By Christopher J. Ortiz
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matt. 6:19–21)
The world is undergoing a “black coffee routine,” because black coffee is what you give to someone who needs to sober up. Cup after cup is supposed to clear the mind and offset the effect of a bloodstream soaked with alcohol. It may be an old wives’ tale, but both Christians and non-Christians are being forced via financial loss to examine the very foundations of their lifestyle. And bad news of economic contraction, mass unemployment, and uncertainty about the future is doled out to them daily like an incessant stream of unsweetened caffeine.
On the positive side, an increased awareness of basic economics is spreading throughout the American populace. More and more people are trying to understand inflation, the origins of the banking crisis, and the policies of the Federal Reserve. All well and good, but what they’re not recognizing is the fact that their treasures are established on earth. And for God, it’s not so much the fact that there are treasures, but that these treasures own our hearts. Our Lord was quite clear that we cannot serve both:
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:13)
Seeking First the Kingdom of Man and His Unrighteousness
Is God’s Word concerned with sound money by itself? Ethics without an end in mind is not Biblical religion. There is no point in discussing debt avoidance, sound money, and other “Biblical” economic principles if adhering to those principles leads to something greater than the mammon they represent. If not, then sound mammon is still serving the god of mammon because its goal is not service to Christ. Sound money without service to Christ is still satanic.
The basic problem is that whether we have fiat currencies, or a gold-backed monetary base, we cannot permit a secularized economic outlook to dominate. We are at war with the god of mammon, and if we isolate the concept of value to sound money, we can end up unwittingly at war with God. Rushdoony, although a professing Christian libertarian and free market advocate, puts forward this basic critique of “gold-backed” secularism:
Money thus is very important, and necessary. But to make it the source of all value is a serious error and an evil. It leads in some, such as the libertarians, to absolutizing the marketplace, to making the free market and a monetary price the criterion of value per se. But money establishes economic value only.1
Without a Biblical emphasis upon the use of mammon to advance the reign of God, money itself becomes wealth. This has long been the universal problem in the West. As Rushdoony notes, men work for money, and therefore work loses its theocentric meaning and dominionist orientation. Men now work to establish “the kingdom of man and his unrighteousness.”
[M]oney has become for them more than a yardstick or even a storehouse of value: it has become value itself. The result is a radical social disorientation. Men work, not to produce, nor to gain properties, lands, and other assets, but for money. Money then becomes a god; it becomes “the mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9), the god of injustice, and the logical goal of unbelief (Luke 16:7–8, 11, 13).2
As I wrote previously, the issue before us as Christians is the restoration of spiritual capital: faith, character, and the fear of God. With all the discussions regarding money, assets, and the state of the economy, humanistic man is demonstrating that his treasure is upon earth because thieves are stealing it and the inflationary “moths” are corrupting it. Yet through all of the booms and busts, the value of God’s law-word remains, and His practical provision is contingent upon our treasuring that which proceeds from His mouth:
Life is more than economics, and much more than money. Our Lord is clear on this point: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).3
Leveraging for Eternity
To lay up treasure upon earth is to lay up treasure for oneself, and to lay up treasure for oneself is to be impoverished in relation to God and His true riches. This is not wise investing. The time to come, as the Bible says, is eternal, and enriching that portfolio should define the meaning and intent of our good works on this side of glorification. It is God’s pleasure to enrich us in this life, but the purpose is so that we might enrich others by being His hand extended to them. If we are faithful in this assignment, we are leveraging ourselves for eternity:
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Tim. 6:17–19; emphasis added)
This theme is so pervasive in both the Epistles and the Gospels that it is no surprise that the social gospel writers, and the contemporary Christian progressives, seize upon such texts to substantiate wealth redistribution and economic envy. The Scriptures are clear in their consistent admonishment to the rich, but the text is also clear that the financially rich must be “willing to communicate.” There can be no coercion other than the Scriptures that are useful for a proper training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Benevolence is the act of a willing soul that sees his personal enrichment as a gift of God enabling him to advance His Kingdom by underwriting its necessities. The question is one of “outlook,” as our Lord teaches in the parable of the rich man:
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16–21)
It is no sin to possess productive land, but it is sin to lay in store merely for your own pleasure with no regard for the well-being of others, or the needs of the gospel. The rich man in this parable saw no other use for his abundance other than a very comfortable retirement. He exploited no one in gaining his wealth, and it doesn’t appear he was using it to undermine another. He simply saw the good life as defined by material comfort—the very idea our Lord was challenging:
And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:15)
The man should have had more regard for his soul in eternity than in taking ease by eating, drinking, and merriment. The man could not take his wealth with him, and he could not control its distribution after his death. Why then should it have ever been the focus of his life? He should have regarded the Kingdom of much greater value. This would have made him “rich toward God.”
What the Nations Seek After
This parable soon became a part of the Sermon on the Mount with His admonishment to “Take no thought for your life” (Luke 12:22–30). However, these instructions spoke more of the concerns of a poor man than that of the rich:
And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. (Luke 12:29–30)
This is what the rich and poor share in common when their lives are not Kingdom-centered. In both cases, they seek for their material well-being, and in both cases this is sheer covetousness. It is also unbelief—“neither be ye of doubtful mind”—and that doubt has a great deal to do with our unanswered prayers and the realization of our fears of impoverishment:
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6–8)
In Luke 12, verse 30, our Lord says, “For all these things do the nations of the world seek after.” We should contemplate the full meaning of this passage, because it reveals in plain speech the radical nature of the Kingdom-driven life: do not seek what the nations of the world are seeking after. This should have profound meaning for us, since we live in a time in which we can actually observe—through media—what the nations of the world are seeking after. The conclusion: whatever you see the nations seeking after, seek the opposite.
The world is engulfed in anxiety, so you must demonstrate faith. The world is hoarding, so you must give. The world is seeking economic salvation by the state, so you must establish the rule of God and labor for an international return to God’s law.
The Kingdom as the Will of God
But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:31–32)
This is a great encouragement: it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom, and it should be our good pleasure to receive it. Yet, most schools of eschatology refuse to accept it. They either put it off to a physical return of Christ, or they make it so abstract that it results in an endorsement of Satan’s ownership of history. This has had detrimental results for world Christianity because the people of God are not prepared to rule. It’s the theology of men like Ridderbos that leaves the Kingdom of God ill-defined:
The kingdom of God is not a state or condition, not a society created and promoted by men (the doctrine of the “social gospel”). It will not come through an immanent earthly evolution, nor through human moral action; it is not men who prepare it for God.4
The perplexing aspect of this is the definition of the Kingdom of God, and therefore what it means to seek it. Since Luke’s version of this sermon features much regarding treasures in heaven, it is rightly assumed that the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), is the heavenly one—i.e., there is no real earthly kingdom to be pursued. This represents a significant limitation to the text, in my mind.
I’ve already noted that the New Testament speaks much about laying in store for eternal life. At first appearance, this may seem contrary to the Reconstructionist thesis that the Kingdom of God is to be established in history. In actuality, there is no conflict. For every generation, there is to be the awareness that we will pass from this earthly life without having seen the full manifestation of Christ’s reign in a fulfilled Kingdom. However, the good works that one does—the good works that represent treasures in heaven—represent more than eternal rewards; they provide the needed finance and manpower that establishes the rule of Christ in history. The Scriptures describe it this way:
Not every one … shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21, emphasis added)
Those who enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who do the will of the one and only God who abides in heaven. And what exactly is God’s will?
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10; emphasis added)
Those who will enter the Kingdom of heaven and enjoy eternal life are those who are doing God’s will in earth as it is in heaven. In other words, laying up treasure in heaven is for those who labor to establish His reign in history. To do the will of the Father in heaven equates to “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Faith is the foundation to this.
The Root of All Evil
Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:33–34)
If you take the historical-grammatical approach to interpreting this text, you can isolate its meaning to the disciples remaining free of the encumbrances of personal property in order to maximize the effects of their mission. The soon-coming destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 necessitated they abide with as little material attachments as possible. This is all true, but the intrinsic meaning of our Lord should not be entrapped within that delimited exegesis.
It is true that the political climate of the first century, and the sense of imminence, was to define the practical expression of the disciples’ ministry, but these passages are to define ours as well:
And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. (Luke 12:42–44)
We are not to sell all our possessions, but we are to use these more extreme examples as a barometer for our own heart and life adjustment. Our objective is to be rich toward God, and that means Kingdom-centered living even though the world seems to be collapsing around us. It was that way for the first-century church also. They were persecuted by a religious establishment and lived under the taxing tyranny of a beast system. They forcefully crushed these imposing enemies by being faithful stewards of their Kingdom calling.
