Theme: A Christian Perspective
This week’s lessons remind us what the Christian’s attitude and response toward possessions need to be, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Mark 6:7-11
So I come back to my original question and ask again: What should a disciple’s attitude toward his possessions be? I suggest the following principles:
1. Thanksgiving. First Timothy 4:4 says, “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” A Christian perspective starts at this point.
God desires to give. In fact, God desires to give lavishly, He has given lavishly, and there is a sense in which He will continue to give lavishly throughout eternity. It is true that at times God also takes away, but that is for the same reason that He more frequently gives, namely, because He loves us. If something is standing in the way of our spiritual growth or usefulness, God will remove it. That aside, God’s main relationship to us is that of an abundant giver to us, and that we cannot thrive, let alone exist, without His rich benevolence. God gives life and health, sun and rain, friends and families, opportunities to learn and serve and worship–indeed, all things. So our first proper response to his gifts is thanksgiving.
2. Perspective. The second important element in a disciple’s attitude toward his possessions is perspective. Although it is true that all things are given to us by God and are grounds for thanksgiving, material possessions are nevertheless not the only things God gives or even the most important things. If we fail to see this, as we often do fail to see it, that which is good in itself can become harmful.
In that classic mentioned in an earlier devotional, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs speaks of a “fourfold burden in a prosperous condition”: a burden of trouble, a burden of danger, a burden of duty, and a burden of accountability. Of these four, the burden he chiefly focuses on is danger: “Men in a prosperous position are subject to many temptations that other men are not subject to.” Therefore, “A poor man who is in a low condition, thinks, ‘I am low and others are raised, but I know not what their burden is,’ and so, if he is rightly instructed in the school of Christ, he comes to be contented.”1
We have an excellent example of the danger of wealth in Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man did not perish because he had possessions; not a word in the story condemns him for his wealth. Nevertheless, we cannot escape seeing that there was some connection between his wealth and his neglect of those matters of mind and heart that would have led to salvation.
The reason why possessions are dangerous is that we tend to serve things rather than God, which means that things become an idol and our service of them becomes idolatry. Jesus taught this when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). In the Greek New Testament the word Jesus used for “Money” is mamon, transliterated as “Mammon.” It has an interesting history.
“Mammon” comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to entrust” or “to place in someone’s keeping.” Mammon therefore meant the wealth that one entrusted to another. At this time mammon did not have any bad connotation. A rabbi could say, “Let the mammon of thy neighbor be as dear to thee as thine own.” If a bad sense was intended, an adjective or some other qualifying word needed to be added, as in “the mammon of unrighteousness.”
However, as time passed, the meaning of the word shifted from the passive voice (“that which is entrusted”) to the active (“that in which one trusts”), and the concept became bad. Now the word, which was originally spelled with a small m, came (in English texts) to be spelled with a capital M as designating a god. The New International Version captures the idea by translating mamon as “Money.”
This is what often happens with those who possess great riches. They may begin with a sense of having received their possessions from God. But instead of entrusting them to Him for safekeeping, they come instead to trust riches and thus idolize them. No one can do that and be Christ’s disciple.
What is the first Christian principle toward possessions? Why is it the starting point?
Describe the second principle that should govern a disciple’s attitude toward possessions?
What are some of the dangers that can come from possessions?
Reflection: Are there ways you need to start better applying the principles of thanksgiving and perspective to your own life? What can you begin to do differently this week concerning these two elements?
Key Point: God gives life and health, sun and rain, friends and families, opportunities to learn and serve and worship–indeed, all things. So our first proper response to his gifts is thanksgiving.
1Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Edinburgh, UK and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), pp. 104, 107. Original edition 1648.