- (Photo: Paul Tripp)
It took God employing pastoral hardship for me to embrace the inescapable reality that everything I did in ministry was done in allegiance to, and in pursuit of, either the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God. This truth is best exegeted for us in Matthew 6:19-34. I'm convinced that this passage is an elaborate unpacking of the thoughts, desires, and actions of the kingdom of self. Notice the turn in the passage in verse 33, where Jesus says, "But seek first the kingdom of God." The word but tells us this verse is the transition point of the passage. Everything before it explains the operation of another kingdom, the kingdom of self. This makes the passage a very helpful lens on the struggle between these two kingdoms that somehow, some way, battles in the heart of everyone in ministry.
In this article I want to examine four treasure principles that emerge from this passage that I find helpful as I seek to examine the motivations of my own heart in ministry.
1. Everyone lives for some kind of treasure. We've been designed by God to be value-oriented, purpose-motivated beings. God gave us this capacity because he designed us for the worship of him. So what you do and say in ministry is always done in pursuit of some kind of treasure. Now you will recognize that there are few things that are intrinsically valuable. Most treasures have an assigned value. So the familiar saying says, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." This side of eternity, here's what happens to all of us: things begin to rise in importance beyond their true importance and set the agenda for our thoughts, desires, choices, words, and actions. What is the battle of treasure about? It is daily working to keep what God says important in our personal lives and ministries. Pastor, what is important to you in ministry?
2. The thing that's your treasure will control your heart. Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." The heart, being the summary term for the inner man, could be characterized as the causal core of your personhood. What Jesus is saying here is profound. He's suggesting that there's a war of treasure that's being fought at the center of what makes you think what you think, desire what you desire, and do what you do. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your words and actions in ministry are always your attempt to get out of it what's valuable to you. Pastor, what are the deep heart desires that shape your everyday words and actions?
3. What controls your heart will control your behavior. Remember that by God's design, we're worshipers. Worship isn't first an activity; worship is first our identity. That means everything you and I do and say is the product of worship. So the treasures (things that have risen to levels of importance in my heart) that rule the thoughts and desires of my heart will then control the things that I do. The war between these two kingdoms in ministry is not first a war of behavior; it's a war for the heart. If I lose this deeper war, I'll never gain ground in the arena of my words and actions. Pastor, what do your words and actions reveal about what's truly important to you?
4. Your functional treasures are always attached to the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God. Christ really does give us only two options. Either I've attached my identity, meaning, purpose, and inner sense of well-being to the earth-bound treasures of the kingdom of self or to the heavenly treasures of the kingdom of God. This is an incredibly helpful diagnostic for pastoral ministry. Consider these questions:
• The absence of what causes us to want to give up and quit?
• The pursuit of what leads us to feeling over-burdened and overwhelmed?
• The fear of what makes us tentative and timid rather than courageous and hopeful?
• The craving for what makes us burn the candle at both ends until we have little left?
• The "need" for what robs ministry of its beauty and joy?
• The desire for what sets up tensions between ministry and family?
Could it be that many of the stresses of ministry are the result of us seeking to get things out of ministry that it will never deliver? Could it be that we're asking ministry to do for us what only the Messiah can do? Could it be that in our ministries we're seeking horizontally what we've already been given in Christ? Could it be that this kingdom conflict is propelled and empowered by functional, personal gospel amnesia? When I forget what I've been given in Christ, I will tend to seek those things out of the situations, locations, and relationships of my ministry. Pastor, in what ways are you tempted to seek from your ministry what you've already been given in Christ?
You see, the biggest protection against the kingdom of self is not a set of self-reformative defensive strategies. It's a heart that's so blown away by the right-here, right-now glories of the grace of Jesus Christ that you're not easily seduced by the lesser temporary glories of that claustrophobic kingdom of one, the kingdom of self. I will say much more about this and Matthew 6 in my next post.