In the last issue we saw how the Bible is literally packed with analogies, examples and parables about the right attitude and approach toward money. Jesus Christ of Nazareth gave example after example about talents, pounds and pennies. In this article we'll show you where "your treasure" really ought to be.
Well over half of the sixth chapter of Matthew (in the heart of the "Sermon on the Mount") is taken up with Jesus' message about money and concern over material possessions. He said: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal [there is no absolute security anywhere on this earth]: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matt. 6:19-20).
The Perpetual Emergency
For those who are continually worried about "one more month's" survival, that scripture is an awfully big pill to swallow. But what good is that one month's supply when it is over, finished, done with, used up and that month is history? Those who want to put off an event find all too soon that it is right there — staring them in the face. People think to themselves: I've got to have an emergency supply of money so I can perpetuate my existence for one, two or six months — or even, in some cases, a year, or maybe even six years. But would they really be satisfied at the end of a specified time — no matter how long it was? I think we know the answer. The truth is that we can never lay up quite enough for such an emergency: figuratively speaking, such an emergency would last for all eternity. The best way to store up for an emergency is to put it where it can never be corrupted, stolen, inflated, deflated or even diminished to the tiniest extent — where total, ultimate, maximum and absolute security exists! Jesus continues: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (verse 21). Where is your treasure? Is it in a bank account? In gold stocks? Under the mattress? "Safely" stashed away in the ground? Wrapped up in a sack? Or is it in God's corning Kingdom — doing His work today that precedes His Kingdom? This is not to say God does not approve of savings or being frugal and careful with one's material goods with an eye toward the future! The Bible plainly endorses laying up for grandchildren's needs, and the example of a righteous woman "considering a field" in Proverbs 31 is well known. But there is an obvious difference between saving for a "rainy day" and the over-anxious, worried concern over the future to the point of "hoarding" either money or goods. Balance is the key — and the right balance is possible only when the right attitude is maintained. Jesus talked about attitude when he spoke of the eye being "single." "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single [single-hearted, single in purpose], thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.... No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other..." (verses 22-24).
God or Mammon?
And then Jesus Christ of Nazareth utters one of the most profound truisms in all of the Bible: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (verse 24). The very essence of this age can be summed up in the one word "mammon." Webster defines it as "material wealth or possessions esp. having an evil power or debasing influence" (Third New International Dictionary, unabridged). Mammon is where it's at. It embodies all the competition, strife, greed and lust attendant to this world's way — all the debasing elements that are attached to the love of money. But Jesus says that you cannot serve God and mammon. You have to choose one or the other! God always gives us a choice. But He always advises us to "Choose life that both you and your children may live" (cf. Deut. 30:19). Jesus' advice is no different. He continues: "Therefore [in the light of the fact that you cannot serve God and mammon] I say unto you, Take no [anxious] thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat [food], and the body than raiment [clothing]? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?... And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" (Verses 25-26, 28-30.)
Giving to Get?
Often the missing ingredient in giving is faith — the faith that God Almighty will back up His Word and take care of our physical needs. Some are afraid to put God to the test; afraid to "prove me now herewith"; afraid to see whether or not God will open the windows of heaven and pour them out a blessing (cf. Mal. 3:10). But, giving to get? No, that should never be our attitude! A person just gives to be able to give. And when he receives, he just treats it as a totally unexpected blessing and turns around to give more. The true giver, as it were, looks around in absolute bewilderment when he receives. He doesn't give with an underlying surreptitious sort of a secret motive, thinking: "The more I give, the more I'm going to get." That attitude is disastrous to giving! Giving to get is not really giving at all in the truest sense of the term. Giving, of and by itself, brings unfathomable blessings even if you never get a dime back in a material sense. Jesus said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). As an example, just seeing the expression on the face of the receiver is by far the only reward many a giver would ever want. Jesus' advice on these material matters is consistent. He tells people not to be so overly concerned with things like money, food, clothing, possessions, shelter, survival, security, etc. He continues in Matthew 6: "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles [nations] seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things [food, clothing, shelter, little amenities, etc.] shall be added unto you" (verses 31-33). Jesus is talking about a right sense of priorities. He knows (and God the Father knows) what the material and monetary needs of men and women are — after all, He is our Creator. He made us knowing full well what our human bodies and minds would require in terms of the products of the material earth. The problem is (and has been) that people are so much more concerned about their pecuniary postures (their financial and material needs) than seeking God's Kingdom. God is more than willing to shower us with material blessings (and even luxuries) if we would only put the true values first.
