Matthew 6:19-21

19 “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. [1]

At first look, it seems strange that Jesus developed his sermon by speaking first of hypocrisy and then of anxiety in Matthew chapter 6. Yet that is exactly what he did. If the theme of verses 1-18 is, “Do not be like the hypocrites,” the theme of the following section is, “Do not be anxious. There is no need to worry” (6:25, 28, 31).

But if we pause to reflect, we see there is sound insight in the Lord’s teaching at this point. Hypocrisy and anxiety are not so far apart as we might think. The cause of both is similar. So is the cure. People become anxious at least partly for the same reason they become hypocritical: they focus on self rather than on God.

In the case of the hypocrite, the concern is to be seen and approved by others. In the case of the anxious person, the concern is simply to supply his own needs in his own way. The hypocrite and the anxious person may have something else in common. Neither has really grasped the full implications of the gospel.[2]

In these verses, beginning with Matthew 6:19 and continuing through Matthew 7:5, Jesus warns against the love of possessions, anxiety, and a judgmental attitude toward others.


In the three verses of our text this morning, Jesus tells us how we should relate to the world. In a world boobytrapped with snares even more subtle than materialism, the Lord provides wisdom to guide us. First, he reveals it in a negative command in verse 19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

Then he says positively in verse 20, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” He concludes with the principle in verse 21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When Jesus issued the negative command to not store up treasures on earth, he was speaking in highly relevant terms to his listeners. He was preaching about the ultimate futility of supposing that one can somehow amass wealth and keep it safe. He referred to three things: clothing, food supply, and currency (coins and gems).

Clothing in the ancient Middle East was considered part of one’s wealth. In the Book of Joshua we are told of the sin of Achan that caused the defeat of the armies of Israel at Ai. Israel had just been victorious at Jericho and had dedicated the spoil of the battle to God, as God had indicated. But there was a scar on the victory. During the battle, a soldier called Achan had come upon a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred pieces of silver and an ingot of gold. Because he coveted them, he took them and hid them in his tent. It was a small thing, but it was disobedience to God. Thus Israel was defeated in their next engagement, and judgment came upon Achan and his household. [3]

Jesus reminds his listeners that all garments will succumb to the moth, no matter how fine they are. The word “rust” is an approximate translation of a Greek word that means “eating” and refers to the spoiling action of worms upon food storage. No matter how vast their grain supplies, those supplies will ultimately be destroyed by vermin.

Finally, gold and silver were never safe in the ancient world. There were no banks or savings and loans. Currency was generally stored or buried in one’s house. Houses consisted of soft clay walls and dirt floors, making it easy for thieves to dig through the walls and dig up what might be buried.

From Jesus’ point of view, the accumulation of any kind of wealth was precarious due to natural laws of deterioration and the fact that we live in a fallen world. His prohibition still holds true today, regardless of government guarantees and banking regulations. The question is, was he condemning all wealth? No.

Nowhere in scripture is there a condemnation of private property. Nor is saving for difficult days forbidden. In fact, it’s encouraged. one example would be the parable of the Ant in Proverbs 6:6-8:

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. [4]

We are to work to provide for ourselves and our families (1 Tim. 5:8). In 1 Timothy 4:3, Paul tells us that we are not to despise the good things of life by becoming ascetics. Rather, we are to enjoy food and the comforts of life:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. [5]

What Jesus warns against in our text is the selfish accumulation of stuff. In Luke 12:15 he says this: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Many people over the centuries have taken this to mean that it is bad to be wealthy. But our text does not say, “Do not lay up for yourselves money on earth.” Jesus uses the word “treasures.” The Greek word refers to anything valued by an owner and stored away. It is not confined to mere currency.

The Lord is speaking about our tendency to get our entire satisfaction from things that belong to this world only. He commands us against focusing our ambitions, interest, and hopes on the things of this life. Even if you have not set your heart on the greedy accumulation of great wealth, something else could be a sinful treasure.

People put their hopes in owning their first home and spend all their thoughts and energies dreaming of chairs and sofas, the right antiques, the perfect colors – all the things they do not yet have but are certain will make their lives “happy.” Treasure is not merely a unique problem for the wealthy.

There is also the treasure of family. Some people put family before everything. Some parents think only of their children — a form of narcissism and selfishness. When we give that kind of primacy to our family, there’s no time for our neighbors or our community. You don’t have to have a fixation on money to have “treasures.”

Of course the Bible has another term for things we treasure because they are certain such things will bring us happiness. It’s not always that such things are bad in and of themselves. It’s not bad to want to own a home. It is not bad to have and raise children. It is not bad to want savings to carry you through bad times. But when we treasure those things as a key to our happiness then those things become idols, functional saviors, little “g” gods. The more happiness we seek from our idols, the more we are willing to sacrifice people around us to obtain them.

The ultimate reason Jesus gives for not storing up earthly treasure is that it will be destroyed. You cannot take it with you. These things are temporal, not eternal. Recently, one of my neighbors lost a lengthy battle to liver cancer. He spent many years building his house up from its tiny footprint. He added a second story, he turned his garage into enclosed living space, he filled his driveway with boats and motorcycles and cars and his house with lots of stuff. When he passed, it took his family two months of estate sales and several commercial trash containers to clean out his house. Since then, contractors have been coming and going on a daily basis to gut, repair, and remodel that home.

My poor neighbor took none of his possessions with him. He passed out of this world and all of that stuff became someone else’s huge problem. None of us will take anything with us! Job understood this perfectly as he responded to the profound disasters of his life: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21). There are no pockets in a coffin’s shroud.

