Last time we dove into Jesus’ difficult teachings of laying up treasures in heaven. While Jesus teaches that we are not to accumulate treasures on earth, he offers greater treasures for us to accumulate. Jesus’ disciples are too busy themselves with the joyous task of accumulating incorruptible treasures for heaven. The important reason is given in verse 21. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. This statement refutes any who would say accumulation of treasures is not a sign of love. Our hearts are drawn toward accumulated treasures and produce false satisfaction. This is what concerns Jesus. Verses 22-24 go on to illustrate how our hearts, religion, and entire lives are affected by accumulating treasures. Jesus’ ultimate conclusion in verse 24 will show us that there are ultimately two masters in play. One brings darkness and one brings light. We must learn to serve the true master so that our lives will be full of light.
Unhealthy Eyes (6:22-23)
Jesus teaches that the eye is the lamp of the body. Though this statement seems odd, we shouldn’t make it more difficult than it is. Lamps have the opportunity to light up an entire area. Our eyes are lamps to our body. Good eyes give light to the entire body so that the body can function. Bad eyes leave the body in darkness. We will speak more of the “lamp” portion of this imagery in a moment.
But what do “bad eyes” and “good eyes” illustrate? Though there is a physical picture here, “bad” or “malignant” eyes are referred to throughout scripture. Eyes are spoken of as being direct workers for the heart. 1 John 2:16 refers to the desire of the eyes, even though we understand that desire springs from the heart. Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened when they ate the fruit in Genesis 3. Was there something literally different about their eyes? No, but their hearts had changed the way they saw the world. Though “good eyes” are not a common Biblical phrase, “evil eyes” are.
Let’s take a look at a few passages so we understand how “evil eyes” behave. In Matthew 20:15, the master speaks to the all-day workers after he has generously paid the men who did not work as long. “‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'” Though the all-day workers were paid a fair wage, their evil eyes looked to the master’s generosity towards the late hour workers with envy. Why? Proverbs 28:22 warns, “A man with an evil eye hastens after riches…” Proverbs 23:6-7 teaches how to deal with people who have an “evil eye.” “Do not eat the food of a stingy person [Heb. “an evil eye”], do not crave his delicacies; for he is like someone calculating the cost in his mind. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you…” When the Bible speaks of a person with evil eyes, it describes a person who is covetous of more wealth and stingy with others. He has spent so much energy accumulating treasures that he even hates to see it go to a friend. It pains him to watch a friend eat his food. His friend is eating money. He calculates the cost. He has been trained to think only of financial gain. Sharing with others costs too much. It is not that he literally cannot afford it. He simply believes this is the case because it hurts so much each time he sees his loved resources go out the door. Everything is about money. The evil eye is an illustration of the truth told us in verse 21. This is what happens to the heart when earthly treasures are accumulated. The eyes become evil. They no longer look at the needy with love. They are barriers to financial dreams. Generosity is not an option.
A passage in Deuteronomy 15 helps us clearly see the difference between someone who accumulates treasures with an evil eye, and one who seeks treasures in heaven with a healthy eye. This helps us see the attitude we need to have. Deuteronomy 15:7–11, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'” Someone with an evil eye does one of two things. Their first option is to completely harden their heart against their poor brother and give him nothing. Their second option is more deceptive because they do give to their poor brother, but it is insufficient and given grudgingly. They are unhappy about showing generosity and they covet what they gave.
The best way to combat an evil eye that accumulates riches for self is to take note of the words in verses 10-11. “Give freely” and “open wide your hand.” It is so easy to be stingy with other people’s needs in the name of “financial responsibility.” Financial responsibility is important, but this is rarely our problem. Think about it. Will God stop providing for our needs when we view our wealth with healthy eyes and give generously to others? Our fear is often less innocent than “financial responsibility.” We fear that our giving will leave us little resources to satisfy our true desires. We must be careful. Where is our faith in God’s ability to provide? Focus less on the cost to give and more on the need that must be filled. This converts an evil eye to a healthy eye that views surplus as opportunity for others before self.
Lamp To the Body (6:22-23)
With a firm understanding of good eyes and evil eyes, we can now handle Jesus’ statement that our eyes are lamps for our entire bodies. Jesus is teaching us that the healthiness of our eyes has huge consequences for our entire life. Healthy eyes allow light to shine in our lives. Healthy eyes see clearly. They have a healthy perspective of wealth. They see how the love of money ruins the soul. They see that the true treasure is in heaven.
Malignant eyes serve as a lamp of darkness in people’s lives and prevent spiritual sight. Evil eyes of covetousness and stinginess towards others have made the decision to center life around money. Money becomes the god. Idolatry blinds people from seeing the light of the gospel. The gospel of the glory of Christ shines, but it does not reach heart of the one with an evil eye. The evil eyes are so preoccupied with the earthly treasure that the brightness of Christ’s glory is unrecognizable. It is plain and uninteresting. We often recognize the difficulty of teaching people in the world who are completely satisfied in their riches. We speak to them excitedly about the gospel, but it does not excite them. It is boring. It is possibly that they have evil eyes for riches that blind them.
