"Treasure in Heaven"
(Delivered Sunday, February 20, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
It often amazes me how God guides us along in what we study, and brings us to passages that are remarkably relevant to the times in which we live. People who say that the Bible isn't relevant to our times obviously haven't devoted much time to it.
Just think. What is one of the most controversial matters on the news today? Isn't it the whole matter of the Social Security system? It's been dominating the news every day for the past few weeks. Some are asking whether Social Security can be saved at all. Others are insisting that there's no real crisis, but that reforms are certainly needed. Some say the system is very necessary. Others say that the whole system was a mistake. Everyone has an opinion and a personal interest in the matter. And many people who hear all the discussion between the politicians and experts worry about what will be there for them in the future.
That's been the talk of the day for a while now. And then, in the midst of all this controversy, along we come to a brand new section in our study of Matthew's Gospel; and we encounter words from our Savior that give us a perspective on this hot topic of the day - a perspective that almost no one takes the time to consider. He doesn't answer the questions people are asking today about Social Security. Instead, He goes above and beyond it all to what really matters - not just about Social Security, but about any form of earthly treasure in which we place our trust. He talks about the condition of our hearts in it all, and gives us the wisest and best counsel we could ever receive.
He spoke to His followers and said;
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on 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 and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
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Look at that word "mammon" in verse 24. Have you ever wondered what it means? "Mammon" (more correctly spelled "mamon" from the original language) was a transliteration of a common Aramaic word. It was derived from the Hebrew word that meant "to be established" or "to be certain" ('ăman)1; and thus originally meant "to entrust"2.
"Mammon", then, speaks of the kind of earthly riches and property that we may lay up as security for our future by 'entrusting' it to another. It referred to what someone entrusted to someone else to keep for a time to come in which it would be needed - very much along the lines of what Social Security is meant to be. We who are familiar with the Bible are accustomed to thinking of the word "mammon" in a negative way; but it was not originally understood negatively. In fact, an ancient rabbi once used the word "mammon" when he wrote, "Let the property [that is, the mammon] of thy fellow be dear to thee as thine own."3 But in time, the meaning of the word changed from the positive idea of "that which is entrusted" to the negative idea of "that in which a man puts his trust".4 Specifically, it came to mean the wealth or property in which one placed one's trust for the future.5 It came to be something that someone sought their sense of future fulfillment from. It came to be something that someone allowed to take the primary place in their lives - a place that should only be occupied by God Himself.
This negative sense of "mammon" is what Jesus is speaking of. Jesus warns us against making an earthly treasure an object of misplaced trust - misplaced because it will ultimately fail us; and misplaced because it draws our heart's devotion away from where it should be.
But Jesus is doing more than warning us against the dangers of a misplaced trust in laying up treasures for ourselves on earth. He's teaching us how to have our hearts oriented in the right way. He's teaching us how to cultivate a heaven-focused heart by laying up treasures in heaven.
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Let's begin by focusing on . . .
I. THE FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE:
It's found in verse 21: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Grammatically, this statement is the foundation of what He says in verses 19-20. I believe it's also the principle He expands upon in verses 22-24. It is the key principle, in fact, of the whole rest of chapter 6. It's the most important thing that we can ever remember when dealing with earthly riches. It's the principle that our hearts tend naturally to long toward the place where our treasure is kept; and that we must, therefore, be very careful about where we lay up our treasures.
First, let's consider what Jesus means by our "treasures". The word itself (thăsouros) can refer to anything that we might store up as precious to ourselves. But it can also refer to the place in which we keep that which is precious to us - that is, as a "storehouse" or a "treasury" (Matthew 12:35). I believe that, in verses 19-20, Jesus is using the word in the sense of the things that we store up as precious to ourselves; but that, in this verse, Jesus is using the word in the sense of a "storehouse" or "treasury". He's talking to us about where it is that we keep that which is most precious to ourselves. And of course, in speaking of the place in which our treasures are stored, He is also speaking - by implication - of the treasures themselves.
