23. The Fatal Failures of Religion: #4 Materialism (Matthew 6:19-34)
Jay Adams tells the story of a man named Joe who was particularly given to worry. Whenever anyone saw him, his face was drawn and downcast, for he seemingly carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. On one particular occasion, however, Joe was the picture of optimism. He was radiant and buoyant. Everyone noticed the change. Finally, Bill asked him what had happened to him. “Well,” he confided, “as you know I have always been one to worry. I have decided that this is both unwise and unhealthy, so I have hired someone to do my worrying for me.” “But how much does this cost you?” Bill questioned. “Oh, about $1,000 a week,” Joe replied. “But how can you afford to pay him?” was the astonished response. Joe answered calmly, “That’s his worry!”18
We can all smile at a story like this, but all of us know that worry is one of the besetting sins of the Christian. I am personally convinced that there are two major areas of defeat for most Christians. The first is the unprofitable reliving of the past, nursing either wrongs committed against us or regrets for sins we have committed. The second is unwarranted preoccupation with the future.
It is this second ailment that our Lord spoke to in the last half of Matthew, chapter 6. What we may be surprised to discover is that the Lord Jesus identified worry as one strain of the common virus of materialism. Most of us are a bit uneasy about this matter of materialism, especially when we are compared to those who live in the underdeveloped nations. But since the vast majority of us can look at many about us who are more prosperous than we, we can rather easily convince ourselves that any message on materialism must apply to someone else.
Materialism, however, has nothing to do with how much money you or I have in the bank. It has little to do with whether you drive a Rolls Royce or a Rambler. Materialism is primarily an attitude toward money and its importance. Materialism is an attitude which attaches to money and material goods more importance than they deserve. To go one step further, materialism is primarily a matter of reversed priorities. You cannot identify a materialist by an audit, but only by exposing his attitudes.
Because materialism is more a matter of attitude than of affluence, many of us who consider ourselves to be a part of the middle class are more susceptible to this ailment than the rich. We may suppose that materialism is an undue desire for luxuries, but our Lord identifies it with undue concern over necessities, such as food and clothing. As such we are all materialists.
Since materialism (and its offspring, worry) are such a debilitating force in men’s lives, our Lord has ranked it among the leading failures in religion. I have chosen to characterize the Sermon on the Mount as an exposition of the fatal failures of religion, and as such, materialism rightfully finds its place among them. Here we will touch a nerve which is very sensitive to the probing of the Word of God. It is the Scriptures which penetrate beyond the outer facade of our spirituality to expose the motivations of the heart:
“For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
In verses 19-24 principles are laid down which condemn materialism and promote the priority of spiritual matters. In verses 25-32 the practice of these biblical principles is emphasized, focusing upon the futility of worry in the Christian life.
The Principles Set Forth
The Lord Jesus gave a precept before laying down the principles: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
If you are like me you probably give a good deal of thought to the things you buy. If you are thinking of buying a car you may consult Consumers Reports to see how it is rated, its strengths and deficiencies, its fuel consumption and frequency of repair. When you buy a car, or a coat or a dining room table your intention is to buy something which has quality and durability.
It only makes sense to consider the use of our money in this light. A preoccupation with hoarding earthly treasure makes little practical sense. Eternal investments, investments in the kingdom of heaven, are far more profitable. They are certain, and the benefits long-lasting. Earthly investments are fickle and short-lived.
There are, as we know, various kinds of wealth, and the Master Teacher reminded His audience how each form of wealth was subject to loss of value. Clothing was considered one form of wealth in the near East (cf. Joshua 7:21; 2 Kings 5:22). In some cultures today clothing is a form of wealth, or at least a symbol of wealth. But such wealth is short-lived. Just one of the destructive forces at work in this area is the moth. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, the moth gets into our most precious and valuable clothing and eats holes in it.
Rust can and does consume any metal forms of wealth. That is one reason why you and I have to keep buying new cars from time to time. It is doubtful, however, that rust is the primary image in our Lord’s mind. ‘Rust’ is literally that which ‘eats’ or ‘corrodes.’19 More likely one’s wealth would be, in those days, in the form of grain which would be stored until the price were high enough to make a good profit. Any foodstuff would be the target for vermin to get into and to contaminate or consume.
