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Treasures on Earth or Treasures in Heaven
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
THE theme of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is, you remember, the relationship of the Christian to God as his Father. There is nothing more important than this. The great secret of life according to our Lord is to see ourselves and to conceive of ourselves always as children of our heavenly Father. If only we do that we shall be delivered immediately from two of the main temptations that attack us all in this life.
These temptations He puts in this way. The first is the very subtle one that comes to every Christian in the matter of his personal piety. As a Christian I have my private, personal life of devotion. In that connection our Lord says that the one thing that matters, and the one consideration for me, should always be that God’s eye is upon me. I must not be interested in what people say, neither must I be interested in myself. If I give alms, I must not give them in order to be praised of men. The same is true of my prayers. I must not want to give the impression that I am ‘a great man of prayer’. If I do, my prayer is useless. I must not be interested in what people think of me as a man of prayer. All that He denounces. I must pray as under God and in the presence of God. Exactly the same principles obtain with the question of fasting; and you remember how we worked it out in detail in chapter 3. These considerations have brought us to the end of verse 18 of Matthew 6.
We come now to verse 19 where our Lord introduces the second aspect of this great question of the Christian living his life in this world in relationship to God as his Father, involved in its affairs and feeling its cares, its strains and its stresses. It is, in fact, the whole problem of what is so often called in the Bible, ‘the world’. We frequently say that the Christian in this life has to contend with the world, the flesh and the devil; and our Lord recognizes that threefold description of our problem and conflict. In handling this question of personal piety He deals first with the temptations that come from the flesh and the devil. The devil is particularly watchful when a man is pious, and when he is engaged in the manifestations of his piety. But having dealt with that, our Lord proceeds to show that there is another problem, and that is the problem of the world itself.
Now what do the Scriptures mean by the expression ‘the world’? It does not mean the physical universe, or merely a collection of people; it means an outlook and a mentality, it means a way of looking at things, a way of looking at the whole of life. One of the most subtle problems with which the Christian ever has to deal is this problem of his relationship to the world. Our Lord frequently emphasizes that it is not an easy thing to be a Christian. He Himself when He was here in this world was tempted of the devil. He was also confronted by the power and subtlety of the world. The Christian is in precisely the same position. There are attacks which come upon him when he is alone, in private. There are others which come when he goes out into the world. You notice our Lord’s order. How significant it is. You prepare yourself in the secrecy of your own chamber. You pray and do various other things---fasting and almsgiving and doing your good deeds unobserved. But you also have to live your life in the world. That world will do its best to get you down, it will do its utmost to ruin your spiritual life. So you have to be very wary. It is a fight of faith, and you need the whole armour of God, because if you have not got it, you will be defeated. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood.’ It is a stern battle, it is a mighty conflict.
Our Lord teaches that this attack from the world, or this temptation to worldliness, generally takes two main forms. First of all there may be a positive love of the world. Secondly, there may be anxiety, or a spirit of anxious care with respect to it. We shall see that our Lord shows that one is as dangerous as the other. He deals with the love of the world from verses 19 to 24, and He deals with the problem of being conquered by anxiety and care with respect to the world and its life and all its affairs, from verse 25 to the end of the chapter.
Again, however, we must remember that He treats both aspects of the problem still in terms of our relationship to our heavenly Father. So, as we enter into the details of His teaching, we must never forget the great principles which govern everything. We must again be very careful that we do not reduce this teaching to a number of rules and regulations. If we do that, we shall fall immediately into the whole error of monasticism. There are some people who are so worried about the cares and the affairs of this life that for them there is only one thing to do, that is to get out of it. So they shut themselves up in monasteries and become monks, or live as hermits in their lonely cells. But that is the false view which is found nowhere in the teaching of the Bible, where we are shown how to overcome the world while living in the midst of it.
Our Lord puts His teaching first of all in the form of a blunt assertion, which is also an injunction. He lays down a law, a great principle. And having given the principle, He then, in His infinite kindness and condescension, supplies us with various reasons and considerations which will help us to carry out His injunction. As we read words like these, we must surely again be amazed and impressed by His condescension. He has a right to lay down laws and then leave us with them. But He never does that. He states His law, He gives us His principle, and then in His kindness He gives us reasons, He supplies us with arguments which will help us and strengthen us. We are not meant to rely upon them, but they are a great help, and sometimes when our faith is weak, they are of inestimable value.
First and foremost then, here is the injunction: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth. . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. That is the injunction, that is the exhortation. The remainder, you see, goes into the realm of reason and explanation. ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.’ But look first of all at the exhortation itself. It is a twofold one---negative and positive. Our Lord puts the truth in such a way that we are left without excuse. If any of us Christian people find ourselves receiving a very poor reward when we come to the great judgment of rewards, we shall have no excuse at all.
