by John W. Ritenbaugh
A goal of this series is for the Christian to gain both a greater understanding of God’s purpose as well as a sense of urgency about applying His truths to daily life. God’s calling of us to reveal His truth is of such high value that our religious life cannot be confined to a mere one-day-of-the week routine. Will we let the greatest gifts a human can receive slip from our grasp through sheer carelessness? Our calling to be a member of God’s Family is a full-time responsibility that we must be fulfilling in appreciation of His creative activities on our behalf. A good measure of urgency pleases God and must accompany our participation under His leadership.
Jesus says in John 5:17, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” By this, He is indicating that His and the Father’s labors in the creation are non-stop. We need to be as honest as possible in evaluating our level of conformity to this standard given by Jesus Christ because we owe it to Him. By not working urgently on our character, could we be like a closed door that keeps Him from providing us with even more wonderful gifts (Revelation 3:20)? By comparison, He does not even sleep (Psalm 121:4)! He is always aware of the overall state of His program—and that includes each of us personally.
In terms of our spiritual lives, nothing is hidden from Him (Hebrews 4:13). He already knows what we are like now. He also knows our awesome potential for growth toward the function for which He is preparing us. God called us for what we can become, not for what we are now. His calling proves that He loves each of us as individuals. We have His attention, so we must not risk disappointing Him through inactivity.
Our lives have only just begun. Being human, we may have become accustomed to wasting a great deal of time. What are we waiting for? Now is the time to focus on overcoming whatever holds us back from achieving what God desires of us. He has called us to please Him, and it pleases Him when we make progress in transforming into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
A Major Gift
The major reason why God supplied the epistle to the Hebrews to us is to make us more specifically aware of the source of spiritual strength readily available to us through our High Priest, Savior, King, and spiritual Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. As close as a prayer away, He has unending wisdom and resources to come to our aid. If we exercise faith, we can readily go to Him. No locked doors bar our access to Him. Perhaps the only things holding us back are our resolve and our fear of failure. He already occupies the above offices and more besides, and He declares that He is willing to come to our assistance. He promises in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
In John 15:1-5, Jesus informs us that God is pleased when we produce fruit that glorifies Him and that without Jesus, we can produce no fruit. If we truly want to be in God’s Kingdom, these facts make our responsibility clear. The letter to the Hebrews supplies many details of the practical, spiritual acts our High Priest performs for our eternal benefit. We need the guidance that this vital, scriptural aid offers in combination with the spiritual support our relationship with Him provides. We need to grow and overcome because the course God has laid out for us, which we can navigate with Jesus’ help, demands our fullest attention.
The book of Hebrews fills the gaps in our understanding of what we must do to fulfill our part in preparing for eternity. Among the first of these Christian works is to live by faith every day. We must rise to meet this challenge. In chapter 11, the epistle supplies us with the names of twenty examples of those who went before us, setting standards of faithful conduct and works. They establish beyond a doubt that what God has called us to do can be done with our High Priest’s assistance. Within their callings, they operated by faith even under great pressure. As worldwide events ratchet up the pressure on us to bail on our calling, we truly need Christ’s assistance to follow in their footsteps and produce fruit that pleases Him.
Caught in a Distracting Storm
In the last three generations, because God has permitted the invention of electronic communications devices, humanity can send and receive information worldwide at a mind-bending, even frightening, pace that demands our attention. We must make choices about what news we should listen to. In one sense, issues like those in our time have always occurred, but as far as we know, they have never before occurred at this accelerated pace for this long a time in man’s history. Here in America, it almost seems as if Pandora’s Box has not just been cracked open but thrown wide open. And so, we must face the unceasing necessity of making such choices. Some broadcasting stations even proclaim, “All the news, all the time.”
Time is an important issue for us all, providing the context during which we accomplish the activities of life. Whatever activities we choose to do, time will be consumed. It is a reality that time waits for no one. Because we realize it is vital to our calling and growth within it, we may already have concerns about time. Most of us, especially those who are a bit older or have been “through the mill,” as the saying goes, are also aware that we are running out of it. Are we merely fretting about it, or are we resolved to do something about it?
Hearing news reports can be distracting and even destroy progress because it makes us aware of events of which we have been ignorant. We cannot control the making of news; events will occur as a result of the actions of millions of people living their lives. Nor, for the most part, can we control what news is available to us. However, we can exercise control over what news we choose to consider valuable enough to listen more thoughtfully to and perhaps to act upon.
