Making Your Money Last
May 17, 2009 | Brian Bill
I came across this vintage letter to Ann Landers: “Aunt Emma was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn’t trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age. When Uncle Ollie was 60 [and stricken with a terminal illness], he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to. They all knew he was a little odd, and this was clearly a crazy request.
Her husband died and Aunt Em assured Uncle Ollie’s brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he had asked. The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. She then wrote a check and put it in the casket…”
As we’ve been learning in this series from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to be a Christ-follower is not easy, though the rewards are out of this world, literally. In these three chapters, we’re called to change both our attitudes and our actions. We’ve been challenged to resolve conflict biblically, we’ve studied the model prayer, we’ve been reminded to put the kingdom first if we want to win over worry and last week we were prodded to secretly give what we can to help those in need. This morning our topic is “Making Your Money Last” from Matthew 6:19-24.
Last week I mentioned how easy it is to get our motives messed up and misaligned. In light of that, I want to be clear about my motives behind this message. As I prayed about what God would have us study this spring, I was drawn to the Sermon on the Mount because so many have lost hope during these hard times. A topic that causes a ton of anxiety right now is finances. According to CNN, worries about unemployment have tripled this past year. My objective today is not to get you to give more in the offering but rather to help each of us live more for eternity.
Actually, according to the results from the REVEAL survey that was taken by 222 PBC people a year and a half ago, 47% report that they give 10% or more of their income to God’s work. This is a giving church.
To measure anxiety about our economy, a national survey by Bank of America and a Duke University professor was released. Here are some highlights:
- More than 80 percent of American consumers indicate they are more conscious of their spending habits today compared to the beginning of 2009.
- Nine in ten Americans use discounts and promotions to assist in their shopping needs, with nearly 60 percent spending more time than ever before looking for such deals.
- Managing day-to-day expenses and finding ways to save represent the biggest financial challenges Americans are facing in today’s economy (40 percent).
While I’m far from an expert in financial matters if you do need some help in this area, I heartily recommend Crown Ministries and Dave Ramsey.
whatever we value the most controls the course of our life
Jesus realizes that most people struggle with managing money — that’s why He devoted much of His teaching to this critical area of life. He dealt with money matters over 100 times because money matters and there is no way to separate faith and finances. Did you know that the Bible has more to say about money than almost any other topic? In our passage for today, Jesus challenges us in three areas. We’ll see that whatever we value the most controls the course of our life.
1. Where’s Your Heart? (19-21)
Verse 19 is a negative command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Verse 20 is the positive percept: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
“To store up” has the connotation of stacking coins, much like Scrooge did in Christmas Carol. Jesus used the word “treasures” and not “money” because while not everyone has a lot of cash, we all have things that we treasure. It’s more a matter of attitude than affluence. Our treasure may be a home, a car, a computer, our clothes, or even a position that we hold or seek after. While Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to have treasures, He is telling us that our focus should be on laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth. This could literally be translated, “Don’t keep treasuring up treasures for yourselves.”
This command is in the present tense. It literally means to “stop storing up.” We’re to stop doing something that by nature we’ve been doing for most of our lives. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have material possessions, or own property, or save for the future. The key lies in the little phrase, “for yourselves.” Jesus is forbidding the selfish, self-centered accumulating of goods as the major focus of life.
Three things happen to the things we own. First, they are destroyed. In ancient times, wealth was measured in part by clothing because garments represented a considerable investment. No matter how beautiful the clothing, moths would often attack and chew right through their outfits. Second, the things we cherish often decay and corrode. Third, our possessions can disappear. Valuables were often buried out in the field or hidden in a brick wall. Back then, thieves would literally break into the walls and dig up the yard as they searched for valuables.
If you try to store your wealth, the moths will destroy it, or rust will decay it. If you try to hide it for yourself, thieves can make it disappear. Some of you have experienced something like that as a result of losing your job or having your hours cut back. Others of you have taken hits in the stock market. Jesus is saying that earthly wealth is very insecure because our possessions are perishable.
Job 27:16, 19 provides a vivid description of this process: “Though he heaps up silver like dust and clothes like piles of clay…he lays down wealthy, but will do so no more; when he opens his eyes, all is gone.” Someone has said that riches will either leave us while we live, or we’ll leave them when we die.
Earthly treasures are fleeting and futile but heavenly treasures are secure. 1 Peter 1:4: “And into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you.” Proverbs 23:5: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” Treasures that we send on ahead are mothproof, rustproof, and burglarproof.
Verse 20: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” I love that quote from missionary martyr Jim Eliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Every time you drop something in the plate you could whisper something like this to your check: “See you in heaven.”
