The Eighth Word introduces perhaps one of the areas of greatest conflict and stress in all of life: the areas of possessions and property, economics and money. If you are human, you struggle with being at peace with your situation in life and the world around us. Typical situation: Husband is laid back and the wife is stressed. This causes tension in marriages. Are we saving enough? What about health insurance? What about school? Are we giving enough? Are we charitable enough? Children grow up hearing – “That’s sooo expensive. That’s outrageous. That’s a rip off. We can’t afford that.” This can cause tension with kids: how come you get to buy a new four wheeler and can’t get those shoes? Or maybe you have money, but it’s just stressful. Do we buy this or that? Do we go ahead with the remodel or do we upgrade the car or replace the dryer? What if I lose my job? What if we can’t make the mortgage payments?
On the one hand, some of this stress is just called being grown ups, being mature. God wants His people to grow up into wisdom. But the great complicating factor, the thing that makes this truly stressful, worrisome, terrifying is the fact that every descendent of Adam has a fundamental distrust of God and His world. Because of our own sin, we are thieves. We cheat, we steal, we commit fraud, and vandalism. And because we know that we are untrustworthy, we suspect that everyone else and this world in general is untrustworthy. Whatever the gods of this place are up to (economic forces, societal pressures, bad guys, etc.), they are surely trying to steal and cheat.
Luther said that we are all thieves. Calvin said much the same. You steal from God when you do not tithe. You steal from the poor, when you don’t care for them. You steal from others when You try to get something for free or next to nothing. You steal from your wife/children when do not provide for them. Everyone is complicit in the evil economic systems in our world, run by wicked men.
The Eighth Commandment, like all of the commandments, not only prohibits certain activities but more importantly positively commands us to participate in the life of God, in real life, true life. And Jesus says that we keep the Eighth Commandment by laying up treasures for ourselves in heaven. And specifically, this means making Christ your greatest treasure. Jesus says that where our treasure is our heart will be also. Our heart follows our treasure. This means that if money is regularly a stress-maker, your heart is in the wrong place.
God loves stuff. God made all the stuff in the world, and it all belongs to Him. God created Adam and Eve as His children and stuffed their nursery full of ridiculous extravagance (Gen. 2:8-14). When God created the world, He invented the idea of property. Even in the unfallen world, there was one “no trespassing” sign: don’t eat the fruit (Gen. 2:16-17). Beyond that explicit command, there were distinctions already made in the world by names: this, that, and the other thing (e.g. Gen. 2:10-14, 19-24). Adam was commanded by God to “guard” the garden (Gen. 2:15), and as became apparent, that was at least in part because crafty serpents could sneak in and make a mess (Gen. 3:1). The temptation scene is itself in part a question of ownership and gifts. God has not given the fruit of that particular tree to Adam and Eve to eat (Gen. 3:2-3). What is our greatest treasure?
God had given all the other trees, but not that one. The temptation of Eve is the suggestion that she take what was not rightfully hers. And when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they stole from Him. Since all things are gifts from God, all theft is ultimately stealing from God. When take something from someone else, you are steal their opportunity to use and invest the gifts/opportunities God has given them.
But it becomes clear here that greed is not primarily caused by economic forces or deceptive advertising or materialism. Rather, greed is caused by idolatry, worshiping another god besides the true God of Heaven. Adam and Eve wanted to become their own gods, to decide for themselves, to choose their own destiny, to follow their own hearts, to be wise in their own eyes (Gen. 3:4-6). Adam and Eve make their own glory their greatest treasure rather than the God who made them and all things.
But this is also suicide. This is also an act of treason against their Father and King. They are Absaloms seeking to tear the Kingdom from their own Father. This is why stealing is always at some level an act of violence and murder against God and neighbor.
And this is why Jesus came.
Conclusions: If Christ is our greatest treasure….
1. Stuff is good. God made it. He loves it. So should you. The world is full of God’s gifts. Don’t disdain them or look down on those who see that. Property is for grace not greed.
2. We are evil. Repent of thinking stuff is bad. Repent of thinking that you are above the fray. Repent of blaming market forces and economic policies and being harder on “them” than on yourself. Repent of finding your security in numbers on a screen. Repent of your fears. Repent of your envy.
3. Mammon-worship is ubiquitous. Luther said the whole world is a “vast wide stable full of great thieves.” Every economy is complicit in mammon worship in so far as mammon worshipers are in the market. But if we are to destroy this idol, we must begin to strangle it where we can get to it.
4. Do not worry. And do not tempt your wife to worry by failing to lead and provide (1 Tim. 5:8). How much do you need? That depends on who you are. For some of you it’s more and others less (Phil. 4:11-12). Ask Jesus.
5. Freely you have received, so freely give. Remember the gospel. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins, our greed, our theft, our rebellion. The proclamation of the blood of Christ is the Good News for economic sin. Forgiveness is the path to economic/material freedom. Forgive, restore, and give big.
6. Practice justice daily with your spouse, children, neighbors, coworkers. Pay your bills, work hard, return what is borrowed, do restitution for lost or damaged goods, practice hospitality and generosity. Then pray that God would open your eyes to other needs. Follow the Spirit’s lead cheerfully.
7. Jesus is enough. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). You came into this world naked, and your exit will be the same: if you have food and clothing, be content (1 Tim. 6:7-8). Where’s your heart? You know the answer to this by checking where your treasure is.
“I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure.” (Ps. 119:162)
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt. 13:44-46)
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” – Jim Eliot