Matthew 6:19-24: How to Handle Money
On Thursday evening I was in the City of London for a meeting of the Amos Trust. On the walked onto the platform of Bank Tube Station, a little bleary eyed, I noticed some of the posters were a little unusual. I didn’t get a chance to work out who had paid for them or what their point was. All down one platform were a series of posters with one common denominator. The word ‘Money’. They seemed to be extolling the virtues of money. Quite appropriate I thought for a tube station called ‘Bank’. Here is a flavour…
“Lack of money is the root of all evil.” George Bernard Shaw.
"When I was young I used to think that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is." Oscar Wilde.
"I have never been in a situation where having money made it worse." Clinton Jones.
"All I ask is the chance to prove that money can't make me happy." Spike Milligan.
"Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping." Bo Derek.
Last night the National Lottery Jackpot was £9 million. What would you do with that kind of money? Do you ever day dream about it? Statistically, scientists have worked out that you are more likely to be hit by a meteor than win the national lottery. There is a better way. Earn it. What would you be prepared to do to earn say £5 million? Let me share an illustration from Max Lucado.
”Attending a game show might not be your idea of a vacation activity, but your kids wanted to go, so you gave in. Now that you're here, you are beginning to enjoy it. The studio frenzy is contagious. The music is upbeat. The stage is colorful. And the stakes are high. "Higher than they've ever been!" The show host brags. "Welcome to ‘What Is Your Price?’" You're just about to ask your spouse if that is his real hair when he announces the pot: "Five million pounds!" The audience needs no prompting; they explode with applause. "It's the richest game in history," the host beams. "Someone today will walk out of here with a cheque for five million!" "Won't be me," you chuckle to your oldest child. "I've never had any luck at luck:" "Shhhh," she whispers, pointing to the stage. "They're about to draw the name:" Guess whose name they call. In the instant it takes to call it, you go from spectator to player. Your kids shriek, your spouse screams, and a thousand eyes watch the pretty girl take your hand and walk you to the stage. Open the curtain!" the host commands. You turn and watch as the curtains part and you gasp at the sight. A bright red wheelbarrow full of money-overflowing with money.
The same girl who walked you to the stage now pushes the wheelbarrow in your direction, parking it in front of you. "Ever seen five million pounds?" asks the pearly toothed host. "Not in a while," you answer. The audience laughs like you were a stand-up comic. "Dig your hands in it;" he invites. "Go ahead, dive in:" You look at your family. One child is drooling, one is praying, and your partner is giving you two thumbs up. How can you refuse? You burrow in up to your shoulders and rise up, clutching a chestful of one-hundredpound notes. "It can be yours. It can be all yours. The choice is up to you. The only question you have to answer is, `What is your price?"' Applause rings again, the band plays, and you swallow hard. Behind you a second curtain opens, revealing a large placard. "What are you willing to give?" is written on the top. The host explains the rules. "All you have to do is agree to one condition and you will receive the money." "Five million pounds!" you whisper to yourself. Not one million or two, but five million. No small sum. Nice nest egg. Five million would go a long way, right? Tuition paid off. Retirement guaranteed. Would open a few doors on a few cars or a new house (or several). You could be quite the benefactor with such a sum. Help a few orphanages. Feed a few nations. Build some church buildings. Suddenly you understand: This is the opportunity of a lifetime. "Take your pick.
Just choose one option and the money is yours. A deep voice from another microphone begins reading the list. "Put your children up for adoption:' "Become a prostitute for a week:" "Give up your British citizenship:" "Abandon your family." "Kill a stranger:" "Have a sex-change operation:" "Leave your spouse:" "That's the list," the host proclaims. "Now make your choice:" The theme music begins, the audience is quiet, and your pulse is racing. You have a choice to make. No one can help you. You are on the stage. The decision is yours. No one can tell you what to pick. But there is one thing I can tell you. I can tell you what others would do. Your neighbors have given their answers. In a national survey in a country not far away people were asked the same question. Many said what they would do.
If money is the gauge of the heart, then this study revealed that money is on the heart of most people. In exchange for £5 million:
3% would put their children up for adoption.
7% would murder for the money.
16% said they would leave their spouse. And wait for it…
25% would abandon their family - for £5 million.
