The world is full of Christians who are trying precisely to serve both God and money. So many of us think we can have it both ways. We have deceived ourselves in this area.
If you are going to stop serving money, you have to stop worrying about it, and instead, start trusting God to give you and your family what you need.
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Matthew #20 . Chapter 6:21-34
Jesus has just finished instructing his disciples – that includes us, today – to avoid acting religious in order to win praise and admiration from other people. We should, give, pray and fast in order to grow closer to God. He concludes this section, and transitions to the next one with these words:
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If we seek after the praise of other people, we are seeking an earthly “treasure.” Praise and admiration from others does not last. It’s almost like a drug. You are never satisfied – you keep needing more. People can forget about you. They can change their opinions about you. People who admire you can even die, without being replaced by new admirers. The praise of others is a quickly decaying treasure.
Now, let’s talk about the word “treasure.” The Greek word for treasure, or treasury is “thesauros” which instantly brings a smile and a nod to any writer; we know that words are a treasure. But actually, this word does not mean anything like “dictionary of words with similar meanings.” It refers to storing things up by keeping them someplace that is supposed to be safe. You put what you most want to preserve and protect and own in a thesauros. Jesus says, your treasury, your fire-proof safe, should be in heaven. If you are working to acquire, save and protect things here on earth, then your focus will be here, not heaven. Not only that, but your efforts will be ultimately completely useless, since what is on earth does not last.
Jesus adds to this metaphor with this thought:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness — how deep is that darkness!
I’ve often felt that this comment seems out of place right here. But I think what Jesus was saying is something like this:
“Your eyes show your body where to go and what to do. If they are no good, your whole body is in trouble. In the same way, your hopes, goals and ambitions, what you value, where you place your treasure – these things show your soul where to go and what to do. They are like your ‘spiritual eyes.’ And if your ‘spiritual eyes’ are dark or blinded, your whole soul, your very being, is in deep trouble!”
Jesus then applies these two thoughts to money, which, according to Him, is another worthless, quickly-decaying treasure. Pursuing it reveals that we have problems in our “spiritual eyes.”
“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.
The word “slave” here (repeated twice) is the Greek word “douleuein.” It can mean “be in devoted service” or “yield to.”
Let me be blunt. The world is full of Christians who are trying precisely to serve both God and money. So many of us think we can have it both ways. So many of us deceive ourselves in this area. We convince ourselves that we aren’t really serving money – we certainly aren’t slaves to it (we think, indignantly). And we think, why can’t we have both? Sure, we’re here to serve God. Sure, we trust Jesus to give us eternal life. But what is wrong with the goal of having a little extra money to spare while we wait for heaven? I mean, it isn’t really even to spare, when you think about it. What if I have an emergency? I’m just being responsible.
But it’s funny how “responsibility” grows and grows. Particularly in America, we tend to get involved in all sorts of financial things like swimming pools, boats, unnecessarily large and fancy houses, expensive vacations, vacation homes, beautiful cars, fancy phones and computers. Then, we justify our service to money by saying we are only being responsible.
I don’t think it is wrong in all circumstances for a Christian to own any such thing. But I think we often deceive ourselves about how much we truly are serving money, and about how much of that service is entirely unnecessary.
Here are some helpful questions for determining where you are storing up treasure: Will spending this money make it harder to walk away from what you have invested in? For example, suppose you decide to buy a big beautiful house. Will spending that money, investing in the house, tend to keep you more tied to earthly things? Will it tend to be storing up treasure on earth? Will it strengthen your connection to heaven, or emphasize your connection to this life?
And let’s be honest. If you really don’t care if you have a beautiful house or not, then you probably won’t be particularly motivated to try and acquire it. It may happen that you get one. It may not. You can be grateful and enjoy it, and you can walk away from, knowing that your true treasure never needs a new roof.
We spend a lot of time working for money. Now, the bible is overwhelmingly positive about work, and it clearly teaches that if at all possible, we should take care of the material needs of our families, and to try to help the material needs of those who can’t make it on their own. Here are a few such verses:
But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone. (1Thess 4:10-12, HCSB)
Support widows who are genuinely widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must learn to practice godliness toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God. (1Tim 5:3-4, HCSB) [MY NOTE:In this circumstance, widows and orphans without family were the most vulnerable people in society, with no means to provide for themselves.]