Time is passing at the same rate of speed as it was when God first called us, but with each second, our time is running out. God called my wife and I in January 1959, and we were baptized in the same year. As I write, my wife turned 87 just a month ago, and seven weeks before that, I turned 86. We are in our sixtieth year in the church, and those 60 years have seemed to pass in a flash. Neither of us has a lot of sand left to drain from the top of the hourglass, a major reason this subject is percolating through my mind.
These thoughts are not burning a hole in me, which explains my use of the term “percolating.” Throughout this year, I have spoken or written briefly on principles I felt were necessary for me to expound. I usually placed these thoughts at the beginning of a message to help provide motivation that would help church members make better use of their calling. I often chose a subject from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount because the subjects He chose to include in that message are foundational to a disciple’s ability to follow Him, glorify God, and be prepared for His Kingdom.
This article’s principle comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21:
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, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Perhaps among the most underappreciated gifts that God gives when He calls us is the time to amass treasure in heaven. Jesus’ focus on treasure is important to His progress through the sermon at this point because He chose to illustrate first what we choose to do with our available time. At the outset, we must make sure of our aim in life. Overall, He is most interested that we make the best use of our faith, but in this section of His sermon, His concern is our use of time. What we choose to do with our time reflects on what we consider most important to achieve. Our use of time determines how much we will accomplish.
“Treasure” represents what we deem to be valuable enough to spend one of our most valuable resources—time—to obtain. It is what we hold dear, maybe even believe costly enough to give our life obtaining or defending once we have it. Perhaps our treasure is something we do not yet hold but what we are searching for or working to achieve.
What We Value Matters
Jesus used “treasure” to represent something we consider more important than something “common.” It is something we would eagerly work for if we knew it is available and achievable. Due to the nature of what the term represents, treasure can, with no effort, motivate a person to decide to use his time in its pursuit, unlike an ordinary or common thing. Because of a person’s perception of its value, treasure can move him to action almost as soon as he becomes aware of its availability.
In the Western world, treasure often means wealth—money, riches. It, however, may not connote money per se, but rather what money can buy: an impressive home in an exclusive section of town, a specific make of automobile, a prime section of land, or fine clothing. What a person strongly desires is an indicator of his or her treasure. In our thinking, we must not limit “treasure” to wealth. For some, treasure might be becoming a great athlete, entertainer, or artist. In other cultures, people treasure different possessions, but they are almost always things a person feels will bring him the respect, admiration, and esteem of others within his culture.
The treasure motivates the use of its seeker’s time, and if he uses his time pursuing that treasure, due to the way God has arranged His creation, that time is forever lost. It is totally consumed, never to return. This fact is a stark reality to which we must give serious thought in view of what we hold valuable. Everything we do uses time, and events and circumstances will never return. We do not have to think of this as a matter of life and death, but we must afford it thoughtful attention. We must deal with it as an unalterable reality because God’s calling is that valuable. We cannot avoid it if we wish to be in God’s Kingdom. We must not let life simply “fly by” as if time is of no consequence.
Jesus is not declaring that every earthly thing we desire is inherently evil. He is admonishing us that we must judiciously evaluate the use of our time and efforts against His way and purposes for our lives. Because of our calling, His will and directives are now our highest priorities. Material, earthly desires come far down the list. He is most concerned with how we use our faith because salvation is “by grace . . . through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Perhaps an Unrealized Effect
Right here, we face one of Jesus’ greater concerns about the possible effects of desiring a wrong treasure. At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, He does not speak much about this concern, but it is nonetheless a danger that He warns about elsewhere, so we must be aware and cautious. He says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” a powerful cause-and-effect statement. If it is not carefully monitored, a person’s treasure has enough influence to alter his heart for good or evil.
The word “heart” is important in relation to one’s treasure. The Bible says a great deal about the heart, using the term 830 times. Only rarely does Scripture mention the heart as a sustainer of physical life, while referring to it frequently to express traits of what it means to be human. In most cases, what it says about the human heart is not encouraging.
God states this truth in Jeremiah 17:9-10: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of His doing.” This description of unconverted, carnal man does not place humanity in a good light. Solomon urges, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Keep possesses the sense of “guard” and “preserve.” We must understand that the heart describes or exposes human character and personality.
Scripture often uses the heart to define what in a person’s personality sets him or her apart as different from others. An unconverted person who is therefore not dedicated to God may be said to have an uncircumcised heart. Others may be described as having an evil heart or a humble heart. Ezekiel describes the process of conversion as a person transforming his heart from one of stone to one of flesh. There are frequent calls for us to seek God with all our heart. In Psalm 131:1, the psalmist claims that his heart is not proud.
