One of the easiest things to forget is that we won’t be able to take a single one of our possessions to heaven.
Everything we think we own is essentially leased to us by God, and we’ve been trusted to manage his portfolio. Giving our possessions a perceived attribute of permanence makes us more likely to grip them with white knuckles. We can become unable to view our things with the eyes of Christ. In Matthew 19, Jesus says, “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.”
But what does this mean?
Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t have a savings account? Is he saying it’s wrong to contribute to a 401(k)?
No, these things are important. But what he is saying is we shouldn’t put our trust in these things. Ultimately, savings accounts and investments are simply tools to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. They aren’t actually treasures themselves. When we find our ultimate security in banks, we’re treasuring temporary things over an eternal reality.
This is a truth I haven’t fully grasped yet, if I’m honest. I struggle with this concept and have found myself frequently looking at money and possessions to satiate anxiety I feel about life’s meaning.
What I’m having to learn is to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven means to invest in kingdom-focused work. It means filtering our giving, saving, and spending decisions through an eternal perspective.
It doesn’t just mean giving more to charity. It can also mean changing the way we’re spending our money. For example, when we spend a sum of money we’ve saved up for a nice dinner with our spouse, it can be either a kingdom investment or a worldly expenditure. What matters is our perspective and motivation. If the motivation comes from a desire to love our spouse and enjoy God’s gift of good food, we’re seeing the situation rightly. If, however, we believe we deserve a nice meal with our spouse and the pleasure of the moment terminates on us—we’ve spent our treasure on earth.
To store treasure up in heaven doesn’t necessarily mean we all must sell all we have and give it to the poor like Jesus instructs the rich man to do. It does mean, however, we all must be willing to sell all we have and give it to the poor. He might just call us to do this, and if the idea of losing all our earthly possessions frightens us to the point of seeing no possible way we could go on, we’re probably storing up treasure on earth rather than heaven. But if we are so satisfied in our relationship with Christ we could imagine contentment apart from our things, it’s probably an indication we’re rightly seeing our kingdom investments.
In Philippians 4:12, Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” He has learned the value of storing treasure in heaven, even though he experienced both scarcity and plenty.
C.S. Lewis has a famous quote I love. “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak,” he says. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” When we let our pleasure terminate on our possessions, we’re missing the joy of leveraging our possessions for God’s kingdom through the ways we give, save, and spend.
We will always be in this battle, alternating between the allure of placing our identity in our things and placing our identity in Christ. This will be a fight we must take up daily. We will lose sometimes. I lose this fight often. But let’s keep our governing principles in mind.
When we give, may we do so with a happy heart—and may we give generously, as Christ has so generously given to us. When we save, may we save knowing the freedom from having to go into debt during emergencies or larger purchases allows us to more passionately pursue ministry opportunities. As we contribute to retirement, may we view the end goal as a chance to serve in God’s kingdom, not as a chance to be served in our golden years. As we spend, may we forgo entitlement to things and operate from a place of gratitude. May we remember that the earth is the Lord’s and so is everything in it. May we enjoy things as testimonies to God’s goodness—not just byproducts of our hard work.
We can’t take it with us, so let’s store our treasure in heaven.