Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Matthew 6:19-21 Sound Investing Advice

Bernie Madoff was sentenced today to 150 years in prison for defrauding investors out of billions of dollars. Now, what he did was wrong but I would say that at least some of the people he defrauded were motivated by greed—they had money and wanted a lot more money. Their avarice prompted them to ignore the sage advice given by many parents to their children “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. The fictitious returns on the investments Madoff supposedly managed were about as plausible as a pig flying. While the people he ripped off are victims, there is something to be learned from this sad story. We can’t put our trust in our wealth. In fact, Jesus says here that our wealth shouldn’t be the focus of our lives. Rather, we should have God’s kingdom as our priority.

First of all, observe with me what Jesus tells us not to do with our money. In verse 19, Matthew records that Jesus said to His audience “Do not store up for yourselves treasures”. The sentence reads in the Greek literally “Do not be treasuring your treasures”. He indicates here that our habit, our lifestyle, should not be to hoard up money as if we’re collecting as a possession to be kept and hidden rather than as a resource to be used. The word translated “store up” carries with it the idea of something, in this case money, being stored up for safekeeping. Now, is Jesus then against the idea of saving for a rainy day? I would say not, because we are told in the book of Proverbs to take note of how the ant stores and prepares the things it needs (Proverbs 6:6). Is Jesus then saying we shouldn’t prepare to retire? Probably not, although the idea of an idle Christian is certainly not something you would get from the Bible. If someone were able to retire from full time work so they could serve their church and community or contribute in some way to a ministry (i.e. a retired accountant serving a church or ministry because old bookkeepers never die, they just get out of balance) that would be a meaningful, God honoring way to spend their later years. However, I’m not so sure that sitting around watching reruns of Matlock and Wheel of Fortune is exactly the kind of life that God called us to when He saved us assuming we are physically and mentally able to function. The idea here is that we should not hoard up wealth just to see how much we can amass.

Why, you might ask? Because everything on earth is temporary and, therefore, you “can’t take it with you”. All the stuff that we acquire is stuff that our kids will have to sort out after we’re gone. It won’t do us any good because after we die our spirit goes to be with the Savior. However, even while here on earth we shouldn’t let our possessions possess us because at any time we may find that “moth and rust” have destroyed our treasures or they’ve been stolen. Simply put, a lock only keeps an honest man out. If a crook wants in your house bad enough and wants your stuff bad enough, they can get it. Our treasures, then, are not only temporary but they are perishable. We can’t and shouldn’t hold on to them because they are fleeting. God is eternal—our stuff is not.

With this in view, Jesus tells us what we should do with the wealth and possessions that we’ve been made stewards over. He says we should “store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven”. In other words, I believe the text tells us we should use our material possessions in a way that honors God and builds His kingdom. In the end, how much money we had, what kind of car we drove, and what kind of house we lived in won’t matter. What will matter is what we personally did to provide resources for ministries that are reaching the world for Jesus. It will matter in eternity how much sacrifice we made not only of our money but of our time and talents. In the final analysis, those are gong to be the only treasures we have stored up in heaven and they will last because in heaven “neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal”.

In verse 21, we see the point Jesus was making with this teaching. Our focus determines our priorities. If our treasure is in heaven, our heart will be there as well. We will be concerned about God’s holiness, becoming more Christlike, and sharing the gospel. We will be concerned about building His kingdom and not our kingdom. We will rightly recognize that we are steward’s who are entrusted with the management of earthly possessions and that they are not ours in the first place. Furthermore, we will be constantly reminded that we are strangers in this world and that our home, our real home, is in heaven with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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