Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Impulsive Behavior

Matthew 6:19-24

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:19-24 NASB)

Visualize this scene. A Christian couple is at home going over the bills.  This couple ordinarily has smooth sailing in their marriage.  Because of tiredness and pressing bills, Bill and Jane begin to become testy with each other.  Before long they are yelling at each other – behavior that is totally uncharacteristic of their relationship.

Later, Bill and Jane make up with tears, and Bill, shaking his head in disbelief as Jane dabs her eyes with a tissue, apologizes “Honey, I’m sorry.  I just don’t know why I do like that.” Jane answers tearfully, “Darling, I’m so sorry that I called you those silly names. Please forgive me.” But why do Bill and Jane act like that?

Ron is a faithful deacon in his church. His church activities are a blessed relief to him after the pressures of the office. In heavy traffic he is driving home from work. He is a representative of his Lord Jesus Christ.

Ron is driving the best he can, but an impatient driver is tailgating him.  The tailgating continues for miles, it seems. All the while Ron is fuming and turning red around the collar. Then Mr. Tailgater passes and screams unintelligibly at Ron. Ron, the ambassador for Christ, yells back: “You stupid jerk, why don’t you learn how to drive? You dummy!” Why does Ron act like that?

Have you ever had those impulses – or worse? “Why do I do what I do?” is an age-old question. Impulsive behavior is sometimes understandable in the unregenerate, but why do genuine followers of Christ think, speak, and act inconsistently with the gospel of their Lord?

The Apostle Paul struggled with this dilemma. Yes, Paul, the superlative missionary who carried the gospel, either in person or by letter to the entire known world. Yes, Paul who wrote thirteen books of the New Testament. Yes, Paul, the Christian martyr who lost his head on a Roman chocking block because he had preached the Word of the Lord without fear or favor.

For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do (Romans 7:19).

How many times have you asked yourself, Why did I do that? Why did I lose my temper? Why did I laugh at an off-color story? Why did I spank my child because I was angry? Why did I indulge myself in that moment of gossip? Why? Why? Why?

Deep within us there seems to be a mechanism which drives us to continue doing (and thinking and saying) what we do not really want to do. How can we isolate this impulsive behavior and deal with it?

Years ago our denomination sponsored simultaneous revivals, and the watchword was: “Christ is the Answer.” And for a fact He is! And he has the answer to our impulsive behavior.

In His Sermon on the Mount, He goes to the root of the matter and deals with our entire being: our affections (our hearts), our attitudes (our minds), and our actions (our wills). In a moment I am coming to His premier teachings about our life-styles, our impulsiveness, our contradictions.

There is a chain reaction in that our affection affects our attitudes, and our attitudes obviously affect our actions. So, why do we do what we do? We move in the direction of an answer by making a platform of the following premise: What we do is determined by what we think and what we think is determined by where our hearts our (our affections are)! This goes straight to the core of impulsive behavior.

We not only act impulsively, but we buy impulsively. Check your home sometime and catalog the unused items you bought on impulse. No wonder so many people are in trouble credit-wise. They all too often buy goods which are absolutely unnecessary for their comfort and pleasure.

An unknown author wisely wrote:

Sow a thought, reap an act;

Sow an act, reap a habit;

Sow a habit, reap a character;

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

That’s how vital our thoughts are!

We think evilly or wrongfully and fly off the handle. Our thoughts all too often are inconsistent with the mind of Christ. So, many of us go through life frustrated and defeated in the Christian walk. Let me repeat for emphasis: What we do is determined by what we think, and what we think is determined by where our hearts are.

In this premise we discover our basic problem. Before the fall in Genesis 3, the proper order of decision-making was first the mind, then the emotions, then the will. But now, under sin, man-kind has subtly reversed God’s divine order of making decisions. Satan does not appeal to our minds initially. Where does he probe with his crafty guile? At our emotions, at our hearts. Why do I do what I do? Because I am a sinner, even though a saved sinner, and too often I make my decisions beginning with my heart instead of beginning with my head.

