Jesus had a lot to say about money. In fact, it has been claimed that He spoke more about money than about heaven or hell. That sounds true, though I must confess that I haven’t bothered to check the accuracy of that claim.
However, in many of the passages where He makes reference to money, He was not speaking of money per se, but was using it as an illustration of relative values: the parable of the minas or pounds (Luke 19:11ff); the talents (Matthew 25:14ff); the steward (Luke 16:1ff); and so on.
But He did have some very important things to say about money and our relationship to it. He did not, as many preachers do, tell His hearers how much to give; nor did He make pleas for funds for His ministry; neither did He tell them that God wants them to be rich; nor to “name it and claim it”; He didn’t even lead seminars on financial management.
No, when Jesus talked about money, He rather gave His hearers warnings about it, not about how they must control it, but about how they must not let it control them.
Probably the most familiar passage is the one in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-24):
“Don’t treasure up (or ‘stop treasuring up’) for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and corrosion destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But treasure up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor corrosion destroy and where thieves don’t break in nor steal, for where your treasure is there your heart also will be.”
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If then your eye is clear, all your body will be enlightened, but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be darkened. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
“No one is able to serve two lords, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You are not able to serve God and Mammon.”
A few notes:
The word “destroy” is the same word that is used in verse 16 of those who “disfigure” their faces when fasting.
The “evil eye” seems to speak elsewhere of an attitude of greed or envy toward someone else (20:15; Deuteronomy 15:9).
The word “serve” literally speaks of the service of a slave.
The word “mammon” is an Aramaic word that first appeared during the Intertestamental period. It is related to the Hebrew word “amen” (which means something like “it can be trusted”) and has the idea of that on which one puts one’s trust. By Jesus’ time, it had come to represent a material object of trust and almost always had a bad connotation. Modern translations such as “money” are close, but don’t quite do the job.
Jesus doesn’t tell what the “treasures in heaven” are. We’d have to look elsewhere to find out what these are. But it’s pretty easy to figure out what the “treasures on earth” are. They are those things that are perishable, that are subject to corrosion. They are things that we put our confidence in and yet they are capable of being lost.
Is Jesus telling us that we shouldn’t have savings accounts? IRAs? 401ks? Stocks? Retirement accounts? I don’t think so. Elsewhere in the parables mentioned above, He speaks of investing money. In fact, in 25:25, the slave who doesn’t invest is called, “You wicked lazy slave.” I know this passage is a parable, yet there it is.
I believe that Jesus is telling us that we cannot make money or any material object our lord and still claim to be His disciples. It is impossible to have two lords – we can only have one lord!
I don’t believe that most of us deliberately choose to serve self and self-centered material goals over Jesus. It’s that we attempt to serve both them and Him, and when we attempt that we always end up serving the other.
Rather, we are to subordinate all our material goals to His Lordship!