Treasure in Heaven
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (6:19–24)
Human beings are naturally thing-oriented. We are strongly inclined to be wrapped up in seeking, acquiring, enjoying, and protecting material possessions. In prosperous cultures such as those in which most Westerners live, the propensity to build our lives around things is especially great.
The leading religionists of Jesus’ day were preoccupied with things. They were materialistic, greedy, avaricious, covetous, grasping, and manipulative. That “the Pharisees … were lovers of money” (Luke 16:14) was not incidental to the other sins for which Jesus rebuked them. Because they did not have a right view of themselves (see Matt. 5:3–12), of their relation to the world (5:13–16), of the Word of God (5:17–20), of morality (5:21–48), and of religious duties (6:1–18), it was inevitable they would not have a right view of material things.
Jesus first shows how their view of nonessential material things was perverted (vv. 4–24) and then how their view of essential material things was also perverted (vv. 25–34). Their views both of luxuries and necessities were warped.
False doctrine leads to false standards, false behavior, and false values, and hypocritical religion seems always to be accompanied by greed and immorality (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1–3, 14–15). Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli the high priest, had no regard for the things of God, but they eagerly took advantage of their father’s exalted office as well as their own priestly positions. They “were worthless men; they did not know the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:12). They took more than their prescribed share of the sacrificial meat for themselves, and they committed adultery “with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (vv. 13–17, 22).
Annas and Caiaphas, who were high priests during Jesus’ ministry, became extremely wealthy from the many concessions they ran or licensed in the Temple. It was of those concessions that Jesus twice cleansed His Father’s house (John 2:14–16; Matt. 21:12–13).
Throughout the history of the church to the present day, religious charlatans have used the ministry as a means to garner wealth and to provide opportunity to indulge their sexual lusts.
Often such people, like the scribes and Pharisees, have used their material prosperity as imagined evidence of their spirituality, proclaiming without shame that they are materially blessed because they are spiritually superior. They turn upside down teachings such as those in Deuteronomy 28: “Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country” (vv. 1–3). Those blessings are clearly and repeatedly contingent on obedience to the Lord. Material or other earthly benefits that are accumulated by greed, dishonesty, deceit, or in any other immoral way are not to be conceived of as blessings from the Lord. To claim God’s approval simply on the basis of one’s wealth, health, prestige, or any other such thing is to pervert His Word and use His name in vain.
The Old Testament gives many warnings against accumulating wealth for its own sake. “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it” (Prov. 23:4).
Economic problems such as inflation, recessions, and depressions involve many complex factors—monetary, political, military, social, climatic, and so on. But with the exception of the climatic, over which men have little control, the root cause behind most economic difficulty is greed. The problems are brought about in the first place because of greed, and they are often seemingly impossible to solve for the same reason. As John Stott observes, “Worldly ambition has a strong fascination for us. The spell of materialism is very hard to break” (Christian Counter-Culture [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978], p. 154). Paul established the proper attitude when he said that “godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:6–8).
In the present passage Jesus looks at materialism—particularly in regard to luxuries—from the three perspectives of treasure, vision, and master.
A Single Treasure
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (6:19–21)
Layup (thēsaurizō) and treasures (thēsauros) come from the same basic Greek term, which is also the source of our English thesaurus, a treasury of words. A literal translation of this phrase would therefore be, “do not treasure up treasures for yourselves.”
The Greek also carries the connotation of stacking or laying out horizontally, as one stacks coins. In the context of this passage the idea is that of stockpiling or hoarding, and therefore pictures wealth that is not being used. The money or other wealth is simply stored for safekeeping; it is kept for the keeping’s sake to make a show of wealth or to create an environment of lazy overindulgence (cf. Luke 12:16–21).
It is clear from this passage, as well as from many others in Scripture, that Jesus is not advocating poverty as a means to spirituality. In all of His many different instructions, He only once told a person to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21). In that particular case, the young man’s wealth was his idol, and therefore a special barrier between him and the lordship of Jesus Christ. It provided an excellent opportunity to test whether or not that man was fully committed to turning over the control of his life to Christ. His response proved that he was not. The problem was not in the wealth itself, but the man’s unwillingness to part with it. The Lord did not specifically require His disciples to give up all their money and other possessions to follow Him, although it may be that some of them voluntarily did so. He did require obedience to His commands no matter what that cost. The price was too high for the wealthy young ruler, to whom possessions were the first priority.
Both testaments recognize the right to material possessions, including money, land, animals, houses, clothing, and every other thing that is honestly acquired. God has made many promises of material blessing to those who belong to and are faithful to Him. The foundational truth that underlies the commandments not to steal or covet is the right of personal property. Stealing and coveting are wrong because what is stolen or coveted rightfully belongs to someone else. Ananias and Sapphira did not forfeit their lives because they kept back some of the proceeds from the sale of their property, but because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Holding back some of the money was selfish, especially if they had other assets on which to live, but they had a right to keep it, as Peter makes plain: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (v. 4).
God expects, in fact commands, His people to be generous. But He also expects, and even commands, them not only to be thankful for but to enjoy the blessings He gives—including the material blessings. The Lord “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). That verse is specifically directed to “those who are rich in this present world,” and yet it does not command, or even suggest, that they divest themselves of their wealth, but rather warns them not to be conceited about it or to trust in it.
Abraham was extremely rich for his day, a person who vied in wealth, influence, and military power with many of the kings in Canaan. When we first meet Job he is vastly wealthy, and when we leave him—after the testing that cost him everything he possessed outside of his own life—God has made him wealthier still, in flocks and herds, in sons and daughters, and in a healthy long life. “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12–17).
The Bible gives considerable counsel for working hard and following good business practices (cf. Matt. 25:27). The ant is shown as a model of the good worker, who “prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6–8). We are told that “in all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (14:23) and “by wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (24:3–4). “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty” (28:19).
Paul tells us that parents are responsible for saving up for their children (2 Cor. 12:14), that “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), and that “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
During his exceptionally long ministry, which spanned most of the eighteenth century, John Wesley earned a considerable amount of money from his published sermons and other works. Yet he left only 28 pounds when he died, because he continually gave what he earned to the Lord’s work.
It is right to provide for our families, to make reasonable plans for the future, to make wise investments, and to have money to carry on a business, give to the poor, and support the Lord’s work. It is being dishonest, greedy, covetous, stingy, and miserly about possessions that is wrong. To honestly earn, save, and give is wise and good; to hoard and spend only on ourselves not only is unwise but sinful.
Some years ago, I happened to have contact with two quite wealthy men during the same week. One was a former professor at a major university who, through a long series of good investments in real estate, had accumulated a fortune of possibly a hundred million dollars. But in the process he lost his family, his happiness, his peace of mind, and had aged far beyond his years. The other man, a pastor, also acquired his wealth through investments, but they were investments to which he paid little attention. Because of his financial independence, he gave to his church over the years considerably more than he was paid for being its pastor. He is one of the godliest, happiest, most fruitful, and contented persons I have ever met.
The key to Jesus’ warning here is yourselves. When we accumulate possessions simply for our own sakes—whether to hoard or to spend selfishly and extravagantly—those possessions become idols.
It is possible that both our treasures upon earth and our treasures in heaven can involve money and other material things. Possessions that are wisely, lovingly, willingly, and generously used for kingdom purposes can be a means of accumulating heavenly possessions. When they are hoarded and stored, however, they not only become a spiritual hindrance but are subject to loss through moth, rust, and thieves.
In ancient times, wealth was frequently measured in part by clothing. Compared to our day of mass-produced clothes, garments represented a considerable investment. Rich people sometimes had golden threads woven into their clothing, both to display and to store their wealth. But the best clothes were made of wool, which the moth loves to eat; and even the richest persons had difficulty protecting their clothes from the insects.
Wealth was also often held in grain, as we see from the parable of the rich farmer who said, “I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (Luke 12:18). Brōsis (rust) literally means “an eating,” and is translated with that meaning everywhere in the New Testament but here (see Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 8:4, “eating”; 2 Cor. 9:10, “food”; and Heb. 12:16, “meal”). It seems best to take the same meaning here, in reference to grain that is eaten by rats, mice, worms, and insects.
Almost any kind of wealth, of course, is subject to thieves, which is why many people buried their nonperishable valuables in the ground away from the house, often in a field (see Matt. 13:44). Break in is literally “dig through,” and could refer to digging through the mud walls of a house or digging up the dirt in a field.
Nothing we own is completely safe from destruction or theft. And even if we keep our possessions perfectly secure during our entire lives, we are certainly separated from them at death. Many millionaires will be heavenly paupers, and many paupers will be heavenly millionaires.
But when our time, energy, and possessions are used to serve others and to further the Lord’s work, they build up heavenly resources that are completely free from destruction or theft. There neither moth nor rust destroys, and … thieves do not break in or steal. Heavenly security is the only absolute security.
Jesus goes on to point out that a person’s most cherished possessions and his deepest motives and desires are inseparable, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. They will either both be earthly or both be heavenly. It is impossible to have one on earth and the other in heaven (cf. James 4:4).
As always, the heart must be right first. In fact, if the heart is right, everything else in life falls into its proper place. The person who is right with the Lord will be generous and happy in his giving to the Lord’s work. By the same token, a person who is covetous, self-indulgent, and stingy has good reason to question his relationship with the Lord.
Jesus is not saying that if we put our treasure in the right place our heart will then be in the right place, but that the location of our treasure indicates where our heart already is. Spiritual problems are always heart problems. Sinful acts come from a sinful heart, just as righteous acts come from a righteous heart.
When the exiles who came back to Jerusalem from Babylon began turning to God’s Word, a revival also began. “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people” and various leaders took turns reading “from the law of God” (Neh. 8:5–8). Through hearing God’s Word the people became convicted of their sin, began to praise God, and determined to begin obeying Him and to faithfully support the work of the Temple (chaps. 9–10).
Revival that does not affect the use of money and possessions is a questionable revival. As the Tabernacle was being built, “everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord’s contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments” (Ex. 35:21). As plans were being made to build the Temple, David himself gave generously to the work, and “the rulers of the fathers’ households, and the princes of the tribes of Israel, and the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with the overseers over the king’s work, offered willingly.… Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chron. 29:2–6, 9).
G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
You are to remember with the passion burning within you that you are not the child of to-day. You are not of the earth, you are more than dust; you are the child of tomorrow, you are of the eternities, you are the offspring of Deity. The measurements of your lives cannot be circumscribed by the point where blue sky kisses green earth. All the fact of your life cannot be encompassed in the one small sphere upon which you live. You belong to the infinite. If you make your fortune on the earth—poor, sorry, silly soul—you have made a fortune, and stored it in a place where you cannot hold it. Make your fortune, but store it where it will greet you in the dawning of the new morning. (The Gospel According to Matthew [New York: Revell, 1929], pp. 64–65)
When thousands of people, mostly Jews, were won to Christ during and soon after Pentecost, the Jerusalem church was flooded with many converts who had come from distant lands and who decided to stay on in the city. Many of them no doubt were poor, and many others probably left most of their wealth and possessions in their homelands. To meet the great financial burden suddenly placed on the church, local believers “began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45).
Many years later, during one of the many Roman persecutions, soldiers broke into a certain church to confiscate its presumed treasures. An elder is said to have pointed to a group of widows and orphans who were being fed and said, “There are the treasures of the church.”
