Today I’m going to discuss one of the teachings of Jesus that really separates the wheat from the tares. It is a subject that I approach with fear and trepidation because most of us spend more energy pursing this than we do anything else: money.
Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and became telestialized, the vast majority of mankind has relied on some sort of monetary system to buy and sell goods and services that they can’t (or won’t) provide for themselves. In fact, modern society is almost entirely built on the acquisition of money and the things money can buy. With extra money you can buy not only what you need to survive but more—even more than is sufficient for our needs. Now whether that is a good thing or a bad thing or something in-between—that is what we’re going to investigate today.
Trusting in riches can keep a person out of the Kingdom of God
Let’s dive into today’s reading and discover what Jesus had to say on this topic. We will start in Mark 10: 17-21.
17 ¶And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Wow. That’s quite a statement there. Even though he was sinless—and he knew he was sinless—our Savior attributed everything that is good to his Father, the creator of everything that is good. He is always subordinate to God. He doesn’t exalt himself or aggrandize himself. He always gives the credit and the glory to God.
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth
So this was a young man who decided early on in his life that he would be obedient to the commandments. So he appeared to be committed and faithful and consistent. Or at least he thought he was.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
I can’t help but think of myself and my circumstances. I wonder what I would do if I were that rich young man. Of course, I am neither rich nor young—just ask my wife—but I’m pretty sure that selling all that I have and giving it away would be an extremely hard thing to do. I’m pretty sure I’d be exceedingly grieved.
Thank heavens the Lord doesn’t ask us to do that now-a-days. It simply isn’t a realistic thing to do in today’s economy. Or has he? What if he has already asked us to consecrate all that we have or ever will have and we have already promised to do it. Surely he doesn’t really mean it. Not in a material sense, any way. After all, God, the creator of the universe and everything in it, needs our tithes and offerings so the Church can build chapels and temples and pay seminary teachers and church employees and do all those good things. Right? Right?
It’s a good question. In fact, that may be “the big question.” It may even be what is stopping us from building Zion. But I don’t know for sure. If you discover an answer, please let me know. Meanwhile, I’m going to deflect that question about money and go with the safe and easy answer. I think that Lord doesn’t want our money as much as he wants our hearts. He wants to know whether or not we are willing to give it all up on behalf of others.
I have a little proverb that I like to throw out now and again to my kids when they groan about doing things they don’t want to do. It isn’t original to me, but I’ve said it enough that I finally believe it might be. Here’s the saying: “A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice unless it hurts.”
In the Lectures on Faith (page 58), the Prophet Joseph Smith said:
A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.
So even though he was righteous and obedient, this young man had grown comfortable with his riches and was not willing to part with them. He preferred to rely on his wealth rather than forsake all and follow the Savior. He was not willing to take the extra step that would bring him eternal glory.
In section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read about the vision that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had where they saw the three degrees of glory. Here is what they had to say about those who would receive a terrestrial reward:
These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men…. These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God. (D&C 76:79).
Back in 1974, Harold B. Lee, the 11th President of the Church, wrote a marvelous book called “Stand Ye in Holy Places.” He included an excerpt from a letter from a bishop who was describing some ward members. Here’s what the bishop said:
In response to the Master, ‘Come … follow me’ (Mark 10:21), some members almost, but not quite, say, ‘thou persuadest me almost to be honest but I need extra help to pass a test.’
“Almost thou persuadest me to keep the Sabbath day holy, but it’s fun to play ball on Sunday.
“Almost thou persuadest me to love my neighbor, but he is a rascal; to be tolerant of others’ views, but they are dead wrong; to be kind to sister, but she hit me first; to go home teaching, but it’s too cold and damp outside tonight; to pay tithes and offerings, but we do need a new color TV set; to find the owner of a lost watch, but no one returned the watch I lost; to pass the sacrament, but I’ve graduated from the deacons now; almost thou persuadest me to be reverent, but I had to tell my pal about my date last night; almost thou persuadest me to attend stake leadership meeting, but I know more than the leader on that subject, so why should I go?
Thou persuadest me almost to go to sacrament meeting, but there is going to be such an uninteresting speaker tonight.
Almost! Almost! Almost! but not quite, not able quite to reach.” (Stand Ye In Holy Places, p291)
What are we unwilling to part with? Is it riches? Is it our time? What about some of our habits? These are precisely the things we need to sacrifice if we want to return to God’s presence. Like our great father Abraham, someday, each of us will be called on to sacrifice that which is most precious to us.
