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Wealth, Worry, and Relationship


Thomas R. Fletcher

      Our society is saturated with the desire to possess, to own, and to display those possessions for all to see. Advertisements and media propaganda bombard with messages that tell us happiness is in status and status depends upon material possessions. Material possessions, if we believe the propaganda, determine the value of the person. The propaganda is a lie. Unfortunately, some of those desires have crept into the church, under the guise of Christian teaching. The false teaching of the Health and Wealth Gospel says that if we please God, perform the right rituals, and claim the right verses then God is bound (legally—to use the language of the proponents of the teaching) to bless us with material possessions. Did Jesus ever come close to teaching anything of the sort?

      In Matthew 6:19-34, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches on wealth, worry, and relationship--three subjects that occupy much of our time. Jesus' concern is that his disciples have a correct perspective on these matters. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21, all quotations from NIV translation)."

      Earthly treasure must constantly be guarded against loss. We "rust-proof," wash, and wax our automobiles only to find that they eventually rust out anyway. When Jesus speaks of moth and rust destroying earthly treasure, he is speaking of a gradual loss over a period of time. A large bank account can be slowly dwindled by unexpected expenses. Thieves stealing implies an immediate loss. Fortunes can be lost in a day's trading on the stock market. Of course, earthly treasure brings with it the concerns of how one can protect the treasure against loss.

      Heavenly treasure is defined as anything one can take to heaven. For sure, we cannot take our homes, our cars, or our money, but we can take the people we meet. Through relationships, we can share the Gospel and see lives transformed. Rather than placing a high value on things that break down, wear out, may be lost or stolen, we are to value heavenly treasure such as the people we know and godly principles worked through the fabric of our lives.

      In Mt. 6:21-22, Jesus speaks about the eyes. At first glance, these verses seem to be placed here with no connection to the subject at hand; such isn't the case. Jesus went from discussing treasure to using the eyes as a metaphor for the focus of the Christian's life. "...If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light (Mt. 6: 22)." The Greek word that is here translated "good," refers to be being single or upright. It refers to singleness of purpose, conveying the idea of clear vision with no distortion. Christ's point here is that we, like the human eye, can only focus on one object at a time. We cannot focus on both heavenly and earthly treasure at the same time. We cannot hold heavenly values and worldly values at the same time. In verse 24, Jesus makes it even more clear, "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and Money." The Greek word translated "Money," ("mammon" in several other English translations—and capitalized in the NIV) means more than money. It refers to earthly possessions, things, or events that are important to this world. It is personified as something to which one may become enslaved. Christ did not say that having material possessions is sin, but he made the point that possessions pose a danger. One doesn't have to have great material possessions to be enslaved by them. If one's focus is constantly on gaining material possessions, one is enslaved. Christ wants us to be free from such bondage.

      "Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes (Mt. 6:25)?" The word "therefore" indicates a summation, based on what has gone before. Because one cannot serve two masters, because one's treasure shouldn't be earthly, one's focus is not to be on the material elements of life. Since these things are not to be our focus, neither should they worry us. Jesus was here referring to an obsessive concern over one's future. When our focus is on position and possessions all we can do is worry. We worry about maintaining what we have.  We worry about getting more. Our worry rarely, if ever, changes the outcome of anything. It simply eats away our time and prevents us from enjoying the life we now live. In Mt. 6:25-32 Jesus sets before us the examples of birds and flowers. Have you ever seen a worried bird? I don't believe I have. Birds industriously go about the business of gathering food, without fretting. God, who takes care of the birds, will care for his children. If we truly have faith in God, the need for worry is gone.

      Our focus is to be on the kingdom of God —how to see it implemented in our lives, to be an instrument of its implementation in the lives of others. As God's kingdom becomes the supreme focus of our lives, all other things fall into proper perspective. Possessions and position carry the heavy burden of worry. When lives are centered on material possessions, relationships suffer—relationships to one another and relationship to God. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Mt. 6:33-34)." To seek in such a manner is to spare no effort, to diligently and tenaciously pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness because these are more valued than any acquisition. Seeking in such a manner, we are relieved of the burden of worry. Seek the kingdom of God.

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