Let me put it like this. Our admiration guides our affection. Our affection then governs our attitude. Consequently our attitude guarantees our action. This affects all three areas of our being – our soul; the heart – the affections. Our spirit, the mind – the attitude. Our bodies, our wills – and our physical actions. Why do we do what we do? First . . .

Our Admiration Guides Our Affection

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doeth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Admiration involves thinking highly of a person or object; it also implies an exaltation of the person or object admired. The wrong kind of admiration can turn into a form of idolatry. There is a sense in which we love the persons or objects we admire.

Jesus expressed it: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” A person’s treasure is what he admires. His affection is centered on his treasure, the person(s) or object(s) he admires. If one’s treasure is in the world, one will love the world. I am not referring to the globe on which we live – but the evil system which Satan has let loose in the world.

In reference to this evil system of the devil, John the beloved apostle warns us:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (I John 2:15-17).

It all begins with our admiration, our affection from the heart.

All Eve did was admiringly glance at what Satan, the serpent, offered in the Garden of Eden. Her admiration guided her affection. In the first place, Satan was suave and debonair. Only after God cursed him, did he crawl on his belly in the form of a snake. Satan plucked Eve’s heartstrings with his appeal. It started in her heart. Then, her affection began to govern her attitude. The temptation worked into her mind, and finally her attitude guaranteed her action. It was no surprise that she ultimately accepted the fruit and ate it.

And the process was the same with David, a man after God’s own heart. Why, all he did was take an admiring glance at Bathsheba while she bathed. Then his admiration guided his affection; his affection began to govern his attitude. What was born in his heart bore down on his mind. His attitude guaranteed his action, and an adulterous affair with Bathsheba was the result, not to speak of the crimes and sins David committed in connection with his lust, including the orchestrated death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.

Why, why, why do we do what we do? Too frequently we make our decisions by letting our hearts precede our heads. Jesus declared: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.”

Many people spend all their time laying up treasures on this earth, ending up with nothing here or hereafter. The moths eat their tailor-made clothes; the rust corrodes their sleek, expensive automobiles. Thieves break and enter, stealing their priceless antiques and costly jewelry. Many a person who thought he could succeed by bowing down to the gods of this world has suddenly found himself with nothing. It is no wonder Jesus asked, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).

Lew Sarett wrote of those preoccupied with material possessions:

To him the moon was a silver dollar, spun

Into the sky by some mysterious hand; the sun

Was a gleaming golden coin—

His to purloin;

The freshly minted stars were dimes of delight

Flung out upon the counter of the night.

In yonder room he lies,

With pennies on his eyes.

Our Lord opens with a negative word. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” Our Lord constantly warns against earthly materialism. Don’t let things possess you. Things never really satisfy. A new suit is all right for a few weeks – all your friends have already seen it by then and no longer make compliments. A brand-new automobile is OK until the new car smell goes away. A bouquet of flowers begins to decay before we ever get them delivered. “The world passeth away,” wrote the Apostle John. Decay sets in moment by moment and hour by hour. There is change all around us. At times, nothing seems constant but change.

How foolish it is to set our affections on the possessions of this earth! Let Paul the apostle express it for us:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth (Col. 3:1-2).

I am a little amused at those who continually try to build up their self-image through their physical appearance. This world is passing away all around us. Many do not like to think on these truths because of impulsive behavior. They look at life through their emotions rather than their minds, making decisions based on the impulse of the split second. They are, as one singer put it, “hooked on a feeling.”

There is also a positive word from the lips of our Lord. “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” Here is a word of encouragement about investments.  We hear plenty about wise investments this day and time – IRA, tax shelters, commodities, stocks, bonds, insurance, mutual funds, you name it. Here Jesus gives exceedingly wise counsel about investments which will outlast recession, depression, war, and every imaginable “crunch.”

