The overriding theme of the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s instruction to His disciples about a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees had an external righteousness that was just a show for the people. Jesus called this kind of religious display hypocrisy. Jesus wanted His disciples to live out their faith in a genuine and sincere way, first before God, and then before men. Jesus had already taught them how their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, so they might enter the kingdom. In our previous studies we have looked at how their practical worship and service could be done as unto the Lord and how they could be kept from hypocrisy.
In verses 19 through 24, Jesus now addresses idolatry, another destroyer of a believer’s faith and service to God. Jesus taught them, “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. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad,” or literally evil, “your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Or literally, you cannot serve the true and living God and the god of materialism.
I believe these passages deal with a critical issue for every believer. Why? Anything that divides your heart will destroy your faith and stumble you in your service to God. God alone must be in that first position of your life. Jesus is the One who said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Your real treasure must be in heaven. Materialism and the lust for riches in this life cannot be your treasure. Jesus knew the temptations and the struggles these men would encounter, and He wanted to spare them this struggle. He knew that what a person treasures in life would captivate their heart. The issue Jesus is addressing is idolatry, the love of things more than a love for God. Jesus is making the point that the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees will be from a heart that is focused on treasures in heaven, not treasures on earth. The heart that has true righteousness is more interested in eternal reward than it is in temporal riches. That is the simplicity of the message He was teaching.
Jesus was so emphatic about this issue of idolatry because of where it would lead the disciples. Jesus explained His reasoning in another passage of Scripture, Luke 16:14. Jesus said there, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things, and they derided Him.” This passage reveals that there were people who willingly accepted Christ's words, and then there were individuals who rejected Him. Why did they deride Him? Luke tells us one of the reasons for the Pharisee’s rejection of Jesus. It was because their goal was different from what true righteousness has as its goal. The goal of the Pharisees was riches. They were in the ministry for money. They were religious for what they could get, or self-seeking, instead of what they could give. This motivation will always lead people to hypocrisy. Jesus is therefore warning the disciples, essentially saying, “I don't want you going in the same direction. I want you to live with a different goal.”
What is your motivation for life and service to God? Is it to give to others or get from others? Is it the love of things, possessions, and money? These motivations, as Paul also taught, will drown your faith and spiritual life. I’m not talking about wanting to provide for your family with a good paying job. This is not idolatry. No, I’m talking about when the total motivation of your life is to get things and treasures here in this life. If it is, you will neglect seeking the treasure in the life to come! You will be turned aside in your faith and in your service to God. One of the best commentaries on this truth is found in 1 Timothy 6:9-10. Paul taught that, “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare.” And notice, it doesn't say those who are rich, he says “those who desire to be rich;” they are lusting after being rich. He declares that this individual, “Falls into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Notice, he does not say, “Money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It's the love of money, or greediness. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” So, Paul spells it out here that greediness causes a person to stray from their faith, which then causes a person to pierce themselves through with many sorrows. God doesn’t pierce them with sorrows; they pierce themselves through. These will be self-inflicted wounds or self-inflicted sorrows. Any way you look at this issue, don’t allow your heart to fall into this snare! Paul revealed a simple truth in this passage,that your motivation and goal in life will determine whether or not you are happy or experience self-inflicted sorrows. There is great instruction and warning here. May we each hear this warning!
It is also important to note, that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not magnify poverty or wealth. He doesn't say you are better if you are poor, or better if you are rich. Riches and poverty are two things that have nothing to do with who you are as an individual, or how happy you will be. People who are poor can be just as unhappy as people who are rich, and the opposite is equally true. But, what Jesus is emphasizing is the supremacy of the spiritual over the material. Therefore, in verse 33, Jesus will command the disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and all the other things will be added to them. This command reveals the supremacy of the spiritual over material things. Don't misunderstand this teaching. Many in the church have misunderstood this concept and think that the rich are more spiritual and have more faith than the poor. Or, some believe that if a believer is wealthy, they are carnal and worldly. However, the Scripture does not teach either concept.
