Currently, in my series on what Jesus has to say about money – and how He lived it – I’m working through Matthew 6. You can see previous posts in this series here.
Matthew 6: 19 – 34 is a well known section of scripture that deals with this topic. But we’ll just look at verse 19 – 24 for now.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.
Verse 19 and 21 I think are self explanatory. But the question is, how do we lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven? It’s interesting that material objects on earth – such as money – are able to gain us heavenly / spiritual reward from God. It’s all about how we use it – for generosity or for ourselves?
So is it a sin to spend money on ourselves? Of course not. But verse 22 & 23 put this in better context. And might I add, the context is important – I’ve heard these scriptures used to talk about why we shouldn’t look at pornography when the context has nothing to do with that sort of stuff!
In Hebrew culture a person with a ‘good eye’ was / is one who sees the needs of their neighbour and does something about it. In other words, a generous person. Now you might think that an ‘evil eye’ is then about the opposite – being stingy – turning a ‘blind eye’ – but in fact it’s about going even further – seeing your neighbour and coveting what they have.
Proverbs 28:22 is a good examples of this. It says: “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him.” (NASB). So this scripture is talking about what we pursue. Are we pursuing the Kingdom and its kind of generosity? Or are we pursuing all those things everyone says we should have? If you’re generous your whole being will be full of light. But if you’re stingy and, worse, covetous, your whole being will be full of darkness.
Up to this point there has been no mention of our conventional wisdom that sounds something like: “I’m going to make lots of money so that I can be generous.” Many people, including Christians, pursue wealth with the apparent motive to be generous. It sounds all well and good but Jesus doesn’t exhort us to be generous when we’re finally wealthy. (If you keep saying “one day” I’ll give, I promise you, “one day” will never come – there will always be a reason to subscribe to “charity starts at home.”) Rather, we’re to be generous despite what we have. You’re not supposed to only have a ‘good eye’ when you have a good bank account. Having a good eye is meant to be a part of your character despite your bank account.
This leads me to believe that generosity is always right – even when it hurts. And it often does hurt. And it’s often very risky. We tend to think that generosity shouldn’t hurt because we think that the reward of moral living is easy living. In other words, the ‘right thing’ should never hurt; it’s supposed to make us feel better. So that’s why it’s popular to think that only when we have lots of money we can ‘afford’ to be generous.
I’m not saying that generosity always must hurt but only that we shouldn’t be surprised when it does. By definition, if all my generosity never actually costs me anything, how generous am I, really?’
Financial stability and coveting
Our culture’s ‘wisdom’ tends to preach that we need to accumulate until we have financial stability and freedom and then we’ll have the freedom to be charitable and generous. The reality is, however, if you aren’t generous from the beginning you’ll never be generous when your ship finally comes. If you don’t know how to manage your money with a good eye, and if all you know is how to feed your own stomach – and not be satisfied because you’re staring at everyone else’s food and wishing you were eating what they have (coveting) – all you’re ever going to have is an evil eye; and when you have plenty you will still demand more because you’re greedy, discontent and full of covetousness. Because your master is money, not God, and you are devoted to money.
But you cannot serve two masters.
Jesus now expounds on this context of an evil eye and coveting in the next piece of scripture, which we’ll look at next. And with this context in mind, this next piece of scripture says things I never realised before.