Their true riches could not be stolen or corrupted. If they would have turned toward a concern for money, they would have strayed from the faith and experienced the same sorrow as the nonbelievers. They freed themselves from a love of money and prepared themselves for the great war of the Kingdom knowing that they were eternally secure:
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Tim. 6:10–12)
The root of “all evil” is the love of money, and this more than anything defines our world order as predominantly evil. The people of God must combat this by being rich toward God, but this does not mean a forsaking of money—it means making the unrighteous mammon our servant.
The Righteous Use of Unrighteous Mammon
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? (Luke 16:10–11)
True riches are obviously not found in the accumulation of money. If anything, the stewardship of “unrighteous mammon” is merely a test as to our desire to manage true riches. The key words used by Luke are faithful and unjust. The former connotes the idea of trusted and reliable, while the latter is defined as unrighteous or treacherous. It is a compounded evil to be an unrighteous steward of unrighteous mammon.
This shows us that even though the love of money is the root of all evil, money itself is still unrighteous. Therefore, the determining factor in economics is whether or not the possessor of the money is faithful. Our primary responsibility is to steward unrighteous mammon for righteous use.
The unjust steward mentioned in Luke 16:1–8 was considered wise because he “[made] friends of the mammon of unrighteousness” (v. 9); and as he unjustly secured his livelihood after his dismissal, so we must prepare our “everlasting habitations” (v. 9) by being “faithful in the unrighteous mammon” (v. 11). In other words, the unjust steward was wise enough to be concerned about his vocational “afterlife” so that it affected his immediate actions. Go thou and do likewise.
Our Lord goes on in verse 12, “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” The unjust steward was not faithful, so he could neither keep his position, nor ever receive greater authority from his master. This was a lesson to the Pharisees “who were covetous” (v. 14) and did not recognize that since the coming of John of Baptist “the kingdom of God is preached” (v. 16). Not only did they not follow the other seekers that were pressing into the Kingdom, they labored to restrict men from doing so:
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (Matt. 23:13)
The Pharisees would not be entrusted with true riches because they failed in their stewardship. They did not seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. They coveted power, money, and a religious monopoly. They were not rich toward God, for the Kingdom was not the defining center of their living. When their world would soon collapse, they would collapse with it.
Solomon’s Desire for Spiritual Capital
Before his fall, Solomon, the son of David, was an example of Kingdom-centered living. When he departed from God’s ways, his kingdom collapsed, but prior to that apostasy, he demonstrated his coveting of spiritual capital:
In that night did God appear unto Solomon, and said unto him, Ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said unto God, Thou hast shewed great mercy unto David my father, and hast made me to reign in his stead. Now, O LORD God, let thy promise unto David my father be established: for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude. Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great? And God said to Solomon, Because this was in thine heart, and thou hast not asked riches, wealth, or honour, nor the life of thine enemies, neither yet hast asked long life; but hast asked wisdom and knowledge for thyself, that thou mayest judge my people, over whom I have made thee king: wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like. (2 Chron. 1:7–12)
Solomon sought wisdom first. He did not ask for riches, wealth, honor, or the lives of his enemies, and because of this, God blessed him richly.
Solomon could represent the church in the sense that since David, like Christ, received a kingdom, Solomon must “reign in his stead” (v. 8). This can be likened to what Christ says to His disciples in Luke 19:12–13 in which the nobleman goes into a far country to receive a kingdom and tells his ten servants, “Occupy till I come.” The servants were to “reign in his stead.”
In this regard, like Solomon, our primary pursuit must be wisdom, because “the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold” (Prov. 3:14). Solomon himself did not ask for long life, but with the pursuit of wisdom came the assurance, “[l]ength of days is in her right hand” (v. 16). And lastly, we are promised that our enemy shall be crushed under our feet (Rom. 16:20), but all of these great promises are contingent upon our pursuit of wisdom, i.e., spiritual capital. In short, the only way to defeat those who are rich in this world is to be rich toward God.
We Must Offer the Alternative Society
The American system is rapidly becoming more socialistic, but it is by force and coercion. The statists are using fear of an economic apocalypse to secure congressional approval of so-called “bailouts” in order to instill draconian regulation of financial and industrial institutions. There is a great transition transpiring in the social order, but the end result will not be a Christian one. Why? Because Christians are not prepared to offer an alternative, and they cannot do so until we create Kingdom-centered Christians free from the love of money and committed to the social financing of the City of God. There is no other way out. We are awaiting a generation who will embrace their dominion calling, and until that time, we must be faithful as stewards over God’s message.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Larceny in the Heart: The Economics of Satan and the Inflationary State (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2002), 73.
2. Ibid., 72.
3. Ibid., 74.
4. Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), 24.
Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.
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