Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He also serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin. This lesson treatment is published in the January 2021 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)
“Consider the Birds” by David Faust (Lesson Application)
Lesson Aim: God’s kingdom to lay up treasure in Heaven.
Rich Mullins played a song on his hammer dulcimer entitled “My One Thing.” When too many things occupy our attention, our devotion to Christ becomes compromised. The real, greater, fulfilled righteousness in Christ that Jesus taught about in the Sermon on the Mount should be our single focus. When it is, generosity will mark us, and worry will flee from us.
Jesus was one of the most colorful speakers ever. In this latter half of Matthew 6, Jesus employed at least 18 different metaphors or images to drive home his point. He spoke of treasures, moths, vermin, and thieves. He spoke of eyes, light, darkness, masters, and money. He spoke of eating, drinking, clothing, birds, grass, flowers, a king’s son, and fire. Jesus truly engaged the right side of people’s brains as he taught.
Treasures in Heaven: Pursue Generosity
The real righteousness of the upside-down kingdom can be hypocritical (Matthew 6:1-18), but it should always be “singular” in focus. We might call it “Cyclopes Christianity.” (The Cyclopes were great one-eyed creatures from Greek and Roman mythology.) Kingdom people have their hearts set on Heaven and their eyes focused on earth. Jesus said, “Don’t store up treasures on earth.” Earthly treasures get eaten by moths. Earthly treasures get destroyed by vermin (parasite worms or insects; many Bible translations use the word rust). Earthly treasures get stolen by thieves who “dig through” the house. Heaven is exempt from these problems. Look at your treasures, for there you will find your heart.
The human eye is an amazing piece of God’s handiwork. No wonder Jesus used it for illustrative purposes. It lets light in and enables us to see out. And even though we look through thousands of blood vessels, the eye has the incredible ability to focus. Jesus said our eyes need to be healthy; in the King James Version, the word used is single. At first hearing, single sounds strange, but it actually makes sense in context. The word could also be translated “generous” (see James 1:5). Healthy eyes will be generous and focused and spread light everywhere.
Jesus’ world was filled with masters and slaves, and he used this metaphorical reality to emphasize generosity. “No one can serve two masters” sounds like a reductive fallacy. But realistically there are only two options—theism or materialism. If we are devoted to or love one, we must despise or hate the other. It has been said we can’t take our treasures to heaven with us, but we can send them on ahead of us by being generous here.
Life on Earth: Pursue the Kingdom
Setting our minds on things above (Colossians 3:1-4) actually helps us steward things on earth below. This mind-set deals a death blow to worry. Singular servants give up fretting because “worry” means to be drawn in two different directions at the same time. Sometimes worry can be a good motivator, such as worrying about taking care of our spouses and church people (1 Corinthians 7:33; 2 Corinthians 11:28). But in this passage, worry is antifaith.
A fine line exists between worry and concern. But being preoccupied with food and clothing is counterproductive. Jesus used a “lesser-to-greater” style of argument to make his point. Birds are busy little creatures, but they do not worry about their next meal or their designer feathers. People are more valuable than birds. Worrying about our needs (or greeds) cannot add a single hour (or greater stature) to our lives.
Clothing was necessary in a fallen world. It not only warmed people but also became a shelter and bed (Exodus 22:26-27). The flowers of the field are beautiful. God dresses them. But they do not worry. People are more valuable than flowers. Even Solomon’s wardrobe was not as beautiful as the flowers which would burn tomorrow. Jesus called us away from a preoccupation with food and clothing. He acknowledged that pagans (unbelievers) pursue these things that God graciously promised to give us.
Our task is to continually seek first God’s reign and standard (kingdom and righteousness). Then, as an added bonus, God will give us what we need. Worry gets us nowhere. In the last verse of our text, Jesus pictured worry as a person capable of choosing to worry or not. No truer words have ever been spoken about the fallen world than, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Focus allows us to be generous, and focus helps us to pursue God. Pursuing one thing helps put all other things into perspective.