What do you mean “What do I mean?” Are you telling me you don’t have a 5 year plan? You know, what goals, objectives, and milestones would you like to have achieved 5 years from now? You can’t hit the target if there isn’t one, right? So what’s your target? What’s your 5 year plan?
There’s nothing wrong with planning for the future. In fact, I’d say it’s poor stewardship not to. But 5 year plans, retirement plans, goals and objections and all that – they assume one big thing. They all assume Tomorrow. In fact, they assume 5 years (or more) of tomorrows. When, in fact, you and I aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.
The Bible could not be more clear on this simple truth. Proverbs 27:1 says, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." Likewise in James 4:13-16 we read, "Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with planning for the future. Scripture commands it. The ant is a proverbial planner, hence the proverb, "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest" (Proverbs 6:6-8). There’s nothing wrong with planning for the future, as long as we humbly acknowledge that Tomorrow is in God’s hands, not ours.
When we talk about 5 year plans and such, the specifics of our objectives and goals are important, because our plans reveal our pursuits. Let me ask you: Are you pursuing what matters most? We pursue many things: Fame, Notoriety, Pleasure, Success, Wealth, Health, Long Life, the Approval of Others, and the list goes on.
It's healthy to take a few moment to identify and evaluate our pursuits on a regular basis. What is it I am pursuing? Am I pursuing what matters most?
As you identify and evaluation pursuits, it’s a good idea to give them the 1 year, 10 year, and 100 year priority test. Is what you’re pursing today going to matter 1 year from now? How about 10 years from now? Is what you’re pursing today going to matter 10 years from now? Let’s go way into the future. How about 100 years from now? Is what you’re pursing today going to matter 100 years from now?
I bet you’re starting to get the point, right? Should the Lord Jesus continue to hold back His return, there’s hardly a snowball’s chance in Florida that me and my wife and kids will still be sucking air here on planet earth 100 years from now. When we talk about pursuits that matter 100 years from now, we might as well be talking 1,000 years or 1 Billion years – for now we’re talking about God’s time – eternity.
Are you pursuing what matters most? If you are, what you’re pursuing today will matter 100 / 1,000 / 1 Billion years from now!
Jesus speaks of our pursuits in terms of treasure: "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 destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).
True treasure is the theme of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6, where Jesus begins by pointing out that rue treasure is bestowed by our Father in heaven. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1). Seek the applause of people, and that’s all you’ll get. Our Father in heaven will not reward those who seek their glory above His.
But just a little earlier in Jesus' teaching, he commanded his disciples to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." In Matthew 5:16 Jesus tells us to shine our light, but in Matthew 6:1 Jesus appears to tell us to keep our light a secret. Which is it? Is there a contradiction between Matthew 6:1 and Matthew 5:16?
The difference is clear in these two verses is clear: Whose glory do we seek? God’s or our own?
John Stott points out that Jesus is addressing different sins in Matthew 5:16 and 6:1, respectively.
“It is our human cowardice which made Him say, ‘Let your light shine,’ and it is our human vanity which made Him tell us to beware of practicing our piety before men” to be seen by them." A.B. Bruce puts it even more succinctly: “Show when you’re tempted to hide; Hide when you’re tempted to show.”
Now, what do you suppose Jesus means by “reward”? We know heavenly rewards are worth pursuing, because they will never perish, spoil or fade. Most importantly, heavenly rewards come from our heavenly Father. But what are they?
We can be clear what rewards are not. They are not works righteousness. They are not often immediate. And they are not often materialistic. What are these promised rewards? They entail the blessings of Kingdom living (see the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12). These rewards include the Father's smile upon our lives, the applause of Heaven, and an evaluation of "Well done!” from Jesus Himself.
Some believe these rewards may even include increased responsibility in Christ’s Kingdom Come. "He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father" (Matthew 20:23). "And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities'" (Luke 19:17).
Here in Matthew 6:1, Jesus introduces three specific acts of piety or religious expression that are very common to Jewish faith and practice: Giving/Serving the Needy, Prayer, Fasting. These practices are also contained within the 5 Pillars of Islam.
This coming Tuesday evening marks the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish religious calendar: Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The Jewish website www.mechon-mamre.org describes some of the practices associated with Yom Kippur. "Tzedakah (charitable giving and service) is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins. The High Holiday liturgy states that God has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah can reverse the decree."
I mention this as an illustration of how the three quintessential acts of piety Jesus zeroed in on 2,000 years ago are still the central acts of religious faith and devotion today. In Matthew 5, Jesus seems to have focused on the scribes and their narrow interpretation of the law. Boy, did He blast them out of the water! Now in Matthew 6, Jesus turns to the Pharisees and their public reputation for being pious and righteous.
Matthew 5 concluded with these words: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48). When Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” I bet His disciples thought of three things.
“I’ve got to give more to the poor.”
“I’ve got to pray more to God.”
“I’ve got to fast more from food.”
Jesus considers these pious practices in Matthew 6:1-18. Next time we'll take a closer look at the first: Giving in Matthew 6:2-4.
© 2016, Jason M. Platt, All Rights Reserved