No money, no fame, no good reputation, and no position will go with us. Jesus’ words of prohibition are a command, not an option. Our hearts are idle factories, seeking things both good and bad to lead us to our own personal salvation of temporary earthly happiness.


Just as all of God’s law contains negative commands, so also does it contain positive commands. The positive command in this matter comes in verse 20: “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings regarding what Jesus said here have left many to conclude that we can earn our own salvation. That conclusion denies the central doctrine of the New Testament: that we are made right with God by our trust into the perfectly lived-life and sacrificial blood-shedding death of the crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ alone.

A less dangerous misunderstanding also arises from this text. Based on Jesus’ statement, some teach that Christians who do more good works on earth will earn a better class of heavenly existence. They will have “more stars in their crown,” or larger heavenly mansions, or greater horizontal honor among their fellow citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. Perhaps the white robes of the uber-Christian will be washed in a stronger concentration of the Blood of the Lamb and be extra-white.

That misconception arises in large part by ripping 1st Corinthians 3:11-15 out of its context. There Paul writes:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. [6]

Paul is absolutely not writing about the general concept of heavenly rewards for believers. He is defending his apostleship against the false teachers who have entered Corinth to spread their own watered down, human-centric version of semi-biblical Christianity. The fruit of their teaching will be weighed against the fruit of Paul’s teaching at the final judgment. Only the teaching with the Lord Jesus Christ (not man!) at its foundation will be revealed to have any eternal value.

So what are the “treasures in heaven” Jesus commends to us? The final answers are found in Revelation. In Revelation 21, John writes:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [7]

The rewards of heaven are all contained in the fulfillment of God’s great and often-repeated promise to his people: “I will be your God. You will be my people. And I will tabernacle with you all.” The name Emmanuel, Jesus’ name, means “God with us.” In fact, Revelation 21:3 can rightly be translated in part, “and Emmanuel will be with them as their God.” What is our treasure in heaven? Our treasure in heaven is constant, eternal, perfect communion with our great triune God and with one another. That is the “eternal weight of glory” that overshadows all of our “light momentary” earthly afflictions (2 Cor. 4:17).

No earthly thing and no dark spiritual powers can ever take away the eternal weight of glory that awaits those who pass from death to life by virtue of their trust into the person and work of Christ Jesus. In light of that, we should be asking ourselves about our present pursuits. How important will they be a trillion years from now? How important will our house be? How important will our promotion be? How important will our fame be? Have we made the right investment now in our lives? Exchanging the eternal for the temporal is no bargain.[8]

How should we live in this present evil age in light of the treasures that await us in the New Jerusalem? Paul’s words in 1st Timothy 6:17-19 are helpful in this regard:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. [9]


In Matthew 6:21, Jesus gives us the reason for the rule, a saying that ought to be branded upon our souls: “For Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You may recall that when the Bible uses the word “heart” it has a deeper definition then we give it in our modern era. We think of “heart” not only is a literal internal organ but also as a description for our affections.

But the Bible uses it for the whole inner man, the core of our total being, the wellspring of all we do. This means that Jesus is telling us that where our treasure is, there will be our total being. Not only will our affections focus on our treasure, but our entire self will also be intertwined with it. What happens to our treasure, happens to us. Our total person will be where our treasure is.[10]

God’s law has several functions. One function is to act as a mirror in which we can see the things to which our heart is truly attached. It is perfectly natural and right for our job, our education, our family, or our home to occupy a large place in our thoughts. Christ is warning against total earthbound absorption with them or any other earthly things.

In light of this law Jesus gives, you may want to consider asking yourself certain questions. What occupies your thoughts when you have nothing else to do? About what do you daydream? Is it your investments, your position? If so, those are the things you treasure, and that is where your heart really is.

Let me put it another way. What is it that you worry about most? Is it your home, your clothing, your appearance? If so, then you know where your treasure lies. What thing or person do you most dread losing? By what things do you measure others?

We measure other people by the things and the values we treasure. Do you measure those around you by their clothing, by their looks, by their homes, their assets, or by their athletic skills? When you find yourself making those kinds of measurements, you know where your treasure lies. Finally, what is that one thing without which you know you cannot be happy?

Jesus’ law has no exceptions. “Where your treasure is, there your entire being will be also.” Where is your heart? Is it on earthly treasure? If so, your treasure will suffer attack by vermin, by decomposition, and by thieves, and it will be destroyed. There is a danger that your heart will become like your treasure – corrupted and ultimately destroyed.

On that same day when the apostle Paul’s teaching will be measured against that of the Judaizers of Corinth, you will be compelled to see your heart exactly how God sees it. Not only will your works be revealed for what they are, so will all your thoughts, your hopes, your daydreams, your entire outlook on life. God does not grade on a curve. He grades on his unalterable standard of complete perfection.

We are not permanent residents of this world. We are sojourners. Each of us is bound for somewhere. Either we are bound to tabernacle with our great triune God in perfect eternal fellowship and harmony, or we are bound to live eternally outside his merciful presence where there is only weeping, wailing, and grinding of teeth.

Not only did the Lord Jesus Christ preach God’s law perfectly, but he also lived it out without one single mistake, without one single sin. He offers his flawlessness, his holiness, to anyone willing to die to the earthly treasures of their heart and trust completely into his freely-offered perfection and his sacrificial death for all of this sins we hide deep in our heart.

Will God look upon you and see the perfection and the sacrifice of Christ, or will he look upon you and see a pile of worthless corrupted stuff that was once your treasure?

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. [11]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 6:19–21.

[2] Ferguson, 135.

[3] Boice, 213.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 6:6–8.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Ti 4:1–5.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 3:11–15.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:1–4.

[8] Hughes.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Ti 6:17–19.

[10] Hughes.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 5:14–15.