God’s principle for His people has always been, “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9–10). Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). Paul assures us that “he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). That is God’s formula for earning dividends that are both guaranteed and permanent.
At the end of His parable about the dishonest but shrewd steward, Jesus said, “I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Our material possessions are “unrighteous” in the sense of not having any spiritual value in themselves. But if we invest them in the welfare of human souls, the people who are saved or otherwise blessed because of them will someday greet us in heaven with thanksgiving.
A Single Vision
The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (6:22–23)
These verses expand on the previous three, and the eye becomes an illustration of the heart. The lamp, or lens, of the body is the eye, through which all light comes to us. It is the only channel of light we possess, and therefore our only means of vision.
The heart is the eye of the soul, through which the illumination of every spiritual experience shines. It is through our hearts that God’s truth, love, peace, and every other spiritual blessing comes to us. When our hearts, our spiritual eyes, are clear, then our whole body will be full of light.
Haplous (clear) can also mean single, as it is translated in the King James Version. An eye that is clear represents a heart that has single-minded devotion. Bishop John Charles Ryle said, “Singleness of purpose is one great secret of spiritual prosperity” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Matthew [London: James Clarke, 1965], p. 56).
Words that are closely related to haplous mean “liberality” (Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 9:11) and “generously” James 1:5). The implication in the present verse is that if our heart, represented by the eye, is generous (clear), our whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding, or light.
If our eye is bad, however, if it is diseased or damaged, no light can enter, and the whole body will be full of darkness. If our hearts are encumbered with material concerns they become “blind” and insensitive to spiritual concerns. The eye is like a window which, when clear, allows light to shine through, but, when dirty, or bad, prevents light from entering.
Ponēros (bad) usually means evil, as it is translated here in the King James Version. In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) it is often used in translating the Hebrew expression “evil eye,” a Jewish colloquialism that means grudging, or stingy (see Deut. 15:9, “hostile”; Prov. 23:6, “selfish”). “A man with an evil eye,” for example, is one who “hastens after wealth” (Prov. 28:22).
The eye that is bad is the heart that is selfishly indulgent. The person who is materialistic and greedy is spiritually blind. Because he has no way of recognizing true light, he thinks he has light when he does not. What is thought to be light is therefore really darkness, and because of the self-deception, how great is the darkness!
The principle is simple and sobering: the way we look at and use our money is a sure barometer of our spiritual condition.
A Single Master
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (6:24)
The third choice relates to allegiance, to masters. Just as we cannot have our treasures both in earth and in heaven or our bodies both in light and in darkness, we cannot serve two masters.
Kurios (masters) is often translated lord, and refers to a slave owner. The idea is not simply that of an employer, of which a person may have several at the same time and work for each of them satisfactorily. Many people today hold two or more jobs. If they work the number of hours they are supposed to and perform their work as expected, they have fulfilled their obligation to their employers, no matter how many they may have. The idea is of masters of slaves.
But by definition, a slave owner has total control of the slave. For a slave there is no such thing as partial or part-time obligation to his master. He owes full-time service to a full-time master. He is owned and totally controlled by and obligated to his master. He has nothing left for anyone else. To give anything to anyone else would make his master less than master. It is not simply difficult, but absolutely impossible, to serve two masters and fully or faithfully be the obedient slave of each.
Over and over the New Testament speaks of Christ as Lord and Master and of Christians as His bondslaves. Paul tells us that before we were saved we were enslaved to sin, which was our master. But when we trusted in Christ, we became slaves of God and of righteousness (Rom. 6:16–22).
We cannot claim Christ as Lord if our allegiance is to anything or anyone else, including ourselves. And when we know God’s will but resist obeying it, we give evidence that our loyalty is other than to Him. We can no more serve two masters at the same time than we can walk in two directions at the same time. We will either … hate the one and love the other, or … hold to one and despise the other.
John Calvin said, “Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost His authority” (A Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], p. 337). Our treasure is either on earth or in heaven, our spiritual life is either full of light or of darkness, and our master is either God or mammon (possessions, earthly goods).
The orders of those two masters are diametrically opposed and cannot coexist. The one commands us to walk by faith and the other demands we walk by sight. The one calls us to be humble and the other to be proud, the one to set our minds on things above and the other to set them on things below. One calls us to love light, the other to love darkness. The one tells us to look toward things unseen and eternal and the other to look at things seen and temporal.
The person whose master is Jesus Christ can say that, when he eats or drinks or does anything else, he does “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). He can say with David, “I have set the Lord continually before me” (Ps. 16:8), and with Caleb when he was eighty-five years old, “I followed the Lord my God fully” (Josh. 14:8).
Who Owns Your Possessions?
After the great teachings in the first half of Matthew 6 about the spiritual life of the Christian, the Lord Jesus Christ turned to warnings about the personal failures that most often deprive a believer of spiritual victories and nullify his witness. In these verses, beginning with Matthew 6:19 and continuing through Matthew 7:5, Jesus warns against a love of possessions, anxiety, and a judgmental attitude toward others.
Love of Money
It is not really difficult to find examples of people who have allowed the love of money to ruin their spirituality and to nullify the effect of their witness. History is full of such examples, and they come from our time also. In the Book of Joshua we are told of the sin of Achan that caused the defeat of the armies of Israel at Ai. Israel had just been victorious at Jericho and had dedicated the spoil of the battle to God, as God had indicated. But there was a scar on the victory. During the battle a soldier called Achan had come upon a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred pieces of silver and an ingot of gold. Because he coveted them, he took them and hid them in his tent. It was a small thing, but it was disobedience to God. Thus Israel was defeated in their next engagement, and judgment came upon Achan and his household.
Solomon allowed the love of money and women to ruin his spiritual life. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Lord about money, pretending that they had given the full price of a sale to the church while actually keeping back a portion. They were struck dead. Paul wrote in one of his letters about a young man named Demas, who, he said, “hath forsaken me having loved this present world.” We see the same problem today when people put their home and the care of it above the need for biblical teaching and mow the grass on Sunday when they should be at church, or when they direct all their efforts toward amassing a fortune (or part of one) while neglecting their families and the essential spiritual life of their home. No wonder that Paul wrote to Timothy to remind him that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Remember that the Bible nowhere teaches that money itself is evil. It is not money or possessions that are at fault; it is the men who use them. Before God created men and women he created a vast world of pleasant and useful things for them. They were meant for man’s use in every joyful and constructive way. But when man sinned, the things that were to be helpful to him came to usurp a place in his heart which they were never meant to have. Soon men began to fight and steal and cheat and do countless other things to possess them. Today, when a man surrenders to God and allows him to redirect his life, a process begins in which money and things are removed from the center and God once again is reinstated on the throne.
There have been sensitive souls in the history of the Christian church who have recognized the evils that accompany possessions and who have sought to eliminate the evils by doing away with the possessions collectively. Using the example of the early church in Jerusalem, which pooled its possessions and distributed to those who had need, these Christians have argued against the right of private property among believers and have sometimes even advocated a form of Christian communism. That is not right. If some Christians are led of the Lord to sell their possessions and give to others and they do so, particularly in a time of need, this is a great blessing. But it does not therefore follow that all Christians must follow their example.
Actually, if you examine the Bible carefully, you will see that far from condemning the possession of private property the Bible actually assumes the rightness of it. For instance, the eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15). However, that verse teaches not only that I am not to take those things belonging to another person, but that neither is he to take mine. In the story of Ananias and Sapphira mentioned earlier, Peter said when speaking to the husband, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3–4). Peter was stating that God recognizes the right of private property and does not force any Christian to dispose of his money.
Now, someone will ask, “Didn’t the Lord Jesus instruct the rich young ruler that he was to sell all that he had and give to the poor?” Yes, he did. But we must also note that he did not say it to Mary or Martha or Lazarus or to John the evangelist or to Zebedee. He said it to “the rich young ruler” because his chief obstruction to a life of following Christ lay in his possessions. He proved that by turning away. For such a person—and there are many today—the loss of their possessions would be the most significant blessing of their lives. The best thing they could do would be to give them away. This does not mean, however, that possessions in themselves are wrong or, for that matter, that poverty is a particularly blessed form of Christianity.
In this as in all the other areas of the Christian life the true solution does not lie in abstinence or withdrawal. It lies in the proper use and proper estimate of the things which God has provided. In other words, we are not called upon to relinquish things but rather use them under God’s direction. We are to use them for the health and well-being of our family, for material aid to others, and for the great task of proclaiming the gospel and promoting Christian verities.
Treasure in Heaven
That is precisely what Jesus himself was teaching in the verses concerned with money in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was not speaking against possessions. He was speaking against a ruinous preoccupation with them. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21).
These verses also take us one step farther, for they contain the first of the reasons given by Jesus why worldliness in regard to our possessions is foolish and detrimental to our spiritual lives. The reason is that one day all earthly possessions will perish and will be gone forever, and since that is the case, a man who has spent his life accumulating them may himself be saved, but he will have nothing to show for what should have been a lifetime of profitable service. Thus, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.… If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:12–15). This means that it is only as a man uses his possessions for spiritual ends that he is able to accumulate true treasure.
Then, too, there is another reason why a preoccupation with material things is foolish for the follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that if a man’s treasure is on earth, his heart will be on earth also, and therefore things will rule him.
There is a great illustration of this in the linguistic development of the Hebrew word mammon which occurs several verses farther on in this chapter, where it says, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 kjv). Mammon was a word for material possessions, but it had come into Hebrew from a root word meaning “to entrust,” or “to place in someone’s keeping.” Mammon therefore meant the wealth that one entrusted to another for safekeeping. At this time the word did not have any bad connotations at all, and a rabbi could say, “Let the mammon of thy neighbor be as dear to thee as thine own.” When a bad sense was meant an adjective or some other qualifying word was added. So we have the phrase “the mammon of unrighteousness” or “unrighteous mammon.”
As time passed, however, the sense of the word mammon shifted away from the passive sense of “that which is entrusted” to the active sense of “that in which a man trusts.” In this case, of course, the meaning was entirely bad, and the word mammon which was originally spelled with a small “m” came to be spelled with a capital “M” as designating a god.
This linguistic development repeats itself in the life of anyone who does not have his eyes fixed on spiritual treasures. Is that true of you? Have things become your god? Don’t forget that these things are written to Christians, and that they are therefore meant to make you ask whether the Lord God Almighty occupies the central place in your life or whether things obscure him. If you think most about your home, car, vacation, bank account, clothes, or investments, then you are building your treasure on earth; and, according to Jesus, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The third reason why Jesus Christ warns his followers about an improper concern for possessions occurs in verses 22 and 23. It has to do with our spiritual vision. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
William Barclay writes of these verses: “The idea behind this passage is one of childlike simplicity. The eye is regarded as the window by which the light gets into the whole body. The color and state of a window decide what light gets into a room. If the window is clear, clean, and undistorted, the light will come flooding into the room, and will illuminate every corner of it. If the glass of the window is colored or frosted, distorted, dirty, or obscure, the light will be hindered, and the room will not be lit up.… So then, says Jesus, the light which gets into any man’s heart and soul and being depends on the spiritual state of the eye through which it has to pass, for the eye is the window of the whole body.”
