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The Sermon On The Mount


Chapter Twenty-Eight

Covetousness Corrected

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and l4here thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Matthew 6:19-21


We are now to enter the fifth division of our Lord's sermon, and as we do it is well to remind ourselves afresh of His first and primary design in this important address, namely to correct and refute the erroneous views of His hearers. The Jews held false beliefs concerning the person of the Messiah, the character of His mission, and the nature of the kingdom He would establish. As unregenerate men their views were carnal and mundane, self-centered and confined to things temporal. It requires little perspicuity to perceive that all through this Sermon the Lord Jesus makes direct reference unto the false notions which were generally entertained by the Jews respecting His kingdom, to which He constantly opposed the holy claims of God, the righteous requirements of His Law, and the imperative necessity of the new birth for all who were to be His subjects and disciples.

What has just been pointed out explains why our Lord began His Sermon with the Beatitudes, in which He described the characters and defined the graces of those who enter His kingdom. The Jews looked for great material enrichment, festivity and feasting, and supposed that those who would occupy the principal positions of honour under the Messiah's reign would be they who were fierce and successful warriors, and who, though ceremonially holy, would avenge on the Gentiles all the wrongs they had inflicted on Israel, and that henceforth they would be free from all opposition and oppression. But Christ declared blessed those who were poor in spirit, who mourned, who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, who were merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and were persecuted for righteousness' sake. A greater contrast could not be imagined.

So in His second division Christ announced that the officers of His kingdom would not be the destroyers of men's bodies but the preservers of their souls-the "salt of the earth"; not the suppressors of the Gentiles but "the light of the world." In like manner, in His third division Christ declared that so far from it being His mission to overthrow the ancient order and introduce radical changes, He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it. Thus too with what is now to be before us: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." The Jews expected in their Messiah a temporal prince, and the happiness they anticipated under His sceptre was merely a high degree of worldly prosperity, to enjoy an abundance of riches, honours and pleasures. But our Lord here exposes their error, and declares that the happiness He imparts is not carnal but spiritual, and that it will be found in its perfection not on earth (Palestine) but in heaven.

Now it should be pointed out that the false notions generally entertained by the Jews respecting the Messiah's kingdom originated in principles which are common to unregenerate human nature. though taking a peculiar form and color from their special circumstances. Hence it is that the teachings of Christ in this sermon are pertinent to all men in every age. Human nature is the same everywhere. The citizens of this world have ever devoted the greater part of their time and energy to procuring and accumulating something which they may call their own, and in setting their hearts steadfastly upon the same rather than upon God. So general is this practice that, providing they are not unduly unscrupulous and do not injure their fellows in their greedy quest, such a policy evokes approval rather than reproach: "Men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself" (Ps. 19:18). Those who succeed in business are called shrewd and efficient, and those who amass great wealth "the captains of industry," "financial wizards," etc.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (v. 19). The order of Truth followed by Christ in Matthew 6 is very striking and blessed, and needs to be carefully heeded by us. In the first eighteen verses we are conducted into the Sanctuary, instructed to have our hearts occupied with Him who seeth in secret; in verse 19 and onwards we come out to face the temptations and trials of the world. It is parallel with what we find in Leviticus and Numbers: in the former, Israel is engaged almost entirely with the services and privileges of the tabernacle; in the latter we have a description of their walk and warfare in the wilderness. It is of vital importance that we attend to this order, for it is only as we duly maintain communion with God in the secret place that we are equipped and enabled for the trials of the way as we journey toward the heavenly Canaan. Unless our hearts be firmly set upon the Promised Land, they will turn back to Egypt and lust after its flesh-pots.

"Lay not up for ourselves treasures upon earth." From here to the end of the chapter Christ's design is to divert the hearts of His hearers from a spirit of covetousness, first delivering the prohibition and then amplifying and enforcing the same by a variety of cogent reasons. The word for "lay up" is more expressive and emphatic in the original than is expressed here in the English: signifying first to gather together, and second to hoard or heap up against the future-as in Romans 2:5, heapeth up or "treasurest up unto thyself." "Treasure" means wealth in abundance, costly things such as property, lands, gold and precious stones. The words "upon earth" here refer not so much to place as to the kind of treasures, for heavenly treasure may be laid up while we are here on earth, and therefore it is the hoarding of earthly and material treasures which is in view.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." There have been some fanatics who interpreted this command literally, insisting that it is to be taken without limitation as a prohibition against accumulating money or adding to our earthly possessions. To be consistent they should not stop there, but go on to "sell that thou hast and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:21), for this is no less expressly required than the former. But such a course would mean the overturning of all distinctions between rich and poor, any possession of property, which is clearly contrary to the whole trend of Scripture. Let us, then, briefly point out what Christ did not here forbid. First, diligent labour in a man's vocation, whereby he provides things needful for himself and those dependent upon him: "not slothful in business" (Rom. 12:11) is one of the precepts of the Gospel.

