Possessions have the potential to take possession of us! Jesus does not condemn wealth and possessions, but He offers strong warnings against making any material things the priority in our lives.
In 1923, some of the world’s most successful businessmen met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. They included Charles Schwab, the president of Bethlehem Steel Company; Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange; Albert Fall, a member of the U. S. President’s cabinet; and bank president Leon Fraser.
It was said that collectively these men controlled more wealth than the United States had in its treasury. For years, newspapers and magazines followed these men—their wealth, their mansions, their lifestyles—printing their success stories and holding them up as examples for the younger generation.
Let me tell you, the world does the same thing today. It elevates wealth, as if having money makes your life a model for living.
Now do not misunderstand; there is nothing inherently wrong with money. You might be needing a little more of it today to pay your bills. The problem is the love of money—the greedy pursuit of money and possessions. Listen, the problem is not what we might possess; the problem is what possesses us.
Do you realize that Jesus talked more about money and possessions than He did about heaven and hell combined? In fact, in the Bible there are 500 references to prayer, and 2,000 references to possessions. Obviously, this is a big deal for the believer today.
In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus begins to speak about the issue of money. He says in verse 19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”
What kind of treasures might Jesus be talking about, especially since banks did not exist back then? We know from history that clothing was collected and even used as currency. People would often weave gold into their clothing—they essentially wore their bank account.
They also stored up grain in barns. Grain, in that day, was as good as gold. In addition, some people would keep silver or gold coins, often hiding them in their homes.
With that in mind, Jesus now speaks of three different thieves that can take your treasures away. The first thief is the moth, which Jesus says in verse 19 can destroy. Indeed, a single moth can ruin a closet full of clothes. Jesus also mentions rust destroying treasure. The word He uses for “rust” means “eating away.” It could refer to corrosion but could also refer to rodents, like mice, that can eat grain that has been stored in barns. That is probably what Jesus is picturing here. I have read that in India they estimate that as much as 50 percent of their annual grain supply is consumed by rodents!
The third thief Jesus mentions is a robber. He says in verse 19 that “thieves [can] break in and steal.” The verb translated “break in” literally means to dig in or dig through. In Jesus’ time, homes were made of clay bricks; burglars could literally dig a hole through the wall and get inside.
So, what’s the solution? Well, Jesus says to make sure your greatest investments are in heaven. Note His words in verse 20: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” In other words, invest in eternal things.
And what are eternal investments? One of them is God Himself; invest in your relationship with Him. Another eternal investment is people—they are going to live forever. Third, invest time in God’s Word; and fourth, invest in the work of Christ around the world—it will reap eternal dividends.
Then Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (verse 21). That is, what you are really interested in will be proved by what you have invested in.
Somebody will say to me, “My heart is really interested in missions.” “Really? Do you volunteer in the church or some local ministry?” “No.” “Have you ever been on a mission trip?” “No.” “Do you give any money to missionaries?” “No, but my heart is interested in missions.” “Well, let me tell you the truth: no it isn’t. And Jesus tells you why: you will be invested in whatever you are truly interested in.”
Jesus gives an illustration to prove His point here in verses 22-23:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Jesus is using the eye figuratively here for spiritual insight and understanding. If your insight is biblically sound, your body will head in the right direction—your life, your wealth, your goals in life will be directed toward glorifying God.
Jesus gives another illustration in verse 24:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Now, it is good to have a job—again, money is not really the issue. The issue is what you are living for, and you cannot live for God and live for money at the same time.
And if you are living for money, your life is going to be filled with anxiety and worry; and that is what Jesus says next:
“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (verse 25)
Then Jesus uses some birds as an illustration. I imagine that since He is preaching this sermon out on a hillside, He might even be pointing at a few of them flying overhead as He speaks in verse 26:
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
If God cares for the birds, He certainly will care for you.
Jesus then asks a pointed question in verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Worrying in the great subtractor; it does not add anything to your life, not even one moment of time. I have read that worry is like a rocking chair—it gives you something to do, but it never takes you anywhere.
Jesus says here that we ought to devote our money and our minds to eternal things—verse 33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Keep your focus on Him; make your greatest investments in the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ. Beloved, do not let your possessions possess you.
Remember that meeting back in 1923 of those powerful and wealthy men—those men the magazines and newspapers assumed lived the best life possible? Well, within twenty-five years of that meeting, things had changed drastically. Charles Schwab, the president of Bethlehem Steel Company, a man who had lived an immoral life, ended up living in a little apartment, having lost his mansion and money. In fact, he died hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, was arrested for embezzlement and served time in prison. Leon Fraser took his own life; and Albert Fall was convicted of accepting bribes and went to prison. He was later pardoned by the president so he could die at home.
The world does not understand that it is possible to make a living and never experience a life worth living.
Listen, beloved, do not ever deposit your heart in the bank; invest in eternal treasures. That is what will make your life worth living.