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What the Bible says about Earthly and Heavenly Treasure
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 6:19-21

Perhaps among the most underappreciated gifts God gives when He calls us is the time to amass treasure in heaven. Jesus' focus on treasure is important to His progress through the sermon at this point because He chose to illustrate first what we choose to do with our available time. At the outset, we must make sure of our aim in life. Overall, He is most interested that we make the best use of our faith, but in this section of His sermon, His concern is our use of time. What we choose to do with our time reflects on what we consider most important to achieve. Our use of time determines how much we will accomplish.

“Treasure” represents what we deem to be valuable enough to spend one of our most valuable resources—time—to obtain. It is what we hold dear, maybe even believe costly enough to give our life to obtaining or defending once we have it. Perhaps our treasure is something we do not yet hold but what we are searching for or working to achieve.

Jesus used “treasure” to represent something we consider more important than something “common.” It is something we would eagerly work for if we knew it is available and achievable. Due to the nature of what the term represents, treasure can, with no effort, motivate a person to decide to use his time in its pursuit, unlike an ordinary or common thing. Because of a person's perception of its value, treasure can move him to action almost as soon as he notices its availability.

In the Western world, treasure often means wealth—money, riches. It, however, may not connote money per se, but what money can buy: an impressive home in an exclusive section of town, a specific make of automobile, a prime section of land, or fine clothing. What a person strongly desires is an indicator of his or her treasure. In our thinking, we must not limit “treasure” to wealth. For some, treasure might be becoming an elite athlete, entertainer, or artist. In other cultures, people treasure different possessions, but they are almost always things a person feels will bring him the respect, admiration, and esteem of others within his culture.

The treasure motivates the use of its seeker's time, and if he uses his time pursuing that treasure, due to the way God has arranged His creation, that time is forever lost. It is totally consumed, never to return. This fact is a stark reality to which we must give serious thought in view of what we hold valuable. Everything we do uses time, and events and circumstances will never return.

We do not have to think of this as a matter of life and death, but we must afford it thoughtful attention. We must deal with it as an unalterable reality because God's calling is that valuable. We cannot avoid it if we wish to be in God's Kingdom. We must not let life simply “fly by” as if time is of no consequence.

Jesus is not declaring that every earthly thing we desire is inherently evil. He is admonishing us that we must judiciously evaluate the use of our time and efforts against His way and purposes for our lives. Because of our calling, His will and directives are now our highest priorities. Material, earthly desires come far down the list. He is most concerned with how we use our faith because salvation is “by grace . . . through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Right here, we face one of Jesus' greater concerns about the possible effects of desiring a wrong treasure. At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, He does not speak much about this concern, but it is nonetheless a danger that He warns about elsewhere, so we must be aware and cautious. He says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” a powerful cause-and-effect statement. If it is not carefully monitored, a person's treasure has enough influence to alter his heart for good or evil.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 6:19-20

Jesus illustrates His admonition in Matthew 6:19-20 by counseling us to consider carefully two facts when comparing earthly and heavenly treasures. First, moth and rust cannot destroy heavenly treasures. Second, thieves cannot break in and steal treasures in heaven, which we valued so highly that we worked diligently to possess them. Both categories represent the high probability of earthly treasures steadily declining in value after having cost us much time and energy in obtaining them.

The first category—moth and rust—represents all the factors existing in the natural world that cause earthly treasures to deteriorate and lose their value. Foods become moldy, garments wear out, metals tarnish—even land can lose its fertility, become infested with weeds, or wash away. Fences and walls break down, roofs leak and cave in, and termites invade and destroy houses. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires, and floods can destroy expensive, well-built homes in a matter of minutes. What does a person have then but an empty lot that once held his family's home?

Thieves breaking in and stealing stand for the human element in diminishing or destroying value. If we do not tend to them carefully night and day, our treasures too often, either slowly or all at once, disappear into the hands of enemies. Apparently, in using this illustration, Jesus was thinking of the homes common to His area of the world, most of which were constructed of clay. Thieves could rather easily dig through the walls of a mud-brick home and steal the homeowner's valuables.

We should also consider inflation, which eats away the savings of many. There is also governmental mismanagement of national affairs resulting in higher taxes, as well as bank failures, stock market crashes, business insolvencies, and prolonged illnesses. Even the bodies and minds of the strongest of us gradually wear down, eventually causing the individual to die.

The simple reality is that we cannot take earthly treasures through the grave. In comparison with heavenly things, such physical treasures have a limited “lifetime” of value. We could say that earthly treasures picture temporariness while heavenly ones last for eternity (II Corinthians 4:18).

The Bible provides ample evidence that God is not against pursuing earthly treasure as long as His sons and daughters do not allow it to deflect them away from the primary goals that He has set for us. That line between them must be prayerfully and thoughtfully worked out between the child of God and God Himself. In Scripture, a wealthy person is not automatically reprobate under God's standard of judgment. Genesis 13:2 states, “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Note, Abram was not merely rich but “very rich.” And not only that, he was the friend of God (James 2:23). On the other hand, a rich person is not automatically accepted either.

Nor does the Bible condemn the setting aside of provision to take care of potential future needs, perhaps for a disaster. Joseph's advice to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:33-35 was to store up during the good years so there would be enough during the coming famine. The text later shows that God approves of Joseph's suggestion to set aside wealth to be prepared when bad times arrive.