Approach to Tomorrow
Jesus continues in this account of the "Sermon on the Mount": "Take therefore [in the light of the fact that God will add the material dimensions] no [anxious] thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (verse 34). The world is finally beginning to wake up to this one principle because of a kind of jaded recoil to the future shock of the absolutely inadmissible (to people's minds) circumstances both extant in and coming on the world as a whole. People are learning to live life daily — one day at a time. "There's no reason not to be happy today; there'll be plenty of time to be unhappy tomorrow." Unfortunately there are plenty of perversions of this basically right concept. We shouldn't say: "There is no need to worry; nothing is going to turn out all right." That is a lack of faith. Neither should we say: "Why shouldn't I do whatever appeals to me physically? There is no tomorrow." But there is a tomorrow! So God wants us to both live for today and to think about the consequences of what we do today in terms of tomorrow. We should live daily in the sense of tackling each problem as it comes to us — even with regard to procuring food, clothing and shelter. But anxiety, fright, concern, apprehension, worry and fear over the future — a lingering desire for total security — none of these negative emotions reflect any faith in God Almighty and His ability to back up His Word and look out for the physical necessities of His children.
The Security Obsession
Total, absolute security is a myth anyway. This basic truism is nowhere better illustrated than in Jesus' short parable in the twelfth chapter of the book of Luke. He prefaced this parable with a great overall principle. "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (verse 15). If people in this money-mad, materialistically oriented society of ours could only understand and heed this one principle! Yet possessions, accumulations of fine furniture, luxurious automobiles, furs, jewelry — these things are so important to many. Then Jesus went right on into the parable: "... The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease [take it easy], eat, drink, and be merry" (verses 16-19). This man thought he had it made: his emergency fund was almost perpetual — extending for many years on out into the future. But notice God's reaction to his totally selfish attitude. "God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee [he was to die]: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" (Verse 20.) This particular rich man, just exactly like the one in the parable about the beggar named Lazarus, apparently had no concern whatsoever for his fellowmen — most of whom were far less financially fortunate than he was. He was so totally out of tune with the needs of others that the thought of giving away a small portion of his goods probably never even crossed his mind. Then Jesus added this closing Thought at the end of the parable: "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (verse 21). This rich man's sad plight is the end. result of total self-concern. to the exclusion of God and neighbor. And we don't have to be rich to have the man's attitude. Anyone who stubbornly continues in that same covetous attitude will wind up with the same "reward" — sooner or later.
The Giving Attitude
On the opposite side of the coin is the giving attitude illustrated by yet another vital maxim in the "Sermon on the Mount." Jesus said: "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" (Matt. 5:42). Luke's account expounds on this particular phase or aspect of the giving spirit a little more than Matthew's. "And if ye lend [or give] to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again [the true giving spirit]; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest [eternal life in God's Kingdom]: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:34-35). And then Jesus goes on to show that the true giving spirit brings on an automatic boomerang-like effect. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (verse 38). This verse just repeats, in different words, the old time-tested principle restated by many different writers throughout the Bible: "What you sow you shall reap." Solomon, several times in his writings, reiterates the very same axiom: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight..." (Eccl. 11:1-2, RSV). And again: "One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; and other withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered" (Prov. 11:24-25, RSV). Also: "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: [and then as a direct consequence] so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Prov. 3:9-10). More about this true spirit of giving later in this article.
