Up to this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has spoken almost entirely about the spiritual character of those who would be His disciples and of the relationship they must have with God. But Christianity is not just a vertical relationship between us and God. It also has horizontal dimensions because we are material as well as spiritual creatures and live in a space-time, physical universe populated by other people.
What should our lives be like on this level? How should we regard material things such as food, clothing, and money? How should we think about the future, which we view in terms of having possessions or lacking them? How should we relate to people who are different from us and do not act as we think they should act? And what do these matters have to do with the fact that we belong to God and should be learning to trust him? Jesus addresses these matters (Matthew 6.19 – 7.12), and His point is this: What He has said about our relationship with God must govern how we think about earthly matters too. In these verses He talks about wealth, worry, judging others, and our constant need for prayer. He ends this section with the best-known saying in the entire Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule.
Storing Up Heavenly Treasure – What about storing up treasure on earth? More than likely we all know people who have ruined their lives by putting the pursuit of wealth above their families or other worthwhile things. If you do not know such people, there are ample illustrations in the Bible. Achan caused the defeat of the armies of Israel at Ai and suffered death himself, along with his family, because he coveted a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred pieces of silver, and an ingot of gold, items that God told the people not to take from Jericho during their conquest of the city. Solomon allowed the love of money and women to ruin his spiritual life. Ananias and Sapphira lied about money, pretending they had given the full price of a piece of land to the Church while they were actually keeping back part of it.
Yet it is not money itself that is the problem, though the Bible hints at the danger often associated with having a great deal of it. The Bible contains examples of people who were wealthy but who handled their wealth rightly. Abraham was a rich man. So were Job and David. The problem lies with how we think about money and whether it or the love of God and His glory is our priority.
This is Jesus’ concern here. He is not speaking against possessions, only a preoccupation with them. And He is giving sound reasons why we should make it our priority to store up spiritual treasure in heaven rather than material treasure on earth. He gives four reasons, and each is worth serious consideration.
First, material things do not last. Moths destroy clothing. The word translated “rust” means “an eating away” and probably refers to the destruction of stored grain by rodents. Rust destroys things. It will ruin even an expensive Ferrari in time. What the moths and rust do not ruin, thieves can steal – or the government can take through excessive taxation. And even if we are able to escape the moths, rust, and the IRS – even if the value of our stocks just continues to rise – eventually even “heaven and earth will pass away,” and everything that is material will be gone. Where will you be then if you have not laid up lasting spiritual treasure in heaven? On another occasion Jesus said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
Second, focusing on money will bind us to this earth. We are creatures of the earth, which is why possessions are not bad in and of themselves. But we are also made for heaven, and our highest and most noble thoughts concern not what we have in common with the animals but that we are made in God’s image and for fellowship with God. If we concentrate on wealth alone, we strangle what is best about us and become only empty shells of what God created us to be.
Third, concentrating on possessions clouds our vision. This is what Jesus has in mind in his illustration of a clear or a clouded-over eye. If you are absorbed with money, you will miss everything else in life that really matters.
Finally, no one can serve God and Money at the same time. In the original text of this verse, the word translated “Money” is Mammon. Mammon came from a Hebrew verb meaning “to entrust” or “to place in someone’s keeping.” The noun, therefore, referred to the wealth one entrusted to another for safekeeping. At this stage the word did not have any bad connotations. If something bad was meant, it was necessary to put another word with it, as in “mammon of unrighteousness.” Yet as time went by, the meaning of mammon shifted from the passive sense of “that which is entrusted” to the active sense of “that in which one trusts.” When that happened, the word originally spelled with a small “m” came to be spelled with a capital “M,” as designating a god, which is why certain translations capitalize the word Money!
We must decide from the beginning that we are here to serve God above everything else and that everything we possess has been given to us by God and is to be held in stewardship for Him. If we make such a decision, we will find when we die that we have actually been laying up eternal spiritual treasure in heaven and that nothing has destroyed it.