The Authority of the King: Jesus and Treasure (Exposition of Matthew 6:19-24)

Storing up treasure can be harmful to your health. That’s what a 62 year old man in western France who suffered from a rare psychological disorder called “pica” learned in 2002. This man died after complications that arose following surgery to remove a 12 lb. mass from his stomach comprised of coins, necklaces and needles. Those who suffer from “pica” face a compulsion to eat things not normally consumed as food. This particular man had swallowed approximately 350 coins valued at $650. The intensive care doctor said that while the family of the patient tried to keep coins and jewelry away from him, “When he was invited and came in some homes, he liked to steal coins and eat them.”

Now I certainly hope that no one here suffers from this serious condition, but most, if not all of us have a similar tendency to hoard up material possessions on this earth. Think about it: we spend most of our lives accumulated more and more things. For most of us this is not a problem of the mind, but a problem of the heart! Jesus addresses this serious heart problem in this morning’s text. In Matthew 6:19-24 we read the King’s authoritative word on treasure.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; (20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (22) The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. (23) But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (24) No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:19-24

I. A Command With An Incentive, vv. 19-20.

The contrast between treasure on earth and treasure in heaven is what the first 18 verses of this chapter have been about. There is a way of giving, praying, and fasting that will only produce treasure on earth (the praise of men). There is another way of giving, praying, and fasting which will produce treasure in heaven (the reward of the Father).

In verses 19-20 Jesus sternly warns His disciples “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” This is a command that is to be obeyed by all of Jesus’ disciples. This includes you and me! The reason given makes sense when you think about it. Treasure piled up on earth faces a threefold danger. It can be eaten by pests, corroded by the elements, and runs the risk of being stolen by thieves. But treasure laid up in heaven faces no such risk! Amen!

In the ancient world , as today, one of a rich person’s most prized possessions was their wardrobe. One could tell more about the wealth of an individual by the way they dressed than in any other way. The problem was that moths were present in the ancient world and mothballs had not yet been invented. Many high-priced garments were destroyed by the moths. In the ancient world, there was no stainless steel and no pressure treated lumber. Rusting and rotting were a constant threat to the amassed treasures of people in the first century. In Jesus’ day, most homes were made out of hardened mud or clay and it was easy for thieves to literally “break in and steal”. There were no locks or bolts on these mud and clay houses. Yale was not yet producing locks. It was risky business to try and amass a large treasure in the first century world and Jesus says that it is not worth the risk. Instead we should lay up treasure in heaven where no moth, rust or thief is present. Jesus stated elsewhere the futility of gaining even the whole world at the expense of his soul. He asked in Mark 8:36-37,

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

In verses 19 and 20 we are given a command by Jesus, but it is not a command without motivation. Parents often tell their children when they ask why they should or shouldn’t do what they have been told to, “Because I said so!” Sometimes God says that to us. Remember when Peter asked Jesus “What about John?” after he had been told about his own death. Jesus’ answer was essentially, “That’s none of your business.” That is an entirely appropriate thing for Jesus to say because at times we need to learn that we need to obey whether we understand why or not. Children need to learn this, Christians need to learn this. But God sometimes graciously provides a reason for His command to unveil His gracious purpose in the command. When He does this it is an evidence that even when these purposes are not revealed, they are present, though veiled. Here Jesus commands His disciples to not lay up treasures on earth, but rather to lay up treasure in heaven. What a drag! Surely Jesus must not want what is best for us! He doesn’t want me to have treasure on earth. But look closer, Jesus explains why. Treasure on earth is not lasting. It rots, is eaten by moths, rusts, and can be stolen by thieves. But treasure laid up in heaven cannot rot, will not be eaten by moths, will not rust, and cannot be stolen. Thus it is far better to lay up treasure in heaven. See, Jesus is not trying to decrease our joy, but increase it eternally. It’s like a wise father instructing his child not to waste money or some cheap toy that won’t last until they get home. Instead, wait a few more weeks, he says, save your money and you can get something much better. At the moment, the child may think his father is not on his side, but if he listens to his instruction his happiness will be much greater in the future.

