By Michael E. Brooks
“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 your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV).
Brenda and I had just arrived at the airport from our most recent trip abroad. We met relatives at a near-by restaurant for a welcome home breakfast, and had just finished when the call came. It was our alarm monitoring service. Our home had just been broken into. After three months absence, burglars chose the morning we were to arrive to attempt robbery. The good news is that police responded immediately, and the invaders evidently were frightened away by the alarm. Nothing was missing and minimal damage was done.
But suppose it had not turned out that well. Would it have really mattered that much if some of our possessions were lost? We would have been saddened and would have suffered loss, certainly. There are things in our house we would miss. But would it have been really tragic? I think not. Jesus addresses our attitude towards material possessions several times in the Gospels, and each time he seeks to establish a proper perspective about them.
The first and most memorable of his sayings is in the Sermon on the Mount (see text above). Treasures on earth are always vulnerable and always temporary. That is the nature of material things. They do not last, and they cannot be guaranteed. That is the nature of this world. Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and thieves happen. We must understand that and be prepared for them. That includes alarm systems and insurance, certainly. But it also includes the mental and emotional preparation for loss. Our material possessions are not the most important things in life. Far more valuable are our relationships, our mental, spiritual, and physical health, and our eternal destiny. This earth will be destroyed, with all that is on it. Heaven is eternal. Jesus’ instruction is sound – we should store all our valuables where they will be truly secure. Or, put another way, only that which is truly secure is really valuable.
Secondly, Jesus taught, “One’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). There is more pleasure and accomplishment to be found in the intangibles than in the material. Success cannot be measured in dollar signs. This is a lesson that each person seems to have to learn for himself. Most of us get embroiled in the striving for things, and in the goal of wealth, gadgets, or trophies. But numerous examples of the miserable rich prove the fallacy of such a lifestyle. Things cannot guarantee happiness. And things certainly cannot provide salvation from sin or eternal life.
In the parable of the unjust steward, Jesus’ concluding statement is, “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:11-12). All of the material possessions we have actually belong to God. They were made by him. He is the owner of all creation. We are simply his stewards. Our use of physical things is a measure of our spiritual trustworthiness. The rich fool was punished because “He … lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Material things are not important in themselves, but they do provide us a means of proving our faithfulness as God’s servants. Paul prayed for the Corinthians to prosper in order that they might share with others (2 Corinthians 9:10-13). By using our possessions to help others and to spread the Gospel we demonstrate that we understand their true value.
Jesus taught many other lessons about wealth and property. These few remind us of the fact that “some things are priceless” but none of them are material in nature.
By Michael E. Brooks