Even more revealing than what people would be prepared to do for five million pounds is that most would do something. Two-thirds of those polled would agree to at least one or more of the options. The majority, in other words, would not leave the stage empty-handed. They would pay the price to own the wheelbarrow. What would you do? Or better, what are you doing? "Get real," you are saying. "I've never had a shot at five million:" Perhaps not, but you've had a chance to make a thousand or a hundred or ten. The amount may not have been the same but the choices are. Which makes the question even more disturbing. Some are willing to give up their family, their faith, or their morals for far less than five million pounds. Jesus had a word for that: greed. Jesus also had a definition for greed. He called it the practice of measuring life by possessions. Greed equates a person's worth with a person's purse. We practice it with everything from the leg room on airplanes to the cc of our cars to the postcode of our address. Have you ever wondered why the first class and the business passengers get on the plane first? So everyone can see what they are missing flying economy. You got a lot = you are a lot. You got a little = you are little. The consequence of such a philosophy is predictable. If you are the sum of what you own, then by all means own it all. No price is too high. No payment is too much. Now, very few would be guilty of blatant greed. Jesus knew that. That's why he cautioned against "all kinds of greed" (Luke 12:15). Greed is relative. Greed is not defined by what something costs; it is measured by what it cost you. If anything costs you your faith, your family, or your integrity, the cost is too high.[i]
Here are a couple of quotes you won’t see on Bank tube station tomorrow morning…
“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” Dorothy Parker, the satirical poet.
And to someone here who this week may have lost several hundred thousand pounds here is a quote from Billy Graham to console you “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” Billy Graham.
Please turn with me to Matthew 6:19-24. In these verses before us today Jesus paints two stark portraits. There are two alternative treasures: Matthew 6:19-21 (on earth and in heaven). There are two opposite bodily conditions : Matthew 6:22-23 (light and darkness). There are two mutually exclusive masters : Matthew 6:24. (God and Money). Jesus wants us to choose well and enjoy a long life. To be stress free and live at peace with ourselves - in harmony with our God and with one another.
To help us choose he asks us three questions.
1. A Question of Treasure - Where is your security? (6:19-21)
2. A Question of Vision - What is your ambition? (6:22-23)
A Question of Loyalty - Who are you serving? (6:24)
Lets examine them one at a time.
1. A Question of Treasure : Where is your Security?
Read 6:19-21. Jesus is comparing the relative durability of two treasures. It ought to be easy to choose which to store up, he implies, because treasures on earth are corruptible and therefore insecure, whereas treasures in heaven are incorruptible and therefore secure. If you were offered two savings accounts - one offering 1% and one offering 25% which would you choose? If our object is to lay up treasure, which will give greater protection against depreciation or deterioration?
It is important to face squarely and honestly the question. What was Jesus prohibiting when he told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? It may help if we began by listing the things Jesus was not forbidding.
1.1 Private Property
is no ban on possessions in themselves. Scripture no where forbids private property.
(see Acts 5:4)
1.2 Insurance Policies
for a rainy day" is not forbidden to Christians either. Life assurance policies
are only a kind of saving by self imposed compulsion. On the contrary, Scripture
praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter,
(Proverbs 6:6) and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family
is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).
1.3 Material Blessing
we are not to despise, but rather to enjoy the good things which our Creator has
given us to enjoy. “Everything God has created is good" says Paul to Timothy. (1
Tim 4:3-4, 6:17)
So neither having possessions, nor making provision for the future, nor enjoying
the gifts of a good Creator are included in the ban on storing earthly treasure.
What then is Jesus talking about?
1.4 Selfish Accumulation
Notice the text says, "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth."
Jesus is criticising extravagant and self-centred living;
the hardness of heart which ignores the cry's of the poor.
Jesus is condemning the foolish fantasy that a person's significance and value is determined by how much we earn, by the clothes we were or the car we drive or our postcode.
In a word, to "lay up treasure on earth" does not mean being provident but being covetous. Jesus is not saying ‘no’ to making sensible provision for the future, but being greedy and always wanting more. "Whenever the Gospel is taught", wrote Luther, "and people seek to live according to it, there are two terrible plagues that always arise: false preachers who corrupt the teaching, and then Sir Greed, who obstructs right living." The earthly treasure we covet, Jesus reminds us, "grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal." (6:19)
We may and try and protect our treasures with insecticides, mouse traps, rustproof paint, padlocks, CCTV, burglar alarms and offshore bank accounts. But even if these measures succeed we are still vulnerable to inflation, devaluation, taxation and disintegration. Even if our treasures carry life-time warranties and guarantees, or we have them buried with us, we cannot take them with us into eternity. Job was right when he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return." If we want to have treasure in heaven - we have to send it on ahead.
Treasure in Heaven
What is this "treasure" in heaven? Jesus doesn't explain, but it must have to do with earthly activity which lasts for eternity.
There are many ways we can make deposits in our spiritual bank account that prepare us for eternity. What shall we be doing in eternity?
