Money & Possessions
Picture the most godly person you can imagine. The most morally-upright, squeaky-clean, God-fearing person that ever walked the earth. This could be a real person you know, or you could just imagine someone.
Now let me ask you some questions about that person: what is the balance on their credit card? How much money do they have in savings? Do they even have savings? How much money to they live off of each month? How new is their car? How big is their home? How nice are their clothes? What kind of phone is in their pocket, and how new is it?
There’s at least two kinds of answers that Christians tend to come up with to those questions. On the one hand, some might picture this unrealistically godly person as someone who doesn’t have much money. If they haven’t taken a vow of poverty, they’re close to it. They don’t have a credit card, they wear clothing from the 1940s which miraculously hasn’t worn out yet, and ravens bring them meat every day.
On the other hand, some might imagine this stand-up person as being well-off, prosperous, rich. Maybe even very wealthy. Because wealth and prosperity are obviously the sign of God’s blessing on someone’s life, right?
Now here’s what’s interesting, and why there is often so much confusion on this topic: both of these sets of answers—that Christians should be poor, or that Christians should be rich—have Scriptures which justify their position. There are verses in the Bible which seem to suggest that Christians should reject anything material. After all, when Jesus sent out his disciples, didn’t He tell them not to bring anything with them—not even any money (Luke 9:3)?
But on the other hand, there are other Scriptures which suggest the opposite is true, and tell us that if we obey God, He will bless us materially, and we will prosper.
So, what do you think is the right answer? How have you made sense of those mixed messages? And most importantly, how do you apply this to yourself? What’s your financial situation? What are your financial goals? How do you feel these reflect on your godliness?
It shouldn’t be a surprise by now that we’re talking about money and possessions this morning. And we’re going to do our best to make sense of these apparently conflicting messages from the Bible. We’re going to see that confusion on this topic comes when we ignore or misunderstand the way that the Bible fits together as a big story. But when we understand the Bible’s storyline and how it fits together, then we’ll be able to more clearly see what God expects of us, today, in terms of our money and possessions.
Money and Possessions in the Israelite Covenant
So let’s begin by going back to God’s covenant with Israel. You’ll remember how the storyline of the Bible is built on the framework of these big covenants God made with His people. And after delivering Israel from Egypt, God entered into a covenant with them. And in that covenant, God explicitly promised to prosper them materially—to give them lots of resources and possessions—if they obeyed Him.
I’ve mentioned before that Deuteronomy 28 is a very important chapter in terms of understanding that covenant and how it worked. And in that chapter, we read this:
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today… Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock…The LORD will command the blessing on you in your barns [or storehouses] and in all that you undertake…And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground… And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 4, 8, 11, 12).
These were the terms of the covenant. Obedience to God resulted in material blessing and wealth and prosperity.
And the flip-side was true: the rest of the chapter goes on to spell out the drought and material ruin that would come upon them if they were unfaithful to the covenant.
And we have to understand these terms of the covenant if we’re going to understand the rest of the Old Testament properly. Because the rest of the Old Testament takes place in the context of this covenant and these terms.
So for example, in Proverbs 3:9-10, we read “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns [or storehouses] will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
What is this verse saying? It’s basically just repeating Deuteronomy 28. In the Law, God had already commanded them to honour Him with their firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26:2). So that idea wasn’t new: it was one of the many laws they had to obey. And Deuteronomy 28 said that if they obeyed the Law, including this one about honouring God with their firstfruits, then He would bless the fruit of the ground, which would result in full barns and bursting vats.
So this verse is essentially repeating Deuteronomy 28. It’s celebrating that God will keep His promises and be faithful to the terms of the covenant.
We see the same thing in Psalm 37, where David famously wrote, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing” (Psalm 37:25–26). Of course the righteous man’s children would not beg bread, because within that covenant, righteous men were rewarded with prosperity. Once again, David is not saying anything new: he is celebrating that God keeps His covenant promises.
