Summary: We need to place our treasure in heaven through giving to the poor and tithing to the church rather than fall into greed (excessive spending) and worry (excessive saving).
[Clip from short film, Gone Nutty, from Ice Age. Scrat tries to store nuts for the Ice Age, and he stores one too many. 4:12]
Jesus warned us about two dangers: greed (which includes materialism), and worry. Both of which lead to the same problem, storing up for ourselves treasure on earth, rather than storing up treasure in heaven.
After being asked to mediate over an inheritance, Jesus said, “be on your guard for all kinds of greed, a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” or as the NLT put it, “Real life is not measured by how much we own."
Jesus illustrated this with a parable about a man who had a bumper crop one year and decided to build bigger barns so he could take life easy and enjoy the good life, food, drink, and partying. We could say, what’s wrong with that? Notice, in the story there was no thanks or recognition to God for providing, no thought to the needs of others. Instead his thoughts ran directly to himself, storing up more for himself, build bigger barns, store up for his future. Unfortunately, Jesus said, his life would end that very night without him being able to enjoy any of it, and he wouldn’t take it with him.
Today, Jesus might have said, imagine you won a million dollars from the lottery. What would you do with the money? Do your thoughts run quickly to all the fun stuff you could buy, does your mind run to retirement, a bigger house, or does your mind run to what God would want you to do with the money, since he blessed you with it? It’s not that God doesn’t want us to enjoy life, but as we reminded ourselves last week, God provides so we can provide for others. God blesses us, so we can be a blessing for others. The man in the parable didn’t even stop to consider why he received the bumper crop, he assumed it was all for his benefit.
Jesus’ words are just as penetrating in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century. We live in a society of plenty, and we tend to act as though life IS measured by how much we own. We were downstate visiting family for Thanksgiving and in Thursday’s paper there were at least 20 ads for after Thanksgiving Day sales (or Black Friday) as it is known. Of course I found myself looking through these ads. As I’m looking through this do you think I was looking for Christmas gifts for others. No, I found myself thinking, “wouldn’t it be nice to have that HDTV.” These ads of course are encouraging us to buy more stuff for our loved ones Christmas. I’m all about the spirit of giving and generosity, after all God is giving and generous to us. However I wonder when do we go too far? When does it become greed or materialism where we just collect stuff or gift it away just because we can? We end up gathering more treasure on earth. It seems we have crossed that line. Christmas is coming up and the focus again seems to be on what we want for Christmas and what gifts are we going to buy rather than on the real reason for Christmas, God’s gift of his Son Jesus.
Sometimes our motivation for storing up treasure on earth (particularly wealth) is not greed or materialism, but worry, worry that some day there won’t be enough money. It is a scarcity mindset. They are like our little rodent friend Scrat on the video clip, trying to store one more nut before the Ice Age out of fear that he won’t make it through the winter so he has to pack that last nut in.
When we live in this fear, we like to pad our bank accounts, pensions, 401k’s, property, with excessive amounts because we are afraid there won’t be enough. I believe a lot of people who have gone through the Great Depression have this mindset. They store up vast sums of money not out of greed, but out of fear that there might be another depression. For those of you who have parents who went through the Depression you probably know that they don’t like to get rid of anything either.
Of course there is nothing wrong with saving. I believe saving for the future is a Biblical principle. I believe God desires for us to save and plan for the future. However we can go too far and keep collecting, more property and more money. But this can be equally as dangerous as storing up out of greed because it is done out of worry or anxiety about the future.