Let me ask you a question. Do you see spiritual things clearly? Or is your vision of God and his will for your life clouded by spiritual cataracts or near-sightedness brought on by an unhealthy preoccupation with things? I am convinced that this is true for many Christians, particularly those living in the midst of Western affluence. Now and then people like this complain to me that they cannot understand the Bible, or that God seems far away. Sometimes they are confused about the Christian life or about God’s will for them. Well, it is not surprising. And, what is more, it always will be this way for one who knows his way around a supermarket or a brokerage house more than he knows his way around the New Testament. Although Jesus did not direct us away from possessions themselves, he did warn us against losing our spiritual vision because of them.
There is another thought in this section, coming from the word which the King James’ translators rendered “single” and the translators of the Revised Standard Version, Phillips, and the New English Bibles rendered “sound.” It is the word haplous, related to the noun haplotēs. In some texts the words mean “simple” or “simplicity,” but there are other texts in which the only possible translation is “generosity.” The translators of the New Scofield Bible recognized this truth when they came to the twelfth chapter of Romans, verse 8, for in that verse the word “simplicity” (used in the King James Version) is changed to “liberality” so that the text now reads: “He that giveth, let him do it with liberality.” In James 1:5, we read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally.” The word occurs in this same sense at least three times in 2 Corinthians (8:2; 9:11, 13) and once in Colossians (3:22).
I believe that it is this sense of the word that is present here in Christ’s teaching. The “single eye” is the “generous eye.” And if that is the case, then Jesus is promoting a generous spirit in regard to our money. How can you tell whether riches have clouded your spiritual vision? The answer may be determined by the extent to which you are generous with the goods which you have been given.
Do not tell me that you cannot be generous this year because it is a bad year financially or because your stocks have declined. I once received a report of alumni giving to Harvard University for the fiscal year 1969–70. It was the second highest record of annual giving in the history of the university, and it occurred in a year in which the Dow Jones average dropped from a high near 1000 to below 700. No, liberality is not closely linked to affluence, unless it is an inverse relationship, and we all need to learn the secret of the Philippian Christians who out of “the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto … liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2).
God and Mammon
The final verse of our section (v. 24) deals with the mutually exclusive nature of serving God and riches. “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and money.”
Nothing could be said more clearly, or be more obvious. It should be a heart-searching question for all Christians. Ask yourself this: Can anything be more insulting to God, who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin, put us in Christ, and given us all things richly to enjoy than to take the name of our God upon us, to be called by his name, and then to demonstrate by every action and every decision of life that we actually serve money?
In discussing this verse in The Sermon on the Mount, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of a farmer who one day reported to his wife with great joy that his best cow had given birth to twin calves, one red and one white. He said, “You know, I have been led of the Lord to dedicate one of the calves to him. We will raise them together. Then when the time comes to sell them, we will keep the proceeds that come from one calf and we will give the proceeds that come from the other to the Lord’s work.”
His wife asked which calf he was going to dedicate to the Lord, but he answered that there was no need to decide that then. “We will treat them both in the same way,” he said, “and when that time comes we will sell them as I have said.”
Several months later the man entered the kitchen looking very sad and miserable. When his wife asked what was troubling him he said, “I have bad news for you. The Lord’s calf is dead.” “But,” his wife remonstrated, “you had not yet decided which was to be the Lord’s calf.” “Oh, yes” he said. “I had always determined that it was to be the white one, and it is the white calf that has died.”
It is always the Lord’s calf that dies—unless we are absolutely clear about our service to him and about the true nature of our possessions. Who owns your possessions? The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that either God owns them and you serve him, or else your possessions own you, and you serve them. In any case, no one ever really possesses them himself, although many persons think they do. May God give us each the victory that comes when our gifts, wealth, time, friends, ambitions, and talents are turned over to him and we use them to establish indestructible riches in heaven.
19 The present tense prohibition mē thēsaurizete (GK 2564) conceives of the “storing up” as a process, a practice that must be stopped (similarly at v. 25).
The love of wealth is a great evil (1 Ti 6:10), calling forth frequent warnings. For heirs of the kingdom to hoard riches in the last days (Jas 5:2–3) is particularly shortsighted. Yet, as with many of Jesus’ prohibitions in this sermon, it would be foolhardy so to absolutize this one that wealth itself becomes an evil (see Lk 14:12; Jn 4:21; 1 Pe 3:3–4 for other statements that cannot properly be absolutized). Elsewhere the Scriptures require a man to provide for his relatives (1 Ti 5:8), commend work and provision for the future (Pr 6:6–8), and encourage us to enjoy the good things the Creator has given us (1 Ti 4:3–4; 6:17). Jesus is concerned about selfishness in misplaced values. His disciples must not lay up treasure for themselves; they must honestly ask where their heart is (vv. 20–21).
This verse does not prohibit “being provident (making sensible provision for the future) but being covetous (like misers who hoard and materialists who always want more)” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 155). But it is folly to put oneself in the former category while acting and thinking in the latter (cf. France, “God and Mammon”).
The “treasures on earth” might be clothing that could be attacked by moths. Fashions changed little, and garments could be passed on. They could also deteriorate. “Rust” (brōsis, GK 1111) refers not only to the corrosion of metals but to the destruction effected by rats, mildew, and the like. Older commentaries often picture a farm being devoured by mice and other vermin. Less corruptible treasures could be stolen. Thieves could “break in [dioryssousin, “dig through,” referring to the mud brick walls of most first-century Palestinian homes] and steal.”
Treasure in Heaven (6:19–24)
19 Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and vermin ruin2 them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Rather store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moths nor vermin can ruin them, and no thieves break in and steal them. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.
22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be illuminated; 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in the dark. So if the light which is in you is darkness, how great that darkness is!
24 No one can be the slave of two owners; either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will take the side of7 one and have no regard for the other. You cannot be slaves of both God and wealth.
There is a clear continuity of thought between the idea of a secret, heavenly reward in vv. 1–6, 16–18 and the subject of treasure in heaven which opens this section of the discourse with its focus on the disciple’s attitude to material security. The theme of a heavenly reward for those who are disadvantaged on earth also recalls 5:3–12.
Three separate sayings (on treasure, the eye, and slavery), which have parallels respectively in Luke 12:33–34; 11:34–35; 16:13, are here grouped together probably on the basis that all contribute in different ways (vv. 22–23 rather obliquely, as we shall see) to an understanding of the disciples’ attitude to material possessions, a theme which will then be taken up in the more unified section of teaching which forms the rest of ch. 6, and to which this short collection thus provides an introduction. The separate origin of the sayings in vv. 19–24 is indicated by the alternation between plural and singular second-person pronouns (see n. 4). The thought which connects them is of single-mindedness, which comes to the surface in the subtle word-play on haplous, “single, sound,” in v. 22. Disciples, as subjects of God’s kingship, are totally committed to his service, and must allow no other concerns to distract them from this prior aim (see 6:33).
The relationship between discipleship and wealth or possessions is a recurrent theme in the gospels, particularly in Luke, who has included three substantial sections of material (most of it found only in his gospel) on issues relating to affluence and the affluent (Luke 12:13–34; 14:1–33; 16:1–31). In Matthew, in addition to the present section of the discourse on discipleship (6:19–34), the issue will recur in 19:16–30, in a section shared with the other synoptic evangelists, while other sayings will raise it more briefly (5:42; 6:2–4; 8:20; 10:8–11; 13:22; 26:6–11), and several parables and other teaching units can also be applied specifically to one’s attitude to possessions (7:7–11; 13:44–46; 25:14–30, 31–46). Recurrent themes are the expectation that disciples will not be among the affluent, the priority of spiritual allegiance to material security, the assurance of God’s care for his people’s material needs and the call for uncalculating generosity.
A cue for the inclusion of this topic at this point in the discourse may be found in the petition of v. 11, where “bread” may appropriately be taken to represent all the material needs which disciples are expected to commit to their heavenly Father. When that prayer has been sincerely prayed, the disciple is set free from material anxiety and can instead concentrate on the kingship and righteousness of God (6:33) which are the prayer’s primary focus. “Treasures on earth” and the demands of “mammon” are thus put into their proper place.
19–20 The instruction “Do not store up for yourselves” might better be rendered “Stop storing up for yourselves”; this is a call to reorientation away from one type of acquisition to another. In a culture where banking was embryonic and little used or trusted (see 25:25–27), “treasures” were normally kept in goods or hard currency in the home or in a supposedly safe place; see 13:52 for the former and 13:44; 25:25 for the latter. They were thus liable to physical deterioration (see p. 256, n. 1 for the nature of the damage)11 or theft, and the insecurity of material goods is a recurrent theme of the wisdom writers (Prov 23:4–5; 27:24; Eccles 5:13–17; cf. Jer 17:11); for the role of the “moth” in this cf. Ps 39:11; Job 13:28. Equally obviously, however carefully it may be preserved, material wealth is of no use beyond this life on earth (Ps 39:6; 49:16–19; Eccles 2:20–26; this is the point of the parable in Luke 12:16–21). In place of such dubious acquisitions, “treasures in heaven” are a much more desirable alternative; cf. Isa 33:1–6 where the stable “treasure” of the fear of the Lord is contrasted with the short-lived triumph of Zion’s enemies. The nature of these heavenly treasures is not spelled out here, but later in the gospel we shall hear of “inheriting eternal life” as the compensation for loss of earthly advantages (19:27–29; cf. 16:25–26), of “entering the master’s joy” (25:21, 23) and of “inheriting the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:34), which is further identified as “eternal life” (25:46). “Heaven” can of course serve as a surrogate for the name of God (as in “the kingdom of heaven” and e.g. in 21:25), so that “treasures in heaven” might be taken to mean “treasures with God” rather than referring specifically to a future life, but here the direct contrast with “on earth” and the sense of provision for the future implied in “store up for yourselves” strongly suggest an other-worldly focus. Cf. the similar metaphor of 1 Tim 6:19.
The verb “store up for yourselves” (literally “make a treasure for yourselves”) might suggest that these heavenly treasures are to be earned by the disciples’ own efforts, and the frequent language of “reward” in this gospel easily conveys the same impression (see above on 5:12, and compare the “reward” language of 6:1–6, 16–18); in 19:21 it is by giving to the poor that “a treasure in heaven” is to be secured; in 19:29 eternal life is spoken of as compensation for earthly losses, and in 25:21, 23, 34, 46 the heavenly rewards are directly linked to the disciples’ use of earthly opportunities. But while the theme of reward is important in this gospel, we must remind ourselves again that in the parable which most directly addresses the issue (20:1–15) there is a deliberate discrepancy between the effort expended and the recompense received: God does not leave anyone unfairly treated, but his grace is not limited to human deserving. In a kingdom in which the first are last and the last first (19:30; 20:16) there is no room for computing one’s “treasures in heaven” on the basis of earthly effort. Those treasures are “stored up” not by performing meritorious acts (and certainly not only by alms-giving) but by belonging to and living by the priorities of the kingdom of heaven.
The focus of this saying is on priorities: heaven rather than earth (for these two contrasting spheres cf. 6:10; 16:19; 18:18; 23:9). It is going beyond the intention of the saying to use it as a basis for ruling out all material possessions and all provisions for the (earthly) future on the part of disciples. For a positive valuation of material possessions if properly used see for example, 1 Tim 4:3–5; 5:8; 6:18; the itinerant and dependent lifestyle of Jesus and his disciples depended on the support of those who had not divested themselves of all their possessions (Luke 8:3; 10:38–42; John 12:1–2 etc.).