The Kingdom of God and Monetary Stewardship
The giving spirit, honest handling of material possessions, getting the most for your money in the right way — all these principles have everything to do with entrance into the Kingdom of God. In many of His parables, Jesus likened the proper use of and attitude toward various monetary units to both getting into and being rewarded in the coming government of God. Forgiveness of monetary debts and forgiveness of spiritual sins are compared in a parabolic analogy in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven [Kingdom of God in Mark, Luke and John] likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents [the margin says a talent is 750 ounces of silver]. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made" (verses 23-25). Then the story goes on to show how the servant begged his creditor to be patient with him — and how the master had compassion and forgave every bit of the debt (verses 26-27). And then at this junctrue the account dearly displays the illogical, tortuous twists and turns human nature sometimes takes. "But the same servant went out; and found one of his fellowservants which owed him an hundred pence [a very, very paltry sum by comparison]: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt" (verses 28-30). Instead of shoveling out mercy with a giant scoop shovel as his master had (and as God does), that servant absolutely refused to forgive a minor, petty sin against him. The spiritual analogy ought to be obvious. When God has totally forgiven us of incredible, uncountable sins, it's like one of us going out and shaking a brother like a rag doll — half strangling him, figuratively speaking — when we refuse to forgive his sins. What do you think God's reaction is to this kind of conduct? "Then his lord... said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors..." (verses 32-34). And then Jesus caps off the parable, explaining its meaning in the very plainest of language. "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses" (verse 35). Here Jesus uses the analogy of the payment of debt and the handling of money as an example of a means of getting into God's Kingdom. Almost every time Jesus Christ talks about the Kingdom of God and a righteous attitude — a spirit of mercy and forgiveness — He speaks about talents, pounds, pennies, trading, buying and selling, hiring and firing, the unrighteous mammon, a creditor that releases debts, etc., etc. On one particular occasion, Jesus Christ was having dinner at the home of one of the Pharisees (Luke 7:36). "And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner [a prostitute], when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears.... Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. "And Jesus answering [He knew what the Pharisee was thinking; He knew what was in man, cf. John 2:24-25] said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.... There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered... I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged" (verses 37-43). Simon knew the answer: obviously it would be the one who owed the biggest debt. You are happier proportionate to the amount of the release. Jesus continued the discourse: "... Simon, seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with [her] tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.... Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little" (verses 44, 47).
Trading Your Talents
Christian stewardship, if you want to call it that, embodies a many-faceted set of responsibilities — going far beyond just the willingness to forgive a brother of a debt in a hardship case or the related spiritual analogy of releasing a spiritual sin. Other parables bring out different aspects of the same overall theme of proper handling of money and material possessions. One such parable is found in Matthew 25: "For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several [natural] ability; and straightway [immediately] took his journey" (verses 14-15). The word "talent" is a measurement of money (a monetary unit of payment) and is only spiritually analogous to an ability, proclivity, or something of that nature. These servants were to invest the man's money wisely, and see to it that the investment improved to the best of their individual abilities. They were supposed to put the money to work — to make money with money — even to put it out to interest, if they themselves didn't know how to use it otherwise. Talents were given according to their innate and/or developed natural abilities, and those servants were expected to develop and increase those talents. "Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two" (verses 16-17). So trading, buying, selling and working in business is a right principle of God. This example shows once again Jesus Christ's absolute belief in the free enterprise system, minus, of course, its evils and abuses. Both of these servants, though they started with different amounts, doubled their talents in trading — that's a 100 percent increase! By spiritual analogy they overcame exactly to the same degree. Their reward would be the same in God's Kingdom according to His righteous judgment. God judges us individually based on how much we do with our own unique, natural abilities — not on someone else's natural talents and abilities. And God judges the worth of how much we give based on our own individual financial capacities. He does not expect us to give what we "have not got"!