The Camel and the Needle
Let’s return to the scriptures and see what Jesus says next. We’re in Mark 10:23-25.
23 ¶And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (hamakhat=sewing needle), than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Here the Lord is using hyperbole to illustrate his point: that it is really, really difficult for rich people to receive the blessing of celestial glory.
By the way, some believe that the “needle’s eye” may have been some sort of short and narrow passageway next to the main gate, which when the main gate was closed, the camels had to strip off their baggage and crawl through in order to enter the city. That turns out not to be true. Those openings don’t exist. Besides the word used in both Hebrew (hamakhat) and Greek (raphis) clearly means sewing needle. Furthermore, the word camel might be a mistranslation because the Greek word for camel, kamelos, is really similar to the Greek word for rope, kamilos. I don’t suppose it really matters, because the point is clear. It can’t be done.
- Is the Lord condemning riches?
I don’t believe so. I think he is condemning materialism. And what is materialism? It is believing that physical possessions and physical comforts are more important than spiritual values. It is loving mammon more than God. Here’s what Elder Dallin Oaks said:
In descending order of intensity, materialism may be an obsession, a preoccupation, or merely a strong interest. Whatever its degree, an interest becomes materialism when it is intense enough to override priorities that should be paramount.
From the emphasis given to this subject in the scriptures, it appears that materialism has been one of the greatest challenges to the children of God in all ages of time. Greed, the ugly face of materialism in action, has been one of Satan’s most effective weapons in corrupting men and turning their hearts from God. (Pure in Heart, pp73-74)
President Joseph F. Smith said:
The rich man may enter into the kingdom of heaven as freely as the poor, if he will bring his heart and affections into subjection to the law of God and to the principle of truth; if he will place his affections upon God, his heart upon the truth, and his soul upon the accomplishment of God’s purposes, and not fix his affections and his hopes upon the things of the world. (Gospel Doctrine, p260)
- Why do you think the Lord doesn’t want us to be materialistic?
Because we are supposed to be a peculiar people. A people who don’t fit in with the rest of the world. A people who are have been anointed and set apart. A people who are focused on obtaining something much more valuable than what this world has to offer.
We aren’t supposed to be telestial. We aren’t supposed to be terrestrial. We are supposed to be celestial. Only those who obey celestial laws may inherit the celestial kingdom. What are some of those celestial laws? Here are a couple from the Doctrine & Covenants.
19 Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.
That’s from D&C 82:19, a section that tells us how to form a celestial community. Here’s another one, from D&C 78:5-7.
5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;
7 For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
Those are sobering words, especially for a red-blooded libertarian-leaning capitalist like me.
Two years after arriving in Utah, on February 29, 1849, at the old Salt Lake City Fort, Brigham Young addressed a group of saints who were probably shivering in the cold and were anything but rich. Here’s what he said, as reported in the Autobiography of James Brown, page 123:
The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.
The Widow’s Mites
Let’s return to the New Testament. We’re going to skip down to verses 41-44 and learn about the widow’s mites.
41 ¶And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
At this time in Judea, these mites, or lepta in Greek, were the smallest and least valuable coins in circulation. A lepton would have been worth about six minutes of an average daily wage. By today’s standards, that’s a little more than a dollar (median US hourly earnings are $10.55 per hour http://is.gd/thLUjZ.). So the widow cast in essentially two dollars that day.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
What a contrast to the rich young man. Her heart was obviously in the right place. While she most likely remained poor and perhaps without family for the remainder of her mortal life, she was truly converted. I’m sure that the riches of heaven are hers for eternity.
Seek heavenly, rather than earthly treasures
Let’s learn more about that injunction to seek heavenly treasure rather than earthly treasures. To do that we’re going to move over to Luke, chapter 12:13-15.
13 ¶And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 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.
It sounds like this man is hoping that the Lord will intervene and use his influence to persuade the man’s brother to part with a portion of the birthright inheritance, which, according to tradition, belongs to the oldest brother. There may have been good reason for this, such as perhaps the oldest brother wasn’t taking care if his mother properly or his unmarried sisters. But we just don’t know. Jesus refused to become involved in civil legal matters. But what we do get is a warning from Jesus: “Beware of covetousness.” In other words, beware of a strong desire for wealth or for another’s possessions.
