The next section of the SOTM is not very long and is actually pretty straightforward, but it is worth our direct attention, because it is absolutely contrary to the way the average person—“Christian” or not—lives in our society.
Jesus tells His followers that they should spend their lives laying up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. Part of the problem with earthly treasures is that they are not things that we can count on in the long term. This was true in the ancient world, where treasures like expensive clothing could be destroyed by moths, precious metals could rust, and thieves could steal any of it. Today we may have stronger homes and doors with locks and deadbolts, but for someone who is determined enough, our homes are still vulnerable to theft. Beyond that, in an age when so much of our wealth is tied to computer technology, online accounts, and global markets, all it takes is an instance of identity theft, the malicious intent of a hacker, or an economic recession to make our digital wealth disappear. So, regardless of when you live, you shouldn’t put your trust in earthly possessions, because these things simply do not last. They cannot be counted on.
Beyond that, Jesus says that our hearts are tied to what we truly value. If we spend our lives seeking the accumulation of wealth and possessions, then that is what we will care about, rather than giving our primary allegiance to God and the work of His kingdom.
Jesus’ warnings against storing up treasures on earth do not mean that it is wrong to own possession, have a bank account, or buy life insurance. After all, if we use what we have to bless others, that is one way to store up treasure in heaven. Furthermore, Scripture praises ants for storing up food that they will need later (Proverbs 6.6) and underscores the importance of providing for our families (1 Timothy 5.8). Like with many of Jesus’ teachings that we have been looking at, the real issue comes down to motives: are we saving what we have so that we can be a blessing to others, or are we selfishly accumulating more and more so that we can bless ourselves?
If it’s our possessions that mean the most to us, we will be separated from them forever when we die. On the other hand, if we spend our lives as citizens of God’s kingdom—growing more like Christ everyday, living in service to others and helping those around us, and living as an alternative community following the principles of God rather than the principles of the world—we will build up treasure in heaven, and that is where our hearts and our allegiance will lie.
Next, Jesus uses a metaphor, calling the eye the lamp of the body. Scholars debate some of the details of what Jesus is saying here, but the main point is clear enough: just as the eye affects the whole body, our ambitions—where we fix our eyes and heart—affect our entire lives.
Finally, Jesus concludes this section by teaching that it is impossible for us to serve two masters, God and money. In our thinking, we might question whether or not it is possible for us to serve two masters, because there are a lot of people in our country who work multiple jobs and thus have multiple employers. But here, the word Jesus uses for “serve” is the Greek word douleuo, which refers to performing the duties of a slave. Slaves do not have time of their own, or the ability to choose what they will do; they absolutely belong to their master. So when Jesus says that you cannot serve God and money, He is saying that the two are mutually exclusive masters. You simply cannot do both. God demands loyalty that is undivided.
When we talk about money or possessions, these are things that belong to us, so it seems funny to talk about them as potentially being our master. The thing is, if we’re not careful, the things that we think we own can end up owning us instead! That’s the point that Jesus is making here.
Jesus’ words on the accumulation of wealth and the place it holds in our lives should cause us to reflect carefully. The possession of wealth and material things is not a sin, but it is a significant responsibility: how will we use that which we have been blessed with? As we reflect on this idea, we need to be confronted with an uncomfortable reality: many people in our world our desperately poor, without sufficient food, adequate shelter, or clean water. As we have seen in the SOTM, Jesus seems to have special sympathy for those who are poor, and if we want to be His followers, we should share His concern. Many people in the world have less than they need, while we have significantly more than we need.
The values of our society encourage us to accumulate more and more, trusting that our earthly possessions will take care of us some day. The values of the kingdom tell us that our possessions will enslave us if we are not careful, and that we instead are to use what we have to bless others. Looking at our possessions from an eternal perspective, what we keep we lose, but what we give to others, we have forever.