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.
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.”
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.
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).
Naturally, if a person’s real treasure, his ultimate aim in all his striving, is something pertaining to this earth—the acquisition of money, fame, popularity, prestige, power—, then his heart, the very center of his life (Prov. 4:23), will be completely absorbed in that mundane object. All of his activities, including even the so-called religious, will be subservient to this one goal. On the other hand, if, out of sincere and humble gratitude to God, he has made God’s kingdom, that is, the joyful recognition of God’s sovereignty in his own life and in every sphere, his treasure, then there is also where his heart will be. Money, in that case, will be a help, not a hindrance. Something of this nature Jesus must have had in mind when he said, 21. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The “heart” cannot be in both of these places at the same time. It is an either-or proposition! See verse 24.
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