The Timorous Type
Now notice the negative example of the servant that had been given but one single talent. "But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money" (verse 18). How like this example is that of the backyard hoarder — salting away his emergency fund under the vegetable garden! This fellow was a timorous, penny-pincher type, afraid to take a little bit of a risk and launch into a venture with potential rewards and opportunities. After the two servants, who had each doubled their talents in trading, received their rewards with a "well done, thou good and faithful servant" (verses 20-23), reckoning time came for this hoarder type. "Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid [buried] thy talent in the earth: 10, there thou hast that is thine" (verses 24-25). All he would have had to have done was gain one more talent and he could have received the identical "well done." But he chose to take the easy way out — following the path of least resistance. You can read of his "reward" in verses 27 through 30. But notice especially verse 27: "Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury [interest]." Is it a right and godly principle for money to earn interest? According to Jesus Christ of Nazareth it is! The least this person could have done is to have put his master's money into a savings account and let someone else use the money to make money — earning interest in the meantime. In the end, the one that possessed the ten talents (five given and five gained) was also given the one talent of the unprofitable servant (verses 28-29). In this whole parable, Jesus is equating,. by spiritual analogy, the earning of monetary profits and even interest with character improvement (as verses 31 through 46, which follow this parable, in context strongly indicate). But the central, crux, crucial theme of the parable is held together by a monetary unit — a means of fiduciary payment — a medium of exchange. Jesus has invested, so to speak, a little bit of His Spirit in each of us, and He expects an increase! (The parable of the pounds described in Luke 19 is similar in nature.)
The Fruits of Repentance
John the Baptist (the forerunner of Jesus Christ) taught the Pharisees and the people to repent of covetousness, which is material idolatry — breaking the first as well as the tenth commandment. "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance .... And. the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat [food], let him do likewise" (Luke 3:8, 10, 11). Pretty plain and clear advice for any Christian wanting to live a life that is going to end up in God's Kingdom. The account continues on with John's advice to the tax collectors of that day: "... Exact no more [money] than that which is appointed you" (verse 13). He was telling them in modern vernacular: "Don't extort; don't pad the rate even a little bit; don't pull the wool over the eyes of these poor widows and peasants who really don't comprehend all this form shoptalk; don't take advantage of their ignorance of the ins and outs of the rate structure." The soldiers also wanted to know about their responsibilities. How could they "Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance"? "... And he [John] said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages" (verse 14). John hit right directly on the condition that has led toward more malcontent than perhaps any other thing in the military services from time immemorial — low wages. Here we see three different brackets or types of people who came to John the Baptist asking: What are the fruits of a Christian life? And John answered: give of your clothing; give of your food; don't extort; be content with your income. The apostle Paul expanded upon these. concepts in Hebrews 13:5: "Let your conversation [conduct] be without covetousness; and be content [not only with your wages but] with such things as ye have: [Why?] for he [Jesus] hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." These scriptures bear down fairly hard on the idolatrous sin of covetousness; but they do not mean, taken in context with the many, many other plain scriptures on the subject, that a person cannot with honesty and hard work build up and increase his material possessions — and even be the recipient of a generous salary increase.
How To Give
This same apostle Paul also wrote: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" (Eph. 4:28). In order to give, in a material sense, you have to have something to give. That's fairly basic! Romans 12 is one of the most important Christian-living chapters in all of the Bible. Paul instructs: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us [by God], whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith... or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity [margin, liberally]..." (verses 6, 8). A person can give a great deal more than money. You can give of your energy; you can give of your work. Work parties in local churches have done just that many, many times. As an example, they have painted an elderly lady's whole house in just one day. Afterwards they will all gather around the backyard for a big barbecue and sit down and chat with her. They see how thankful she is by the gleam in her eye and the expression on her face. In only one day's time, she has a beaming white house with neat little blue shutters. Such is the true spirit of giving. Giving is a proportionate proposition: the amount is in ratio to how much you have to give — both materially and spiritually. Again, God does not expect you to give what you have not got! The attitude is the important thing! The true spirit of liberal giving far transcends the exact dollar figure! But generosity is commanded! Did you know that? A generous spirit and attitude — in proportion to the amount of your possessions — is basic to God's "give" way of life. God Himself is a very generous giver! He expects His children to reflect a like generosity within their limited means by comparison. Paul made this vital point crystal clear! "... He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (II Cor. 9:6-7).