Where's Your Stuff? (Matthew 6:19-24)
Where's Your Stuff
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 5th, 2019
I. Only Minutes to Act
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but from the Midwest to Mozambique, flooding has dominated the headlines since March.
A few days ago I was listening to news coverage from Iowa about rising rivers and the subsequent floodwaters that have driven many people from their homes. In some cases, residents have only to grab what they need and leave.
Can you imagine being in a situation like that? Whether it was floodwaters or a forest fire, what would you do if you had only minutes to act; if you had only minutes to gather your most valuable possessions? Or here's a more specific question: in that situation, where would you go first?
Would you reach under your bed and pull out that box of mementos? Would you run to your closet and grab that box of scrapbooks? Would you run down the hall, taking frames off the wall? Or maybe you would head into the garage and find that box of important documents; or into the living room to grab that special electronic device or rare music collection.
Regardless of the location, the main question would be... where would you find that which is most valuable to you? Keep that question in mind as we return to that large section of teaching that we're called the 'mountain message' of Jesus. Look with me specifically at Matthew 6:19-24.
II. The Passage: "Where Your Treasure Is" (6:19-24)
As we continue this study, we are picking up right where we left off in March. Now, before we read through this passage, I think it would be helpful to very quickly look back over a particular theme you may notice in previous studies. Look with me once again at Matthew 6:1. Jesus tells his disciples...
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Some of you may remember that Jesus expands on this idea in the verses that follow. Here's an example. Look at what Jesus goes on to tell them in verse 2...
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
But along with that warning, Jesus encourages a perspective and a practice that truly honors God. Look at verses 3 and 4...
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And if we were to keep reading, we'd find that same ideas in verse 5–6, only in that passage the issue is praying, not giving to the needy. So what exactly are the ideas on which I'd like us to focus? They are the related ideas involving “reward. On one hand, there is a kind of reward that comes from other people. But on the other hand, there is a reward that comes only from God. There is no question that Jesus believes the latter kind of reward is far, far superior.
If we were to move back into chapter 5, we would find other references to these two kinds of reward. Look at verses 11 and 12 of chapter 5...
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven...
Notice the connection? The “reward” that Jesus mentions here, this great “reward... in heaven” is undoubtedly connected to the “reward” of chapter 6, the reward given to those who seek to please God rather than men. But consider what we learn about that reward here in 5:11 and 12. This heavenly reward is so great, that it should inspire joy in those who are living unabashedly for Jesus, even... even when that devotion means they will suffer persecution.
So... to summarize: Jesus, knowing we are inherently reward-seekers, exhorts his disciples not to settle for short-lived, earthly rewards like human approval and acclaim, but to seek instead the superior reward that only God can give.
1. 'Stuffing' (vs. 19-21)
Now, with all that in mind, look with me at Matthew 6:19-21...
“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.”
Does any of that sound familiar? Yes! Jesus is using the same contrast as before. Only this time, instead of talking about earthly rewards of human approval, Jesus is clearly warning his disciples about the kinds of earthly “treasure” that can be eaten by moths, or destroyed by rust, or stolen by thieves. Back then that would include things like clothing, precious metals, weapons, tools, jewelry, coins, etc. (really, any kind of earthly possession).
But in the warning Jesus gives us here, what exactly does he mean by “lay up for yourselves”? Is Jesus advising us not to have a savings account, or a baseball card collection, or to have a jewelry box, or to keep anything in storage bins, or to not have that extra freezer in the garage? Maybe yes. Maybe no. The key to understanding this language is found in both the second clause and the subsequent contrast.
What does the second clause of verse 20 reveal? Jesus instructs his followers to not lay up for themselves “treasures on earth” because such treasures are fragile and fleeting. We all know this: earthly stuff decays. Earthly stuff rots. Earthly stuff loses its lustre... it gets lost... it gets stolen... it gets dated. Why is that a problem?
(Here's where the subsequent contrast comes in...) It's only a problem if you are looking for “treasures on earth” to give you what only “treasures in heaven” can provide; that is lasting significance, security, and satisfaction. (2x) That's what it means to “lay up for yourselves treasures on earth”. It means looking to stuff in the world in order to find lasting significance, security, and satisfaction. That's less about the belief that something temporary will literally last forever, and more about the belief that it will meet in us an eternal need.
There's no changing the fact we are creatures concerned with stuff. Therefore, so much of my life and your life is going to be about stuff. That's inevitable. Living life means 'stuffing'. No, I'm not talking about the Thanksgiving side dish, or the fluff inside a teddy bear, or the act of bottling up our anxieties. By 'stuffing' I mean getting the things, the stuff, we truly need.
But wait. Based on that, is Jesus saying we only need stuff in heaven, and not stuff on the earth? Of course not. Like the rest of the New Testament, Jesus lived out and affirmed an earthly existence full of earthly stuff: tunics, cloaks, sandals, boats, tools, basins, towels, fish, bread, wine, family, friends... and the list could go on. The issue is not earthly stuff. It is a worldly attitude when it comes to earthly stuff.
So how do we guard against that kind of attitude? We look to the stuff of heaven in order to find lasting significance, security, and satisfaction. Why look to those things above? Because (according to verse 20) in God's presence, nothing can be eaten by moths, or destroyed by rust, or stolen by thieves. In short, heavenly stuff is eternal.
