Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:20a “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,. . .”
A man visiting an art gallery said to a woman scrubbing the floor, “There are many beautiful paintings here.” She replied, “I suppose so, if a body has the time to look up.” What a tragic portrayal in microcosm of life itself. We can be so engrossed in this world’s things that we rarely take time to look up. “He builds too low who builds beneath the skies.” This life is but a temporary way-station on a long journey. Ever fix our eyes on the forever-world beyond this temporary one.
To “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” entails doing deeds on earth which are valued in heaven, which please God and thereby yield everlasting benefits, not only temporary results. A believer’s objective is clear: always be looking for heavenly ways to use earthly things. Ever view stuff as but a means to an end. Our use of things must begin with spiritual motives and end with spiritual results.
This world’s material things are neutral, having no inherent goodness or badness. The way we use our possessions determines whether they accumulate for us treasure on earth or treasure in heaven. As we use physical stuff for spiritual causes, we turn neutral earthly goods into beneficial heavenly material. A cup of water is a physical thing, but if given in Jesus’ name to relieve one’s thirst, it becomes currency of heaven (MK 9:41). Our physical presence is an earthly thing, but if given to widows, orphans, or others in need, it becomes heavenly substance.
In the Decian persecution, a Roman prefect broke into a Christian church in Rome to loot its riches. He demanded, “Show me your treasures at once.” Laurentius the deacon, pointing to several poor, sick, widows and orphans being fed and nursed, replied, “These are the treasures of the church. We have invested all we have in them.” The trait of true Christianity has ever been loving care for the poor and sick, distressed and sad, helpless and downtrodden, weak and weary.
Our trademark should always be, turning treasures of earth into treasures of heaven. Somewhere between the two extremes of stinginess and wastefulness, we must find a proper use of stuff. A miser says coins are flat so they can be stacked, easily stored, and kept from going anywhere. He feels if he takes anything out of his hoard, his whole stash will come tumbling down. A spender says coins are round so they can roll and go. He feels if he saves anything, he may miss the one purchase which would have brought ultimate happiness. A Christian says coins are both flat and round so they can be flipped upward, tossed up in the air toward heaven to remind us where our truest treasure is to be. Believers are to scrutinize their possessions, seeking ways to turn treasures of earth into treasures in heaven.
The only thing we will bring into heaven at death is our own self, and the finer the self we bring, the greater our treasure there will be (Barclay). The surest way to bring our best self into heaven is to live for heaven before we arrive there.
In advance give everything we can to God for Him to keep for us and to exchange for us into helpful heavenly currency. American money does not help us in China. Before we travel there, our money must be converted into local currency. Similarly, before we enter heaven, our American money must be converted into local legal tender. Opportunities are plentiful. As Arthur Mallory well says, “Everything our churches do is in some way connected to the American dollar bill.” Thus, lots of “money exchanging” possibilities are open to us. Use them.
Do it, not to earn heaven–salvation is by grace–but to prove our desires are already there. Dr. South, preaching 300 years ago on our text, said, “No man ever went to heaven whose heart was not there before.” To aid our own self-confidence, be sure an ever increasing percentage of our heart is moving toward heaven.
Matt. 6:20b “. . .where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where
thieves do not break through nor steal:”
The treasures we send on ahead to heaven are not only valuable, but also safe. No moth or rust can eat away our heavenly stockpile, no thief can take away our spiritual rewards. Heaven is the Universe’s safest and best bank, for it is the only one that can never have a crash, never be robbed, and can help us after death.
In contrast, every earthly thing we own will inevitably be torn from us by “the separating, bony fingers of the skeleton Death” (Maclaren). The more intertwined our inner essence is with stuff, the more violent this separation will be.
Dr. Samuel Johnson once toured a beautiful castle. After viewing all its luxuries, he lamented, “These are the things which make it difficult to die.” Cardinal Mazarin, the French statesman, learning he had a fatal disease, looked at his huge art collection, and cried out, “I must leave all this! I must leave all this!”
We desperately need to treasure most passionately those things that will last as long as we last, and that nothing can take from us. Maclaren tells of a sad tombstone inscription in which two parents stated their feelings at the loss of their only child, “All our hopes were in this frail bark, and the shipwreck is total.”
My heart aches for these parents. I would never downplay their pain. At the same time, though, I remind us our ultimate treasure has to be in something totally separate from anything of this world, including the ones we hold most dear.
This is not to say God is selfish. His precepts are always given for our own good. Loving God supremely does not cause us to love others less, but instead ennobles and heightens our love for them. As our love for God grows, our love for those He has given us increases. The same essential key unlocks the door to heavenly success and the door to earthly success. The most fulfilling life is found in always seeking to please God first, to make Him the most valuable treasure in our lives. Always put God and His will first in our hearts, for this is the only way we can be building up treasure in heaven, where moth, rust, and thieves can not reach.