What do you treasure? What consumes your thoughts and conversations? What, if you lost it, would crush you? Our world defines what true “treasure” and “success” is in different terms than the Bible. We treasure the idea of gradually increasing our standard of living and the number and quality of our possessions. Though it is difficult to calculate, some have said that Jesus speaks more about sins with money than any other sins. In our text today, Jesus is going to teach his disciples what they should be concerned with accumulating throughout their lives. As Jesus speaks about the accumulation of treasures, we need to remember that Jesus is speaking to us also and not everyone else in the world. Jesus tells his disciples what not to accumulate, what to accumulate, and in verse 21 why they need to obey his words.
Treasures On Earth (6:19)
Jesus gives a very straightforward command. Don’t lay up treasures on earth. The HCSB uses the word “collect” and the NET Bible uses the word “accumulate.” Jesus is telling his disciples not to collect or accumulate treasures on earth. Jesus is not saying there is something inherently evil about riches or experiencing enjoyment. Paul firmly condemns that type of thinking in 1 Timothy 4 and reminds that God’s blessings are for us to enjoy with thanksgiving. Though Jesus is preaching about a kingdom that is not of this world, Jesus understands that his disciples live in the world every day and have to come in contact with the physical. But too often we leave studies of passages like these by merely concluding, “There’s nothing wrong with making money.” Our goal is to not take all the power of what Jesus said to merely approve our current practices. Our goal is to find exactly what he means by commanding us to not accumulate treasures on earth.
So, what does it mean to not accumulate treasures on earth? The difficulty with Jesus’ statement is not in understanding what he means. There is no difficult Greek to parse through. He does not qualify the statement with any “ifs” or “buts”. It is difficult because it takes a sword right to the thing we struggle with the most in Western culture and we struggle with how to react. I was surprised to find as I read through the sermon on the mount that this how Jesus speaks the entire time. He speaks direct and to the point. Consider how Jesus speaks about divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:32. “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries and divorced woman commits adultery.” Now, if we have not been in a situation that violates this command, this seems very simple. You’re committing adultery by marrying a divorced person. But imagine reading this to someone who has been in a situation like this. There are a lot of different reactions. Most of the time people in these situations begin making all kinds of justifications and loopholes that protect their current situation.
I feel like doing the same thing when Jesus tells us to not accumulate treasures on earth. I immediately look in guilt at my current perception of retirement accounts. I immediately look in guilt at our closets and drawers stuffed full of clothes. I immediately look in guilt to all the decorations, furniture, cars, electronics, collections, and cash we accumulate. I look in guilt to the treasure storehouses that our homes and bank accounts have become. For a moment I’m relieved because there is absolutely no way that Jesus is speaking about my accumulation of these things, right? My possessions are safe. It’s the hoarders and the ultra rich people that Jesus is talking about. Or, maybe we are just like the adulterer justifying our disobedience of a simple statement.
I’m not able to come into your life and tell you all the implications of this commandment. I’m still considering the implications of this for my own life. I imagine that someone from a third world country could give a more objective evaluation of our lives. Overcoming this deep problem will require our time and diligence. Our study of this passage can start this process.
There are many possessions we love. But notice the encouragement Jesus gives at the end of verse 19. Though we have accumulated and fallen in love with many possessions, they have a quick expiration date. Metal rusts. Clothes become tattered and moth eaten. Stuff decays and breaks. People steal and take advantage of us. We hold tightly onto our material loves, but they will pass away. The archeological remains throughout the world are reminders of how true this is. People spent their entire lives accumulating riches, conquering nations, and building empires. Long ago their lives and empires were firm fortresses. Now we dig into the ground and find crumbled remains of what people spent their entire lives treasuring. Jesus is telling us ahead of time that the things we value and accumulate have no lasting value. So, why accumulate them? Notice Ecclesiastes 2:10–11, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure… Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Solomon too tells us that he has already gone through this process of piling up pleasures and possessions. The pursuit was impossible and meaningless. He gained nothing. Jesus also warns us. But he does not give this as a matter of opinion or as an option. He commands us to not lay up treasures on earth. In verse 21 he will give us a greater reason for this, but in verse 20 he tells us that there are treasures we do need to accumulate. In the end, we will see that though these two types of treasures are completely different in nature, they are very closely related.
Treasures In Heaven (6:20)
Jesus does not merely command us to stop accumulating treasures on earth. It is human nature to pursue the accumulation of something. Jesus teaches that true disciples of his do not accumulate earthly treasures, but treasures for heaven. What does it mean to accumulate treasures in heaven? This transcends an earthly perspective of treasures. Jesus is not promising to give us our material possessions in our heavenly home. The end of verse 20 promises us that these heavenly treasures are incorruptible. No one can take them away. This is incomprehensible for people like us who are surrounded by a world where everything decays and dies. Souls are the one thing we recognize that live forever. Thus, the accumulation of treasures for heaven is accomplished through actions that richen our spiritual souls. Just as there is a broad range of ways we can accumulate treasures on earth, there is a wide range of ways we can accumulate heavenly treasures. I liked the way one person described the accumulation of spiritual treasures. “Spiritual treasure should be defined as broadly as possible – as everything that believers can take with them beyond the grave – e.g., holiness of character, obedience to all of God’s commands, souls won for Christ, disciples nurtured in faith.” Though this is not a comprehensive list, I think it captures the idea well.