And then, let's consider what Jesus means by our "hearts". Jesus obviously means more than simply the muscle that pumps in our chests. He is speaking of the very center of our being - the seat of our emotions, our wishes, and our will. He is speaking of that in us that longs and desires after something. He is speaking of that in us which loves a "treasure" so much that it moves our entire being to seek after it.
You might say that our hearts are like the needle of a compass; and that needle is always pointing in the direction of that place in which our treasure is kept. What is our "treasure"? Jesus isn't specific; because He's giving us the broad principle that wherever our treasure is - whatever it may be - there will our hearts be also. If our treasure is of earthly things and is kept in earthly treasuries, then the longings of our hearts will never rise higher than earth. And if our treasure is of spiritual things and is kept in heavenly places, then our hearts will be in heaven even though we ourselves are still walking upon this world.
And that leads me to a suggestion of what our "treasure" is supposed to be. Our treasure is to be - above all else - Jesus Himself. He Himself is to be our rich treasure. The psalmist, in Psalm 73, prayed to God and said, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides You" (Psalm 73:25).
Clearly there is more involved in our heavenly "treasure" than Jesus alone. We are also promised "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you . . ." (1 Peter 1:4). Jesus Himself promises us that "In My Father's house are many mansions"; and that He has gone to prepare a place for us, "that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). We may not know all that lays before us in heaven. Personally, I don't think that, even if God told us all that our heavenly inheritance involved, we would be able to comprehend it - any more than the one year old child of a wealthy man could comprehend his own future wealth, even if his father were to open up the books and show him all the stocks and bonds in his portfolio. I'm sure that our inheritance in heaven is greater than our minds could possibly grasp. But whatever else our inheritance will involve, the most important treasure - our chief treasure - is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. He Himself will be our greatest delight forever. No other treasure will matter to us above Him.
And the point is that, when Jesus is our "treasure", and because He - our treasure - is in heaven, then our hearts are naturally inclined toward the place where He is. When He's our treasure in heaven, then our hearts move us to seek after Him above all else as our greatest desire on earth. King David said it very well in Psalm 27, when he wrote, "One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple" (Psalm 27:4). In Psalm 63, he similarly wrote of how having the Lord as his treasure became his motivation: "O GOD, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory" (Psalm 63:1-2).
This verse, then, gives us the key to all that Jesus is telling us in this passage. It's a basic principle of life. ". . . Where your treasure is [that is, that place in which is kept that which you most value], there your heart [your devotion, your longing, your desire, the compass-needle of your life] will be also."
So then; where does your heart indicate that you're real treasure is kept? Does it point toward heaven? Or does it point toward earth?
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Jesus, in this passage, is teaching us what we must do in order for our lives and our hearts to be oriented toward heaven. This leads us, then, to . . .
II. THE APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLE:
The first thing that Jesus teaches us is that we are not to lay up our treasures on earth. In verse 19, He tells us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth" - or, literally, "Do not treasure-up your treasure on earth." And look at why Jesus tells His followers not to store-up their treasures on earth. It's because it is "where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal . . ."
One of the things that people in ancient times considered to be an earthly "treasure" was fine clothing. It was a sign of great wealth to possess many fine garments - just as it is today. And because fashion didn't change as quickly then as it does today, you could store-up fine clothing and expect it to be in style many years later. But just as garments are subject to being spoiled by moths today, it was even more so then. Even if someone stored up many fine garments for the future, there would be no guarantee that those fine garments would still have their value when it came time to enjoy them.
And the same was true for other tangible possessions. They were subject to "rust". The word that Jesus uses (brősis) refers to the act of 'eating'; and so, it may refer to more than simply "rust". It may refer to the corrosion and spoiling of anything that sits around for a long period of time. It may also refer to the fact that what you store up for yourself will eventually be consumed - even if it is consumed by you yourself. No matter how hard you try to preserve earthly things for the future, they will still be subject to rotting and spoiling and being eaten away.
This fact is a cause of great condemnation in the Bible toward those who get rich in an evil way, and who store up earthly treasures for themselves to the hurt of others. The apostle James clearly drew many of his thoughts from the Sermon on The Mount; and among those thoughts was this:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days (James 5:1-3).
