In part one of this post, we learned of the Gospel and the restoration that Jesus bought for us on the cross. We learned about the atonement that Jesus, fully God and fully man due to his birth to a virgin by the Holy Spirit, accomplished, bringing us peace with God. This was the most crucial step toward healing the world and mankind of the effects of the fall and Adam’s rebellion.
We learned that Jesus paid for all our sins, and that he showed us what it truly meant to be human, what it was supposed to have meant all along to be an image-bearer of God put on the earth with authority to create and rule. When we believe and put our faith in Jesus, he causes us to become a new creation, no longer enslaved to the sin that bound us and kept us from pursuing life for the glory of God, or our own sake, and more importantly, for his sake and his glory. Because we have been made new, we can begin to live the way God intended.
Then we began to look at the sermon on the mount to see what Jesus considered to be the mindset and attitude of a godly image-bearer. We learned that the inward condition of the heart is more important than the outward actions. In general, our outward actions will be a reflection of our inward state. But in our fallenness, we often have some dishonest and selfish reasons to put on an outward show. Whether it is about controlling anger and lust, giving or fasting in secret, taking oaths, loving our enemies, or anything else, why we obey God is more important than that we obey him. True belief will lead to an obedience that is not done for the reward of the praise of men. Rather, true belief leads to an obedience born out of the certainty that to obey God is the abundant life. It will lead to good results, but more profoundly obedience is the good result. It is the reward, because it means that we are free from the necessity of sin, or what Jesus called, “slavery to sin” (Jn 8:34).
Seeking the Kingdom
Now we will look further into the sermon on the mount, away from deeds practiced to be seen by others, and into states of being, states of the heart. Look now at Matthew 6:19-21:
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.
And then, in 24:
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Now Jesus is talking about one of his favorite subjects, money. He doesn’t seem to be speaking of it in the same terms as he was in Matthew 5. There the emphasis was on the nature of giving and why you should not give to charity in order to be seen by men. Here it seems Jesus has in mind the heart attitude that loves money for its own sake. Whether the issue is the desire for luxury and comfort or security and status, the issue is the same. You can’t take money with you into heaven, and you cannot serve money and the accumulation of wealth without becoming a slave to it, a worshiper of it. And if you worship money, you do not worship God; in fact. you will despise him for getting in the way of your money-making.
You may have heard that money is evil. It is not, just as it is not the root of all evil. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6 ), but even then, you need to understand that money itself is neutral. Here’s what happened. When men accumulated on the earth, they likely struggled with one another because of sin. But at some point, sinful though they were, they realized that they could trade with one another value for value. One had a pig he didn’t need, and the other had a bundle of spears he wasn’t using. “How many spears will you give me for this pig,” said one. “Twelve,” said the other. And they made a good trade. The pig was more valuable to the new owner because he needed it, and the same goes for the spears. At some point, someone figured out that they could substitute metal and jewels for products, because it was hard to carry a pig to the spear market every time you wanted to shop. But if a pig is worth three pieces of metal, then the pig farmer could carry twelve small pieces of metal that would represent four pigs. This is much easier than carrying four pigs. And money was born.
Money wasn’t in itself a problem, because you could be as greedy for pigs or spears as you are for money. Love of money is the problem, because greed is the problem, and money is usually associated with it. But if you took away money and currency and still had bartering, you’d still have a greed problem. The love of money may be a root of all kinds of evil, but greed is the root of evil concerning money. Jesus used money. Jesus was not evil, so he used money in a way that was not evil.
Now that that’s out of the way, what is Jesus warning against? It seems that, although Jesus often addressed the issue of accumulating wealth for the sake of appearances and status seeking, here he seems to be speaking simply of the security that one feels will be attained by the accumulation of wealth. In this case, the admonition is against laying “up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (19). The reason has to do with the heart. Profoundly, he points out in verse 21 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead he counsels to lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven. It’s easy to think that Jesus simply means give all your money away to charity and you’ll be rewarded in heaven. But we know that God expects us to provide for ourselves (2 Thes 3:10), and for our families (1 Tim 5:8). We know that if our rent is due Friday, but we get paid Monday, we need to save our rent money at least until Friday in order to be good stewards and show good character to our landlords, reflecting well on the God we serve.
Surely it does mean, to some extent, that we would give money away. That seems like common sense. But it also means using the money for what money is used for, which Jesus and his disciples did, but in a way that displays trust in God and keeps him first, our purposes in him second, and money, only as a neutral tool in the process. In verse 24 it says that, “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” If God is your master, then you are his servant. As his servant, make money your servant, so you can fulfill your job as his servant.
This really started to make sense to me when I realized something about the responsibility I have at the church where I serve as an elder and pastor. One of the responsibilities of our elder board is to steward the money that the members give to the church. We pay the rent on the building, staff salaries, insurance premiums, giving outside the church, and a host of other things that a nonprofit “business” like a church needs to operate. I have a hand in both budgeting that money and spending it. And, compared to my personal finances, it is a whole lot of money to manage. Over the years I’ve stewarded millions of dollars for the purposes of the church. Here’s the thing:
I’ve never once been confused about whose money it was. It was not mine, although I helped manage it.
It belongs to God and his church for the purposes that he has called us to in our city. Simple as that. For me to help myself to some of it (I do get a salary by the church. I have nothing to do with what I am compensated. There are other men responsible for that) would be evil and wrong, theft even. It would disqualify me from ministry and qualify me for prison.
It occurred to me one day that my personal finances should be thought of in the exact same way.
My money is primarily God’s money, for God’s purposes for my life. This includes provision for me and my family, investment in business and mission work, and investment for the future care of my needs if possible (retirement), so that no one else has to supply it. When the leaders of our church are planning and praying for God’s leading in direction for our church and the mission we’re on, profit is never a consideration. Paying the bills is. Keeping our agreements with landlords and vendors is. Maybe building a reserve amount to have in case of emergency is. But building a wealthy church is not anyone’s goal, nor should it be. The same goes for personal finances. Seeking to make a profit as a good steward is right and good, but trying to rich for the sake of getting rich is never the point.
With the church’s money we budget faithfully and somewhat conservatively so that we are financially healthy. We follow biblical principles, operate honestly and wisely, and trust God completely. Tomorrow we will look in part 6 at the next section, which shows how Jesus wants his people as individuals to think the exact same way, especially the part about trusting God completely.