Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Treasures We Ought to Gather (Matthew 6:19-21)


A screen shot on The NIV 50th Anniversary app by Tecarta.
In the Holy Scriptures, we meet men of God who are well-to-do.

Abraham was abundant in livestock, silver and gold (Gen. 13:2). Before he was given a son, his frustration was the absence of an heir except his servant Eliezer (Gen.15:2-3).

When there was a severe famine in the land, Isaac was compelled to migrate in the land of the Philistines. There the Lord blessed his endeavors in agronomy and animal husbandry. On his first year of farming alone, his cropped yielded a hundredfold. It was like investing a hundred thousand pesos and by the end of the year, he earned a million. He grew so wealthy that the Philistines envied him. Eventually, their leader begged Isaac to move somewhere else because Isaac "have become too powerful". Perhaps they feared the great number of his servants could be transformed into a private army thus a treat to them all. (Gen. 26:12-15)

Then there was Job. After surviving the great test, he was made richer than before. He accumulated 14,000 sheep + 6,000 camels + 1,000 cows + 1,000 donkeys.

If we could spend more time going through the Scriptures, I'm sure we could find more of such servants of God who were well-to-do. I therefore conclude that one could be wealthy and godly at the same time. We can condemn the "health-and-wealth gospel" as a false teaching without demonizing those who are blessed with the skill of growing wealth.

Aside from giving us accounts of godly people who were wealthy, the Holy Bible also encourages diligence (Prov. 10:4), enterprise (Prov. 31:16), investments (Luke 19:22), and saving for future needs (Prov. 6:6-8).

But there is a kind of wealth-gathering that is harmful to our souls so Jesus instructed his audience to stop1 it. I see three things from our text:

1. IT IS A SELFISH FORM OF WEALTH GATHERING


NIV: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth... "
ESV: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth..."
HCSB: “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth..."

What's common in the translations above? They all point to a self-centered kind of wealth-gathering2. Selfishness is never ever God's intention to those whom he has entrusted wealth. Rather, what he wants them to learn is to do various good deeds and to be kind to those in need (1 Tim.6:17). He also wants them to know that wealth spent on doing good unto others is never wasted for it earns better rewards in the life to come (1 Tim. 6:18).

2. IT IS A VIEW OF POSSESSIONS THAT HAS NO ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE

There are two kinds of treasures in the Lord's teaching. First, are the treasures on earth. The second one is treasures in heaven. What is being corrected here is the zealous collection of the first kind of wealth without giving value to the second kind. It is a view of possessions that ignores eternal and spiritual things. It is focused only on things that are visible to the physical eyes. We will identify this as materialism: "The theory or doctrine that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life."3

Materialism is foolish because:
i. Our earthly possessions won't last forever. They could be ruined or stolen (Matt. 6:19)
ii. Upon death, we cannot bring them with us (1 Tim. 6:7)
iii. It leads to the practice of various evil deeds (1 Tim. 6:9-10)
iv. It is contrary to the very essence of the Christian faith which values unseen things above all (2 Cor. 4:18)

3. IT IS A SYMPTOM OF MISPLACED LOVE AND DEVOTION

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)

Whom are we suppose to love above all? To whom are we suppose to offer our most passionate devotion? Of course you know very well that it should be unto God. We are to love him with all our hearts, souls and minds (Matt. 22:37). But if that love and devotion is dedicated to earthly treasures, it just shows that we are offering our worship to created things, not the Creator. Preoccupation on treasures that will not last is a symptom of misplaced loved and devotion.

It is vital that we understand what the word "heart" means in 6:21. Most of the time, we understand it to mean as the muscle inside our chest that pumps blood all-over the body. But for the ancient Jew, it could mean "the center or focus of man's inner personal life. The heart is the source, or spring, of motives; the seat of the passions; the center of the thought processes; the spring of conscience.4" And this is what was intended here.

The heart is the center of our personality. It encompasses the mind, emotion, and will. The heart dictates what will come out of the mouth (Matt. 12:34-35). An evil heart moves a man to do all sorts of evil acts (Mark 7:21-22). No wonder the wise father counseled his son to guard the heart, for it is the wellspring of life. It is the starting point of all our acts (Prov. 4:23).

When Jesus said "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also", what he meant was whatever you adore above all shall control your life. D.A. Carson puts it this way: "... the most cherished treasure subtly but infallibly controls the whole person's direction and values.5" (EN5)

  • Where do you go when you have the freedom and the time?
  • What do you do when there are no restraints?
  • What do you imagine when you think nobody knows what you imagining?

All these are determined by what your heart treasures.

Sometimes we think we can give half of our hearts to the Lord, and the other half to the world. But it doesn't work that way. The heart cannot be in two places at the same time-- it can only stay at the
place where its treasure is.

So how shall I start storing treasures in heaven? The good news is this: the Lord takes notice of every good deed done in His name. We can start by taking to heart what is already here in the current chapter we are tackling. The Lord rewards...
  • publicly unknown help to the needy (Matt. 6:4)
  • publicly unknown prayer (Matt. 6:6)
  • publicly unknown fasting (Matt. 6:18)
And once he sees your deeds done in his name, he will never forget them (Heb. 6:10). They will never be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). These are the treasures we ought to gather. Go and start filling your vault in heaven.

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ENDNOTES:
1. Daniel Wallace observes that the grammatical construction in Matt. 6:19 "either expresses a command to stop an action already in progress or establishes a general precept". (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics; Zondervan, 1996). Charles Quarles surveyed Matthew's Gospel and concludes that Jesus intended the former nuance. He remarks "Several features in Matthew suggest that Jesus observed that His disciples were too focused on earthly treasures and that His prohibition called them to change their priorities" (see Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ's Message to the Modern Church; B&H Academic, 2011)

2. D.A. Carson, "Jesus is concerned about selfishness in misplaced values." (EBC Volume 8, 1st edition; Zondervan, 1984)

3. American Heritage Talking Dictionary (The Learning Company, 1997)

4. Owen Rupert Brandon ("Heart" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1st edition; edited by Walter Elwell; Baker Books 1984)

5. D.A. Carson, ibid

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