking their highest good, doing the right thing for God.

So there you have it. Honestly, I know it all sounds a little bit crazy to people of this world. If you to choose to live with these kind of priorities, I would caution you to be prepared to be treated as more or less eccentric or a little crazy. Christ’s words seem to reach right into our everyday priorities, into our pocketbooks. So why do it? Why choose these priorities He has laid out for us, this way of life?

First of all, it’s smart. This is Jesus talking, the One who died for you on a cross and rose again to rescue you and give you eternal life. Obviously, He has your best interests at heart.

Note also His words of assurance here. “And all these things shall be added unto you.” When you commit yourself to God, He commits Himself to you. When what really matters to you is that God’s name be hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will be done, God will take care of your needs.

Now you know, from the lips of Jesus the Son of God, the priorities for living. So the only question left is, What now? These words are really an appeal to take action, take a step of faith. Jesus calls you to choose God’s priorities for your life, to commit your life to serving God with your everything: your treasures, your vision, your service. Strive to live a life of serving and trusting Him. When you do that, you will have chosen wisely.

I came across a wonderful illustration regarding this truth in a book by Dr. Haddon Robinson. In the game of Monopoly, players buy land and collect money. When one player has enough money and at least one monopoly of properties, he or she can buy houses and hotels and collect rent on them. Eventually a player receives enough rental money through land and building holdings to bankrupt the other players, thus ending the game.

Parker Brothers, the makers of Monopoly, take for granted one final instruction: when the game is over, put all the pieces back in the box.

People who live for the present, who spend their strength on what cannot last, are like children who play Monopoly as though it were reality. In the end, we all get put in the box, and we are gone.

What matters is what remains when the game on earth is over. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer