Our son-in-law, Keith, works on the trading floor of the commodities market exchange in Chicago. I've been there to watch him. You stand in a room with glass windows on the second floor, and you look down on the trading floor. There are 150 traders in a pit. There are about six different pits, and they're all yelling and making signs at each other. One sign means "sell at 12" and another means "buy at 13." Those traders are yelling across the pit, and they nod when they make a transaction. Millions of dollars' worth of transactions happen in a given pit on any given day.
Those traders are representing people from around the world who are investing in next March's corn. Futures on corn, it's called. And they gamble on whether corn is going to be at 36 next March. They bid 22, and if it sells at 36, they've made a profit. If they bought it at 38 and it sells at 36 next March, they've got a loss. You may think of these investments in terms of the appreciation on your house—that it's risen a little bit since you bought it.
Do not lay up your treasures on Earth.
In Matthew 6:19-21, our Lord speaks of investments. He begins by saying, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." It's important for us to see the Scripture's context to know what he's talking about.
At the beginning of the chapter, in verse 1, Jesus says: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do."
You're not going to believe this, but they would do that! They would play a trumpet and announce their giving so others would see it. But Jesus said you should give in secret.
Our church staff has been putting our loose change in this little basket in the receptionist's office. The other day, I walked in and asked the receptionist, Donna, how our basket change was doing. She said, "It's been really slow today." In five weeks, the staff has accumulated more than $600—just with change. It's a great reminder how much change we carry around.
Then I went back to my office and realized I had a goblet that had been sitting on my table for months that was filled with change. I hadn't given it. So I walked back to Donna's office. She was the only one there, and I said, "I thank God I am not as these other staff." Then I poured the change into the basket. Without flinching, she said, "And you have your reward." That's what Jesus is talking about.
Then, in verse 5, Jesus says: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."
You're not going to believe this. The Pharisees used to stand on the corners because they loved to be where people could see them. They would give these loud, beautiful, ornate prayers. But Jesus said: You have your reward. You ought to go in the closet when you pray. Pray in secret.
Then Jesus talked about fasting. In verse 16, he says: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."
Jesus was saying that, when you fast, do that in secret, too—and don't do it to be seen of people. When these people fasted, somebody would say, "Hi, how are you?" And they'd say: "Not very well. I've been fasting. For six weeks I've been torturing my body just for the love of the Lord." So Jesus said, "You have your reward."
That's it. That's the context in which Jesus says in verse 19, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Their treasure was people's accolades: "You've done a wonderful, beautiful job!" Their treasure was earthly, so the advice of this paragraph is clear. We easily seek earthly investments. You know that. It's our natural bent. We see them everywhere. But the dangers are moth and rust.
Jesus says in verse 19: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Moths ruined clothes or rugs. Moths eat that stuff. Rust referred to metal coins, or a similar word (Bible scholars are not sure which one Jesus was using) dealing with worms eating farmers' grain when they'd store it in their barns. And thieves break in and steal all of our stuff. Your home may have been broken into, or you may have had something stolen in a downtown area. The point is, all of this stuff in this life is temporary. Don't let it be your treasure. Lay not up for yourselves treasures. Jesus was saying: Don't make this your main interest.
What you treasure is what captures your heart, what turns your heart. The people in Jesus' day thought what was valuable was people saying, "Beautiful, that was wonderful." That's what they valued and that's what they lived for. But Jesus says we should not treasure what people say, but rather what God says and what God values. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth."
You've seen the ads that claim, if you wear this, you will have so much acclaim from others. Or if you're single, women will run after you (or men, if you're a woman). Earthly treasures are all that kind of thing—the illusion that physical or financial wellbeing, or the approval of people, is the main treasure of life. You must be the most wealthy! You must be the best athlete of the century! I understand that, but those are treasures on Earth.
Luke 12:13-21 tells the story of a guy who approached our Lord and said: Master, help my brother know how to divide the inheritance with me.
This man and his sibling were having an argument over a will. And Jesus said to him: I'm not here to settle things between you and your brother.
He avoided the request, but said: Let me tell you something. There was a man who had so many things that he said, "I've got to build bigger barns."
Jesus told about this guy who began to build bigger barns and was living only for himself. He hoarded rather than helped. And Jesus said: You fool, this night your soul will be required of you. Death has its aim on you. It stalks everybody in this room, and one night it will shoot. So is everyone who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward his Father in heaven. You're a fool if you do that.
So he's saying, "Don't lay up treasures on earth." They're nothing but sand castles. Instead, "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal."
There are four types of treasures in heaven.
We have treasures in heaven. There are at least four categories of treasures. The first are people treasures—people who go to heaven as a result of your gifts and your prayers and your words.
The second would be the rewards that come from good works. You treasure what God likes you to do, and you do it. You'll be rewarded for that. And there are rewards in heaven for all who do good.
