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Treasure, Eyes, and Money

by Jeffrey Stivason • March 17, 2015 •

Matthew 6:19-24 is undoubtedly a difficult text to interpret.  Why, you ask?  Well, the verses are usually interpreted as if Jesus simply pasted them together.  In other words, there is no context for verses 19-21 and the same goes for verses 22-23 and verse 24.  They are treated as apothegmatic statements.  But is that what they are?  I want to contend that they are not.  Instead, we ought to think of verses 19-34 as a unit.  So, it might be good for you to open your Bible to Matthew 6:19 before we get started.

If you have found your way to Matthew the first thing that I want to point out is what I call the treasure principle articulated in verses 19-21.  Let me summarize it like this, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, but instead store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.”  Now, that’s the principle.  But what does it mean?  Well, let’s think of some other passages that might help us to flesh out the principle. 

In twelfth chapter of Luke’s gospel Jesus was teaching a crowd of people when suddenly a man from the company said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Here we are faced with a question of earthly treasure.  And Jesus is enlisted to help sort out the matter.  And what is His response?

First a warning, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”  And then he tells a parable.  And basically the parable is about a man whose farm was doing rather well.  This man said to himself, “I don’t have room to store it all.”  So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns and afterward he celebrated by eating, drinking, and being merry.  Verse 20 tells us God’s response to the man, “You fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”  And then Jesus closed with these words, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” 

Now, here is a man acting contrary to the treasure principle.  The man was to lay up treasure in heaven that he might be rich toward God.  But the most natural question in the world is, “how?”  How do we lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven?  Well, think again of our story in Luke 12.  After dealing with the man’s situation the Lord says, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Jesus is clear.  Generosity toward others is a clear means by which the Christian stores up wealth in heaven.  Now, that is the treasure principle.  Rather than building a heaven on earth through earthly treasures use your earthly treasures in order to store up treasure in heaven.  Now, this leads to the next point and the next couple of verses.

How do verses 22-23 fit with verses 19-21?  Well, take a minute to read verses 22, 23, “The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, you whole body will be full of light.  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?”  Now, you may be asking yourself, “What in the world does this have to do with the treasure principle?”  I understand treasure on earth I even get treasure in heaven but this text is about an eye and not treasure.  Well, the key to understanding centers on the statement concerning the eye being good or bad.  What does that mean?  Let me take you to some Scripture. 

Look at Deuteronomy 15.  Moses is giving laws concerning indebtedness and generosity toward the poor.  He says in v.9, “Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you.”  In other words, the wicked and ungenerous man is described as having an evil eye.

Now look at Proverbs 28:22, it says something similar, “A man with an evil eye hastens after riches…”  Again the evil eye is associated with greed.  Perhaps one more text, Proverbs 23:6 says, “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man…”  Now, rendered literally, we are not to eat the bread of an “evil eyed man.”  Again, the greedy person or the man lacking in generosity is the man with an evil eye. 

Let me give you one more text.  Look at Matthew 20.  It is the familiar story of laborers in the vineyard.  A landowner went to the market place in the morning and hired laborers to work his vineyard for a denarius.  About the third hour or 9 AM he hired more for the same amount.  He also went at the noon hour and even as late as three O’clock in the afternoon.  But he wasn’t finished even then.  He went at the 5 O’clock hour and hired more laborers! 

At the end of the day all the laborers came for their pay.  And it was then that those who had worked all day discovered that they were getting paid the very same amount as those who had started working at the end of the day.  Complaining erupted.  But the landowner responded saying (v. 15), “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?  Or is your eye envious (evil) because I am generous (literally “good”)?”    

Having this understanding under our belt let’s apply what we have learned to our text.  Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear (the word can be translated generous) your body will be full of light.”  Jesus goes on, “But if your eye is bad (evil) your whole body will be full of darkness.”  Now, do you see what Jesus is saying?  If your eye is good, in other words, if you have been generous you are full of light.  You have been storing up treasure in heaven.  But if you eye is evil, if you lack generosity, then you may have earthly treasure but you are spiritually poor. 

Now, notice how this plays into a proper understanding of verse 24.  It says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”  The point?  You must decide between Jesus and your money.  In other words, who or what is your God?  Rather than build your heaven on earth, Jesus is calling you to be generous and so store up treasure in heaven.  Or to put it another way, have a good eye rather than an evil one.  Now, admittedly this could be distressing.  Being called to generosity may provoke us to fear.  What will become of me if I am generous?  And so, this leads to our third point. 

God the Father gives us an encouragement.  Look at verses 25-34.  They are often used to address worry in general.  The problem is that the text is often ripped out of context.  The worry that Jesus is talking about here is produced as a result of our anxiety over money and possessions.  We worry about food, clothes, housing and if we are generous how will we have these for ourselves?  That is the question.  But notice what Jesus says.  He tells us several things.  First, he points to general revelation.  He says look at the birds, they don’t gather into barns but instead God feeds them.  And look at the field.  God clothes it.  It’s beautiful. 

Now, the question comes.  If God cares for the birds and clothes the field will he not also feed and clothe us?  The One who loves us more than birds and fields is “your heavenly Father.”  This is our Father.  We need to let that come home to us.  We need to trust our Father with what he has given to us.  And because our Father cares for us we must seek His kingdom.  And here is the beauty.  If we are not worrying about tomorrow but seeking the Kingdom today, then when the Son returns we will be found looking in the right direction.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

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