The apostle Paul does not make a mistake in II Corinthians 12:14, where he counsels the Corinthians: “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” Parents are to “lay up” or set money aside for their children. In the same vein, though somewhat more broadly, the apostle writes in I Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 6:19-21

There is an over-arching subject that Jesus never directly mentions in the context of Matthew 6:19-21, but He was undoubtedly concerned about it. No one ever had a clearer understanding of human realities than Jesus. This subject concerns two levels of diversion from what is proper within achieving a desire, the first being minor compared to the second.

First, then, is that, humanly, we can become so deeply involved in achieving an especially desired goal that we become inattentive to virtually everything else, including God. Some refer to it as “losing oneself in the moment.” We can be thankful that these kinds of diversions generally do not last long. We usually “catch” ourselves within them and redirect our efforts accordingly. How many serious accidents have been caused by this type of distraction is beyond knowing.

The second concern is far more damaging to our calling: We allow our human nature to re-enslave us to this world. This return to carnality happens when we fail to discipline ourselves daily. We fail to maintain our focus on the absolute fact that what really matters in our lives are glorifying God and attaining spiritual value in our character. We must put everything else in second, third, or fourth place in order of importance. No one can do this for us; we must do it ourselves.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” His counsel, valuable within its context, applies in spades to our calling. The context does not delve into the fact that not all things a person desires and works for are of equal value. Herein lies another reality that we must resolve because heavenly treasure and earthly treasure are not equally important, especially after God calls us.

The proper balance of the time and effort we give to seeking treasure must be an important companion to determining our priorities in what treasures we seek. Once God calls a person is called, a new effort with far greater, more important goals has entered his life. The called-out individual must never allow himself to forget that the Creator God personally and specifically called him; he is not among the elect by accident or stroke of luck.

We must add to this astounding truth what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 to those God calls: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This burning dedication to the same goals that God has called us to must accompany the called-out person's efforts to be a profitable servant. Without this characteristic, we can be quite busy accomplishing, but unless we are also deeply committed to what God is focused on for us to achieve, we will merely burn time without achieving much of value in terms of God's spiritual purpose.

God wants us to give our time and life purposefully over to attaining His Kingdom. Merely being busy and productive are not the only issues. Being focused on what God assigns works hand in glove with what one's treasure is. Matthew 6:24, just a few verses later, gives us a significant reason why: “No man can serve two 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.”

The reason may escape the reasoning of many, but Jesus clearly warns that giving our lives over to the achievement of the things of this world is blatant idolatry for a Christian! Do we truly want to place ourselves in the position of hating God—or even loving Him less than something else? The things of this world are those things God has not assigned to the Christian life.

Unlike those in the world, few called-out ones fall into such calamity, but some do and find themselves re-enslaved to the world by it. Such a person will be so preoccupied with gathering his worldly treasure that his skewed focus will confuse his values. His achievement in that area of life will obscure the goal God has established for our spiritual existence. The human heart will follow the carnal influence rather than the godly one. We must make diligent efforts to avoid this trap because the world acts like a magnet, always trying to recapture what has been pulled from it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 6:24

Most people who are familiar with the Bible are aware of this statement made by Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount. This teaching on the inadvisability of trying to serve two masters comes at the end of a line of comparisons between two major elements of life. Earlier, He had spoken about two different kinds of treasure, the earthly kind and the heavenly kind. Then He mentioned the good eye and the bad eye, or perhaps it would be clearer to call them the focused ("single," KJV) eye and the confused eye, which illustrate a person's outlook on his life. Obviously, Jesus is trying to help us see the dichotomy between God's way and the way of this world, man's way, or Satan's way, however we may wish to look at it.

In this verse, He moves on to the human will, telling us that it is impossible to give full allegiance to more than one entity, whether it be a family member, a boss, a cause, or even football teams! As He says, one of them will always be slighted in some way. One's true loyalty will soon be revealed when circumstances conspire to force a choice between them. At the fish-or-cut-bait moment, we will choose to give our time and attention to the one that we really love, and the other we will "hate" by comparison.

As a native of the Steel City, I am a Pittsburgh Steeler fan and always have been. Yet, I have lived in Charlotte since 1992 and have been a fan of the Panthers since the team's first NFL game in 1995. I know a great deal about both clubs, watch most of their games, and avidly follow their player acquisitions and moves. It is good that the Steelers are an AFC team, while the Panthers are an NFC team, so they rarely play each other. But what happens when they do? There is no question: I root for the Steelers. My choice shows that I "love" the Steelers and "hate" the Panthers; I am "loyal" to the black and gold and "despise" the black, Panther blue, silver, and white. In such a situation, I cannot cheer for both.

In the last phrase, Jesus makes it clear that the choice often comes down to God on the one hand and "Mammon"—a word that denotes wealth and possessions—on the other. True, His audience, mostly Jews, had and still have a reputation for pursuing wealth overmuch, but His true audience is everyone. We all want more things, and we sometimes go to extreme measures to get them. When faced with the decision of following God or following the money, too many pick the latter, and in doing so, reveal our true loyalties.

He desires His disciples, therefore, to take note: The true Christian puts God first in everything. If a promotion at work means that a Christian will have to work on the Sabbath or blur some of his principles, he needs to choose God and turn down the promotion. If he can avoid a heavy tax assessment if he fudges the numbers a little on his 1040, he should choose God and submit an honest return. If he finds a wallet filled with cash, he must choose God and return it to its owner. In every case in which we must decide between obedience to God and gaining for the self, God must be our constant choice.

While this may seem somewhat onerous, this kind of total devotion and commitment is what God demands. Jesus is also the one who said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62), and “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Even in the verse under discussion, Jesus speaks of “serving . . . masters," which is an allusion to slavery. But we can gladly choose to serve God, the most gracious and beneficent of masters.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 




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