In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus begins by talking about wealth and where we should and should not store it. He then says something strange about the eye being the lamp of the body and its connection to light and darkness, which seems to be a shift away from the original topic of wealth. He then returns to the subject and says that you cannot serve God and mammon. Did Jesus veer off-topic, or is there an important connection we need to understand in this text?
The first thing Jesus said about wealth is what we should not do with it. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;” Instead, He said, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV)
Jesus knows we are prone to accumulating and hoarding earthly wealth, so he’s warning us that this wealth will eventually be lost if stored here on earth. A better way to use it, he says, is to store it in heaven where it will never be lost. That makes sense, but what he said next, is more difficult to grasp.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV) I have to admit, for a long time, I did not see the connection of this text in the context of money and wealth.
To better understand, let’s look at what he said next. “No one can serve two masters; for he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24 NKJV) Jesus tells us that there are two masters, God, and mammon, and you can only serve one, not both. We know who God is, but who or what is this mammon, and what’s the connection to wealth?
In the Bible, mammon is the word used for wealth, riches, or money. But, a better definition and one that’s supported by Jesus’ use of the words “two masters” is that mammon was some kind of god or spirit. Medieval writers commonly interpreted mammon as an evil demon or god. Mammon is a false spirit that lures people away from their devotion to God through the promise of gaining wealth and riches.
When Jesus says the lamp of the body is the eye, it stands to reason he is saying that what’s inside a man, in his heart, is determined by what his eyes seek, accept, and act upon. Inspired by this Scripture, Shakespeare coined the phrase, “Eyes are the window to the soul,” which is an excellent analogy because like a window allows light to enter a room, so also the eyes allow things to enter the soul or heart of a person.
If a person’s eye is good, generous, and others-focused, she will look for ways to share her possessions to help those in need. If a person’s eye is bad, greedy, and self-serving, everything her eyes seek is motivated by an unhealthy desire for more. She will accumulate material possessions to access and refuse to share them with others, leading to increasing spiritual darkness (blindness).
We can deduce from what Jesus said that having a bad eye will result in storing up treasures on earth and having a good eye will result in laying up treasures in heaven. However, the issue isn’t really the eye, but the soul, or, better stated, the heart. Proverbs 27:19 confirms this, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man." (ESV) How we act and the choices we make, especially regarding wealth, are issues of the heart that reveal our spiritual condition.
Verse 21, which I previously left out, says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21 NKJV) Note that it doesn’t say, where your heart is, there will your treasure be, but rather, where your treasure is, there will your heart be. Heart always follows treasure, and that’s important to understand because your heart has the capacity to deceive you.
According to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We must accept this truth about our heart, that it can easily lead us astray. To guard against this deception, our decisions around wealth cannot be heart (emotional) only decisions; they must be mind also decisions. To overcome the deception of wealth, we must, in faith, believe and act on God’s word concerning wealth.
Without a doubt, Jesus was sharing an important connection between whom we serve, what our choices reveal about our spiritual condition, and what we ultimately choose to do with wealth. My condensed version of what He’s saying is as follows.
A person choosing to serve mammon has a bad eye, is spiritually blind, and lives in spiritual darkness, storing up treasures that will perish. A person choosing to serve God has a good eye and makes the right wealth choices, so that he may store up “treasure” in heaven.
How does this truth impact you today? What, if any, changes do you need to make in your management of wealth?