Texts like this one provide a window into others where God’s gracious purpose in His commands are not as clearly discernable. Rest assured that whatever God commands is ultimately for our good and His glory.

But not only does Jesus issue a command with an incentive, He also gives:

II. A Caution About Our Intentions, vv. 21-23.

Jesus continues His authoritative teaching on treasure by issuing a warning about the intention of our heart when we treasure earthly things. The warning is that what you treasure will determine the condition of your heart. That is a scary thing to think about. Where is your heart this morning? What do you treasure? What do you value and esteem? If you say, “I don’t know.”, let me help you. Where do you spend your time and money? Look at your date book and your checkbook, for “there your heart will be also.”

Jesus powerfully illustrates the danger of what we treasure effecting our heart in verses 22 and 23. A comparison is made between the outer eye and the inner eye of the heart. The eye is “the lamp of the body” because it allows light into the human body. If you have a good eye, light is allowed to enter. If your eye is bad, no light enters and you are filled with darkness or blindness. Now Jesus makes the comparison, if the inner eye of your heart is filled with darkness it is of much graver concern! “How great is that darkness!”, Jesus says.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said in Prov. 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” We must guard our hearts with diligence for all the important matters of life flow from our hearts. Our behavior influences our heart & our heart influences our behavior!

It’s a dangerous thing to give your heart away to anything. Steve Green sings about this topic in a song called “Guard Your Heart”. In it he pleads, “Guard your heart! Guard your heart! Don’t trade it for treasure! Don’t give it away! Guard your heart! Guard your heart! As a payment for pleasure it’s a high price to pay.” Men, women, boys and girls, please listen to me! Don’t give your heart away to anyone but King Jesus!

As serious as this warning is, we can also learn something about the nature of our heart from verse 21. If what we treasure influences our heart, the good news is that we can exercise our heart into good practices by purposing to treasure the right things. How can you do this? Again, by looking at your checkbook and date book. How can you purpose today to invest your time and money into God’s kingdom? If you do, you will find your heart will begin to be interested in the work of God. If you start giving to missions, your ears will perk up when someone begins to talk about missions. If you invest time in prayer and Bible study, your interest in those areas will increase. Stop treasuring the things of the world and begin to treasure the things of God! If you do, I believe that your heart will soon follow!

III. A Contrast that Demands Our Attention, v. 24.

The contrast is between serving God or wealth! Jesus here categorically declares that “No one can serve two masters.” It is an impossibility. Verse 24 summarizes the entire argument of verses 19-23.

There have been times in my life when I’ve had to work more than one job to provide for my family. I’ve had more than one employer. That’s possible. But what Jesus says is impossible is to have “two masters.” You can have a lot of different jobs, but you will only be serving God or mammon.

The end of verse 24 restates the beginning of the verse: “You cannot serve God and mammon.” These are the two competing masters. The word mammon is the transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “wealth or property.” The root of the word has the idea of “that in which one trusts.”

There are two competing masters: God and wealth. They are also two sources of human trust. Who or what are you trusting in? Are you trusting God or your own wealth that you have accumulated.? Money has been said to be a wonderful servant, but a very cruel taskmaster. In Scripture, love for the material wealth of this world is always considered a danger to be avoided.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10

The danger of love for the world is that love for the world is antithetical to love for God. The two cannot mutually exist. We see that in the words of Jesus in verse 24, but also in the testimony of both John and James:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4

St. Augustine wrote long ago that “he loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.” Any time that we love God’s gifts more than we love the Giver of those gifts, we are guilty of idolatry


Clearly treasuring earthly possessions is a danger that must be avoided. Jesus has issued a command with an incentive, a caution about our intentions, and a contrast that demands our attention. As the 62 year old man in France found out in 2002, storing up treasure can even be harmful to your health!


  1. Steve,

    Thanks for the post of this sermon transcript. It was timely for me. I’ve been pondering these issues in my own heart lately and appreciate several statements and points you made. The Augustine quote is always heartsearching.

    Scott Kay

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