These posts are rough summaries of the Sunday messages.
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.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Whenever we talk about money it can get awkward. Why is that?
For one thing, there is a good deal of cynicism about the way Christians handle money. From eye-wateringly wealthy worldwide denominations to slick TV evangelists in white suits, there are plenty of reasons to take issue. (But this is all the more reason why we must look again at what Jesus has to say.) Further, a lot of us face the day-to-day anxiety of how our finances are going. Far from worrying about where to store all the excess money we’re earning, many of us are not quite sure if we’ll stay out of debt, or get out of debt we're already in. (This anxiety is something we’ll be thinking about next time we look at the Sermon on the Mount.) And of course, there is widespread feeling the money is a very private subject, not least because we all feel judged from every angle; we feel judged by those who are poorer than us for having more, and by those who are richer than us for having less. But in spite of the awkwardness of the subject, we absolutely must look at what Jesus has to say, and keep our hearts open.
Let me begin by clarifying what he is not saying. Jesus is not saying it’s wrong to have savings and possessions (see Proverbs 6.6-8), a decent job to take care of your family (see 1 Timothy 5.8), or indeed that it’s wrong to be wealthy. On the contrary, we often find that wealth can be one of God’s blessings on his servants. Just look at Abraham, Job, or Solomon.
Instead, Jesus is laying his axe to root of our motivations in wanting to become wealthier. John Stott puts it well:
What Jesus forbids his followers is the selfish accumulation of goods (NB ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth’); extravagant and luxurious living; the hardheartedness which does not feel the colossal need of the world’s underprivileged people; the foolish fantasy that a person’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions; and the materialism which tethers our hearts to the earth.
The Biblical view is that money is not the problem; our hearts are the problem. Money (like power) is a magnifier of what’s in our hearts, so that the more you have, the more potential for sin or for good. This is clear from Paul’s words to the wealthy in 1 Timothy 6.17-19 which begin with the dangers of wealth:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches…
So being wealthy (unsurprisingly) puts you in danger of becoming proud and self-sufficient. But then Paul immediately adds the amazing opportunities of wealth:
…but [they should set their hearts] on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Turning back to Jesus’ words, there are four ideas he wants us to understand about money.
1. Your wealth cannot last on earth (but can in heaven)
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. (v.19-20)
The watch company, Patek Philippe, has a famous slogan that goes like this: You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation. Jesus’ version is similar: You never actually own anything. You merely look after your stuff for the benefit of moths, oxidisation, and thieves.
We all know the truth of what Jesus is saying – that amassing wealth is futile in the end – but we are nevertheless tempted to keep doing it. We often have thoughts like this: If I just had that… Or, If we could just save that much… If your lifestyle and spending is indistinguishable from those around you who are not followers of Jesus, something is badly wrong. Your knowledge of heaven ought to vastly alter how you view spending and giving in this life.
Jesus is proposing that we lay up our money in a rock-solid bond, but there is a catch in that the bond does not mature until we die (and hence, it requires great faith to invest).
How do we invest? Partly through giving, but that is not the only way. It’s not as though only the rich get to accumulate treasures in heaven. Those who have laid aside their opportunity for wealth by obeying the call of God and serving him in humble circumstances will surely be rewarded in the same way.
What would it look like if we deliberately sought to invest where our money will last? We’d ask questions like this: How does my spending affect my character? How does my spending affect other souls eternally? How does my spending draw me to Jesus?
2. Your heart follows your wealth
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (v.21)
There is a famous proverb that goes like this: ‘Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life’ (Proverbs 4.23). The springs of life that flow from our hearts are all the desires that drive us: our ambitions, our passions, our loves. If we learn to guard our hearts then good things will flow from them.
But how can we guard our hearts? One answer is to guard where we invest our treasure, because our hearts will follow our treasure.
There is a phenomenon psychologists have observed called ‘sunk cost bias’. Essentially it means this. If you take ten families who have booked a cheap holiday for a particular week in the year, and then write to them and offer them an expensive and superior holiday completely free on those exact same dates, most of those families will choose to go with the cheap holiday because they’ve spent hard-earned money on it. If you look at the situation with cold logic, you know that’s stupid. But our hearts naturally bias towards the things we have already invested in.
This sunk cost bias is constantly at work when it comes to making decisions about obedience to Jesus. We have already invested in that relationship, or that career, or that mortgage; we can hardly turn our back on those things even if what Christ offers is superior.
Our hearts follow our treasure, even to our own detriment.
But this can be turned to our advantage in two ways. First, you can overcome this bias by seeing it for what it is. When you understand that your heart will pull you towards the things you’ve spent years investing in, you can choose not to listen to your heart and instead listen to Jesus. (There are countless examples of people who have given up everything they had achieved in order to hand their lives over completely to Christ.) Second, you can make this bias work for you instead of against you by deliberately investing in the things of God. As you pour your time, talents, and money into the kingdom, you are putting your treasure where you want your heart to be. Your ‘sunk cost bias’ will be working in the right direction.
3. Your life is filled by what you look at
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (v.22-23)
We know from day-to-day life that the things we see can very quickly consume us. If we watch a lot of sport, it dominates our free time and emotions. If we look at products we want (or keep clicking on those online shops) soon we can’t rest until we’ve purchased that thing. If we look at food we get hungry. If we keep pulling out that photo of the person we love, our affections grow.
Jesus is saying that what we focus upon in life will fill us, whether for good or for bad, whether with light or with darkness. We may be filled with the darkness of lies (like the lie of consumerism), or of temptation (let me just look one more time), or of death as we devote ourselves to this material world over against devoting ourselves to Jesus. On the other hand, we may be filled with the light of truth and the freedom it brings (that Christ is enough), or of purity, or of life.
It all comes down to this question: What are you looking at? Jesus wants us to have a healthy eye (literally, a ‘single’ eye). It means we need to focus on the right thing without wavering, and that means taking great care not to let this material world pull us away from a pure devotion to Jesus.
4. You have to choose one God
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (v.24)
A ‘god’ is a ruling or governing force in your life. It does not need to be a physical, carved idol. Money is one such potential idol because of the massive control it exerts over so many people; we devote ourselves to it, giving our lives in pursuit of it as acts of worship and consecration. That is why many have remarked that modern shopping centres are the new temples, and our careers the new form of priestly devotion.
Worship is a form of love, and like marital love, it must be exclusive if it is to be meaningful. That is why God speaks this way:
I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols. (Isaiah 42.8)
By splitting our allegiance between God and money, we are doing two things: First, we’re committing adultery, allowing our hearts to be drawn away from the exclusive love that God wants. Second, we are denying the very nature of God. By elevating our man-made idols to his level we are pulling him down from his place of supremacy, and so denying his very nature as the one true God.
But Jesus has every right to call us to total devotion and worship. He alone has died for us. That is why Paul writes, ‘Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body’ (1 Corinthians 6.19-20). Similarly, Peter writes, ‘… you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Peter 1.18-19). Jesus has bought us at the cost of his own life. And so he alone can call us to lay down our idols – including our love of money – and give our lives to him.