“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."Jesus' teaching his disciples the importance of secret personal piety and the rewards God will give them, leads to this next section about "treasures" on earth and in heaven. Despite our association of the word "treasure" with hoards of diamonds or jewels or gold, the Greek word simply refers to anything valuable that was kept secure. The fact that in Matthew the word has a broad reference to possessions can be seen from Mt 19:21, where instead of earthly treasures versus heavenly ones, Jesus speaks of earthly "possessions" and heavenly "treasure."
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21 NIV)Jesus may have deliberately used two different words in 19:21 in order to contrast the relatively worthless possessions we have on earth—even if we might be millionaires—with the incomparable worth of what awaits us in God's presence.
The words "sell your possessions" do not imply that we should divest ourselves of everything we have, for scripture elsewhere commands us to be wise in the management of our possessions, so that we can support those in need, including our own families. Perhaps the best way to view these words is as equivalent to "go, invest your possessions in the service of others, not yourself!"
Jesus' use here in chapter 6 of the term "treasure(s)" instead of "possession(s)" indicates something that we ourselves are mistakenly inclined to set a very high value upon. The things we should value highly are spiritual things, not material ones. Jesus teaches us here that even in retaining possessions only in order to use them properly in the service of Christ, we should not regard them as "treasures", but merely "possessions"—i.e., tools in the service of Christ. When they become "treasures," they become illegitimate.
It is not money itself, not even the possession of it, but the love of it that is "a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim 6:10).
If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:8-10 NRSV)
Note that in saying "a root" (not "the root") Jesus reminds us that there are other roots besides money for all kinds of evil.
Healthy and Unhealthy Eyes, 6:22-23
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 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 one were to read verse 24 right after verse 21, there would be a seamless connection: don't set your heart on treasures leads immediately to the warning about not trying to serve God and money at the same time. Why then did Jesus insert the teaching about the good and bad eye at this point?
The mention of the "heart" leads to a saying about one's "eye" meaning what one wants most in life. A person whose "eye" is on the wrong things—whether it be wealth or prestige or the praise of other believers for one's humility or godliness—has a mind that is darkened, and cannot see properly.
This saying employs parts of the body symbolically. The eye refers to the desires and ambitions which influence our decisions, while the rest of the body refers to our actions flowing from those decisions. When our desires are set on pleasing Christ instead of pleasing ourselves, then every aspect of our lives will be filled with the light of his presence. When we put our own gratification at the top of our priority list, it likewise affects every aspect of our lives.
Some translations like the NIV render the second phrase in v 22 as "if your eyes are good" —similarly ESV and NRSV "if your eye is healthy." On one level this satisfies the metaphor, since good eyesight produces a well-lit field of vision and enables good decisions, whereas bad eyesight leaves a person with no possibility of avoiding missteps.
But this rendering also obscures the fact—which was clear in the KJV—that the Greek adjective means basically "single," as opposed to "double." The immediately following context warns against a dual loyalty: God and possessions. What is meant is not "double vision" in the sense of astigmatism, but trying to focus on more than one object at the same time.
A "single" vision is fixed on God alone, not on God and our own possessions. And when God alone influences our decisions, our whole lives are filled with the light of his guidance and his presence.
Serving Two Masters, 6:24
“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 both God and Money."Having finished the metaphor of the good and bad eye, Jesus caps his teaching on earthly possessions versus heavenly treasure with this trenchant statement about serving two gods.
This ultimatum from Jesus, excluding the possibility of being guided by God and our own becoming wealthy reminds us of the famous ultimatum issued by Elijah to the Israelites on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-45).
