In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses a variety of issues showing how the conduct of a believer should be consistent with the character of God. The matter of worship has been considered and how those who are part of the kingdom should carry out their spiritual activities. Jesus turned the focus of the Christians of His day to prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms, and said these activities should not be done with the goal of being seen by men, rather, they should be done with the goal of pleasing God. In Matthew 6:4,6 and 18, Jesus repeated the statement, "...your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you."The focal point in the worship of God is not to be upon what is seen, but upon being pleasing to God and honoring Him. If you perform your actions for the praise of men, you can expect no reward from God. But if your activities are done to please God, then He will reward you. Seven times in these 18 verses he uses the word "reward".
Beginning in verse 19 of Matthew 6 and running through the remainder of the chapter to verse 34, Jesus moves into a new and important area - the believer and his material possessions. Its importance is emphasized by the extended discussion Jesus gives the topic. In these verses, Jesus addresses how the one who is a kingdom citizen should conduct himself in relation to material possessions.
If you were asked to describe a successful person, what would you say? What do you suppose the average person would say? What does a successful person look like?
Many people would describe a successful person as living in a large house. This person would probably have several expensive automobiles. No doubt the person would be described as having a lot of money. Other appropriate symbols of success in terms of material possessions would be surrounding a successful person. Of course, such a person would be recognized, respected, and honored by the community. And the list would probably go on this way.
Success is often described in our culture in terms of material possessions. Material things are very important to us. The question, however, is, "What do things say about us?" Do material things say anything about us? Some people would argue that things say nothing about people. What do you think? I think that things perhaps say a great deal about us. I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Money talks".Well what does it say about you?
One of the most important things that money says about us has to do with our heart allegiance. When money talks, it tells where your heart is. So the real question we need to consider is where our heart really is. Where is your heart?
You see, true success in God's eyes has everything to do with where our heart is. True success in God's eyes has nothing to do with the size of our bank account but everything to do with the condition of our heart.
Matthew 6:19 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
What exactly is Jesus forbidding? Is He forbidding owning a house or a car, a bank account, savings account, life insurance policy, or a wise investment? Does He mean that we shouldn't possess anything when He says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth..."? I don't think so! The Lord never condemns possessions. The fact that God said, "Thou shalt not steal." in the Decalogue assumes that something can be mine which you can't have. We have a right to possessions. The Bible tells men not to steal or rob, because people have a right to their possessions.
There are plenty of rich godly men in the Bible. Abraham was very wealthy and he was called a friend of God (2 Chr. 20:7). God made Job wealthier than he had been before he lost everything. And he was so wealthy before, he couldn't count it all.
Let's see if we can understand what Jesus does mean when he says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth..." The word "treasures" is from the Greek word thesauros. We get our word thesaurus, a treasury of words, from this word. But thesauros is a play on words that means: "treasure not up treasures." In other words, don't stockpile. The idea of the word "treasure" is to stash something somewhere. The peculiar quality of this Greek word literally conveys the idea of placing something horizontally. When something is stacked it is not being used - it is in a passive condition. When you find a word in the Greek that has a vertical or perpendicular flavor, it means that it is in active use - purposeful, meaningful, with a function; being invested in some purpose, goal, or end. But the meaning here is something stacked with no active function or purpose.
So when Jesus says, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth..." what he is forbidding is the stockpiling of things.
In the Orient, during biblical times, wealth was basically preserved in three ways. There was no paper, no bank books, nothing to match the kind of system we have. Wealth was identified in literal commodities: garments, grain, and gold or precious metal.
In biblical times, garments were a very important commodity. Elisha's servant, Gehazi, wanted to make a profit when Naaman was cured of leprosy. So he asked Naaman for a talent of silver and two changes of garments, because that was substantial wealth (2 Kings 5:22). Wealth was expressed in fancy, rich, extravagant garments. The best clothing was made of wool, and often golden tread would be woven into the fabric itself. In addition, the dyeing processes could be unique, so some were very fancy. As a result, the material was hard to make. So when Jesus spoke of the moth, everyone listening to Him knew that moths love to eat fine woolen clothing.
We have moth balls to prevent that today. But have you ever noticed that moths don't eat what you wear, only what you store?
Another way they stored their wealth was in grain. The rich fool said, "...I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my crops and my goods" (Luke 12:18b). His wealth was in grain. The word "rust" in verses 19 and 20 is from the Greek word brosis, which actually means: "eating." Nowhere in the Bible is it used to mean rust. It literally means "an eating." Perhaps that is how it should be translated here, which would correspond nicely to the fact that rats, mice, worms, and insects could eat away at these storehouses of grain.