Let me make a note here. There is nothing wrong with material possessions kept in proper perspective. Abraham was wealthy. Job was affluent before calamity struck, but the Word of God declares that “the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12a). David certainly was not in the welfare line, and his son Solomon was considered the richest king of his era.

You have often heard, “Money is the root of all evil.” That’s an incorrect quotation of I Timothy 6:10, which states: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The love of money is wrong. Money can bless or curse, all according to what we do with it.

Many wealthy people I know are laying up treasures in heaven. In fact, many times it is those of us without a lot of material possessions who strive to lay up treasures on earth. The “have nots” often covet the possessions of the “haves.”

It is all a matter of the affections. What our Lord forbids is the worship of our possessions, allowing them to preoccupy and consume us. Neither in the pursuit nor in the pleasure of things should they become our chief concern. I repeat: “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”

If your treasure is deposited on earth, your heart will follow it. Likewise, if your treasure is deposited in heaven, your heart will follow it there. Why do we do what we do? Basically it is because we have laid up our treasures on earth, and consequently our admiration is guiding our affection which eventually governs our attitude – which inevitably guarantees our actions.

Our Lord presents the secret to becoming genuinely interested in Him and His enterprise. “Put your treasures in heavenly pursuits, and your heart will follow.”

If you put your treasure in a vacation home, your heart will be there. If you put your treasure in a beautiful body, your heart will be there. And if you put your treasure in the work of God, your heart will be there. I repeat: There is nothing wrong with a vacation home, a new car, or a beautiful body – unless they come before the Lord and His business. Jesus is speaking about priorities. During the Second World War, certain projects were labeled TOP PRIORITY. The kingdom of God has TOP PRIORITY with the devoted Christian who has his priorities straight.

Perhaps you are asking, “Why don’t I care more about the work of God?” It may be that you have misplaced your treasure. Your heart is not caught up in the kingdom because your treasure is laid up in the pursuits of the carnal system around you.

Walter R. Bowie’s poem, “The Empty Soul,” speaks volumes:

At the end will be but rust,

Where earthly treasures are;

They whose yes are in the dust

Will never see a star.

They who came to Bethlehem

And only dross have sought

Will take away alone with them

The emptiness they brought.

Since the fall, mankind has been governed by sinful desires, improper affections, and self-centered lusts. People are controlled by their emotions or desires. Such is the effect of sin on a fallen race.

How do we deal with this impulsive behavior? We pray that God will help us to be governed by His will rather than our emotions and feelings.

One of the real tragedies of sin is that it upsets God’s order of decision-making. We do what we do initially because our admiration guides our affection. When this happens we then realize that

Our Affection Governs Our Attitude

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

Why do we do what we do? Second Corinthians 4:4 gives an explanation: “. . . the god of this world [Satan] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Satan has blinded what? “The minds of them which believe not.”

Here Jesus speaks about eye trouble. The light of the body is the mind. Sin blinds those who are unbelieving and without Christ. Sin also dims the vision of Christians, although it can never totally blind them. Nonetheless, sin harms our vision of reality and values.

Yes, our admiration guides our affection, and then our affection governs our attitude. Sin blinds the minds of the unsaved, and it dims the vision of the saved.

The Lord illustrates this principle in verses 22 and 23. Sin blinds people’s eyes to truths which should be perfectly obvious. Even as Christians try to accommodate their sins against the Lord, they often excuse themselves with, “Well, I just can’t see that. I don’t think God should expect such and such from me.” The fact is: The rebellious Christian simply does not want clear vision. The unsaved person wants no vision at all.

Our sinful nature leads us to look at the world through distorted lenses. These warped lenses of sin make us sidestep responsibility, also causing us to bypass and ignore the truth. Aging is one example. Many people simply do not want to believe they are aging, that wrinkles are appearing, that the muscle tone is sagging, that skin blemishes and varicose veins are developing. Many an actress has gone insane or killed herself because youth was fleeting and the crow’s feet were appearing. Yes, our bodies are deteriorating, and we might as well adjust to that manifest reality.

This spiritual myopia may spread to every nook and cranny of our lives. I am afraid many professing Christians are ignoring the clear truth of God’s Word when they think about an illicit love affair. A large number of professing Christians are living together without the benefit of clergy. Years ago we called that, with disdain, “shacking up.” Now many Christians are condoning the practice with alibis like this: “Why, if they truly love each other, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

But that’s not how God feels about it. After all, He performed the first wedding ceremony in the Garden of Eden. He wants men and women to commit themselves to each other in the bonds of holy wedlock – “to live together after the ordinance of God.” Even though they may claim commitment to each other before God, they ought to make it official before the state and mankind. Yet, we are living in a day when men and women are blinded to the clear-cut teachings of God’s Word. Adultery and fornication are just as wrong today as they were when Jesus walked the Palestinian countryside. Why do so many Christians think living together is OK? Because they are making decisions from the emotions and not from the mind of Christ.

And this carries over to money. The stark fact is we own absolutely nothing. We will not carry one penny from this world with us. We will leave the scene exactly as we came in – naked and with nothing (see Job 1:21). Imagine it. All around us people are being governed by the stock market and the prime rate. We cannot carry that money with us, but we do not want to face it.

As a pastor I have conducted hundreds of funerals and followed hundreds of hearses in the funeral processions to the cemetery – but I have never seen a hearse with a “U-Haul” trailer behind it! The truth is: If we don’t use it, we will leave it. We had best lay up our treasures in heaven. Then our treasures will have already preceded us. They will be waiting for us in heaven!

What one does is determined by what one thinks. What one thinks is determined by where one’s heart is. Our admiration guides our affection. Then our affection begins to govern our attitude. Next

Our Attitude Guarantees Our Action

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Thoughts. Then affections. Then attitudes. For emphasis I repeat the chain: Our admiration guides our affection. Our affection governs our attitude. Our attitude guarantees our action. They fit like the fingers in a carefully-measured glove.

Paul spoke of one deserter: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10a). Why? Because Demas had diverted his affections to the world and its cares. The attitude of his mind was altered, finally resulting in his leaving Paul. James 4:4 cries out: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

Having distinguished between two treasures and two eyes, our Lord now makes the distinction between two masters – God and mammon. The key word here is serve. “No man can serve two masters.” Serve in this context means slavery. Why can’t we serve two masters? Because their orders are diametrically opposed. One commands us to walk by faith; the other by sight. Jesus made it plain: We cannot serve two overlords. Those who serve God think, live, speak, and act by faith. Those who strive to please men alone walk by sight.

Mammon, most commentators think, stood for the god of material possessions. Mammon was a personification of wealth. We will either serve God or the god of possessions.

One commands us to be humble; the other proud. One demands that we set our affections on things above; the other on things here upon the earth. One commands us to believe before we see; the other to see before we believe. “No man can serve two masters . . . Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus emphatically stressed.

This is also why the Lord Jesus drew the line with this statement: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matt. 12:30). There is no middle-ground here, no fence-straddling. Many people have tried to serve two masters, but it simply will not work.

Without our priorities in proper perspective, without the decision-making process in spiritual sequence, and without clear vision, we can become slaves to the things which were intended to serve us.  These earthly things meant for our benefit and good can become our deities. We can begin to build our lives around them. I like golf, but I have not let it master me. Many men and women are mastered by golf. It becomes the controlling force of their lives. Name it – hunting, fishing, business, clubs, fund raising, cars, boats, jewelry, antiques, eating, drinking – and it can become a minor deity.

I heard of a farmer who stayed away from church all during the fall and winter because he was afraid the pine needles on his acreage would catch afire and burn his property. He stayed right there every minute worrying over the slim prospects of a fire. He was blessed with huge acreage, pine trees, natural resources, and 500 head of cattle, but he never trusted God with them. His attitude about life was reflected when the spring arrived. He returned to church and would often ask the treasurer to change a one dollar bill for him so he could give a quarter in the collection to show his gratitude to God! That’s a true story!

