A Warning against Wealth – Matthew 6:19-21

“Treasures on earth” are material possessions. A rich person would be known by their expensive clothes and jewelry as well as large and expensive homes. A moth (σής) destroys clothing (which is why we use cedar chests and moth balls to keep them away). Sometimes this word is translated as “wood worm” since moths really only destroy clothing, which is not specifically mentioned by Jesus. Rust (βρῶσις) destroys metal, although gold and silver cannot rust (silver can tarnish, but that is different than rust). “Rust” was translated “worm” or “vermin” in some translations (NIV 2011) since it refers to eating or consuming something. A third risk to material possessions is theft. All we are doing by storing up treasure on earth is keeping it for someone to break in and steal. In each of these three examples, material possessions are temporary. Even the most durable treasures like gold or silver will fade away or be stolen by others.

Scrooge McDuck

The contrast is with “treasure in heaven.” The things which destroy earthly treasures cannot harm heavenly treasure. Jesus is speaking metaphorically, our good deeds do not generate literal wealth in heaven (and it is certainly not being assembled into a great mansion for you to live in when you get there!) Jesus says our loyalty and behavior should reflect a heavenly perspective, not a temporal earthly perspective. The idea is that all behavior is either for God or not, with no in between ground. You are either storing up treasure in heaven or on earth, and the disciple is to be about the business of storing up the treasures in heaven.

The concept of “treasures in heaven” was common in Jewish thinking, Jesus is using a metaphor that would have been understood immediately by his listeners to mean proper God-honoring behavior.

This is important because our earthly treasure reveals our true loyalties. Jesus says that wherever your treasure is, there your heart is also. What he means is that most people are smart enough to know where they are getting their rewards, and that they will put their effort into the place where they are gaining reward. Salesman make their money by selling, so a good salesman will get to know what kind of person is there to buy and which is there to browse. In a similar fashion the disciple is being told here to know which behaviors and attitudes are worthy of heaven and stick to them.

Scot McKnight draws a contrast between the wealthy and powerful Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57) and the wealthy young man whom Jesus told to sell all his possessions (Matthew 19:16-30). Joseph was focused on the coming kingdom and used his wealth wisely, the young rich man could not (Sermon on the Mount, 207).

Since Jesus has already warned his disciples they will be persecuted on account of the r testimony, this warning on wealth is especially important. When the Jews were persecuted in Rome, the first phase was loss of possessions. For some of the early Jewish Christians this was enough to drive them away from Christianity and back to Judaism.

Hebrews 10:32-35 indicates some Jewish Christians in Rome had been subjected to insult and confiscation of property. If possessions really indicate the content of one’s heart, then Jesus warns his disciples to not place their confidence in material possessions since those will not endure. These disciples live out this principle in the book of Acts. They live a voluntary life of poverty as they await the return of Jesus. This sometimes involved selling property (land, etc.) in order to support the community (Acts 2:45; 4:32-5:10).

Jesus’s words are perhaps shocking to American Christians (especially at Christmas, when this could be considered treasonous!) Rejection of western materialism is difficult since we like to have “nice things.” Wealth is not inherently evil, but the love of money is indeed the root of all evil.

16 thoughts on “A Warning against Wealth – Matthew 6:19-21

  1. “For the love of money is the root of all evil…” having money and being wealthy is a tricky subject to manage. Of course we want to be financially set, not having debt and being stable. However, too much money can cause greed and discontentment. It seems as though having more money would eliminate the desire of ‘want’ but it’s the exact opposite. often times (because we are sinful) having more money causes us to want even more and are never satisfied with what we have. Anything and everything has to be ours and money can make us do anything. For example, people who are in debt because of selfish desires and wants caused by money creates discontentment, greed and more problems that will affect relationships and other areas of life. Wealth is not a bad thing if handled and properly dealt with — God wants us to be fulfilled but money is not what ultimately gives us this status. Money can help and the trick is to use it for the Kingdom and for eternal purpose and not selfishly.

  2. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13).” Money in a sense is worthless. This is cliché but money can’t buy happiness or peace. Money can be used to buy some nice stuff like a new sports car or the newest videogame or a big house, or maybe a long vacation somewhere far away. I will admit that all of those things sounds great. But what good is money when it can’t be used to buy the important things in life? “And all your money won’t another minute buy (Dust in the wind-Kansas).” What good is money when you have no one else to share your wealth with? When the time comes a rich person is buried in the same size grave as a poor person. Money is a resource and all of our resources come from God. But the devil uses the good things God gives us and turns them into bad things. the warning about having too much wealth doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to be taken care. But what he is warning us is that too much wealth will distract us from him.

    • I really relate this passage to “the love of money being the root of all evil” God doesnt want us to greed or lust over money but at the same time we all want to be stable so i can see how its hard to find a stable balance between the two. Its also hard because in this generation your social status and how popular you are in a community most of the times revolves around your financial wealth. But instead of us just being rich God wants us to be rich in our hearts. Having wealth or the want to obtain money can distract you from what really matters.