This also helps us draw a clearer line between accumulating treasures on earth and accumulating treasures in heaven. Anything that does not cultivate our rich spiritual blessings in Christ is an earthly treasure that we must not accumulate. Everything subject to corruption is off the list. Everything eternal is on it. The beauty is that Jesus removes a lesser treasure and offers a greater treasure. He does not take away the better treasure and offer a lesser one. He lovingly shows us that we have busied ourselves with the task of accumulating junk. He lovingly shows us that we can busy ourselves with the task of accumulating wealth in which we can trust. Unlike powerless stockbrokers who promise guaranteed returns, Christ is the king with the authority and power to make this promise. There is no limit or expiration date on the spiritual treasures we can pile up.
But how sad for us to wear the name of Christ and miss what he calls us to. Laying up treasures in heaven is not accomplished by external religion. Laying up treasures in heaven is not a hobby. Week after week we put in our time at a building. Week after week we study our Bibles and say our prayers. All along, our spiritual bank accounts may be empty. Jesus does not tell us to stop laying up treasures on earth so that we can go to church and read our bibles. Jesus tells us to stop laying up treasures on earth so that we can lay up treasures elsewhere. Participating in worship and reading our Bibles has the opportunity to build up treasures in heaven, but it does not do so automatically. When we come here out of habit or coercion, there is no deposit. When we come here and think about something else or do not learn and praise God with our entire hearts, there is no deposit. Our souls are not cultivated. We have not grown richer. We have not helped others grow richer. We are not treasuring the true treasure. We are performing rituals. Notice the reason why Jesus is so concerned about where we accumulate treasures in verse 21.
Our Hearts Are with Our Treasure (6:21)
The reason for the commands is simple. Our hearts are located with our treasure. This answer refutes anyone who still believes there is nothing wrong with accumulating treasures on earth. Too often we think, “I don’t love money, I just accumulate it.” Jesus, our creator, disagrees. Where he sees accumulation, he sees our hearts. Whenever we asked the question, “what do we treasure,” the answer is very important. The answer tells us where our hearts are. We are lying to ourselves if we think we have a heart for God when the things we treasure are right here on earth. We cannot love our treasures here and have a heart for God no matter how much we say we love God. Our hearts follow our treasure. If we are accumulating treasures on earth, our hearts are not with the Lord. We like to think that we can collect treasures here but still secure our heart in the Lord. But in reality, our hearts follow the treasure. We believe acquiring more and more possessions is an innocent thing, but each acquisition pulls our hearts away from the Lord. This is why Jesus warns us. In our ignorance, we have built idols. Our souls are in jeopardy. Our possessions have captured our hearts and enslaved us to this world.
If our hearts are with our treasure, we need to know what we treasure.Pay careful attention to where our resources are spent. When we store up earthly treasures, it consumes our lives, time, energy, resources, and conversations. A good diagnosis for what we treasure is seen in our conversations. We can’t stop talking about the things we treasure. The accumulation of heavenly treasures should be thought of no differently. If we pursue the accumulation of heavenly treasures, our lives, time, energy, resources, and conversations would be consumed in its pursuit. If our concern is accumulating unlimited earthly treasures and we heard of an investment with zero risk and 100% reward, would we not put every penny we could into this investment? Our time and resources become investments. We must seek to put all our resources to work in order to reap the greatest reward. All the worship, obedience to the Lord, growth in knowledge, strengthening of faith, service to others, and cultivation of the souls around us piles up a storehouse of spiritual riches. We will reap greatly because we are consumed with the hope of spiritual richness. Does this characterize our lifestyle?
Giving Our Treasures to Gain Greater Treasures
Paul gives a very helpful charge to those who have stored up earthly riches in 1 Timothy 6:17–19. This will help us see the close relationship between earthly treasures and spiritual treasures. “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” Notice that the problem is not inherently in the riches, but in the way they are handled. Paul calls for those who have found themselves in a storehouse of physical riches to think of their physical riches as a means to spiritual treasure. He charges them to share. He charges them to be generous and rich in good works. We see that this means that the earthly riches are being used for spiritual pursuits. What does this accomplish? Verse 19 says this stores up true treasures for true life. Earthly treasures given to others results in a deposit of true treasures in heaven. I believe this answers much of the “how” behind Jesus’ difficult charge to stop accumulating earthly treasures. If we think about this as what we “have” to “give up,” we may change a couple of externals, but we will not experience lasting heart change. When we see that our sharing, generosity, and richness in good works are directly tied to our storehouse of treasures in heaven, the perspective changes. Our perspective changes to “what can I give to others?” There is no limit in what we will give because our hearts are not thinking about loss but of a future storehouse of heavenly treasures. Our hearts and time will not be consumed in a materialistic piling up of earthly treasures, but in consistent and sacrificial generosity. This will show us where our hearts truly are.
Next time we will continue Jesus discussion of money. He spends the rest of chapter 6 urging us in different ways to change the way we think about treasures. We often speak to children of the great dangers of drugs, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity. Maybe we need to also focus on the even greater danger of money. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:9–10, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”