Jesus is teaching a simple message; examine your goals. Is your treasure here or in heaven? Make sure that your heart is not greedy for things. Many times, people will come up to me and ask, “How can I know if my heart is captivated by things? How can I tell?” This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer. The best thing I can say is that you know in your own heart whether you are captive to things. You know what captivates your thinking throughout the day. Possessing things is not evil, but when things possess and captivate you, that is idolatry. That's the only question you must ask yourself, “Am I fascinated and constantly focused on possessions and money? Am I constantly thinking about how to get more things?” If you answered yes, or maybe, to any of these questions, that should concern you. You should think seriously about making a change. If you are someone that must have every new gadget that comes out, or must have that new thing you see advertised to be happy, this means there is trouble within your heart. If you are a person who is not willing to give to others, that should be a red flag too. This is the reason why Jesus told the rich young ruler that he should sell everything he had and give it to the poor, and follow Him. Many times, people read that story and they think, “That's not fair. That's not right. I couldn't do that. How could Jesus ask this guy to sell everything he had?” Well, notice what the Scripture declares happened right after Jesus said this to him. “He had great possessions, and he went away sorrowful.” He said to himself, “I'm not going to do that,” which is exactly why Jesus asked him to sell it all. He had to see that his possessions were more important to him than following Jesus. But, you must also note that Jesus doesn’t ask all rich people to sell all they have. The best example of this fact is Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were obviously wealthy from what you can read in Scripture concerning their life. They had their own servants. They hosted Jesus and the twelve disciples often when Jesus was in the area. They also possessed their own tomb for burial. This meant that they were probably very wealthy. Why didn't Jesus tell them to go sell everything they had and give to the poor? Obviously, because idolatry was not an issue for them. They were not possessed by their possessions. They were very giving and hospitable. However, the rich young ruler was caught up with his possessions. Therefore, every individual must address this issue in their own heart. You know whether your possessions have control of you, and so does Jesus. Remember, Jesus is not talking about somebody who works hard to provide for their family, asks for a raise, or anything like that. He's talking about someone who is caught by greediness, who is lusting for things, and cannot be happy unless they have them.
How does Jesus want His disciples to think about material things?
Notice that Jesus is instructing his disciples how to think, who to serve and how to make choices concerning their loyalty. In this passage we are studying, there are four very important principles that Jesus presents.
Don’t lay up treasures on earth.
The first principle is in verses 19 and 20. “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” (Matt. 6:19-20). He taught that in every decision, especially the big decisions of life, you need to reason by making a comparison of value when you make your choices. You must think, Is this something that will last, or is this something that will not last? Jesus wanted His disciples to ask themselves, “Is my choice going to enable me to lay up treasures in heaven or just on the earth.” He wanted them to think about the endurance of their choices. “Can what I have be destroyed or stolen? Or, will it last for eternity?” In other words, one choice will last and the other will not. So, you must look at everything in life and decide, “What lasts? Am I laboring for the things that will last?” Or, “Am I laboring for something that will not last?” I’m sure you know that everything rusts. Think of the last new car you had and as you wash it you see a little nick in the paint. A few months later you notice that now it is rusting in that same spot. And you think, “oh no.” But, do you realize that everything you own is rusting right now? Everything you have is deteriorating and wearing out, including the body you live in. That's life. Therefore, I'm so looking forward to a new body that is never going to wear out. I'm looking for an eternal dwelling place that never needs repair and that doesn't need maintenance. The fact that everything rusts and deteriorates is an earthly reminder that this life is not built to last and is so temporary.
Jesus addressed this issue in John’s gospel, when He saw people following Him after He had just fed the multitudes by multiplying bread, and He declares to them that they are following Him for the wrong reason. Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26-27). Notice that Jesus made a simple comparison of value. He told them, “You are seeking Me for the wrong reason. You are seeking me for some temporal benefit. You just want another meal. You are not seeking Me for the eternal benefit, or as He said, that food which endures to everlasting life.” He is telling them this is going to endure. Jesus is not telling them that eating is bad, or having your physical needs met is unnecessary, because He just fed them, correct? He is just telling them their motives are wrong and they are fixing their attention on something that won’t last. This is exactly what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6:19-20. He's saying, “Look, certain treasures last; other treasures do not last. So, which one are you laboring for? Which one of these treasures is your goal?