And then Jesus reveals a disarming truth in verse 21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” To put it plainly, He’s saying that your heart follows your money. That’s not the way most of us think. We tend to think our money follows our heart — if our heart is right, we will spend our money wisely. That’s not the way it works because your heart always follows your treasure. Luther captured it well when he said, “What a man loves, that is his God.” We show what we love by what we do with what we have.
It’s worth noting that in the previous two verses the word “yourselves” is plural but here it is singular, which means each of us are called to make a personal application. Whatever you invest your time and money in will become very important to you. Too many of us spend all that we have on the things of this world and then we wonder why we have trouble concentrating on the things of God. Our problem is that we’ve invested everything down here and hardly anything up there! Our money has kept our heart tied to the earth. You’ll never be able to get your heart focused on heaven as long as your attention is on material things.
Your heart will always follow your money because it’s wrapped up in what you treasure. Some guys attach their wallet to a belt loop with a chain. God connects our wallets to our hearts. Possessions can very easily become the center of our life. Someone compared life’s passing pleasures to going to an amusement park – the price is high and the ride is short!
I’ve not seen the movie called The Mummy but I’m told there’s a character named Benji who loses all sense of control at the end of the film when he finds a great treasure room. As he’s surrounded by jewels and gold, the room begins to fill up with sand. He has the opportunity to get out but instead he fills his pockets and drags out bags filled with gold, which are too heavy. Eventually the door closes and surrounded by riches, Benji never sees the light of day again and never gets to enjoy the riches he deemed so valuable.
The big question in the Sermon on the Mount is this: Where’s my heart? If you want to find out where your heart is, look at what you’re treasuring. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The heart is the well from which all the issues of life gush forth. Whatever we value the most controls the course of our life.
2. Where’s Your Head?
This second question comes from verses 22-23: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
The eye is a symbol for the mind, the conduit through which information flows into our being. Jesus is saying that there are only two possible ways to look at things. If our minds focus only on things down here, we’ll be full of darkness. And whatever the heart seizes upon, the head begins to justify. The natural eye focuses on our physical existence but the spiritual eye locks into what really matters. When money becomes our #1 obsession, it can put blinders on our eyes and ruin our spiritual life. If our thoughts are filled with how we can deposit treasures in heaven, our bodies will be full of light.
Jews considered the eye to be the window of one’s soul. A good eye is the idea of being single-minded and without a hidden agenda. A “bad eye” is sometimes translated as the Hebrew expression, “evil eye,” which means grudging or stingy. Proverbs 28:22 is a good example of this: “A stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him.” Like a lamp that lights up a room, so the eyes are pictured as the window through which light comes into the body. If the window is dirty, or if the glass is discolored, the light will be hindered. An older commentator put it like this: “Singleness of purpose is one great secret of spiritual prosperity.”
What are you looking at today? At that which is seen or unseen? Are you eyes cloudy or do you need to get some new glasses? Have you ever tried on someone else’s glasses? Things are blurry, aren’t they? Likewise, when we don’t see clearly, everything gets distorted.
3. Where Are Your Hands?
We begin by looking at our heart and then we’re to consider what we’re putting in our head. That then leads to our will – what are we doing with our hands? I draw your attention to verse 24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The phrase, “no one” means literally, “But absolutely not one.” To “serve” means that we’ve made a choice and engaged our wills. If we’re not careful, we can be deluded into thinking material things will last forever. Our emotions can then affect our minds, which in turn can cause our wills to be in the grip of money with a capital “M.”
The word Jesus uses here for money is the word, “Mammon,” which is a proper noun, or a name. Jesus viewed Money as a rival for preeminence. Attachment to money leads to a detachment from God. The Bible is absolutely clear about the venomous nature of money. It fights for supremacy in our lives and it has many of the characteristics of deity. It promises security, freedom and power. The Philips paraphrase captures this well: “You cannot serve God and the power of money at the same time.”
To be a committed Christ-follower is not merely a matter of the emotions but also of our minds and wills. To love God requires service and even sacrifice. This type of allegiance cannot be rendered to two parties. Whatever we devote ourselves to becomes our God. The tension that many of us experience when we try to love both God and money will sooner or later begin to show where our real loyalty lies. Only one master will win out. Vernard Eller puts it graphically, “One’s ultimate loyalty must converge at a single point. To try to go two ways at once will rip a person down the middle.”
Money is not just a neutral medium of exchange, but a “power” with a life of its own which seeks to control, and even consume us. The goal of this Money Master is total domination of your value system, without you even being aware of it. If God is your Master, then Mammon won’t matter; if Mammon is your Master, then God won’t matter.
