Treasures and treasures
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Mat 6:19), but...
This is perhaps the most comprehensive and searching of all
the commands of Christ, because it deals with the whole direction and motivation
and purpose of life. Broadly defined, "treasures on earth" means anything
related to this present mortal life.
"Lay up treasures in heaven" (v 20) -- for...
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (v
The natural way is to accumulate "treasures" of many different
kinds. "Mammon" (v 24) includes riches, material possessions, and pleasures.
This desire to lay up treasures... this acquisitiveness (a nice word for simple
greed!) is so universally taken for granted that it is almost heresy to question
it. It is the foundation assumption of almost all advertising. Even many
"believers" consider it "foolish" and "impractical" even to try to imitate
Christ in this respect, and quote such passages as 1Ti 5:8 and Ecc 9:10 with
more than usual vigor, to help set "the proper balance"!
How much impact does this command of Christ have upon us?
Whether we consider job promotions, or "consumer goods", or that hazy Valhalla
of materialistic indulgence called "the good life", how many times have any of
us made the conscious decision?: "No! I will go no further. I have more than I
really need already. I will not pamper myself!" Probably, for most of us,
not nearly often enough. It is in our natures (and simply learning "the Truth"
does not change those natures!) to want "treasures" both in heaven and on
earth, to seek both salvation and present advantage. It is so easy to
forget that Christ specifically said we cannot have both:
"Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Mat
God wants us to be different from the world, with our minds on
very different things. Of course, most of us must work, in one way or
another, to provide for necessities. Certainly Jesus worked at a trade until the
time came for his special mission. And Paul, as he moved about the ecclesias,
found work from place to place so as not to be a burden to the believers. But
for them these daily affairs had importance only insofar as they were related to
eternal things. "Seek ye first the kingdom" (v 33) was the rule of
Christ's life, and of Paul's life. Is it the rule of our
"Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what
you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on" (v 25, RSV). It is
a revolutionary concept, totally foreign to our natural inclinations. But Jesus
does not bid us obey him without reasons. He gives, in fact, seven good
reasons why this philosophy makes sense:
To borrow worries from next week is to overburden our
capabilities and risk failure in spiritual
- v 25: Life itself is more important than those things that sustain it. If
our lives come from God and are held in His hand, then certainly,
when we do our part faithfully in the "great adventure" of dedication and
service, the lesser matters will be taken care of.
- v 26: The birds do not
make frantic provision. They do not worry or scheme or plan. And you, says
Jesus, are much more important than they (Mat 10:29-31).
- v 27: "Which of you
by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?" (RSV).
- vv 28-30: If
God takes such care for the flowers that soon will shrivel in the heat, will He
not provide much better for you, His children, made in His image?
- v 32a: The
nations that do not know God worry and hoard riches. Surely you will not be like
- v 32b: Your Heavenly Father knows what you need. He will
- v 34: "One day at a time": The world is such an evil place that
we need as much of our mental resources as can be spared to face the spiritual
trials of today.
"For thou art my God"
We recognize that the "world", even the nominally "Christian"
world, does not heed Christ's advice. But do we do any better, or are we
swept up and molded into conformity with the world around us? This is an age
dedicated to getting more and yet more money, in order to spend it on more and
yet more selfishness: fine houses, fine foods, expensive trips, and the worship
(yes, it is "idolatry" -- Col 3:5!) of car and garden and, last but not least,
our own adorned, deodorized, tanned, and groomed selves! It is an age of
narcissism; millions succumb to the blandishments of "health spas" and "country
clubs", to exercise, and jog, and diet, and build the new, improved "You". One
cannot help but draw the analogy to Isaiah's bitterly ironic description of the
idolater -- who seeks out a tree trunk and cuts and shapes and polishes it into
a natural beauty, finally to fall down and worship it:
"Deliver me, for thou art my god" (Isa
Different? Or the same?
What are our ambitions, our goals in life? Are they different
than the world, or are they all too similar? Are our older folks eager for
retirement, so they can take it easy and enjoy life? Are our middle-aged folks
keen on "security"? Are our younger folks caught up in the "timetable syndrome"
-- get an education, get a good job, get married, get a house, "get ahead" --
and each goal by a certain date, or they are falling behind? And if they -- the
young ones -- are this way, whose example have they followed?