Nor does Christ here forbid the fruit of our labours in the possession of goods and riches, provided they be acquired honestly and used aright. Let us not forget that scripture, "But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18). The Lord graciously prospered Abraham, Job and David, and so far from their possession of wealth being a mark of His disfavor it was the very opposite. Third, nor does Christ here forbid the laying up in store for our own future use or for our family. Is not the sluggard admonished to take a leaf out of the book of the ants, who gather together their winter's food in the summertime (Prov. 6:6-8)? And has not the apostle declared that "the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children" (2 Cor. 12:14)? And again, "If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Tim. 5:8).

What, then, is it which Christ here forbids? We answer, various forms of covetousness. First, the excessive seeking after worldly wealth, wherein men keep neither moderation nor measure: although God gives them more than sufficient to supply their needs, yet they are not content, their desire being insatiable. That it is not sinful for a man to seek after the necessities of life-either for his present or future use-we have shown above. As to what constitutes necessity, this varies considerably in different cases, according to the station which providence has allotted in this world: a workman requires tools, a business man must have capital, the master of a large estate sufficient to pay his servants. No precise rule can be laid down, but the judgment and example of the godly who use the creature aright, and not the practice of the covetous, must guide us.

Second, Christ here condemns those who seek principally after worldly goods and disparage and disregard the true riches. This is clear from the opposition made in the next verse, where "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" is placed over against "lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." Thus it was in the case of Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage (Heb 12:16). Thus it was with the Gadarenes, who upon the loss of their herds of swine besought Christ that He would depart out of their coasts (Luke 8:37). Thus it has been throughout the ages, and so it still is, that the great majority of men spend their strength in laboring after that which "satisfieth not" (Isa. 55:2), seeking after almost anything or everything rather than after that which perisheth not. That is why there is so much preaching and so little profiting: the hearers' thoughts and desires are taken up with other things.

Third, Christ here condemns those who put their trust and confidence in worldly things that they have treasured up, which is idolatry of the heart. Whatever a man sets his heart upon and looks to for support is his god, and therefore his covetousness is called "idolatry" (Col. 3:5). If we have stored up a supply against future need and this takes us from dependence upon God for our daily sustenance, then we are guilty of this sin. It is for this reason that Christ makes it so hard for a rich man to enter heaven (Matthew 19:23, 24), because he trusts in his riches, and if we are close observers we shall usually find that rich men are proud-hearted and secure, neither heeding God's judgments nor attending to the means of salvation. David's counsel must therefore be followed, "If riches increase [not give them away, but] set not your heart upon them" (Ps. 62:10).

The fourth practice here forbidden is the selfish laying up of treasures for ourselves only, without regard to using the same for the good of our generation, the support of the Gospel, or the praise of God. This is indeed a devilish practice, for every one of us is but a steward, to dispense our portion to the glory of God and the good of his fellows. The poor are God's poor, the creatures of His hands, and therefore He requires that each steward shall be found faithful in seeing to it that each of them has his portion. God will yet call the rich to an accounting, therefore let each of us live in the light of that day of reckoning. Let us seek grace to be preserved from hoarding up riches for our own selfish use, from putting our trust in them, and from making them our chief delight.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." Here our Lord gives a threefold reason for the enforcing of His precept, or illustrates the corruption and uncertainty of worldly possession by three examples: showing they are liable to destruction by such creatures as moths, by the inherent decay which pertains to all earthly things, and from the fact they may be taken from us by fraud or violence. Have we procured an elaborate wardrobe, with large supplies of apparel? In secret and silence the moth may be eating it up. Have we invested in property? The ravages of time will soon wear it away. Is it gold and platinum, diamonds and pearls we have hoarded up? The hand of the marauder may soon seize them. Heaven is the only safe place in which to deposit our riches.

