The Sermon on the Mount—‘Store Up Treasures in Heaven’
FOLLOWING his counsel about the need to avoid hypocrisy in worship, Jesus discussed the snare of materialism. He began by saying: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal.”—Matt. 6:19.
Jesus well knew the human tendency to put trust in an accumulation of material things. He admonished his listeners to “stop” doing that, since earthly treasures are not of enduring value. Whether costly garments, money or other material items, such stored valuables are liable to deterioration. For example, ‘moths’ can ruin valuable fabrics; precious metals can succumb to “rust.” (Compare James 5:1-3.) Even before decay sets in there is danger of theft. In ancient Palestine thieves would “break in and steal” by chopping through the mud or plaster walls of houses.
Hence, Jesus declared: “Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:20) One can store up incorruptible treasures by making a record “in heaven” (that is, with God) of fine works. In this regard the apostle Paul admonished wealthy Christians “to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Tim. 6:17-19; Titus 3:8.
Jesus gave as a reason for shunning materialism: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) A person’s “treasure” is what he considers truly valuable. On this he sets his “heart,” the seat of motives, desires and affections. If the treasure that steals a person’s heart is merely what this world can offer, it will damage his relationship with God, who requires service with “a complete heart.”—1 Chron. 28:9; Matt. 22:37.
To help his hearers to avoid the snare of materialism, Jesus gave two illustrations. He began the first by saying: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright.”—Matt. 6:22.
It is appropriate to call the eye “the lamp of the body,” since light reaches the visual center of the brain through the eyes. Instead of continually darting about to catch sight of every object that comes into view, the ‘simple eye’ focuses on only one thing. In a figurative sense, what an individual ‘sets his eye on’ as an object of intense concentration and meditation affects his whole personality. If the doing of God’s will is a person’s main goal in life, that one’s “whole body will be bright.” In all aspects of life he will reflect enlightenment that glorifies God and benefits fellow humans.—Compare Proverbs 4:18, 25-27; Matthew 5:14-16.
“But if your eye is wicked,” continued Jesus, “your whole body will be dark.” (Matt. 6:23a) The ‘wicked eye’ focuses with covetous longing upon wrong things. (Note Matthew 5:28; 2 Peter 2:14.) For a person who makes this world’s riches his major pursuit, the “whole body will be dark.” Such a materialistic goal will lead to wrong conduct that manifests spiritual darkness in all areas of life. “Those who are determined to be rich,” writes the apostle Paul, “fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
Showing the seriousness of this, Jesus next said: “If in reality the light that is in you is darkness, how great that darkness is!” (Matt. 6:23b) As humans we have imperfection in us from birth. (Rom. 5:12) A person’s condition becomes worse, however, if he misdirects his faculties for gaining enlightenment (the figurative eye). Covetous longing for riches spots up one’s whole round of living. (Prov. 28:20) “How great,” exclaimed Jesus, is the “darkness” of those whose love for materialistic treasures leads them to shove aside spiritual matters.—Matt. 13:22.
Jesus then added a second illustration: “No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other.”—Matt. 6:24a.
Hearers of the Sermon on the Mount were familiar with slavery, which was regulated by the Mosaic law. (Ex. 21:2; Lev. 25:39-46) A slave owner could expect his slave to give fully of himself. (Compare Luke 17:7-10.) Interestingly, The Mishnah discusses the rights of “a slave belonging to jointholders,” indicating that on occasion a slave might be subject to two masters. Concerning Jesus’ words in this regard, we read in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
“Mt. 6:24 and Lk. 16:13 presuppose the possibility of a slave having two owners with equal shares to him and therefore with equal claims to his services. This is a situation which might and did exist. Indeed, there were slaves who were freed by one master but not the other, so that they were half free and half slave. In such a relationship [of double servitude] it was, of course, virtually impossible for a slave to display the same devotion to both, especially as their wishes and interests might vary very widely. Jesus expresses this in the language of His contemporaries and His people by saying that the slave would [love] the one master and [hate] the other, i.e., be less attached to him.”
Jesus drove home the point of this illustration by saying: “You cannot slave for God and for Riches.” (Matt. 6:24b) This statement does not condemn the possession of wealth, but, rather, emphasizes that one cannot “slave for” riches and at the same time give to God the exclusive devotion that he requires. A person who truly loves God and wishes to serve him acceptably must indeed “despise” the enslavement that results from making treasures on earth one’s principal goal in life.