I was reading just the other day of money that was mysteriously disappearing from a cash register. Finally, someone was assigned to guard the register all night. Even then the money (but not the coins) disappeared. At last it was discovered that a small hole had been chewed in the back of the till. A small mouse had chewed up the money and carried it off to make a place for her young.
The more indestructible forms of wealth such as jewels or silver or gold are not so secure either. Burglars and thieves could, in those days, quite easily ‘break in’ (verses 19,20) and steal them. Literally, this expression, ‘break in’ (diorussousin) meant to dig through.20 This was easily accomplished when walls were made of sun-dried bricks or mud. Even today our most secure depositories are not burglar-proof.
The first principle undergirding the precept just put forth is found in verse 21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Generally we are inclined to think just the reverse of this. We suppose that a man will first fix his heart on something and then his money naturally follows. But our Lord says that our heart follows our pocketbook. If I were to buy an old broken down car it would not at that point be a great object of my affection. But after I had spent countless hours in restoring it, not to mention a good deal of money, it would be the ‘apple of my eye.’
Where we spend our money, where we appropriate our material goods and our personal time, is where our heart will be. I might go so far as to apply this principle to marriage. To the extent that we invest heavily, both in time and money, we will find our affections more and more developed and committed.
The implications are rather evident. We are to ‘set our affections on things above’ (Colossians 3:2, KJV). To lay up treasures on earth is to set our heart on earthly things. It is difficult, even impossible, to desire the return of our Lord (the coming of His Kingdom) when we have made all of our investments in earthly things. Not only this but we also tend to put our trust, our confidence and hope in our ‘investments.’ The great difficulty of the rich is that they are deceived into ‘fixing their hope on the uncertainty of riches’ (1 Timothy 6:17).
We all are faced with choices in life. We must make the choice between immediate and short-lived, pleasures and greater, more permanent pleasures. We encourage our children to choose to do without candy and bubble gum in order to save for a trip or some item of clothing. A person must decide to discipline himself to practice daily on the piano in order to have the longer range pleasure and satisfaction of producing music which is beautiful and enriching to others.
The Christian life confronts men and women with this same set of choices. It is not that we are forbidden to enjoy many of life’s pleasures, but that we view them as temporary and, in the long term, unsatisfying. Consequently, we choose to deny ourselves of some things in order to gain that which is greater (cf. Moses, Hebrews 11:25-26).
When we took our children to the State Fair a couple of years ago, I came away with a good illustration of life’s passing pleasures. I likened them to the rides in the amusement park: the price is high and the ride is short . So also, investments in earthly, material ‘things’ are not wise for the Christian. As Bunyan’s Christian passed hurriedly through the streets of Vanity Fair, so we must also remember that we are strangers and pilgrims who dare not establish roots in the world.
There is yet another principle in verses 22 and 23: “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
The imagery here has been quite difficult for some to grasp. To the ancient mind, the eye was like a window that let light into the body. The condition or health of the eye determined the amount of light which entered the body. An unhealthy eye clouded or dimmed the entering light, subjecting the body to darkness.
In the Bible the ‘eye’ is reflective of a man’s character (cf. Deuteronomy 25:12; 28:54,56, etc.). A man with an ‘evil eye’ is explained to be one who is greedy and miserly when confronted with the need of another:
“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you” (Deuteronomy 15:7-9).
The book of Proverbs gives us the background to rightly understand the words of our Lord:
“A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, and does not know that want will come upon him” (Proverbs 28:22).
“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration when you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens. Do not eat the bread of a selfish man (literally an evil eye) …” (Proverbs 23:4-6a).
“He who is generous (literally has a good eye) will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
From these Old Testament passages we can quickly determine what our Lord meant. The one whose heart is set on worldly riches has an evil eye. In looking out for himself he neglects the needs of others. The one who is generous with others has a healthy eye. His vision of the needs about him is not distorted. He views his material wealth as belonging to God, and he quickly and willingly employs it to help those in need.
The principle behind verses 22 and 23 is simply this: Materialism is a disease which affects the whole body (note: ‘your whole body’ verses 22 and 23). Like a drop of poison contaminates the entire glass of water, so materialism corrupts the whole man (and affects the entire body of Christ, cf. Achan’s sin and its consequences, Joshua 7). It dims his vision and makes him short-sighted. He can neither envision heaven clearly, nor can he perceive needs about him.
