The Pursuit of False Treasure

By Ryan Shaw

Matthew 6:19-21 – “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 most challenging problems disciples face are how to relate with the world around them according to God’s ways. The human heart can give itself wholly to one thing and all others become secondary. This is how we are meant to live.

Jesus frequently teaches that being His follower is not an easy task. Beginning in verse 19 He emphasizes the challenges and temptations that will come our way in the world.

Our passage begins on a negative note. Jesus is teaching us to avoid something. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…” His emphasis is to get free and remain free of covetousness as we commune with the Father and live in the real world.

Covetousness may take on many guises, however, and does not only relate to money or wealth (though that is the primary meaning). In the monetary sense treasure refers to wealth in abundance and things that are costly, for example property, gold, land, precious stones, etc. Treasure could also include love of money, love of honor, position, status, one’s work in an idolatrous way.

The exhortation is not to spend undo time gathering or hoarding as much of this world’s wealth and status as possible for our own use. Instead we seek “heavenly” treasure as disciples investing time, energy and focus on that which will last for eternity.

Jesus provides three pictures of what He means. He begins with a moth that destroys. In the ancient world wealth was revealed by fine and elaborate clothing while moths were a common problem. They could eat into clothes and bring them to ruin. There was no permanence with such possessions.

Second, Jesus says to avoid seeking things that can be eaten away. The idea is that if a person’s wealth was bound up in corn or other grain that had been stored in barns and silos, worms or rats could easily “eat away” this wealth bringing it to nothing. There was no permanence in such “wealth.”

Next, Jesus says to avoid riches which thieves can steal away. If a thief can relieve a person of their wealth, it is treasure without eternal permanence.

Jesus is not teaching that wealth is bad. He knows wealth in and of itself is not the problem. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. All the gold and silver in the world is His. Wealth is of Him and from Him and for Him.

Wealth is not for the purpose of accumulating more but using it to help others and propel us toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission globally in this generation.

Jesus is strongly cautioning us not to find our identity in wealth nor compare ourselves with how much wealth the next person has. Instead consider how much your focus is on accumulating as opposed to giving away what you have to others and being a vessel of blessing.

It is important to clear up a few wrong teachings along this line. It is often misinterpreted that Jesus is forbidding a disciple to accumulate wealth or adding to material possessions. This is not what He is communicating at all as this would be contrary to the whole counsel of the Bible.

The problem is covetousness, which pushes a human being to never be satisfied & content with what they have but always pursuing more. They find security in wealth instead of dependence on God. It is the excessive seeking after this nebulous goal that Jesus is forbidding.

God has already promised to provide “our daily bread” and meet our needs sufficiently. In mistrust of His heart we are not content with His provision and put undo focus on accumulation. Jesus never de-emphasizes the importance of daily needs and having them supplied. What is forbidden is the desire to consistently have more for our own personal comforts and pleasure.

Let’s remember that seeking wealth or possessions is not the only application Jesus had in mind surrounding “treasure.” There are many disciples who don’t have a problem in general with covetousness toward wealth. Their struggle may be seeking glory or honor.

The devil tempts them, not with pursuing wealth but of pursuing greater reputation, to be known and even famous. They may possess low self-esteem or be insecure. If others would just recognize them and affirm their importance and that of their work, all would be well. Their treasure is having more honor.

Take a moment and ask the Lord to reveal areas of covetousness you might have. Be ready to confess these and make whatever changes He might lead you to make as a result.

2 thoughts on “The Pursuit of False Treasure”

  1. Later in Matthew, Jesus tells the rich man how to get treasure in heaven; Jesus says, sell your treasured possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me (Mt. 19:21). Similarly, the prayer “give us our daily bread” is focusing not only on “my bread” but also on “our bread,” leading us to think of others, the poorest, who need help with bread–and leading us to help them (and thus have more treasure in heaven).


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