What did Jesus mean when he said to store up treasures in heaven?

The podcast version of this episode and post can be found here, or by subscribing to ‘The Pulse Podcast with Matthew Ruttan’ on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or TuneIn.

The text version is below. Enjoy!

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel includes many of Jesus’ most famous sayings.

One of them is from chapter 6, verses 19 to 21:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

A few verses later he says that you cannot serve both God and money (verse 24). So clearly, we’re not supposed to store up earthly treasures. In the words of an old pastor, ‘You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse!’ Fair enough.

In this podcast I want to focus on what Jesus does tell us to do: Store up treasures in heaven. Not only does he tell us to do it—and what God’s Son says goes—but these are clearly treasures that will last. These are things that no one can take from your car, bank account, wallet or house.

From these verses we could encourage one another to cultivate the virtue of material modesty. In his expansive wisdom, the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns about the false security that can come from the “thraldom of material things.”[1] Yes. The more things we have, the more our things seem to have us. We start to organize our lives around them and spend money to maintain them. Bonhoeffer says that hoarding is idolatry. Why? Because it puts something other than God at the centre of our lives.

From these verses we could also make a connection to worry and anxiety. The very next section of teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus telling us to not worry about our lives, and what we will eat or drink, or about our bodies, or what we will wear. “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (verses 33-34). Can I get an Amen?

In addition, Jesus says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” meaning that we will centre our lives around what we value most. If we prioritize the wrong things, our lives will go off the rails. If we priorities the right things, our lives will stay in the transformative footsteps of our risen Redeemer.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus Christ

So let’s focus on what “treasures in heaven” actually are. I’m going to highlight some of the priorities and teachings which Jesus specifically mentions in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. I’m not suggesting that this is a comprehensive list, but the list certainly includes these things. Note that the exact chapter and verse references appear in the blog version of this episode.

  • Being humble and pure in heart (5:5, 8)
  • Hungering and thirsting for righteousness (5:6)
  • Showing mercy (5:7)
  • Making peace (5:9)
  • Being persecuted for faith in Jesus (5:10)
  • Being “the salt of the earth,” which is about, in part, preserving the flavour of godliness in the world and in our relationships (5:13)
  • Being the light of the world (5:14)
  • Following God’s commands (5:19)
  • Resisting anger (5:22)
  • Being faithful to one’s spouse (5:28, 32)
  • Keeping your word (5:37)
  • Turning the other cheek (5:39)
  • Providing for physical needs (5:40, 42)
  • Going the extra mile (5:41)
  • Loving your enemies (5:44)
  • Praying for those who persecute you (5:44)
  • Giving to the needy discreetly (6:3)
  • Prayer, and specifically praying for God’s name to be revered as holy and for his kingdom to come (6:6ff.)
  • Practicing forgiveness (6:12)
  • Fasting (6:16)
  • Shunning worry, and trusting God to provide for your needs (6:25)
  • Seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (6:33)
  • Not being unfairly judgmental, but someone who examines their own life and integrity first (7:1, 5)
  • Pursuing the things of God (7:7)
  • Entering through the narrow gate (7:13)
  • Being on guard against false prophets (7:15)
  • Practising authentic discipleship, meaning that we not only believe in Jesus, but seek to know him and do what he says (7:21)
  • Being wise. And what does it mean to be wise? Jesus gives us the definition of wisdom. It is hearing his words and putting them into practice (7:24)

Brothers and sisters, think about your favourite things. What are they? “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?”[2] Perhaps. What about a fancy house, the latest gadget, an impressive social media profile, or clothes or cars that make other people turn their heads?

When your heartbeat goes, so do your things.

Over 1600 years ago, a church father named John Chrysostom wrote something which could have been written last week:

“we are only temporary guests on earth. We recognize that the houses in which we live serve only as hostels on the road to eternal life. We do not seek peace or security from the material walls around us or the roof above our heads. Rather, we want to surround ourselves with a wall of divine grace; and we look upward to heaven as our roofAnd the furniture of our lives should be good works, performed in a spirit of love.”[3]

Let me share this final thought. It’s a story I heard somewhere. I forget the reference, but I think it’s fitting for this topic.

One man was teaching another how to play the board game Monopoly. The new guy had never played it. But he picked it up quickly and accumulated boardwalks, homes, properties and money out the wazoo.

At the end of the game he was so incredibly happy. He started shoving all of the Monopoly money into his pockets while speculating about the new stuff he was going to buy.

That’s when the first man explained the misunderstanding. The Monopoly money only had value while they were playing. When the game was over it was worthless and went back in the box.

How many of us approach life like this? If we’re not careful, we can spend our time, money and energy on things that have no lasting value. One day it will all go back in the box.

Let’s hunger and thirst for the eternal pathways of God. If we do so, we’ll look back on our lives from our deathbeds and say, ‘Well, I may not have been bigger, better, best… but I sure was blessed.’

Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), 178.

[2] This quote is from the song “My Favorite Things” in the movie, The Sound of Music. Written by Richard Rodgers.

[3] On Living Simply: The Golden Voice of John Chrysostom, comp. R. Van de Weyer, p. 11.

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