Negatively, then, He says, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth’. What does He mean by this? First of all we must avoid interpreting this only with respect to money. Many have done that, and have regarded this as a statement addressed only to rich people. That, I suggest, is foolish. It is addressed to all others also. He does not say, ‘Lay not up for yourselves money’, but, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures’. ‘Treasures’ is a very large term and all-inclusive. It includes money, but it is not money only. It means something much more important. Our Lord is concerned here not so much about our possessions as with our attitude towards our possessions. It is not what a man may have, but what he thinks of his wealth, what his attitude is towards it. There is nothing wrong in having wealth in and of itself; what can be very wrong is a man’s relationship to his wealth. And the same thing is equally true about everything that money can buy.
Indeed we go further. It is a question of one’s whole attitude towards life in this world. Our Lord is dealing here with people who get their main, or even total, satisfaction in this life from things that belong to this world only. What He is warning against here, in other words, is that a man should confine his ambition, his interests and his hopes to this life. That is what He is concerned about, and viewed in that way, it becomes a much bigger subject than the mere possession of money. Poor people need this exhortation about not laying up treasures upon earth quite as much as the rich. We all have treasures in some shape or form. It may not be money. It may be husband, wife or children; it may be some gift we have which in actual worth and monetary value is very small. To some people their treasure is their house. That whole danger of being house proud, of living for your house and home is dealt with here. No matter what it is, or how small it is, if it is everything to you, that is your treasure, that is the thing for which you are living. This is the danger against which our Lord is warning us at this particular point.
That gives us some idea of what He means by ‘treasures upon earth’, and you see it is almost endless. Not only love of money, but love of honour, the love of position, the love of status, the love of one’s work in an illegitimate sense, whatever it may be, anything that stops with this life and this world. These are the things of which we must be wary, lest they become our treasure.
Having said that, we come to a very practical question. How does one ‘lay up’ treasures on earth with respect to these things? Once more we can merely give some general indications as to what it means. It may mean living to hoard and amass wealth as wealth. Many people do that, and our Lord may have had that chiefly in mind. But surely it has a wider reference. Our Lord’s injunction means avoiding anything that centres on this world only. It is, as we have just seen, all-inclusive. It applies to people who, though they may not be interested in wealth or money at all, are yet interested in other things which are entirely worldly in the last analysis. There are people who have often been guilty of sad and serious lapses in their spiritual life because of this very thing we are considering. They cannot be tempted by money, but they can be tempted by status and position. If the devil comes and offers them some material bribe they will smile at it. But if he comes with guile, and, in connection with their Christian work, offers them some exalted position, they persuade themselves that their one interest is in the work, and they accept and receive it, and you soon begin to observe a gradual decline in their spiritual authority and power. Promotion has done endless harm in the Church of God to men who have been quite honest and sincere, but who have not been on guard against this danger. They have been laying up treasures on earth without knowing it. Their interest has suddenly been moved from that one centre of pleasing God and working for His honour and His glory, and has turned, almost without their knowing it, to themselves and their own engagement in the work.
In such ways a man can be laying up treasures on earth, and it is so subtle that even good people can be a man’s greatest enemy. Many a preacher has been ruined by his congregation. Their praise, their encouragement of him as a man, has almost ruined him as the messenger of God, and he has become guilty of laying up treasures on earth. He tends almost unconsciously to be controlled by the desire to have his people’s good opinion and praise, and the moment that happens a man is laying up treasures on earth. The possible examples are almost endless. I am simply trying to give you some slight indication of the realm and scope of this amazing injunction. ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth.’ Whatever the form may be, it is the principle that matters.
Let us look now at the positive side of the injunction, ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. It is very important that we should be clear about this. Some people have interpreted it as meaning that our Lord is teaching that a man can achieve his own salvation. ‘Treasure in heaven,’ they say, ‘means a man’s salvation and his eternal destiny. Therefore, is not our Lord exhorting a man to spend his whole life in making sure of his eternal destiny?’ Patently that is wrong. That is to deny the great central New Testament doctrine of justification by faith only. Our Lord cannot mean that, because He is addressing people of whom the Beatitudes are true. It is the man who is poor in spirit, who has nothing, who is blessed. It is the man who mourns because of his sinfulness who knows that, at the end, in spite of all he may or may not have done, he can never achieve his own salvation. That interpretation, therefore, is clearly wrong. What does it mean? It means something that is taught in many places in the Scriptures, and two other passages will help us to understand the teaching here. The first is in Luke 16 where our Lord deals with the case of the unjust steward, the man who made a quick and clever use of his position. You remember He sums it up like this. ‘Make to yourselves’, He says, ‘friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.’ Our Lord teaches that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. They make sure of their own ends. Now, says our Lord in effect, I am going to take that as a principle and apply it to you. If you have money, so use it while you are here in this world that, when you arrive in glory, the people who benefited by it will be there to receive you.
