Materialism and the Weeds of Worry
I am not sure why I got this parable wrong all these years.
Today I was reading the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. You know the story: the sower (aka the preacher of the Word) sows the word (the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the new life we can have in Him) all over. Although some seed falls on the good soil and produces much fruit (aka it is received with joy and a person begins an exciting and powerful new journey), most of the seed does not produce fruit. Some falls on the road and never sinks in at all (hard-hearted people), some falls among rocks and springs up quickly but dies because the roots don’t go deep (shallow people), and some falls among thorns, which rise up and choke out the good seed. It is this last group which I had misunderstood.
I had thought that it was referring to temptations and bad influences. In my mind, you could almost put a wicked little smile on these little dandy-lions, with a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other: then perhaps there would be the “weed” of pornography, and one of greed and, well, you get the picture. How many times have we seen Christians dragged away by these “weeds”? After all, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33)
But hold on a second: where does it say that these weeds have to do with carnal temptations? The weeds here are “the worries of this world (or age), and the decietfulness of wealth.” It says the same thing in Mark’s account. This reminds me of another passage by Jesus:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mat. 6:24-34)
This is not the only passage where Jesus talks about money. Elsewhere, Jesus said that knowing how to handle your finances is one of the main things which will determine whether God will bless your ministry or not (Luke 16:11). Proverbs tells us to “know well the condition of our flocks and herds (the agrarian version of our “know well the condition of your bank accounts, investments and assets”)” (Prov. 27:23). We are instructed to consider the ant, who stores up resources for times of want (Prov. 6:6-9). The wise woman does not fear cold weather because she has already prepared warm clothing and food for her family (Prov. 31:21).
This is why it is so important to not just read on passage of Scripture and stop there. You would not do this with any teacher or book: you must balance what is said in one place with what is said in another. When you balance Matthew 6 against the rest of the Bible, you realize that God is not telling all Christians to be wandering, peniless hippies living out of a van, not thinking beyond tomorrow, making the peace sign lots and in general not having a clue about anything. God wants us to rule our finances well. But herein lies the catch: as the saying goes, money makes a great servant, but a poor master. And the real difficulty is that he turns from servant to master so very quickly!
You know the scenario well. They went to Bible school. They were oh-so-committed to the Lord! They almost went into full-time ministry. But then they thought they would take a year or two off first to establish their marriage and family. Then he got a great job, and she bought a big house. Then there were expensive toys in front of the house, and in the house. Now he had to work double shifts to pay for it all. Then they bought a bigger house, and debt settled around them like a smothering blanket. Now they both work a full-time week and then some. They still dream of doing ministry someday, but for the time-being they barely have time to raise their own children. They show up in church pretty regularly but have little time to contribute and no money to give. Other than church attendance, there’s not much to differentiate their lives from the lives of non-Christians around them.
Okay, now the hard part. It’s easy to see it in somebody else. But does all this apply to you?
Here is the ideal: some Christians serve God full-time, while others work full-time, are “missionaries” in their home communities, and give generously so that the church can go forward. Perhaps this was how it started for you: but is this where you are at now? Are you stewarding your finances wisely, to have enough for yourself and plenty to give, or are you surrounded, choked out, ensnared, barely able to breathe, with those wicked weeds of financial worry and care encircling you, monopolizing your assets, and nearly strangling the joy out of your life?
And so I would encourage you, dear reader, to take a moment and consider the following:
1) Am I aware of my finances, or is my money like a flock of sheep, wandering in the open pasture without a shepherd?
2) Am I ruling over my money, or is my money ruling over me?
3) Ten years ago, what did I think God wanted me to be doing with my life? Do I still have the same call? Is poor money-habits keeping me a captive from doing God’s will?
4) Many of us tell ourselves that “there is just not enough money,” or “living expenses are too high here!” or something like that. But others make far less than you, and are doing just fine, aren’t they? Ask yourself very honestly: “Am I being held captive to ‘the worries of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches?’ “
The church of North America has all the money that is needed to fund world evangelism and compassion initiatives: the only problem is that those whiley weeds of materialism have so tied up our resources, that so many can barely pay their own bills, never mind helping others. (Christians are to work not just for themselves, but in order to give to those in need, Eph. 4:28)
It is time to change this trend, my friends, and break free from the weeds of materialism!