One general objection I have with some of the messages within the Christian faith is selective emphasis—that is, emphasizing certain verses of scriptures over others—in addition to selection bias: omitting certain verses from scripture.
Recently, there has been one verse that continually keeps coming into my life: “‘No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). While I had heard this verse in messages before, it was infrequent and rarely the center of any serious analysis; however, in my personal life, I recently had felt a great sense of comfort not merely by reading this verse in isolation, but in its complete context, spanning Matthew 6:19-34. It was through the added context of Jesus’ words that I truly understood what was being said in verse 24; moreover, the context and rich examples that Jesus uses provided me with the comfort, guidance, and reassurance of faith that I needed.
In our world, especially in American culture, materialism, work, production, and success are all encultured into you; moreover, they are blended up and somehow attached to your self-worth. As Jefferson Bethke writes (playing off Descartes’ famous words), “America’s mantra is, ‘I produce, therefore I am.’” It seems that our lives somehow have become intertwined with what it is that we produce or can show others. This goes hand-in-hand with our media-driven culture—however, let us return to scripture.
In John 15:5, Jesus says, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.’” Here, is a clear verse illustrating that we are called to produce fruit, but what kind of fruit? Well, John 15:15 says, “lasting fruit” or “fruit that will remain.” And, how do we accomplish such a task? We do so by following Jesus’ command: “‘Don’t store up treasures here on earth…Store your treasures in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:20-21, NLV).
So, why is this all so important? The issue comes back to what is being emphasized. As Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 say, “‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NIV). This is a matter of our hearts and, thus, is of remarkable relevance; moreover, it is regarding how our relationship to the material world should be, which is of paramount importance in the current culture in which we live.
Unfortunately, this message seems to not receive as much attention as it deserves—in fact, the attention it has received by some leaders within the Christian faith has been to emphasize the opposite point, and conflate the idea that inner works can be manifested materially. I will speak more on this in my next post as I discuss the emergence and growth of the prosperity gospel.