- Why is it dangerous to covet?
There’s a reason this is one of the ten great commandments. Coveting can swiftly get out of hand and make our lives absolutely miserable. If you look at most of the wars fought over the millennia, you will find that they are caused by the unbridled covetousness—because with wealth you can buy anything in this world: power, influence, stature, dominion, control, beauty, rank—things that Christ generally told us to avoid. Of course, you can do great and good things with money as well, but history tells us that that is the exception rather than the rule.
When we have great desire for wealth and the things money can buy, it has a tendency to affect our priorities in life. It causes stinkin’ thinkin’. We find ourselves focusing on material objects rather than the things of God. We find ourselves having less time to serve our families and serve others because we are too busy serving Mammon. So we end up focusing on things rather than people.
Sometimes, we decide we want things now rather than saving and waiting for later. Of course, if we can’t bridle our appetites, we might spend money we don’t have, and end up a slave to someone else—someone who doesn’t even remotely resemble God.
Or if we continue to covet, it might even lead to theft or other unethical, immoral, or illegal actions—actions where we end up not being honest with our fellow man. How many “get-rich-quick” schemes have you been exposed to that end up harming your relationships rather than enhancing them?
The Savior said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” But I’m pretty sure that’s not what our society believes.
I don’t know about you, but it seems like the world is clearly telling us that we need to judge our success in life by how much money we earn and accumulate. Or by the size and beauty of our homes. Or by the value and luxury of our cars and by the vacations we take.
While these things might make us happy in the short-run, do they really bring us joy in the long-run? Or are we selling our heavenly birthright for a mess of tasty foie gras?
Our prophets have always warned us about coveting. They teach us that this is not where we find true abundance. Consider these words of President Spencer Kimball, the 12th President of the Church (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p353):
This nation thought it had found the abundant life in 1929 when luxury came alike to the lowly and the well-to-do, greater luxury than that enjoyed by early kings and emperors. We were driving our unpaid-for autos over heavily bonded highways, en route to the bank to make the monthly installment payments on the radio, the refrigerator, the vacuum cleaner, on Father’s new golf clubs and on Mother’s new gown. Luxury-mad, we were borrowing from and bonding the generations yet unborn that we might have an abundance of the things which gave comfort, pleasure, and ease. Did this increase our joy? Not at all. This was a poor substitute for the abundant life. Crime increased, divorces were more usual, homes were broken up.
Finally, the end came to this orgy of spending. The Depression followed, and with it came temporary heartaches, disappointment, and despair, but after the smoke had cleared away, we found attendance at church services increased, friendships assumed new value, fellowship of interests was the rule, and men began to appreciate each other and again live a fuller life. For again rang down through the centuries the words of Divinity: ‘For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment but seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you’.
Are things so different today than they were in 1929?
The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man
Let’s read some more. Verses 16-21.
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 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.
19 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.
20 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?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
In this parable, it sounds like the rich man earned his wealth honestly. Keep in mind that the Lord is not condemning how the man obtained his riches nor the riches themselves. However, he is condemning the man’s attitude towards the riches and what we was doing with them. While the rich man thought he was wisely investing in a retirement plan, the Lord declared him to be foolish. Why? Well, here is a couple of things that come to mind.
First, he was hoarding he resources so that he could eat, drink, and be merry for many years to come. He didn’t seem much concerned about the poor and the needy around him. This life isn’t just a place where we come and focus on ourselves—it is where we come to learn how to focus on others. He forgot that he had an obligation to do good with his wealth.
Second, it doesn’t sound like he acknowledged the role God played in his farming. He was talking about his fruits and his goods. In fact, he referred to himself in the first person eleven times. He thought he could plan for and control his future, when, in fact, he didn’t even make it through the night. Even though he was prepared for the future physically, he wasn’t prepared spiritually. While his physical needs may have been taken care of, his soul was not.
So the lesson from this parable is that we shouldn’t spend our lifetimes chasing fame, fortune, or pleasure because all things will remain here on earth when we die. The only things we take with us are our character, our knowledge, our talents, and our relationships.
- How can we determine whether we are too concerned with material possessions?
A prayerful study of the teachings of our Savior, like those presented in this lesson, will help us determine if our spiritual attitudes are in proper alignment. If we are living by the Spirit, we will know where we need to change. As we ponder and pray, the Lord will tell us how we can be more generous with our material wealth and other blessings, such as time and talents.
