The Problem No One Admits
Of all the issues people have brought to me for counseling, I have never had anyone confess to me the sin of greed or materialism.
But if there is one issue that represents a tumor of unbelief that produces spiritual gangrene in the soul, it is an idolatrous dependency on money and possessions to bring us identity, security, peace, and joy.
In this second post in The Generosity Challenge, we face our idolatrous dependency head-on, discovering that addiction to material prosperity leads to an identity, security, peace, and joy that is built upon shifting sand.
What we are going to discover is that liberation from the love of money will birth within us a spiritual prosperity that nothing can steal, tarnish, or diminish in any way — not a downturn in the market, not the loss of a job, or any possession we own.
What Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:19–24 has the power to set us free from the love of money so that we can more fully experience the love of God.
We begin in verses 19–20 with…
1. An Investment Strategy
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Jesus does not rebuke us for storing up treasure. The concern is where we store it. He mentions two options that represent two investment strategies. One, storing up wealth on earth. The other, storing up wealth in heaven — two investment strategies that produce vastly different dividends.
For example, accumulating worldly possessions today would be like stockpiling Confederate money in the early 1860s. It soon would be worthless. It is the same way with storing up financial wealth on earth now. Eventually, it will be worthless — just like Confederate currency.
But Jesus says it is possible to invest in a way that secures our wealth rather than wasting it.
He calls this plan, storing up treasure in heaven, where the dividends are not temporal, but eternal, making Kingdom-minded investments far wiser than worldly investments.
But how do we invest in the Kingdom of God?
How to Invest in the Kingdom
The obvious application is funding the work of God’s Kingdom on earth by supporting the local church with financial resources. A less obvious way to store up treasure in heaven is by giving to those in need of food, clothes, education, medical treatment, or even just a word of appreciation and encouragement.
In Matthew 25:33–40, Jesus said,
33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
How cool is it to think that everything I give in these ways, whether in a check or through compassion to someone in need, that I am not just giving, I am investing.
As we consider how we will invest God’s resources, Jesus wants us to know that there are other benefits to storing up dividends in heaven.
One is that…
2. Money is a Heart Magnet
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Don’t we expect Jesus to say just the opposite? He doesn’t say where your heart is your treasure will follow. He says where your treasure is your heart will follow.
For example, if you buy stock in Apple, you will become very interested in following everything about the company — sales figures and product launches. You will watch it’s stock values and feel secure and hopeful when the value rises and feel anxious when it falls.
As Jesus says, your heart follows your treasure.
Last year, we bought a brand new Honda CRV. Our other vehicle is a mini-van we bought in 2002. It now has over 300,000 miles on it and runs on occasion. My anxiety level is markedly different when I drive those automobiles into a crowded parking lot. With the van, I’ll squeeze between two SUVs without a second thought. But not the CRV. I’ll drive around for ten minutes looking for the most remote space on the lot away from carts and other cars.
Eventually, I will park the CRV between the SUVs. Why? Because newness will wear off. Whether a car, a phone, a computer, clothes, home decor, sporting equipment, shoes, whatever — the newness always wears off and we find ourselves wanting newer and better.
Am I saying not to buy a new car or other stuff or not to update your kitchen with new appliances? No, no, no.
I’m just describing reality — that the feeling of identity, security, peace, and joy that the new once promised wears off. Investing in the things of this world will never satisfy the soul. It is like following a mirage, we’ll be on a perpetual search for the elusive living water — which is only found in Jesus, who himself is living water for the soul.
Here is the principle. If you want to have a heart for God, give back to God. If you want a heart for the poor, give to the poor. If you want to have a heart for world missions, give to missions.
Take out your tax records and see how much was donated to church and charity. That is one way to determine where your heart really is. As Jesus says, follow the money trail and you will find what you really love. It is there that your true God will be revealed.
The other way to find out which is your true God is to take…
3. An Eye Exam
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
I didn’t have my first eye exam until I was in my forties after I noticed that I was holding books and menus farther away from my face than I had in the past. Not only had I developed nearsightedness but I also had astigmatism, which was affecting my distance vision.
The day I picked up my first pair of corrective lenses and put them on my face was like a new birth. I could see! Leaves had edges. I could read road signs. And even better, I could read books again without getting headaches.
In the same way that I had no idea I needed glasses, many of us have no idea that we have an idolatrous dependency on money and possessions as our functional savior and lord?
So, how can I know if I am an idolator of money? Just ask three simple, analytical questions:
- First, are you human? Due to the presense of the sin nature within all of us, our natural propensity is to find our identity, security, peace, and joy in money and what is promises.
- Second, if you can’t rest until you possess some new item upon which you have set your heart, you are an idolator.
- Third, how freely do you give? Do you give begrudgingly or gladly? Do you give as little as you can or as much as you can? Does the thought of giving things away bring you a sense of joy or anxiety?
Jesus’s use of light and darkness emphasizes how extensive the implications of this exam are. He is saying that how we view money and possessions is not a compartmentalized part of our lives. But rather, like a room is either filled with light or devoid of light, how I view money and possessions will influence every other area of my life.
Here is the point. If I lack generosity, I don’t just have a giving problem, I have a spiritual problem that extends to the core of my soul that will manifest itself with symptoms of anxiety, envy, covetousness, unrest, lies, anger, and even violence. Rather than an abundance mentality, I will live with a scarcity mentality, not believing that my Father is able to care for me as he provides for the birds.
We may not like the results of this spiritual eye exam, but the results are intended for our good so that we can face…
4. The Bottom Line
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
When asked who your favorite college football team is, nobody who cares is going to say Alabama and Auburn. Georgia and Florida. Michigan and Ohio State.
Even in marriages where the house is divided, it is divided. You can’t be devoted to both at the same time. At some point, you have to choose sides.
It is the same way spiritually.
For those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, we cannot be devoted to Jesus and money. The word money in verse 24 is translated in some Bible versions as Mamon, as if money is being personified as a master whom one serves as a devoted subject, believing that this “god” will provide the identity, security, peace, and joy that their soul craves.
Yet, let’s be clear. The root of the issue is devotion. Like we said last week, the problem is not money, possessions, or wealth. Money is not evil. The problem is our tendency to turn money, possessions, and wealth into a god of sorts.
Just like food, money is necessary for living. But just like gluttony may be a problem concerning food, greed may be a problem when it comes to money.
Just because I struggle with gluttony does not mean I should give up food. I need to establish a new relationship with food. In the same way, we do not need to quit our jobs, give sell our possessions, and give everything away.
We need to establish a new relationship with money and possessions.
But how do we do that? We establish a new relationship with money and possessions by establishing a new relationship with the God of our money and possessions.
At a fundamental level, we are faced with a choice. We will love Jesus or love Mamon. We have to make a choice.
What helps us make this choice is asking a question— not which master am I devoted to but which master is devoted to me?
When we ask the question like that, the master worthy of devotion is the one who has shown devotion to me, and in a dramatic, sacrificial way by giving himself for me unto death on a cross, rescuing from the consequences of my idolatry by becoming the idolator in my place.
The cross shows us that Jesus is the Lord who is also a Savior.
In view of his devotion to you, having chosen Jesus as the object of your own devotion, the next step in establishing a new relationship with him is to make a definitive break with our love of money.
Just start giving.
- Start giving to the church. Try online giving. It is so easy. My family uses the recurring giving option so that we don’t miss.
- Donate clothes to a local charity.
- Take a college student out to lunch.
- Pay for a young couple with small children to have a babysitter and go out on a date. As a bonus, give them spending money for dinner.
We know that actions speak more loudly than words. I can say Jesus is my Lord but my relationship with him will be proved by what I do with money and possessions.
A Stunning $13 Gift
In his book, Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper relates the story of an American named Stanford Kelly, who, while doing missionary work in Haiti, attended a Thanksgiving worship service. Everyone present at the service was invited to bring a love offering that would be used to help others in the community.
One of the gifts was delivered in a white envelope from a man named Edmund. Inside the envelope was a gift of $13. For most of us, that would be a really small gift. But in Haiti at the time, $13 represented three months wages for a day laborer — the equivalent of a $6,000–8,000 donation in US currency.
Stanford Kelly noticed that while Edmund’s gift was present, Edmund wasn’t.
As he combed the community looking for Edmund, Kelly finally found him and inquired why he had not attended the service. The impoverished Haitian finally confessed that he had sold his horse for $13 in order to have a gift to present at the Thanksgiving service. But he didn’t attend because he didn’t own a shirt.
Edmund had given everything he received from the sale of the horse to help others.
Where does that kind of generosity come from?
It comes from someone who knows that God didn’t just sell a horse as a love gift but gave his own Son as a substitute for our moral poverty.
In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
This transaction of riches for poverty took place on a cross, where Jesus gave everything, not just to help us, but to save us — to replace our filthy rags of sin with a garment of perfect righteousness.
In his crucifixion, he is stripped of his own shirt, beaten, and hung to die in our place so that we can be clothed with his moral record. As we wear that garment as our identity, security, peace, and joy, we begin to realize what Jesus has done.
Through his act of unfathomable generosity, he has stored up for himself treasure in heaven.
What is that treasure?
You. You are his treasure.
Now, when we give to support his Kingdom on earth we store up treasure in heaven — just like Jesus.
- Why do you think people are willing to talk about almost anything on a personal level… except for their finances? Why do you think that so private?
- But what about our kids? Don’t they need it? Good question. What do they really need?
- How can we respond to someone who says, “All the church ever does is ask for money?”
- Some of us think that we can have it both ways, holding onto Jesus and holding onto our stuff. Why is this not possible?
- Read 2 Corinthians 8:7–9. How does Jesus’s example provide the motivation for financial generosity?