I’ve been studying Matthew 6, because we’re going through Matthew on Sunday mornings, and because I’m teaching from Matthew 6:19-24 in a few weeks. That passage starts with these three verses:
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. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
The more I study Scripture, the more I realize how much of my understanding of God, the world, myself, other people, and even eternity is based on unscriptural and sometimes anti-scriptural ideas. For instance, consider the idea of laying up treasures in heaven. All of the good gospel songs talk about mansions in heaven (an unfortunate translation of John 14:2) with all the wonderful stuff that we’re going to get when we get there.
Is that what Jesus is teaching? Is he teaching us to give up stuff now so that we can get more stuff later? That seems contradictory to everything that Jesus has been saying in the Sermon on the Mount. Does Jesus really want us to turn away from material things here so that we can be even more materialistic later?
In the first part of chapter 6, Jesus taught that we should not do good deeds in order to be rewarded by people, but to be rewarded by the Father. Similarly, he taught that we should not pray and fast for the purpose of being rewarded by men, but for God. But, was Jesus teaching his listeners – and us – that God would reward us with more stuff – material things?
Could it be that instead of teaching us about eschewing earthly stuff in order to get better, heavenly stuff, Jesus was actually teaching us about contentment? Could it be that the Father himself is our reward when we do good deeds, pray, and fast with the proper motives and for God as our audience? Could it be that “treasures in heaven” is an idiom for God himself?
The author of Hebrews says something similar:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV)
According to this verse, our contentment comes from the presence of God himself – not from any earthly or heavenly stuff. The phrase translated “love of money” is also translated “greed”. Greed can be associated with money, but it can also be associated with non-monetary things.
For example, we can become discontent with our health or fitness. We can become discontent with our family. We can become discontent with our job. We can become discontent with our relationships. Any of these things can become a source of discontentment.
But, the answer to our discontentment is not found in more stuff – even in better health or better relationships. The answer to our discontentment is only found in the presence of God. Similarly, the answer to our discontentment is not waiting for heaven and the “sweet by and by”. The answer to our discontentment is found today in the presence of God.
I know that many people have expressed discontentment about the church, either in person, on this blog, or on other blogs. Again, the solution to this discontentment is found in the presence of God himself. Changing our situation may hide the discontentment for a while, but it will never bring contentment.
However, resting in the presence of God – allowing him to be our treasure – will bring contentment. Similarly, we cannot stay in God’s presence without being affected ourselves and without the world around us being affected.
Do good deeds… and let God be your reward. Pray… and let God be your reward. Fast… and let God be your reward. Be content… because God is with you, and he has promised to never leave you nor to forsake you.