Which Bank? — Matthew 6:19-24
“…YOU CAN’T SERVE BOTH GOD AND THE BANK…”
We humans have a universal preference for things that last and stand the tests of wear and tear and time… jewelry, clothes, cars, or houses and the things in them. That’s fine, it makes good common sense to avoid shoddy goods.
Jesus is working off of that idea here, telling us to think about what we treasure, advising us to focus on things that REALLY last.
He also knows that what we value and own will determine where and how we store it. There are earthly treasures that can only be stored on earth while there are heavenly treasures that are stored in God’s care.
But it’s about more than that… He wants us to see that we can easily be mastered by what we store. His main point for us to hear is that it’s certain – beyond doubt – that we all, to the last man and woman – will be mastered by something! The word “serve” implies mastery – it reminded His hearers of a slave who rarely ever had rights, time, choices, or a life of his own, living and breathing only for his master’s will. He’s telling us that neither GOD nor MAMMON are kindly employers. Both are taskmasters who control those they own 24/7/365. Neither will allow us to go home to relax at the end of a workday. So, if we serve God or the World — we serve whatever we choose with devotion.
Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” I’ll be simple and call MAMMON earth’s “treasure and pleasure”… it is anything we love so much that we prioritize it over God.
Let’s look at what comes from allowing treasure and pleasure to be our master. I’ll do that by comparing two banks, an earthly bank and a heavenly bank. We bank in/on the earth when earth’s treasures and pleasures are what we live for and their acquisition and accumulation are our ultimate goal. Jesus was negative about banking on earth. What is in them…
1. will not last. A beautiful old beloved hymn – “Heaven Holds All to Me” says, “Earth holds no treasures but perish with using, however precious they be…” Earth things lose value and soundness. They can be changed by outside forces: Jesus knows moths eat our clothes treasure, “rust” (bugs, rats, mice) eats our grain treasure, and thieves find ways to breech our walls to carry away any valuable we store there.
So whatever is banked on earth, regardless of what it is, (1) decays like old clothes, (2) erodes away like a grain bin infested with pests, and (3) attracts attention from those who look for and find opportunities to snatch it away. In other words, it runs down, wears out, and depreciates. The most stylish of clothes go out of style, the cool cars and trucks get dings and rust, and even our beautiful faces and physiques eventually startle us when we see them in our mirrors. The highly valuable today is of no value at all tomorrow (how ‘bout them “beanie babies”?). That which we once thoroughly delighted in we don’t enjoy at all anymore. Things lose their attraction and no longer satisfy.
2. is in need of constant care. Once we have earth things, we must take care of them – so we guard against the moth, the rat, the mildew, the storms, and the thief… buy bug spray and rat poison and install alarm systems and this and that… Everything we have requires time and attention! (ILL: pet). Jesus said that if a man knew a thief was coming, he would be on guard (Matt. 24:42). We get it. The greedy are everywhere and don’t care that the things we have are dear to us.
Maybe Porgy had the right idea one of his songs in Porgy and Bess: he sang:
“I got plenty o’ nuthin’, / And nuttin’s plenty for me, / I got no car, got no mule, / I got no misery. /
De folks wid plenty o’ plenty / Got a lock on de door, / ‘Fraid somebody’s a-goin’ to rob ‘em / While dey’s out a-makin’ more. / What for?”
3. cannot go with us beyond our death. It’s been said a thousand ways and no one can argue with its logic: “Who’s ever seen a U-Haul or an armored car behind a hearse?” Two things happen with our earthly treasures: one, we outlast many of them – we’ve all been disappointed with something not lasting as long as we expected. The other is some of our treasures outlasting us – think about things you’ve accumulated that are now being enjoyed by others. I love the scenario where two people were talking about a rich friend who had died with no money. One said to the other ruefully, “He died penniless.” The other replied smiling, “Perfect timing.” Here’s the deal: almost never do we and our things go out at the same time. To solve this problem, many cultures have buried all kinds of “treasures” with their dead (gold, horses, harems) for use and enjoyment in the next world. Americans don’t, but we do live heartily by the old Greek axiom, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die.”
All the while we accumulate physical treasures, we also accumulate spiritual treasures (our character) which we will take with us – whether they’re positive or negative. Abraham reminded the rich man that in life he had enjoyed good things — he shows painful consciousness of how he had misspent them and that they will be misspent for eternity! It’s simple that all we’ll take out of the world is our soul and its character. Job said it like this, “Naked I came into this world and naked shall I leave it…” (Job 1:21).
4. traps us in bad situations… How many of us have lived through this scene: one day we see some desperate need and want so badly to help, but we find all we have tied up and are totally helpless to help.
5. frequently leads many to look the other way when needs show up around them… This is really a corollary to #4. Ahab and Jezebel had no conscience toward Naboth or his property (1 Kings 21). Was David caught in the “I’m entitle to whatever I want” and he snatched away Uriah’s wife and life? Wasn’t the rich man, if he were ever were aware of Lazarus, completely callused to him lying there at his gate every day (Luke 16)? In all these cases, possessions created self-centered-ness which in turn created blindness to others. God severely judged the offenders.
6. is doomed to disappear… Peter wrote, “the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” (2 Peter 3:10, 11). So far as I have found, these few things are eternal: God, His Word (Psalms 119:89), and the immortal human soul (John 3:15, 16), and love (I Corinthians 13:13)
7. can’t make nor keep us happy... Jesus’ words are yelling this message: earthly treasure and pleasure provide no long-term security… zero! It may be a day or two or a decade or two, but the security material things and other earth treasures bring will end; they are temporary.
A worldly thinker might answer, “Okay, you be happy in heaven, I’ll be happy here.” But he is badly mistaken — the truth is that he won’t be happy either place. He may search high and low but he will never find happiness in self, others, or things. And because he never searched for heaven’s treasure, he will miss those, too.
Jesus is teaching two things every serious disciple should know: (1) stop investing here and to invest in heaven, and (2) our possessions are not our own and we must stop thinking they are. Jesus’ parable of the talents teaches us that what is loaned to us by God will be accounted for in His presence. So we need to pray and think…
to get a clear grasp of what we really need to live on, to use only that, and to spend the rest on spreading the kingdom’s good news and meeting our world’s needs.
I know of no decision we face that requires so FEARLESS a faith as putting all our treasure in heaven... deciding to serve God, not earth’s treasures and pleasures.
The “rich young ruler” shows the point (Matthew 19). Solomon’s life and search proves it (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11). Satan knows precisely how to lure us into thinking we always need more, then more. Churches and charities will tell you that their best givers are not folks with big money; they are folks with big hearts!
H. B. Hartzler wrote:
The treasures of earth are not mine. / I hold not it’s silver or gold / But a treasure far greater is mine, / I have riches of value untold.
The treasures of earth must all fail, / Its riches and honor decay / But the riches of love that are mine / Even death cannot take them away.
O the depth of the riches of love, / The riches of love in Christ Jesus / Far better than gold or wealth untold / Are the riches of love in Christ Jesus.
The self-consumed, ungenerous soul always meets three evil situations: (1) he cannot live with himself happily – he always wants more and fears losing what he has, (2) he cannot live with others happily – they threaten what is his, and (3) his love for the world means that he cannot live with God.
Jesus summed it all up by saying: “Seek first His kingdom…” (v 33).