If you’re serving the Money Master, Jesus says you will be unable to fully serve God. He doesn’t say, “You better not” or “it would be unwise to serve both,” He says, “You cannot serve both God and money.” As such, how we handle money has a lot to do with how serious we are about obeying God. His words are unsettling. If you love money, you will end up hating God. If you are devoted to the pursuit of possessions and the making of money, you will find yourself despising the things of God. There is no middle ground, no straddling the fence and no compromise possible. It’s an either/or, not a both/and proposition. One or the other will lose out, and sadly, in most cases, it will be God. I’m reminded of the sad statement made about a man named Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10: “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me…”
John Piper explains it this way: “There is something about God and money that makes them tend to mastery. Either you are mastered by money and therefore ignore God…or you are mastered by God and make money a servant of the kingdom. But if either tries to master you while you are mastered by the other you will hate and despise it.”
When it comes to our possessions, we usually only ask one question, “What are my possessions doing for me?” We ought also to ask, “What are my possessions doing to me?” It’s not wrong to own nice things, but you are in a dangerous place when those nice things own you. Richard Foster’s advice is helpful. When you know deep in your soul that something you own has started to own you, give it away. Find someone who needs it and give it to them. Don’t make a big deal about it. Just give it away. You will be free, and someone else will be blessed. And your heart will start to sing again. Others of you have had things taken away from you due to an economic earthquake.
loving God and loving money are mutually exclusive
I suspect that most of you do not want to hate God. In fact, you’re here because you want to learn how you can get to know Him better. Let me say it straight. You will never be able to fully love God if you are in love with money and all that money can buy because loving God and loving money are mutually exclusive.
Native hunters in the jungles of Africa have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the jungle, and wait.
Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips his hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won’t come out; it’s too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger he is in.
While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters simply stroll in and capture the monkey by throwing a net over him. As long as the monkey keeps his fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The poor monkey could save its own life if it would only let go of the orange. It rarely occurs to a monkey, however, that it can’t have both the orange and its freedom.
It’s time for us to open our hands. Spurgeon writes: “That only is worth my having which I can have for ever. That only is worth my grasping which death cannot tear out of my hand.”
Friend, who or what are you serving? It’s either God or money. True Christ followers will have a different focus on finances than those who don’t know Jesus. I’m reminded of what took place in Luke 3 when people were listening to John the Baptist. Three different groups of people asked this question: “What shall we do then?”
- The crowd was told, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
- The tax collectors were told, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.”
- The soldiers were told, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.”
This gives us an idea of the fruit of repentance – we should share, be fair, and be content with what we have. Martin Luther once said that everyone needs two conversions – one of the heart and one of the pocketbook.
What Are You Sending Ahead?
I’m not much for “Peter at the Pearly Gates” jokes because that’s not how it’s going to be but I did hear one that makes a great point. A rich man died and went to heaven. As he went through the Pearly Gates, Peter came to greet him and said, “Welcome to heaven. Let me show you where you’ll be staying.” That suited the wealthy man just fine, because as he looked around, he saw mansions stretching out in every direction. They appeared to be constructed of gold and silver and precious gems.
As Peter and the rich man began to walk along the streets of gold, they came to an ornate home. As they paused to gaze at it, the rich man said, “Who gets to stay here?” Peter replied, “That’s for your gardener. He was a godly man who loved Jesus and served Him all his life. This is his reward.”
They continued to stroll past other mansions, until they stopped in front of an extremely large one that seemed to be made of emeralds and rubies. The rich man asked Peter, “Is this mine?” Peter answered, “No, this one belongs to your maid. On the little bit of money you paid her, she raised six children and gave to her church every week.”
They continued to walk and came to a different section of homes. Only these houses weren’t as nice. As they went up a small hill, they stopped in front of a shack made of tar paper and used sheet metal. The front door was cut out of an old refrigerator box. It was held together with bailing wire and twine.
After pausing for a moment, the rich man asked, “And whose is that?” Peter responded, “It’s yours!” The rich man couldn’t believe it. There must be some mistake. Peter bowed his head and said, “No, there’s been no mistake — we did the best with what you sent ahead!”
Friends, we can’t take it with us, but we can send it on ahead.
Stop Wavering Between Two Opinions
In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah challenged the people to make a decision. It was an either/or deal. We’re face with a similar choice today: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow Him.”
Let’s go back over the three questions.
- Where’s your heart?
- Where’s your head?
- Where are your hands?
Whatever we value the most controls the course of our life.
In a study released last month by USA Today called “The Most Important Issues Facing Young Adults,” money matters came out on top. Here are the most important issues facing those ages 22 through 28.
- 52% Making better money management decisions
- 18% Strengthening family relationships
- 11% Protecting the environment
- 10% Balancing work and personal life
It all comes down to who your king is. Is it money or is it God?