One more example is the well-known passage from Malachi 3 about “robbing God.” And in that passage, God challenges the people to bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and He promises that if they do that, He will “open the windows of heaven” and “pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).
I hope by now you can see where this is going. Tithing was one of the laws they were given by Moses to obey. And so once again, Malachi 3 is just repeating the covenant promises of Deuteronomy 28: that if they obey, they will be blessed in this way.
There’s a couple of other well-known Old Testament passages I’m going to write about on the blog this week, including the Prayer of Jabez, and they all fit in with this same pattern: prosperity was a specific promise within God’s covenant with Israel. In that covenant, with rare exception, to be godly was to be wealthy.
Money and Possessions in the New Covenant
And so, as we try to understand what this means for us today, it’s very important for us to recognize that we do not live under the terms and conditions of that Old Covenant that God made through Moses. Instead, we are a part of the New Covenant in Christ, which has replaced that Old Covenant.
Hebrews 8:13 says that “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” It says it right there: the Old Covenant through Moses is obsolete. And that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody this morning, right? This is why we don’t sacrifice animals any more. We’re under the New Covenant, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ who died for our sins and rose again as the firstfruits of the New Creation.
And so we seem to remember this when it comes to animal sacrifices or worship at the temple. We get that we’re under a different covenant with different terms and conditions. But many Christians forget all about this when it comes to prosperity and wealth. They read Deuteronomy 28 and think that those things apply to us just like they applied back then.
And this is really where the Prosperity Gospel comes from. If you’re unfamiliar with that phrase, the Prosperity Gospel is a set of teachings which says that if we obey God, or if we have enough faith in Him, or if we use our words in the right way, then He will bless us with financial prosperity.
And this teaching is all over the place. You might be surprised at the popular teachers on the Internet or your TV who believe this. And it shows up in sneaky ways. It’s not just the mega-rich televangelists with private jets. It even shows up in innocent Christian movies like “Facing the Giants.”
Many of you have probably seen that movie. It’s about this guy who is in a tough spot in life, and everything is going wrong for him, and so He finally surrenders everything to God. And guess what happens next? Things start going well for him. His football team starts winning. His job and financial situation improves. He and his wife finally conceive after struggling with infertility. And someone gives him a brand new truck.
This would all be fine and good and biblical, if we still lived under the Old Covenant. But we don’t. We live in the New Covenant, and under this New Covenant, our relationship with money and possessions is not the same as it was back then.
And nowhere this more clear than when we hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19, which we’ve read already: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Just imagine how these words would have landed on the ears of the people listening to him, especially those who were well versed in the Scripture. They thought that storing up treasures earth was a good thing to do. It was a sign of God’s favour and blessing. God had explicitly promised to fill up their storehouses!
But now Jesus, in a sermon that is drenched with New Covenant truth, is saying not to do that anymore. Don’t stockpile your possessions. Don’t lay up treasure.
See, something big had changed. Do you remember Jesus saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15)? The Kingdom of God has broken in to our age, and this present age is on it’s way out, and in our place in the story—this time of already-but-not-yet—the priorities of the people of God have shifted away from the present moment and towards the eternal future ahead of us.
Away from storing up treasures here on earth, and towards storing up treasures in Heaven.
Do you notice how Jesus reminds us that in this present age, all of our stuff is so temporary and so vulnerable to being eaten and destroyed and stolen?
I had my bike stolen once, and I was fairly upset about it, until I remembered this verse. Jesus never promised to protect my stuff. He warned me that my stuff is a part of this Old Creation, and it’s affected by the curse, and it’s vulnerable.
And so according to Jesus, the solution to not having your stuff stolen is to keep your stuff in a place where it can’t be stolen. Namely, heaven. Instead of laying up treasures on earth, we should lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).
So please hear: Jesus is not against us laying up treasure for ourselves. What He is against is us laying up treasures here on this earth. He wants us to lay up treasures in Heaven, where there is no curse and where treasure will last into eternity.