The point of this principle is that materialism is not some minor flaw in one’s thinking. It is like a virus which has entered into one’s bloodstream. It detrimentally affects one’s whole person. As such, it must be taken seriously.
The divine precept is that we are to lay up treasures in heaven, rather than upon the earth. The first principle upon which this precept is based is that our heart is drawn to that in which we invest most heavily. The second principle is that materialism is an ailment which has far-reaching effects. The final principle is given in verse 24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”21
Put in its simplest form, the principle could be stated: ‘Money is either your slave or your master.” Money is like the flesh (our bodily appetites). Either we will master it, or it will be our master. One may try to deceive himself into believing that he can pursue both goals simultaneously, God and money. But our Lord said only one will be our Master.
It is difficult for the Western mind to grasp the meaning of our Lord’s words. Many of us have second jobs. We may leave one job in the evening and go on to another at night. A man may work in a factory to earn a living and find his real fulfillment in playing in an orchestra. But the language our Lord used was that of slave and master. A slave was the exclusive property of his (one) master. He had no ‘time of his own.’ His master could dispose of him as he wished.
Perhaps an analogy which might be easier to grasp is that of drug addiction. Materialism is very similar to dependence upon drugs. At first, a man begins to use drugs, but eventually they use him. His body builds up a tolerance for a certain quantity of a drug and he finds he must have more and more. Finally the drug is his master and he is its slave. The more money one gets, the more one desires. The more one is dominated by a desire for money, the more one is mastered by it, and its slave. This is what our Lord is saying. Materialism is dangerous, indeed destructive, because it, like communism, is not content until its control over men is total.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
Job’s friends immediately concluded that it must have been sin that led to his disaster (cf. Job 4:7). Suffering and poverty were thought to be the immediate result of sin.
You will recall that it was largely for economic (and political) reasons that the Jewish leadership rejected Jesus as their Messiah (cf. John 11:47-48). We are told that it was the high priest who actually owned the business venture operating within the temple precincts. For the Jew the pursuit of financial gain and the practice of righteousness were thought to be synonymous. Our Lord said they were antithetical. One must serve either God or money. One will ultimately become your master, the other your slave. They used ‘religion’ to further their own personal and economic interests. Such, also, was the case of Judas, the betrayer (John 12:4-6).
On the basis of these three principles, Christians have been cautioned about viewing their material possessions as a means of ensuring comfort and security in this earthly life. Instead, we should invest in eternal things, for such an investment is secure and the benefits everlasting.
The question which is not answered here is, “How?” How do you lay up treasure in heaven? We need to realize that our Lord, here in this sermon, is probing into men’s motives, rather than prescribing specific practices. This is only natural since He is attempting to refute legalism and externalism. From other portions of Scripture (e.g. Luke 16) and our text in Matthew, I would suggest that this involves supporting the proclamation of the gospel, the work of the church (which is the earthly expression of Christ, His body), and caring for the physical needs of the helpless (cf. Matthew 19:21, Acts 2:45; 4:32-35).
The Practical Implication: Don’t Worry
As I read this particular section of the Sermon on the Mount, I get the distinct impression that our Lord has come up on our blind side. Most of us are inclined to think of materialism as the inordinate desire to become wealthy for our own selfish ends. In other words, materialism is equated with financial ambition and prosperity. We who do not consider ourselves affluent do not think that materialism is a great problem to us. But materialism has two distinct forms. The first and most obvious is that dealt with in verses 19-24, the love of money which becomes the dominant and all-consuming passion of our lives. Most of us are not so close to the fire of this temptations as we are its converse side. Rather than being absorbed in the hoarding of wealth which we do have, we are consumed with concern about that which we don’t have. The ‘have-nots’ are often more obsessed over material things than the ‘haves.’
Again, we think of materialism as a preoccupation or insatiable desire for more and more luxuries. We get a big house, and we want a bigger one. We get a television and we are not content until we have it in color. Then we want the giant screen and the video tape recorder. This is what we like to think of as materialism. And so it can be.
