Greg began by telling a story of an altercation he had with a man in a parking lot who was so obsessed with his expensive car, that he accused Greg of bumping his car and nicking it when he actually did not. The man accused Greg of bumping into his car on purpose because he was jealous of the car. Greg likened the man’s obsession to Gollum from Lord of the Rings, treating “the ring” as “his precious.”
We all have a little bit of “Gollum” within us. Things we cherish, chase after, and stress about too much. It could be a car, a house, respect, or admiration. If we become angry or feel the need to protect it if someone diminishes it, and find ourselves thinking and talking about it way too much, and if the thought of losing it feels devastating…you may have a “precious” on your hands. It will reduce you, and turn you uglier; more un-Christ-like.
Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Whatever your treasure, or “precious” is. Greg shared a story of losing most of his retirement fund in the 2008 crash, but because he didn’t check into it that much he didn’t know about it until 2015…and he is happy that he didn’t know about it. Yet some people hover over their financial investments and can develop anything from insomnia to suicidal thoughts if that treasure seems to diminish. Jesus says to not put the treasure of your heart into things of this world.
1 Timothy 6:17-19: “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Most of us living in America are (by global and historical standards) rich. Even if you are lower income, you generally supersede what kings had in ancient times. We don’t need to feel guilty for this, but as Paul encourages Timothy, we need to pay more attention to our eternal treasure.
Matthew 6:22-23: “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 unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
In Jesus’ day, healthy eyesight symbolized generosity. What He’s saying is that when we are reflecting God’s generosity, then we are allowing God’s light to come into our beings (which they believed came through their eyes) and Jesus uses this cultural understanding of His surroundings to encourage this Kingdom generosity. Conversely, if instead of embracing generosity, you espouse stinginess…it fills us with darkness. It will do damage to you, blind you to God’s ordering of things, and distort your conception of reality. It deceives us on how to find real contentment or fullness of life – like a fancy car or a huge retirement account.
Mark 4:18-19: “And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
1 Timothy 6:9-10: “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
The love and striving after riches diminishes you and harms your capacity to care for others. The problem isn’t the money…it’s the LOVE of money; the chasing after it that “Gollum-izes” us. This is why Jesus hyperbolically says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet some Christians have wealth but don’t chase it or attempt to accumulate it for themselves. Greg told a story about a Christian person living a modest life. Then he invented something, started a company, and became a multi-millionaire but kept driving the same normal cars and the same modest house. He was able to give 99% of his income away to Kingdom purposes and serving the poor.
Thank God for the exceptions but generally/statistically speaking, the more wealth a person has, the less the percentage of that wealth they give away – and they feel very generous about that little they give away. And studies also show that the more wealth a person has, the less empathy they have for those who are poor.
Wealth and the cares of this world have a tendency to suck us in and distort our view of others. The more we have, the harder it is to care about others. With this logic in mind, we may find clarity as to why the poor folks who have a tough time getting a “fair shake” in this country when we look at the salaries/incomes of the decision-makers. Many times, you can’t even run for office unless you have a large amount of wealth to get you there, so they are rich to begin with. And they don’t support the interests of the poor unless it will give them political advantage, and even then, “merely a crumb will do.”
There is something deceptive about wealth. And Jesus knew this.
Matthew 6:24-25, 31-33: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Mammon was the Babylonian god of money. Some believe that Jesus was drawing attention to a demonic spirit around money, that pulls us in and changes our hearts. If you serve mammon, whatever your “precious” is will dominate your thoughts and then attempt to convince us that we CAN serve both God and money. Most people who serve mammon don’t believe they serve it. They may not even see themselves as rich. Most Americans have 3-4 times more than the global average, but we feel “middle class.” We live in a world where around a billion people don’t have their basic needs met – clothes, and shelter, and food. We make 3-4 times the global average and only give 2% of that income away – which means we spend 98% of our income on ourselves. Mammon is a very crafty beast. It makes those of us who are Christians think that going to a church service one hour a week makes us “spiritual,” while the remainder of the week we use all of our God-given resources on ourselves. We can be devoured by money but think and feel like we’re ok.
So how can we serve God and not mammon? Because it’s easy to serve mammon and not know it. Jesus sums this all up in Matthew 6:33: “Seek FIRST…all will be added to you.” The Kingdom means “the king’s dome” or “the king’s domain.” This means that we make it our #1 priority to make sure that every aspect of our lives are brought into that domain. That our spending and our possessing is brought under that domain – where we say, “God, this is all yours. It doesn’t belong to me.” God is the Lord and owner of our land, our houses, our bank accounts, and even our very shirts.” We own nothing – it’s all God’s.
Luke 14:33: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
We know that the disciples still had houses and boats and fishing poles (because they went fishing after the resurrection)…but they don’t consider it theirs’. To be a follower of Jesus Christ means that nothing is any longer your own. The minute we try to strive after and hold onto that which isn’t ours, is the moment we begin to lose our kingdom joy. But to release all of that is the freest thing in the world. Now you are free to live in radical generosity, and consequently you begin to live into that right-relatedness. If you don’t own anything…no one can take it from you.
In both the Old and New Testaments teach that God will meet our needs. Not only that, but the more we give away, the more comes our way…but for the purpose of GIVING more – not for keeping more. Every act of love and giving is an investment in our eternal retirement. The only thing eternal is the love of God, and when you’re giving out the love of God, that’s going to come back on you.
Greg then read a quote from Watchmen Nee: “The essence of this world is money. Whenever you touch money you touch the world. The question arises, how do we take a thing that we know assuredly is of the world and yet not become involved with the worlds system…The New Testament key to finance is that we hold nothing to ourselves, ‘Give and it shall be given unto you,’ those were our Lord’s words (Luke 6:38) and not, ‘Save and ye shall grow rich’! That is to say, the principle of divine increase is giving, not storage.”
Greg finished by leading the congregation in a corporate, interactive prayer of denouncing the world’s way of allegiance to mammon as we surrender our possessions and the intentions and desires of our heart to Jesus, as we seek to live under the reign of His Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven.
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