Jesus urges us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, where moth and rust destroy. And even if we were able to protect those things from moths and corrosion, they are still in great risk; because earthly treasure-houses are places where "thieves can break in and steal". You can store up great earthly treasures for yourself, and spend much of that treasure trying to defend the store-house from theft; and even still, a thief may steal it all.
The point of all this is that earth is not the place to lay up your treasures. Jesus told us the parable of the rich fool. He became prosperous; and so he built great barns to store up all his crops and goods. He said to his own soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry". He was a very cleaver man in the eyes of this world. He built an outstanding treasure for himself on the earth.
But God spoke to him and said, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" He died; and left it all for someone else to squander away. And Jesus warned us, "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).
Moths didn't destroy that foolish man's treasure. Rust didn't destroy it. Thieves didn't break in and steal any of it away. But still, he lost it all. And this reminds us that all the treasure that we may store on the earth is always temporary. None of it can be kept for very long - even at best. And if someone lays up his treasure in a temporary storehouse subject to moth and rust and theft, then his heart is going to always be oriented toward that which will disappoint him in the end and cause him to suffer loss.
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Look instead where Jesus calls us to lay up our treasure: ". . . But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (v. 20). Heaven is the safest place to keep your treasures.
I read a story about the famous Bible commentator and preacher Matthew Henry. He was robbed once of everything that he owned. It didn't devastate him, however, because he wasn't keeping his treasures on earth. Later, he wrote these words of prayer in his diary:
Lord, I thank you
That is the heart attitude of someone who has kept his treasures in heaven, where they cannot be brought to loss by the things that destroy treasures on earth. It's the heart attitude of someone who has taken Colossians 3:1-4 seriously:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).
When such a man or woman suffers the loss of their earthly goods, it simply motivates them to turn their attention - with gratitude - toward heaven, where their real treasures are safely stored. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v. 21). And so, by keeping our treasures in heaven, we cultivate a heaven-ward heart. People will look upon us and clearly see that we have invested ourselves somewhere else then on earth. They see us as people whose hearts are in heaven long before we ourselves arrive there.
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Now; as followers of Jesus, keeping our treasures in heaven - and thus enabling us to cultivate a heaven-ward focus - also helps us avoid to very serious spiritual dangers as we walk upon this earth. Jesus teaches us about those two dangers in the verses that follow. The first danger that we avoid is that of having a 'clouded spiritual vision'. Jesus explains this in verses 22-23 through the metaphor of a lamp. He said, "The lamp of the body is the eye".
I wonder how many of you remember back when we installed the new windows in our sanctuary. Do you remember how dark the sanctuary used to be? We had those old 'shower-glass' windows that obscured the outdoor light from coming in, and gave the room an orange-hue. But once we installed the newer windows, the sanctuary became several times brighter. It lit the whole place up and made it very warm and inviting.
Similarly, our eyes are that through which God provides the illumination of light into our souls - so long as we keep our eyes upon the light of life!! Jesus, we are told, is "the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world" (John 1:9); and Paul tells us that, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). And as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus in a completely undivided way, we are illuminated by His light and are progressively transformed into His image. "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good [that is, literally, "single" or "undivided"], your whole body will be full of light."
But if we are seeking to be followers of Jesus, while at the same time laying up our treasures on earth, our vision ceases to be "good". It ceases to be "single" and "undivided"; because we're not looking solely to Him. Our vision will become spiritually "obscured" by the things of this world. Jesus said, "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 that darkness!"
It's one thing for there to be darkness on the outside. But if there's light before our eyes, and our eyes are so obscured that the light in us is "darkness", then we're talking real darkness!! How important it is, then, that our spiritual vision be undivided! How important it is that our eyes be devoted to Christ alone - and not divided between the light above and a treasure below! Keeping our treasures in heaven - and thus our hearts in heaven as well - will help us avoid this danger.