But the kind of materialism which haunts many Christians is often that variety which dwells upon those things which are not optional, but mandatory; not the luxuries, but the necessities. Notice what Jesus told us not to worry about: food and clothing. Not steak and ale, maybe not even meat and potatoes. Perhaps even a meager bowl of soup, or a second-hand suit for work.
One does not need to look far to see many opportunities for worry. How many of us have given thought to the implications of the possibility of fuel shortages? Have you thought about selling that ‘gas guzzler’ and buying a smaller car with a smaller appetite for gas? Have you considered going to diesel power or avoiding the need for unleaded gas? Well, I have. Those are potential areas for worry. I have observed the price of hamburger, too. And yet, it is here that we find out materialism raising its ugly head. Undue concern about material things. Distracting and devastating worry which undermines our faith and diverts our spiritual energy. This is what our Lord identified as materialism. This is what He called sin.
Due to the unfortunate rendering of the King James Version (‘Take no thought,’ verse 25), it would be well to begin by defining what we mean by ‘worry.’ Our Lord is not discouraging the use of our minds here. Faith is not contrary to sound thinking; rather it is to be rooted in thought.22 In fact, our Lord is urging us to use our heads and not to panic. We are to consider the birds of the air (verse 26) and the flowers of the field (verse 28). We are shown that worry is both illogical and unprofitable.
Worry23 is not to be confused with thinking and planning to meet future needs. Worry is not to be confused with genuine concern. Rather, worry is the preoccupation and dissipation of our mental and physical powers with things that are future, hypothetical, and beyond our control. Worry is the antithesis of faith. Faith perceives potential problems with a view to the infinite power and fatherly concern of the God Who has saved us. Worry sees only the obstacles (actual or imaginary) and meditates on all the possible disastrous possibilities, while neglecting the fact of God’s divine care and control in our lives. In verses 25-32 our Lord outlined the reasons why worry is both foolish and faithless.
(1) Worry is a distortion of values and a reversal of priorities, verse 25. “Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25b).
Most scholars inform us that this is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God is our Creator and He has given us life, will He not also provide the incidentals such as food and clothing. This is the kind of argument Paul employed in Romans chapter 8: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32; cf. 5:10).
Certainly this is a valid type of argument, but I am not convinced that this is the main thrust of our Lord’s words. It seems to me that Jesus is focusing upon the issue of priorities. Materialism, at its base, is a reversal of priorities. It places the temporal above eternal things. It is short-sighted, and misses the long view of matters. It is ‘this world’ centered.
Jesus simply calls upon us to rethink our priorities. Which is more important, life itself, or the food we put in our mouth? Which is of higher value, our body or the clothing we put on it? Worry is preoccupation with matters of lowest priority (as is materialism).
I do not believe that the meal over which we are so distressed is the difference between life and death. It is not our ‘last meal.’ If we were to miss that meal, so what? Our life is not ‘on the line.’ If we do not get that suit or a dress, will our bodies suffer for it? In the vast majority of cases, I think not. Paul gladly suffered deprivation for the sake of the gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Worry is a symptom of reversed priorities, and our Lord calls this to our attention.
(2) Worry is a failure to see things as they really are, verse 26. You will remember that in verses 22 and 23 materialism was described in terms of bad eyesight. Such is really true, for it fails to see things as they really are. That is what the Master taught in verse 26:
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”
Worry flies in the face of everyday life. Simply look about you. Look up in the skies24 and look at the birds. Have you ever seen a skinny sparrow? Do they spend hours in worry and anxiety? No, even by instinct they live their lives in thoughtless dependence upon God. Has God failed to care for insignificant birds? If He cares for birds, which are creatures of much less value than man, will He not care for you? To the birds, God is both Creator and Sustainer. To the Christian, God is our Heavenly Father. Dare we doubt His care? Worry does not see matters clearly. It allows our vision of our Heavenly Father to be obscured. It overlooks the providential care of God for insignificant creatures, such as the birds.
(3) Worry is a waste of energy, verse 27. Worry is the most unproductive use of one’s time possible. It accomplishes nothing but unbelief, doubt and fear. It distracts our attention from matters of higher priority and paralyzes us from doing what is needful at the moment. It fears what ‘could be’ rather than follow what should be done at the moment.
