Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 3. Treasures in Heaven
Mt 6:19-21 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
There are fine lines in Jesus’ teaching between analogies and practical teaching. We said analogies are word pictures that convey a truth. Parables are word stories that convey a truth. Then there is what we might call ‘extreme’ or exaggerated teaching to make a point. Since our previous study, in Matthew there is talk about being dragged to court (5:25,26) and Jesus’ listeners would have understood that picture but it is a real one that can arise with relational breakdowns. Then there was the suggestion of gouging out your eye (5:29) or cutting off your hand (5:30) but these are just extremes that Jesus might not want us to go to, but are nevertheless real possibilities that convey the seriousness of what he is talking about – but they are not analogies.
In speaking of both material and spiritual values, in our verses above we have a half-way example. Verse 19 refers to real, material, practical treasure, not the sort of thing from pirates’ tales, but anything on which we place immense value: our houses, our cars, our expensive possessions etc. But I believe these ‘earthly treasures’ can include fame, celebrity status, success in worldly terms. When you get old and infirm none of these things are of any value to you; rich food is forbidden you, flashy clothes hang badly on you, a big house means there is more space for you to hobble into but not enjoy, and a flashy car is only good to be driven in by another.
But then we come to talk about “treasures in heaven” and here we move away from material things to spiritual things, and we need to think what the picture of material treasures conveys to help us understand what spiritual treasures might be. But first let’s emphasise and highlight this other dimension. First, our lives as Christians are all about how we relate to God. Teaching on a rich foolish man who dies before he can enjoy his possessions, Jesus taught, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Lk 12:21) Look at that expression, “rich toward God”. The JB Phillips version speaks of “not rich where God is concerned”.
As much as God has provided a wonderful world for us to live in and enjoy, a material world, the things He values in us are not material, they are spiritual. The apostle Peter wrote about this other dimension, this other way of thinking about life: “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you.” (1 Pet 2:3,4) Whatever of lasting value will not be found in this material world, but in eternity, and that is our hope, our inheritance we look forward to. So what are the contrasts between the material and spiritual values.
Self versus God: The very first thing that comes to mind, that speaks about values in the two worlds, is our relationship with God. The unbeliever spends their whole life in godless pursuit of ‘things’ that will bring pleasure to them, things we’ve already suggested above. Imagine in your street where you live there are two people, a next door neighbour who becomes your best friend, and with whom you spend much time and get to know very well, and another person down the road who has only remained on nodding acquaintance with you, who refused your overtures of friendship. Suppose they both emigrated to the other side of the world, both to the same town. Now imagine years passing and you visit that place on the other side of the world and make a point of looking up your old friend. When you see each other you hug and smile and laugh and all the wealth of your long friendship comes to the fore and you are exchanging memories and inquiring about the intervening years and so on. Now out and about you happen to come across the other person and there is mutual recognition. You pause and express pleasure politely but it has nowhere to go because there is little between you, you are poor in terms of relationship. Isn’t this how it is with God today – and when we see Him face to face?
Getting versus giving: The Jews of Jesus’ day knew this ‘treasures in heaven’ expression and one of the things they understood was that a life of value was a life of giving – giving hospitality, showing care and compassion, meeting the needs of others. While the person of the world is focusing on getting and achieving, to build personal pleasure or personal kudos, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven places themselves at the disposal of the King of Kings, to bless His heart and to bless those He sends them to. For some it will be to help the poor, for others helping the disabled, for others helping the aged, and so on. But it will always be God-focused, God-directed, otherwise it is simply activity to please the self.
Character: The other thing the Jews understood about values, was that true values had to do with character. It starts, as we’ve just seen, with either being self-centred or God or others-centred. To use another analogy, I think it is like our lives being a tree of self. All the fruits that grow on it are fruits of self: pride, arrogance, selfishness, anger, lust, greed, covetousness and so on (see a list in Col 3:5-9). When we come to Christ, this tree with all its ‘treasures’ (for those were the things we valued and held onto) is cut down and a new tree starts to grow in its place. The only trouble is that those old fruits want to be born again to new shoots and so in the apostle Paul’s terms we have to “put them to death” and consider us dead to them (see Rom 6), but it is a lifetime process, coming to recognize these shoots that make an appearance and need dealing with. At the same time the new tree grows with new fruit, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forgiveness etc (see Col 3:12-14). All of these new fruits are also ‘treasures’ that please the Father.
I have recently studied afresh the end time as shown in the book of Revelation and paused up over the phrase, “the book of life” (Rev 20:12) which is the record of our lives. Although I think this prophetic picture isn’t about a literal book but is about the knowledge that God has of us throughout our years of existence, I believe it will be a record of all the ‘treasures’ we have accumulated in the spiritual realm – the many ways we responded to God in faith, the way our hearts of love for Him developed, the way we took His promptings and blessed others, the way our character changed over the years, these are the things that are important to God and will be shown to be things of everlasting value, that will help make us the eternal beings we will be. Like the next door neighbour in my illustration, when we eventually meet with God, it will be all these sorts of things that will be the things He reminds us of, and praises us for, these are the things we take into the place “on the other side of the world” that mean anything there. “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”