Read Matthew 6:19-24
One of the things Jesus talked about most often was money. There is a reason for that. Money is extraordinarily powerful and Jesus wants us to make good choices.
Notice how each paragraph contrasts two things: two treasure: treasure on earth, treasure in heaven, two types of eyes: healthy and unhealthy eyes, and two masters: money and God. Each of them is about a choice: where we store up treasure – on earth or in heaven; which sort of eyes we will have (and we will come back to that because it is not altogether clear); which master we will serve.
And each of those choices has a consequence. If you store up treasure on earth, you will end up with nothing. If you store up treasure in heaven, you will end up with treasure in heaven. What is more, your heart will follow your treasure, so the choice really is heaven or earth. The consequence of the paragraph about the eyes is light or darkness. The consequences of whether we serve God or money… Well it is not stated but what do you think it is?
Each of those consequences is eternal, isn’t it? Jesus isn’t talking about choices of little consequence where it doesn’t really matter what we choose. He is talking about eternity. He is talking about choices that make an eternal difference.
He is also talking about choices that should be very straight-forward; very logical – but somehow aren’t. Somehow there are powerful forces that pull us away from what makes perfect sense.
In verses 19 to 21 Jesus talks about money and possessions. He draws our attention to something very obvious. Treasures on earth are subject to decay whereas treasures in heaven are not. So which is the better investment? It is obvious, isn’t it? If you are looking for security, it would be really stupid to invest in things that will not last. In Jesus’ time the risks were much greater than they are for us. Food rotted quickly. Clothes got eaten by moths. Possessions wore out quickly. Metals corroded. If they buried something in the ground to keep it safe, worms would probably eat it. If nothing else, someone might steal it.
But our wealth is eaten away by inflation or depreciation or a financial collapse. We have fridges to keep our food longer but even fridges seem to always have green furry things in them. Stuff decays, or someone steals it. The more stuff we have, the more we have to spend money to keep it safe. But even if we could protect it, we cannot take it with us. As Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21) Earthly possessions are very, very temporary.
Heavenly treasures last for ever. Jesus here says they are stored where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal (v.20). Peter says that God has given us an inheritance that can never “perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).
So, which is the better investment? Isn’t it obvious? And yet we are pulled towards earthly treasures. Materialism is the idol of the western world. We like having stuff. We want more stuff. We are pulled towards the stuff we can see and touch rather than the invisible treasures we must trust God for.
It is important to realise what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying it is wrong to have possessions. Many godly people in the Bible had possessions. Some were quite wealthy. Sometimes possessions are seen as a sign of God’s blessing. He is not saying it is wrong to make, or invest, money. Think of the parable of the talents. The faithful servants are praised for having invested widely and having made money. He is not saying it is wrong to save. We are, for example to provide for our families. Saving enables us to do that. He is not saying it is wrong to enjoy God’s creation and God’s gifts.
He is saying it is wrong to be greedy and miserly. Put the emphasis on “for yourselves”. Do not story up for yourselves treasures on earth.” He is talking about a selfish accumulation of wealth; about covetousness: always wanting more.
John Wesley had three rules regarding possessions: Make as much as you can. Save as much as you can – not mean accumulate as much as you can but economise as much as you can. Give as much as you can.
It is that third instruction that reveals the heart. Why do I want more possessions? Is it because I want more possessions or is it because I can then invest in other people or invest in God’s work?
But even Christians who say they want to make money to use for God, sometimes don’t actually use it for God. They think, “I just need to make a little bit more and then I’ll invest in the Kingdom.” Money deceives. Money twists our thinking. Money grabs hold of us.
1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
It is not the money necessarily; it is the love of money – although the two are not far apart. It is hard to have money and not fall in love with it. Even those who don’t have money easily fall in love with it – fall in love with the idea of having it.
As Paul said to Timothy, it can be very destructive of faith. Money can lure people away from God. That is what Jesus said: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. John Stott says, that “materialism tethers our hearts to the earth”. Materialism makes us worldly.