(4) Worry is an act of unbelief, verses 28-30. Leaving the matter of food the Master proceeded to that of clothing. Such anxiety over what we will wear is surely unfounded. Look around, consider the wild flowers27 of the field. Do they fret and fume? And yet look at their beauty. Even Solomon’s clothing was no match. Indeed, good clothing can do little but to attempt to imitate nature’s beauty.
And the beauty which God has given these wild flowers is all the more impressive when you realize how temporary and expendable such flowers are. They are magnificent in their beauty for a short while and then they are gone. Men value them so little that they gather handfuls of the dried grass to throw into the ovens to increase their heat.28 If these flowers are so insignificant and yet God gives them such beauty, will He not care for His own?
The issue, then, is more than one of mere lack of knowledge; it is lack of faith: “… will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30). Worry is a serious sin because it doubts the goodness and the integrity of God. In effect, we disregard the word of God and call Him a liar when we worry. We question His sovereignty, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His tender love and care for His own. Worry is a kind of backhanded blasphemy, totally unbecoming to the child of God. It completely forgets that God is our Heavenly Father.
(5) Preoccupation with food and clothing is the characteristic of the Gentile, verse 32. There is a very shocking statement in verses 31 and 32, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).
Jesus said that when we worry about what we will eat or drink or wear we are acting just as the pagans do. These are the things which dominate the thinking and the striving of the pagans. And if you don’t believe this just look at the media and its advertising. They try to sell us deodorant to cover our body odor, after shave lotion to make us irresistible, tooth paste which gives our mouth sex appeal, and clothing which makes us look suave and sophisticated. Food, drink and clothing. That’s what the world is into. And when we become preoccupied with these things we are just like unbelievers. We have departed from our distinctives when we allow ourselves to worry and fret over these things.
Verses 33 and 34 serve as a conclusion to this section, but they also give some specific clues as to how you and I can deal with the sin of worry. Let me draw from these verses and the entire passage several suggestions.
(1) Recognize worry as a sin. Our text makes it clear that worry is no mere human failing; it is willful sin. It is a seldom recognized form of materialism. It doubts God and dims our view of things as they really are. When you fall into worry confess it as sin and ask for forgiveness and victory.
(2) Review your theology. Worry can only co-exist with an unbiblical theology. It cannot tolerate a Sovereign God Who is all-knowing and all-powerful. It refuses to acknowledge God as a loving Father Who knows our every need, and Who brings about every situation to strengthen our faith.
(3) Rearrange your priorities. Worry is a form of materialism, and materialism involves (among other things) the reversal of our priorities involving heavenly and earthly things. Jesus did not say, seek only the Kingdom of God, but rather, “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Heavenly things must come first in our priorities. We must see our spiritual lives as of primary importance and our material well-being as secondary. Once we have our priorities in order we shall not be so concerned (i.e. worried) about material things.
(4) Redirect your energies. Every one of us is actively pursuing some goal in life. We are all devoted to one thing or another. If we have made our goal the quest for material prosperity then we must redirect our efforts. The Christian life is not a matter of passivity—not at all. We are to be active in the carrying out of God’s will. So when it comes to the matter of worry we must deliberately and purposefully determine that we shall not waste our energies on worry, but that we shall lay our hands on the task immediately before us. It is not wrong to be ambitious and aggressive. It is only wrong to pursue the wrong goals.
(5) Refuse to borrow on tomorrow’s troubles. The Bible teaches us that we must live ‘one day at a time.’ Christians who live godly lives will have trials and testing. That is a normal part of our Christian experience (Matthew 5:3-12; John 15:20; 2 Corinthians 1:3ff; Philippians 1:29-30; James 1:2ff.; 1 Peter 1:6ff.). There will be trials and trouble tomorrow, but these things are beyond our control. God gives us grace and comfort in the time of need. Let us not seek an advance on adversity. We have sufficient troubles today. Let us see to it that we deal with them in such a way that God is glorified.
Putting Things in Perspective
It is a difficult thing to come to a balanced biblical outlook on money. In this passage, the Lord has been dealing with our priorities as they relate to material possessions. Our security is in the Lord, not in our bank account or investment portfolio. Our preoccupation should not be with ‘getting ahead’ but with glorifying God and seeking to further His righteous rule on earth.