The third commodity they put their treasure into was gold or precious metal. The problem with that is this: How do you hide it? You might keep it in your house, but a thief could break in and steal it. The most common thing that was done was to find a secret place in their field, in the dark of night dig a hole and bury it. Matthew l3:44 gives the parable of the man who found the treasure stored in a field. But thieves would lurk around at night and watch where men would bury their treasure and then go and dig it up.
The phrase "where thieves break in" could be literally translated "where thieves dig in." The houses of biblical times were constructed of dirt, so thieves would often dig through the walls and steal the treasures.
So, your garments could be eaten by moths, your grain could be eaten by animals or insects, and your gold could be taken by thieves. The point is this: If you hoard it, you can lose it, because it is unsafe and insecure.
Today we have our moth balls, our rat poison, and our burglar alarms, and still none of our wealth is very safe. You are better off sending it to heaven and reaping the eternal rewards. There is no place of security in this life. Even if you kept it all until you died, you would still leave it behind.
The point Jesus is making in this verse is that wealth in the human realm is transitory. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you cannot guarantee that you will not lose your possessions. You must recognize earthly treasures in that light. They are transitory and passing. Many people who have had great wealth have been reduced to poverty in relatively short periods of time.
Too many of us give our time and energy for the purpose of amassing things. Our lives are spent to purchase material stuff. And, of course, the reason why we spend our lives in this endeavor is because our desire is for these things. Material things hold our allegiance. Somehow we believe that if we have enough stuff, we will be happy.
But does money and social position really satisfy the human heart? Several years ago Christina Onassis died at the young age of thirty-seven. People magazine carried the comment of her step-sister, Henrietta Gelber. She said of Christina, "She was one of those people who would never be happy. She would become impatient. It had all come too easily - all the money, houses all over the world, few real responsibilities. She lacked a sense of achievement. What she was striving for was virtually impossible in her situation. She had houses all over the world, but she never really had a home."
We live in a materialistic society. We sometimes feel that the emphasis of materialism is something new, but it is not new at all. Materialism has with it certain pressures. This has always been the case. We would expect unbelievers to be materialistically oriented. They have nothing but their material things to which they can orient their lives. As believers, we live in the midst of materialism, and we face the unrelenting pressure to conform to the world's standards, to accept what the world says is valuable and to make that significant in our lives, also. That is why the Bible gives such strong warnings about the dangers of wealth and possessions:
Proverbs 23:4-5 (NKJV) Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! 5 Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.
We should not devote our lives to the pursuit of things and the acquisition of wealth, because no sooner do we acquire these things, then they are gone. Such things are only an illusion. When we have possessions, we sometimes think we have what gives security, but in reality we do not, and our possessions may be gone very quickly.
The Book of Ecclesiastes gives a perspective on worldly wisdom and worldly wealth. This book was written by Solomon, the wisest man and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. It describes the futility of only seeking after things. Solomon said he did not restrain himself from anything he wanted for himself - he indulged in everything! He wrote:
Ecclesiastes 2:4-7 (NKJV) I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. 5 I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. 7 I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me.
Solomon claimed to be the wealthiest king who had ever ruled in Jerusalem, even wealthier than his father, David. Solomon continues in:
Ecclesiastes 2:8 (NKJV) I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds.
Whatever could be bought, Solomon had it.
Ecclesiastes 2:9-10 (NKJV) So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor.
Whatever Solomon saw and wanted, he got. Whatever was valuable to him, he acquired. After amassing all of these great fortunes, notice his evaluation of them:
Ecclesiastes 2:11 (NKJV) Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done And on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
What a thing to say! As he stood back and evaluated everything he had done with his life, and all that he had acquired, he realized it was like someone chasing the wind and trying to grab on to it. It was vanishing; it was emptiness. In all that he had acquired, he had nothing of great profit. Such was the evaluation of the life and possessions of the wisest man in the world.
Later in the same chapter, Solomon gives a different perspective, which is a good reminder for us:
Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 (NKJV) Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.
Even if you were smart enough or clever enough to hold your wealth in tact until you die, you are not going to take any of it with you when you leave.
When you draw up a will, the attorney doesn't ask, "What things would you like to take with you when you go?" That would be quite foolish because we are not taking anything with us. Furthermore, you really do not know who is going to have it when you are gone. You could say, "I'm leaving it to my kids". But they could be killed in an automobile accident going to your funeral. The point is that you do not know what is going to happen to your wealth after you die. Your children may survive and squander it so that it will all be gone in a short time. Many who have died leaving great wealth have left it to be squandered away by those who inherited it. After you die, you have no control over your possessions.
