Your Heart and Stuff
There once was a farmer, who farmed quite a bit of land. He had a few grain bins, and a silo on his farm, and he was hoping to fill up everything when harvest came.
Well, harvest came and it was the ideal year. He harvested so much more than he had ever done before, and as harvest continued, he discovered that his grain bins and silo were not going to be big enough for all the grain that was coming in. There wasn’t enough room for all the grain he was combining.
So, he quickly had some bigger grain bins built, and filled up all of them. He had enough grain to last him a few years of sales.
So, he decided he would take a break for a little while, he could “retire” so to speak, for a couple years. He would have some parties, buy some really nice stuff, and just be happy.
But, the next day, after he made that decision, the Lord appeared to him and said, “You Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
So the man died, and all his wealth and his stuff were left to his wife and kids, to be divided among them.
Does that story sound familiar? That’s because it’s a story that Jesus told His disciples in Luke 12. And then He said, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
There were a few different times where Jesus taught about wealthiness and being rich, and how to guard against that kind of mentality. And today’s passage is about the same thing.
So let’s read the passage again: “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 eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Where We’ve Been So Far
So far in the sermon on the mount, we’ve heard so much about the life that is to come. We’re told in the Beatitudes to live our best life later. That is, we should be living this life in light of the blessing that will come in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Jesus told us to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, those hypocrites. In all these different things—anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love, giving, prayer, fasting—we are to be better than the Pharisees. He tells us things we shouldn’t do that the hypocrites do, and He gives examples of what it looks like to do what we’re supposed to.
But Jesus’s concern isn’t merely with how we act. No, Jesus’ concern here is for our hearts. In Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, God promised to give His people new hearts, and that the law would be written on our hearts. So in all these things He’s described so far in His Sermon—our righteousness—Jesus wants our hearts to be right. And this will bring right action.
The Pharisees were doing all the right actions, but their motivation was way wrong. They did it—as we see in the first few sections of chapter 6—for the praise and recognition of men. Their motivation was not to please God, and they certainly didn’t care about the condition of their hearts, even though they were the ones to whom the promise of the New Covenant was given!
But also in chapter 6, Jesus introduced the explicit idea of heavenly reward for our earthly actions. When we give to the needy, we will be rewarded in heaven. When we pray in secret, we will be rewarded in heaven. When we fast in secret, we will be rewarded in heaven.
Do Not Store Up . . .
Which is where this morning’s passage comes in. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, . . .” (Matthew 6:19). Jesus has been telling His disciples all about the reward they will have in heaven because of their righteousness—their true righteousness—and now He tells them, "Don't worry at all about earthly reward or earthly treasure. It’ll just get ruined.”
Jesus tells us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth. Because here on earth, where we’re affected every day by the curse of our sin, our treasures can be eaten by moths and rust (and probably some other things, too). They decay, they get ruined. The effects of time wear them down—they just don’t last.
And on top of that, our treasures can be stolen. Sinful men or women, who don’t know the Lord, could take the things you treasure away from you. They could be gone forever. Such is the state of our earthly treasure.
“Treasure” is anything valuable. In Jesus’ day, it was anything that people would want to keep hidden, or stored up. Most people would have a secret thing in their home, either a chest, or a hole in the ground, or something like that, where they would keep anything of great value. This would be either family heirlooms, jewelry, money, fancy clothes—anything other people might want to steal.
They didn’t have much trust in banks and bankers, and such things as safety deposit boxes hadn’t been invented yet.
So they would store up for themselves the things they treasured. But Jesus tells us not to do that at all.
Do Store Up . . .
Instead, Jesus says, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). In heaven, moths will not eat your treasure. Rust will not effect any of it. The effects of sin and the curse will have been done away with, and so they won’t ruin any of your treasure.
Furthermore, in heaven, nobody will be a thief. There won’t be anybody to steal your treasure away from you! Isn’t that amazing!?
Why In Heaven?
But even though our heavenly treasure won’t get ruined or stolen in heaven, that’s not the ultimate reason that we should store up our treasure in heaven. What does Jesus say is the real reason we should do this?
