Our local social security agency published a public service message recently on the Top 3 habits we have that waste the most money; and number one on that list is our habit of keeping up with the Joneses. And how true is that?

For many of us, our primary motivation for getting up in the morning is to get out there and be as successful as we can so that we can stick it to our competition. So what do we do? We emulate successful people, we follow their methods, we adopt their strategies, we try and do everything just like they do, in the hope of becoming just like they are. And how do we know if we have made it? How do we know if we have become just like them? How do we measure our success? That’s right, we hold our financial worth against theirs, with theirs as the yardstick.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Learning from the best and adopting successful strategies is a good thing. But the moment it makes us chase after the things of the world, well, that’s an entirely different matter altogether, isn’t it? For didn’t Jesus say,

“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.” Matthew 6:19-20

And why would He say that? Because once you allow yourself to be drawn into the habit of keeping up with the Joneses, the moment you feel that you need to be better than the rest, guess how you start to value yourself now? It is no wonder then that the world says,

‘Clothes maketh the man.’

Well, his clothes and the car he drives, the house he stays in, the district he lives in, the watch that adorns his wrist, the women that hang on his arm, his position, his net worth, and the list goes on. And very soon, we develop the second habit that our social security agency says wastes the most money, ‘saving face’.

Now, ‘saving face’ is a very Asian expression, but I am sure that the concept is as universal as ice is cold. I mean, let’s face it, we don’t like to be ridiculed, we don’t like to be put down, we don’t like to be made to feel like we are second best. So what do we do? We spend needlessly, indulge pointlessly, and sometimes even to the point of living dangerously, just so that we look like we have ‘made it’.

When I was just starting out, a good friend of mine advised me to settle for a small car. He had owned a number of luxury vehicles during his lifetime and now that he was getting on in years and his health was failing, he wished that he had saved up all those monies he had lavished on them so that he needn’t worry about financing his future medical bills. You see, he enjoyed the good single life a little too much during his younger days and never settled down. So right now, in the twilight of his life, he had only himself to depend on. And looking at him, I could see much logic in what he told me, so do you think I listened?

Of course not. I told him that since he had the opportunity to enjoy his life, he shouldn’t deprive me of mine. I needed to ‘save face’ in front of my relatives who always said that I wouldn’t amount to much. I needed to prove to my mother that all her prophecies of me being a washout were nothing more than her own bad judgement. So I not only had to keep up with the Joneses, I had to keep up with the Trumps, Hiltons, Zukerbergs, Gates, Abramoviches, and whoever was out there and up there in the world. And woe to him who dared to put me down.

So imagine my struggle whenever I read these verses.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12

Think about it. Your finals are coming up and you really need to ace this paper. You know the invigilator is going to be that bespectacled old man who can see no further than 3 feet in front of him and you are seated at the back of the room. Your friends are all around you and ready to start circulating the answers. But you say ‘no’. And as you are turning them down, you already know from the daggers their eyes are flinging at you, what they are going to say and do to you afterward. Blessed are you when you finally sit at the same table during lunch?

You graduate and start out in a school. Toward the end of the year, as you are tabulating the level’s scores for discussion at the next department meeting, you discover a massive discrepancy in the test scores within the level. You ask your colleague about it and she admits that she had ‘massaged’ the numbers a little bit so that it would please both the parents and school management. She asks you to keep quiet about it and even suggests that you should follow her example for your own good. But you say ‘no’. Blessed are you when you finally get kicked out of the school with a bad testimonial because that colleague bad-mouthed you to your boss? Blessed are you when that bad testimonial effectively means that you could never teach again? Blessed are you when your mother starts nagging you for not having enough gumption to stick to your job?

Or say you are in-charge of admissions at your university and a parent comes to you and tries to persuade you to be part of a business arrangement that sees you being ‘well-looked after’ just for looking the other way and admitting students who were unable to make the cut. But you said ‘no’. Blessed are you when she, in retaliation for being snubbed, falsely reports you to the board for suggesting to her that bribes could have greased the wheel for her child to enter that university?

I think you get the picture.

When it comes to keeping up with the Joneses, the irony is that the ones who have their hearts in the right place almost always end up worse off that those who are chasing after the trappings of this world.

If you had colluded with your friends in school, you would have aced the paper, gotten the scholarship, done your parents proud and become quite famous and well-respected in your circles. And no one would be any the wiser because that old man could never have seen you do it.

If you had colluded with your colleague, your student’s test scores would have looked better, their parents would have been happier, said many good things about you to your boss and you would have moved up that ladder rather quickly. And no one would be any the wiser because everyone else was doing it.

If you had accepted the ‘gift’, you would have received 5 times your salary in cash and benefits and that nasty false report would never have happened. No one would be any the wiser because the test scores were ‘for your eyes only’ anyway.

Yet, when we follow Jesus, when we try and keep up with Him, trouble is always bound to be around the corner for

“…Satan has asked excessively that [all of] you be given up to him [out of the power and keeping of God], that he might sift [all of] you like grain,” Luke 22:31 [AMPC]

So “sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you,” Genesis 4:7 [AMP]

And even Jesus knows this because He says that

“…They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way.” Matthew 5:12 [PHILLIPS]

So why do it? Why keep up with Jesus? Why not just follow the world?

Well, beloved, the answer lies in what you value, for indeed,

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6: 21

What do you treasure? Man’s praise and worldly treasure, or our Father’s praise and heavenly treasure? Is that Ferrari which you most definitely could have bought if you had colluded in that shady business deal worth more to you than the peace of mind that comes from knowing that because you have been upright, no accusation can ever be brought against you; and even if one is, you will always be acquitted of any false accusation? For make no mistake, though the devil gives, the devil also collects.

And, who do you trust more? The human who is leading you into sin, or the God who sacrificed His Son so that you are redeemed from the consequences of your sin? Do you think that the creation is better able to protect you than the Creator is?

Beloved, while learning from the best is a good habit to develop, draw the line at keeping up appearances. Indeed,

“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.” Matthew 6:19-20

Don’t give up something eternal in exchange for something temporal. Instead,

“…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

You see, it’s simple really.

“He who did not spare His own son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him, also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32

And zealously protect us from all evil, and faithfully provide us with all sufficiency, and continually ensure that we are kept in His power and keeping? Indeed,

“…count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company.” Matthew 5:11-12 [MSG]

Beloved, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2

For you are not in the company of mere mortals, you are in the company of the One who created the Heavens and the earth. And keep on keeping up with Jesus. Indeed, your treasure is waiting for you in Heaven. But more than that, you will soon, if not already, see it spill over into the here and now.

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