You have heard it said that money is the root of all evil: that is incorrect. Money, wealth, possessions themselves are not evil, but the pursuit of these things: greed, spawns evil. For where our treasure lies, here also will be our heart.
What is treasure?
The traditional image of treasure being chests of coins and jewels is a little archaic for a modern discussion of this topic. Today’s treasure tends to be comprised of things like a fat bank account (modern-day equivalent of a chest of coins), a big fancy home, a snazzy car, a killer wardrobe, and all the latest tech toys. When taken individually they may not seem terribly imposing, but when taken en masse they can indicate a problem.
The real question becomes one of want vs need and where your focus lies. Matthew 6 says:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is just a piece of a larger discussion which you can read on-line: Matthew 6:19-31 or in your own Bible. I will refer to some of it, but will not quote the entire passage here.
The Lamp of the Body
The next passage talks about the eye being the lamp of the body. If the eye is good or bad determines whether your body is filled with light or darkness. This refers to where your focus in life is: what draws your eye. If the focus of your attention is acquiring possessions: treasure, you lean into greed and greed is a whirlpool that once it draws you in is difficult to get out of. If you look at some shiny bauble — be it a pair of shoes, the latest iPhone, a high-def TV, or a car — and think, “I must have that” you might have a greed problem. If acquiring that bauble will put you into debt (or deeper into debt, as is often the case) you definitely have a greed problem, and your eye is not fixed where it ought to be.
Is having nice things a sin?
No. Having nice things is not a sin. Jesus said He came to bring us life and life in abundance. Be careful with this though, for He said LIFE in abundance, not stuff. It may well be that stuff will come, but if so it is because you have handled it well. If you do well in managing a little, God will give you more (Matthew 25:14-30).
They key is in managing your treasure properly, and this is where greed gets in the way. You cannot properly manage what God has given you if you think it’s all for you. Verse 24 is the often quoted passage, “No one can serve two masters; … You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon being wealth. If you pursue wealth, you will exclude God. If you exclude God, you may end up getting rich (Satan can give gifts too) but in the end, what does it benefit you if you own the whole world, but lose your soul? (Matthew 16-26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25)
There is often more at stake than your soul, more immediate costs. Proverbs 23:4-5 says:
4 Do not overwork to be rich;
Because of your own understanding, cease!
5 Will you set your eyes on that which is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings;
They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.
How many times have we heard the story of parents who worked so hard to give their children the best life possible that the children barely knew them? How many marriages have broken up over neglect because one was never home, but always working? The intentions may be good, but the results are disastrous. It is far better to do with less and have a strong family than to pursue “the good life” and end up alone.
Do Not Worry
This passage also says a good deal about not worrying about your needs: “what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.” Jesus uses birds and flowers to illustrate how well God can care for you, if you pursue the things of God not worldly desires.
32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The word Gentiles here refers to non-believers, not non-jews. The worldly seek after worldly pleasures and worldly treasures.
Luke 12 also talks about this topic as Jesus tells a parable about a rich man whose fields yielded a crop so abundant his barns could not hold it all. But rather than sharing his blessings with others, he determined to build larger barns and keep it all for himself, only to be called by death shortly afterward. Jesus said:
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” 22 Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. 23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.
Instructions to the rich
1 Timothy 6:17-19 offers instruction to those who have been blessed with worldly wealth:
17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
In Matthew 19 Jesus counsels a rich young man who wants to know how to get into heaven. He is fine with following rules, but when his wealth is laid on the block, he walks away in despair. Jesus tells his disciples:
“Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Note that He does not say it’s impossible – for with God all things are possible – but if one’s focus is on the wealth and not on God, you might as well be that camel. The riches of this world offer a temporary comfort, the riches of God are eternal. Do not get drawn aside by the shiny baubles of this world. If God has blessed you generously, be generous in supporting the work of God in this world.
Advice for the humble
And if you are not rich in a worldly sense, does his mean God disapproves of you? Hebrews 13:5-6 offers:
5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”[a] 6 So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”[b]
If you feel you have been snubbed by God in regards to physical blessings, take a look at Jesus. Who has ever been closer to or more blessed by God, yet once he started his ministry, he had no home. He and his followers built no cathedral, they walked everywhere they went, and they had no entourage toting along their wardrobes. Theirs was a simple life.
Paul, who started out as Saul: a Pharisee and a rich man, spent his life after meeting Jesus traveling the Mediterranean rim with a few friends, preaching the Gospel and surviving through the kindness of others. Next to Jesus, Paul was the most influential man of his day, yet he lived an indigent life.
Those who followed Jesus and The Way in that first century were known for their sacrificial generosity. This was necessary, especially among the Jewish converts, because becoming “Christian” (a term not used until later) meant being thrown out of their synagogue, being shunned personally and professionally by other Jews, and being disowned by their family and Jewish friends.
Yet all of these people considered themselves blessed by God. As should we, as long as we live in accordance with God’s commands He looks after us. We may not all be rich by worldly standards, but our treasure in heaven is abundant.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.