And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Everyone is laying up treasure in some way. It may not be expressed in our assets or bank accounts, but there is something which gives us reason to get up in the morning. Whatever controls our heart is our treasure, and it’s either earthly or heavenly. The reality is we straddle both spheres, and no matter how heavenly our interests may be, we live on earth and are subject to its demands and values.
What begins as our treasure, whether earthly or heavenly, is something which serves us and furthers our interests. In the pursuit of it, our treasure becomes our vision, and in time what began as our treasure and grew into our vision becomes our master. The free will we are given is actually limited to one thing … who is our master? From there on, everything we do is a logical explanation of what is the mastering principle of our lives. It’s either temporal or it’s eternal, self-centered or God-centered, earthly or heavenly, but it cannot be both.
Society today holds to the belief that a person’s status and success is directly related to reputation and material wealth, but society has it backwards. We cannot put the pursuit of money, prestige and power before the pursuit of God. Jesus says we cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
The features that characterize heavenly treasures are the exact opposite of earthly treasures. Instead of temporary and troublesome, they are permanent and peaceful. To store up treasure in heaven is to live on earth with heaven in mind. The issues which govern our values, goals and behaviours should not be confined to this life only and played out ‘before men’. They should have eternal issues at heart, and be played out before God. The very same possessions, bank balances, occupations, living standards can either be storing up treasure in heaven or on earth. It is not the substance of our possessions that is the issue, but the audience before whom we live.
Materialism does not relate to how much we actually possess, but our attitude towards what we possess. Everything that we lose when we die should be given appropriate status now, and that which holds its currency beyond death is what we should invest in now. Once we have settled the issues of storing up our real treasure in heaven, our vision is good, and our master is God.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The rich young ruler came running to Jesus, and kneeling said: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Notice how he emphasizes goodness, his own righteousness, seeking salvation by his good works and his own righteousness. You’ll find the story in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18. But Jesus rebukes him for calling anyone good but God, a gentle chiding of his self-piety, and then tells him he must keep the commandments. Oddly enough, he asks, “Which?” Apparently he had gotten the point that he might not be so good after all, and he was hoping he had kept the right ones necessary for salvation.
So Jesus quotes only about half of them, those which forbid what most people consider the very worst sins, and which Jesus evidently already knew that this good young man would, of course, have probably kept. And the young man, with obvious relief, heartily boasts that he has kept these. But Jesus is leading him on, carefully avoiding the commandments which He apparently knows the young man has not kept quite so well, such as “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them … and, Thou shalt not covet,” and the one which Jesus Himself said was the greatest of all: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.”
The young man sincerely asks, “What lack I yet?” “Why am I not happy. Why am I not satisfied? Why do I feel uneasy about the future? Why don’t my possessions and position bring me contentment and rest of spirit?” Jesus had been drawing him out to reveal his greatest sin of spiritual pride. Now Jesus puts him to the test: Will he be willing to give up the things that he covets, the other gods that he worships, the images to whom he bows—his riches, his position, the opinions of men, his idolatry of covetousness?
Knowing the struggle and the sad decision His words were to bring in the young man’s heart, Jesus looks on him with compassion and love and tells him he lacks but one thing, and asks him to make the most difficult decision of his life: “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and come, take up the cross and follow Me, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven!” (Matthew 19:21) But when the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. So Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” (Matthew 19:22–24) This was a very small gate in the wall of Jerusalem through which camels had to crawl on their knees, pushed and shoved and pulled and dragged by their drivers, and shrieking with pain at the tops of their voices in stubborn protest. What a picture!
When His disciples heard this, they were amazed and said, “Who then can be saved?” In their day, many of the rich were the most religious and self-righteous Pharisees. So they must have figured if they would have such a hard time, what chance did the poor publicans and sinners have? And Jesus acknowledged that it was impossible for anyone to be saved without the miracle-working power of God. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25–26)
The saddest thing about this whole experience was that this young man’s riches had never brought him happiness or satisfaction, or he would not have come running to Jesus, begging for an answer to his misery. Yet when Jesus gave him the answer to life, love, and happiness in forsaking all for Jesus and others, he went away still full of the sorrows that riches bring. He still went back to his riches that had never satisfied, and rich as he was, he was still unable to pay the price of the joy of giving all.—Which, of course, shows that he loved things more than God.
—David Brandt Berg
O souls, souls, souls, beware, beware, beware, most of all of greed! It is not money, nor the lack of money, but the love of money which is the root of all evil. It is not getting it; it is not even keeping it; it is loving it; it is making it your god; it is looking at that as the main chance, and not considering the cause of Christ, nor the truth of Christ, nor the holy life of Christ, but being ready to sacrifice everything for gains’ sake.
—C. H. Spurgeon
One day Abraham Lincoln was walking down the street with two small boys who were both crying loudly. A neighbor passing by inquired, “What’s the matter, Abe? Why all the fuss?” Lincoln responded, “The trouble with these lads is what’s wrong with the world; one has a nut and the other wants it!” This is an old story and a little humorous, but it humorously illustrates a big problem and the oldest one known to man—greed.
The tragic irony is that the serpent tempted the woman with something that was already true—made in God’s image, she already was like Him! She already radiated His majesty and glory; she already existed in perfection. But it was not enough. It was not enough to have His light pulsating through her; she wanted to be the light itself.
We are growing in our character every day. The question is in which direction are we growing? Are we growing toward godly character or ungodly character? Are we growing in love or selfishness; in harshness or patience; in greed or generosity; in honesty or dishonesty; in purity or impurity? Every day we train ourselves in one direction or another by the thoughts we think, the words we say, the actions we take, the deeds we do.
Money is plainly not intrinsic treasure; love is, goodness is, joy is. A beloved disciple, in a moment of inspiration, announced the profound truth that love is “of God.” Men wrongly divide love into two types, “human love” and “divine love,” but in reality there is only love. Wherever love has become the nature of the soul and it has become “natural” now to forget self for others, to seek to give rather than to get, to share rather than to possess, to be impoverished in order that some loved one may abound, there a divine and godlike spirit has been formed. And we now come upon a new kind of wealth, a kind that accumulates with use, because it is a law that the more the spirit of love is exercised, the more the soul spends itself in love, so much the more love it has, the richer it grows, the diviner its nature becomes.
—Rufus M. Jones
Copyright © The Family International. All Rights Reserved.