Wealth is not secure. Even if you secured your wealth for your lifetime, someday you are going to die. What difference will it make whether you had little or much? Archaeologists sometimes make great discoveries in the tombs or graves of wealthy people. The amazing thing about all of these discoveries is that usually we do not even know who the people were or what their significance was. Now their treasure is gone. It does not really matter what they had.
Consider the wealthiest, wisest man recorded in Scripture - Solomon. Where is his treasure today? Nobody knows. It is all gone. It has been squandered away. No one is standing around saying, Well, I am the great-great-great-great grandson of Solomon, and here is all his wealth! Whatever happened to Solomon's wealth? The same thing that happened to other people's wealth. It is all gone. That is the point of Matthew 6:19.
With that emphasis, Jesus' gives a command in:
Matthew 6:20 (NKJV) "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
You must focus your life on something. For those who do not know God and Jesus Christ, their lives are focused on things in the material realm. They must have a reason to get up in the morning. They have to have something that drives them on through the day. When people lose that, they begin to contemplate suicide. Why get up in the morning and drive yourself through the drudgery of another day if there is nothing to drive on for? The motivating force for those who do not know Jesus Christ has to be things in this life - more possessions, more influence or more something. Believers are challenged in verse 20 to focus on heavenly treasure that is permanent. It is not transitory or subject to destruction of any kind; it is secure and safe. Believers are told to store up for themselves treasures in heaven where they are safe and secure.
G. Campbell Morgan says:
You are to remember with the passion burning within you, that you are not the child of today, 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...." We cannot lay up our treasure on earth, it is not characteristic of those in His Kingdom.
The terms "treasures upon earth" and "treasures in heaven" were very familiar to the Jews. They had many sayings regarding almsgiving and piling treasure in heaven. So Jesus was speaking in a vernacular they understood. They believed that deeds of mercy and deeds of kindness to people in distress were tantamount to storing up riches in heaven.
The Jerusalem Talmud tells a famous story about a certain king named Monobaz. When he became king he inherited incredible riches from his forefathers, the previous kings. But during the time of his reign he gave all of his fortune to the poor, the needy, the suffering, and the afflicted. His brothers sent to him and said, "Thy fathers gathered treasures, and added to those of their fathers, but thou hast dispersed yours and theirs." He said this to them, "My fathers gathered treasures for below, I have gathered treasures for above; they stored treasures in a place over which the hand of man can rule, but I have stored treasures in a place over which the hand of man cannot rule; my fathers collected treasures which bear no interest, I have gathered treasures which bear interest; my fathers gathered treasures of money, I have gathered treasures in souls...; my fathers gathered treasures in this world, I have gathered treasures for the heavenly world" Jerusalem Talmud, Pe'ah 15b. The rabbis understood the concept to which our Lord referred - invest in eternity.
Jesus agreed with this idea that deeds of mercy and deeds of kindness to people in distress were tantamount to storing up riches in heaven. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us giving alms is storing treasure in the heavens:
Luke 12:31-34 (NKJV) "But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. 32 "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 "Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus says that "giving alms" provides you with a treasure in heaven. The word "alms" is from the Greek word eleemosune, which refers to charitable acts. The word means: "acts of charity or mercy" and encompasses many kinds of deeds. In this context it refers to giving. Notice what Jesus says in:
Matthew 19:21 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
Here we see that giving to the poor provides treasure in heaven.
How often do we realize we are building treasures in heaven by giving to the poor? We can use the earthly goods the Lord has given us to actually store up treasures in heaven. People who give to the poor without taking any credit for it or claiming any merit in it are storing up treasure in heaven.
Matthew 5:12 (NKJV) "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We see from this text that we also store up treasure in heaven when we respond in a godly manner to persecution.
The moment I trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior, I came into a personal relationship with God. I became His heir and was guaranteed the glory of His presence. As I serve Him and devote my life to honoring Him, I am storing up treasure in heaven. I do not get a statement from God every three months telling me what I have there, but it is there because I serve Him. It is somewhat like a blind trust, if you will, with God managing it for me. He assures me that as I devote my life to serving Him, it is there. In a hundred years, it will not matter what part of town I lived in or what my bank balance was, but it will matter what kind of treasure I have in heaven. It will also matter in a hundred million years.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews addresses Christians who have suffered the loss of many material things because of their identification with Christ. He wrote:
Hebrews 10:34 (NKJV) for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
The could joyfully accept the plundering of their goods KNOWING that they had a better and an enduring possession in heaven. Theirs is a permanent possession. They could suffer the loss of their physical possessions because they knew they had something permanent and eternal in the presence of God in glory.