21 The singular “you”s and singular “treasure” of this verse suggest a separate origin from vv. 19–20, but the content of the verse could hardly be more appropriate to round off their message: each disciple’s priorities will be determined by his or her comparative valuation of earthly and heavenly benefits. The sequence might suggest that the orientation of the “heart” follows from the determination of where the treasure is to be, but that is to be pedantic; the valuing of the treasure both follows from and reveals the orientation of the heart. For the “heart” as a term for what is of central importance in a person, what constitutes their true character, cf. 5:8; 11:29, and especially 12:34; 15:18–19; 22:37. For the unhelpful effect of wealth on the “heart” cf. Deut 8:17; 17:17.
22–23 The singular address continues in this enigmatic saying, which has a parallel, differently developed, in Luke 11:34–36. The imagery of treasure gives way to that of light as another way of speaking of a healthy orientation in the disciple’s life, but the metaphor of light is complicated by its linkage with the function of the eye as “lamp of the body,” and a further nuance is added by the adjectives which I have rendered “sound” and “bad”, which allow a play on the usage of the Greek words to introduce the further theme of generosity and meanness. It is this last element in the saying which best explains its inclusion in this context dealing with the disciples’ attitude to material possessions.
The use of light and darkness as imagery for spiritual health or failure is familiar from e.g. John 3:19–21; 8:12; 11:9–10; 12:35–36, and cf. “sons of light” in Luke 16:8. In Matthew the disciples have been described as themselves a light to others (5:14, 16), but this is the only place in this gospel where the metaphor is used in the “Johannine” sense.
But while the imagery of light may be familiar and easily understood, that of the eye as “the lamp of the body” is not so obvious. In the OT and later Jewish writings we hear of the “light of the eyes” as a mark of happiness, of eyes being enlightened or darkened as a mark of vigor or decline,17 and of light shining from the eyes, which may then be compared with torches or lamps. Ancient writings contain a variety of ideas about how the eye functions,19 but modern commentators have not been able to agree on how the image works here in relation to the body. A common view that the eye is the “window” through which light enters the body suggests the surprising notion that light is needed inside the body. Or the idea might be that our awareness of light around us comes through the eye, but “lamp” is not the most obvious way to say that. The lamp metaphor more naturally suggests the function of the eye in providing the light which shows the body the way to go,22 but the following adjectives appear to indicate that it is the body itself, not its surroundings, which is either “illuminated” or “in the dark” depending on how well the eye functions—cf. the final comment on “the light which is in you” being darkness. Perhaps we can be no more definite than to say that the imagery depends on light being necessary for the proper functioning of the body (person) and that this light is in some way dependent on the condition of the eye.
To convey this sense we might expect an adjective meaning “healthy,” but that is not in itself a normal meaning of haplous, “single,” and the choice of this term suggests that something more is being said about what makes an eye “healthy.” One obvious sense would be “single-minded”, “undistracted,” and this would fit admirably with the emphasis on spiritual priorities already expressed in vv. 19–21 and soon to be given memorable epigrammatic form in v. 24 as well as an extended exposition in vv. 25–33. But ponēros, “bad,” is not a natural opposite to haplous in that sense. There is, however, another probable sense of haplous which does provide a natural opposite to ponēros: the meaning “generous” is suggested by the use of the derivative noun haplotēs for “generosity” in e.g. Rom 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13, and the adverb haplōs in Jas 1:5 for God’s giving “generously” (cf. LXX 1 Chron 29:17; Prov 11:25). If generosity is to be understood as the outworking of the “simplicity,” “openness” denoted by haplous, this would form a direct counterpart to the phrase ophthalmos ponēros, “bad eye,” which is used for a jealous stinginess in 20:15. In view of the recognized meaning of the “bad eye” to denote selfish greed or meanness, it seems likely that this saying is meant to indicate that one indication of a person’s spiritual health is their generosity or lack of it in the use of their material possessions.27
So this rather obscure little saying seems to be using a word-play which the English translator cannot reproduce without extensive paraphrase in order to commend either single-mindedness (in pursuing the values of the kingdom of heaven) or generosity, or more likely both, as a key to the effective life of a disciple. The final comment then underlines how spiritually disoriented is a life which is not governed by those principles, but rather aims to amass and hold on to “treasure on earth”.
24 The connection of this saying to vv. 22–23 is perhaps to be found in the idea of “single-mindedness” suggested by the adjective haplous in v. 22; v. 24 portrays the sort of “double-mindedness” which spells spiritual disaster. The traditional translation “No one can serve two masters” is patently untrue; we do it all the time, whether by combining part-time jobs or by “moon-lighting.” But a slave was not employed under contract, but was normally wholly owned by the person who had bought him or her (though see Acts 16:16 for the possibility of joint ownership). It is that total commitment which Jesus uses to illustrate the demands of God’s kingship and to show the impossibility of combining those demands with the pursuit of “mammon.”
Milton’s use of “Mammon” as the name of a fallen angel takes to the extreme this personification of wealth as a master making claims to rival those of God. But it is here merely a literary personification; there is no evidence that anyone in the ancient world thought of an actual being called “Mammon.” Nor is the term in itself pejorative, as may be seen from the use of māmôn in the targums of Deut 6:5 (“love the Lord your God with … all your māmôn”) and Prov 3:9 (“honor the Lord with your māmôn”); in Gen 34:23 it represents the Hebrew for “livestock,” the principal “wealth” of the Shechemites. When wealth is referred to pejoratively māmôn is commonly qualified by dišeqar, “of falsehood” (cf. “the mammon of unrighteousness,” Luke 16:9, 11; 1 En. 63:10), though sometimes the word alone is shown by the context to carry a pejorative connotation. The term is not used in OT Hebrew; in the Hebrew of Qumran and of the Mishnah māmôn denotes money or property without any pejorative connotation;32 in m. Sanh. 1:1 dînê māmônôt is a technical term for legal cases concerning property.
Jesus’ warning here is thus not specifically against ill-gotten wealth, but about possessions as such which, however neutral their character, can become a focus of concern and greed which competes for the disciples’ loyalty with God himself. The principle of materialism is in inevitable conflict with the kingship of God.34
God or Mammon
No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money. (Matt. 6:24)
For some years, the arbiters of taste have informed the culture that conspicuous consumption is out of favor, that the wealthy ought to be fairly discreet in their displays of wealth and in their talk about it. During the 1980s, American culture went through a different period. The stock market rocketed upward in value. The media celebrated wealth. In a major movie, the star delivered a pivotal speech with the theme “Greed is good.” People spoke about their desire for money with remarkable candor. One poll asked people what they would do for a million dollars. Forty-two percent said they would be willing to spend time in jail, never see their best friend again, move permanently to a foreign country, or throw their pet off a cliff. When people wanted to inquire about another person’s wealth, they asked, “How much is he worth?”—as if his worth and his net assets were the same.
This awe of wealth was widespread. When Philippine kleptocrat-dictator Ferdinand Marcos fell in 1987, the Filipinos discovered that his palace was filled with the plunder of a nation, valued at billions of dollars. Throngs of Filipinos descended on the palace, but they did not burn or pillage. No, they filed past his fabulous possessions, not with indignant shouts, but with hushed silence. Although Marcos had amassed his fortune at their expense, the people remained in awe of the wealth.
Jesus taught more about wealth than about any other social issue—more than marriage, politics, work, sex, or power. His teaching about money stands in a discussion of discipleship and loyalty to God. Few people set out to live for wealth. No one wants to serve wealth; we want wealth to serve us! Yet the love of money can gradually take control of our hearts. This is the danger, the false god, that Jesus addresses.
Treasures on Earth
Jesus begins with two simple commands: Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth. Do store up treasures in heaven. Next, he offers two reasons not to store up treasures on earth: There moth and rust destroy (two evil agents do one evil thing). There thieves break in and steal (one evil agent does two evil things).
Jesus forbids the hoarding of treasure, whether the hoarding is for selfish indulgence today or for the future. He forbids the forms that hoarding took in antiquity: valuable clothes, which moths might eat, and precious metals, which might corrode. If he spoke today, he would address our houses, cars, furnishings, and retirement plans.
Jesus mentions two kinds of loss. First, we suffer the passive harm of rust, moths, and decay. Things fall apart. Entropy is relentless. Wood rots, threads fray, metal rusts, and inflation erodes savings. There is a worm, one millimeter in length, with a fourteen-day life span. Researchers have determined that necrosis sets in after eleven or twelve days, and the worm begins to get flabby. Worms, like everything else, fall apart.
Second, we suffer active harm. Jesus says thieves break in and steal. Thievery represents all violent acts that destroy property: wars, fires, floods, and all the rest. Burglar alarms, rust-proof paint, and hedge funds can slow the decay of wealth, but they cannot stop it. Money flies from our hands. Even if it grows in this life, it leaves us when we die. Solomon said, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and … so he departs” (Eccl. 5:15). Therefore, we should store up treasures in heaven, where they are safe, guarded by the God who also guards us.
Jesus does not ban savings or financial planning or ownership of property. Indeed, the Bible praises those who work and prepare for winter, for the lean season (Gen. 41; Prov. 6:6–10). Parents should save for their children (2 Cor. 12:14). The Bible expects us to use God’s good creation joyfully. God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17).
But Jesus does ban the godless, selfish accumulation of goods—heaping up possessions and savings beyond the ability to enjoy or spend them. James warns those who live in luxury and self-indulgence, “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter”—that is, judgment day (James 5:5). The same godlessness that leads to hoarding also leads to a hard heart—to neglect of the needy and exploitation of the poor (James 5:4–6).
Jesus also forbids the dream that life consists in the abundance of our possessions (Luke 12:15). He warns us not to tether our hearts to this world. When Jesus says, “Don’t lay up treasures,” he does not forbid joyful living or financial planning. He does forbid greed and love of money and selfish luxury.
Some people are confused by this. They ask, “How do I enjoy this world without loving it? How do I enjoy wealth without living for it?” Jesus says, “Store up treasures in heaven.” The New Testament stresses that we store up treasures in heaven by giving generously of them on earth. If we live in covenant faithfulness, in loyalty to the Lord, we will be Christlike and give sacrificially. The Bible says:
- “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice” (Ps. 112:5).
- “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25).
- “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Prov. 22:9).
- The rich should “be rich in good deeds, … generous and willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).
- “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Give “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6–7).
Because God is generous and full of grace, we must be generous (2 Cor. 9:8). The motivation is not duty or compulsion, but joy in God’s gifts. God gives liberally and provides for us daily. Our generosity keeps the cycle going. That does not mean that if we give money away, we will automatically receive yet more in return (no matter what certain advocates of the prosperity gospel say). But liberality is part of the blessed life. God makes us “rich in every way,” so that we “can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:11). By our generosity, we lay up treasures in heaven. When we give our money to God’s causes, we show where our heart is.
Treasures in Heaven
Jesus says that we ought to store up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth. The reasons, he says, are the positive counterparts of the reasons not to store up treasures on earth. Moth and rust do not destroy there, and thieves do not break in and steal. Heaven is the safest place to store our treasures. Our treasures are safe there, and we are safer when we put them there, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). If we place our treasure in heaven, our heart will follow and be as safe as the treasure.