What sets us apart from the masses around us who have no true
hope? Is it enough that we believe differently, without living differently? Do
we preach "separateness from the world" one day a week, and then live the other
six days as though we were still very much a part of that world? In our pious
preaching, do we even manage to convince ourselves that we are really
following Christ's example?
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon
The use of our money may be the "touchstone", the truest
indicator, of our heart's desires. Why? Because the obtaining and the using of
money makes up so great a part of our daily lives -- we are always
spending money! -- so that our ordinary life must be much the same in
nature as our ordinary ways of spending money. If we spend our money for
purchases that appeal to pride or pleasure or ostentation, then we are
demonstrating in the most practical way possible that those characteristics have
firm hold on our lives, to the exclusion of God's truth.
If I had extra arms or legs or eyes, that I did not need, that
I could not use, and instead of giving them to the lame or the blind, I locked
them away in a vault or displayed them on hooks in my living room, I would be a
selfish fool. None of us would be so stupid, would we? But what if, for "arms"
or "legs", we substitute "money"?
There are several common objections to giving money to help
the unfortunate. What is so attractive about these objections is that they
masquerade as Scriptural, wise, and prudent -- putting "a good face" on the
greed that hides behind them:
"Since Jesus said, 'The poor you have with you always'
(John 12:8), and we cannot change the world, why should we bother trying?":
But Jesus did not say, "Forget the poor because they are always
there." He said, in effect, "You will always have opportunities to help
the poor." When Jesus was present, his followers lavished gifts upon him, and
they did well. But now that he is absent, we may forget that we can give gifts
to Jesus just as well by helping his poor brethren. Who would ignore the needs
of the Master? But now he sits at the right hand of God, and he can no longer
use the cup of cold water, the food, the clothing. But someone else can!
One of Christ's parables was most explicit as to the grounds
of rejection at his judgment. It is enlightening to note that the wicked were
not rejected for holding some false doctrine. They were not rejected for failing
to preach the Truth. They were not even rejected for neglecting to attend a
specified number of ecclesial meetings. They were rejected because they
ignored the simple, material needs of their brethren, and thereby they ignored
Christ (Mat 25:41-45)!
"If I am not careful and prudent (which really means
'selfish'), I may give charity to someone who does not deserve it, or someone
who does not use it properly": This is a common Christadelphian "worry", And
it sounds all too much like the businessman proclaiming to the board of
directors the "virtue" of the preservation of capital. But in showing love for
others through our material gifts, we are exemplifying the character of our
Father in Heaven, who sends His rain on the just and the unjust (Mat
5:45). God loves us whether we deserve it or not. He loves us even when we
definitely do not deserve it. He loves us even when we do despite to His
grace and turn our backs on His outstretched hand. He is not "careful" or
"responsibly prudent" about His gifts.
"By giving away my money (or the ecclesia's money),
I encourage others to be beggars and irresponsible": But then, why should
I ever forgive anyone? It will just "encourage" him to do wrong again. Or why
should I give medicine to a sick person? It might just "encourage" him to get
"It's more important to use our money in preaching the
Truth than to give it to the needy": This is the only one of the four common
objections to charity that can stand up to any examination at all. It is true
that to give a starving man the gospel is better than to give him a crust of
bread. But it can hardly be denied that both could be useful!
The only response to this objection is: If you really believe
this, then do it! Do not be like the Pharisees who cried "Corban" when
reminded that others could use their material help, and then when the need was
past, kept it for themselves!
The only other thing to be said here is that surely there are
resources lying dormant which are sufficient for sizeable efforts on both
fronts. At the absolute minimum, resources are available so that our own
spiritual "family" at home and abroad need not suffer hunger and illness, while
their "brethren" are well-off and with goods to spare.
Christ gave everything, even life itself, for us. What can we
give him? What "price-tag" do we put on our redemption? "Where your
treasure is, there will your heart be also."