Even in OT times the Canaanite god Baal was more than just some pagan god. More than any other god in the pantheons of the ancient Near East, Baal was thought to be the source of all wealth and prosperity. He sent the rains that made the crops grow. He caused the cattle in your herds and the sheep in your folds to reproduce and thrive. Baal was the ancient stock portfolio, the hedge fund, the IRA. Everyone wanted a good relationship with Baal. And in Elijah's day even outwardly pious Israelites didn't mind making a sacrifice once in a while to Baal in addition to Yahweh, just to sweeten the pot of everyday life. This was why God sent Elijah to Mt. Carmel to confront King Ahab and all the Israelites gathered there for a big sacrifice to Baal. Through Elijah God warned his people that it was impossible to do what they were trying to do. Elijah's words to the people that day were more than a demand for them to make a choice of several gods from among a larger selection. Instead, they assumed that there could be only one true God. It was up to the Israelites to decide which that one God was. If Yahweh is God, then serve him; if Baal, then serve him. You cannot serve both Yahweh and Baal. Your "eye" must be "single"!
Jesus merely repeated Elijah's words, but changed the name Baal to Mammon. Modern translations have changed the KJV's "mammon" to "money." In one way this is good, as most people today don't know who or what Mammon is, although if they weren't lazy, they could look it up in the dictionary or at least "google it"! But it is bad in that most readers who read "you cannot serve both God and money" assume that Matthew used here a Greek word meaning "money" or "possessions." Instead, Matthew avoided any Greek word, and simply used the Aramaic word that Jesus had spoken, mamôn, which does mean "possessions." Now Matthew translated Jesus' other words into the Greek understandable by his readers, most of whom didn't understand Aramaic or Hebrew. Why then didn't he also translate Jesus' word mamôn into Greek for his Greek readers, as he had done with the words for possessions and treasure that he has just used? I think he deliberately retained this particular un-Greek word—which therefore sounds like a proper name—in order to bring out Jesus' thought that when possessions are served, they become a god, namely "Mammon." Matthew used Jesus' word for "possessions" or "money" as a modern equivalent of Elijah's god Baal.
Jesus warned his disciples that they could not "serve" both God and possessions. The verb "serve" implies the subordinate status of a slave or a worshiper. When we pursue position, status, or the approval of others, we are not the masters of what pursue, but we are controlled by it. This is true, whether the thing pursued is material (such as wealth), or immaterial (prestige, status). It controls us just as surely as if it were a literal person who owns us as slaves. Believers are described in the New Testament as "slaves" of Christ. This is not a negative thing, for to be enslaved to God is to be free of the more demeaning slavery to sin and selfishness (Romans 6:18-22).
Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:31-36 NRSV).If we try to let both serving God and becoming wealthy guide our decisions, we will often find that these two goals are in conflict, so that we cannot pursue both. Inevitably, then one of the two will be demoted to a secondary status. To the true disciple of Jesus there can only be one dominant guiding influence: the will of God expressed in the scriptures and in the person of Jesus. It is possible that following that sole goal might bring a person wealth, but most likely it will not. Jesus is not asking us to aspire to being poor, but rather to aspire to being godly, and let him decide our levels of income or success. Financial success is not a safe barometer of our spiritual health.
Not Worrying about our Physical Needs, 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:25-34)In verse 25 the Greek text reads literally "stop worrying," implying that Jesus saw that some of his disciples were already worrying. In response to his call to discipleship, some of them had actually left their work to follow him (Mt 4:18-22). Since they were not wealthy entrepreneurs with servants to carry on their affairs, they had reason to worry, not only about themselves, but also their wives or children back home. Yet Jesus wanted them not to worry. Preoccupation with such matters distracts them from their real mission as disciples.
Jesus' first reason why we should not let food and clothing preoccupy us (in v 25) is that there are things far more important to our well-being than food and clothing. This doesn't mean that we don't need food or clothing: after all, prayer for our daily bread formed one of the requests in the prayer than Jesus had given them (Mt 6:11). And what we pray for, we must be willing to work for—but not worry about.
Of course, the issue most important for our lives is our relationship to God. If we put this first, as these men had done in leaving all to follow Jesus, then the other needs will be met one way or another. Indeed, this is what Jesus goes on to say in verse 33: "seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Just because God "gives" us what we need, doesn't mean that it reaches us without some effort on our part.
A good illustration of this principle in Jesus' own immediate circle of followers is the story of his visit to the home of the sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Mary sat with him and listened intently to his teachings, while Martha fretted in the kitchen, wondering why Mary didn't help her prepare the food. When Martha finally interrupted them and asked Jesus to order Mary to come to the kitchen and help her, he replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—in fact, really only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (verses 41-42). Jesus was not denying the need to share the work, but he would not allow a sincere disciple to be rebuked for not putting work ahead of learning. This is a good thing to remember in this year of our church's core emphasis on learning.
Jesus used two illustrations from nature to assure his disciples that God takes care of his own: the birds and the flowers. It is true that birds do not sow, reap or store away food in barns, but if you've ever sat and watched birds in springtime, you know that they are ceaselessly active in building nests and in procuring food for themselves and their newborns.
So even the birds, whom God takes care of, have to work hard for what he provides them. But—so far as we know—birds have no capacity for worrying. Only we humans have that capacity—or perhaps temptation. Our Lord's point is that we can go about normal activities that usually lead to enough food or clothing to sustain life without being preoccupied with how much or what quality we acquire. Honest work and contentment with modest results characterize the path that the Savior recommends. Many OT proverbs recommend the industrious work habits of animals that store up food for the coming winter (Prov 6:6-11). There too, admittedly, one could argue that it is done instinctively rather than because of actual thinking ahead and planning of future needs—i.e., that they are "programmed" to do these things. But in the OT context it is recommended because with us humans it encourages unworried planning. The balance that Jesus recommends is sensible foresight but no worry about future needs, or worse yet with the desire to have more than anyone else.
The wording of verse 31 is perhaps intended by Jesus (or Matthew) to remind readers of Lev 25:20-21, where a legitimate question arose in the minds of ancient Israelites instructed to forgo sowing crops in the sabbatical year: "What then will we eat in the seventh year?" While this is a legitimate question, and shows commendable foresight, God's answer points them to the issue of obedience and faith. For an Israelite to forgo sowing and reaping in an ordinary year, when God didn't command it, would have been presumptuous. But since God commanded that they not sow in the sabbatical year, Israelites could count on God giving them a bigger harvest in year six, sufficient to carry them over. In Deut 29:5 (and recalled in Neh 9:21) God reminded the Israelites that during the forty years in which they followed God and his ark in the wilderness, he sustained them, so that they didn't lack nourishment, and their clothes didn't wear out. This is a good illustration, because that act of obedience put the Israelites in a position where they couldn't sow or reap. Following God and obeying his will excluded the normal means of support.
Verse 32 asks us to think of the fact that our heavenly Father knows our needs as a way to counteract needless anxiety, but not in order to foster laziness.
With that in mind, it is clear that seeking first God's kingdom and his righteousness doesn't exclude daily work to make a living. Rather we conduct our working lives as part of our mission to show forth God's kingdom and righteousness. We show it through working faithfully and honestly, looking after the needs of others, including the rights of our employers. Verbal witness in the workplace always grows out of the context of faithful and honest labor for our employers. Anything less is a mockery of God.
Faithful disciples of Jesus do not always please their employers, because some employers are at times unreasonable. Therefore we shouldn't feel that any time there is dissatisfaction with some aspect of our service we have failed God. But such occasions are times in which we need to ask ourselves if there was some way in which we could have satisfied the legitimate goals of the employer.
The promise that "all these things" will be added to you doesn't mean everything you desire. It means "all these kinds of things," that is, food, clothing, shelter—and each according to your genuine need. And we should not seek the interests of God's kingdom so that he will meet our perceived needs. If we do that, we are likely to be disappointed, mistaking perceived needs with real ones.
Jesus' final words on this subject (v 34) almost sound like bitter sarcasm, but they were not so intended. It is realistic to anticipate that each day will bring fresh and unexpected challenges to our faith and our demeanor. Life without challenges is not real life, as long as sin and death are in the world. But we can meet those challenges and triumph in them through our Savior's presence and aid. This is why believers can rise every morning in cheerful anticipation. But since we often don't know what those challenges are,it makes no sense to worry about them in advance.
Here is a classic hymn, whose words I find lift my soul in anticipation of a new day:
When morning gilds the skies, my heart—awaking—cries: "May Jesus Christ be praised!"
Alike at work and prayer to Jesus I repair: "May Jesus Christ be praised!"