It is not wrong to have money, but with riches comes responsibility—to whom much is given, much is required. Those who have riches are inclined to find in them a false sense of security (1 Timothy 6:17). There is no particular virtue in being poor either. In such a condition we are sometimes tempted to distrust God or to be dishonest. The right balance is probably best stated by Agur in Proverbs: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of the Lord” (Proverbs 30:8b-9).
While we are to be free from worry, we are not exempt from work. As a result of the fall, man is to earn a 1iving ‘by the sweat of his brow’ (Genesis 3:17-19). If a man does not work, he should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Many Christians are troubled by the fact that so many of their working hours are consumed by their jobs. How can I have God’s Kingdom as a first priority if I spend so much of my time in secular employment. So many times I hear people distinguish between their jobs and their ministry. Such distinctions between spiritual and secular are not biblical. Our work is, to a great extent, our ministry. Working is not (or should not be) the neglecting of our responsibilities to our family, it is meeting our obligation to provide for them (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8), and not a denial of the faith.
To ‘seek first the Kingdom’ is further explained by the phrase ‘and His righteousness,’ In other words, seeking the Kingdom of God is striving to extend and exemplify the righteousness of God on earth. There is no place more needy of righteousness than the world of work. Your work is not in competition with ‘ministry,’ it is the cornerstone of your ministry.
While hoarding money and material goods is sin, saving for future needs is not. Joseph was demonstrating spiritual wisdom and maturity when he recommended the storing up of Egypt’s grain (Genesis 41:33-36, note verse 38). The sluggard is instructed to study the ant, which prepares for the future (Proverbs 6:6ff.). The virtuous woman is commended for preparing for the future (Proverbs 31:21,25). Christians are encouraged to set money aside to minister to the needs of others (1 Corinthians 16:2). The man who fails to provide for his family has denied the faith (1 Timothy 5:8). It is not the method of saving for the future which is condemned by our Lord, but the materialistic motive.
Perhaps one of the most deceitful errors among Christians concerning money and material blessings is the false mentality that we are not to enjoy earthly pleasures. This attitude does not originate from God, but from Satan:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
As Paul later says, “God … richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” It is only when immediate, short-term pleasures detract us from lasting pleasures that they are evil.
Finally, although money is really an insignificant thing, a matter of low priority, the way we handle this ‘little thing’ is indicative of our faithfulness. Our proper handling of money shows us to be qualified for greater responsibilities.
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous in much. If therefore you have been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:10-11).
May God help us to be faithful in the use of money.
19 The word brosis translated rust, means literally ‘devouring,’ and it might be used here for ‘devouring by vermin.’ Some commentators prefer this interpretation on the ground the ‘stores’ in question would be more likely to consist of grain, etc. than of material liable to corrosion.” R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), p. 78.
21 “Jesus goes on to say, ‘You cannot serve God and mamon.’ The correct spelling is with one m. Mamon was a Hebrew word for material possessions. Originally it was not a bad word at all. The Rabbis, for instance, had a saying, “Let the mamon of thy neighbour be as dear to thee as thine own.” That is to say, a man should regard his neighbour’s material possessions as being as sacrosanct as his own. But the word manon had a most curious and a most revealing history. It comes from a root which means to entrust; and mamon was that which a man entrusted to a banker or to a safe deposit of some kind. Mamon was the wealth which a man entrusted to someone to keep safe for him. But as the years went on mamon came to mean, not that which is entrusted, but that in which a man puts his trust. The end of the process was that mamon came to be spelled with a capital M and came to be regarded as nothing less than a god.” William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1963), I, p. 252.
22 “Why does the man of little faith allow things to master him and to get him down? The answer to that question is that, in a sense, the real trouble with ‘little faith’ is that it does not think. In other words, we have to be right in our whole conception of faith. Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. That is the real difficulty in life. Life comes to us with a club in its hand and strikes us upon the head, and we become incapable of thought, helpless and defeated. The way to avoid that, according to our Lord, is to think. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvellous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the bird, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.
