by Patrick Lafferty
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You can never say it all in a single sermon, though I suppose anyone familiar with my sermons would think I try (and too hard). Fortunately, there’s always another Sunday, or another forum like this one, when the preacher can include what time didn’t allow.
We tried to make the case last Sunday that Jesus’s admonition to lay up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth, represented an ax laid at the root of conventional investment strategies—an unqualified challenge to our instinct to live as if this world were all there is.
To be sure, letting heavenly priorities shape all earthly investments demands as much dedication to a long-term view as any portfolio manager might ask of a client seeking to feather their bed. But Jesus’s strategy promises a confidence, coherence, and contentment that other strategies cannot, and it entails faith of a different kind. This faith is bound up with a love for One whom we cannot see, yet who is able to provide us joy amid circumstances that make us second-guess our outlays (1 Pet 1:8). This faith is tied to a bloody cross that convinces us we cannot procure our greatest need or our greatest joy, but only receive them. And what we receive is meant to keep us from trying to look for our salvation where it can’t be found. Such was our argument.
But since no argument is perfect, all arguments invite rebuttal, which then provides an opportunity to refine the original.
For example, our summary of Jesus’s teaching might be construed as an unqualified call to cast off all extraneous resources. But doesn’t the availability of personal resources free us to serve in ways unavailable to those with limited resources? Wasn’t the progress of Martin Luther’s advocacy for reform, for instance, providentially underwritten by a whole network of well-connected, well-funded elites? We might say Jesus’s teaching to be wary of wealth’s hold doesn’t indict wealth itself—it’s the love of money He and the New Testament condemn. But since the heart’s propensity for making wealth its god is a timeless phenomenon (cf. Deut 8:11ff, 1 Tim 6:9–10), only those attuned to that propensity are capable of using abundance without being beguiled by it (cf. 1 Tim 6:17–19).
As another counterpoint to our argument, consider how we said Jesus’s investment strategy provided a greater confidence in how we spent our lives. But what of those Kingdom-centered investments that are now but a shadow of their former selves? As one example, consider the multitude of educational institutions established in America’s earliest days for the explicit purpose of enriching the church by preparing future pastors. Now most do more to repudiate faith than mature it. How can there be confidence in purposeful sacrifice that gets derailed? One answer: though a fruitful season may give way to barrenness, what time and men forget God does not; our confidence rests on His pleasure in our faithfulness more than in the perseverance of its outcomes.
Finally, we said the Lord’s strategy gave us contentment not found in worldly investments. Jason Russell’s foundation, Invisible Children, (whose Kony 2012 video we referenced) has rocketed the name of Joseph Kony to global notoriety, but for the purpose of bringing the infamous Ugandan warlord to international justice. In the last week you’ve probably heard of Mr. Russell’s psychological breakdown in the wake of global acclaim and outrage at his efforts. Russell attributes his passion for justice to his faith in Christ—so how can this Kingdom-centered strategy promise contentment when it seems to have blunted Russell’s capacity to reflect the Kingdom’s character? This is no dogpile upon a brother for whom you and I should pray. But unless we cling more tightly to Him who sustains the Kingdom vision than to the hallowed vision itself, we risk allowing the status of the vision to become our sustenance; and public approval and apparent progress are too fickle to keep one fed.
Any argument worth its salt deserves scrutiny, that its soundness might be proved. Jesus’s investment strategy differs so radically from how a consumption economy functions that it provokes challenge from us—perhaps in a visceral way before we can even articulate our objections. What arguments do you instinctively put forth that might so qualify His words that they no longer ask anything of you? How might what Jesus’s cross procures and promises you answer back?