Let me illustrate this comparison in a way that you can all easily relate to. When you buy something that costs you a lot of money, do you only consider what it costs and where you can get it at the best price? Or, do you also consider the guarantee, and warranty, that comes with the item? Why do you consider the warranty? We all want something that is well made and that will last. We put a new dishwasher in our house not too long ago. The first one we had lasted for many years. I thought that was great. The last one we put in lasted about half that time. When I talked to the appliance salesman I asked him why this was, he said, “Steve, they make everything to break these days; they make nothing to last anymore. You will probably only get seven years out of this new dishwasher.” I thought to myself, “The first one lasted twice that long, but that's the way things are.” So, I would encourage you to not only shop for the cheapest price, but determine which product has the longest warranty. Jesus is saying the same thing. Seek the things that last.
Therefore, what is the primary motivation of your heart? Do you want an eternal reward or a temporal reward? You can have either one; it's your decision. Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:7, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” That's the reality. All that is temporary is staying here. All that is eternal is going with you. When we think and reason like this about life it will bring either great peace or great stress. Why? Therefore, Solomon had such difficulty when he looked at his life and compared it to the eternal realities that he knew to be true. Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes thought to himself, Why am I working so hard for all this stuff, all this gold and silver, and all these material things? Because I'm going to die, and somebody else is going to take what I have worked for and waste it all. And I just know they are not going to care about this stuff like I do (Ecc. 2:15-23). This reality was truly depressing to Solomon, because he knew he had allowed material things to become his primary focus in life. He knew that he couldn’t take anything with him when he died. So, if you know that there is a life after this temporal existence, then pursue the things that are above and not the things on the earth. You will be much happier.
Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.
The second principle that Jesus stressed with his disciples, is found in Matthew 6:21. Jesus encouraged the disciples to think about where their treasure was. Why? Because whatever you treasure in life, your heart will follow. Many times, people ask me, “How can I know that I'm going to stay true, and follow the Lord to the end of my days? How can I be sure?” I tell them, “Your heart will always stay true if you are focused on the right goal. If you are focused on the wrong goal, then your heart will turn aside.” Therefore, Paul warned Timothy, that if he or anyone sought after material things, they would stray or turn aside from their faith and drown themselves in destruction (1 Timothy 6:9-10). The goal and the treasure of your heart is critical. Your heart will follow whatever you treasure. Your heart will always follow. So, when your treasure becomes something temporal, your heart will follow. It's a choice that you make. Everything in life is a choice.
In Colossians 3:2, Paul encouraged, “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” That's your choice. Why did Paul say this? Consider a few verses earlier in Colossians 2:3, he explained what that treasure is on which you should be setting your affections. He says, “In whom,” referring to Christ, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Do you realize that He is the treasure? He is the treasure trove of all that you are looking for. If He is my treasure, then my heart will stay true. Paul said the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Think about this! I like this passage, especially in relation to the very next point that I'm going to make. Remember this about light and darkness. Christ has come and has brought light into our darkened hearts. He is the One who has become our Lord, our Savior, and our Treasure. We have this treasure, this knowledge of Him and relationship with Him, in these earthen vessels of our bodies. Remember, an earthen vessel is temporary, a temporary dwelling place, or a temporary holder for anything. It will break. It will be consumed. So, where is your treasure? Is it in the physical things you possess, or the position you hold today in this world? I hope not. Your treasure must be in Christ, to know Him, and be known by Him, and one day to be with Him in your new and eternal dwelling place, your new body! That is and should be your ultimate treasure in life. It must captivate your heart.
Your heart determines the light and darkness in your life.