The apostle Paul expounds this in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:
‘Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against
the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.’ In other words, if you have been blessed with riches, use them in such a way in this world that you will be building up a balance for the next. Our Lord says exactly the same thing at the end of Matthew 25 where He talks about the people who gave Him meat when He was hungry and who visited Him in prison. They ask, ‘When saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? . . . or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And He says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ You do not realize it, but in doing these good deeds to these people, you have been building up your balance in heaven, there you will receive your reward and enter into the joy of your Lord.
That is the principle which our Lord constantly emphasizes. He said to His disciples after His encounter with the rich young ruler, ‘How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God’. It is this trusting in riches, it is this fatal self-confidence, that makes it impossible for you to be poor in spirit. Or again, as He put it to the people one afternoon when He said, ‘Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life’. That is the kind of thing He meant by ‘laying up treasures in heaven’.
How do we do this in practice? The first thing is to have a right view of life, and especially a right view of ‘the glory’. That is the principle with which we started. The great fact of which we must never lose sight is that in this life we are but pilgrims. We are walking through this world under the eye of God, in the direction of God and towards our everlasting hope. That is the principle. If we always think of ourselves in that way, how can we go wrong? Everything will then fall into position. That is the great principle taught in Hebrews 11. Those mighty men, those great heroes of the faith had but one purpose. They walked ‘as seeing him who is invisible’. They said they were ‘strangers and pilgrims on the earth’, they were making for ‘a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God’. So when God called out Abraham he responded. He turned to a man like Moses who had amazing prospects in the Egyptian court and commanded him to leave it all and to become a miserable shepherd for forty years, and Moses obeyed, ‘for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward’. And so with all of them. What made Abraham ready to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac? What made all the other heroes of the faith prepared to do the things they did? It was that they desired ‘a better country, that is, an heavenly’.
We must always start with that great principle. If we have a right view of ourselves in this world as pilgrims, as children of God going to our Father, everything falls into its true perspective. We shall immediately take a right view of our gifts and our possessions. We begin to think of ourselves only as stewards who must give an account of them. We are not the permanent holders of these things. It matters not whether it is money, or intellect, or ourselves, or our personalities, or whatever gift we may have. The worldly man thinks he himself owns them all. But the Christian starts by saying, ‘I am not the possessor of these things; I merely have them on lease, and they do not really belong to me. I cannot take my wealth with me. I cannot take my gifts with me. I am but a custodian of these things’. And, at once, the great question that arises is: ‘How can I use these things to the glory of God? It is God I have to meet, it is God I have to face, it is He who is my eternal Judge and my Father. It is to Him that I shall have to render up an account of my stewardship of all the things with which He has blessed me.’ ‘Therefore,’ the Christian says to himself; ‘I must be careful how I use these things, and of my attitude towards them. I must do all the things He tells me to do in order that I may please Him.’
There, then, is the way in which we can lay up treasures in heaven. It all comes back to the question of how I view myself and how I view my life in this world. Do I tell myself every day I live, that this is but another milestone I am passing, never to go back, never to come again? I am pitching my moving tent ‘a day’s march nearer home’. That is the great principle of which I must constantly remind myself---that I am a child of the Father placed here for His purpose, not for myself. I did not choose to come; I have not brought myself here; there is a purpose in it all. God has given me this great privilege of living in this world, and if He has endued me with any gifts, I have to realize that, although in one sense all these things are mine, ultimately, as Paul shows at the end of 1 Corinthians 3, they are God’s. Therefore, regarding myself as one who has this great privilege of being a caretaker for God, a custodian and a steward, I do not cling to these things. They do not become the centre of my life and existence. I do not live for them or dwell upon them constantly in my mind; they do not absorb my life. On the contrary, I hold them loosely; I am in a state of blessed detachment from them. I am not governed by them; rather do I govern them; and as I do this I am steadily securing, and safely laying up for myself ‘treasures in heaven’.
‘But what a selfish outlook’, says someone. My reply is that I am but obeying the exhortation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, and the saints have always done so. They believed in the reality of the glory that awaited them. They hoped to get there and their one desire was to enjoy it in all its perfection and in all its fullness. If we are anxious to ‘follow in their train’ and to enjoy the same glory we had better listen to our Lord’s exhortation, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’ (394-401)
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