Friday, November 30, 2012

What's the point of treasures in heaven?

In heaven, isn't everything awesome anyway? Why do we need "treasures"?

Jesus talks about the "treasures in heaven", and some other things, in Matthew 6:19-24. Go read it, and here is what I have to say:

I am the queen of photoshop. Image sources here and here.

What are treasures in heaven?

Well, what does Jesus say about them? He says unlike "treasures on earth", which can be destroyed by moths/rust/thieves, treasures in heaven are guaranteed safe. He doesn't say anything else to help us figure out what a "treasure in heaven" is.

There are 2 possibilities here. Either the "treasures in heaven" are things you get in heaven, after you die, or they're things you get on earth, in this life. (Because the "kingdom of heaven" exists on earth too.) I assume they are obtained by doing good things and being obedient to God.

If it's in heaven, well, why do we need that? I imagine this to play out like so: You die and go to heaven, and then God says "Remember when you helped old ladies cross the street? Well here is an extra reward." But I don't understand. You're already in heaven- which I was always (implicitly?) taught was perfect and you get whatever you want. What good is an "extra reward" at that point?

It's like when you're ordering pizza and the waitress asks "do you want extra cheese?" and you say "does it need it?" If she says yes, it means the pizza's not very good by itself. If she says no, then you're not going to spend the money on the extra cheese. (A clever waitress would answer "it depends what you like.") So, treasures in heaven: Does it need it?

Heaven is like a pizza. Image source.

Or maybe my understanding of heaven is totally wrong. You know, I should really put some work into researching what the bible says about heaven.

The other possibility is that "treasures in heaven" are actually good things that happen to you while on earth. Because in general, good things happen to good people. If you're a nice person, other people will be nice to you too. In general.

Totally true in general. But Jesus says to store treasures in heaven because of the certainty- they cannot be ruined or stolen like regular stuff. So which is more certain: good things will happen to you if you're a good person, or the money you stored under your mattress is safe? Neither is guaranteed. And it really seems to me that Jesus is emphasizing the importance of treasures in heaven precisely because they are guaranteed. So I'm not sure what it would mean if "treasures in heaven" are rewards we receive on earth.

BUT maybe I'm taking it too literally (story of my life), and Jesus is just saying that we should value what's really important in life- and it's not stuff, it's things that will last. Friendship, love, family, devotion to God. Because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I've heard it said that the way you spend your time and money reveals a lot about what's important to you.

So ask yourself, if somebody was looking at the ways you spend time/money/etc, what would they conclude about your priorities?

"The eye is the lamp of the body."

The first time I read "if your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light" I was sort of baffled and thought it would only make sense if the inside of your body is hollow and full of mirrors.

Okay, but now I understand it as Jesus talking about the influences we have in our lives. Good influences are healthy for you. Bad influences are not. So in my case, I've realized lately that I need to pray more. Because it's totally a good influence on my life. I used to pray a lot more than I do now, and back then it felt like God was so close and important and it was easier to trust him and not worry about stuff. As for an example of a "bad influence"- I have spent time in sections of the internet full of complaining and negativity, which is NOT good for me- it just makes me angry for no real reason. So, gotta avoid that.

There are good things and bad things to watch/read/listen to. Things that will build you up, and things that are just stupid. "Garbage in, garbage out." And just like you can determine a person's priorities by evaluating the ways they spend money/time/etc, you can guess at a person's attitude/character based on the things they put in their mind.

"No one can serve two masters."

This (along with hundreds of other bible verses) is my favorite bible verse. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." And you can really fill in the blank with anything: "You cannot serve both God and ____."

So to summarize Jesus' message in this passage: Give some thought to how you use your resources- time, money, etc- and the stimuli you put in your mind, because it gives an indication about what you treasure, whether you have a healthy outlook on things, and who you serve.

Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn't give any specific commands here. Because it's going to look different for everyone, and once you start making rules about "it's wrong to spend more time on homework than you spend praying" then you've completely missed the point.

Any external measures are meaningless in themselves- they only matter to the extent that they reveal something about one's attitude and character. And yes, they DO reveal it, as Jesus says here. But not in a one-size-fits-all way.


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Pray with me (Matthew 6:9-13)

Next post:  Things we learn from birds (Matthew 6:25-34)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. I had to reply to this because I'm a nerd. :)

    Jesus is just saying that we should value what's really important in
    life- and it's not stuff, it's things that will last. Friendship, love,
    family, devotion to God.

    I agree with this interpretation of the passage. Jesus is emphasizing that "this world is passing away" - so as tempting as it is to look for security in your retirement account, your material possessions, or even non-tangible things like approval or intelligence, the only thing that is guaranteed to last is your relationship with God. Reminds me also of The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. We store up for ourselves treasures here on earth, although in an eternal sense they are worthless and we cannot take them with us when we die.

    Love your Bible posts. Keep 'em coming.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I guess anything like wealth or even other people's approval can just disappear- but God will always be there, so we should value what God values. :)