I grew up in a single income family. My mother never worked outside the home and dad was in middle management for Caterpillar. Most of my friends were from blue collar families. In the 1970’s and 80’s, we were right in the middle of the middle class.
I grew up aware of two things: we weren’t wealthy and we weren’t poor. But that was in comparison to people who lived in our area. I realize now that we were better off than most people in the world – even better off than many people in other parts of our own country.
If you’re like most people, when you hear “What would Jesus say to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg?” you immediately feel off the hook.
After all, Bill Gates sits on top of Forbes 2016 list of wealthiest people, worth an estimated $75 billion. Mark Zuckerberg is # 6 on the list, worth $44 billion. In between them are guys like Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos.
While I didn’t see any of your names on Forbes 300 (and I looked that far just to be sure), Jesus wouldn’t let us off the hook that fast.
The median income in the US is $51,000. Where I live, Douglas County, Colorado, the median income is $101,000. In comparison, the median income in the world is only $10,000 per person.
When you study the Gospels, you have wonder why Jesus taught more about money than almost any other topic. More than heaven or hell. More than baptism or communion.
I believe the answer is simple: for Jesus, how people used their money was an indication of the condition of their hearts.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:19-21
Christian teaching tends to go to extremes: We should either have nothing or have everything. It’s a vow of poverty on the one hand and the prosperity gospel on the other. Neither reflects the teaching of Jesus.
For Jesus, the life of discipleship is a life that is singular in its pursuit of God. That’s why he talks about treasures.
- What we treasure is what we value.
- What we treasure is what we prioritize.
- What we treasure is what we spend time and money on.
If we treasure status, that is where our time and money will go. Jesus is challenging his followers to treasure the right things.
Matthew Henry was a famous Bible scholar who died in 1714. In his journal he tells of returning home only to find his house had been robbed. Here’s what he wrote:
“Lord, I thank you that I have never been robbed before; that although they took my money, they spared my life; that although they took everything, it wasn’t very much; that I was the one who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
Compare that to how Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls, described Michael Jordan’s first retirement from basketball:
“He’s living the American Dream. The American Dream is to reach a point in your life where you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and can do everything that you do want to do.”
That may be the American dream but it’s not the dream of Jesus. The dream of Jesus is that you would treasure the right things – the things of God – that moths cannot destroy and thieves cannot steal.
But how is that possible? It’s just like Jesus to tell us how …
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” — Matthew 6:22-24
Why does Jesus shift from treasures to talking about eyesight?
When Jesus speaks of eyes that are healthy, he is referring to a person who has a generous spirit. Rather than seeing her possessions as something she owns, she sees her possessions as something God allows her to manage.
But what if your eyes are unhealthy? The word literally means bad or evil (as in, “Why are you giving me the evil eye?”).
Here’s what Proverbs 23:6-7 says: Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; 7 for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.
The King James Version translates begrudging host as a person with an “evil eye.” The English Standard Version calls that person a “stingy man.”
You will either have healthy eyes or unhealthy eyes. You will either serve God or money – but you cannot serve both.
Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, once said that Christians are made, not born. In other words, nothing about following Jesus comes naturally to us.
Jesus is saying that a person devoted to God will eventually adopt the values, behaviors and priorities that God affirms.
But how? Let me give three simple steps anyone can implement.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. The last of the Ten Commandments is to not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. At the root of coveting is comparison: we are comparing ourselves to someone else and feel like we are lacking something.
- Be thankful. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be thankful for what you do have. This simple shift in attitude will influence your life in tremendous ways.
- Share what you have to help others. The bottom line: Do good with whatever God has given you. If it’s little or much, use what you have to be a blessing to others.
As a pastor, one of my hopes for our church is that we continue to grow in generosity. In investing, there is a well-known relationship between risk and reward.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that our faith is always connected to risk. That’s why God always rewards those who have faith in him (see Hebrews 11:6).
When you give the first 10% of your earnings to God, you are saying to him: “I trust you, God. I believe in you. I want your priorities for my life. I want to use what you’ve given me to further your kingdom.”
Our EnVision campaign at Mountainview is another reason I love our church. We believe that God wants to use our combined efforts to impact South Denver.
Sometimes God calls to us to step out of the boat into the waves. Into mystery. It’s at the point where our feet may fail that we most need faith.
That’s the kind of church that can change the world.