We lay up treasures in heaven by investing in God’s causes and God’s people. The effects of such investments last forever. We store treasures in heaven by worshiping God, growing in knowledge and grace, and growing in love for God and neighbor. Financially, we store treasures in heaven by using money for kingdom causes, by giving money to the church, to missions, to Christian schools, to the poor. When we store treasures in heaven by investing our money in God’s people, our investment will bear dividends for eternity. The Greek roots of the word “philanthropy”—meaning “love” and “mankind”—are apt. By giving, we demonstrate our love for mankind.
The value of stocks and real estate rolls up and down. The only truly safe investment is in the kingdom and the people of God. People live forever. If we put our effort into accumulating this world’s treasures, the heart probably will not be satisfied. Some years ago I gave a talk on money at a men’s retreat. A friendly, well-dressed fellow in his early forties approached me afterward. His career had gone very well, he told me without pride. “In fact,” he added, with a wry grin, “I find that I am making twice as much money as I ever dreamed possible. But somehow it still isn’t enough.”
It is unusual to earn twice as much money as one could dream possible, but it is not unusual to confess, “It still isn’t enough.” Solomon said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.… Yet when I surveyed all that … I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless” (Eccl. 2:10–11). Cooks like to say that hunger is the best seasoning. If so, then a simple hamburger tastes better to a hungry man than a gourmet meal tastes to a well-fed man. As Solomon says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough” (Eccl. 5:10). But if wealth never satisfies us, how can it become a god? Jesus explores that in the next verses. There he shifts from the question “Where shall we put our treasure?” to “Where shall we fix our eyes?”
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus addresses the inner attitude, the heart. In verses 22–23, he speaks of the eye when he says, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” It might seem that Jesus is changing subject, as he shifts from the heart that desires to the eyes that see. But the terms “heart” and “eyes” can both refer to the inner person that sets life’s direction. Notice how the words “heart” and “eyes” are almost interchangeable in Psalm 119:
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands. (v. 10)
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law. (v. 18)
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain. (v. 36)
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word. (v. 37)
The Bible says the issues of life proceed from the heart. Here Jesus says the body finds its direction, for good or ill, through the eyes. A person with good sight walks in the light. A healthy eye gives direction to all of life. The eye affects the whole body, just as the heart directs all of life. Ambition to serve God throws light on everything. Ambition to serve oneself plunges all into darkness. It creates pride, makes us self-indulgent, and crushes charity.
Where We Set Our Heart
Jesus urges us to examine our eyes: “If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:23). Greed flows from a greedy heart. If we see someone hoarding wealth, living for wealth, Jesus wants us to focus our attention on his heart. If the eye sees little but material wealth, why so? Because the eyes are dark, because the heart is set on this earth.
We expect unbelievers to live for money. Atheists cannot store treasures in heaven. If there is no God and no heaven, why store wealth there? It would be absurd. Secular people inevitably store their treasures on earth. How could it be otherwise? They cannot trust God to protect or reward them when they deny his existence. Unbelief destroys the capacity to heed this command. Secular people believe that they must provide for themselves, for no one else will. If there is no personal God, no Father in heaven, hoarding is perfectly sensible. Who wants to run out of money in their one and only life?
This passage is diagnostic. If a man cannot tear his eyes away from money, if he lives for wealth, it is because his eye and heart are corrupt. If the eye is dark, there is no hope, unless God grants renewal. No one can do what is right unless he can see what is right. Therefore, Jesus’ message is not “Try harder,” but “Examine yourself.” So if you fail to follow Jesus, if you hoard and do not give, examine yourself! You cannot do what is right without the ability to see it. On the other hand, if you know that you belong to Jesus, and yet you act as if you live for money, that is neither your true heritage nor your true self. You know better. God has set your heart on better things. You will find peace and rest when your heart goes where it belongs. Yet there is another side of the issue.…
In the original Greek of Matthew 6:22–23, there is a deliberate ambiguity. A literal translation of Jesus’ words brings out the issue: “The light of the body is the eye. If, therefore, your eye is good [or ‘sound’], your whole body will be light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be darkness.”
The words for “good” and “evil” can both have different meanings that make sense here. The word translated “good” is haplous. Its most basic meaning is “whole” or “healthy,” and it can also mean “clear” or “simple” or “generous” (see 2 Cor. 8:2; 9:13; James 1:5). The meanings “simple” and “generous” overlap: the generous person gives simply, not expecting any favor in return. The word translated “evil” is ponēros. It can mean “sick, in bad condition,” or “evil, wicked,” or “jealous, envious.” Jesus has chosen words that might merely describe an eye that is healthy or unhealthy. But he has also chosen words that apply to attitudes toward wealth—generosity or jealousy.
So we could translate 6:22–23 two ways. First, if your eye is “healthy,” or if your eye is “generous,” then the whole body will be full of light. Second, if your eye is bad, or if your eye is “evil” or “jealous,” then your whole body will be full of darkness. In first-century Palestine, as in many cultures, the “evil eye” was the jealous or covetous eye, the grudging spirit, that looks with envy on the possessions of others. Thus, Jesus warns against the jealous eye while inviting us to hear him in two ways:
Where We Fix Our Eyes
First, Jesus poses a diagnostic question: if your eye is perpetually set on riches, ask yourself, “Why am I fixated on material things?” The answer is, “Because you have given your heart to material things.” It is right, therefore, to repent and ask God to redirect your heart toward him.
Second, Jesus warns us about the danger of jealousy or envy. He commands, “Do not set your eye upon material treasures or upon the riches of others.” It is a sin and can corrupt your heart.
The first point is surely the central one. If we find that our eyes are fixed on wealth, we must examine ourselves. Some people focus their lives on wealth because money is their god. But others love God and have fallen into bad habits. We spend too much time looking at the wrong things. We spend too much time in the mall or poring over mail-order catalogues. We behold costly homes, cars, furniture, and clothes.
To be practical, when an advertisement directs a man to “picture yourself behind the wheel” of the latest, greatest car or truck, or hybrid vehicle, he should not so picture himself. When a magazine directs a woman to consider a kitchen renovation, she should not begin to plot out every purchase. Remember, the Bible says that we should flee temptation. Therefore, we should not stir up envy by eyeing our friends’ cars or fabrics or vacations. Let us be careful where we set our eyes. Let us be careful with advertisements and with visits to our more prosperous friends. It is one thing to admire a beautiful home, another to envy it.
In Christ, we have a good, clear, generous eye. The child of God, renewed by the Spirit, has no divided loyalties and no ulterior motives. We seek our neighbor’s good, not his goods. When Jesus commends the clear eye, he urges disciples to live out their true identity. One way to do that is to set our eyes on the right things. The discipline of the eye reflects a heart that is set on the kingdom.
There are two lessons here. First, if you cannot take your eyes and heart off material things, if you live only for this world and its satisfactions, you must ask, “How is my heart?” Second, by setting your eyes in the wrong place, on the possessions of others, on graphic displays of affluence, you can harm your soul. Rather, let us be content with what we have.
Gordon Dahl once said, “We worship our work. We work at our play. And we play at our worship.” Of course, if we worship our work, we will serve it, heart and soul. Using a Hebrew poetic form (chiasm), Jesus states this as a choice in Matthew 6:24:
No one can serve two masters.
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 both God and Money.
Many people doubt this statement. The antithesis—God versus money (traditionally translated “mammon”)—seems inappropriate. They wonder why God and prosperity cannot coexist. Why must they choose between God and money?
To be sure, some people try to serve two masters. They honor God on Sunday (if convenient), serve mammon from Monday to Friday, and reserve Saturday for themselves. But this mind-set regards faith as a hobby, like gardening. One can certainly have a job and a hobby or two. Or they view God as an employer, not a master. Surely a man can work for two employers, schedule permitting. But no one can belong to two masters. No slave can be the property of two owners, “for single ownership and full-time service are of the essence of slavery.” By definition, a master can demand service at any time. Therefore, we cannot serve two masters.
This is suggested by the name Jesus chooses for money. The term “mammon,” means “trusted thing” or “that which one trusts.” The name is apt, for we are prone to trust money. Remember the prayer, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.… Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ ” (Prov. 30:8–9; cf. Hos. 13:6). Jeremiah commands, “Let not … the rich man boast of his riches” (Jer. 9:23). Ezekiel says, “Because of your wealth your heart has grown proud” (Ezek. 28:5). Job says a man can speak to gold and say, “You are my security” (Job 31:24). It is all too easy to set the heart on riches (Ps. 62:10).
Living for Money
Money is not the kind of god that demands exclusive loyalty or direct worship; no prostration is necessary. Money is a god in a polytheistic land. It just wants a spot in the pantheon; a few other demigods can reside there too: status, power, pleasure. It is satisfied with casual worship and a few holy days.
Few people openly live for money, but I did encounter one while in grad school. Hoping to locate a summer job that paid enough to cover the next year’s tuition, I searched for unpalatable seasonal work and decided to try pest extermination. I got an interview with a young, energetic owner. He shook my hand, sat me down, and asked, “What is your purpose in life?” Momentarily speechless at this opportunity to share my faith, I quickly launched into an explanation of a Christian’s purpose in life. A minute later, the exterminator interrupted, “Listen,” he lectured, “my purpose in life is to make money, and I want to know if you want to make money.” At one level, I understood perfectly. After all, no one starts a pest-control business in inner-city Philadelphia to meet interesting people and visit interesting places. But his bluntness was exceptional. Not many declare, “I live for mammon.” Most people prefer to mask their allegiance. They live for mammon, but they say, “I look at my house as an investment” and “I only want to provide the best for my family.” It is no sin to produce or gain wealth by honest means, for God created the world with the capacity for wealth creation. The problem is making wealth a god, and serving it with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Jesus presents a choice between two ways of life. Will we store treasure on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be light or dark? Will we serve God or mammon? This question speaks equally to the rich and the poor, for both can look to wealth for security. Everyone is susceptible to greed. Anyone can think that he would be happy if he had just a little more.
This is why Jesus calls money a rival god. People trust in their trust funds. They find security in their securities. They expect wealth to grant them the blessed life. Some even give money a divine name—“the Almighty Dollar.” But like every false deity, money disappoints its worshipers. One day its devotees awaken and say, “I have it all, but it isn’t enough. I still don’t know the meaning of life.”
Living for the Lord
To be a Christian is to turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). In Matthew 6, Jesus names two great idols that threaten to separate us from God. When he taught about praying, giving, and fasting to impress people, he named reputation and status as rival gods. We cannot serve God and status. It is hypocrisy (6:1–6, 16–18).
Here Jesus labels another choice. God and mammon offer alternative ways of life, and they battle for our loyalty. Jesus forces a choice: Will we store up treasures on earth or in heaven? Will our eyes be generous or envious? Will we serve God or mammon? We know whom the Lord wants us to serve. He has told us where the lasting treasure lies. But, for the moment, he presents a choice, not a command: You can store up treasures on earth or in heaven, but not both. You can serve God or mammon, but not both.
Certain traits identify those who live for mammon. Some save and save, for they feel secure only when they have a hoard of wealth. Others spend and spend, because they believe money, well spent, can gain them the good life, a life of peace and pleasure. They give away very little—perhaps 1 to 4 percent of their income—just enough to avoid feeling guilty about their greed.
