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 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).
Ver. 19.—Lay not up … but lay up (ver. 20). Lay up treasure indeed, but in the right place (cf. a still more striking case in John. 6:27); observe that in both cases it is “for yourselves.” Lightfoot (‘Hor. Hebr.,’ on ver. 1) quotes an interesting Haggada from Talm. Jer., ‘Peah,’ 15b (equivalent to Talm. Bab., ‘Baba Bathra,’ 11 a), in which “Monobazes, the king,” when blamed for giving so much to the poor, defends himself at length: “My fathers laid up their wealth on earth; I lay up mine in heaven,” etc. But our Lord here does not mean to limit his reference to almsgiving. He thinks of all that has been mentioned since ch. 5:3 (cf. Weiss) as affording means of heavenly wealth. Upon earth; upon the earth (Revised Version). Our Lord here wishes to emphasize the locality as such (ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς): in ver. 20 rather the nature and quality of the locality (ἐν οὐρανῷ). Where moth (cf. Jas. 5:2, 3; Isa. 51:8, especially LXX). Either directly or by its larvæ, whether the treasure be clothes or food. Or rust. Any power that eats, or corrodes, or wastes (βρῶσις). Doth corrupt; Revised Version, doth consume. “Corrupt” “has now a moral significance, which does not in any degree appertain to the Greek” (Humphry). Ἀφανίζει (ver. 16, note) is here used of the complete change in the appearance or even of the complete destruction caused by these slow but sure enemies of earthly wealth. And where thieves. Before, physical or non-responsible agents; here, human beings. Break through (δισρύσσουιν); “dig through” (cf. ch. 24:43; Luke 12:39; cf. Job 24:16, LXX). Where the houses are so frequently made of mud or sun-burnt bricks, this would be comparatively easy.
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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