But this is not merely something that characterizes people in the world; the Scriptures refer to this as a great danger for believers. Though believers may treasure the Lord, money is always fighting for our attention. Materialism shuts out the light of Christ. There are many examples of this. Greed overtook Judas’ heart as he was blind to the glory of the Son of God and betrayed him for money. Balaam was a prophet of the Lord, yet his evil eye for financial gain blinded him as he directly disobeyed commands from the Lord even when his life was threatened. The power of the evil eye to blind our hearts is immense. This is why Paul warned Timothy so gravely in 1 Timothy 6:9–10, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The love of money is so powerful it draws people from the true light. How great is this darkness!
Understanding this can be helpful in multiple ways. First this helps us understand the situation of both those in the world and those we consider struggling brothers and sisters in Christ. The reason for their lack of excitement and blindness is not arbitrary. The love of money will cause anyone and everyone to become apathetic about Christ. The cares of the world quench their desire. Christ is no longer exciting when there is the prospect of bigger success, more possessions, and an abundance of money. Second, this can help us see why we may be currently struggling. If Christ is not your treasure and you struggle to know why, it is because there is a distraction. The material world serves as a huge distraction and puts a great darkness over our eyes that we must remove if we are going to see Christ. We will remove this love by opening our hands generously and widely to others. Understanding this also serves as a preventative measure for the future. Since the love of money is such a prevalent and great danger for us, we need to make sure that it is not driving our life decisions. Why do we want to make that move? Why do we want a different job? The reasons could be innocent or wise. The reasons could also be the love of money. We must be ready to combat this selfish thinking that hurts us so greatly.
Two Masters (6:24)
With spiritual blindness being such a danger, Jesus’ words in verse 24 make sense. In a world full of distractions and idolatry, the blind are doomed. Our spiritual awareness and sight are not worth the risk of trying to serve two masters. In fact, Jesus tells us that we literally cannot serve two masters. It is impossible.
This teaches us that selfishly accumulating earthly wealth with an evil eye becomes our master. This is contrary to the way we normally think. We believe treasures serve us. We own them. We spend them how we want. Not so says Jesus. The money and possessions can quickly become our master. Dog owners illustrate this truth. When I see a dog dragging its owner down the street I know exactly who the master is – and it’s not the human! Earthly treasures work in the same way. Though we obtain them for ourselves, they eventually rule us. The love of money threatens to control every facet of our lives. It affects our decisions, our priorities, and our relationships. The pursuit of more money consumes our thoughts. We want to save it. We want to multiply it. It causes worry and destroys sleep. Watching our money is like a job. It becomes our master.
This poses a great danger when we consider verse 24. We cannot serve God and money. Why is this not possible? We will end up loving one master but hating the other. We will end up being devoted to one master but despising and disregarding the other. This is true both because of our human nature and because of the nature of our masters. When we serve money, money demands that we sacrifice everything to gain a greater devotion to it. Both family and time with God become expendable. When we serve the Lord, he tells us in Deuteronomy 6:5 to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus tells us to hate both our family and our entire lives to serve him. There is no room for serving money. Both masters demand our entire devotion.
The impossibility of serving both the Lord and money is seen clearly in an illustration given by Martyn-Lloyd-Jones in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells the story of a farmer who had a prized cow who gave birth to two calves. One calf was red and one was white. He came in the house rejoicing and told his wife the great news. He added, “I have decided to sell one of the calves and give the proceeds to the Lord.” When his wife asked him which calf he would sell, he said it did not matter because he would raise them both the same. One day the farmer came in with a sad face. “The Lord’s calf died.” His wife responded with confusion, “I thought you had not decided which calf would be the Lord’s calf.” He responded confidently, “No, I had always decided that the white one was the Lord’s calf and now it is dead.” Though this story is amusing, the message is humbling. Somehow when trying times come in our financial lives, it is always the time, money, and passion for the Lord that suffers first. The Lord’s calf always dies when we serve money.
The Rich Young Ruler
The truth of this is seen so clearly in the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, and Jesus responded in Matthew 19:21, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man walked away sorrowful as he realized that he was unable to serve both Christ and money. He could not have both. Many men in the Bible were rich as this man was, but their hearts were with God. Men like Abraham and Job are great examples. There was no need to tell them to sell everything. Their actions proved where their heart was. Riches did not master them. Unfortunately, Abraham and Job are in the minority. Men like Solomon, Balaam, and this rich young ruler served their wealth.
We can often foolishly think that treasures have not mastered us because nothing stands in the way of us missing worship services. It is so much greater than this. We should not decide that riches have not become our master merely because money never stops us from missing worship services. We should decide based on whether or not it has become the passion of our heart. Let’s consider what we spoke of earlier so we can identify the healthiness of our eyes and of our heart. Do we look upon those who are truly in need with love or with grudging eyes? Do we give freely or with stinginess – always counting the cost? Do we devise new ways to help others? Or do we devise new ways to enrich our lives with more money and possessions? Do we spend our free time meditating on the riches of our blessings in Christ or the temporary things of this world?
The rich young ruler was told to sell everything and give to the poor because it had mastered him. It was the only way he could serve Christ alone. We too must also get rid of the master – whatever it is. For some this will mean a job change. For some this will mean getting rid of certain possessions that have captured our hearts. For some this will mean putting in more preventative measures and readjusting priorities. We must take great caution. Though we believe we can grab a handful of the world and a handful of God, we will end up taking two hands full of the world without realizing we have left the true love and treasure. Grabbing onto the true treasure takes both our hands and all our might. We must decide for ourselves who we will serve. We are grasping after a treasure. After which treasure are we grasping?