Another set of traits marks those who live for God. They like to give money away, and like it better if no one notices. They are generous with their skills, giving them away (as volunteers) when appropriate, instead of charging for everything. They give the basic tithe and more, if possible.
Not many, even among the noblest disciples, can entirely avoid the love of money. What shall we say when we detect service to mammon in ourselves? The same self-examination that reveals a disciple’s sin also reveals deeper truths. Every believer knows and is known, loves and is loved, by God.
Money also seeks our love. It attempts to bind us to itself with promises of wealth. But wealth is an elusive lover; the object of affection slips just out of reach. As Hosea says, “She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.” Devotees of mammon forget that God provides our grain, wine, and oil (Hos. 2:7–8).
The prosperity gospel does us no favors in our battle with mammon. But even the apparently innocuous interest in stewardship can be problematic. The concept of stewardship is sound, but it can lead us to think of ourselves as “the one to whom God (wisely) entrusted his wealth” and the ones entrusted to administer it.
To love God rather than wealth, we must trust him, rather than worrying. We must not hoard, and must instead give freely to the church and to the poor. By giving, we show that our heart is fixed on the Lord, not on a corruptible cache here on earth (Luke 12:33). Consider the heart issue this way: If an agent dragged you into court and accused you of loving Jesus, could your checkbook and credit cards be summoned as evidence against you? If auditors examined your finances, would they find proof of your love of God? If our vacation and restaurant bills exceed our giving, what might that signify?
To give our heart to God means to trust him to provide for our needs. We can scan a dark future and worry, or we can consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and become calm, because God cares for us much more (Matt. 6:25–32). If we love God rather than mammon, it will show in each sphere of life—in our heart, mind, and strength.
Mind, Strength, Heart … and Money
To love God with our minds, we first strive to think God’s thoughts about wealth. The Bible says, “Everything God created is good, and … to be … received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4–5). Yet Christians should never be engrossed in money (1 Cor. 7:31–35). We should believe that riches are a good servant, but a bad master, and that there is profit in learning contentment whether with a little or with much (Phil. 4:11–12; 1 Tim. 6:6).
To love God with the mind is, second, to accept his laws about money. Mammon tries to establish its own laws, of course. When it supplants God, it reduces everything to buying and selling, value and profit. Money says people can be bought and sold as slaves (Rev. 18:13). We still say, “Everyone has his price.” Even Jesus had a price tag: thirty pieces of silver. We give our mind to God when we know and live by his laws for wealth. We use it to meet basic needs: “If we have food and covering, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:8). We give generously because God said that “those who are rich in this world … [should] be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:17–18).
To love God with the mind means, third, to speak about money in ways that reiterate his truth. For example, we should not start to make our financial decisions with “Can we afford it?” Instead, we should ask, “Does this glorify God? Does it make me a better servant?” Parents must especially take care not to answer their children’s petitions for toys and games simply by declaring, “We can’t afford it.” Those four words end the conversation very effectively at some ages and keep parents from seeming insensitive. But the subliminal message is, “The adults don’t make the decisions in this family, money does.” When we make decisions, we should let God and his law have the final word, not money. Wealth makes a useful servant, but a poor master.
We serve God with our strength by refusing to select a career designed strictly to make us rich (James 4:1–4; 1 Tim. 6:6–10). We love God with our strength, first, by laboring to supply our needs (2 Thess. 3:6–10). Second, we accept only those jobs that are constructive and lawful. No Christian should be a professional gambler, for example. Third, we should do good to all in our work, by offering them something of value.
Christians, by nature, love God more than money. We have committed our hearts to the Lord by entering into his covenant. The challenge comes in the realm of diligence and consistency. We can lose sight of the antithesis between God and money. We can drift, a little bit at a time, toward loving and serving money. We can lose our discernment and our clarity and make one decision, and then another, on the basis of money and possessions. Let us pray, therefore, that the Lord keeps our eyes clear, that he fills us with his light and truth and love. May he finish the good work that he has begun in us.
Earthly treasures (6:19)
‘Do not store up [Mē thēsaurizete] for yourselves [hymin] treasures [thēsaurous] on earth,’ says Jesus. The verse opens with a present imperative of prohibition. The tense here denotes customary or habitual practice, which is accentuated by the cognate accusative thēsaurous. Jesus commands disciples to avoid or to discontinue the practice. The dative plural pronoun hymin here has a reflexive force. Jesus is obviously not denigrating the earth itself or its produce, nor telling his disciples to stop providing for their and their families’ material needs: see the comments on Matthew 6:11.
Beyond verses 19–20, thēsaurizō occurs only once in the gospels (Luke 12:21), a text that is doubly instructive. In the first place, not only is this rich man in the habit of storing up goods on earth. As they increase, his desire to hoard them intensifies (Matt. 6:16–19); that is, the greater one’s earthly treasures, the graver the danger of being enslaved and consumed by them. Secondly, this is a man ‘who lays up treasures [ho thēsaurizōn] for himself [heautō] and is not rich toward God [eis theon]’ (6:21). As in Matthew 6:19, the pronoun is reflexive: ‘for himself.’ Jesus indicts the man, not because he farms (and works with the soil, i.e. ‘the earth’) or because he is wealthy but because he is selfish. Had he acknowledged his plenty to be a gift from God and therefore employed it in the service of God—for example, by helping the needy—he would have been ‘rich toward God,’ that is, a person who stored up treasures in heaven, and who received rewards from God (one of which may have been a longer life). Storing up treasures ‘on earth’ (epi tēs gēs; Matt. 6:19) is incompatible with doing God’s will ‘on earth’ (epi gēs; 6:10).
God called the rich man of that parable a ‘fool’ because he failed to take account of his own mortality. It is the vulnerability of the treasures themselves that Jesus highlights here in Matthew. Earth is a place ‘where moth [sēs] and corrosion [brōsis] destroy, and where thieves [kleptai] dig through [dioryssousin] and steal [kleptousin]’ (6:19b). (These cognate forms, the noun kleptai and the verb kleptousin, mirror those of 6:19a, the verb thēsaurizete and the noun thēsaurous.) The term brōsis basically means ‘eating,’ and here probably includes assaults of rust on metals and of pests besides moths (such as worms and rats) on garments, food and other goods; the translation ‘corrosion’ seeks to capture this dual sense. As a moth chews through a coat, or a rat through a bag, so a thief might literally dig through the sun-dried brick wall of a Palestinian dwelling. As one’s earthly treasures increase in quality and quantity, there is ever graver threat from corrosive forces and from thieves, and thus ever greater cause for owners’ fear and anxiety.
6:19–21 / The natural human tendency is to store up material possessions here on earth. Jesus advises laying up treasures in heaven, where the uncertainties of life cannot affect them. Where people put their treasure reveals where their hearts really are. Unless “moth and eating” (the niv follows Tyndale’s translation of brōsis as rust, which lacks support from the lxx) is a grammatical expression meaning “eaten by moths,” we have three ways in which earthly possessions are destroyed. In the ancient East elaborate clothing was viewed as part of a person’s treasure. Such material was easily devastated by moths. “Eating” could refer to the gnawing of mice and other vermin (McNeile, p. 84) or in a more general sense to what Weymouth calls “wear-and-tear.” Since houses were normally made of mud brick or baked clay, it was relatively easy for a thief to dig through (dioryssō; niv, break in) and steal possessions. Very little protection existed in the ancient world; this highly contrasts the security of treasures laid up in heaven.
6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. This verse provides the headline for Jesus’ teaching on allegiances, a theme that flows directly from the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. The fervent prayer for God’s kingdom to arrive leads naturally into a teaching on what one values in light of God’s imminent reign. The exhortation to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20) reflects an allegiance to the “kingdom of heaven,” Matthew’s favorite expression for God’s kingdom (4:17). The motif of treasure communicates specifically how material possessions and wealth can be powerful competition to allegiance to God. In fact, according to Jesus, it is not possible to live in service to both God and money (6:24).
The True Treasure
‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy them, and where thieves dig through and steal. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy them, and where thieves do not dig through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’
In the ordinary, everyday management of life, it is simple wisdom to acquire for oneself only those things which will last. Whether we are buying clothes, or a car, or a carpet for the ﬂoor, or furniture, it is common sense to avoid shoddy goods and to buy the things which have solidity and permanence and craftsmanship built into them. That is exactly what Jesus is saying here; he is telling us to concentrate on the things which will last.
Jesus calls up three pictures from the three great sources of wealth in Palestine.
(1) He tells people to avoid the things that the moth can destroy.
In the middle east, part of an individual’s wealth often consisted in ﬁne and elaborate clothes. When Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, wished to make some forbidden proﬁt out of Naaman, after his master had cured him, he asked him for a talent of silver and changes of clothing (2 Kings 5:22). One of the things which tempted Achan to sin was a beautiful mantle from Shinar (Joshua 7:21).
But such things were foolish things to set the heart upon, for the moths might get at them, when they were stored away, and all their beauty and their value would be destroyed. There was no permanence about possessions like that.
(2) He tells people to avoid the things that rust can destroy.
The word translated as rust is brōsis. It literally means an eating away, but it is nowhere else used to mean rust. Most likely, the picture is this. In the middle east, many individuals’ wealth consisted in the corn and the grain that was stored away in great barns. But into that corn and grain there could come worms, rats and mice, until the store was polluted and destroyed. In all probability, the reference is to the way in which those and other vermin could get into a granary and eat away the grain.
There was no permanence about possessions like that.
(3) He tells people to avoid the treasures which thieves can steal by digging through.
The word which is used for to dig through—the Revised Standard Version has break in—is diorussein. In Palestine, the walls of many of the houses were made of nothing stronger than baked clay; and burglars did effect an entry by literally digging through the wall. The reference here is to someone who has hoarded in the house a little store of gold, only to ﬁnd, on returning home one day, that burglars have dug through the ﬂimsy walls and that the treasure is gone.
There is no permanence about a treasure which is at the mercy of any enterprising thief.
So Jesus warns people against three kinds of pleasures and possessions.
(1) He warns them against the pleasures which will wear out like an old suit of clothes. The ﬁnest garment in the world, moths or no moths, will in the end disintegrate. All purely physical pleasures have a way of wearing out. At each successive enjoyment of them, the thrill becomes less thrilling. It requires more of them to produce the same effect. They are like a drug which loses its initial potency and which becomes increasingly less effective. It is foolish to look for pleasure in things which are bound to offer diminishing returns.
(2) He warns against the pleasures which can be eroded away. The grain store is the inevitable prey of the marauding rats and mice which nibble and gnaw away the grain. There are certain pleasures which inevitably lose their attraction as we grow older. It may be that we become physically less able to enjoy them; it may be that as our minds mature they cease in any sense to satisfy us. In life, we should never give our hearts to the joys the years can take away; we should ﬁnd our delight in the things whose thrill time is powerless to erode.
(3) He warns against the pleasures which can be stolen away. All material things are like that; not one of them is secure; and if people build their happiness on them, they are building on a most insecure basis. Suppose a person’s life is so arranged that happiness depends on the possession of money; suppose a recession and economic crash comes and that person wakes up to ﬁnd the money gone; then, with the wealth, happiness has also gone.
If we are wise, we will build our happiness on things which we cannot lose, things which are independent of the chances and the changes of this life.
Robert Burns wrote in ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ of the ﬂeeting things:
But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the ﬂower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white—then melts for ever.
Anyone whose happiness depends on things like that is doomed to disappointment. Anyone whose treasure is in things is bound to lose that treasure, for in things there is no permanence, and no thing lasts forever.
Treasure in Heaven
Matthew 6:19–21 (contd)
The Jews were very familiar with the phrase treasure in heaven. They identiﬁed such treasure with two things in particular.
(1) They said that the deeds of kindness which people did upon earth became their treasure in heaven.
The Jews had a famous story about a certain King Monobaz of Adiabēne who became a convert to Judaism. ‘Monobaz distributed all his treasures to the poor in the year of famine. His brothers sent to him and said, “Thy fathers gathered treasures, and added to those of their fathers, but thou hast dispersed yours and theirs.” He said to them, “My fathers gathered treasures for below, I have gathered treasures for above; they stored treasures in a place over which the hand of man can rule, but I have stored treasures in a place over which the hand of man cannot rule; my fathers collected treasures which bear no interest, I have gathered treasures which bear interest; my fathers gathered treasures of money, I have gathered treasures in souls; my fathers gathered treasures for others, I have gathered treasures for myself; my fathers gathered treasures in this world, I have gathered treasures for the world to come.” ’
Both Jesus and the Jewish Rabbis were sure that what is selﬁshly hoarded is lost, but that what is generously given away brings treasure in heaven.
That was also the principle of the Christian Church in the days to come. The early Church always lovingly cared for the poor, the sick, the distressed, the helpless and those for whom no one else cared. In the days of the terrible Decian persecution in Rome, the Roman authorities broke into a Christian church. They were out to loot the treasures which they believed the church to possess. The Roman prefect demanded from Laurentius, the deacon: ‘Show me your treasures at once.’ Laurentius pointed at the widows and orphans who were being fed, the sick who were being nursed, the poor whose needs were being supplied. ‘These’, he said, ‘are the treasures of the Church.’
The Church has always believed that ‘what we keep, we lose, and what we spend, we have’.
(2) The Jews always connected the phrase treasure in heaven with character. When Rabbi Yose ben Kisma was asked if he would dwell in a pagan city on condition of receiving very high pay for his services, he replied that he would not dwell anywhere except in a home of the law, ‘for’, he said, ‘in the hour of a man’s departure neither silver, nor gold, nor precious stones accompany him, but only his knowledge of the law, and his good works’. As the grim Spanish proverb has it, ‘There are no pockets in a shroud.’
The only thing which we can take out of this world into the world beyond is ourselves; and the ﬁner the self we bring, the greater our treasure in heaven will be.
(3) Jesus ends this section by stating that where a person’s treasure is, that person’s heart is there also. If everything that people value and set their hearts upon is on earth, then they will have no interest in any world beyond this world; if all through their lives their eyes are on eternity, then they will evaluate lightly the things of this world. If everything which people count valuable is on this earth, then they will leave this earth reluctantly and grudgingly; if their thoughts have been directed to the world beyond, they will leave this world with gladness, because they go at last to God. Once Dr Johnson was shown round a noble castle and its grounds; when he had seen round it, he turned to his companions and said: ‘These are the things which make it difﬁcult to die.’
Jesus never said that this world was unimportant; but he said and implied over and over again that its importance is not in itself, but in that to which it leads. This world is not the end of life, it is a stage on the way; and therefore we should never lose our hearts to this world and to the things of this world. Our eyes ought to be forever ﬁxed on the goal beyond.
19–24. These directions of our Lord are so very plain that they need no comment. I detain the Reader, however, just to ask the question, not to decide upon that verse: if therefore the light that is in thee he darkness, how great is that darkness? Doth not Jesus allude to that kind of head-knowledge, void of heart-influence, which devils and some men possess; whereby they have a clear apprehension of the great truths of God, but no affection towards them. Such was that of Balaam. Numb. 24:3, 4. His eyes (he saith himself) were opened, but no regeneration of heart. He knew the Lord, but felt no love towards him. The devils in the days of our Lord gave the same testimony. We know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God! Luke 4:33, 34. But Balaam, in the midst of this knowledge, hired himself out to curse the people of God. And devils remain devils with the full conviction of the Godhead of Christ, and his great salvation upon them. Reader! think what an awful state, to have an historical head-knowledge of the Lord Jesus only; void of a life-giving, soul-renewing grace, from the Spirit of Christ! And what increased sorrows will this very knowledge induce in another world?
Matthew 6:19. Lay not up. This deadly plague reigns everywhere throughout the world. Men are grown mad with an insatiable desire of gain. Christ charges them with folly, in collecting wealth with great care, and then giving up their happiness to moths and to rust, or exposing it as a prey to thieves. What is more unreasonable than to place their property, where it may perish of itself, or be carried off by men? Covetous men, indeed, take no thought of this. They lock up their riches in well-secured chests, but cannot prevent them from being exposed to thieves or to moths. They are blind and destitute of sound judgment, who give themselves so much toil and uneasiness in amassing wealth, which is liable to putrefaction, or robbery, or a thousand other accidents: particularly, when God allows us a place in heaven for laying up a treasure, and kindly invites us to enjoy riches which never perish.
Ver. 19. Treasures upon earth.—This does not discourage diligent endeavour for the body which is necessary; industry, which is one part of duty. We are not to over-value even these valuable possessions.
- Here is an exhortation to duty. 1. What are these treasures? 2. What is implied by laying up treasures in heaven? (1) By fleeing from the wrath to come, the Christian is laying up heavenly treasure. (2) By endeavouring to secure an interest in Christ. (3) By setting his affection on things above. (4) By having his conversation there.
- The encouragements to enforce the duty of laying up treasure in heaven. 1. No thieves deprive them of their property. 2. Are you trading for that better world? (Dr. Fisher.)
Treasures in heaven:—The love of accumulation is a principle in our nature; no man free from its fascination. The only true investment for an immortal being must be in eternity. Everything done for God’s grace and glory is like something planted out of this world into the soil of another state. It is a deposit which will appear again. Take an instance of the way in which Christians may lay up treasures in heaven. 1. By selecting for our friends and companions those who are children of God, so that each departing one is an actual increase of the holy treasure which is awaiting us in another state. To Christian man, death only sweeps the field to house the harvest. The treasures of his heart are only locked up from him for a little while, to be opened presently, in greater loveliness, where everything is real, and every reality is for ever. It will be our greatest joy to meet in heaven those to whom we have been useful in this life. 2. The motive of any action will carry it higher than its present and visible scope. Every man has his time, talents, influence, and money, as working materials. If he so use these that he is constantly considering their value for eternity, he is putting treasure in God’s bank. 3. It is the power of faith to appropriate everything it grasps. You send on your affection to occupy heaven; you have a present enjoyment of your reversion. You increase your treasure in heaven by continued acts of faith in Jesus Christ. 4. By thus throwing yourself into another world this life will appear an impoverishment thing. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
Earthly and heavenly treasures:—
- The treasures referred to. 1. The treasures of earth are evanescent. 2. The lawful possession of earthly treasures is no sin. 3. The text does not object to your getting rich in a righteous way.
- Lay up treasures in heaven. 1. Because its bank is strong in its independence. Banks and firms are much like ninepins with which children play; when one pin falls the others fall also. But as for the bank of heaven, it is strictly independent; it is the only bank of its kind in the universe. 2. Because the omniscience of the Banker is the very best security. Could men foresee financial disaster they would avoid it. 3. Because this bank can never be broken into. 4. It is the only bank that can help you at death. You cannot very well trade in France with English money. You must change it into French money. But no earthly bank can change its coin so as to ferry you across Jordan. 5. Bank not with evil any longer. (J. O. Davis.)
Toys must not be counted treasures:—A lady once asked two little boys who were amusing themselves with some beautiful playthings, “Well, boys, these are your treasures, I suppose-your greatest treasures.” “No, ma’am,” said the elder boy, “these are not our treasures, they are our playthings; our treasures are in heaven.” A noble answer from a child. Oh, my congregation, let us treat gold and silver and precious stones as toys, and let us treat moral goodness, spiritual beauty, righteousness of heart, Christlikeness, Godlikeness, as our only treasures worthy the name! (Ibid.)
Treasures in heaven:—Have a deposit on earth, if you must or can; but let your chief banking be in heaven. (H. W. Beecher.)
- The conduct prohibited. 1. The heart of man is the governing principle of his actions. 2. This too high estimation of the things of the world leads to an undue degree of solicitude for their acquisition, which the precept under consideration is designed to repress.
- The opposite duty which we are required to discharge. 1. The objects exhibited to our attention—“Treasures in heaven.” 2. The exhortation to secure an interest in this felicity.
III. The satisfactory reasons on which these directions are founded. 1. The uncertainty of earthly good. 2. The reality of that which is Divine. 3. And the powerful influence which our possessions have over our affections. Learn: 1. The folly of the worldly-minded man. 2. The wisdom of true piety. (J. E. Good.)
Our treasures to be raised higher:—The Rev. Ashton Oxenden quotes from an old writer an illustration of this precept. He says, “We need not lose our riches, but change their place. Suppose a friend should enter thy house, and should find that thou hadst lodged thy fruits on a damp floor; and suppose he knew the likelihood of those fruits to spoil, and should therefore give thee some such advice as this—‘Brother, thou art likely to lose the things which thou hast gathered with great labour. Thou hast placed them on a damp floor. In a few days they will corrupt.’ You would inquire, ‘What shall I do?’ And he would answer, ‘Raise them to a higher room.’ If wise, you would instantly act upon this advice. So Christ advises us to raise our riches from earth to heaven.”
No man ever went to heaven whose heart was not there before:—These words.
- As an entire proposition in themselves. 1. Every man has something which he accounts his treasure or chief good. This is apparent—(1) From the activity of man’s mind; (2) From the method of his acting. 2. Whatsoever a man places his treasure in, upon that he places his heart also. (1) A restless and laborious endeavour to possess himself of it. (2) He places his whole delight in it. (3) He supports his mind from it in all his troubles. (4) For the preservation of that he will part with all else besides.
- As an argument. Two rivals for the affections; man cannot fix on both. 1. Consider how far inferior the world is to man’s heart. Its enjoyments are (1) Indefectible; (2) Endless; (3) Not to be taken away. (Dr. South.)
6:19 “do not store up” This is literally “stop treasuring up treasures.” This same word play is also found in v. 20. This is a PRESENT IMPERATIVE with a NEGATIVE PARTICLE, which means to stop an act that is already in progress. The desire of fallen humanity is to try to provide, by means of their own resources, all that is needed for a happy life. The grammatical construction here shows that it is also a temptation for redeemed man. True happiness and success are found only in dependence on God and contentment in what He has provided (cf. Eccl. 1–2; 2:24–25; 3:12, 22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7–9; Phil. 4:11–12).
“treasures” In the ancient world wealth emanated from three sources: (1) clothing, (2) food stuffs and (3) precious metals or jewels. Each of these items may either be destroyed or stolen. Moths will attack clothing. Rust is from the root “to eat” or metaphorically “eat away” or “corrode” and was used of vermin eating food. Stealing referred to robbery of precious metals, jewels or the other two items. Basically this means that all of our worldly possessions are vulnerable. If one’s happiness depends on possessions, one could lose them at any moment. The false concept that security and happiness are found in physical things is stated in Luke 12:15.
“destroy” The term meant “to cause to disappear.”
“thieves break in and steal them” The term “break in” literally was “dig through.” Many homes of this period had mud walls. In the Greek language, the word for “robber” was from the compound term “mud digger.”
19, 20. Do not gather for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves dig through and steal. But gather for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not dig through and steal. First the negative command is issued, then the positive (cf. verses 5, 6; 7–9; 16, 17; 19, 20; 25, 26, 28; 31, 33; and 7:1, 5). How absurd (see d above), Jesus is saying, to “treasure up” for oneself perishable earthly “treasures,” and while doing this to lose the imperishable heavenly riches! Earthly treasures are vulnerable because of deterioration and defalcation.
As to the first, deterioration, the moth consumes them. Moths, skippers, and butterflies belong to the large order of insects called Lepidoptera, that is, insects with scale-covered wings. In distinction from butterflies, moths a. constitute the largest division of this order, b. are largely nocturnal, and c. have antennae that are not club-shaped. The reference here in 6:19–21 is to the tiny insect that deposits its eggs in woolens. It is in the larval stage that it feeds on the cloth until the garment, etc., becomes moth-eaten and is destroyed (Isa. 51:8; Luke 12:33; James 5:2). Rust probably indicates the corrosion of metals, their being gradually gnawed into by the action of chemicals.
In all probability, however, the terms “moth” and “rust” represent all those agencies and processes that cause earthly treasures to diminish in value and finally to cease completely to serve their purpose. Thus, bread becomes moldy (Josh. 9:5), garments wear out (Ps. 102:26), fields (particularly neglected ones) become weed-infested (Prov. 24:30), walls and fences break down (Prov. 24:31), roofs cave in so that houses begin to leak (Eccl. 10:18), and gold and silver become tarnished and perish (1 Peter 1:7, 18). Add the havoc brought about by termites, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, earthquakes, plant diseases, soil erosion, etc. The list is almost endless.
As to the second, defalcation, thieves break through and steal. Through the clay wall of the houses of which Jesus was thinking the thief rather easily digs an entrance and steals the ill-guarded treasures. Inflation, oppressive taxation which may amount to confiscation, bank failures, stock market slumps and crashes, expenses in connection with prolonged illnesses, these and many similar woes have the same effect. Besides, man’s body, including that of the strongest, gradually wears away (Ps. 32:3; 39:4–7; 90:10; 103:15, 16; Eccl. 12:1–8). When he dies, all the earthly treasures on which he had pinned his hopes vanish with him.
Completely different are “the treasures in heaven” (cf. 19:21), that is, those blessings that are reserved for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4), that are heavenly in character, but of which we experience a foretaste even now. Beginning, as is proper, with the enumeration of some of these as Jesus himself describes them, one thinks of our standing with God as being fully pardoned (Matt. 6:14), answered prayer (7:7), the enrolment of our names in heaven (Luke 10:20), the Father’s love (John 16:27), a welcome not only to the “mansions” of heaven but to the Savior’s own heart (John 14:2, 3), a full share in Christ’s own peace (John 14:27), his own joy (John 15:11), and his own victory (John 16:33), and the Holy Spirit’s permanent indwelling (John 14:16, 26; 15:26). See also all the spiritual blessings mentioned in the beatitudes (Matt. 5:1–12). Paul is thinking of these same treasures, and describes them sometimes in the same, sometimes in his own terms: our “being justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1), “answered prayer” (2 Cor. 12:8, 9), “the love of God shed abroad in our hearts” (Rom. 5:5), “the crown of righteousness” with which the Savior will welcome us (2 Tim. 4:8), “the peace of God that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7), “rejoicing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:11), “the victory” (1 Cor. 15:57), and “his Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16; cf. Rom. 8:14, 16, 26, 27). The enumerations are merely illustrative, not exhaustive.
There is a degree of difference with which spiritual (as over against material) blessings are emphasized in the New Testament as compared with the Old. With the coming of Christ heaven as it were touches the earth. See N.T.C. on Ephesians, p. 73.
That the heavenly treasures are moth-proof, rust-proof, and burglar-proof (verse 20), in other words, that they endure forever in all their sparkling luster, as the irremovable possession of the children of the heavenly Father, is the teaching of Scripture throughout, for it tells us about:
a faithfulness that will never be removed (Ps. 89:33; 138:8),
a life that will never end (John 3:16),
a spring of water that will never cease to bubble up within the one who drinks of it (John 4:14),
a gift that will never be lost (John 6:37, 39),
a hand out of which the Good Shepherd’s sheep will never be snatched (John 10:28),
a chain that will never be broken (Rom. 8:29, 30),
a love from which we shall never be separated (Rom. 8:39),
a calling that will never be revoked (Rom. 11:29),
a foundation that will never be destroyed (2 Tim. 2:19),
and an inheritance that will never fade out (1 Peter 1:4, 5).
The following questions may well be asked, however, “But if it is wrong to gather treasures on earth, does this mean, then, that making provision for future physical needs is always and absolutely wrong?” “Must all trade, commerce, and industry, carried on for the purpose, at least in part, of making a profit, be condemned?” “Are all rich people to be considered reprobates?” To all three questions the answer is, “No.” God did not condemn Joseph for advising Pharaoh to store up grain for future use (Gen. 41:33–36). Nor were Solomon and Agur wrong in pointing to the ant as an example of the common sense revealed in providing during the summer for the needs of the winter (Prov. 6:6; 30:25). Nor did Paul make a mistake when he wrote 2 Cor. 12:14b and 1 Tim. 5:8. Business and banking are encouraged, by implication, in Christ’s parables (Matt. 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–23). The rich man Abraham (Gen. 13:2) was a friend of God (Isa. 41:8; 2 Chron. 20:7; James 2:23). Rich Zachaeus (Luke 19:2) was accounted worthy to be called “a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9); and wealthy Joseph of Arimathea was a follower of the Lord (Matt. 27:57).
Nevertheless, the accumulation of wealth is fraught with spiritual danger (Matt. 19:24; Luke 12:16–21; 1 Tim. 6:10). To be sure, money can be a great blessing, if it is not an end in itself but a means to an end, namely, a. to prevent one’s own family from becoming a burden to others (1 Tim. 5:8), b. to help those who are in need (Prov. 14:21; 19:17; Acts 4:36, 37; 11:27–30; 24:17; Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 8:4, 9; Gal. 2:10; 6:10; Eph. 4:28), and c. to encourage the work of the gospel both at home and abroad (Mark 15:41; Luke 8:2, 3; Acts 16:15, 40; 1 Cor. 9:9; Phil. 4:15–17; 1 Tim. 5:17, 18), all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). However, money can also be a snare (Mark 14:11; Luke 22:5; Acts 8:18, 20).
Seek to Serve God, Not Money (6:19–24)
Supporting Idea: Jesus’ followers must be motivated by their love relationship with God.
The last half of Matthew 6 deals with wrong perspectives regarding the material realm. In a word, money. In 6:19–24 Jesus dealt with our greed, while in 6:25–34 he dealt with our anxiety over basic necessities. These two problems are actually cousins to each other, because both display a lack of trust in the Father and a lack of eternal perspective.
It is not as obvious in this portion of the sermon that Jesus was confronting the hypocritical religious leaders and contrasting them with the truly righteous kingdom servant. But in the context of the entire Sermon on the Mount (especially the theme of 5:20—exceeding the “righteousness” of the Pharisees), we may assume that such a contrast was intended. This is clear in light of the greed of the religious leaders (see 21:12–17).
There is a connection between this portion of the Sermon on the Mount and its immediate context (6:1–18). In the preceding section, Jesus contrasted the earthly reward of men’s attention with the heavenly reward from the Father. Now, beginning in 6:19, he contrasted the transience of earthly wealth with the permanence of heavenly wealth. Even the teachings on anxiety (6:25–34) climaxes with the exhortation to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (6:33) in the assurance that the fulfillment of our earthly needs will naturally follow. All of Matthew 6 seems to be saying, “Look up!” when our natural tendency is to look at the world around us (see Col. 3:1–2).
6:19–21. Verses 19 and 20 are almost exact parallels, designed for easy understanding and easy memorization. This is a critical passage. Here the king drew an ultimate contrast between on earth and in heaven. He urged his followers to forget earth and think of heaven. We must not waste our time trying to get ahead in this world. It is the same idea he expounded in 16:24–27. What does it profit a person “if he gains the whole world”? Jesus was demanding that his disciples look up and ahead—“for the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory … and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27).
Jesus was summarizing why the kingdom servant is motivated to practice righteous acts. It is not for temporary honor among men on earth, but for eternal reward before the Father in heaven. The point of this life is preparation for the world to come. The present tense verb here can best be translated, “Stop storing up treasures on earth!” But Jesus does specifically command us to store up for yourself in heaven. Moths were universally known as a destructive force (Job 4:19; Isa. 50:9; 51:8). Burglary was especially common in the day of mud-brick homes. Break is the Greek term meaning “break through.” It literally means “dig through.” There is no permanence in this world. You cannot take your treasure with you into the next world, but you can send it on ahead through kingdom-oriented stewardship.
Jesus not only saw nothing wrong with his followers working for reward; he went so far as to command it. The New Testament clearly encourages it (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:10–15; 9:24–27). Jesus’ words in the last few verses of the Bible emphasize it: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).
This concept of storing up heavenly treasure by doing good works was common in rabbinic tradition, and so it would have been easily understood by Jesus’ audience and Matthew’s readers. (New Testament passages that expand on this concept, including specific examples of behaviors that have eternal significance, include Matt. 5:12, 30, 46; 6:6, 15; 10:42; 16:24–27; 19:21, 27–29; 25:40; Luke 12:16–21; 2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 6:13–19.)
6:22–23. The conditional “if” statements of 6:22b–23a are parallel, again using the form of poetic wisdom literature.
These two verses can be confusing until we look at them in the light of the preceding and following context. We have not departed from the theme of the person’s attitude toward material wealth. Jesus spoke of a small part of the body as being very important to the body as a whole, much as James claimed that anyone who could tame his tongue could tame his whole body (Jas. 3:1–12). No muscle of the body can relax if the eye is uncomfortable. Both Jesus and James were speaking of the inner human control over one’s attitude toward wealth and one’s choice of words. These two limited aspects of human choice can have profound consequences for the entire person (the whole body, figuratively speaking).
In keeping with the figurative language, the light would be an accurate perspective on the value of material wealth, while darkness would be some warped distortion of this truth. The person with a generous eye can see clearly, and life can be guided in wisdom and safety by such light. The person with a covetous, selfish eye is walking in darkness and is bound for harm he cannot see.” Poor perspective causes stumbling.
6:24. The center of this verse is, again, a symmetrical parallel pair of statements, poetically memorable. The term Money is from the Aramaic mamon, meaning “wealth” or “property.” It is anything in which a person places confidence. Jesus carefully chose here the picture of a slave. There could be no doubt about the issue of control. No person can serve two masters.
Any compromise of allegiance in this issue reminds us of the Lord’s attitude toward those who are “lukewarm” in Revelation 3:15–16. It seems to suggest he thinks even less of those who claim to serve him, but have other loyalties, than he does of those who claim no loyalty to him at all. The terms hate and despise should be taken to mean “be less devoted to,” “disregard,” or “love less.” On the other hand, love and be devoted to would imply a higher priority commitment, not necessarily an exclusive commitment.
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