In yesterday’s study we said that it is not a requirement that Christians give up their possessions; rather, we are to use them for the benefit of others and for the advancement of the Gospel.
This is precisely what Jesus himself was teaching in the verses concerned with money and possessions from the Sermon on the Mount. For Jesus was not speaking against possessions. He was speaking against a ruinous preoccupation with them. He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).
These verses also take us one step further, for they contain the first of the reasons given by Jesus why worldliness in regard to our possessions is foolish and detrimental to our spiritual lives. The reason is that one day all earthly possessions will perish and will be gone forever. And if this is the case, a man who has spent his life accumulating them may himself be saved, but he will have nothing to show for what should have been a lifetime of profitable service. Thus, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now if any man build upon this foundation [Jesus Christ] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day will declare it… If any man’s work abide which he hath built upon it, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). It is only as a man uses his possessions for spiritual ends and to help others that he builds treasure in heaven.
Then, too, there is another reason why a preoccupation with material things is foolish for the follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that if a man’s treasure is on earth his heart will be on earth also, and therefore things will rule him.
There is a great illustration of this in the linguistic development of the Hebrew word mammon that occurs in verse 24: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon was a word for material possessions, but it had come into Hebrew from a root word meaning “to entrust,” or “to place in someone’s keeping.” Mammon therefore meant the wealth that one entrusted to another for safekeeping. At this time the word did not have any bad connotations at all, and a rabbi could say, “Let the mammon of thy neighbor be as dear to thee as thine own.” When a bad sense was meant, an adjective or some other qualifying word was added. Thus, we have the phrase in the New Testament “the mammon of unrighteousness” or “unrighteous mammon.”
As time passed, however, the sense of the word mammon shifted away from the passive sense of “that which is entrusted” to the active sense of “that in which a man trusts.” In this case, the meaning was entirely bad, and the word mammon, which was originally spelled with a small “m,” came to be spelled with a capital “M” as designating nothing less than a god.
Now this linguistic development repeats itself practically in the life of anyone who does not have his eyes fixed on spiritual treasures. Is this true of you? Have things become your god? Don’t forget that these things are written to Christians, and that they are therefore meant to make you ask whether the Lord God Almighty occupies the central place in your life, or whether things obscure Him. It may not be so, but if you think most about your home, your car, your vacation, your bank account, your clothes, or your investments, then you are building your treasure on earth. According to Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”