Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 6:19-23.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth… But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
Christ begins his teaching on laying up treasures with a negative admonition: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth….” The Greek word for “treasure” in thēsauros, the root for our English word “thesaurus” which means a treasury of words. The word “treasure” or the plural “treasures” appears three times in Matthew 6:19-21, once each in vv. 19, 20, and 21.
It seems clear that “treasures on earth” are “understood to be material wealth in general, as well as any material goods in particular” (Alfeyev, Sermon, 306).
If you read through the Gospels, it will be clear to you that the Lord Jesus repeatedly sounded the alarm on the spiritual dangers of materialism. He saw the desire for and pursuit of laying up treasures on earth as one of the chief rivals and dangers to living an authentic life of discipleship (see, e.g., the seed that fell among the thorns in Matt 13:22; the parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:15-21; Christ’s encounter with the Rich Young Ruler in Matt 19:16-30).
He continues in v. 19: “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” Two practical reasons are given as to why one should not make the focus of his life the laying up of treasures on earth.
First, such things will eventually break down and wear out with time. The moth and rust corrupt them. Have you ever left clothing up in your attic only to find later that moths have gnawed holes through them? Or maybe you had an expensive tool and you left it in the leaky tool shed and when you go to retrieve it you find it is rusted to pieces.
Second, such things can be taken away from you. They can be stolen or lost. A fortune can be won and lost overnight. The online site “Economics Times” say that in 1930, the year after the 1929 stock market crash, 23,000 people committed suicide as a direct result of the crash.
On my first mission trip as a college sophomore, I went with a group of students to Haiti. Just before we arrived the missionaries whom we came to help had their home broken into and many of their most prized possessions were stolen. When we asked the missionary about this, he quoted from memory vv. 19-20. That left an impression on me that has lasted to this day.
The positive admonition comes in v. 20: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….” What is meant by treasures in heaven? In part it means the doing of good works that flow from a life that has been transformed by Christ.
Remember Christ’s words to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21: “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
The thing is that we can see the treasures that one can lay up on earth. We can count them. We can quantify them. But we cannot count up or quantify the treasures that are laid up in heaven. They are not visible or tangible assets.
A great contrast is drawn at the close of v. 20. These secret assets, these heavenly treasures, are not corrupted by moth or rust, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. The shifting market will never be able to devalue them.
Christ concludes the teaching on treasures in v. 21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The word “heart” here does not refer to the internal organ that pumps blood, but to the seat of one’s affections. If your affections are set on earthly things, that will be your treasure. And it will one day break down or be taken away from you.
The question one must ask: Where am I laying up treasures? Yes, we all need to live. We all have Scripturally sanctioned duties to provide for our own household and, as we have opportunity, to do good to all men and especially for those who are of the household of faith (cf. 1 Tim 5:8; Gal 6:10).
But what about the unseen spiritual treasures? Are we seeking to store up those things also? Let us heed Christ’s admonition and not lay up treasures on earth but treasures in heaven.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle