Last Sunday we began our newest series, More About Sex and Money. Chris brought us an excellent exposition of Jesus’s words: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven...” [Matthew 6:19-20] This is both affirmation and re-direction. Jesus says “yes” to treasure, but asks us to define it differently. He corrects us (do not store up that kind of treasure), in order to save us (store up a different kind of treasure).
Perhaps we can be helped by the wisdom of the seven deadly sins. The ancients had an acute sense of what was good for human beings which flowed from their vision of God. Lose the vision of God and it is doubtful that we can really know what it is we need, what it is we are looking for, and what it is we can become. In the list of seven, avarice (greed) named the way human beings could slip from the simple appreciation of material goods (which we can healthily love in the right way), to a kind of “out of order” love, where the mere possession of things becomes an end in itself. “Avarice is not so much the love of possessions, as it is the love of possessing”, says Henry Fairlie (The Seven Sins Today). “To buy what we do not need, more even than we need for our pleasure or our entertainment, is a love of possessing for its own sake”.
So we need to see, and change our minds, about what treasure is. We need to repent of our sin in order to find our life.
You might have heard the legendary exchange between the then richest man in the world, John Paul Getty, and the reporter who asked him, “How much money is enough?” Getty reportedly replied, “Just one dollar more.” Apparently he meant it. It is said that Getty had a pay phone installed in his English estate so that he would not be charged for his guest’s outgoing calls.
Simply put, we can follow the way of Getty or the way of Jesus. The way of Getty is the continually unsatisfied questing for more. It is a way that is never at rest. The way of Jesus is not anti-material, but actually a joyful sharing of God’s material gifts with the company he found himself with. Getty only knew soul-withering avarice (more), while Jesus knew soul-resting contentment (enough). The two ways reveal contrasting visions of what real treasure is.
The influential spiritual writer Richard Foster wrote a beautiful book he called Freedom of Simplicity. I return to it regularly as a way of reminding myself that my joy, my treasure, the heart of my life is found in the simplicity of a God-focused, relational, serving life. While Foster was not primarily taking on the problem of material avarice, it was certainly part of his concern. The fact is that avarice complicates life, feeds a never-ending dissatisfaction and restlessness. Its a spiritual issue.
Can I suggest that the way of Jesus is strengthened by a few simple practices?
- enjoy what you have -- really, take joy in God’s material comforts
- but resist accumulating more than you can use -- control yourself, regularly say no
- and get rid of what you don’t need -- sell or give stuff away
- then, seek ways to share what you have been given -- because avarice is such a lethal temptation, prioritize giving (a basic Christian virtue)
- and finally, learn contentment -- continually redefine your treasure
I have come to believe that the Jesus-way is not so much anti-material, as it is the continual use of material things for the help and blessing of people. Our real treasure is created as we contribute to the lives of others. There is an art to this, a wisdom about excess and proportion we have to get right. As a final comment on a rather strange parable which talks about the compromised behavior of an unethical servant, Jesus says: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.” [Luke 16:9]
In other words, convert what you have -- what you tend to think of as your normal treasure -- into helping and blessing people. If you do that you will never be disappointed.