“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,”
– Matthew 6:19 (ESV – Read the chapter)
The other day I was making small talk with an acquaintance. Given that we were only a couple of days past Christmas, we asked each other the obligatory, “How was your Christmas?” question. Both of us assured the other that it had been good and that, more importantly, the kids had had fun. We agreed that if the kids were happy, that was a key ingredient to a fun Christmas morning. Then he said something to which I could only respond politely because I didn’t agree.
He said, “It hurt me in my wallet, but that’s what you have to do.” I could only smile and reply, “It feels that way sometimes,” because I do not agree. It is absolutely okay to buy Christmas presents for your kids and to make attempts to check off everything on their lists, but if it breaks the bank, that’s not okay. That teaches and proclaims a whole lot of things we don’t want to communicate.
It teaches things like if we want something, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. It teaches things like getting stuff is more important than keeping a budget. It proclaims to our kids that they should have everything they want. It proclaims that we think the accumulation of stuff is the most important thing in the world.
That all processed through my head rather self-righteously and I had a little “get over yourself” moment, because who am I to judge him like that when we make sincere efforts to get our own kids everything they want? Then I heard his little boy telling someone else what he had gotten for Christmas. An iPhone 6s and a hover board among other things. He’s four.
But, before either you or I go self-righteous on a guy who is just trying to be a good dad to his kids, this is how the world works nowadays, isn’t it? Several years ago it became popular to criticize our culture for being very consumeristic. We were addicted to stuff and needed to simplify. Those criticisms have cooled somewhat, but our culture’s obsession with stuff hasn’t. Even a little bit.
We store up stuff like it’s going out of style. We store up stuff like the end of the world is on the way and we want to have a stockpile just in case we manage to survive it and all those post-apocalyptic movies prove prophetic. We store up stuff like it’s going to save us when things go south. It’s not. They won’t. And it won’t.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with stuff. It’s morally neutral. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having stuff. We need some stuff to survive. There’s not even anything inherently wrong with having a lot of stuff. Some of the most faithful guys in the Scriptures were filthy rich. But, we can’t ever forget that stuff is just stuff. If we begin to treat it as more than that, we will quickly find ourselves in a mess.
The fact about stuff is that it all eventually goes away. It is unreliable in that regard. Even if you have an appliance that has lasted for more than a generation and is still running like a champ, eventually it won’t. It wasn’t made to last forever. You were.
If we start storing up treasures—stuff—here and now, we will be sorely tempted to begin trusting in those treasures to do more for us than meet whatever immediate need they were acquired to address. We begin looking to them for security. We begin looking to them for confidence. We begin looking to them for hope. We even begin looking to them for salvation. This is problematic in all kinds of ways, but primarily two.
First, it leaves us seeking from the stuff something it was never designed to give. When we use a tool in a manner that deviates from its designed purpose we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and frustration when it inevitably fails us. Second, it leaves us not seeking for these things to which we are looking to stuff to provide from the source—namely, the person—who can actually provide them.
Jesus was as clear as He could be on this: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. Go ahead and have them, but don’t store them up. What will they do for you that way? We are instead to store up treasures in heaven. How do we do this? By pursuing the kinds of things heaven values: Loving others, serving the least of these, forgiving our offenders, reconciling relationships, proclaiming the Gospel, and so on and so forth.
If our stuff is merely a means to these kinds of ends it is fine. When it becomes anything else we’ve got a problem. Let us not be afraid to tell our culture the truth about its consumeristic obsession, but more than that, let’s make sure we aren’t buying into it ourselves. Let’s store up the kinds of treasures that won’t let us down and which demonstrate that we have the salvation we so earnestly desire.