Jesus has been discussing what we might call our outward acts of piety: giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. He has challenged us to keep our focus on God as we do them, not looking for acclaim from people. In this passage he tackles a subject that many then, and today, are pretty sensitive about. His challenge to us to to store up treasure in heaven rather than accumulating money or other material possessions,
Most modern translations seem to break up these six verses into three paragraphs. And it might be easy to assume that Jesus is tackling three different subjects, especially since the middle paragraph, on the surface at least, seems unrelated to what immediately precedes and follows it. But I believe that is a mistake. Matthew records them like this intentionally. All three of these paragraphs are on the same topic, and should be understood that way.
Storing Up Treasure on Earth
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21 NIV
A treasure is something that you value and try to hold onto. Most commonly we think of treasure as being something that has a financial price associated with it, although not always. Jesus begins this discussion with a comparison of two types of treasure, stored in two different locations.
First, he refers to earthly treasure. Things on this earth that we value and hold tightly to. Money may be the most common treasure we are guilty of holding onto. And that seems to have been the case in Jesus’ day as well. In Matthew 19:16-22 we find the story of one who we call the rich young ruler. Jesus calls on him to give away all he had, and then to follow Jesus. But his great wealth kept him captive and unable to follow Jesus. And in Luke 16:14 we read of the Pharisees who loved money and sneered at Jesus.
Money is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is temporary and we have no assurance that it will always be there for us. It is subject to thieves, market fluctuations, pandemics, and any number of other hazards to wealth. Much effort needs to be spent in accumulating and guarding that treasure.
Treasure in Heaven
Jesus tells us instead to lay up treasure in heaven. This treasure is not subject to the hazards associated with worldly wealth. It is secure for all eternity. And it required no effort on our part to keep it secure.
But how does one go about storing treasure in heaven. There are no branch offices near us where we can make a deposit. But that is not really true. Anytime we give to the needs of others, we are making a deposit in our heavenly treasure store. Any sacrifice I make here, is rewarded in the life to come. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 tells us that when be build well on the foundation of Jesus, we will have a reward on the day the Lord returns.
Jesus then tells us that where our treasure is, our heart will be also. Jesus is using the heart to represent the whole person. If my treasure is on earth, then that is where my focus will be. But if my treasure is above, then my focus will be on the Lord and his things. This works in reverse as well. I can tell where my treasure is stored by looking at what I place value on. If I am looking to accumulate bigger and better things here, it indicates that my heart is also here. But if I am investing my time and resources in the Lord’s work, it would indicate my heart is set on things above.
The Light Within
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!Matthew 6:22-23 NIV
This seems like a strange paragraph, and can be challenging to understand. But I believe Jesus is using the eyes here in a similar fashion to one’s heart in the preceding passage. I use my eyes to look out into the world around me. If I have a healthy relationship with Christ, then I am going to see the light that he brings into the world. And that would include seeing material wealth as relatively unimportant compared with spiritual wealth.
But if my eyes are bad, if my walk with Christ is bad, or I am an unbeliever, then I will see the world in an entirely different manner. Rather than seeing by the light of Christ, I will be wandering about in spiritual darkness. And the accumulation of worldly wealth, or other worldly pursuits, will consume me.
Jesus paints this, like what immediately precedes and follows it, as a binary state. We are in one state or the other. Our eyes are good, or they are not. Our treasure is on earth, or it is in heaven. We serve God, or we serve material things. He does not give fence riding as an option.
Serving Two Masters
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.Matthew 6:24 NIV
Jesus finishes this discussion of our material possessions by using an example they would have been very familiar with. Slavery was an integrated part of the Greek and Roman culture of the day. And everyone knew what it was like for a slave to serve his master. Obedience was not an option. You did what your master told you do to, or faced the consequences. And getting fired was not one of them.
Jesus identifies two possible masters that people might serve: God, and materialism. And those two masters have dramatically goals for your life. While we might try to serve both masters at the same time, or at different times during the week, neither master will be pleased with us.
Jesus’ challenge to us is to make God our master, keeping our eyes filled with his light, and storing up treasure with him. We can use material possessions in his service. But we need to be careful not to allow them to control us or tempt us to value them.
Other Posts in the Sermon on the Mount
- An Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
- Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-12
- Sermon on the Mount: Salt and Light – Matthew 5:13-16
- Sermon on the Mount: Understanding the Law – Matt. 5:17-20
- Sermon on the Mount: Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5:21-22
- Sermon on the Mount: Committing Adultery – Matthew 5:27-30
- Sermon on the Mount: Divorce – Matthew 5:31-32
- Sermon on the Mount: Taking Oaths – Matthew 5:33-37
- Sermon on the Mount: Turn the Other Cheek – Matt. 5:38-42
- Sermon on the Mount: Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48
- Sermon on the Mount: Give to the Needy – Matthew 6:1-4
- Sermon on the Mount: How to Pray – Matthew 6:5-8
- Sermon on the Mount: the Model Prayer – Matthew 6:9-15
- Sermon on the Mount: Fasting – Matthew 6:16-18
- Sermon on the Mount: Treasure in Heaven – Matthew 6:19-24
- Sermon on the Mount: Do Not Worry – Matthew 6:25-34
- Sermon on the Mount: Do Not Judge – Matthew 7:1-6
- Sermon on the Mount: Ask, Seek, and Knock – Matthew 7:7-12
- Sermon on the Mount: Narrow and Wide Gates – Matt. 7:13-14
- Sermon on the Mount: False Prophets – Matt. 7:15-20
- Sermon on the Mount: True and False Disciples – Matt. 7:21-23
- Sermon on the Mount: Build on Rock or Sand? – Matt 7:24-27
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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