Possessions and Masters

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesChristians live in two worlds. We know that earth is not a permanent home but a preparation for our eternal dwelling place in heaven. Planning for the future is part of the function of our God-given intelligence.

"Do not be treasuring [thesaurizete, the present imperative of thesaurizo] treasures [from thesaurs] for yourselves on the earth" (v. 19, a.t.), Jesus said.

The problem is not the laying up of treasures, but for whom we lay them up (ourselves). In 2 Corinthians 12:14, Paul said that, although the children have no obligation to lay up (from the same verb, thesaurzo) treasures for their parents, the parents do have an obligation to lay up treasures for their children. But if we lay up for our children or for the Lord's work, we are not treasuring treasures, that is, retaining them to satisfy our own greed.

The reason assigned to not treasuring worldly treasures was the risk of loss. Jesus noted only the risks of corruption (depreciation of value) and robbery (annihilation of value)-two prominent threats to wealth. "Thieves," here translates kléptai (from kléptes), those who steal under cover of darkness and secrecy-a noun that contrasts with lestes, the robber or thug who steals openly. Thieves are described as "breaking through" because the walls of houses in the Middle East at this time were built of clay, and holes could be dug through them.

In light of these warnings, David's general advice is sound: "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them" (Ps. 62:10).

The risks do not apply, however, to heavenly treasures, so in verse 20 Jesus told us to "be treasuring treasures for yourselves in heaven," (the literal translation). Consider once again David's words: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4).

Even if corruption and robbery never happen, earthly treasures ultimately are torn from their owners at death. Accordingly, God said to the rich farmer who was going to build greater barns for all his crops, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" (Luke 12:20).

We can lay up heavenly treasures by utilizing our time, talents, and money for the Lord's work. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul advised us to differentiate between visible things that are temporary (from prskairos [4340]) and invisible things that are eternal (from aonias [166]).

If we treasure material things, our souls will die, according to Paul: "The mind set on the flesh is death" (Rom. 8:6 nasb). But if we "set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth" (a.t.; Col. 3:2), we will build a storehouse of spiritual rewards, and our spirits will live to the fullest: "The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6 nasb).

Jesus summed all this up by adding that our hearts are located where our treasures lie. Our hearts think and choose the values (treasures) resident in our hearts.

The "light" (lchnos) Jesus referred to in verse 22 was a portable oil-burning lamp. The eye, like a lamp, brings light into the body. "If therefore thine eye be single [haplos], thy whole body shall be full of light" (Luke 11:34). Haplos stands in contrast to diplos, double or many. Even though we have two eyes, they are designed to pick up a single object, preferably the Lord Himself, as David counseled in Psalm 27:4 (see above).

Jesus connected the purity of the body with the holy character of an eye that does not vacillate between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. Similarly, in James 1:8 we read that the "double minded [dpsuchos] man is unstable [akatstatos in all his ways" (cf. James 4:8).

A circularity of "unsettling" effects exists between the soul and the physical eye. Just as double-minded ("two-souled") persons can direct their physical eyes between good and bad objects, so physical eyes can transmit good and bad signals into the soul. If we think about the blurred and conflicting (double vision) messages our brains attempt to process when we merely cross our eyes, we can understand how our physical eyes can destabilize our souls when they receive and transmit conflicting data.

The "eyes of [our] understanding" (Eph. 1:18)-our spiritual eyes-work in conjunction with our physical eyes to our good or to our detriment.

The worst condition, of course, is the single-souled, single-eyed person who focuses on evil without wavering (v. 23). This is not-indeed it cannot be-the true believer in Christ. At this ultra-low level of depravity, the whole body, Jesus said, becomes dark: "But if thine eye be evil [poners, malevolent], thy whole body shall be full of darkness [from skoteins {4652}]. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"

How can light within one be darkness? Is this a contradiction? No, it is the same kind of light Paul speaks about: "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). The most hideous form of darkness wraps itself with a garment of light, like the wolf that puts on sheep's clothing for the purpose of deception and destruction. Thus, Jesus' very applicable warning: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7:15).

Here, however, Jesus was not warning against some external enemy: "Ifthe light that is in thee be darkness." This is about the strongest warning against self-deception imaginable. We must always check what we believe against the Holy Scriptures as our objective norm for revelation. We cannot trust any form of self-examination: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). The way we "examine [ourselves] to see if we be of the faith" (a.t.; 2 Cor. 13:5) is by checking the content of our beliefs against God's Word.

This is why the Word of God is called "the Light, the true one" (a.t., cf. John 1:9; 1 John 2:8). This is not redundant (as, e.g., true truth). A false light merely gives an appearance of light. At his very best, Satan can only appear as an angel of light.

A logic, thank God, operates against the potential mix of light and darkness in the self-deceived soul, and it is this (v. 24): "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to [from antéchomai, to grip firmly] the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" [from mammons, money, wealth].

At the end of this section, Jesus returned to the dichotomy between treasures on earth (mammon, money) and treasures in heaven (God). The contrasts are varied: serving and not serving, loving and hating, holding and despising, and, from prior verses, temporal and eternal (vv. 19, 20), and light and darkness (vv. 21-23). It's one or the other-God or money. Serving, loving, and holding are conjoined, as are not serving, hating, and despising. The absence of neutrality is conspicuous.

"No man," is oudes; literally: not even one. It goes without saying that multiple bosses never work. Two owners will fight over the priorities and work of a single employee. Contradictory orders from two owners are impossible to carry out. Opposing employers wear out their employees. In plain language, Jesus said, it cannot be done.

The phrase, "Not even one can serve" (a.t.) implies that prior to conversion, men and women are enslaved to treasures on earth. Accordingly, they are not neutral (free) toward God; they hate and despise Him. In Romans 1:30 Paul called them "haters of God." At conversion, they love, hold to, and serve God, while now hating, despising, and not serving the world.

The verb "will hold" (from antéchomai) does not mean that we hold onto God autonomously. As Paul explained, in a reciprocal sense, God has a stronger hold on us, even as we hold on to Him: "I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12).

"Serve" (douleein from douleo [1398]) is a present infinitive, meaning on a regular basis. As usual, the Scripture allows for sins of ignorance in the life of the believer. But no one can consistently serve two masters: God and the devil, "treasures in heaven" and "treasures on earth."

From Dr. Zodhiates' Exegetical Commentary on Matthew. Published by AMG Publishers.
Copyright © 2006

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