Jesus has been discussing seeking God through giving, praying, and fasting in Matthew 6:1-18. He’s instructed His disciples to “do not” in regard to certain practices of the Pharisees (v. 2,5,16). In 6:19ff, He takes up another “do not,”—do not seek earthly treasure.
Once again, the Pharisees are the entry point of the discussion. They were lovers of money (Luke 16:14), and as such, it was impossible for them to love and serve God. So once again then, Jesus is pointing His followers away from their “righteousness” (5:20, 6:1), and toward their righteousness of God (6:33).
It’s important to understand what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying it is wrong to have possessions. Abraham, Job, Joseph of Arimathea, and others (see 1 Timothy 6:17ff for example), all followed God and were blessed with material wealth. It is not wrong then to have possessions, what is wrong it to be possessed by your possessions.
It is wrong to look to possessions for either our identity or our security. Life is not about what we have, it is about who we are. The world says, “You are what you own,” and offers us expensive images that require constant upgrading. Jesus says, “You are imaged after My Father—don’t impoverish yourselves with anything less.” The world offers us idolatry, God offers us identity. A possession-centered existence makes it impossible to have a God centered identity (v. 21-24), and manifests a patent distrust in the Father (v. 25ff).
As a natural extension of seeking His kingdom, we’re to trust Him to provide the things we need (v. 33). As part of His kingdom rule, we’re to act responsibly by doing our part as good stewards, but we don’t act like it all depends on us because we know it doesn’t (v. 30-32)! And we don’t act like our life is defined by a having a full glass, a full stomach, and the latest gadgets because it isn’t (Luke 12:15)! Neither is it to be our life’s aim to anxiously try to cover every contingency as if there were no God (v. 31-32). It would be impossible to do so but it is the mere mentality that we could somehow do this that steals our trust away from Him and shifts it to ourselves. The main thing we’re to do is to make sure the main thing remains the main thing!
This must have been challenging to Jesus’ listeners who, while not necessarily living a day-to-day existence, nonetheless had far less provisions for tomorrow and safety nets than we do today. Today most of us enjoy a more secure, comfortable existence. Nonetheless, we are confronted with our potential worries (i.e., rising health care costs, saving for college, retirement, etc.). These things are neither to debilitate nor define us. Instead they should drive us to God and the seeking of true treasure.
Treasure here represents security. It is our hedge against the uncertainties of life. It is something saved up for the rainy day when our normal provisions and plans fail us. But Jesus says the problem with earthly treasure is that it is subject to the same uncertainty. Insurance is not the same thing as assurance, is it? Only “treasure in heaven” gets the job done because it is totally secure.
I can’t help but think that the heavenly treasure Jesus is referring to is the heavenly kingdom (6:10,33). To “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (v. 20), is to “seek first His kingdom and righteousness” (v. 33). Entering into this type of lifestyle and relationship with God is a proclamation not just that we trust Him to provide us with security, but that He is our security.
There’s nothing like faith in our Father to promote peace in our hearts.