In whom do you trust? Where is your paradise? What gives you joy? Some people, many put their trust in money, and create paradise on earth where they can have as much joy as they can possibly into life. I’d say the majority of people want a “happy life” And as we grow in this world what to do we discover? That things make us happy, that getting something we want or need makes us happy, and that the people who give us those things make us happy. Sure maybe that happiness only lasts until the ice cream is melted, or maybe until the friend who shared it with you leaves, but for many the way we are raised teaches us that money will give us what we want and having what we want makes us happy.
But James had a warning for wealthy people. Verses 1-6 read,
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Not every rich person got rich oppressing someone else, but look at the history of how that money was gained and chances are someone’s grandfather had his foot on the back of someone else’s grandfather. How important is it for you, whether you consider yourself financially well off or not to hold on to your money? Did you work hard to earn it? Do you deserve it? I’m sure you feel your money, be it sufficient small, or abundant was earned through hard work, sweat, and tears. You have amassed that money and it is yours.
When you put that money in a savings account for your retirement, when you put that money in a savings account for the Aruba vacation, who were you taking it away from? Was there a hungry family that could have used a Publix gift card but the money went toward your happiness? Was there more money for you because you pay your gardener a dollar over minimum wage? Was there more for you because you skimped on your employees’ health insurance? It is your money do, what you want with it.
But consider if your faith is in your money or The One True Living God Jesus Christ. Even if you’re poor your faith can be in money. It’s just easier to allow God to meet your needs when you don’t know how to make $20 buy a week’s worth of food. But it’s also easier for a poor person to assume that happiness is found in money. We say if I had a boat like that, a house like that, a theme park pass like a –insert desire here—like that, I’d be happy.
Happiness is not based on things. But ask someone with lots of things to give them up and chances are they won’t be able to give it all up. They’ll say they need a few things. It isn’t that a rich person can’t be saved, it is that most rich people and the majority of the poor and mid-incomers have put their faith in money and let their happiness be dictated by the stuff money can buy. If Jesus told you to your face, that you would be saved if you gave your brand new expensive smartphone to the homeless man on the corner, ask yourself if you really could and would do it. Jesus had a conversation with a wealthy young and important man in Matthew 19:16-22.
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
When the man left despondent Jesus turned to the disciples and continued the conversation with them in verses 23-30.
“And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The rich young ruler was despondent because he only understood present life. He was too afraid to trust that eternal life is real and matters much more than this temporary life we life. He liked his money, who wouldn’t? But he didn’t understand that when he died, his robes would rot along with his body. His treasures would rust, most would dissolve to dust along with his bones. But his soul is eternal and the results of following Jesus never die, rust, or turn to dust.
Even those of us who proclaim Christ, forget sometimes we are living eternal life and that the joys and possessions we have on this earth will mean nothing in eternity. I wonder how long we’ll even remember our present lives in the face of eternity. Do you think in a million years, we’ll be hanging out saying “Hey, remember how much fun we had playing Candy Crush Saga?” or “The i phone 8 sure was the best thing that ever happened to me!” or “I’m so glad I invested in the Blu-ray collections of all my favorite films.”
There is nothing wrong with money, possessions or happiness. But if they are such a priority to us that they keep us from loving the Lord with all our heart, strength, soul, and mind then we are not following Jesus, but following our flesh. Money makes us want more, it makes us want to hold onto it for security. We think it is money providing the fridge full of groceries, and the constant flow of power to the A/C, TV, and Computer, but it is Jesus providing the job the money and the charity. And it all belongs to Him in the first place. (Psalm 24:1).
Just as the Lord used Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower to be generous when he gave Jesus his tomb. He also uses other wealthy Christian and some not so wealthy to love people through their generosity. It is not impossible for a rich man to be saved, it is just difficult because it is hard not to dend on money instead of God. I know a man and his family who never blink twice when God says, “give.” I’ve seen them give someone who asked for one thing from the grocery store and entire grocery cart full of food. I’ve seen them tell the apartment management company to tell the tenant the rent is $200 less per month than it is, and then secretly pay the difference themselves. I’ve seen them time and again give and give. I know if Jesus said to them right now, sell your house and give all the proceeds to that church in Ecuador, they would do it. Because they have faith, not in money, but in God. They have put their trust and happiness in Jesus, not their big screen TV. They have put their hope in the Holy Spirit, not their smartphones. They have stored their treasures in Heaven, because eternity is the reality, this present life is a moment, a shadow teaching us, and an opportunity to teach others. After Jesus encourages us to give to the needy and pray well in Matthew chapter 6 and before He tells us not to worry about bills, clothes, and life’s concerns, He tells us to store our treasures in Heaven. Matthew 6:19-24 says,
“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.”
What are those treasure we store in Heaven? They are the fruit of our walk with Jesus, the testimony of our lives, the way we used our gifts, and the people who were won over to Christ. We can either focus on and pursue the Kingdom of Heaven and see the world from the healthy perspective of faith in Jesus or we can pursue happiness on earth and put our faith in money and our own power and not have Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life indwell us. We can die eternally rather than live eternally.