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When Paul warned Timothy about the dangers of loving money, he said something that should arrest our attention: “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Contentment on earth is to be found in our basic necessities—food and clothing—being met. How foreign that is to us in our day in which we are surrounded by all sorts of earthly possessions. And how dangerous it is to surpassing righteousness.

As Jesus exhorted his hearers to pursue surpassing righteousness, he warned them of three major barriers to such righteousness: the barrier of religious appearances (6:1–18); the barrier of wealth and possessions (6:19–34); and the barrier of a religious superiority complex (7:1–12). He offered two manifestations of the barrier of wealth and possessions. We consider the first of those today and the second tomorrow.

As he assessed the value of money and possessions, Jesus concluded that there are four things to be aware of.

First, earthly possessions are temporary. He cautioned against storing “treasures on earth” and instead exhorted his hearers to store “treasures in heaven” (vv. 19–20). We should not think that he was talking about physical earthly possessions versus physical heavenly possessions. He wasn’t telling us to focus on heavenly mansions and streets of gold. Instead, he was telling us to pursue those things that have eternal value. “In heaven” is less about a physical location and more about the presence of God. Prioritise those things, in other words, that have meaning in the presence of God. Earthly possessions will be left behind when we die. Will we pursue those things that actually mean something in the eternal kingdom?

Second, earthly possessions are vulnerable. The things we so value on earth are subject to decay (“moth and rust”) and loss (“thieves”) (vv. 19–20) but those things that are prioritised with an eternal perspective cannot be taken from us. Far better to value that which is eternally secure than that which is fallen and fading.

Third, earthly possessions are deceitful. Verses 22–23 may seem a little confusing, but Jesus is making a simple point. A healthy eye allows in light and gives you good vision and focus. An unhealthy eye limits light and leaves you walking in darkness. If your light (those things you consider valuable and important) is actually darkness (temporary earthly possessions), you are walking in darkness even as you think you are walking in light. If you think that your earthly possessions will bring you lasting meaning and eternal significance, you are like a blind man groping in the dark. You are deceived, having no real idea what is truly valuable.

Fourth, earthly possessions are enslaving. Jesus is direct: You will either be a slave to Christ or to your possessions (v. 24). You cannot serve both. If you value only what you can see and touch here and now, you are not serving Christ as you should, because the things he values are far above what people so value and trust here and now. There are no two ways about it: “You cannot serve God and money.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with earthly possessions, so long as our focus is correct. If we are content with what we have, and if our increase in possessions results in an increase in generosity, we are using our wealth wisely. But if our attitude toward earthly possessions is simply to hoard for ourselves, we have lost focus of what is eternally significant, and we have ceased to pursue surpassing righteousness.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders considered wealth to be a sign of divine favour—a symbol of righteousness. When “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard [his teaching on wealth and possessions], they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). But Jesus warned his disciples that their righteousness must surpass the “righteousness” of the Pharisees, and one way it must do so is in their attitude toward money and possessions.

As we think about our attitude toward earthly possessions, the question is simple: Do we believe Jesus? Was he right in his assessment of wealth? If so, our overemphasis on earthly possessions will be a barrier to surpassing righteousness because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). Repent of your covetousness and allow your contentment—and your generosity—to show where your investments truly lie.