But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1Tim 5:8, HCSB)
Jesus expects families will work to take care of themselves, along with donating money to support ministers (1 Corinthians 9:14), and also helping to take care of the most needy in society. So obviously, most of us will be involved in earning money for much of our lives. Even so, he does not want us to pursue money, or desire it for anything other than the above mentioned purposes. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write to Timothy:
But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But you, man of God, run from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. (1Tim 6:5-11, HCSB)
So let’s reiterate this: you cannot pursue both God and money. Those who want to get rich fall into temptations and traps and often wander from the faith. You cannot make it your ambition to truly follow Jesus, and at the same time, maintain an ambition to be wealthy.
You may get wealthy as you follow Jesus. If you happen to become wealthy while you live your life as Jesus’ disciple, committing yourself fully to Him and His purposes, it’s probably not a problem. If your goal is never money, but always Jesus, then you might be able to handle wealth in a spiritually appropriate way.
But I have to be honest with you. Most people don’t get wealthy by following Jesus. It could happen, but following Jesus is not a reliable means to financial prosperity. Jesus himself was never wealthy. It didn’t work out for wealth for Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathaniel, Simon, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, or Thaddaeus – the eleven faithful apostles. The other close disciples of Jesus who failed to become wealthy include: Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, James (the half-brother of Jesus). In fact, we know for sure that there were very few wealthy Christians during the time of the New Testament.
If what you really want is wealth, or even really good financial security, I think you need to make a choice between that and Jesus. That is, after all, what Jesus Himself is saying here: you can’t serve both God and money. So decide which one it is, and if it is money, you might as well stop pretending it is God. It’s not like He doesn’t know. Now, I’m not saying that this can never be a struggle. Of course it is a struggle. But you will wear yourself out, and never win any part of the struggle if you going on deceiving yourself by thinking that you can have both the ambition to follow Jesus, and also the ambition to be wealthy. He isn’t saying that it is easy. But I think he is saying that it is easier if you give up one or other.
Read Jesus’ words yourself, and see if there’s any other way to interpret them without twisting them around.
Now, we get to the good stuff. I like the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) puts it:
“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money. This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:24-25, HCSB)
No one can serve both God and money. This is why Jesus says, “don’t worry about material things.” If you are going to stop serving money, you have to stop worrying about it, and instead, start trusting God to give you and your family what you need. On the flip side, if you want to stop worrying about money, you have stop making it your ambition to be wealthy. You have to stop serving money.
If you want to get wealthy, you will worry about money. If your spiritual eye is focused on something other than Jesus, then you are letting yourself in for worry. There is no way to stop worrying about money as long as money is one of your goals. Even if money is only part of your ambition, simply a means to an end, you will end up worrying about it. [By the way, if there is anyone out there who has a real goal that can be achieved with money, and yet is not anxious about money, I want to hear from you. I mean it. I really want to know.]
I know a lot of people who are much wealthier than me (which isn’t hard to be). I even know some folks who make several hundred thousand dollars each year. I know others who could liquidate their assets and have a million dollars cash within a few weeks. One thing that surprised me the first few times I met such people, is that they are very concerned about money. I tend to think that if I had that much, I wouldn’t be worried. But as a matter of fact, these people appear to worry about money even more than I do. Can I say it this way? Money will not bring you peace.
So Jesus says (I repeat) “this is why I tell you not to worry about money.” He wants us to make the Kingdom of God the goal. He wants us to value and treasure things that cannot be destroyed, to rely on eternal plans that cannot fall apart. The way to peace is to give up money as a goal, and even as a means to a goal. Instead, make it our only goal to be his true disciples.
He spends the rest of chapter six painting this in a positive light, encouraging us to trust. He is like a parent, standing in the water, calling to his little child: “Come on jump! It will be fun and refreshing, and I’m right here to catch you. You’ll be safe, and you’ll even have fun!”
He points the birds and the grass, how they are fed and clothed, and says that God cares for us much more than he does for them. The birds don’t have banks, or investments. God simply feeds them day by day. Jesus closes with this statement:
So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear? ’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:18-34, HCSB)
Notice the attitude toward the future. He says “don’t worry, saying, what shall we eat…?” That “shall” indicates a concern for the future. Up until now, I have been provided for every day. What I worry about is the future. And Jesus expressly tells us not to do that, right here.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is calling you today to believe this. Give up your other goals, and make Jesus and His plan for you your only ambition. As you do that, trust Him. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. He cares for you and loves you. Give up worry, and embrace trust.
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