But this is where it gets tricky. It's fairly easy for us to grasp the idea of earthly stuff, right? But what about heavenly stuff? What exactly are “treasures in heaven”? Well, remember what Jesus taught us about rewards: living for God in this life leads to eternal blessings from God in the life to come. It's really that simple. Heavenly stuff is everything God provides for lasting significance, security, and satisfaction.
Need something a little more concrete? Well, at the end of the last chapter, I believe Jesus gave us an example involving both “treasures on earth” and “treasures in heaven”. Look back with me at 5:38. Jesus declared...
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
Do you see what Jesus is telling us there about earthly stuff and heavenly stuff?
He says, “Do not allow earthly stuff to keep you from demonstrating God's love. If giving up, if giving away, some possession enables you to embody for others the generosity of God, then do it without fear of loss... for great is the reward in heaven; that is, trust that your Father has abundant provision for those who value what he values above all else. The very thing you are looking to find when you want to cling to that possession is the very thing God wants to give you in fullest measure forever.” Does that make sense?
Now stop and think about it: this brings us right back to the question I asked you at the outset: where would you find that which is most valuable to you? No, not in light of rising floodwaters. In light of eternity. Is what you value you most below... or above? On earth... or in heaven? Material... or spiritual?
Why is this question so key... so critical... so crucial? The answer to that question is in verse 21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Do you understand what Jesus is saying? If what you value most is below, if it's material, then your thoughts and desires, your hopes and fears, your motives and priorities, all of it will be shaped by what is earthly... by what is of man. But if what you value most is above, if it is spiritual, then your thoughts and desires, your hopes and fears, your motives and priorities, all of it will be shaped by what is heavenly... by what is of God.
2. Seeing (vs. 22, 23)
But look at how, in the next verses, Jesus connects our 'stuffing' to our seeing. This is what goes on to tell his disciples in verses 22 and 23...
“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 in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
If you're tempted to scratch your head after reading those verses, you're not alone. The language here is difficult. But think for a minute why Jesus focuses on “the eye” in these verses. They eye is like a lamp in that it gives a kind of guiding light to the rest of the body. Healthy eyes allow us to move forward with awareness. Bad eyes hold us back in blindness, in darkness.
Now think about that as a metaphor. Is the way you look at life healthy or unhealthy? How can we can know? Only God can tell us if it's healthy or unhealthy. Try this: when you look at your earthly stuff, do you first see property and personal pleasure? Or do you see a gift and a tool for God's pleasure? If we're honest, what should be clear is that all of us need new eyes.
3. Serving (v. 24)
But it's so important to see how Jesus concludes this section (even though the general topic continues into the next section). This is what Jesus reveals in verse 24.
“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 (or possessions).”
So Jesus has talked about the connection between 'stuffing' and seeing. But here, He wants his followers to understand how all of this speaks to the issue of serving. Jesus understood what remains true of people today: that some of his listeners saw (or see) no conflict between believing in God and trusting in possessions.
For some, God becomes a justification for having a worldly attitude towards earthly stuff. “What do you mean you want to borrow my car? No. It wouldn't be good biblical stewardship to loan something so expensive to you. Besides, maybe God wants to help you build character by making you walk to work. You don't need a 'hand out'. You need a solid Christian work ethic, so God will bless you with your own car... yada, yada, yada.” What's called the 'prosperity gospel' is another poisonous example of this kind of double-mindedness.
Having a worldly attitude toward earthly stuff is without a doubt a kind of slavery. Therefore, as Jesus makes clear in verse 24, a person can only serve one master. You cannot be a slave to your possessions, you cannot have a worldly attitude toward earthly stuff, you cannot pursue lasting significance, security, and satisfaction in material goods, and at the same time, serve God faithfully. It just isn't possible. What does that mean? It means we need to take a serious look at our hearts and have a serious conversation with God.
Remember the question Jesus would go on to ask later in Matthew's Gospel: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26a)
III. The Teacher is The Treasure
Brothers and sisters, friends, having a worldly attitude toward earthly stuff does not necessarily mean you have a lot of stuff or are always spending money. In some cases, the most materialistic people are the most miserly. In the same way, enjoying what you have does not necessarily mean you have a worldly attitude. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to encourage rich Christians in his church with these words:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1-6:17)
Maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is this: (assuming the basics) what stuff, if taken from me, would I struggle to live without... earthly stuff or heavenly stuff? Sadly, many of us get by just fine each day with little to no reflection on the Father's reward and “treasures in heaven”. But when something material is taken from us or denied to us, we can experience despair, anger, envy, etc.
So how... how can we learn to value above everything else these “treasures in heaven”? Well, these words should point us back to the One who spoke these words. What the rest of the New Testament goes on to teach us is that the teacher IS the treasure. It was Paul who described Christ as the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3) Reminiscent of Jesus, in the same letter Paul went on to say...
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:2–4)
Remember what I said earlier, in light of Jesus' teaching: “living for God in this life leads to eternal blessings from God in the life to come” AND “heavenly stuff is everything God provides for lasting significance, security, and satisfaction”. Please hear me: it is only through Jesus Christ that we can truly live for God, and it is only through Jesus Christ that we can experience God's everlasting provision. Christ died and rose again to make both those things possible.
And that gospel truth, that gospel grace, that gospel love, is the only thing that can empower you to see your life as God sees your life; empower you to endure; empower you to sacrifice; empower you to share, empower you to hope. It precisely that power driving Paul's words in II Corinthians 4:17, 18...
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.