The third issue that Jesus addressed in verses 22-23, Jesus says, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad,” or evil, that's the meaning of this Greek word for bad, “your whole body will be full of darkness.” What does Jesus mean when He says this? The phrase, your eye being evil, or your eye being good, is a very important concept to understand. Jesus first speaks about your physical eye when He says, “the lamp of the body is the eye.” He is speaking about your physical eye that discerns light. How do you see light? It comes through your eyes. Seeing light is how you see where you are going when you walk. If you saw no light you would stumble. This is a fundamental principle that Jesus lays out here. In other words, your eye is what enables you to see light, which enables you to follow the correct path. But then Jesus goes on to use the eye, metaphorically, to refer to the heart of man. But, you are probably thinking, How do you know that's what He's doing? The way to see this is to first go back to the way this concept is used in the Old Testament. Read Deuteronomy 15:9, and you will see what I mean. First let me give you some background on this passage. Under Jewish law, when a person had a debt he couldn’t pay, he became an indentured servant of the individual to whom the debt was owed. The debtor would serve that individual until the debt was repaid. The debtor was not a slave forever. Under the Law of God, a person would serve no more than a seven-year maximum term for their debt. At the end of every seven years, all indentured servants would go free, and their debts were forgiven. Then God brings up a circumstance to illustrate what an evil heart looks like. If your brother comes to you just before the year of release of debts and asks for help, don’t harden your heart and refuse to help him. This is why God warned the people not to have an evil eye, or heart, in such cases. God said, “Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand, and your eye be evil against your poor brother.’” Notice God compares the heart being wicked with the eye being evil. “And your eye being evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you.” In other words, God is warning His people not to harden their hearts if their brother comes and asks for a loan at six years and nine months. I'm not going to get any return out of this loan. I'm going to have to forgive this debt on the seventh year. God is saying, “Don't do that. This guy is poor. You need to help him.” So, it is very clear here, that God equates the evil eye with an evil heart.
You can see the same truth in Proverbs 28:22, where God says, “A man with an evil eye hastens after riches.” Clearly someone with an evil eye is a person who is pursuing riches. They have a love for things, which is exactly what God is warning His disciples about here in Matthew. It says in Psalm 62:10, “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” Notice, God doesn't say that riches are evil. He simply doesn’t want you to set your focus upon riches. In addition, God is implying that it is possible for riches to increase for someone who is godly. Therefore, if riches do increase, watch your heart. This is an important warning, that is key to your spiritual life. The inner life of a believer is what Christ is concerned about, and the Old Testament reveals the same truth. So be careful.
Your heart will determine whom you will serve.
The fourth issue that Christ addresses here, in Matthew 6:24, is that your heart determines who you serve. Notice, that in each one of these issues, Jesus is after your motive, your heart attitude, and your goals. Jesus declared to them, “No one can serve two Masters.” If you like to underline in your Bible, I hope that you underline the words no man. This is an absolute statement. Not one man or woman anywhere on this planet, can serve two masters. Jesus also strengthened this absolute statement emphasizing the fact by saying, “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” Why does Jesus make this statement? It is very simple; when you have divided affections, you will not continue in the right path for long. You will, of necessity, put something first in your life. Divided affections will ruin your Christian walk, and will drown you with many sorrows, as we studied earlier. No one can do it; your heart cannot be divided and expect to have a successful relationship with Christ.
Elijah the prophet taught the children of Israel the same thing in 1 Kings 18:21. At that time the children of Israel were trying to serve the god of Baal and the true and living God at the same time. Elijah, under the inspiration of the Spirit, said it this way, How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” God knew exactly what the people's problem was. They had divided affections. He also knows exactly what your problems are. He knows exactly what is stumbling you, and He is speaking to you regularly about what is dividing your heart. If your heart gets divided, you will not stay faithful to the Lord for very long. Why? Jesus reveals the reason right here in this passage. Love equals loyalty. What you love is what you will be loyal to. Whom or what you love most will naturally demand your loyalty. If you love God first and foremost, then that will keep you loyal to the Lord. And if not, this is what turns a person away from following Him. Jesus knows what He's talking about. He knows what divides your heart, and He’s saying, “What you treasure, is really important, because that is whom you will ultimately serve. This is why the Scripture declares, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Is Christ your treasure today, the One you love most in this world?
Therefore, what you need is a single heart. In 2 Chronicles 30:12, it says, “The hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to do the commandment of the King and the leaders, at the word of the Lord.” Now let me put this in context. Now in Israel’s history, Hezekiah had made an incredible turn around to follow the Lord. He turned his heart to follow God. He then sent a message throughout all Israel and he told the people to come to Jerusalem to renew their relationship, and their hearts, before God. Much of the nation refused. But many did come, and they worshiped the Lord, and God gave them this singleness of heart. They were not divided anymore. Now most of you have heard that old saying, “If somebody rides the fence, all they get is a backside full of splinters.” And that is the truth. You cannot ride the fence. If you try to live with a divided heart, all you are doing is slowly turning out of the way. Do you realize that not deciding, or refusing to commit yourself to the Lord, is a decision? It’s a decision to slowly turn aside. Similarly, this is what Jesus was after in Revelation 2:4 when He said to the Ephesian church, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Notice that they didn't lose their first love; read this correctly, they left their first love. It's a choice of the heart. It is a choice to return to the loyalty of your love relationship with God. What or who is your first love today? That's the question. And only you can answer that question. Won’t you ask God for that single heart today? He will give it to you just as He did with His people in Hezekiah’s day. Ask Him to turn you back to your first love!
