Jesus has just excoriated those who mispracticed the heart and spirit of the religious life - namely, alms, prayer and fasting. He now deals with the opposite end of the spectrum - namely, a preoccupation with the things of this world. The true believer expresses his faith in God through his loyalty to the kingdom of heaven and his unwavering faith in God’s gracious provision for all his temporal needs. In the words of Paul, one may say he lives by faith not by sight. Thus, if one is a citizen of the kingdom he will invest in the kingdom. Jesus’ commands regarding wealth are as radical as the other kingdom activities addressed in the Synoptic gospels. Of course, the Bible’s comments about stewardship and wealth are not limited to the few comments Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount.
Scripture devotes considerable attention to the subject of wealth. Indeed, there is scarcely anything in Scripture, which is so greatly warned against as the allurements of personal wealth. Paul cautions his young disciple to be content: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6.6-10; cp. Hebrews 13.5). The emphatic command to stop storing up treasures on earth (Matthew 6.19) requires a radical paradigm shift in the way most Christians view their possessions (cp. Romans 12.1-2). Jesus warns those who hope in heaven to be on guard against every form of greed because the value of a man’s life cannot be measured by his possessions. Indeed, it is not what is accumulated on earth that has value but what is stored in the vaults of heaven. Consequently, the believer ought to be rich toward God (Luke 12.15-21).
But what constitutes a treasure fit for heaven? Paul says of the Christians at Thessalonica that they are his crown in which he will glory in the presence of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 2.19; cp. Philippians 4.1). There is nothing greater than winning the lost to Christ. Daniel summarized it well when he said: And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12.3). Indeed, all things done for the Lord will receive their reward in heaven. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3.23-24). However, it is not the possessions you acquire that are important; rather, it is the relationships that you cultivate in Christ which honor Christ and have eternal value. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1.27). Scripture declares that God desires the believer to be generous toward those in need. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3.17; cp. Matthew 18.21-35). Jesus assured His disciples that the Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12.33-24).
Does this mean that Christians are to be financially poor themselves? Does the Lord disparage all those who are wealthy? Of course, the answer is “no,” but with this caveat: while money itself is not evil, one’s attitude towards it may easily corrupt the individual. If such is the case, what is a proper perspective toward money?
First, trust in the Lord; He will supply all your needs. The psalmist said, The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want (Psalm 23.1). Paul wrote from prison: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4.19; cp. Matthew 6.28-34). The Lord provided for Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16.4-6), and he is able to provide for all who trust in him (Psalm 118.8-9; Romans 8.32).
Second, one must work hard and use his resources wisely. That is, he must be industrious in his labor, wise in saving and spending, and generous in helping others. Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica that they ought to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, mind their own business and work with their hands so that they will earn a good reputation and not be dependent on others for their livelihood (1 Thessalonians 4.11-12). In Proverbs we read, Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth (Proverbs 10.4; 6.6-11; 11.24-28). Some regard debt as part and parcel of the capitalistic process. Others view debt as prohibited in Scripture (Romans 13.8). The Bible does not forbid debt. Though debt is not a sin, it is nonetheless a good thing to avoid whenever possible (Proverbs 6.1-5; 22.7).
Third, one must be honest and generous in his dealings with others. Scripture says: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act (Proverbs 3.27-28). James cautions the rich against hoarding their riches and failing to pay a proper wage to those who work for them (James 5.1-6). James has in mind the following Levitical admonition: Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight (Leviticus 19.13; Deuteronomy 24.15). Such action would cause undo hardship on a poor man who lived from day to day. God looks with great disfavor on those who defraud laborers and oppress widows (Malachi 3.5).
Fourth, the pursuit of wealth is not worth the end result. Those who seek to fill their “stomachs” will never have enough (Philippians 3.19). Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. … As goods increase, so do those who consume them (Ecclesiastes 5.10-11).
Finally, take care not to rob God of what is rightly His. The prophet Malachi wrote, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ in tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3.8-10; cp. 1 Corinthians 9.6-11).
THE PROBLEM OF MONEY
Why is money so often a problem? For one thing, if people don't have it they focus their creative resources on trying to get it; when they get it, they focus their energy on keeping it. In short, it tends to keep one’s attention riveted on what’s temporal rather than what’s eternal (1 Peter 1.7; cp. 2 Corinthians 4.16-18). Moreover, there is a general tendency to believe that money is the answer to all problems. A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything (Ecclesiastes 10.19; cp. Mark 10.17-23). The problem with money is that you can never make enough. Thankfully the things in life that are really meaningful and important are truly free (Isaiah 55.1-3). Haggai, a prominent post-exilic prophet, challenged the people about their luxurious lifestyles at a time when the temple remained unrestored. He asked the question, Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house [the temple] remains in ruin? … Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it (Haggai 1.3-4).
Some commentators have mistakenly suggested that the verses in Matthew 6.19-24 are disjointed and were woven together by a later redactor. They fail to recognize the connection between the admonition concerning earthly possessions, heavenly treasure, and the eye being the lamp of the body. However, the eye may be read here as having the same metaphorical impact as heart. “The ‘eye’ can be equivalent to the ‘heart.’ The heart set on God so as to hold to his commands (Psalm 119:10) is equivalent to the eye fastened on God’s law (Psalm 119:18, 148; cf. 119:36-37). Similarly Jesus moves from ‘heart’ (v. 21) to ‘eye’ (vv. 22-23). Moreover the text moves between physical description and metaphor by the words chosen for ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Haplous (‘good’ v.22) and its cognates can mean either ‘single’ (vs. diplous, ‘double,’ 1 Tim 5:17) in the sense of ‘single, undivided loyalty’ (cf. 1 Chronicles 29.17) or in cognate forms ‘generous,’ ‘liberal’ (cf. Rom 12.8; James 1.5)” (D. A. Carson, EBCNT, p. 178).
Thus, just as the heart may have its passions, so too, what the eye fixates on may become a consuming passion. If one’s eye looks on the kingdom, then his desire will be for the King of heaven and he will be full of light; if one’s eye looks on earthly things which pass away, then he will be full of darkness. Light and darkness cannot occupy the same space. The warning is emphatic: Don't be greedy!
A GODWARD FOCUS
Greed keeps the focus of the individual on himself without giving proper attention to the needs of others (Proverbs 21.25-26; Isaiah 56.11 cp. Philippians 2.3-4). Selfishness and greed are ranked among the sins that Christians generally count among the worst, such as drunkenness, sexual immorality, theft, and the worship of idols (2 Corinthians 5.11). The self-focus of the greedy envelops them in moral darkness and they cannot see their inevitable self-destruction (Psalm 73.18; John 9.39-41).
So then, two things are set before the reader, God and money. Both are masters (slave owners); that is, each one requires absolute devotion. Each is jealous for the total affection of his disciple. There can be no room in the heart for divided loyalty. One cannot be devoted part of the time to God and kingdom living, and part of the time to oneself and the pursuit of wealth and property. Jesus says you must chose. It has always been thus. People must choose between God and their idols – Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs (Jonah 2.8; cp. Joshua 24.14-15; 2 Kings 17.15).