Article Mar 29, 2017

The idolatry of gifts and enjoying the better treasure

For many of us around the country, the sound of birds chirping in the air, the warmth of the sun on our skin and daylight well into the evening means two things: spring is here and summer is coming! I think winter has to be a product of the fall (I’m kidding!). But I am a huge fan of warmth. I’m also a fan of vacations. Growing up, however, my family was rarely in a financial position that enabled us to take a traditional vacation. For example, we never took a trip to the beach. Our vacations consisted of road trips to granny’s house, which was one hour away, or a trip to a family reunion once in a blue moon. Only recently have I begun to take traditional vacations on a regular basis.

As I was considering the new luxury I now enjoy, I realized that if I don’t place a guard on my heart, I could begin to think that this privilege is actually a right. And without that guard, it would be easy to make this gift into an idol. This might be a temptation already for many of us. As you look to the summer and long for a vacation, do you find yourself angry or struggling with discontentment because you are unable to take one? And if you’re taking a vacation, do you find yourself bragging, skirting work responsibilities or even overspending to get that “dream” vacation? Whatever your struggle or position, you may be suffering, similar to many of us, from ill-placed treasures.

In his book The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn outlines the temptation to place our treasures in the wrong location:

God promises us generous heavenly rewards, in a magnificent New Heaven and New Earth, no longer under the curse and no longer suffering (Revelation 21:1-6). We’ll forever be with the person we were made for, in a place made for us. Nevertheless, many Christians dread the thought of leaving this world.  Why? Because so many have stored up their treasures on earth, not in heaven.”

We know that our end on this earth is sure. We won’t bring one item with us to the grave. I know this is true and, yet, it’s easy for my heart to become consumed by the things of this world.  I can think that I need material items or must have time at the beach. It can be a fight to remember that real joy doesn’t come from the things I obtain or a long-awaited week of rest. Rather, true joy comes from the treasure of Christ. I long to have my heart and treasure aligned with the things of Christ—“for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).  Jesus is the ultimate treasure and our only true rest.

Jesus, telling the parable of the rich fool, reminds us again of the foolishness of storing up treasures on earth. He warns us, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’’ (Luke 12:15). The parable goes on to tell of a landowner who produced many crops, tears down his barn because it was too small to store all the crops, builds a new one and then relaxes with all of his accumulated goods. The problem that Jesus was revealing in this parable wasn’t that the man had treasure. Wealth isn’t a sin. The problem was that he was storing up all of these treasures for himself (v. 21). The trouble was he wasn’t thinking outwardly about others nor was he concerned about God. His treasure was ill-placed. He was storing up treasure on earth.

If we’re honest with ourselves, when our hearts crave and long for a possession—it’s not often that the possession could serve or be for someone else. But what if the rich fool would have grown his crops, built his new barn and provided a portion for the poor? What if, instead of saying to his soul, “You have ample goods,” he would have thanked the Lord and acknowledged that all good things come from him? His treasure was in his possessions on earth, and his pride kept him from acknowledging the Giver.

God does give us good things. He provides homes, food, health, leisure activities and much more. He doesn’t promise wealth, but he does promise to provide all we need for life and godliness. What a generous and awesome God we serve. We can delight in the gift and the Giver, knowing that all is his and we can’t bring anything with us once we are gone. We can guard against making these things into idols. Only God deserves our worship and full delight. When faced with the choice to store up treasures on earth or in heaven, we can make the hard—but better—choice to pursue the greater treasure.