Many among us have a talent for making money and have blessed the Church and those around us with their abilities. In spite of my best efforts, I don’t seem to be blessed with that talent. But my family and I have certainly been blessed over the years because of the kindness and compassion of members of this ward. In fact, my sons have the opportunity to serve full-time missions because of contributions from this ward—for which my family and I are sincerely and profoundly touched. But we know we aren’t the only recipients. Through your tithes and generous donations of money and time and talents, you are helping to build up the Kingdom of God on earth in a substantial way.
Followers of Christ must be willing to forsake all to be true disciples
Now let’s turn to one of the Parable of the Great Supper. It is found in Luke 14:16-24.
16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.
22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.
23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
In this parable, the host is our Father in Heaven. The feast is full of things that feed our souls—from scriptures to temples to home teaching—everything that is good. The first group of invited guests represent the covenant people, or the house of Israel. Even though they received their invitation well ahead of time, they didn’t come to the feast because they were too caught up in their worldly pursuits or family life and couldn’t find the time.
So God’s servant, the Savior—and by extension those who are called to serve the Lord—were sent to invite the gentiles instead. The gentiles were looked upon as spiritually poor, maimed, halt, and blind but who nevertheless were humble and sought the truth. And, because there was still room at the feast, even the pagans—the strangers to things that were holy—they were invited to attend and partake. The only people who would not be allowed to partake were those of the house of Israel who arrived late to the party because they were too caught up in worldly things.
This is one of those parables that has more meaning than this, however. Look very closely and you’ll find insights into the past, the present, and the future.
Forsaking All and Following Christ
Let’s continue reading in Luke 14:25-33.
25 ¶And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
We have been asked to make many sacrifices. We could probably make a fairly long list of just the sacrifices that have been made this year alone. But in these verses the Lord clearly says that if we do not put our relationship with God first in our lives—even ahead of our own families—then we cannot be his disciple. If we are not willing to bear the crosses we are called to bear—all of which are infinitely smaller than the one he was called to bear—then we cannot be his disciple. If we are not willing to forsake all—including our own lives, if necessary—then we cannot be his disciple.
Of course, this sounds much worse than it really is because we are always blessed for making sacrifices. And, in reality, a sacrifice only hurts for a little bit, just like pulling off a full-body band-aid. Here’s what Elder Bruce McConkie had to say (DNTC, 1:557):
In the eternal perspective there is no such thing as sacrifice for the gospel cause. Men may forsake what seemingly is of great worldly worth here, but they will be rewarded with eternal riches hereafter. They forsake friends, families, and possessions for the gospel’s sake, but they gain these same things again in far greater measure in the mansions on high.
Seek spiritual wealth with enthusiasm and energy
Since we are out of time, I’m going to give you a reading assignment. This one is in Luke 16:1-13. This is the parable of the unjust steward.
Luke 16: 1–13
1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
10 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.
11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
13 ¶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.
Here is what Elder James Talmage said about this parable:
Our Lord’s purpose was to show the contrast between the care, thoughtfulness, and devotion of men engaged in the money-making affairs of earth, and the half-hearted ways of many who are professedly striving after spiritual riches.
Emulate the unjust steward and the lovers of mammon, not in their dishonesty, cupidity, and miserly hoarding of the wealth that is at best but transitory, but in their zeal, forethought, and provision for the future. Moreover, let not wealth become your master; keep it to its place as a servant.” (Jesus the Christ, pp463-464)
Sisters and brothers, the objective of this lesson was to re-awaken within you the desire to put the Lord first in our lives. From time-to-time, we all need to take a thorough (and perhaps painful) audit of our lives, and compare the amount of time, thought, and energy we devote to accumulating money and possessions with the amount of time, thought, and energy we devote to seeking spiritual treasures—the things that really matter.
13 ¶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.
It is my prayer that we will all be blessed with the desire to serve God and his children with more regularity and more intensity than ever before. Why? Because the materialistic world as we know it won’t be around for much longer. Things are going to change soon. Can’t you sense it? While it is evident the forces of darkness are growing stronger, the forces of light will also grow stronger, and we have the privilege of being part of that light. In fact, we are in the process of building Zion right now—not in Jackson County—but here in our homes and neighborhoods. May we be willing and able to do everything we need to do to welcome the Savior back to earth and be worthy to be called his disciples!