  3. The concept that our earthly treasure reveals our true loyalties is interesting. We often think that we don’t put anything here on earth as treasures in our eyes as christians because we try so hard to keep Christ at the center of everything. That is not meant to be hurtfully sarcastic. It is true. We try, and we fail. Often we are in denial as to what those treasures are. For a lot of us this treasure is in fact money. It can get you what ever else you want, including if you seek to accumulate other treasures in your life. This is all one giant cycle of pursuit in our lives for contentment in these earthly treasures – but what happens when you finally get what you want here on earth?

  4. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13).” Unfortunately we are often ruled by money and earthly materials even though Jesus reminds us that such things are temporary. It truly is the root of all evil. Our lives revolved around a six inch by two inch piece of paper. It is important to remember that being aware of what we value, or our ‘treasures’, says a lot about where our heart is. “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15). “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). When it comes to money and materialistic items, more is never enough. We never seem to be satisfied with what we have and always want more. When we become more concerned about materialistic and earthly things our hearts can turn cold and we can become greedy. We forget the importance of being compassionate and generous. We cannot be ones who let their perspective be distorted by materialism and become blinded to God’s truth. We are either all in or all out. Just as the blog mentions, our behavior is either for God or it is not. We can either love money or love God. There’s no in between.

    The concept that our earthly treasure reveals our true loyalties is interesting. We often think that we don’t put anything here on earth as treasures in our eyes as christians because we try so hard to keep Christ at the center of everything. That is not meant to be hurtfully sarcastic. It is true. We try, and we fail. Often we are in denial as to what those treasures are. For a lot of us this treasure is in fact money. It can get you what ever else you want, including if you seek to accumulate other treasures in your life. This is all one giant cycle of pursuit in our lives for contentment in these earthly treasures – but what happens when you finally get what you want here on earth? You are content for a little while until you find something else that you absolutely must have or treasure more than the current treasure that you have. So when will we be content in a treasure? I think this is what Jesus is trying to explain to us. That we will not be content until we reach eternity with him because that is the ultimate treasure that we should be investing in and putting our loyalty in. McKnight refers to treasures as “the accumulation of things as a focus of joy” (McKnight, pg.206). So shouldn’t our joy come from the one eternal treasure and not the accumulation of earthly things? I believe this is what Jesus is trying to get at in Matthew 6:19-24.

  6. This is a hard topic of discussion in our materialistic world. It is almost impossible for us to wrap our minds around what life would’ve been like during the time of Jesus. We don’t understand the concept of not having clean clothes or not having a fridge full of food. We are privileged, which puts us in a place of comfort. Therefore, we have to be more intentional when Christ calls us to embrace the difficulty and discomfort that comes with follow Him and proclaiming the Kingdom. This does not mean that we cannot have things or enjoy having money, but we must take initiative in guarding our thoughts and desires in regards to having things and money. Matthew 6:19-20 says, ““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.” When I read these verses, I have to stop for a moment and ask myself what it means to store my treasures in heaven. How do I store my treasures in heaven when I live in a world that advertises like crazy and shouts material wealth? McKnight answers this question perfectly, “the word ‘treasures’ here surely involves possessions, but it is not the same as possessions. Instead, it refers to the accumulation of things as a focus of joy. It refers to the spirit of acquisitiveness or the desire to acquire” (206). To me, this means remembering that the possessions I have are temporary and will never compare to the joy I can find in Christ. When I try to joy find outside of Christ, I am misled and will be disappointed in the long run. Only Christ can completely satisfy us and what He provides for us is far greater than anything we can acquire in the world. We are reminded of this in Romans 14:17 which says, “for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Overall, I think that Jesus is simply telling us that what He has to offer is the best. It is not a hard concept. I think we make it way too complicated, possibly because we have hearts that are always desiring more. But, when we choose to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ then we will experience freedom from this world and the gift of joy.

  7. The comment of “wherever your treasure, there your heart is also” stood out to me, as in our materialistic world, many of us get caught up in material things such as having a lot of money, nice clothes, a big house, etc. But the reality of this all is that those who treasure the material things are putting their heart on earth, and not treasuring the Creator that put everything into motion. McKnight talks about how the word ‘treasure’ involves not only material possessions, but the accumulation of things as a focus of joy (p. 206). Matthew 6:19-20 reminds us that if we store up treasures on earth, they will rot, rust, get stolen, destroyed, etc., but the treasures we store up in heaven will never be destroyed or stolen. Consistently we see in scripture that the riches we have on earth will go away, and we certainly cannot take them to heaven with us, for what use is money or a nice car in heaven? Therefore we need to focus on the eternal treasure that we get to spend with God, and should continuously seek to serve our God and look toward learning more about Him.

