By Elizabeth Prata
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal …” (Matthew 6:19-20).
That is a familiar passage to us. We know what it says. We understand that we cannot serve two gods, mammon and Jesus. We comprehend that the love of money is the root of all evil. We all feel sad when the Rich Young Ruler turned away from Jesus, rejecting eternal salvation because he clung to his earthly wealth.
But what does treasure in heaven truly mean? What are the treasures in heaven, specifically?
First, we see the negative. Do not store up treasure on earth. Treasure on earth at the time Matthew was written were clothes, that’s why the mention of moths. The most expensive thing someone could buy was purple dyed clothing, the kind that kings and senators wore, the kind that Lydia made. Purple clothing was expensive because of the laborious process to make even a little purple dye. [See: A Day in the Life of a Seller of Purple]. James 2:2 warns against currying favor with the rich, as evidenced by their fine clothes. (James 2:2).
Another kind of wealth was property. The Rich Young Ruler had lots of property he didn’t want to give up. Ahab wanted the field near his house, and he and Jezebel arranged to have the owner Naboth killed for it. Land was and remains a top indicator of wealth. An entire Law was given by God regarding the reversion of land in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25.)
Food. (Bountiful crops). In Luke 16:19-26 the Rich Man always held banquets. Food is an indicator of wealth in a land where agricultural production was hard, sometimes dangerous (See Gideon in Judges), and laborious. Banquets hosted by kings throughout the Old Testament were held to demonstrate wealth, which demonstrated stability because the long agricultural process was protected and yielded enough food. Remember Gideon hunkered down in his winepress trying to beat out his wheat, hiding from the marauding Midianites? (Judges 6:11). Food was an indicator of wealth.
Coinage: There weren’t really any banks back then, if a person owned coins they usually buried it somewhere or hid it snugly in their home. That is why the verse mentions rust.
So what is real wealth according to the Bible? What are these treasures we are supposed to accumulate in heaven?
One of the riches is longing for His appearing, for which we will receive a reward. (2 Timothy 4:8). Anticipating Jesus’ return is a metaphorical way that we keep Him in the forefront of our minds, as the Jews were supposed to do by placing actual phylacteries on their foreheads. When we long for His appearing, we are keeping Him and heaven focused as the basis for all we do. Jesus is the priority, not accumulating earthly possessions. In fact, our motivations are a major part of the treasure we accumulate. (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Things we did on earth that have no value in heaven, i.e. done with poor motivation or for our selves and not Jesus, will be burned up and that which remains will be counted as heavenly treasure, i.e those done with proper motivations.
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Another of the riches according to heaven is good works. “Be rich in good works”. “Do good”. The ‘good’ is further defined by being ready to share, generosity. James 2:15-17 has a lot to say about that. So does Luke 3:11. But do all with the right motivation.
It seems that there is a theme to all this earthly versus heavenly treasure. Earthly treasure is possessions. Whether money, clothing, food, property…But heavenly treasure is other people. It’s service to others, service in the church, caring, sharing, giving, spending time with people, pursuing their righteousness, caring about them above ourselves-
What we think of on earth as treasure, such as gold or jewels, will be just construction materials we will walk on in heaven! (foundation stones, street of gold…). The treasure is Jesus and His people that He died to bring to His heavenly abode. Invest your money, time, and talents in Him, and by proxy His people. You will be storing up treasure in heaven. Doing good to others in love with the right motivation is what we should pursue every day.
Fun Fact: The word treasure in the Matthew 6:19 verse we began with actually is translated thēsaurós, which is the root the English term “thesaurus” which refers to a “storehouse (treasure) of synonyms.” So the word treasure means less the actual wealth object and more the place the riches are stored. Heaven!