What Are Treasures on Earth?
So that’s the big picture, but we need to ask a few important questions to really dig in to what this passage is teaching us.
So the first question we’re going to ask is, “What does Jesus mean by ‘treasures on earth’? Is this talking about anything of value whatsoever? Does this mean, for example, we shouldn’t have a savings account? Does it mean we should all take a vow of poverty?”
Now I know it’s easy for us to just say “of course not” to those questions, but we need to check ourselves. What if? What if that was what Jesus was saying? Would you obey?
The way we should answer those questions is to look to the Scripture and notice that Jesus did not ask his disciples to take a permanent vow of poverty. There was one particular journey where He told them not to bring any money with them, but later, when He was preparing to send them out on the great commission, “He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one’” (Luke 22:36).
So having some supplies for the mission, like some money and a backpack and apparently a weapon for self-defence, was ok.
We know that the early Christians often gathered in each other’s homes for fellowship and hospitality, and so home ownership was not something they needed to reject.
That’s actually the reason Aimee and I bought the house we did when we moved to town here. Not only was it the cheapest thing on the market that fit our family, but it was a home that we could use as a ministry centre. A place where we could have people in all the time, which has been a real dream come true for us.
We know that even though Paul often faced hunger and need, there were other times he experienced plenty, and he was okay with that (Philippians 4:12). And we know that he had some possessions which were valuable to Him, like a cloak and some books and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13).
And then there’s Paul’s command to the Thessalonians, that we should each earn our own living and be dependent on no-one (1 Thessalonians 4:12, 2 Thessalonians 3:12). In today’s economy, we have vehicles and appliances that break down, and many of us will live for several years after we’ve stopped being able to earn an income. And so obeying this command is very difficult without at least some measure of savings.
So “treasures on earth” doesn’t refer to the tools that we need to live and fulfill our mission. It doesn’t mean anything of material value, and I hesitate to say that it refers to a moderate amount of savings which we have in place to cover our necessities.
I do think we kind of get that this word “treasure” is talking about things of value that we don’t actually need to live and fulfill our mission. It’s the the luxury items, the things that we keep and collect and stockpile for ourselves that go well beyond our basic necessities.
It’s like the rich man that Jesus spoke of in Luke 12. His land produced plentifully, and “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”’” (Luke 12:17–19).
Many people today would call that wise financial planning. Freedom 55, right? “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 12:20–21).
What Are Treasures on Heaven?
So if that’s what treasures on earth are, then the next important question we need to ask is: what are treasures in heaven, and how do we store them up?
If we were to read through the gospel of Matthew in its entirety, we’d see that “treasures in heaven” point to the reward that we will receive from God in the Age to Come. We talked about this idea last week, in the context of good works. God has promised to reward us for the things we do by faith in Him here in this age.
And in Matthew’s gospel, we hear that doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake, forgiving one another, and doing good works for one another are all actions that will be rewarded in eternity (Matthew 5:12, 5:30, 46, 6:6, 18, 10:42, 25:40).
So when Jesus tells us to store up treasures in Heaven, He’s telling us to do the kinds of things that will result in heavenly reward. And to actively pursue that. We’re not just allowed to lay up heavenly reward, we’re commanded to. It’s supposed to be a priority for us.
Why Not Both?
And this leads us to our next question. Why not do both? Why not lay up treasures here on earth and in heaven? Why not live the good life here and there?
The answer is that it’s not possible to seek earthly treasure and heavenly treasure. 1 Timothy 6 tells us that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:9–12).
Do you see that? Earthly treasure and eternal life are in opposite directions. We can’t pursue both at the same time. We need to make a choice.
Jesus said the same in Matthew 6, just a few verses down. “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” (Matthew 6:24). We have to make a choice.