In addition, the Bible uses the heart to express human emotion. In Exodus 4:14, Aaron’s heart overflows with joy when he sees Moses. Leviticus 19:17 warns us not to hate our brother in our heart. Deuteronomy 1:28 speaks of fear as motivating a loss of heart, while Psalm 27:3 illustrates courage as a product of the heart. Elsewhere in Scripture, we find that despair, sadness, trust, and anger also come from the heart.
In Matthew 15:19-20, Jesus clarifies a major teaching about human conduct:
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things, which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
He pinpoints the human heart as a primary motivator of sinful behaviors that we witness in others and, more importantly, carry out ourselves. As the many examples imply, “the heart” is not the literal, fleshly muscle pumping blood, and thus life, through our bodies, but the symbolic representation of a person’s entire inner being. In this case of Matthew 15:19-20, none of the behaviors is commendable conduct because those to whom Jesus refers are unconverted, sinful men.
The above examples testify to the uncontrolled and potentially damaging uses of the emotional powers God created us to possess. The flipside of this is that through God’s calling, the receipt of His Holy Spirit, and conversion, the heart can be brought under control. In other words, the heart’s inclinations to motivate conduct can be changed, transformed to produce the good conduct God intends.
Be aware that what motivates conduct can be changed in either direction. In this article, we are focused on Jesus’ teaching about “treasure,” in which He gets His point across in only three verses. If allowed, treasure can easily motivate humans into strenuous activity to possess it. We must take Jesus’ caution in verse 21 seriously: Our heart will follow the treasure to possess it. His words are a strong, firm warning to make sure our treasure is God-approved.
Of Rust, Moths, and Thieves
Jesus illustrates His admonishment in Matthew 6:19-20 by counseling us to consider carefully two facts when comparing earthly and heavenly treasures. First, moth and rust cannot destroy heavenly treasures. Second, thieves cannot break in and steal treasures in heaven, which we valued so highly that we worked diligently to possess them. Both categories represent the high probability of earthly treasures steadily declining in value after having cost us much time and energy in obtaining them.
The first category—moth and rust—represent all the factors existing in the natural world that cause earthly treasures to deteriorate and lose their value. Foods become moldy, garments wear out, metals tarnish—even land can lose its fertility, become infested with weeds, or be washed away. Fences and walls break down, roofs leak and cave in, and termites invade and destroy houses. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires, and floods can destroy expensive, well-built homes in a matter of minutes. What does a person have then but an empty lot that once held his family’s home?
Thieves breaking in and stealing stand for the human element in diminishing or destroying value. If we do not tend to them carefully night and day, our treasures too often, either slowly or all at once, disappear into the hands of enemies. Apparently, in using this illustration, Jesus was thinking of the homes common to His area of the world, most of which were constructed of clay. Thieves could rather easily dig through the walls of a mudbrick home and steal the homeowner’s valuables.
We should also consider inflation, which eats away the savings of many. There is also governmental mismanagement of national affairs resulting in higher taxes, as well as bank failures, stock market crashes, business insolvencies, and prolonged illnesses. Even the bodies and minds of the strongest of us gradually wear down, eventually causing the individual to die.
The simple reality is that we cannot take earthly treasures through the grave. In comparison with heavenly things, such physical treasures have a limited “lifetime” of value. We could say that earthly treasures picture temporariness while heavenly ones last for eternity (II Corinthians 4:18).
Is God Against Earthly Treasures?
The Bible provides ample evidence that God is not against the pursuit of earthly treasure as long as His sons and daughters do not allow it to deflect them away from the primary goals that He has set for us. That line between them must be prayerfully and thoughtfully worked out between the child of God and God Himself. In Scripture, a wealthy person is not automatically reprobate under God’s standard of judgment. Genesis 13:2 states, “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Note, Abram was not merely rich but “very rich.” And not only that, he was the friend of God (James 2:23). On the other hand, a rich person is not automatically accepted either.
Nor does the Bible condemn the setting aside of provision to take care of possible future needs, perhaps for a disaster. Notice Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:33-35:
Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities.
Notice that the text later shows that God approves of Joseph’s suggestion to set aside wealth to be prepared when bad times arrive.
The apostle Paul does not make a mistake in II Corinthians 12:14, where he counsels the Corinthians: “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” Parents are to “lay up” or set money aside for their children. In the same vein, though somewhat more broadly, the apostle writes in I Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
In Luke 19:2, 9, the rich Zacchaeus, a tax collector, is called a “son of Abraham,” confirming him as a man of faith like the patriarch. The gospels also indicate that the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea was a follower of Jesus, and traditional literature of the time after Jesus’ resurrection mentions him accompanying Mary, Jesus’ mother, in her travels.
