Matthew 6:19-21

THE TRUE TREASURE

Matt. 6:19-21

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth. where moth and rust destroy them, and where thieves dig through and steal. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy them, and where thieves do not dig through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In the ordinary, everyday management of life it is simple wisdom to get to oneself only those things which will last. Whether we are buying a suit of clothes, or a motor car, or a carpet for the floor, or a suite of furniture, it is common sense to avoid shoddy goods, and to buy the things which have solidity and permanence and craftsmanship wrought into them. That is exactly what Jesus is saying here; he is telling us to concentrate on the thins which will last.

Jesus calls up three pictures from the three great sources of wealth in Palestine.

(i) He tells men to avoid the things that the moth can destroy.

In the east, part of a man’s wealth often consisted in fine and elaborate clothes. When Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, wished to make some forbidden profit out of Naaman, after his master had cured him. he asked him for a talent of silver and two festal garments (2Kgs.5:22). One of the things which tempted Achan to sin was a beautiful mantle from Shinar (Josh.7:21).

But such things were foolish things to set the heart upon, for the moths might et at them. when they were stored away. and all their beauty and their value be destroyed. There was no permanence about possessions like that.

(ii) He tells men to avoid the things that rust can destroy.

The word translated rust is brosis (GSN1035). It literally means an eating away, but it is nowhere else used to mean rust. Most likely the picture is this. In the east many a man’s wealth consisted in the corn and the grain that he had stored away in his great barns. But into that corn and rain there could come the worms and the rats and the mice, until the store was polluted and destroyed. In all probability, the reference is to the way in which rats, and mice, and worms, and other vermin, could get into a granary and eat away the grain.

There was no permanence about possessions like that.

(iii) He tells men to avoid the treasure,, which thieves can steal by digging through.

The word which is used for “to dig through” (the Revised Standard Version has “break in”) is diorussein (GSN1358). In Palestine the walls of many of the houses were made of nothing stronger than baked clay; and burglars did effect an entry by literally digging through the wall. The reference here is to the man who has hoarded up in his house a little store of gold, only to find, when he comes home one day, that the burglars have dug through his flimsy walls and that his treasure is gone.

There is no permanency about a treasure which is at the mercy of any enterprising thief.

So Jesus warns men against three kinds of pleasures and possessions.

(i) He warns them against the pleasures which will wear out like an old suit of clothes. The finest garment in the world, moths or no moths, will in the end disintegrate. All purely physical pleasures have a way of wearing out. At each successive enjoyment of them the thrill becomes less thrilling. It requires more of them to produce the same effect. They are like a drug which loses its initial potency and which becomes increasingly less effective. A man is a foolish man who finds his pleasures in things which are bound to offer diminishing returns.

(ii) He warns against the pleasures which can be eroded away. The grain store is the inevitable prey of the marauding rats and mice who nibble and gnaw away the grain. There are certain pleasures which inevitably lose their attraction as a man grows older. It may be that he is physically less able to enjoy them; it may be that as his mind matures they cease in any sense to satisfy him. In life a man should never give his heart to the joys the years can take away; he should find his delight in the things whose thrill time is powerless to erode.

(iii) He warns against the pleasures which can be stolen away. All material things are like that; not one of them is secure; and if a man builds his happiness on them, he is building on a most insecure basis. Suppose a man arranges his life in such a way that his happiness depends on his possession of money; suppose a crash comes and he wakes up to find his money gone; then, with his wealth, his happiness has gone.

If any man is wise, he will build his happiness on things which he cannot lose, things which are independent of the chances and the changes of this life. Burns wrote of the fleeting things:

“But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower, its bloom is shed; Or like the snow falls in the river, A moment white–then melts for ever.”

Any one whose happiness depends on things like that is doomed to disappointment. Any man whose treasure is in things is bound to lose his treasure, for in things there is no permanence, and no thing lasts forever.

TREASURE IN HEAVEN

Matt. 6:19-21 (continued)

The Jews were very familiar with the phrase treasure in heaven. They identified such treasure with two things in particular.

(i) They said that the deeds of kindness which a man did upon earth became his treasure in heaven.

The Jews had a famous story about a certain King Monobaz of Adiabdne who became a convert to Judaism. “Monobaz distributed all his treasures to the poor in the year of famine. His brothers sent to him and said, `Thy fathers gathered treasures, and added to those of their fathers, but thou hast dispersed yours and theirs.’ He said to them, `My fathers gathered treasures for below, I have gathered treasures for above; they stored treasures in a place over which the hand of man can rule, but I have stored treasures in a place over which the hand of man cannot rule; my fathers collected treasures which bear no interest, I have gathered treasures which bear interest; my fathers gathered treasures of money, I have gathered treasures in souls; my fathers gathered treasures for others, I have gathered treasures for myself; my fathers gathered treasures in this world, I have gathered treasures for the world to come.'”

Both Jesus and the Jewish Rabbis were sure that what is selfishly hoarded is lost, but that what is generously given away brings treasure in heaven.

That was also the principle of the Christian Church in the days to come. The Early Church always lovingly cared for the poor, and the sick, and the distressed, and the helpless, and those for whom no one else cared. In the days of the terrible Decian persecution in Rome, the Roman authorities broke into a Christian Church. They were out to loot the treasures which they believed the Church to possess. The Roman prefect demanded from Laurentius, the deacon: “Show me your treasures at once.” Laurentius pointed at the widows and orphans who were being fed, the sick who were being nursed, the poor whose needs were being supplied, “These,” he said, “are the treasures of the Church.”

The Church has always believed that “what we keep, we lose, and what we spend, we have.”

(ii) The Jews always connected the phrase treasure in heaven with character. When Rabbi Yose ben Kisma was asked if he would dwell in a heathen city on condition of receiving very high pay for his services, he replied that he would not dwell anywhere except in a home of the Law, “for,” he said, “in the hour of a man’s departure neither silver, nor gold, nor precious stones accompany him, but only his knowledge of the Law, and his good works.” As the grim Spanish proverb has it, “There are no pockets in a shroud.”

The only thing which a man can take out of this world into the world beyond is himself; and the finer the self he brings, the greater his treasure in heaven will be.

(iii) Jesus ends this section by stating that where a man’s treasure is, his heart is there also. If everything that a man values and sets his heart upon is on earth, then he will have no interest in any world beyond this world; if all through his life a man’s eyes are on eternity, then he will evaluate lightly the things of this world. If everything which a man counts valuable is on this earth, then he will leave this earth reluctantly and grudgingly; if a man’s thoughts have been ever in the world beyond, he will leave this world with gladness, because he goes at last to God. Once Dr. Johnson was shown through a noble castle and its grounds; when he had seen round it he turned to his companions and said, “These are the things which make it difficult to die.”

Jesus never said that this world was unimportant; but he said and implied over and over again that its importance is not in itself, but in that to which it leads. This world is not the end of life, it is a stage on the way; and therefore a man should never lose his heart to this world and to the things of this world. His eyes ought to be for ever fixed on the goal beyond.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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