With a self-serving attitude, we end up serving dumb idols. That farmer did, and his life was wizened and spiritually impoverished. That happens because we reverse God’s decision-making order. We become pitiful beggars, groveling before the pathetic thrones of materialistic idols. We become mastered by our appetites and become slaves to our possessions. Our goods become our gods! What a tragedy!

The worst detriment to the cause of Christ is God’s people holding onto the world with one hand and to Him with the other. Many of us are spiritual schizophrenics, trying to live with dual life-styles and personalities. The disoriented Christian is miserable. The world looks at the backslidden, idolatrous believer and thinks he has never been saved!

Mahatma Gandhi, had he become a Christian, could have won millions of Indians to Christ. Perhaps no one man has had more impact of his country than Gandhi did on India. Late in his life he observed, “I would have become a Christian had it not been for Christians.” What an indictment of unconcerned Christianity!

Now, the question is no longer why but what. What can you and I do about this impulsive behavior? What can we do about this maddening inconsistency, this ride on a spiritual see-saw? Up and down. Up and down.

This sounds so simplistic – but it works. We can repent. And what is repentance? It is a change of mind which affects a change of heart that affects a change of volition. We do what we do because we have been making our decisions in the wrong processes, and we must willingly change our minds – repent. Here I am not speaking about repentance in connection with salvation, unless, of course, you are not a Christian. But Christians are commanded to repent. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16; see also Rev. 2:5; Rev. 3:3, 19). Believers are continually called on to change their attitudes and their minds.

To this day there is a difference of opinion about the true spiritual condition of the Prodigal Son when he left home. Was he saved or lost? Was he merely a backslider or was he unregenerate? Many are inclined to believe that he presents a picture of the backslider who falls out of fellowship with his Heavenly Father, but I am not going to split hairs.

What counts most of all is that the Father was willing to receive his wayward son. Luke 15 deals arrestingly with three parables – first, the story of the lost sheep; second, the story of the lost coin; and third, the story of the Prodigal (or lost) Son. After the boy traveled to that “far country,” he dissipated his resources. That is often the case of a country boy who goes away to “the big city.” He wants to do everything and buy everything in sight.

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself [author’s italics], he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants(Luke 15:14-19).

Down in that hog pen, that boy was really asking, Why did I do this? Why did I act like this? His admiration had guided his affection; his affection had governed his attitude; and his attitude had guaranteed his action. As a result he was eating swine feed instead of a sweet feast with his father. Right there in that sty, he repented: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” (v. 18). That was a clear-cut statement of repentance. How was he enabled to make stand? The previous verse indicates: “And when he came to himself, he said . . .” Only by that realization was he able to repent.

He changed his mind. When he changed his mind, his volition – his will – changed. The remainder of the parable (vv. 20-32) details his going home, his heartfelt reception by his father, and the resentment of his older brother.

Size up the ingredients of the Prodigal’s odyssey. He regretted his deed. He blamed himself for his sin. He acknowledged his father’s right to be displeased, confessing, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son” (v. 21b). He had already resolved to make it right before leaving the swill and the swine.

What can we do about our impulsive behavior? How can we do away with having to ask ourselves the embarrassing question, Why did I do that? Regret your impulsiveness. Lay all of your impulses at the feet of Jesus. Acknowledge your sin of impetuosity. Recognize that God has a right to be displeased. Vow that you will stop letting emotions dictate rather than your mind controlled by the Holy Spirit. Allow the Word of God to shape every aspect of your life, including your decision-making.

The overriding question is: Who will you serve? You cannot serve two. You will never have victory over impulsive behavior until the ownership of your life is straightened out. Does Jesus Christ have you? Repent and serve the living Lord only. Step by step you will trace the rainbow through the rain . . . to victory and triumph.

Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain

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