If we are going to store up treasures in heaven, it means that we will be committed to using our time and money to do the kinds of things that Jesus will reward us for. We’ll using our money to give to our church and support missionaries and we’ll be using our time to care for and love others. And if we’re truly committed to those things, we’re not going to have time or money left over to stockpile our own cache of goods.
Interrogate our Possessions
Now I think we should admit that this is a very difficult part of Scripture for us here in North America to rally understand.
Most of us in this room today probably don’t think that we’re wealthy. It’s always the guy who has more than us who is wealthy. But by global standards, virtually every person in this room today is wealthy. Just consider that the poverty line in the United States is $11,000 a year, which works out to roughly $15,000 Canadian. And if you only lived off of that amount per year, you’d still be richer than about 85% of the world’s population.
Most of us are staggeringly rich. And so it’s appropriate for us this morning to be reminded that don’t actually need a lot to live. 1 Timothy 6:8 says that “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
I want to suggest to you a practice that I’ve tried to do, and continue to try to do regularly, which is interrogate my money and possessions. When we moved here from Regina, I had the chance to ask some questions about every item that we packed up: “Is this a tool for the kingdom? Is this here to help me more effectively fulfill my mission of good works for the sake of Jesus? Or is this just treasure that I’m stockpiling for my own luxury?”
And here in North America where we’re constantly being bombarded with messages about needing more and more and more, we need to ask those questions on a regular basis about our possessions, about how much money we have, about every door crasher sale flier that shows up in our mailbox. “Do I really need this? How much of this do I really need? What am I keeping this for? Is this a tool for this mission, or is it just treasure on earth?”
It’s in this context that we should hear what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6 regarding those who are rich. He’s already said that desiring to be rich is a deadly mistake, but what about those who are already rich, even if that wasn’t their goal? In verse 17, which is in your bulletin, he says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17–19).
Do you hear that language there about storing up treasure for ourselves for the future? And the way we are to do that is to be “rich in good works, generous and ready to share.”
We don’t hang on to our money and possessions. Instead, we use it for the kingdom. To be generous. To do good works.
Hearts in the Right Place
And please just remember that when we decide to do that—to let go of some treasure, some possession, some amount of money, and give it away to someone else who needs it or here to the church or to a missionary or a ministry—when we do that, we’re not actually sacrificing anything.
All we’re doing is transferring our treasure to a safer location. To heaven. God is going to reward you for your faith-filled generosity.
And that’s where it all comes down to, doesn’t it? Do we really believe that the Kingdom is coming in it’s fullness? Do we really believe that our real life is our eternal life? Do we really trust that God is going to reward us?
It’s hard to believe that sometimes, isn’t it? Especially in our media-saturated world, with all the messaging and advertising tempting us to greed and dissatisfaction.
It’s hard to have our hearts in the right place.
So— one of our last questions this morning—how to we do that? How do we put our hearts in the right place, so that we’ll begin to put our treasure there?
There’s something wrong with that question I just asked. That question assumes that if we can just get our hearts in the right place, our treasure will follow.
But that’s not how it works, according to Jesus. Our treasure doesn’t follow our heart. Instead, Jesus tells us that our heart will follow our treasure. He tells us to just start storing up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
In other words, don’t wait for your heart to feel it before you obey. Just start doing what King Jesus told you to do.
If you have laid up treasure here on earth, you will never feel ready to give it away. Even right at this moment, it is pulling your heart away from God. And so the only solution is to just obey. Just start getting rid of it. Give it away, sell it, and invest the money in things that matter for eternity. And then your heart will follow your treasure.
That sounds radical, but that’s what Jesus said, and I’m not in the mood to argue with Him.
So, last question this morning: what does it look like for you to obey Jesus on this file? Are you already doing that, and this morning just encouraged you to keep doing that? Then praise God. Keep at it.
But is there a chance these Scriptures have challenged you, and you realize that you need to make some changes? Then I think you know what you need to do. Don’t wait. Obey Jesus. And it’s not like we have a choice. He’s our king, isn’t He?