STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN
#8 in the Series “All I have Commanded You”
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. Matthew 13:44,45,52
As I have been reflecting on the different commandments of Jesus, I am reminded over and over how interconnected they are. I am coming to the conclusion that we can’t understand any of Jesus’s teachings without understanding all of them. Any one of them taken out of the context provided by the whole can be grossly and dangerously misunderstood. This is why Jesus says in the Great Commission that we are to teach “all that I have commanded you.”
Again, I have likened the instructions of Jesus to a wagon wheel. The rim of that wheel, the priority which sets the agenda for all of life, is “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” The next five commandments are like the first five spokes of the wheel, and they describe the abundantly heroic life that Jesus wants His disciples to experience. The second set of five spokes, of which today’s message is the second, have to do with the freedom that Jesus wants His disciples to experience. Last week I wrote that the first step in the freedom Jesus offers is rest: “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.”
The second dimension of freedom is the freedom to own possessions, the freedom to seek to gather a treasure. One might say that people with treasures are the only truly free people. Their treasure (a retirement fund, their own house, their investments) opens up many possibilities and gives them the power to live a better life than those that have no treasure. If you don’t believe me, try coming to retirement age with nothing but Social Security and see what a limiting and enslaving experience that is.
Jesus says, however, that his disciples are not to seek treasure in this life as much as they are to seek “treasures in heaven.” These treasures are permanent, not subject to corruption, theft, or the economic disaster that has left many treasures at a fraction of their value just a year ago. But what are these heavenly treaures?
When I was about ten years old, my siblings and I tagged along with my parents to a Christian retreat for adults called “Camp Farthest Out.” We had to sit through several of the worship services and heard several of the messages. I am sure that we were bored out of our minds most of the time, but there was a portion of one of the messages that stuck with me (children have a way of remembering something in a sermon for a long time afterwards, when most adults will have forgotten it all).
In her message the speaker shared how she loved fine china. She said that she was admiring a set of dishes at Neimann Marcus in the Galleria in Houston and sadly thought to herself, “I will never be able to afford a set of dishes like that—especially not on my preacher husband’s salary.” Then she shared how she felt the Lord whispering in her ear, “Just wait until you see the set of dishes I have arranged to be in your mansion in heaven!”
I had just accepted the Lord into my heart a couple of years earlier, but my walk with him was characterized by hesitation and fear. This woman’s talk had a dramatic effect on me, because it awoke a desire for heaven that I had never felt before. You see, I was sure that if God was going to give her dishes, then God would give me an enourmous electric train set. My father liked electric trains and had been collecting Lionel catalogs since the early ‘30’s. I used to browse through these catalogs and dream of all the trains pictured there. After that retreat I went home and browsed through the catalog, telling the Lord in prayer which trains I wanted (all of them) and how many of each (several).
In his grace Jesus uses such illusions to begin to awaken a desire for the Kingdom of God. My dreams of an electric train empire were not evil, but they were immature.
Furthermore, these kind of dreams are called “pie in the sky” by many who ridicule Christianity. They accuse Christians of preaching to people who are oppressed that if they will just behave themselves and not make waves, then they will get all the things they want when they die and go to heaven. If that were what we preached then our preaching would be rightly opposed.
But of course heaven is not the great Santa’s Workshop in the sky. Just as a Christian is born again, so a Christian’s desires begin to be transformed in her walk with God. Heaven, indeed, will not be a place that anyone would want to go if that person does not desire communion with God above all other things. When I grew up I was able to acquire for myself a significant number of electric trains. Once I had them, I didn’t play with them as often as I thought I would, and indeed their care and operation at times became a burden for me. Sometimes I feel that they and all of my other material possessions are just so much junk. By the time we get to Heaven all our desires will be transformed (ye must be born again). God is not going to give us a treasure that will be junk in Heaven.
There are other deeply cherished desires that will disappear in heaven. Romance and sexual desire will be superceded by a new intimacy with God. Marriage and family relationships will no longer exist as they did down here, as the family of God is fully revealed. I myself have always believed that heavenly treasures consisted of relationships formed in Christ, that is to say friendships that we make with other Christians, but even these friendships will be transformed beyond the joys and pleasures that we currently associate with them.
So what are the treasures that we can lay up in heaven? If we have something like a bank account up there, what kind of coin can we deposit into that account? Obviously, that bank will not take dollars, euros, pesos, or even gold or silver.
Jesus teaches that there are four kinds of treasure that we can store in heaven and which Satan and the circumstances of life cannot touch:
- Our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells two short parables in which men find treasure, one is a farm worker and the other is a pearl merchant. In both cases, the men sell all they have to procure the treasure for themselves. Many people sell all that they have in order to come to the United States. Many people view U.S. citizenship as the golden key to opportunity and prosperity. Many take their citizenship for granted, but many others serve their country, expose their lives for it, and treat their citizenship as a prized possession. Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven should call forth from Christians no less of an investment, no less enthusiasm, and no less willingness to sacrifice.
- Knowledge of the Scriptures is a treasure. Jesus says, “Every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” This means that the treasure is not simply knowledge of biblical content or even in a number of memory verses. Instead, the treasure is our ability to draw principles from our knowledge of Scripture to apply to every situation in life. As we apply these principles to our decisions, attitudes, words, and actions, we have the confidence that we move in the center of God’s will.
- Experiences that we have with God are a treasure. When we make the Kingdom of God a priority in our life, we open up spaces and times for God to meet us in special and tangible ways. These experiences begin to shape us in the image of Christ and give us a personal knowledge of God that can be gained in no other way. Those whose priority is to provide for themselves are like the rich man in Jesus’s parable of Luke 12. This man had accumulated so many things that he decided to build bigger barns to store the stuff in, so he could then relax and live on his accumulated wealth. Once he completed the barns God appeared to him and called him a fool because he was going to die that very night. Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).”
- Treasures in heaven come not from what you accumulate or keep, but from what you give away. In Luke 16 Jesus tells a very curious parable about a dishonest manager. Because the man had been stealing from the owner of the company, the owner decided to fire him. Before the firing took effect, however, the manager called the customers who owed the company money. “I see where your bill from our company is $10,000,” he would say, “I am changing the amount to $5,000. Remember me kindly if I ever get ‘laid off’.” When the owner found out what the manager had done he praised him for his shrewdness. Jesus did not tell this parable to promote dishonesty. Instead, he said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Again in Luke, Jesus said to his disciples that when they planned a banquet they should not invite guests who could invite them back in return. Instead, he told his disciples to invite the poor, the elderly, and the infirm, because “although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:14).
You may think from this last point that I am going to suggest that you build up heavenly treasure by writing checks to the church. I want you to keep contributing to the church, but I must in all honesty say that I don’t think that is the way to build your heavenly treasure. Jesus doesn’t seem to have given high priority to his contributions to the religious establishment of his own day. On the one occasion when he made a contribution to the Temple, he had Simon Peter find a coin for him in a fish and then made it clear to Peter that although he was accomodating himself to the customary contribution, he (Jesus) was under no obligation to give it.
No, Jesus was not one to send checks, but no more generous human being has ever lived. Jesus was generous with his time, with his abilities, with the resources at hand, and with himself. He was never generous at a distance, however. Instead, He was personally involved in everything that he gave. Heavenly treasure is gained through generosity, but generosity that takes the risk of getting personally involved—personally involved with God’s kingdom, with God’s word, with God’s people, and therefore personally involved in experiencing God for oneself.