“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19–21 (ESV)
The Tuesday morning men’s Bible study group is currently going through the Sermon on the Mount. We have been deeply impacted by Jesus’ words regarding money and possessions. Providentially, Jon Peirson and I have at the same time been reading the works of Cyprian, one of the great Latin church fathers of the third century. In a letter to Donatus, Cyprian has a passage that powerfully and eloquently describes the tragedy of those who make riches their god. In one place he speaks of such riches as “gilded torments.” I think it worth quoting the section at some length:
“But those, moreover, whom you consider rich . . .even in the midst of their riches those are torn to pieces by the anxiety of vague thought, lest the robber should spoil, lest the murderer should attack, lest the envy of some wealthier neighbour should become hostile, and harass them with malicious lawsuits. Such a one enjoys no security either in his food or in his sleep. In the midst of the banquet he sighs, although he drinks from a jewelled goblet; and when his luxurious bed has enfolded his body, languid with feasting, in its yielding bosom, he lies wakeful in the midst of the down; nor does he perceive, poor wretch, that these things are merely gilded torments, that he is held in bondage by his gold, and that he is the slave of his luxury and wealth rather than their master. And oh, the odious blindness of perception, and the deep darkness of senseless greed ! although he might disburden himself and get rid of the load, he rather continues to brood over his vexing wealth, –– he goes on obstinately clinging to his tormenting hoards. From him there is no liberality to dependents, no communication to the poor. And yet such people call that their own money, which they guard with jealous labour, shut up at home as if it were another’s and from which they derive no benefit either for their friends, for their children, or, in fine, for themselves. Their possession amounts to this only, that they can keep others from possessing it; and oh, what a marvellous perversion of names ! they call those things goods, which they absolutely put to none but bad uses.” (From Cyprian’s “Epistle to Donatus,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol V, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 279)
May Cyprian’s letter encourage us to heed the words of our Lord with even more fervency and resolve!