Love of the world equates to adultery, Jim Elliff says

by Larry B. Elrod, posted Thursday, April 22, 1999 (19 years ago)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)--"God has required of us our total affection," declared Jim Elliff, president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. "The Book of James says that if you love the world, it is the same as adultery."

Using Matt. 6:19-24 as his text, Elliff spoke at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary April 20 stressing the need for believers to put earthly things in their proper place. In order to understand the passage, Elliff said a definition of the word treasure is necessary. “We know that a treasure is not a necessity,” he explained. "In the Book of Proverbs, God commends the ant for storing up in good times for the times which will be bad."

Also serving as resident consultant for the Midwestern Center for Biblical Revival, Elliff said the best definition can be found in terms of the heart. "You cannot just draw a legal line out here somewhere and say that everybody who has this many items and more is obviously in sin and everybody who has this many items and less is living correctly, in terms of this passage of Scripture."

Referring to the expression that "one man's trash is another man's treasure," Elliff said affections come into play. "A treasure is that which cannot be given away without pain, because as we perceive it, it really belongs to us and not to God.

"You can find treasures in all kinds of places," Elliff said, "in financial portfolios, with four rubber tires beneath them, in the homes in which we live, in jewelry boxes, in family heirlooms. You can find them in the strangest places."

Basing his conviction on verse 19 of the passage, Elliff insisted, "God says we are to have none of them," quoting, "'Do not lay up for yourselves treasurers upon the earth.'" He added that he had often wrestled with the passage, finding it disturbing.

"Why should we have no earthly treasures?" he asked. Finding the answer in the same verse, Elliff said earthly treasures are viewed as a bad investment. "You have invested in something that is easily destroyed. You have also invested in something that you will have to spend your life keeping sustained and safe. Then the final thief, which is death, gets it and you lose 100 percent. To me, it seems that an investment which is subject to decay and, in the final analysis, is all lost, is a bad investment."

From verses 22-23, Elliff found further reasons for not treasuring earthly things. "To do so gives evidence that we are unregenerate people. If our eyes are clear, they are open and generous and our bodies are full of light. If they are bad and greedy, our bodies are full of darkness," Elliff said, noting that an even more serious situation arises when the person views his own darkness as actually being light.

Reflecting on ministers who are constantly looking for a better position, Elliff issued a warning: "Do not ever get into your mind that it is impossible for a minister of the gospel to be full of darkness. You need to analyze yourself according to the way you see things, the way you look at life and the money and possessions that you have."

Another reason not to accumulate treasures on earth is found in verse 24, Elliff said, noting the references to affection, love, hate, hold to and despise. "Jesus is telling us we have a perverted affection if we love the things that are treasures." Stating that God has required total affection from believers, Elliff said anything less is regarded in the Book of James as adultery. "We are not allowed to have any loves in our lives if those loves are not means to loving him."

Relating an illustration used by evangelist Michael Gilchrist, Elliff said most Christians would be impressed by a person who is 95 percent faithful to God. "Suppose you knew someone who was 99 percent faithful to God with his affections and love. You would think he was another Apostle Paul. But ladies, let me ask you this question: What if your husband was 99 percent faithful to you? It was just one night out of a hundred that he was with another woman. What word would you use to designate your husband's behavior? It would be adultery, wouldn't it?”

While the standard is high, God never equivocates, Elliff said. "He will never let us go from this goal for our lives to turn everything into affection for Jesus Christ. If there is any contest in your life, that is where you are going to have to focus your attention."

An implicit understanding of how Christians lay up treasures in heaven is also provided in the text, Elliff said, encouraging those listening to ask, "To whom do these possessions and this money belong?" Relating that he and his wife had gone through their home to consider whether each item belonged to them or to God, Elliff said his biggest struggle came over the ownership of books.

From his own family, Elliff related the impact of a recent fire that consumed the house of his brother, Tom Elliff, destroying the Oklahoma pastor's library. "I hope that I have reckoned with that in such a way that I can just leave it with God and be a happy man anyway -- that my real investments would be in another place. However, that in itself is not gaining treasure in heaven," Elliff reminded. "That is basic Christianity."

Through free and open-handed use and distribution of the possessions and money that we have, Elliff said Christians will lay up treasures in heaven. "Most people only give enough to be miserable. Why don't we give more? Because we are earthly bound in our thinking. We count the tenth of the mint and cumin, but we really are not ever stepping into the great liberality that God enjoins us to express through our lives. We are afraid that when we give something we lose it, but the truth is that it is only what you give away that you keep."

Elliff added, "It doesn't take a lot of money to be a great giver. It is not the amount on the check. It is the balance on the stub that makes the difference. The widow gave more than all the rest put together by giving all she had. That is possible for you, too. You are able to give as liberally as the man with the fattest checkbook in all the country."

To those who might be struggling with the concept of unrestrained liberality, Elliff said, "I suggest that you give anyway -- that you give far more than you ever have anyway." The basis for such generosity, he said, comes from the biblical text as Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Elliff explained, "Where we put our investment our heart tracks just like a good hunting dog.

“You will love Jesus in a new way if you give liberally. So force yourself to obey. Take it just on the statement itself and then watch your heart follow your investment," he urged.

Closing by quoting missionary martyr Jim Elliott, Elliff said, "'He is no fool who gives away what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.'"

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