The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not think. Instead of doing this, they sit down and ask, What is going to happen to me? What can I do? That is the absence of thought; it is surrender, it is defeat. Our Lord here is urging us to think and to think in a Christian manner. That is the very essence of faith. Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with a person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. If you lie awake at night for hours I can tell you what you have been doing; you have been going round in circles. You just go over the same old miserable details about some person or some thing. That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think. That means that something else is controlling your thought and governing it, and it leads to that wretched, unhappy state called worry. So we are entitled to define ‘little faith’ in the second place as being a failure to think, or of allowing life to master our thought instead of thinking clearly about it, instead of ‘seeing life steadily and seeing it whole.’” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), II, pp. 129-130.
23 “The word which is used is the word merimnan, which means to worry anxiously. Its corresponding noun is merimna, which means worry. In a papyrus letter a wife writes to her absent husband: “I cannot sleep at night or by day, because of the worry (merimna) I have about your welfare.” A mother, on hearing of her sons’ good health and prosperity writes back: “That is all my prayer and all my anxiety merimna).” Anacreon, the poet, writes: “When I drink wine, my worries (merimnai) go to sleep.” In Greek the word is the characteristic word for anxiety, and worry, and care.” Barclay, Matthew, I, pp. 258-259.
“The verb merimnao is from meris, merizo, because care of anxiety distracts and divides. It occurs in Christ’s rebuke to Martha for her excessive solicitude about something to eat (Luke 10:41). The notion of proper care and forethought appears in 1 Cor. 7:32; 12:25; Phil. 2:20.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, I, p. 58.
24 “For a complete list and description of the birds mentioned in Scripture one should turn to the delightfully interesting work by A. Parmelee, All the Birds of the Bible (New York, 1959). That author calls the country in which the Sermon on the Mount was delivered ‘the cross-roads of bird migrations’ (p. 183).” Quoted by William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), p. 350.
25 “By worrying, He insists, a man cannot add a single hour to his life, though, as we understand today, he may very well shorten it. This is the probable meaning of the words here recorded; for, though pechus translated cubit, is literally a measure of space, and helikia often means stature (as in Lk. xix. 3), yet the former word can also be used metaphorically of a measure of time and the latter often indicates ‘age’ (as in Jn. ix. 21). Men worry more perhaps over their length of life than over their physical height!” Tasker, Matthew, p. 77.
26 “Worry is now recognized by physicians as a disease (sometimes even a contagious disease). Dr. James W. Barton said recently, “It is known that about one half of the patients consulting a physician have no organic disease. In about one-fourth of the cases, the cause of the symptoms is tenseness or worry, strain, and fatigue ... prolonged shock or fear (which is really worry) can affect the workings of all the organs of the body.”
Dr. Alverez (formerly of Mayo Clinic) said, “Worry is the cause of most stomach trouble.”
Dr. Han Selye, writing about the stress theory of disease, said, “Stress is the trigger which causes disease.”
Dr. Emerson, an outstanding Christian psychologist, stated there are five underlying causes of mental illness and frustration (often caused by worry and often the cause of physical illness): fear, hate, guilt, inferiority, and insecurity.
These may be analyzed as follows: (1) A supersensitivity to criticism. (2) An excessive awareness of our weaknesses. (3) An abnormal pride of our achievements. (4) An unobtainable ambition beyond our abilities. (5) An absorbing jealousy over the success of others. (6) A sinful covetousness of things beyond our reach (or financial means). “The Disease,” Comfort for Troubled Christians, J. C. Brumfield, (Chicago: Moody Press), pp. 16-17.
27 “Exactly what kind of flower the Lord had in mind when he said ‘field-lilies’ cannot be determined. Some guesses are: irises, narcissi, Turk’s cap lilies, and gladioli. Goodspeed translates ‘wild flowers’ (See how the wild flowers grow”). In the light of the context (note “the grass of the field....”) it is very well possible that Jesus, instead of referring to any particular kind of flower, was thinking of all the beautiful flowers that were adding their splendor to the landscape at this time of the year.” Hendriksen, Matthew, p. 352.
28 “The Palestinian oven was made of clay. It was like a clay box set on bricks over the fire. When it was desired to raise the temperature of it especially quickly, some handfuls of dried grasses and wild flowers were flung inside the oven and set alight.” Barclay, Matthew, I, pp. 260-261.