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.
We have been looking at the portion of the Sermon which, in the NIV bibles, has the heading ‘Treasures in heaven.’ This began with the encouragement to store treasures in heaven rather than on earth. Next we had the encouragement to focus on the light rather than unhealthy things. Today is another case of choosing one thing instead of the other.
This is just a single verse this time, and quite a well-known verse. But I would include it in the list of things that Jesus said that people would tend to prefer to ignore.
The first group I would mention who tend to ignore this is a group I have spoken about before, more than once: those ‘big name’ speakers who are multi-millionaires and who preach a ‘prosperity gospel.’ They quote Luke 6 about giving, and they say that Jesus became poor so that we can become rich. They challenge people to try to out-give God, using the Luke 6 verse almost like a magical formula or a form of witchcraft. People therefore give more than they can afford in a kind of lottery gamble, and become poorer while the big-name preacher accepts the money ‘for their ministry.’ At the same time the builders are preparing to create yet another huge wing to their enormous mansion….
Truly, as Jesus would say, these people have their reward in full. But as for their place in the kingdom, I would not like to say.
Then there are those who, with good reason, say things like ‘religion don’t pay the bills.’ I can understand this, because if you have only known the way of the world then you will always be looking to make sure that all the bills are paid. There will be rent on your home or local taxation. The energy bills. The water bill. The insurance to pay, both on property and on health. There are transportation costs. You must buy food and clothing. Tithing is all very well, but there needs to be enough left to cover all these other costs.
Yes, I can understand that, and used to think the same way myself. As a result, my giving was always meagre, and I worked all kinds of extra hours to make ends meet. This also meant that I was less of a husband and less of a father. And I know that I am not the only one to have fallen into such a trap. The efforts to create the wealth that I thought was ‘needed’ robbed me of all the things that are truly important in life.
Do people remember that other quote from Jesus? The one about giving more abundant life? And yet, through care about money and in much the same ways as I used to do, people are robbing themselves of the things that make life worth living.
Why is this? Certainly advertising can create a desire to have things better than you already own. Then one of your friends gets something more or better than you have, and then another. Before long you feel the pressure to own whatever it is yourself.
Just think of some of the things that, these days, people would think strange if you did not own. So, can you imagine being without the television? Can you imagine being without the cable or satellite box giving you hundreds of channels (most of which will never be watched) instead of receiving terrestrial broadcasting? Can you imagine being without your smartphone? Can you imagine being without your computer and the internet? What would you think of a person who was without all of these things?
OK, it was more than 50 years ago, but I remember when my parents did not have a television. I remember when they did not have a washing machine and all clothes were washed by hand. They never had a dish washer. I remember that they did not have a refrigerator or a freezer at that time. They rented out two rooms of their home so that they could make ends meet. But yet they did have time for each other and their two children. We were always clothed well, warm in winter, and fed well. There was real family life, and meals were always together at the table.
Family life is under attack these days. And one way it is under attack is the pressure to have things. This causes the extra work to be done that robs time from what should be family life – time with the spouse or with the children.
Worse is that the ‘things’ deemed so necessary also attack the family life. How many families eat their food from their laps while watching TV, paying attention to almost anything else rather than to each other. There are the tales of people texting each other on their phones even if they are sat at the same table together. Spending time face to face has become stressful, and so tempers flare easily. And meanwhile the television shows images of ‘perfect’ women that keep the men in the house increasingly critical of the women and with an increasingly roaming eye.
But the pressure to work to create more wealth, and the kinds of things that are bought with this unnecessary extra wealth, do more than attack family life. It certainly attacks spiritual life. There is this sense of always feeling tired. So if the daily devotion is done at all, it can be rushed or only a token action, and that the Lord himself is denied your fellowship just as are the other members of the family. All the friends are talking about that TV series and so you ‘must’ also watch so that you can join in the conversation, but meanwhile attending the midweek meeting at church just got cut from your life. And is it the Sunday evening service next? If you are not working…
So this quest for wealth and things robs you of being a good husband or wife, it robs you of the time you need to be a good parent. The things you buy create further erosion into the family life. The time for all of this, or to work for all of this, cuts into your spiritual life, and fellowship is something that happens less and less.
I have to ask, is this all really worth it? And in addition, for many people – and it happened to me – this can eventually take a heavy toll on your health, both mental and physical. Actually, in my case, I am actually very thankful for the fact that my health was taken from me for a while. Finally I had the wake-up call that I needed.
It actually took 10 years to find my way back to full health. Even now my health continues to improve. But I will never again allow the kinds of unrealistic pressure on my life that led to this crazy situation.
Being unable to work, suddenly I found the time to spend with my sons. I rediscovered the joy of being a father. I also had time to be with my wife. This revealed something less positive – it revealed how poisoned the relationship had become because of the quest for more wealth. It also revealed how poisoned the attitudes of my partner had become. She had used to be such a down-to-earth person, but now conversation was most often about the kinds of things we could no longer afford that we used to be able to afford. The result of that was that respect for me had become greatly diminished.
Brothers and sisters, what has happened that we begin to judge and respect each other based only on the amount of money the breadwinner brings home? When did we stop having gratitude for food in the stomach, clothes on our bodies, a roof over the head, and warmth in winter? When did we begin to forget to have gratitude for the simple things in life? The new day, our health, the ability to see the dawn, to taste our food, to feel the hand of your brother or sister in your own, the smell of the flowers or good food, the sound of good music… And so many other simple things in life, the wonderful things that the Lord provides for you every day. When was the last time you said thank you to the Father for all of these things?
Jesus is right about serving two masters. It just doesn’t work – especially when one of the masters is money. This will rob you of your family life, your spiritual life, and eventually also your health. Is it worth it?
And the worst thing about it is that, the more you are ambitious for more wealth, the more likely you are to make steps in that direction that will cause problems for others, or you will have to step on the necks of others to get that little bit higher yourself. The very opposite of the love and care that Jesus talks about so often.
I have wandered around a very wide area about this subject and covered a lot of ground, yet you will probably find that there is a lot more that this verse touches in your life, once you allow the Holy Spirit to move in your heart.
In the final analysis it comes down to commitment. Complete commitment to the Lord your God will not be robbing you of your family life or your health. If such things begin to happen, you need to begin at least to question your guidance, and to check if it is becoming polluted with fallen human ambition.
Our Father is a good Father, and He cares for His children perfectly. Bring all your requests and worries to Him, and ask Him to provide according to your needs (not your wants) and to guide you into the more abundant life.