Possessed By Our Possessions (2)
Jady W. Copeland
In our first article we laid the foundation of our lessons on materialism, and how it affects God's people. His mission on earth was to save man from sin, and our work as his people is to further his message of salvation. The mission of God's people while sojourning on earth sets the tone of our life, for we are only pilgrims here preparing for the eternal home.
Someone has said, "Money talks." And sometimes it talks so loudly that others can't hear what we say. It is not wrong to have money. In our economy it is a necessity and from the Scriptures we learn that some of God's people were even wealthy; witness Job and Abraham. Now our question is, does my money control me, or do I control my money and use it for his purpose?
Matthew 6:19-34 could well be a text for our entire study on materialism or possessed by our possessions. We en-courage the reader to read carefully this text before finishing this article. But we shall, in this lesson, concentrate on verse 24: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
Everything on earth is ultimately from God; he controls all. Everything on earth is God's (1) by right of creation, (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11) and (2) by right of possession (Psa. 24:1). In arguing the right of the Corinthians to eat meat, Paul used this principle in 1 Corinthians 10:26. We realize that in our relationship to each other in this life (as equal beings under God) that men do "possess" possessions (Acts 5:4). But God created this world, put us in it temporarily to glorify him and told us how to use what he has provided. Like renting a car, we have the "right" (under conditions set down by the owner) to use the possessions temporarily, but in reality it is his. It is a great temptation for us to make the "creation" our god instead of the Creator. But the Creator ("owner") has clearly laid down the conditions by which these possessions are used.
Our Master Is God
Our text says, "No man can serve two masters." The two possible "masters" are God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). Keep in mind the above principles; inspiration says that God is the master, and not the things he created. One cannot serve both masters (God and mammon) because they demand opposites. A master demands complete obedience to his commands and wishes. The word "master" here is sometimes translated "lord." A master has the right to command. When one master leads in one direction and another in the opposite direction, it is obvious you cannot serve both at the same time. They have different objectives, different interests, different goals and different ideals.
But why did Jesus here so plainly state the obvious? Possibly because men think they can serve both. They try to hold on to their wealth, use it to selfish ends, and then confidently assert that they are still serving God. James says, "Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore should be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4). John states about the same principle in 1 John 2:15. It is common today (I am afraid even among the saints) to see people saying they are serving God, when in reality "action speaks louder than words." We need only to state here that the Christian's master is God, not mammon. But are we "possessed by our possessions"?
Money is temporary and like the "use" of the rented car we must treat it as such. Since it is not the "master" we must use money to serve the "Master" just like we use other things God has given us. Just like I must use my God-given talents, my body and my mind to serve the Master, I must use whatever material possessions I have to serve him. Thus "things" can be a help or a hindrance to my service to my God. With the right attitude toward material things, they can be a great asset. Material things can even be a hindrance to one's acceptance to the "feast" of the Lord (Lk. 14:lf). In this account, one man said he had bought oxen and had to prove them. Another said he had bought a field and had to go see it. But then when one accepts Christ, he sometimes then lets material things keep him from his best service to the Lord. And when he lets his money (or any possessions) dictate his actions rather than the real Master, money has become his god. "Ye cannot serve" both.
Our Trust Must Be In God
Since we have chosen God as the master, our trust must be in him, not wealth. Paul said, "Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey" (Rom. 6:16). No man is forced to obey God. It is a choice. It is also a choice if we choose to make mammon our master. Where is our trust? That tells us who our master is. Whether we admit it (or even recognize it) God knows who our master is because he knows which (God or mammon) master we are obeying. In our context of Matthew 6, Jesus finishes his discourse about this by speaking to the idea of anxiety over material things. if our truth is in God, why worry about these material (temporary) things? Solomon said, "He that trusteth in riches shall fall, but the righteous shall flourish as a branch" (Prov. 11:28).
Perhaps a good example of the above is the story of the man recorded in Mark 10:17-22. He asked about how to obtain eternal life. When Jesus said, "Keep the commandments," he seemed pleased because he said, "All these things have I observed from my youth." He must have been feeling pretty good at this point. But when Jesus told him to sell what he had and give to the poor he was disappointed, for he had great possessions. But notice verses 23-25 of this text: "And Jesus looked round about, and said unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and said unto them, Children, how hard it is for them that trust in the riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (emp. mine, JWC). Note, ". . . them that trust in riches . . . . " You cannot serve God and mammon. The two masters demand the opposite. They are op-posed one to the other.
Man's Life Consists Not In Abundance of Possessions
In Luke 12:13 we again have a story in the life of Christ that spells out the temporary and relative value of earthly possessions in contrast to heavenly treasurers. A man wanted Jesus to have his brother divide the inheritance with him but Jesus said that was not his purpose here. He did take the opportunity to teach a spiritual lesson by telling the story of the man who had great crops. But note the statement in verse 15 -- "for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." The life we are most concerned about is spiritual life in Christ and eternal life in the world to come. This life is temporary and must be treated as such. Wealth does not even guarantee satisfaction in this life. Many are happy who have little wealth because their trust is in God. Many who are rich are unhappy in spite of their abundance of things in this life. To teach this lesson, Jesus told the story of the farmer who had "bumper crops." The word "barns" in this story indicates a storehouse (English, apothecary). Therefore he may have been speaking of a trader. At any rate he had so much he said, "I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my good. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry." But he forgot that "life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." He was not rich toward God.
We must lay up treasures in heaven for ". . . while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). We must keep our eyes on God not on the things of the world. We are but pilgrims here, and must think of "things" as temporary and to be used to help us glorify God in this life in preparation of the life to come. Let us fully realize the temporary and fleeting things of a material nature are only tools in our hands to be used to prepare our souls for the real life to come with God in eternity.
In the above story of the rich man, let us note some of his mistakes. (1) He ignored God: he was interested in things which would give him ease in life. (2) He had little thought of others. (3) He failed to realize that material possessions would not satisfy the soul. (4) He was covetous. (More about this in our next lesson.) (5) He must not have realized the brevity of life.
In conclusion then, let us remind ourselves that it is not wrong to have money or material possessions. The sin comes when we have the wrong attitude toward money. To help us to have the proper concept of the material let us remember: (1) Everything is from God; he controls all. He is our creator and the giver of all good things. (2) The Christian's master is God. God is a jealous God, and he will not accept divided worship. If we choose to worship another god other than Jehovah we worship in vain. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (3) Money is not an end within itself. It is only a temporal possession to be used to the glory of God and the up building of his work. So our trust must be in God, and not a "god of this world." (4) Hence, lay up for yourself treasurers in heaven. This is the real treasure -- not the valuables of this world.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 2, p. 16