Another is that you send your good works on ahead. Another treasure is heaven itself. We don't sing many songs anymore about when we all get to heaven or how we're just pilgrims here on Earth. They sing those in India and Africa all the time. And the slaves made up those types of songs because they were looking ahead to a freedom they couldn't enjoy in this life, thanks to some of our forefathers.
But this is the issue: "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Value what God values. Make the serious intent of your heart to follow what heaven's values are. Colossians 3 says: Seek those things which are above. That's love and joy and peace.
One writer said, "The only question of life is whether or not to commit suicide." He was someone who had little hope in life. But then, if you think the purpose in life is to ski as fast as you can, you're going to hit a tree. Someone's going to die someday. Everybody will someday. The issue is how to live for what's eternal. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."
We have only one life. I learned this when I was little, and I got tired of it, but it's true: "Only one life, 'twill soon be passed. Only what's done for Christ will last." Everything else is an earthly treasure.
Luke 16:9 talks about people treasures. You should be shrewd with your money. You should make investments in lives so that when you die and go to heaven, there will be people to welcome you there because of your money. Think about that. "Be shrewd with your money," Jesus said," so that you will have a grand welcome when you go to heaven."
Some of you pray for Macedonia and for our missionaries, Eric and Becky Palmquist. Some of you have gone on short-term trips there, and the church has helped finance them. We learned recently that Sheib, a businessman over there, just received Christ and proclaimed him publicly. He's the guy who many of our people talked to when they were over there. Anybody who's been to Macedonia with Eric knows Sheib's name. And nobody thought he'd ever accept Christ, because he was such a stiff-arm when it came to the Lord. But he came to faith and pronounced it—he told the people.
When we get to heaven, Sheib will be there (if he goes first) to welcome us because we prayed and we gave. There will be people from Indonesia or from one of our training centers in Africa that we're going to build with 20/20 funds. And they will give you a grand welcome when you get to heaven. That's what Jesus said. Life is about doing good for others.
The second treasure is the good works treasure. 1 Timothy 6 says: You that are rich, don't trust in your riches, but rather trust in God and be rich in good works so that you can know the life that is really life.
What is life? Eat, drink, and be merry? "No, you fool!" Jesus said. "Tonight you die." Life that is actually life is doing good for others, investing in heaven's values. I believe that, when we get to heaven, we will meet people from all over who came to faith in Christ as a result of what we give next week. They will celebrate our coming. You have to take that as a word from the Lord, because he said we would receive "a grand welcome." There will be rewards.
Heaven itself is listed as the final reward: the place where there's no more pain, where there's total joy, and the presence of Christ, who says, "Well done, good and faithful servant" to all who love him. That's the reward. That's what it means to have treasure in heaven.
Having the values of Christ helps us know where the real reward lies.
We need to have Christ's values. Christians around the world know what it means to have relationships because they don't have any money.
Earlier we met Richard, who gave his testimony, and we prayed for Sudan. In Sudan, many of the Christians have been carted off and sold into slavery, or have been killed for their faith. Richard doesn't celebrate bigger barns. He celebrates values related to heaven.
Peggy Noonan, who used to write for President Reagan, said we're the only country in the world that thinks there's one world. Meaning, we don't think much about heaven because we have it so nice here.
The issue of life is, "Can I believe that there's so much more, and that all these treasures in heaven can be mine?" The issue is how to have an eternal wealth. You get how many years here on Earth? 20? 10? 60? 80? 90? Then you get eternity. The life of faith, as the apostle Paul put it, is to believe that the things that we see are temporary, and the things we don't see are eternal. These are the values of Christ.
I saw a little bit of the Ohio State game yesterday, and I noticed the buckeyes on the players' helmets. The players get buckeye stickers when they make a really good play. That's okay. But that's pretty temporary, and it doesn't mean you win a game, either.
I knew a guy in Sunday school when I was little who had a chain of perfect attendance pins that went from his chest down to his knee. Honest. He couldn't walk because of the chain. It's so easy to do things in this life for a reward. That's a good incentive. But the issue is, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust do corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal."
At the end of his life, Paul the apostle wrote in 2 Timothy, "Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me." What is the world? John, the best friend of Jesus, defined it as the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. But the world becomes everything to most of us, if we don't watch it. Stuff! Self! Ecclesiastes was written to say: It's all vanity! Temporary! It goes! It flies away! You die, and you get nothing!
How much are you worth? Take everything in your pocket, add everything you have in the bank and at home, take the appreciation on your house and any investments you may have, and add them all together. Now, subtract the number of dollars you will leave behind when you die. Everybody has zero. Zero. Job said: Naked I came out of my mother's womb, and naked I will return to the grave. You take nothing with you.
I remember a Bill Cosby story in which he's standing on the street watching a funeral procession. The guy who died was buried in his gold Cadillac (this was before Lexus). The cortege was coming down the street, and Bill was standing there with another kid saying, "Man, that's living."
Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." At first glance, it looks as if that ought to be the other way: Where your heart is—in other words, what you love—is where your treasure will be. You'll put your money there.
But Jesus knew what he was saying. He was saying: If what you treasure (heaven, the acclaim of Christ, his words of "Well done, good and faithful servant") are things you can't see right now, if you treasure the applause of heaven, then your heart and will go along with your treasure. It's what you think is valuable.
If you think value is all related to houses and lands and the applause of people, then that's where your heart is. If you invest your money in the stock market, and you think that's the most valuable thing in life, you'll probably read the stock reports more than you read the Bible, because that's where your heart will go.
But if you think the will of God is the treasure of life and the most valuable thing in the world, then you will treasure and value what it means to obey Christ. Your heart will be there, and you'll spend time in worship and obedience to him. Set your eyes on heavenly things.
Sometimes when I windsurf in Lake Michigan, I'll go way out where all I can see is the water. If I don't look back every once in a while, I can be going out at a fairly good speed and look back toward the shore and think, I didn't know I was way out here. There's no landmark out there, obviously. When I go back toward the shore, I always aim toward Mel Johnson's house, because it's the gray one on the beach where we are. Then I have a landmark.
When you walk in snow, if you don't look up at a tree, if you just look down at the white snow, you'll look back at your tracks and see that they're crooked. That's because you need a landmark.
Where your treasure is, your heart and life will be. If your treasure goes with the stock market or a particular political party, or all the trends and movements of the world, your heart will be everywhere and you'll never be satisfied. Jesus said: Where your treasure is, set your eyes on things above.
The apostle Paul said: Set your affection on things above, not on things of the Earth.
Sometimes, my wife and I ride our bikes on the old canal towpath. When you go along the path, if you're riding beside each other, on one side is this canal that at places has this green, slimy water. If my wife, Janine, who's riding beside me, is looking at me and talking, instead of looking at the path or at something ahead of her, she will inch her bike toward mine. Your bike will do that. You go toward what you're looking at. Three times I've fallen into the green slime on the canal.
But if you don't set your affection on things above, if you don't value and treasure what is God's, your heart will stay on Earth. You'll never think ahead.
Having the values of Christ motivates us to freely give.
Give out of your desire for Christ's values. How do you decide what to give? My answer is prayer and a pencil. I don't think God tells you what to give. You may prefer to say it that way. I think you have to choose.
A freewill offering means an offering of the will. All we ask is that as you consider your tithing card for next Sunday, you say: "I value heaven. I value that people will be there to welcome me. I value the treasure of people who come to Christ as a result of having room here at the church."
One lady on the way out last service said, "You tell the congregation I said thanks, because in 1952 there was a seat for me." This is about people and the values of heaven and the choices of eternity.
A freewill offering is a freewill offering. In 2 Corinthians, it says you have to give cheerfully as each one has purposed in his own heart. You can only decide for yourself. One other person besides you will know. (Somebody has to keep track and make a total.) No one will bill you over the next four years. That's between you and God. But the issue is to know what to do. Freewill is freewill is freewill, just like a rose is a rose is a rose. All this church asks is that you do it with serious intent and prayer.
Treasures in heaven are the applause and the acclaim of Christ. I wish I could let you read every letter I get about someone who came to Christ, or someone whose family was changed, or someone who offered another person grace because of your life. I wish I could tell you the strength that happens when somebody in the college receives Christ as Savior through a small Bible study or in a dorm study. I wish I could tell you what it means to our missionaries, Tim or Richard, when we support them in Sudan or Indonesia.
That's what the church is about; it is about who Christ is. If we're going to have a ball game Friday, I'm going to work hard to get ready for that. If I'm going to preach a sermon on Sunday, I'm going to spend a lot of time that week, trying to do it the way the Bible says.
If I'm going to go to heaven someday—and I am because of Christ, and you are, too, if you're in Christ—we ought to understand what is big to God. What's going to make him say, "Well done," to us will be our investments in other people's lives. It's giving in love. It's doing what you can. Some can sing solos; some can sing a very small part. That's not the issue. The issue is your treasure and your heart. And if you value what God values, his glory and people coming to his Son, then your heart will go there.
I asked my wife to give the closing remarks at our church's five banquets this week. I had no idea what she was going to say. She did a great job, but at the close of each night, she said, "Knute and I are not embarrassed to ask you as a church to give generously and liberally, because this is about Christ." And that's true. The Bible is clear. What do you think is your treasure? Your heart will follow.
Five times this week, at the close of those banquets, we sang a song. One of the verses goes, "Riches I need not, nor man's empty praise. Thou, mine inheritance, now and always. Thou and thou only be first in my heart. High King of heaven, my treasure thou art." If that is true for us as a church, more and more we will do God's will.
Knute Larson is an author and speaker. He served as pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, and he is author of The Great Human Race (Chapel Press).