When we lived in Louisville, I delivered pizzas part time to help make ends meet while I was taking classes at Seminary. I got to meet all kinds of people and it was, oddly enough, a pretty enjoyable job! But, let’s face it–pizza delivery isn’t going to make you rich. After paying for tuition and books, I usually felt like the little boy with two fish desperately hoping God would somehow multiply my meager earnings so we could just pay the bills.
So, over time I began to struggle with jealousy. I often delivered pizzas to homes that were quite extravagant. And while I couldn’t always tell whether or not the owner was a believer, sometimes it was quite clear that they weren’t! (Or at least weren’t acting like one at the time!) Here I was trying to serve God and follow his lead, and it was all I could do just to pay the bills! I remember one house that was especially lavish. It had all the custom trimmings, a perfectly manicured and landscaped lawn, and you couldn’t help but be intimidated by its grand entryway. Yet for all its extravagance, it sat in the shadow of the house across the street. Literally. The neighborhood was in a hilly area of town and the house across the street sat up much higher on the hill, so when the sun set the home literally sat in the shadow of the castle across the street. It kind of made me chuckle a bit. These folks had spent who knows how many years accumulating their wealth and saving up to build their dream home, and then along comes the Jones’ who build an even bigger house on the hill! Every time they walk out the front door, they have to crane their neck upwards and block the sun with their hand just to see their neighbor’s home.
Now there’s nothing wrong with being rich. Job was rich, and he was a godly man. Furthermore, there’s not necessarily any spiritual benefit to being dirt poor. There’s nothing necessarily unspiritual about owning stuff–as long as your stuff doesn’t own you. And, on the flip side, there’s nothing necessarily spiritual about NOT owning stuff, because your NOT owning stuff CAN own you.
Just take a look at the warnings Jesus gives in Matthew 6:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “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. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [Mat 6:19-25, 31-34 ESV]
Jesus’ warnings here don’t only apply to the wealthy. In fact, who is more likely to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or what they will wear tomorrow–the rich or the poor? Jesus isn’t only warning against piling up treasures on earth, but also against coveting such treasures. Jesus’ focus was on what< you treasure, not on how much treasure you have. I’ve met relatively poor people who treasure material possessions and worldly comfort more than some rich people! (And I have been such a person, too.)
The reason that Jesus spends so much time talking about money is because money and material possessions betray our true passions in life. The way we spend our time and money reveals a lot about what we value, or “treasure,” here on earth. It reveals our perspective on life. Many people skip over verses 22-23 , because they’re difficult to understand, but they state exactly that:
The eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.
How many of us walk around filled with worldly darkness with our spiritual growth stunted because our “eye” is bad? Oh that God would open our eyes to see the way he sees! Why do we treasure money and material comforts which will all be destroyed instead of treasuring the eternal God? We ought to treasure him and the things which he treasures, namely, human souls!
As Jennifer and I are preparing for service with Wycliffe, one of the obstacles we have to overcome is our debt. Some of our debt is from educational loans, but some of it is from chasing our own little American dream. After years of praying for God to reveal his will to me for my career path in ministry, God finally revealed it this January at Total it Up (A weeklong Wycliffe “orientation” of sorts). Unfortunately, because of my “bad eye” in the past, our ability to move forward with Wycliffe has been delayed until we can pay down our debt. Suddenly this passage came to life. I began to hear God asking me, “Jason, what do you treasure? Do you treasure me and following my will, or do you treasure your gas-guzzling four wheel drive truck? What about your comfort–could you live in a smaller place if it meant being able to get the gospel to those who have never heard sooner?” My accumulation of worldly treasures was preventing me from inheriting the eternal treasures God had promised. I wrestled with it it for a while, until I read this:
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.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:15-21 ESV]
I don’t ever want to face God and hear the words, “You fool!” Could we get to the field without having to sell our possessions? Perhaps eventually, but how many of the people to whom we will be sent would perish without having heard the gospel in that time? If my soul is required of me tonight, do I want to be still clutching to my stuff when I face God, knowing that I treasured money instead of God?
… 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. [Luke 12:31-32 ESV]
Over the last couple years, God has slowly replaced the worldly treasures in my life with himself. It’s been a slow, and at times, painful process. But the difference is astounding. Once I finally let go of those possessions that possessed me, the jealousy that had consumed me was replaced with a fiery passion to see the gospel go to the nations. It was so freeing! The idea that years from now I might possibly have the privilege of handing a completed New Testament to a people who previously had no scripture is beyond my capability to express in words. Now, my passion is God, his Word, and his Kingdom. I think that were I able to trade lives with those whom I coveted before I would find myself saying, “This is it? This is what I wanted? I’m supposed to be satisfied with this?!?!” I don’t want to settle for the American Dream. I want God’s Dream. The American Dream is too small. I’ve been given a taste of God’s passion for the nations and I can’t imagine settling for anything less. But, it took God prying away those idols from my life so that he could change my unwilling heart into a heart that he could use. Please don’t misunderstand–I had nothing to do with this. God alone deserves the credit. But by God’s grace, I now treasure him–not as I should, of course, but more than I once did.
God has a purpose for your life, and it’s not for you to fulfill your American Dream. He has bigger plans for you than that. He wants to give you the Kingdom! Don’t settle for fool’s gold. He alone is the true treasure, the only thing worth living for. What’s your treasure?
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