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The Lost Teachings of Jesus 2

Written by Corey Magstadt : January 16, 2008

As a parent of two young children, the desire to provide for those children is always in the back of my mind. Food, clothing, diapers, toys and the like suck away resources like cheerios in a vacuum cleaner.

Beyond just the day to day expenses lurks the question of what would happen to my kids if something were to happen to me. Financial advisers suggest that life insurance is mandatory, several months of expenses in a savings account is required, and planning for retirement has to start when you’re young or you will be a burden on your children in your old age. That seems to make sense, but then Jesus throws this gem at us:

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, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.~ Matthew 6:19-24 (NIV)

What is Jesus teaching here? I am pretty confident in saying that Jesus does not expect us to avoid preparing financially for the future. I don’t think that making some reasonable financial plans is opposed to kingdom living. My guess is that it is a matter of priorities. Which is more important to you, heavenly treasures or the temporary treasures that rust and rot? It is also a matter of trust. The next large section in the Sermon on the Mount discusses worrying about where our resources are going to come from and encourages Christ-followers to trust in the one who clothes the lilies of the field instead of our own ability to care for ourselves.

But I wonder if we have the capacity to discern when we have misplaced our priorities or our trust. I live in a very wealthy suburban city where the assumptions about what is necessary to care for our family is very different than in other places. Is it possible to even know just how much these assumptions have shaped our values? How can we know if the concerns that we have for our finances are necessary and justifiable or if they have crossed over and become something unhealthy? How can we live lives of simplicity and generosity without becoming unwise with the way we distribute our resources?

Corey is the pastor of The River Church in Chaska, MN. He has two wonderful kids and an even more wonderful wife. Corey also blogs at www.learning-to-listen.blogspot.com.


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    I think we should not store things up either in our homes or in bank-accounts etc. We should trust God instead. It is not a question of "attitude" or "priorities" (only). As long as we have our riches, we won´t need to trust God. We have to despise riches (Mt 6:24). We should sell what we have and give to the poor, but not necessarily all at the same time.
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    I see so much of this changing with the my generation (I'm 24) compared to the Boomer's (our parents). My wife and I are fiscally responsible and we "store" I suppose to a degree in a savings account, but we live simply so we don't have to worry and ask questions like "have we saved enough?" Money doesn't run our lives. We refuse to make decisions based on an accountant ledger's reading. I think saving up for the future or being financially stable is a good thing, but the definition of what is "stable" and what is "hording" is radically shifting, and I think that is a great thing. Stable does not mean a full IRA account, life insurance on my beautiful right leg, and a growing stock portfolio. When we save and live simply, we can give more, which makes us much more spiritually stable.
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    Just to add some anxiety to this discussion:

    Why is saving a bit for the future a good thing? And why do we assume that Jesus' teachings doesn't challenge this notion? I think we're coming at this with a set of assumptions that we need to examine more closely.
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    Man I hate these hard questions!

    It is absolutely undeniable that our (American) view of what is 'necessary' is vastly different from either a good portion of the rest of the world or reality. Simply owning a car, a 'necessity' in most parts of the US, makes one richer than the vast majority of the rest of the world. So too with central air & heat, indoor plumbing (though clean water is absolutely necessary for health - far too many people drink contaminated water) and even a solid roof over our heads. Most of the world survives on less than $2/day - what does the minimally acceptable lifestyle cost here? 20 times that? 50?

    I see many parallels between this issue and the issue of nonviolence. In my mind, one of the central tenets of Christian pacifism is a profound trust that God will use my obedience in a positive way. I don't need to defend my life or my good with violence because God will both use that as a witness to the world and take care of me. That may be in this life or the next, but it is action based on trust. If we are willing to sacrifice our very lives to advance the Kingdom, why not our savings accounts? But man that is hard. Its easy to imagine a glorious what-if about dying for God that will likely never happen. Its quite another thing to KNOW that one will be poor for God at some definite point in the future.
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    I don't think saving for the future just for the sake of sleeping better at night or for the ability to buy that "next great thing" on the market is a legit Christian act--however--I do think that saving in order to give more to others and to be able to live with a more "open hand" is a kingdom-like attitude. Certainly you can argue that should be able to live this attitude despite your lack of financial savings, and that critique is well-noted. But on top of all of this is the crushing weight of what financial debt can do to a person in today's world. The more I save, the more likely I am to pay off my debt at a faster rate, the more likely I am to live with a spring in my step and my head up looking face to face with others. There are personal and social consequences to saving or not saving in the Kingdom of God.

    I suppose I've been a little too influenced (possible?) by John Wesley here. "Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can...No more sloth.... No more waste.... No more covetousness!" (from "The Use of Money" sermon)
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    I think it is important to examine what is meant when Jesus asks us to store up gifts in Heaven. Is he asking us to worry about the crowns we receive in the afterlife or is he asking us to worry about the lasting things that will affect his kingdom?

    I think it is the latter and therefore influences my opinion.

    saving for personal wants is useless because it will fade away, but Jesus wants us to save for family security. He wants our children and spouses to be part of his kingdom, and the best way to do this is to make sure they are safe and secure.

    It is about removing all the excess and focus on the important things.
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    I think there is a tendency to try and over personalize Jesus teachings and domesticate what was once a truely revolutionary message.

    Ask this question - In their culture, who was it that had the power to "store up treasures"? There were no banks for peasants to accumulate savings. If someone was storing real wealth, then they were primarily land owners. In an agrarian society, Land was the wealth of the day. If you owned land then you had it because the Roman Empire took it from someone else and gave it to you or because you were a Roman sympathizer and cut a deal with the occupying forces to keep your land. Herod for example, or the wealthy Saducees.

    I think Jesus is speaking critically to the wealthy Jewish land owners running the city (and the temple) who had cut a sweet deal with the Roman Empire that allows them to remain in power, but neglects the jewish peasants. In his eyes, God had setup the nation of Israel based on principles of peace and justice but now they serve a different master.....Rome.

    You can't be a champion for justice while looking out for your own interests. If we want to personalize that message, then to me the answer would be think about more than our own pocket books when we cast votes or when we decide where to invest our money. Jesus isn't asking us not to invest, he is telling us to invest in things that create justice (i.e. "the kingdom")
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    great discussion!
    I wonder how I'm supposed to handle my finances. It's obvious we should not spend on our selves lavishly, but what do we do with the extra income that we have?

    Do we invest it for greater good, or do we give it away now for immediate good? I'm not sure of the right answer. A little of both?

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