In the second half of Matthew chapter 6, Jesus focuses on our relationship to material things. He begins by teaching the right priorities and attitudes about material possessions:
In Palestine in Jesus’ time, people generally kept their valuables (goods or hard currency) in a storage place or a strongbox in their home,2 or buried either beneath their floor or elsewhere.3 The wealthy also had fine clothing, which was a form of wealth. But precious metals could corrode or be stolen, moths could damage fine garments, and grain stored in barns could be eaten by rodents, the point being that earthly possessions are temporary and fleeting; they don’t last or follow us into the life beyond.
This point was also made in the Old Testament:
It’s important to understand what Jesus is censuring when He tells us not to lay up treasure on earth. Let’s start by looking at what He’s not disapproving of. He isn’t speaking against having possessions. Scripture praises the ants for setting aside food for the winter,6 and chastises those who don’t provide for their family.7 We’re also told to enjoy the things God has created.8 So having possessions, making provision for the future, and enjoying the gifts God has given us are not what Jesus is speaking against.
So what is Jesus taking aim at here? John Stott expresses it this way:
Jesus is speaking against the love of possessions and making the accumulation of them your focus or the source of your joy. Money isn’t evil, but “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”10
There are many things that are perfectly fine to pursue, but if pursued for the wrong reason, are out of alignment with Jesus’ teachings. If they draw us away from the values of the kingdom of God, then they are the wrong treasures. That’s why it’s important that our treasure is heavenly and that we diligently align our hearts and minds with God’s values. As George Müller once said, “Laying up treasures in heaven will draw the heart heavenward.”
The apostle Paul wrote along similar lines:
Later, Jesus moved on to speak about not serving two masters: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.13
The Greek word translated as money is mamōnas, which is variously translated as mammon, money, or wealth. Jesus is saying that our love, loyalty, and devotion needs to be toward God above our material things. We are to put our trust in God; not in our finances, possessions, or anything material. There’s nothing wrong with money itself, but it’s wrong to put ourselves under its power and to serve it.
1. Matthew 6:19–21
2. See Matthew 13:52.
3. See Matthew 13:44.
4. Proverbs 23:4–5 ESV
5. Proverbs 27:24 ESV
6. See Proverbs 6:6–8.
7. See 1 Timothy 5:8.
8. See Ecclesiastes 3:13; 1 Timothy 4:4.
9. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 155.
10. 1 Timothy 6:10
11. Colossians 3:1–2 ESV
12. 1 Timothy 6:17–19 ESV
13. Matthew 6:24 ESV