Treasure in Heaven

 



Treasures in Heaven - Matthew 6:19-24
by Ted Schroder

When there is any discussion and debate about wealth – who has it and who doesn’t , how did they get it and what should they do with it, how much should they be allowed to keep and how much should be redistributed to those who need it – there is a great deal of self-righteous moralizing. Those who are affluent are meant to feel guilty, and those who are poor are meant to feel angry and entitled to their ‘fair share.’ So much of the political and economic debate today revolves around these issues. We live in an atmosphere of villains and victimhood. National governments are having to pass austerity budgets, and public benefits are being reduced. Charities and churches are also facing cutbacks. What would Jesus have to say about the question of wealth?

What was Jesus prohibiting when he told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? Scripture nowhere forbids ownership and investment in property or business. The anarchist idea that property is theft does not come from the Bible. Jesus commends putting money to work (Luke 19:11-26). Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, and condemns the believer who makes no future provision for his family (Prov.6:6ff.; 1 Tim.5:8). Lack of future financial planning is regarded as irresponsibility. Jesus was laid in a tomb provided by a rich follower, Joseph of Arimathea. 

What then was Jesus prohibiting? Living only for this life, loving the things of this world, purely selfish and excessive accumulation of wealth, lack of compassion for those in genuine need (the ‘undeserving’ poor), the foolish fantasy that happiness is to be found in materialism. To lay up treasure on earth does not mean being prudent and responsible by making sensible provision for the future, but being covetous like misers who hoard, and materialists who are greedy. It is thinking that you are the owner rather than the renter of earthly goods; the creator rather than the steward of all that you have. Storing up treasures on earth for yourselves, says Jesus, is foolish because they do not last. Moth and rust destroy earthly treasures and thieves break in and steal them. Nothing can protect your investments if businesses can go bankrupt, banks can fail, currency can be devalued, inflation can occur, stocks can collapse, property values fall, and taxes can rise.

Instead, Jesus teaches us to store up our treasures in heaven, which do not deteriorate but last forever. To store up treasure in heaven is to do anything on earth which will last for eternity. It is a good investment. What are such heavenly investments? The development of a Christ-like character: the fruit of the Spirit; growth in the knowledge of God; investment in the lives of others, especially in bringing them further into the kingdom of Christ; the use of our money and resources for the growth of the kingdom, which is the only investment whose dividends are everlasting. What we freely give away can never be taken from us by any earthly circumstance. We will always have the knowledge that our investment was worthwhile. Our hearts follow our interests and investments. Our lives are blessed by the investments we make. Where we put our treasure, our heart will be also. It is better to put it where it will have lasting good.

Our choices are determined by our vision. If our vision is focused on the kingdom of heaven we will make financial choices that reflect the priorities of the kingdom. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” If our vision becomes clouded by materialism, and the belief that this world is all that there is and therefore we should eat, drink and be merry in this time we have, and we lose our sense of the values of the kingdom of heaven, then our whole life is in darkness, and we cannot see where we are going. We determine everything by what it can do for us, what it is going to cost us, and we measure everyone by what they are worth financially. We see people in terms of dollars and cents rather than in their worth in God’s eyes. “According to biblical thought an ‘evil eye’ is a niggardly, miserly spirit, and a ‘sound eye’ is a generous spirit.” (John Stott)

Behind our choice between storing up treasures on earth and treasures in heaven, there is our choice between masters – whom we are going to serve: God or Money (‘mammon’ is the Aramaic word for wealth). Who are we going to listen to, be guided by, accept counsel from, follow, obey? Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money.” It would seem that there is no contest between the Creator of all wealth and the creature of commerce. It is the choice between worship of the Giver of all things, and the false idolatry of material objects. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gave you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut.8:17,18) This is a no-brainer. It is not just a question of what is going to last, what is going to have the greatest benefit, but what is of greater worth: the worth of the One and Only Creator and Giver of all good things, and the recognition that money is a means to do good, a gift from God, a good servant, but also a terrible master when it consumes us.

How can we make sure that we are choosing God over Money? How can we make sure that Money is our servant and not our Master? By giving it away. We are freed from money’s power when we give it away to serve God and his kingdom, to do good, to support kingdom activities. We break the power of money over us when we release it by offering it to God’s service. Money cannot do much good when it is stored up on earth. It is when it is released in God’s service that it can do much good and it can bless our souls. 

Jesus told the parable of the rich fool to warn us to be on guard against all kinds of greed, for our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. Because he ran out of space to store his crops he set out to build bigger barns in which to store all his grain and his goods. He said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus said, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
Store up treasures in heaven by investing in that which will last forever. “Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38) 

January 8, 2012

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Sermon on Treasure in Heaven - Matthew 6:19-24

 

Sermon on Treasure in Heaven - Matthew 6:19-24