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Another danger that this will help us avoid is that of 'a divided allegiance'. Jesus said, "No one can serve to masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." In Jesus day, a slave's service was 100%. His service was not like an employer/employee relationship; because we can often have two part-time jobs. You aren't obligated to the boss of one job when you're working for the other. But because a slave's devotion was to be total, he could not be the slave of two different masters. One master would tell him one thing; and the other would tell him to do the opposite. Eventually, he'd have to decide where his loyalties are going to lie. And the same is true when it comes to trying to serve God and earthly riches.
I remember a book I was given a long time ago. It was one of those "How To Retire Early" books. The author advocated that the way to retire early was to get rich young. (What a revelation - !) And in the first paragraph of the book he explained that, in order to get rich young, you have to want to be rich more than anything else in life. You have to develop such a passion to be rich that you will give everything you are and have toward the effort of becoming rich. Now Jesus has said, ". . . Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33). Jesus doesn't accept part-timers; so you tell me - how could THAT arrangement ever be made to work?
I heard a story about a farmer who had two new baby calves. He told his wife what he was going to do with them: "I'm going to devote one of them to the Lord. A year from now, I'm going to sell that calf and give the money to the Lord's work. At the same time, I'll sell the other so that you and I can have a little extra spending money to enjoy." The wife asked which calf was the Lord's and which one was going to be theirs; and the farmer said, "It doesn't matter. Both of them are exactly the same. A year from now, we'll just sell them both and divide up the profits - one will go toward the Lord's work, and the other will be used for our fun money."
Then, a few days later, the farmer came home and told his wife, "I have some sad news: the Lord's calf died." That's what happens when we try to divide our allegiance between the Lord and an earthly treasure. The earthly treasure will win out every time. Laying up our treasure in heaven is how we avoid this danger.
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How then can we lay up our treasures in heaven? The Bible tells us how. One way that we do so is by using what God gives us now for the cause of Jesus Christ. All the earthly things that the Lord entrusts to us are not ours to own. They are ours to keep as His stewards; and we are to use what He gives us for His glory and His purposes. Jesus tells us, "Sell what you have and give alms; provide for yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys" (Luke 12:33).
Jesus doesn't teach us to avoid being rich. It isn't wrong to be rich in and of itself. In fact, we should praise God for those who are in the body of Christ who are rich! As someone said, you can be rich in this world and even richer in the next - if you use the riches God gives you for His glory. And that's how we lay up our treasure in heaven. We send it on ahead, from our treasures on earth into our treasury in heaven. Paul told Timothy to teach those who are wealthy in the church to use those riches wisely: "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they may be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
This isn't just true of the rich. It's true of all of us. The Philippian believers were not wealthy. They gave a financial gift to Paul in order to help him in his ministry; and they apparently gave so much that they even put themselves in need! Paul wrote to thank them and said, "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:17-20). Our Father knows about it whenever we give of our resources to the service of His work - and He will never fail to reward us. Remembering this is how we lay up our treasures in heaven.
We lay up our treasures in heaven by obediently building upon our faith in Christ. The apostle Peter wrote, ". . . Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and about, you will neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ . . ." And then he adds, ". . . For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-11).
We lay up our treasures in heaven when we give ourselves to the service of others in Christ's name. On the great day when Jesus will sit upon the throne of glory as Judge, He will turn to those on His right hand and say, "'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'" (Matthew 25:31-39).
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The apostle Paul was perhaps the greatest example we could find of how to lay up one's treasure in heaven. Near the end of his life - just before he was executed by the Roman emperor - he wrote to Timothy and said, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Do you love His appearing? Is He your great treasure? If He is, then your heart will be inclined to the place where your treasure is. And if your heart is inclined toward heaven, people will be able to see that it is so by your devotion to Christ on earth.
May we, then, not set our hopes in the mammon that will fail. Let's lay up our treasures where they will last and be enjoyed forever.
1Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 388.
2William Barcley, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977), p. 249.
3'Abot 2:12; cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), pp. 155-6-n.
4Barcley, p. 249.
5Morris, pp. 155-6-n.
6Cited in D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 81.
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