How do you lay up treasures in heaven?
Jesus has given us some incredible principles in this sermon, but when you really examine this question of how to lay up treasures in heaven, He only tells you to do it, but doesn't specifically tell you how to do it. However, the “how to” is here; it can be found in the context of the Sermon. You must see the overall message here before we end, because the “how to” lay up treasures in heaven is critical.
You must first have a relationship with Him.
The first thing that must occur for you to lay up treasures in heaven, is that you must believe and follow Christ. You can't lay up any treasure or reward in heaven until you first have a relationship and spiritual connection, with the God of heaven. That's why Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with addressing your personal relationship with Him. He began with the fact that you must acknowledge your poverty of spirit. That you have nothing to offer Him that would allow you to come into His presence. You must come willing to receive what God is offering, which is Christ the Lord. Jesus also said that you must mourn for your sin, knowing that you have broken God's law. This brings repentance. You must then be a man or woman that hungers and thirsts after righteousness. This is the “following Him as His disciple” part of your relationship. The whole direction of your life changes and you are changed from within, which makes you merciful, forgiving, and all the things that He addresses in the Beatitudes. To lay up any treasures in heaven, you must have a relationship with Him and follow Him as He taught in this sermon.
You must do things from the heart.
Second, if you want to lay up treasures in heaven, you must do things from the heart. Whatever you do, it must be done sincerely from the heart. Remember, this is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In Matthew 6:4, this is the point that He makes in the previous text that we looked at in our earlier studies. It says there in verse 4, “Do your charitable deed in such a way that it is done in secret, that your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “whatever you do, if it's giving, if it's praying, if it's fasting, or whatever service you render, do all these things for My eyes only. Do it so I will see and not for the applause of men.” If you do it for other people to see, then you have your reward. That means no treasure in heaven. This is the point. As Paul also taught in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord and not to men.”
Seek first His kingdom
Third, if you want to lay up treasures in heaven, you need to keep Jesus and His kingdom first (Matt. 6:33). This is the reason why Jesus ends this whole section of Scripture with this point of seeking first His kingdom. This is the only way all things will be added unto you. If you keep Christ first in your heart, and in all that you pursue, then He will add to you all you have need of today. He will also add treasures in heaven, your eternal reward, simply because you kept Him first in your heart. So, is He first in your life today? Are you serving and giving from the heart? Do you love Him first? Do you serve Him first? Only living like this will bring the treasures in heaven that you want. I hope these truths have challenged you to consider your walk with Him. If your treasure is in heaven, that is where your heart will be also!
Let's go to Him in prayer. Father, we thank you that You have changed our hearts and have drawn us to Yourself. I pray that You would make these truths a reality in each of our lives. We ask that You help us to discern what the things are that will last and what will not. Lord, help us to truly have our treasure in heaven. We want our heart to be there too. Lord, help us to serve You and You alone with all our hearts. Keep us from a divided heart. We want loyal hearts that are in love with You, that are following you, because that's where the greatest joy and the greatest happiness will ever be found in life. Lord, bring us to that place of surrender. May not one of us reject the work of your Spirit that wants to give us a single heart toward You.
If you have never committed your life to Christ, or you are not sure if you truly are a Christian, I want to give you an opportunity to be forgiven and to experience God’s mercy. God will bestow His mercy on you right now, if you will ask for His forgiveness and invite Him to take over your life. He will cleanse your heart, if you will acknowledge your sin and be willing to turn from your sinful lifestyle to follow Him. If you want to receive Him right now, I would suggest you pray and say, “Lord, forgive me. I acknowledge my sin. I have broken your law. Forgive me. Jesus, come in and take over my life. I receive you by faith right now. I want to be your disciple.” If you just prayed this prayer, confess your faith to someone today. Send me an email at