We are either in love with the things of this world or we are in love with the things of God. Which is it for you? Where is your heart? What do you love most? What do you dream about? What do you long for?
What might be treasure in heaven? Clearly, Jesus isn’t talking about earning our way into heaven. We are saved through faith in Him but the evidence of that faith is then seen in these sorts of questions? What do you dream about?
What can we take to heaven? Maybe our character; who we are. Developing a godly character might be the sort of emphasis that provides for us eternal treasure. Paul says that faith, hope and love “remain”. Almost certainly it means sharing the gospel so that there will be people in heaven because of us. Imagine the joy of meeting people in heaven who say, “I’m here because of you. I’m here because you told me about Jesus or you helped me to live for Jesus.” Using our money for Christian purposes – for the Kingdom of God – will produce treasures that last forever.
What do you dream about? Buying something new? Reaching a savings goal? Or people” Lives changed for eternity?
Next Jesus talks about our eyes. This is an image. He is not really talking about physical eyes and there is not really light inside our bodies if our eyes are good. But it is a powerful image. It contrasts sight with blindness; light and darkness. In life, so much depends on what we can see. Jesus uses that image to ask “How healthy are your eyes?” The health is really about what we look at.
The NIV translation has footnotes that say that the word for “healthy” (as in, “if your eyes are healthy”) implies “generous”; If your eyes are generous. And the word translated “unhealthy” implies “stingy or miserly” so there is a strong link with the previous paragraph about our use of our money. To set your eye on something means to set your heart on it. If we say, “He has his eye on something” we mean he want it.
When a young man falls in love with a young woman, one of the most obvious signs to others might be that he cannot take his eyes off of her. He just keep looking at her. But it can be the same with possessions. A person might just gaze longingly at something he/she desires, and not be able to look away – be transfixed by that object of desire. How many men have had motor accidents as they have driven past a gorgeous woman or even a gorgeous car?
If your eyes are miserly, you look at the things you want. If your eyes are generous, you look for people to whom you might give? Are you looking for opportunities to gain or for opportunities to give?” One will fill your life with darkness. The other will fill your life with light.
The third image is of two masters and the subject is still money – because one of the possible masters is money. Actually, the word here is Mammon. If you have an NIV you might notice that Money is given an uppercase “M”. It is more than just money. It is the god “money”. Jesus makes that clear because He describes it as something that we serve. It is an idol; something that we worship and give our lives to.
The main point is that we cannot serve money and God. It has to be one or the other.
This is what makes the choice so crucial. People think that they can do both. They can give part of their life to making money and being comfortable and still do enough to keep God happy. Jesus says that is not possible because He is not talking about partial service; He is talking about total allegiance. Love isn’t “like a little bit”. Love is love. Love is passionate. If we are passionate about God, we will hate money. Money is a false god. Money can be used well but it has such a power that it easily corrupts the person who shows interest. Money is like a prostitute. You could have a friendship with a prostitute but… Do you know what I mean?
If you are passionately in love with God, you will hate the idea of sex with a prostitute and you will avoid that temptation. If you are passionately in love with God, you will hate the deception of money. In the parable of the sower, one of the things that choke the life of the new Christian is “the deceitfulness of wealth”. Don’t you hate the power of money to lead people into hell?
Conversely, if you love money, you will hate God – because God will always challenge that love. God will look you in the eye and ask questions about that love of money. The person who says, “Leave me alone. Don’t challenge me about my money” loves the money and rejects God.
We have to choose. It cannot be both. The choice is between heaven or earth, light or darkness, God or a false god, security or decay, eternity or this life only. Do you see how this ties in with all of the previous things in this chapter? Rewards now or rewards later?
Let me repeat, we are not saved by our attitude to money. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ who died for us. But our attitude to money is a litmus test of whether or not we are saved. Martin Luther, the great reformer of 500 years ago, said that there are three conversions that take place: the conversion of our head, the conversion of our heart and the conversion of our wallet. Others have said that we are not really converted until our wallets are converted.
Consider these two advertisements (from the BNZ). If Jesus was making a similar ad, what would he say at the end?