What does it practically look like?
In part one, I did my best to express that when you look at Matthew 6:19-34 as a continuous flow of thought, it makes sense to say that Jesus wants us to give away our money today for his purposes, not worrying about tomorrow’s needs.
But, how could this possibly work? What does it practically look like? And are we sure there’s never a call for the use of “wisdom” on the part of the individual in his/her specific situation? Is saving money never an option?
These questions are begging to be asked and need to addressed if we’re going to live this out. So let me start by saying that I don’t have it all figured out. Actually, I’m hopeful you can help me out by giving your thoughts in the comments. But I do have some ideas on a few of these questions that might prove helpful, so I’ll start there.
First off, how we understand the today/tomorrow language makes a difference. I don’t really know how money matters worked in the time of Christ. I’m sure someone who has studied up on 1 century lifestyle could tell me. Did people have bills that they had to pay from month-to-month or was it more of a day-by-day type of living? I know there was the temple tax that had to be paid yearly. But otherwise, is it possible that they paid for their necessities a day at a time? What if Jesus was not necessarily intending a literal today and tomorrow when he taught, but was using those words to embody a principle of now and the future, which for those original listeners could have worked itself out very literally, but for us maybe can’t be taken so literally? Otherwise, there is difficulty in knowing how this is practically possible or makes any sense at all. I can’t imagine that Jesus would really desire us to give away one day the money that we were planning to use to pay the whole months’ rent the next. But I could see him advocating giving away what we don’t or won’t need this month and trusting him to provide for next month.
Is it ever okay to save money for the long term or for something big? Jesus says, “Do not lay (the word is the verb form of the word translated “treasures” later in the verse) up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Does that mean we should never save up money or goods for the future? What about saving money to buy a house or a car? My thought is that maybe it all depends on your purpose for having that house or that car. If you intend to use that house or that car for the kingdom, maybe saving up for that is fine. Paul instructed the Corinthian church to save up money for a kingdom purpose:
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store (same word as above) it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)
I personally don’t think Jesus would be in favor of retirement savings though, both because of Matthew 6 and Luke 12 (the parable of the man who built bigger barns for his bumper crop). The big idea is that when you store up savings or goods here on earth for yourself you will start to set your hopes on them and your heart will become attached to them. Retirement seems like the most likely way for that to happen.
“Wisdom” in saving money- I’ve commonly heard Christians qualify the verse about not laying up treasure on earth by saying something like, “But, we need to be wise, of course.” It seems so completely CRAZY to take this verse at face value, I agree. But, I do question whether in some cases being “wise” actually means partially buying into the so-called wisdom of this world rather than listening to and acting from true wisdom. Is it possible that true wisdom says, “I’m not going to save for retirement because I believe Jesus is right and really means it when he says not to lay up treasures on earth”?
One argument I have heard for saving money is that we need to be good stewards of what God has given us. That might be right, but I’m really not sure the Bible says that anywhere. Honestly all I can think of that comes close to that are parables about stewards intended to make various points (usually not related to money at all). I’d be open to hearing if there’s something I’m missing that proves that point.
The other argument I’ve heard for saving money is the Proverb about the Ant.
Go to the Ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. (Proverbs 6:6)
The ant may very well store up food for herself, but that’s not really the point of the proverb. The point is that we should be diligent like the ant and not be a sluggard. I don’t see it as making any point about how we should deal with possessions.
I welcome any thoughts, agreements, disagreements, additions, questions. This is a topic that affects us all, and I’d obviously like to get it right and I’m sure you would too. 🙂
– Laura Anne