  8. For the love of money is the root of all evil….” Money is a necessity in the world we live in today. You need it to get places. However, you don’t need to love money. And this is where God is getting at. When we accept Christ into our hearts, we are 1. Making Him priority in our lives and serving him. 2. Are trusting that He has a plan for us. When Christmas rolls around money is the hardest topic to discuss. How are we to deal with our money in a Godly way? How can we not love out money? When we think of money as a status, like if I have a million dollars, and everyone else has ten dollars. I am probably going to think of myself as a higher individual as other people. Causing myself to be greedy, and or selfish. Which is wrong. God wants us in this life to give to Him what is needed. I think of this as something as when it comes to going to church, are we tithing our money? Are we not going to go to the movies every week in order to give our 10 percent? God doesn’t want to see us fail in this life. He wants to love us. Money can be an easy downfall into a life of sin. Be careful with it.

  9. Luke 18 which addresses the Rich Ruler strikes me when thinking about the “American Dream” and how we approach wealth. The ruler approaches Jesus and says, “Good teacher” (Luke 18) to which Jesus says “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” This was not the initial answer the man is looking for. I think this is something that we do all the time. We try to make someone feel special and give them respect because we want something from them. The rich ruler is looking for an answer and he is approaching Jesus as someone might approach someone who has something they want to buy. Jesus at this moment isn’t saying don’t be respectful when addressing someone but rather He is addressing the man’s “brown-nosing” to get what he wants. Then Jesus goes on to address the important message he is communicating which is it’s “hard… for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18). The idea of selling all your possessions is something completely contrary to the American dream. We sell the idea that everyone should own as much as possible and try to accumulate as many ‘things’ as possible. This is completely contrary to Jesus’ message.

  10. This teaching of Jesus shows that which John 2:25 tells of… that Jesus has a perfect understanding of human nature. Because of the sinful tendencies that reside in all human persons, greed, jealousy, theft, and idolatry can all come from a person who loves money more than they love their fellow brothers and more than they love God. Jesus knows that – while money itself is not evil, nor is it evil to have money – people will inevitably fall into sin if they are too focused on money. The best solution, then, is to rid oneself of that which causes a person to sin, much like Jesus’ teaching to throw away the right hand if it causes sin in Matthew 5:30. This is also similar to Jesus’ teaching that prayer should be done in private to ensure one does not pray for their own glory.

    So then, it is better to forbid oneself from greedily hoarding vast earthly wealth than to allow wealth to seize control of the heart. Though it is against no law, the law does not determine morals, but rather it should be the other way around (McKnight 74). And though it is not a sin to have money, it is a sin to allow the pursuit of money to become more important than the pursuit of God. It is also important that the hate of money (and those who possess it) does not come before God. Many people (especially those who align with Marxist views that the primary mover of history is the struggle between the rich elites and the working class), must ensure that their views on millionaires and billionaires do not turn to hatred and covetousness, as they then would be committing sins.

    In order to fulfill this command properly, perhaps it is best to simply choose to distance oneself from money in the first place. The best way to do this, of course, is to pursue higher education.

  11. Somebody once told me, “the things that you spend most of your time for becomes your god(s)”. When people become consumed with greed and value possessions of the world they show that these things are their god. Instead of devoting time towards God and glorifying him, people spend their time acquiring possessions and seeking gratification in wealth. I think that it is very easy for a person to lose themself and become greedy because of how materialistic our world is. Even at a young age, kids develop the idea that what you have essentially determines your value. For example, kids believe that by having expensive clothes or owning the newest phone will make them be seen as higher status by their peers, and this idea is reinforced by advertisements as well. However this idea of materialistic items determining the value of people does not stop at childhood, but exist with adults too. It is all about having the nicest house and car, and having a luxurious lifestyle so others can see it. It is important for us to remember that everything here is just temporary, while God is everlasting.

  12. The wealth debate is always one that, for me, stirs up mixed emotions. On one hand our culture drives us to consume, to purchase, to work, all so that we can have a comfortable life. The other hand is Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler. For the disciples, giving up everything they had and following Jesus was extremely tangible. They literally followed him around. This is the same for the rich young ruler, he had an opportunity to physically follow Jesus and witness his ministry. What does this mean for modern Christians? Does giving everything up literally mean give all possessions over to charity and live in the untouched forests of Alaska? To answer this question would not be possible if we looked just at the story of the rich young ruler. Throughout scripture God blesses individuals with wealth. We see that in Solomon, in Joseph of Arimathea as mentioned, and we see it in Joseph being a ruler in Egypt. All rich men, but rich men who used their wealth and power for God’s cause. Just a little further in chapter 19 of Matthew, Jesus tells us that it is harder to for a rich man to go to heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. I’m not sure that Jesus is talking about the possession of wealth but the rather where our hearts are in regard to our wealth. Can we lose all that we have and still praise God?

  13. A great example of storing up wealth in heaven is the life of Job. A man who actually HAD all the wealth imaginable in his day, wealth in family, in materials, land, and cattle. Despite his terrible turn of events Job decided that he knew his heart was not in those things, not in his money or even his own health, it was directly turned to the heart of God and he was so passionate about honoring Him with his life, the loss of all of his wealth was insignificant. Christians know that no works can make God happier with us or want to love us more, but we do these things in honor of Him. We serve and live our lives for Christ because there is no greater thing worthy of our time and effort, as a response for His great love and sacrifice for us.

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