Hoarding is a form of idolatry. It is the result of our heart choosing creation over the Creator. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
When it comes to the area of saving and investing, hoarding can be defined as saving money without a specific need in mind and therefore only for the purpose of accumulating wealth. Hoarded wealth is usually stored up and guarded against consumption because it has become our source of security.
1 Timothy 6:17 touches on the topic of hoarding when it says “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Most Americans fit the definition of the rich simply because of the country we live in. This verse tells us to not set our hopes on our riches, but on God. It goes on to tell us that God has given us all things to enjoy, so the issue isn’t our possessions, but rather our attitude towards them.
Dangers of Hoarding
Wealth presents us with the danger of losing our dependency on God. Listen to the warning God gave the Israelites as they were finishing up their time in the desert and about to enter the Promised Land where they would finally be able to settle down and accumulate possessions of their own.
Deuteronomy 8:11-18 – “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”
God was warning them of the spiritual danger that awaited them if they began to trust in their possessions and lose the reliance of God that they had built over the prior 40 years while they wandered the wilderness. During that time, they had very few possessions and they counted on God to provide them with food (manna) every day. He knew the nature of sinful man would cause even the Israelites to forget all He had done for them when they no longer had to trust in Him to provide every meal.
Truth in a Parable
Looking forward to the New Testament, we see Jesus teaching on this topic with the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. Chapter 12 starts off with Jesus teaching some deep spiritual truths in the first 12 verses and then all of a sudden in verse 13, a guy interrupts to request that Jesus tell his brother to divide an inheritance with him. Simply by the way this man changed the subject, it’s clear that he wasn’t there to learn from Jesus. He was a lover of money and was hoping that Jesus would rule over his case and order his brother to give him the part of the inheritance he thought was rightfully his.
In typical Jesus fashion, He didn’t get caught up in the earthly issue, but didn’t hesitate to address the spiritual issue. Jesus responded with the following:
Luke 12:15-21 – “And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Jesus starts with a warning against covetousness (desiring riches). Notice that it’s the attitude toward possessions that gets the warning, not the amount of possessions. This attitude isn’t always a reflection of one’s wealth. It can just as easily be a poor person wanting what they don’t have as it can be a rich person holding too tightly to what they already have. When Jesus speaks of abundance, we can understand that to simply mean when we have more than enough. So, even when we have a surplus, we don’t have real life. The life He’s referring to is eternal life, just as He mentioned in John 10:10 when he said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Only eternal life will be truly abundant.
In the parable that follows, Jesus tells of a rich man whose land produced more than he needed. This man had been blessed with an abundance and now he needed to decide what to do with it. He starts to expose the condition of his heart in verse 18 with the repeated use of the first person possessive words “I” and “my”. He doesn’t give praise to God for the bumper crop and makes no mention of giving back to God or others out of his wealth. Instead, this man devises a plan to build storage space so he can continue to use his abundance to fund a life of luxury and partying for many years to come. He wants to enjoy the life of a materialist. Some would say he wants to live the American dream.
At this point, the guy that asked Jesus the original inheritance question must have been excited in hearing this story because it was painting a picture that would have fed his desires, but then Jesus threw in the twist. In verse 20, God calls the man a fool and tells him that he will lose his life that very night. He had presumed upon the future without any consideration for God’s plan, just as we read about in James 4:13-16. The dream is already over and the wealth he planned to enjoy for many years to come would now be going to someone else. It may remind you of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” Materialists don’t like the idea of their wealth passing on to someone else.
In the final sentence of this parable, we see the lesson. “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). We are all fools if we store up wealth for ourselves without consideration for God’s Word and the needs of others. Consider the warning we see in James.
James 5:1-5 – “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”
As I said before, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wealth as long as our heart is aligned with God. We see godly examples of wealthy men like Abraham and Job in the Bible. The danger is that wealth could become an idol that we hoard for selfish desires, making us forget God. The following two verses speak well to this form of idolatry.
1 John 2:15 – “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Ways to Avoid Hoarding
Have a goal for every dollar you save – Those goals could be future expenses like retirement, college, house, car, etc. Calculate the amount you need and stop saving for that goal when you reach the amount needed.
Balance giving and saving – Giving is the opposite of greed and when we give in conjunction with saving, our mind isn’t totally focused on accumulation. As you increase your saving, increase your giving to keep a proper balance. While greed would have us believe that we can accumulate more wealth by giving less, don’t forget who is in charge of the results. Look at what happened to the Israelites in Haggai 1:9, “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.” Be faithful stewards of your money and leave the results up to God.
Nothing should be considered untouchable by God – Everything on your financial statement should be seen as an asset that you’re willing to give up if God lays it on your heart. If you’re not able to let it go, you need to ask if it has become an idol.
Do not have the goal to get rich – 1 Timothy 6:9 “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”It’s easy to think that the life of the rich is easier than it is for the rest of us, but scripture points out the flaw in that thinking. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.” Riches bring headaches and spiritual dangers. Henry Ford recognized this truth when he said, “I was happier doing a mechanic’s job.”
Hoarding is a great spiritual danger for all of us, whether we have much or little. We need to protect our hearts and have a proper view of our possessions. Hebrews 13:5 tells us to “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Our contentment should be found in Christ, not in our financial status.
I’ll close with the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the topic of hoarding:
“Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
This post originally posted October 19, 2016
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.