Treasure in heaven. 6:19-24


Our passage for study comes from the sermon on the mount. Having exposed an external religious piety that is little more than outward show 6:1-18, Jesus now calls on his disciples to exhibit total loyalty to God.

The passage

v19. Jesus points to the danger of selfishness and misplaced values. His disciples must strive to possess God, rather than mammon. The mammon, "the treasures of earth", may be clothing, easily fretted away by moth, rats, mildew and the like, or more solid possessions easily stolen by a thief who digs through the mud walls of the house and has them away.

v20. Instead of living to provide for ourselves the ephemeral clutter of this world, we should strive to provide for ourselves "treasures in heaven." The Rabbis taught that certain earthly pursuits had eternal significance. The New Testament runs with the same idea, although it is Jesus who has done all the work and gained the reward and so the treasure we need to pursue is the treasure he freely gives - eternal life.

v21. That which is highly treasured takes control of a person's inner being, shaping mind, emotions and will. "If pleasure is the highest good, then men will degenerate into sheer self-indulgence", Calvin.

v22-23. With two illustrations Jesus reinforces the truth that disciples cannot divide their loyalty between God and their possessions. This first illustration concerns the good eye and the evil eye - an ancient way of describing humanity. A person with an evil eye is someone who is filled with darkness, a darkness that drives selfish actions, sometimes harming all that is around them. A person with a good eye is someone who is filled with light, a light that shines goodness all around. "If the light that ought to be in you has turned to darkness, what a terrible darkness that darkness is!" Barclay.

v24. "Jesus now explains that behind the choice between two treasures (where we lay them up) and two visions (where we fix our eyes) there lies the still more basic choice between two masters (whom we are going to serve)", John Stott. Jesus is simply saying that God is served with single-eyed devotion, or he is not served at all.

The gift of loyalty

Jesus' absolutism seems to undermine the sensible use and enjoyment of the things of this world. Scripture itself extols the virtue of work and provision for the future, Prov.6:6-8, provision for relatives, 1Tim.5:8, and the enjoyment of God's good creation, 1Tim.4:3-4, 6:17, etc.

So, what is the point of Jesus' absolutism with regard to the things of this world? Difficult though it is, we are forced to admit that we do serve mammon. We are men and women with divided loyalties. Jesus calls for a piety of unswerving loyalty, but our hearts are here on earth, and the light within us is darkness. Aware of this face, we are forced to rely on a gift of righteousness in Christ which is through faith. He is the only truly loyal man, so only in his loyalty can we stand. The "righteousness (that) surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law" is not something we do, nor can do, rather it can only be ours as a gift of grace appropriated through faith.

The wonder of free grace often prompts the retort, "why not do evil that good may abound?" If loyalty counts for nothing, why not be disloyal in the extreme? Greater disloyalty would surely produce greater mercy. Paul the apostle often faced this criticism, but he put it aside because the way of grace is better able to promote godly living than the way of law. A person under grace, and thus led by the Spirit, tends not to "gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

So, in Jesus' call for absolute loyalty to God we are reminded to stand in Christ's loyalty rather than our own. Our devotion to God will always be compromised and so, if single-eyed devotion is His requirement for entry into the kingdom of heaven then we are going to have to rely on Christ's loyalty and not our own. Yet, we also find in these words of Jesus an ideal of loyalty that can serve to discipline our Christian life. When handling this world's things we are reminded of the danger of selfishness and misplaced values.

So, on the one hand, let us renew our dependence of Christ's loyal service on our behalf, and on the other hand, let us strive to be open-hearted when it comes to the way we handle the things of this world.


"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit", Gal.5:25. Discuss.

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