Treasuring, Focusing, Serving
“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. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one 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.” Matthew 6:19-24
After a Sunday evening service, Beverley and I invited a visitor from out-of-town to join us at a local restaurant for dinner. During our conversation about who he was and asking about his family, he abruptly and excitedly asked, “Hey, do you want to see a picture of my treasure in heaven.” Being taken by surprise I did not know how to answer him. If his treasure was truly in heaven, how could I see a picture of it. My thoughts were that heavenly treasures were of a spiritual nature and could not be photographed. Yet, he was so enthusiastic and happy, he did not wait for an answer. He whipped out his wallet and passed me a photo of his seventeen year old daughter’s senior picture. He then explained, “last year she was driving home when a drunk driver hit her head on and killed her instantly. She was such a good Christian girl. We miss her, but now she is my treasure in heaven.”
Treasuring Up One of Two Possible Investments
Jesus’ prohibition to lay up material goods on earth is not a restriction upon His disciples from having any form of personal property. Both Old and New Testaments abound with laws protecting the rights of men and women to have material goods. In fact, the commandments not to steal or covet clearly promote the distinction between public and private ownership. Only one person was told to sell all his goods and give it to the poor and that was the Rich Young Ruler (Matt. 19:21). Instead, Jesus is giving His disciples a choice of priorities involving investments for their future. If they want to invest in a sure thing, they need to focus on spiritual treasures laid up in heaven not physical treasures stored up on earth.
In the Greek text Jesus is making a play on words. He is prohibiting them from treasuring up treasures. The phrase to “lay up” is from the Greek word thesaurizete and the Greek term thesaurous is translated here, “treasures.” They both come from the same Greek term from which the English word “thesaurus” is derived. A thesaurus is a treasury of words.
The idea of treasures can include money, gold, diamonds, jewelry, vehicles, wardrobe, homes, real estate, power of position, popularity, etc. All these things are found in this life and are earth-bound. It is only natural to store up the physical as opposed to that which is spiritual in nature. The material things on earth can be touched, seen, handled, acquired, etc. They are necessary for the life lived here and now.
Jesus gives three reasons why investing in the temporary treasures of life is the wrong choice. First, since much of their clothing was made of wool, moths would eat it away. Garments were one of the riches of the ancient world. The wealthy would even weave threads of gold in their clothing to keep it on them at all times. Another reason is the corruptibility of their possessions. Rust could eat away at their metal money. Finally, Jesus reminds them of thieves who break in and steal their goods. The term for “break” is to dig through the mud-brick walls of a house to gain entry to the home owner’s valuables. “The Greeks called a burglar a ‘mud-digger”’. (Robertson 56) Earthly investments are not durable.
Next, Jesus gives the same three reasons from a positive standpoint as to why His disciples should invest in heaven. Heaven has no devouring insects or rodents, no rust, and all thieves are kept off the streets of gold. In Heaven there is no need for insecticides, mouse traps, rust proof paint, insurance, thick walled safes or security systems. All treasures in heaven are incorruptible, eternally secure, and indestructible. Another reason treasuring up treasures in heaven is a wiser investment: “for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7). You cannot take any of it with you. The old adage is true, there are no pockets in a shroud. Or we could ask, “have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul?” In fact, the person who lays up treasures on earth and is not rich toward God is a fool (Luke 12:20,21). Even if a man would own the whole world and everything in it, what would it profit him? Nothing (Matt. 16:26). One day the Lord is going to return and everything material will be burned up (2 Cor. 4:18).
The “heart” is the mind. Our mind dwells on what is most important. If our investments are in earthly wealth, our minds are carnal and earth bound. If our minds are focused on spiritual blessings our hearts are focused on Heaven. Paul told the Christians of the first century to “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). One’s attitudes and priorities concerning material possessions and spiritual blessings are strong indicators where their heart already has taken up residence.
Focusing On One of Two Possible Directions
Verses 22 and 23 of Jesus’ sermon are more of a challenge to understand. However, Jesus was just talking about the heart or mind. The mind is to be set or focused on heavenly blessings which come from above and his affections are where he has his treasures stored. The eyes here represent the heart or mind. Whatever one fixes their eyes upon is what they have set their mind on.
The word “single” is from the Greek haplous. “The word means ‘without folds’ like a piece of cloth unfolded, simplex in Latin” (Robertson 56). A single eye is a simple one in that it is focused on a single point. In this case a disciple’s eye or mind has a single goal in mind: Heaven. His life is one of simplicity. His sight is not cloudy with the cataracts of possessions. His vision is not distorted by rose-colored lenses. If a window pane is not clear, the room will be darkened. So it is in the life of the man who stacks up worldly goods to the point no light from heaven can shine into his house. He will soon forget there is a world beyond the little area that has become his storehouse and world.
Another possible definition of the term “single” may involve generosity or liberality. Someone who is very giving does not horde. He gives to those in need. He does so because his focus is not on stockpiling worldly goods.
The eyes determine directions and destination. The eyes focus the attention upon what is being done now and where one is going to be in the future. The heart or eyes of the man whose focus in on the earth and its treasures while at the same time trying to focus on the hope of Heaven, has double-vision. He cannot see clearly where he is going. He will stumble and fall. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). A man with two good eyes walks in the light as opposed to a blind man who walks in darkness. He does not see where he is going. Surely, these are those “whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Cor. 4:4a). This is so true of those who are blinded by their pursuit of material possessions. They think they are really getting somewhere as they amass a fortune. Only to end up in the end with absolutely nothing but to spend eternity in darkness.
Serving One of Two Possible Masters
“Mammon is a Syriac word, a name given to an idol worshiped as the god of riches. It has the same meaning as Plutus among the Greek” (Barnes). Plutus was the god of wealth. Adam Clarke quotes Augustine who observed, “that mammon, in the Punic or Carthaginian language, signified gain.”
Obviously, it is possible to have two employers today. However, when one had a master in the first century, he was not a mere servant or employee, he was a slave. His time was his master’s. The slave could serve one master and no one else. Just as you cannot be double-minded and walk in two different directions at the same time, no one can serve two masters at the same time.
Jesus explains this impossibility by declaring they must either hate or love and be loyal or to despise. There is no room for compromise. The wicked love the darkness and hate the light (Jn. 3:19-21). Luke describes “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money” (Lk. 16:14). The “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). We are to “not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). To serve materialism is to be disloyal to the God who redeemed us from the slavery to sin. It is an indignity to the God who gave His Son for our soul’s salvation. It is claiming “in God we trust” when the truth is “in gold we trust.” When one considers how fleeting fortunes can be, how corruptible commodities are, and how insecure investments have been, why would they ever serve such a fickle and unfaithful master as mammon. So many think they can serve both God and this material world. The preferred compromise is to serve God on Sunday and start serving mammon on Monday.
For a true disciple, the Lord is the only Master they serve. Their eye is clear and focused on a single destination. Their treasures are treasured up in Heaven. A few weeks after the father mentioned above showed me a photo of his treasure in Heaven, I was called upon to speak at a funeral for a twelve year old girl who had died of cancer. Her father came and told me not to be overly concerned about what to say. He knew I had only conducted one other funeral service. He explained that his daughter put on Christ in baptism the pervious Sunday evening and two hours later passed away at home in her own bed. At the funeral, I focused their attention on their treasure which was laid up in Heaven waiting for them.
– Daniel R. Vess