“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.” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
This is part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. His sermon begins in chapter 5 and goes through chapter 7 and addresses so many of the misperceptions of genuine faith at that time. The people were probably bewildered because it’s almost like Jesus is playing “the opposite game” with them. He is teaching the opposite of most of what they were taught at the time: they believed the act of adultery was wrong, but not the thoughts. They thought you must love your neighbor, but not your enemy. And here was a big one: material wealth and accumulation was a sign of God’s blessing. You may recall Jesus befuddling the disciples when he said it was hard for a rich man to be saved. They had been taught the rich were “in” as their riches were a sign of God’s acceptance. So the culture was materialistically oriented as a sign of God’s blessing. It’s kind of a first century version of the present health and wealth heresy taught on TV today. The more they had, the more they accumulated, the more they thought they had divine blessing.
Jesus here says the opposite. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. This may seem kind of harsh or monkish to us Americans where keeping up with the Joneses is a national obsession. Jesus, why are you raining on our party? We live in the richest country in the history of the world! Why can’t we have heaven and earth too? Jesus says, because having earth is a mirage.
Every Material/Financial Resource I Have/Keep is Fleeting/Passing Away
“…where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19)
Jesus’ financial advice here is as relevant as ever. Money and investments and capital assets are all subject to risk. He says moth and rust destroy. We call this depreciation. The house breaks down. The valued car gets old. Everything new and shiny eventually gets old and rusty. If it doesn’t change, our perspective about it does.
I remember when the first iPhones came out. There was so much buzz about them and those who had one thought it was the coolest thing ever. People would ask to see it and hold it. To have a smartphone meant you were a smart person and really hip…until the iPhone 5 came out. The same person who just a day before the iPhone 5 release said, “This iPhone 4 is so cool!” the day the iPhone 5 came out, looked at his iPhone 4 and thought, This is a piece of junk! Did the iPhone 4 change in 24 hours? No. What changed? I did.
The cars, the house, the clothes, the status symbols we value are constantly changing. The moth of decay and the rust of time show that what I have and value is in a perpetual state of depreciation.
On top of that, thieves break in and steal. My possessions are constantly at risk. The government is constantly taxing it. The unscrupulous investment manager mismanages it. Other forms of loss can take it at any time. Houses flood and stocks tumble.
So in just a few words, Jesus describes the futility of hoarding and accumulating money and the things money can buy. All of it is constantly at risk. Proverbs says it can sprout wings and suddenly fly away (Proverbs 23:5). Laying up treasures on earth and living for them is incredibly short-sighted. The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man gives the ultimate reason—death comes to all of us and then what comes of all our earthly treasures?
We could spend some time on what a “laying up treasures on earth” lifestyle would look like. What do you think? Let me take a stab at it. Meaning and happiness would be generally derived from how things are going financially. Everything would be monetized and prioritized based on whether or not it increases my financial status. People who help me get there, I love. People or activities or ministries that don’t, I avoid. Since self-worth is financial, I resent or envy those with more money, bigger houses, or nicer cars than me and especially so if I think they think they are worth more than me. Family is inconvenient and children are liabilities. And don’t even talk to me about a building program at the church…. Am I close? That sounds like a real quality disciple of Jesus, doesn’t it?
This is why we have to see that Jesus loves us enough to point us from a life lived for the superficial to a life of eternal meaning and impact.
Every Material/Financial Resource I Give is Mine Forever
This sounds a little like an oxymoron. What I keep I lose but what I give I keep? Exactly. That’s the way it works. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)
In verses 25-34, he goes on to address the central issue that keeps us from living and giving for eternity—trust. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25) He points out the birds and the flowers which don’t sow or harvest yet have all they need because God provides it. When our trust is in God, it frees us from fear and frees us to “seek first the kingdom of God.” (verse 33) Jesus says, Lay up treasures in heaven. What are these?
Eternal Treasure = God’s rewards to us individually for our faithful service and sacrificial giving to Him.
This is why Jesus adds this, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (verse 21) Money is spiritual. What we do with it is a greater spiritual indicator than anything else—more than preaching, evangelism, Bible study, etc. Money and what we do with our money is so spiritual that Jesus indexes our hearts and spiritual condition to how we handle it. That’s strong and it may be uncomfortable for us, but realize that it was uncomfortable in that culture too. Our issue is that we try to separate what we do with our money from our spirituality. So I can think I am doing really well spiritually, sing the songs about Jesus as Lord, be in my small group, regularly attend church, be viewed as a devout Christian and quietly NOT invest in any substantive way in God’s work. How we handle our money smokes out the spiritual pretenders and posers. When God has our hearts, he has our pocketbooks as well.
This is why it’s so helpful. I can’t see my heart but I can see my checking account; it provides me with one objective, measurable indicator of what I really love. That’s why Jesus talked about money more than heaven and hell combined. Think through your balance statement, what does it indicate?
Was this not the point of the widow and her two mites (Luke 21)? Jesus was at the temple and watching the rich drop their heavy bags of gold into the giving boxes. Boom. BOOM. Wow! Big gift! Then he sees a widow and, as God, he knows her total net worth is two mites—less than a cent. And she drops those two small coins in. Plink. Plink. He calls the disciples over and says, “Did you see that? She gave more than anyone else.”
“Jesus, your math is off….”
“No, your math is off. I know what she has and she gave more than anyone else.” Her heart and her faith showed in her generosity.
Over the years, as I have spoken on money, it seems to me that there are generally two kinds of responses. People are either upset about it or are humbled by it. I can talk about almost anything else and it is warmly received. But people weird out about money and I have to think that the reason is that we love it so much. We don’t want it connected to our faith.
“Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index of a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles money.” (Richard Halverson)
Take a look at your emotions even as you read this. What do your feelings possibly reveal about how important money and the keeping of it are to you?
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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