If you have believed that Jesus Christ loves you and died for you, then you are identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection; and God gives you new life. You are a new creation in Christ. Paul tells us the focal point of our life should be:
Colossians 3:1-2 (NKJV) If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
Fix your attention on heavenly things, not on earthly things. The things that should drive believers are to be the things above, not earthly things. We are not to be caught up in the things of this world or in the activities of this life.
The reason for all of this is given in:
Matthew 6:21 (NKJV) "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where you build your treasure is where your heart will be; that is where your love is and where your mind is focused. When you read the secular books on finances and wealth, one thing that comes through loud and clear is that you have to be willing to pay the price to acquire and maintain wealth. You must give time to it and think about it if you want to become successful in that area. Such an approach draws you in. If the pursuit of material things occupies you, that is what drives you on and that is where the affection of your heart and the center of your attention will be. Everything else becomes peripheral, because your life is built around your treasure. If material things are what matter to you, then your life will be built around those things, and you will measure everything in light of how it will affect your pursuit of that goal.
John Wesley was an extremely wealthy man. We think of John Wesley as a great man of God, of prayer, and devoted to time in the Word of God. He was up every morning for hours studying in the Greek text. We think of him as a man of some low means, but John Wesley was an extremely wealthy man. He gained his wealth from the hymns he wrote and the books he penned. At one period in his life he gave away forty thousand pounds sterling...a fortune in his time. Yet, when John Wesley died, his estate was worth twenty-eight pounds. He didn't lay up his treasure on earth. When it came in, it went right back out into the lives of the people - He put his treasure in heaven.
Believers are not to have their hearts fixed on things of this life. If you build your treasure here, then your heart will be here.
Notice that Scripture does not forbid us from having possessions. This section is sometimes grossly misunderstood. God puts no particular premium on poverty. He does not say that the more spiritual you are, the poorer you will be. He is dealing with the focal point of our lives; the possessions are to be a secondary issue. If you make possessions the prime issue in your life, then you are wrong. You are in rebellion against God. But possessions themselves are not wrong.
The Bible exhorts us to be wise and to plan and make provision for our future needs. It gives us the positive example of the ant in:
Proverbs 6:6-8 (NKJV) Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, 8 Provides her supplies in the summer, And gathers her food in the harvest.
Then it speaks in the following verses of the sluggard, the lazy one, who does not want to be bothered. It is easy to fall into the trap of saying that we are going to trust God to provide for tomorrow. He will, but He also demands that we be diligent and work as those who desire to please Him. As we work hard, the goal of our lives is not to acquire more, but to be pleasing to Him. God often provides material blessings and prosperity. But the warning Jesus gives is against focusing our lives on material things and becoming absorbed with them so that we build our lives around them.
Paul does not tell those who become rich that they have to give it away. He wrote:
1 Timothy 6:17 (NKJV) 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.
Who is rich? The word "rich" is plousios, it means: "to have more than you need to live." Are you rich? Do you have more than you need to live? Yes, we all do! We are all rich. We are not told to give it all away and take a vow of poverty. If riches in and of themselves were wrong, then God would have demanded that we give away our possessions.
Paul warns of a special danger which riches introduce. Those who are rich are not "to trust in uncertain riches".If God blesses you with material wealth, praise Him, but do not build your life upon those riches, "...but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.". It is not wrong to enjoy material blessings, but it is unbiblical and ungodly to build our lives on material things and make them the focal point of our lives.
If all of your possessions were gone tomorrow, how would it affect your life? Would your focal point be any different? If the focal point of my life is to honor and exalt Jesus Christ, would that change if all my material possessions were gone tomorrow? No, it would not! The goal and pursuit of my life would still be to honor and exalt Jesus Christ in the way I live.
When Job received word that all of his property was taken away, he responded:
Job 1:21 (NKJV) And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."
Job had great riches, but he had not set his heart upon them. He owned his riches, but the riches did not own him.
Paul gives special instructions to those of us who are rich:
1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NKJV) Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
We are to be "rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share" - in doing so we are literally storing up treasure in heaven where it will last for an eternity.
Where is your heart? According to verse 21, your heart is wherever your treasure is. Now, when I say, "Where is your heart?" I am not talking about the heart's physiological location; but I am talking in terms of the investment of your life, motives, attitudes, and thought patterns. Where is the concentration and the preoccupation of your life? What particular object do you spend most of your thinking, planning, and energy on? Is it earthly or heavenly? Only what we store in heaven will last.
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