It’s because our hearts chase our treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
So let me ask you: Does Jesus care about what our treasure is? I hope you answered, “yes!” Because the place we store our treasure says a lot about what kind of treasure it is. And if Jesus didn’t care about what our treasure is, He wouldn’t be talking about it would He?
But His main concern about our treasure is where it is. Because our hearts, even though they’ve been made new in the New Covenant, are not incapable of making mistakes, or incapable of sin. We still experience sin on a daily basis.
So why is this stuff about the heart so important? Let’s discuss that for a couple minutes
Our culture is a little bit obsessed with the heart. The heart, in our society, is where emotions come from, and according to most people, the heart cannot make mistakes. So people say things like, “Follow your heart. It will never lead you astray.”
Well, the Bible begs to differ! Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our hearts are the very things that lead us astray; we should not follow our hearts!
Some people might object, saying, “Well my heart is in a good place, so I know it won’t follow after all my earthly treasures. I just need to keep control over my heart.”
Well that’s not what Jesus said! That’s the deceitfulness of sin and the heart’s own deceitfulness coming out to play, friends! That’s the evil one using your heart against you! Because as soon as you start to accumulate treasures for yourself on earth, Jesus says your heart will follow it, and will lead you away from God.
That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24).
That’s because when someone is rich, their hearts are constantly being pulled in a different direction, away from God.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So Jesus tells us to make sure our treasure is in the right place. Because our hearts will naturally follow, and it will be easier for our hearts to be in the right place.
The next part of our passage is a little bit difficult to understand completely. Jesus uses a metaphor that we in the 21st century are unfamiliar with, so it takes a little bit of work to figure out what it means. And if you read any commentaries on it, you’ll find out that even the words that are used in Greek don’t completely make sense with each other.
Jesus says this: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Today, we don’t have the idea that the eye is the lamp of the body. This could mean a couple different things, all of which are legitimate, valid interpretations of the text.
The most common idea about what it means for the eye to be the lamp of the body, and probably the one that makes the most sense, is that the eye is the organ through which light enters the body, so therefore it is the way by which the body receives light. Just like a lamp gives light to a whole room so that all may see, the eye gives light to the body, so that it may see, and know the way to go.
So the eye, then, is the part of us that shows us where to go. It illuminates the way, so that we won’t go the wrong way, or chase the wrong things.
So, if the eye is healthy, if it functions the way it should, then the whole body is healthy, because it will go in the right direction.
But here’s where things get tricky. In the original language, the word for “bad,” isn’t really the opposite of “healthy.” The word that’s translated as “bad” could mean “evil,” which would be a valid translation.
But, it could also mean “stingy,” or “selfish,” or “miserly.” It’s this idea of being selfish and keeping all your money and possessions for yourself, and refusing to give to others in their time of need. This is probably the best translation for that word.
So after establishing that “bad” really means selfishly greedy, the commentators usually go back to the word that’s translated as “healthy.” “Healthy” still works, but it doesn’t really get at what I think Jesus is trying to say. In other places in the Bible, different versions of the same word are translated as “generous,” “generosity,” “generously.” Which makes a lot more sense as the opposite of “bad,” or “selfishly greedy.”
So if your eye is bad, what is in you that you call “light,” will actually not be light. Because if your eye can’t see, if you are stingy or selfish, then what is supposed to be light will actually be darkness. And Jesus says, “then how great is the darkness!”
Some say that the heart and the eye in this passage are the same thing. I don’t see it. Because if the heart follows its treasure, but the eye gives guidance and focus for our lives, then they definitely aren’t the same thing.
That is to say, our gaze needs to be fixed on the right thing. Our heart can’t be the thing that guides us, because it will lead us astray every time.
Our eye needs to be healthy, and if it is, then our heart will be led to the right place.
Our eye needs to be fixed on our treasure in heaven. Jesus is telling us to set our focus on our treasure in heaven.
Your Two Masters
Jesus goes on to tell us a little bit more about why all of this is important.
“No one can serve two masters, for 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” (Matthew 6:24).
In other words, you can’t seek to have both earthly treasure and heavenly treasure. The two things aren’t compatible.
You can’t serve God while also accumulating stuff selfishly. You can’t do it.
