Briefly review setting and main theme. We come now to Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between God’s kingdom and material wealth (6:19-34). And the key verse is 6:24 (read)–who will you serve, God or Mammon? “Mammon” refers to material wealth.
The idea that you can serve each in their own context is an illusion. One will be your true master, setting the tone and shaping the course of your life.
Furthermore, unless you consciously choose to serve God you will by default serve Mammon (especially in this culture).
But why should we choose to serve God instead of Mammon? Is it just some abstract theological/ethical argument? Or are there good personal reasons for doing this? In 6:19-23, Jesus provides us with two such reasons by contrasting two treasures and two eyes . . .
Read 6:19,20. Notice that Jesus is not against laying up treasures for yourself per se. The key issue is what kind of treasures you are laying up. Be sure you lay up the right kind, because the stakes are high.
Serving Mammon is “laying up for yourself treasures on earth.” Before we learn why Jesus warns us not to do this, we need to be clear on what it is and isn’t.
From 1 Tim. 6:17, we learn that it is not making more than subsistence income or enjoying material possessions. Nor is it exercising prudent financial preparation for future needs (Prov. 6:6). (Not that many of us are in danger of rejecting any of these!)
It is seeking increasing material wealth by hoarding large amounts of money and/or by amassing lots of material possessions. It is continuing to amass money and/or possessions way beyond what you really need (pleonexia, the Greek word translated “greed,” means “the desire for more”). According to Jesus, this is serving Mammon, this is idolatry.
In other words, it is the American Dream, as advanced by Walter Williams (professor of economics at George Mason University): “What’s the noblest of human motivations? Some might be tempted to answer: charity, love of one’s neighbor, or, in modern, politically correct language, giving something back or feeling another’s pain. In my book, these are indeed noble motivations, but they pale in comparison to a much more potent motivation for human action. For me the noblest of human motivations is greed. I don’t mean theft, fraud, tricks, or misrepresentation. By greed I mean being only or mostly concerned about getting the most one can for oneself and not necessarily concerned about the welfare of others. Social consternation might cause one to cringe at the suggestion that greed might possibly be seen as a noble motivation. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ might be a preferable term. But I prefer greed since it far more descriptive and less likely to be confused with other human motives.”
Why does Jesus tell us not to do this? Because material wealth is ultimately impermanent.
You may lose it in this life in a variety of ways. Jesus cites corrosion and theft. To this we can add inflation, stock market crashes, bank scandals, war, ill health, government changes, etc. We can mitigate these risks to a certain extent by wise investment, insurance, etc.–but the truth remains that any one of us can be wiped out at any time. It happens all the time.
Even if you avoid the above, you will lose every bit of it when you leave this life. Read Lk. 12:13-21. Let this warning sink into your soul! You cannot take it with you. You came into this world without a penny, and you will go out without a penny. There are no trailer-hitches on hearses. “How much did he leave?” “Why, all of it, of course!”
Would you invest all of your money in stock in a company that you knew was shaky and going to fold? Why would you invest your life in the pursuit of material wealth, which is never secure and will definitely be taken away from you?
What’s the alternative? To “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven” (re-read 6:20). This is what Jesus in Lk. 12:21 called becoming “rich toward God.”
How can we do this? To answer this question, we must turn to other passages.
First and foremost, by establishing a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16). The moment you do this, you are guaranteed eternal life with God. Have you done this?
By developing intimacy with God and godly character (1 Tim. 4:7b,8) through consistent investment in the means of growth.
By serving other people as representatives of God’s kingdom (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Being “rich in good works” involves evangelism, discipleship, etc. And it involves being generous and ready to share your financial resources to alleviate human need and advance God’s kingdom in the world.
This is a totally secure investment.
No one and nothing can take this from you in this life.
It will be waiting for you (with interest) in the next life.
And you can accumulate as much as you want regardless of your financial resources!
Read 6:22-23. In this little parable, Jesus gives us another reason why we should serve God and not Mammon.
The eye, even though it is a small organ, is key to the operation of the rest of your outward body (TRY FIXING A MEAL WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED). Just as the condition of your eye powerfully affects the well-being of the rest of your body, the treasure you seek will powerfully affect the well-being of the rest of your life.
The point, then, is this: The treasure you pursue will determine not only your ultimate wealth in the next life, it will also determine the quality of your life in this life.
If you have a “bad eye” (seek material wealth), it will give you the illusion of being enlightened (6:23b), but it will lead you into greater and greater darkness (misery and damage). Paul says the same thing in 1 Tim. 6:9,10 (read).
You don’t even have to believe in the Bible to realize that materialism delivers just the opposite result!
Recommend PBS “Affluenza,” an excellent analysis of the extent of Mammonism in America:
THE RESULT: “We’re filling our lives with things–and telling others that we’re empty inside.”
THE CONSEQUENCES: swollen expectations; shopping fever; chronic stress; fractured families; skyrocketing bankruptcies; social scars; global infection
Or consider these conclusions by David Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University, 1999), who studies the correlation between material wealth and happiness.
From 1960-1993, real income in America doubled–but during that same time the divorce rate doubled, teen suicide tripled, juvenile violence quadrupled, and unwed births quintupled. Although the average American has more money today, there is “less happiness, more depression, more fragile relationships, less communal commitment, less vocational security, more crime and more demoralized children.”
Some of you could add your own eloquent (and anguished) testimony . . .
On the other hand, you can develop a “good eye” by serving God and pursuing spiritual wealth. If you do this, you will not avoid suffering–but your life will become progressively more integrated and healed and satisfying in the areas that really matter: SATISFACTION OF KNOWING YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHING GOD’S WILL; CLEAR CONSCIENCE; FULFILLING RELATIONSHIPS; CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S CARE; HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.
Repeat 6:24 thesis. At the end of the day, the choice you make about this is huge!
On one level, it’s neither simple nor all-at-once to serve God instead of Mammon. But God will show you how to do it at each step if you ask him to do this.
Which treasure are you seeking? Which master are you serving? Which God do you love? Here are some additional questions that may help you answer this question.
What comprises your dreams & aspirations? Are they dominated by material things, or by spiritual growth & service?
Whom do you admire and want to be like?
Who are your closest friends?
What excites you most?
How regularly & how generously do you give of your money to God’s service? Which direction are you moving in this area?
Are you able to be content with what you have materially, or do you always itch to have more because you are bored without more things? One indicator here is how much DEBT you are in from non-necessary acquisitions.
What do you do with your spare time? Do you invest in FAMILY, MINISTRY, SPIRITUAL GROWTH–or is it mostly all spent on MORE WORK, TV WATCHING, SHOPPING, HOBBIES, etc.?
How do you view retirement? As a time to focus on material enjoyment which you have deserved, or as a time of greater freedom to serve God?
Is your excitement about God & your outrage over materialism increasing? Or is your excitement about God dulled, & your critique of materialism vague and filled with qualifications?
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