Godly Treasure’s Companion
There is an over-arching subject that Jesus never directly mentions in the context of Matthew 6:19-21, but He was undoubtedly concerned about it. No one ever lived who had a clearer understanding of human realities than Jesus. This subject concerns two levels of diversion from what is proper within the achievement of a desire, the first being minor compared to the second. First, then, is that, humanly, we can become so deeply involved in achieving an especially desired goal that we become inattentive to virtually everything else, including God. Some refer to it as “losing oneself in the moment.” We can be thankful that these kinds of diversions generally do not last long. We usually “catch” ourselves within them and redirect our efforts accordingly. How many serious accidents have been caused by this type of distraction is beyond knowing.
The second concern is far more damaging to our calling: We allow our human nature to re-enslave us to this world. This return to carnality happens when we fail to discipline ourselves daily. We fail to maintain our focus on the absolute fact that what really matters in our lives is glorifying God and attaining spiritual value in our character. We must place everything else in second, third, or fourth place in order of importance. No one can do this for us; we must do it ourselves.
Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” His counsel, valuable within its context, applies in spades to our calling. The context does not delve into the fact that not all things a person desires and works for are of equal value at any given time. Herein lies another reality that we must resolve because heavenly treasure and earthly treasure are not equally important, especially after God calls us.
The proper balance of the time and effort we give to seeking treasure must be an important companion to determining our priorities in what treasures we seek. Once a person is called, a new effort with far greater, more important goals has entered his life. The called-out individual must never allow himself to forget that the Creator God personally and specifically called him; he is not among the elect by accident or stroke of luck.
Considering the value of being in God’s Kingdom, how great is our indebtedness to Him when nobody has ever earned his way into a calling? Jesus makes this plain in John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” This reality is astounding to consider! Not one single person comes to Christ for His forgiveness, God’s Holy Spirit, a personal relationship with Him, and ultimately salvation, unless the Father Himself individually draws him! God carefully observed His potential children before He ever specifically drew us and others to Christ!
We must add to this astounding truth what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 to those God calls: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This burning dedication to the same goals that God has called us to must accompany the called-out person’s efforts to be a profitable servant. Without this characteristic, we can be quite busy accomplishing, but unless we are also deeply committed to what God is focused on for us to achieve, we will merely burn time without achieving much of value in terms of God’s spiritual purpose.
God wants us to give our time and life purposefully over to attaining His Kingdom. Merely being busy and productive are not the only issues. Being focused on what God assigns works hand in glove with what one’s treasure is. Matthew 6:24, just a few verses after where we began in verse 19, gives us a significant reason why: “No man 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.”
The reason may escape the reasoning of many, but Jesus clearly warns that giving our lives over to the achievement of the things of this world is blatant idolatry for a Christian! Do we truly want to place ourselves into the position of hating God—or even loving Him less than something else? The things of this world are those things God has not assigned to Christian life.
Unlike those in the world, not many called-out ones fall into such calamity, but some do and find themselves re-enslaved to the world by it. Such a person will be so preoccupied with gathering his worldly treasure that his skewed focus will play a major role in confusing his values. His achievement in that area of life will obscure the goal God has established for our spiritual existence. The human heart will follow the carnal influence rather than the godly one. We must make diligent efforts to avoid this trap because the world acts like a magnet, always trying to recapture what has been pulled from it.
The apostle Paul charges us in Philippians 3:17-21:
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
A significant change takes place in the lives of those God calls. This change can trigger a fear that has the power to hold the person in thrall if he does not truly believe vital truths and therefore fails to act upon them during his conversion. This kind of convert fears having to sacrifice something he deeply desires; he dreads that he may have to give up even the idea of ever possessing it.
In Romans 12:1-2, the apostle Paul calls upon fellow converts to become living sacrifices in order to become holy to God:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]. (The Amplified Bible)
Jesus did not hide this level of difficulty from those He counseled for baptism, and neither do His loyal servants hide the fact that living a Christian life is not all joy, contentment, and peace. Sometimes the costs of meeting the standards of obedience to Him are high—tremendously high. He admonishes us in Luke 14:26-33, as do His servants to this day:
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
I hope this article has provided motivation to be more dedicated to sacrifice—even if just a small amount—in serving Jesus Christ in obedience. We should also be sacrificing more in serving others in helpful and kind ways—and ourselves less in pursuing things we do not need and are here today and gone tomorrow. Time marches on, and each second carries a bit of our lives with it. We do not have time to waste.