Deposit 1: Worship
Bill Hybel says, “One joy-filled investment plan is the commitment to be a regular and passionate worshiper. Worship is never wasteful in the eyes of God. Every act of private and corporate worship is a deposit in your heavenly bank account.” May I encourage you to make deposits daily in private and weekly with your Christian family. Is Sunday participation in one or more of our services optional in your list of priorities? Would you buy a used car with no service history? Bit of a risk isn’t it? While you might gamble with a car is it worth gambling with your life? Ignore the recommended service history and you are heading for trouble. A breakdown is never convenient. The makers instructions states that the recommended service interval to ensure a long and healthy life is what? You need a service every seven days. If you want treasure in heaven, make the minimum of weekly deposits.
“Not only does worship move and delight the heart of God, it helps restore our perspective on what is truly valuable in this life.” Worship is one way of making a deposit for eternity.
Deposit 2: Christ-like Character
”The Bible clearly teaches us that if we want to lay up treasure in heaven, one of the best investment strategies is personal character development.” Bill Hybels. The apostle Peter put it like this:
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)
Christ-like character is the only thing we take with us to heaven, and those who come to know Jesus through us.
Deposit 3: Expressions of Generosity
Every time we show an act of compassion , we build up our treasure in heaven. There is a record of your deeds in heaven. “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." (Revelation 14:13). It might seem a small act of kindness but it counts. "The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40). Expressions of generosity and compassion.
might also consider the investment we make in leading other people to Jesus who will share eternity with
So if you want to see your treasure in heaven you need to send it on ahead. Worship, Character development, Expressions of generosity and compassion. Leading sothers to Jesus Christ. The very things we have been left on this earth to do to prepare ourselves and others for eternity. The Question of Treasure. Where is your security? (6:19-21.
2. The Question of Vision : What is your Ambition in Life? (6:22-23)
from the comparative durability of the two treasures to the comparative benefit
derived from two conditions. For the way we view the world will determine what
we treasure. The contrast here is now between someone who is blind and someone
who can see. Read 6:22. Almost everything we do depends on our ability to
see. We need to see in order to walk or run, drive a car, cross a road, cook,
paint. The eye illuminates what the body does through its hands and feet. In the
Bible, the eye is frequently synonymous with the heart, our motivation, our desire.
Just as the eye gives light to the body, so a Christ-centred heart throws light
on everything we do. A money-focused life on the other hand leads only to fear
and darkness, of introspective self-centredness. Howard Hughes who
died a recluse once said, "I'm not a paranoid derranged millionaire. Goddamit,
I'm a billionaire." What do you want to be known for in this life? Greed
or generosity? Its all summed up in the last question.
3. The Question of Loyalty : Who are you Serving? (6:24)
Jesus now explains that behind the choice between two treasures
(where we store them) and two visions (where we fix our eyes), there lies the
still more basic choice between two masters (whom we are going to serve). It
is a choice between God and money, between the Creator himself and any object
of our own creation. We cannot serve both. Notice Jesus repeats
himself in verse 6:24. When I was a teenager, one summer, I had two part time
jobs on the go at the same time. I worked in a fish and chip shop at night, and
a garage as a petrol pump attendant during the day. Neither knew of the existence
of the other. It worked out fine. Until that is, August Bank Holiday Monday. Both
employers assumed I would work all day and neither was happy to learn I was working
for someone else. I had to choose.
It may be possible to work for two employers, but no slave can be the property of two owners. For single ownership and full-time service are the essence of slavery. Anybody who tries to divide his allegiance between God and money has already given in to money, since we can only serve God with an entire and exclusive devotion. "I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other." To try to share him with other loyalties is to opt for idolatry. God has entrusted us with all we have. It is the supreme treason to prize the gift above the giver. When the choice is seen for what it really is - a choice between Creator and creature, between the glorious personal God and a miserable thing called money, between worship and idolatry - it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. Yet many do. A question of treasure, a question of vision, a question of loyalty. The intrinsic worth of knowing and being known by the Living God, and the intrinsic worthlessness of being known for our attachment to money. Which god are you going to choose today? This Christmas? In 2004? In eternity? For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
One of my heros died this year. Bill Bright, the founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ. A memorial service was held at All Souls, Langham Place two weeks ago and several of you attended. Let me close with something Bill said,
“None of us has a long time here on planet Earth. It’s kind of a staging ground. It’s our split second in eternity when we have an opportunity to invest our lives, our time, our talent and our treasure to help fulfill what our Lord came into this world to do and commissioned us to do. In fact his last words before he ascended to be with the Father were: ‘Be my witnesses’” Bill Bright
[i] Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name (Word Publishing, 1994) pp.61-65.