Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:19b “. . .where moth. . .”
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (6:19a) is really an appeal to good common sense. To fasten our hearts down to things of this earth is suicidal insanity. People are daily killed by money. The nervousness of acquiring it is intensified by the anxiety of preserving it. Urging us to avoid the coveting of stuff, Jesus spoke of three spoilers which ever haunt the dreams of money lovers.
The first spoiler is the “moth,” an insect that gnaws and destroys cloth. Rich, luxurious garments have always been a sign of wealth. Joseph demonstrated his wealth by giving his eleven brothers changes of clothing (GN 45:22). Achan died because at Jericho he coveted and stole a Babylonian garment (JS 7:21). The overland trade route which linked West with East was called “The Silk Road.”
In our culture, designer clothing has become a way of life, a status symbol absorbing huge percentages of our budgets. We are people who at the same time complain of never having anything to wear and of not having enough closet space. Our closets are full despite the fact what moths do not get, changes in fashion will.
Matt. 6:19c “. . .and rust doth corrupt,. . .”
The second spoiler is “rust,” literally “eating away.” This refers to anything that corrupts. Grain stored in barns and silos has always been a sign of affluence, but even the wealthiest landowner is smitten in the heart at the thought of rats, mice, worms, and other critters. I have a friend who lost a fortune due to a freak change in temperature that resulted in an infestation which caused peanuts to rot in the shell. Fifteen percent of all the stored grain in India is eaten by mice and rats.
Matt. 6:19d “. . .and where thieves break through and steal:”
The third spoiler is “thieves.” What “moth and rust” leave behind, “thieves” often get. Gems are usually their target. Even precious metals are never a sure investment. “Moth and rust” do not hurt them, but thieves can usually find a way to steal the hoard. Garments, grain, gems–none is a sure bet. Every earthly possession has its own destructive opposite, a dangerous spoiler which can undermine it.
Consider four reasons why putting confidence in earthly riches is unwise. First, they are dangerous. Coveting possessions lures “moth, rust, and thieves” to not only our treasures, but also our hearts. As we lust for stuff, moths gnaw away our spirituality, rust corrodes our prayers, and thieves steal our love for God.
Second, earthly riches are insecure. The longterm happiness promised by riches is not trustworthy. Many “thieves” are afoot. Illness can deplete a family fortune in days. Old age and a need for nursing care can end affluence overnight.
In all commodities is an element of “moth and rust,” making us never sure of tomorrow. Economies collapse, stock markets crash, inflation deflates values, market shares decrease. No person can ever guarantee the grip they hold on anything they possess. We need to hear and heed the Bible’s warning, “Labor not to be rich. . . .Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven” (PR 23:4a,5).
Third, earthly riches are disappointing. They never fully satisfy, and always leave us longing for more. We tend to grow tired of our belongings. We’re cursed not only with an insect “moth” which eats away our garments, but also with an inside “moth” which eats away the hearts’ fascination with our clothes. One type of “rust” corrupts our things; another “rust” corrodes our enjoyment of them. Some “thieves” steal our possessions; other “thieves” rob us of our delight in them.
All things of this earth tend to lose to us their lustre and appeal. We enjoy particular items for a while, but as time passes we begin to lose interest. Fashions change. We become bored with old things, and seek new items to entertain us.
Twenty years ago two elderly sisters gave me a glass bowl bearing the words, “World’s Fair 1893.” I was overwhelmed. The Ferris Wheel was introduced at this world’s fair. It was the only one our beloved missionary hero Lottie Moon ever attended, and the one D. L. Moody shut down on Sundays by bringing to Chicago the world’s most famous preachers to preach on the Lord’s Day at strategic sites near the fairground. When given the bowl, I was totally speechless, but it has been many many years since I really looked at it and dwelt a while on its significance. This is the way it is with things of earth. “Moths” eat them or the thrill. “Rust” corrodes them or their beauty. “Thieves” steal them or their luster.
Fourth, earthly riches are fleeting. Even if moth, rust, and thieves do not take your treasures from you, the pilfering grim reaper will take you from your treasures. All the mothballs, mousetraps, and burglar alarms in the world cannot prevent this inevitability. When a rich man dies, we often wonder “How much did he leave?” The correct answer is always the same, “All he had.” This world is not our final home, and anything laid up on earth will inevitably be left down on earth.
The Spanish proverb is true, a shroud has no pockets. To put an American slant on it, no hearse has a U-haul behind it. Alexander the Great conquered the western world, but was buried with his hands extended outside his coffin to signify the fact that even as he brought nothing into this world, he took nothing out of it. He remains the consummate tragic answer to Jesus’ question, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (MK 8:36).