As we have pointed out in an earlier paragraph, the vast majority of our fellows make it their supreme aim in life to acquire as much as possible of worldly wealth. With such an example on every side, and the trend of their own hearts in the same direction, the disciples of Christ are in greater danger from this sin than from most others. To nullify this evil tendency Christ here emphasizes the relative valuelessness of mundane things. "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle" (Prov. 23:5). What true satisfaction can there be in the possession of things which are subject to decay and loss by violence. One of the strongest proofs of human depravity and of the diseased state of our minds is the extreme difficulty which most of us experience in the realizing of this fact in such a way that it really influences our actions.

"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (v. 20). Having shown what we must not do in respect of treasures here on earth, and knowing his inclination to be such that man will needs have something for his treasure, Christ here makes known what treasure we may lay up for ourselves. But how shall we lay up treasure in heaven? For we cannot of ourselves come there. No man can save himself: the beginning, progress and end of our salvation is wholly of God. Answer: as often in Scripture, the work of the efficient cause is here ascribed to the instrument (cf. 1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Tim. 4:16). To make us rich with heavenly treasure is the work of God alone, yet because we are instrumental by His grace in the use of means to get this treasure, this command is given to us as though the work is solely ours, though God be alone the Author of it.

It is of the very first moment that we form a true estimate of what is necessary for true happiness-where it is to be found and how it is to be obtained-for the tenor of our thoughts, the direction of our affections, and the pursuit of our energies will largely be regulated thereby. Therefore does Christ here bid us, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." That we may the better understand and practice this command two points are to be carefully and reverently considered: what this treasure is, and how a man may lay it up for himself-matters of the greatest weight, for in the practice thereof lies our salvation. As to the real treasure, which neither time nor the creature can mar, it is the true and living God, the triune Jehovah who made and governs all things: in Him alone is all genuine good and happiness to be found.

This is clear from such scriptures as the Lord's statement to Abraham, "I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1); the words of Eliphaz to Job, "The Almighty shall be thy gold" (22:25, margin); and the declaration of David: "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance . . . I have a goodly heritage"-i.e. He is my treasure (Ps. 16:5, 6). Yet let it be said emphatically that it is God as He is revealed in Christ who is our Treasure, for out of Christ He is "a consuming fire." God incarnate is our true treasure, for in Him are hid "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3); our very life is "hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). To what is the apostle there referring? Why, as the previous verse shows, to that which God has treasured up for His people in a crucified Christ: the Lord Jesus is the great Fountain and Storehouse of all true blessings communicated from God to the saints, and therefore do they exclaim, "Of His fulness [as out of a rich treasure] have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). Wouldest thou have remission of sins and righteousness with God? Then Christ was "made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Wouldest thou have everlasting well-being? Then Christ Himself is "the true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20). Whatever thou needest-wisdom to direct, strength to energize, comfort to assuage grief, cleansing for defilement-all is to be found in the Saviour.

How may we lay up for ourselves in heaven the Divine and durable riches which are to be found in Christ? First, by faith's appropriation: "as many as received Him" (John 1:12)-so that I can say "my Beloved is mine, and I am His" (Song of Sol. 2:16). God in Christ becomes our everlasting portion when we surrender to and accept Him as He is offered to us in the Gospel. Second, by daily communion with Christ, drawing from His "unsearchable riches" (Eph. 3:8). "Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42). And what was that "good part"? Why, to sit at His feet and drink in His word (v. 39). Third, by emulating the example which Christ has left us. And what did that example consist of? Why, complete self-abnegation, living wholly in subjection to God-for which He was richly rewarded (see Phil. 2:5-11). Fourth, by acting as His stewards and using the goods He has entrusted to us by laying them out to His glory (see Luke 12:33; Heb. 6:10, etc.).

Almost all will say they hope for happiness from God in the next world, but what do they now make their chief good? What are they most taken up with, both in the pursuit and enjoyment? It is at this point each of us must examine and test himself. What things does my soul most favour and relish, the things of the world or of God (see Rom. 8:5)? Which seasons of time do I regard as lost or as most gainful, which are my days of richest income? Of the Sabbath the wicked ask, "When will it be gone"? But the healthy saint declares, "A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand" (Ps. 84:10)-because of the spiritual gains it brings in. What is dearest to my heart, what engages my most serious thoughts? This determines which I prize the more highly: earthly or heavenly treasures.


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