The word translated as “serve” is the word they would use for slaves serving their master, which implies that either we are slaves to our stuff, or we are slaves to God. If you are a slave, it is to one person, and one person only. You couldn’t be a slave or servant of two different masters at the same time.
If that happened somehow, you would end up serving one more than the other, and eventually you would have to choose between the two, which one to serve wholeheartedly. Or else, your attentions would be divided for your whole life, and your reward would not be very great, because your work would be half-hearted.
So we can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve God, and seek earthly riches for ourselves. We can’t seek earthly treasure and heavenly treasure.
We have to choose one or the other. And I hope it’s obvious which master we should choose to serve.
Tying It Together
At first read, these three sections (where your treasure is; the eye; serving masters) seem slightly disconnected. Especially the middle section about the eye.
So how do they connect?
Well, they’re all talking about the same thing, and they work together to make one point together. First, Jesus says not to store up treasures on earth, but rather to store up treasure in heaven, because our heart will follow our treasure, wherever it is.
Then he says that our eye, the lamp of our body, which is what gives light to our body, so that we walk in the right direction, should be healthy. The word for “healthy” could also be translated as “generous,” and “bad” could be translated as “stingy” or “selfish,” so He’s saying that we should have generosity, not selfishness, as one of our guiding principles.
Then, He says that we can’t serve two masters—both money/possessions and God—for we will hate one and love the other, or serve one and despise the other. In other words, we can’t chase after earthly treasure and heavenly treasure, because one of them is going to be left behind—and, given our sinful fallen nature, it’ll probably be the heavenly treasure that gets neglected.
So what’s the main point?
The main point is that we as disciples of Jesus should not accumulate (store up) treasure on earth for ourselves. And that’s key here: for ourselves. Selfish greed, storing up treasure for ourselves is what’s under attack here.
I’ve heard so many parents say that they learn the true extent of the fallenness of mankind simply by watching their toddlers play with other kids. Even if they have a toy or two in their hand, they’ll see another kid playing with a different toy, and they’ll go up to them and snatch it away.
Meanwhile, one of the toys they were playing with gets taken by a different kid, and the first one starts crying, because it was theirs—even though they weren’t using it anymore, and couldn’t use it anymore, because their hands are full of other toys.
One of the first words kids learn, and use regularly, is “mine.” Or so I’ve been told. I’ll have to wait a couple years to experience that for myself, but I know it’s coming.
This selfishness is what Jesus is warning against here. Some might call it materialism, or consumerism, or what have you. But selfishness—which we all have in us—is what Jesus wants us to guard against.
So what does this mean for us today?
Well, I hope that it’s obvious: we should do all that we can to make sure our treasure is in heaven, and that our hearts are following the right things.
Some questions come up for me. Questions like, is it okay to have a high-paying job? Or should I feel bad for quitting one job, and getting another because the pay is better?
Well, I think these are the wrong kinds of questions to be asking. The real question is, Why are you (or why am I) seeking after these things? Why did I get a high-paying job, or why do I want to make more money?
Because so many times, it isn’t just our actions that make a difference, it’s the reason behind why we do them. If it’s for selfish reasons, then yeah, you probably should reconsider. Even if it isn’t, that money will become a temptation to you, so watch out. Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
But how do we do all this? How do we live a life today that reflects what we’ve learned from the sermon on the mount?
C. J. Mahaney edited a book called Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. It’s a book about how we as Christians should respond to the things that the world tells us, and what the Bible tells us about it.
And in it, there’s a chapter written by Dave Harvey, called “God, My Heart, and Stuff”.
In this chapter, Dave Harvey talks about covetousness, materialism, and the temptation to store up treasures on earth. My first application point would be to read that chapter. We have the book in our church library, so any one of you could take it out and read through it. It’s really good, and it’s pretty short!
In that chapter on stuff, Harvey gives some specific application points, and some of my material for the application part comes from that chapter. (But not all of it, so go read the book!)
There are four things I’d encourage us all to be doing as we consider how we can live out this part of Jesus’ teaching.
1) First, we need to regularly carry out self-examinations, and ask ourselves how we’re doing. Some good questions to ask yourself could be:
- When I wake up in the morning, do I think about how I can be rich toward God or store up treasure in heaven?
