The Zacchaeus Principle

“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth where moth and rust can destroy and where thieves can break in and steal it. Store up treasure for yourself in heaven where neither moth nor rust can destroy and where thieves can not break in and steal it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

(Matthew 6:19-21)

In speaking about treasure or wealth being stored up in heaven, it is often assumed that one must become like the rich young ruler and give away all he or she has to the poor and go into a life of humble and impoverished service. It is fair that some people are called to such a lifestyle. The rich young ruler is the prime example of this but also people like Joseph Scriven, John Wesley, and John Wycliffe come to mind. These people chose to live lives of poverty and service to build the kingdom of heaven and God chose to bless their labors.

But then there was also Zacchaeus — mentioned in Luke’s Gospel shortly after the account of the rich young ruler. Never does Jesus ask Zacchaeus to sell all he has and give it to the poor. Zacchaeus simply is asked to repay that which he has defrauded others. Why this difference? The difference is found once again in the account of the rich young ruler — that man loved his money and the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The heart of Zacchaeus is clearly in a different place.

The assumption that is often made is that when people speak of storing up treasure in heaven and of using wealth to build Christ’s kingdom and not a personal earthly kingdom, is that then one must give up all the wealth they have and donate it to various charities or missionaries. And friends, if that is what God is calling you to do, then praise the Lord and I would be happy to suggest some missional works that are worthy of your support. That we might call the rich young ruler model.

But might there be a Zacchaeus model as well? Indeed, there must be given that Jesus seems to do so. One might also note that there have been many people that God has blessed with worldly resources to the end that they might focus on building the kingdom with their very special gifts. John Calvin, for instance, it is often pointed out, had financial wealth at his disposal. He lived modestly and served not only as a pastor, teacher, and reformer, but also produced a wealth of theological resources for which the church is forever indebted. One could say the same thing of someone like John Owen whose collected works are still being read with a great deal of profit by pastors, teachers, and laymen in the church today. Arthur Pink, too, had the resources from his father’s estate, to retreat from public life and give himself entirely to writing. And like Owen and Calvin before him, the church of Jesus Christ is far richer because of those volumes. We might also think of people like Frederick III of Saxony, who used his wealth and influence to protect Martin Luther and thus begin the reformation in Germany. We can go on and on with examples of such, but I think we have enough to establish a Zacchaeus principle.

What does it mean to store up your treasure in heaven? It means to use the wealth and resources you are given to build, sustain, or promote the kingdom of God. If the wealth might go to our heart, we must get rid of it — it will bring sin and destruction. If it can remain outside of our hearts and as a tool that can be used for the glory of God, then we are to use our resources in such a way as to promote Christ’s kingdom. Indeed, in some cases that may be worked out in charity, but in other cases it may provide a platform through which service can be done or God’s people can be sheltered from the storms of persecution. Wealth only destroys us when it finds itself as an object of our love and affection — something that is cherished and held onto at the expense of doing ministry. There are both rich young rulers and Zacchaeus’ all around; if you watch their actions closely, discerning the difference is typically not that hard.

Author: preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

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