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).
- 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 is 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.
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.
20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. They are said to do so, who, instead of entangling themselves in the snares of this world, make it their care and their business to meditate on the heavenly life. In Luke’s narrative, no mention is made of the contrast between laying up treasures on the earth and laying up treasures in heaven; and he refers to a different occasion for the command of Christ to prepare bags, which do not grow old: for he had previously said, Sell what you possess, and give alms. It is a harsh and unpleasant thing for men to strip themselves of their own wealth; and with the view of alleviating their uneasiness, he holds out a large and magnificent hope of remuneration. Those who assist their poor brethren on the earth lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, according to the saying of Solomon, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again,” (Prov. 19:17.) The command to sell possessions must not be literally interpreted, as if a Christian were not at liberty to retain any thing for himself. He only intended to show, that we must not be satisfied with bestowing on the poor what we can easily spare, but that we must not refuse to part with our estates, if their revenue does not supply the wants of the poor. His meaning is, “Let your liberality go so far as to lessen your patrimony, and dispose of your lands.”
20–21 By contrast, the treasures in heaven are forever exempt from decay and theft (cf. Lk 12:33). The words “treasures in heaven” go back to Jewish literature (m. Peʾah 1:1; T. Levi 13:5; Pss. Sol. 9:9). Here it refers to whatever is of good and eternal significance that comes out of what is done on earth. Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake, forgiving one another—all these have the promise of “reward” (see comments at 5:12; cf. 5:30, 46; 6:6, 15; 2 Co 4:17). Other deeds of kindness also store up treasure in heaven (10:42; 25:40), including willingness to share (1 Ti 6:13–19).
In the best MSS, the final aphorism (v. 21) reverts to second person singular (cf. vv. 2, 6, 17; see comments at 5:23). The point is that the things most highly treasured occupy the “heart,” the center of the personality, embracing mind, emotions, and will (cf. NIDNTT, 2:180–84), and thus the most cherished treasure subtly but infallibly controls the whole person’s direction and values. “If honor is rated the highest good, then ambition must take complete charge of a man; if money, then forthwith greed takes over the kingdom; if pleasure, then men will certainly degenerate into sheer self-indulgence” (Calvin). Conversely, those who set their minds on things above (Col 3:1–2), determining to live under kingdom norms, discover at last that their deeds follow them (Rev 14:13).
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.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 407–415). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 213–218). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Doriani, D. M. (2008). Matthew & 2. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 1, pp. 242–254). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 332–333). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 212). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 59). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.