- Is there any “Stuff” that I really want? If so, how would having that lead me closer to God, or help me serve God better?
- Do I spend a lot of time thinking about my stuff or my money? Am I proud of the money or the stuff that I have?
- Do I think of myself as rich? If not, do I wish I had more money? Why do I want that?
All of these questions could help us determine where our heart is truly at. If our hearts are ruled by our stuff, it will show. We’ll keep looking online at the different things we can buy, which one is the best, how much it costs, and we’ll consciously save for that purchase.
Now that’s not always wrong. If there’s something that you legitimately need, then getting the one that would fit your need the best is a good thing. But if it’s for selfish reasons, that’s not a good thing.
I’m guilty of doing that. I need to repent of that tendency in me every day.
As we ask ourselves these kinds of questions and examine our lives, the Holy Spirit may convict us of ways that we’re sinning against God. If that happens, that’s good. We’re experiencing the fallenness of mankind, and God is showing us where we need to change.
And if you are convicted of sin, you need to take some time in prayer, confessing that sin to God, and repenting of it.
It’s also a good idea to confess that sin to someone else. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins. James 5:16 says that we should confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, so that we may be healed. If God shows you sin while you’re examining your habits, confess it and repent of it.
2) The second thing we need to do is to remember what and where our true riches are. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
What are some other passages that talk about our riches?
Let’s take a look:
Proverbs 3:16 says that “Long life is in her [wisdom’s] hand; in her left hand are riches and honour,” telling us that those who are wise have true riches.
Jeremiah 9:23 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’ ”
Romans 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience . . .”
Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, . . .”
Colossians 2:2: “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, . . .”
There are so many other passages we could look at, such as Romans 9:23, Romans 11:33, Ephesians 1:18, 2:7, 3:8, 16, Philippians 4:19, Colossians 1:27, and 1 Timothy 6:17.
So what are our true riches? Well from these passages, our true riches are/is the Gospels fo Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus died to pay for our sins, makes us rich beyond measure. It’s the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He showed us in saving us from our sin.
But more directly from Matthew 6, and the rest of the sermon on the mount, our true treasure also includes the rewards which Christ will have for us in the New Heaven and the New Earth, which we will receive based on how we live in this life.
The Beatitudes, the better righteousness, the new hearts which Jesus gives us, all these lead to reward in heaven. That is where our treasure lies, and our truest treasure is the Gospel.
So as we consider what and where our true treasure is, let’s remember that no riches—even the reward promised to us for our obedience—are greater than the riches we have in our salvation.
So when you’re looking at that new, better, more expensive thing that you want so badly, just ask yourself: is this as or more glorious than the Gospel?
And the answer should be “no.” Every. Single. Time.
So remember your true riches.
3) Our third point of application would be to de-materialize your life. This one comes straight from the book, and it’s so practical.
The idea is to go through your stuff at home, and determine what you need, and what you don’t need, and to get rid of some of the things that you don’t need. This should probably be at least a yearly thing in order for it to remain practical.
I know this sounds radical, but Jesus specifically tells us not to store up treasures on earth. In a culture where it’s so easy to accumulate what we don’t need, we probably need a practice like this in order to stay obedient to the Lord Jesus.
As Harvey explains in the chapter, getting rid of our stuff can be hard work. But maybe that just shows us how attached we are to our stuff, and how we need to repent of our selfishness.
4) Finally, for our fourth application point, it’s really simple: give generously. One of the best remedies for selfishness is to give your money to others who need it. The Bible tells us much about giving, and it’s something that we are expected to do, and I think many people don’t do very well.
But here’s what’s really great about giving away your money: not only will it prevent selfishness within you, it will get you rewards in heaven.
In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus tells His disciples that when we give to the needy, we should do it discreetly, and our Father who sees in secret will reward us.
So, instead of storing up treasures for ourselves on earth, let’s give away our earthly treasure, and store up for ourselves treasure in heaven.
So, as we go from here today, let’s continue to ask God to show us where we need to change. Let’s ask God to help us to focus on His reward, not on earthly treasure. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us to serve our heavenly master wholeheartedly, focusing on the reward we’ll receive in heaven.