Biblical Commentary: On our heart and its treasure

“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

This Gospel comes from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. It begins a discourse on wealth and worry, revealing something about our nature: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Well, what does that mean?

Our treasure is the thing we seek above all else: it’s what we prize, it’s the locus that our lives revolve around. As we’re working or going about our day, it’s the thing our mind keeps going back to. It may be fame, prestige, wealth and honor, sex, drugs, leisure and entertainment, hedonistic endeavors, or even an unhealthy fixation on our family.

Whatever it is that we’re really into, whatever motivates us, then obviously that’s where our heart is.

We see that all the time. Think of a child who is told to do something he doesn’t want to do. What happens? His shoulders slump, he goes about it carelessly and clumsily, and his apathy sometimes drives his parents mad. Why? Because his heart isn’t into it.

But the inverse is true. You allow him to do something that he loves to do, and you’ll see him come alive. Why? Because his heart is in it.

We humans generally don’t suffer from a total lack of desire. The problem is that our desires are misoriented. It’s not that we have no heart, it’s that our hearts are oriented toward things in this world.

There may be some people who would say, “I really don’t feel like my heart is into anything at all. I’m going through life and feeling nothing.” For those, I think what has happened is a complete scattering of the heart.

Chasing after worldly things doesn’t bring lasting satisfaction. We put bandaids over the emptiness we feel by chasing after other things – or more of the same thing that took us down to rock bottom.

The result is a heart that is deadened. It’s been torn in so many directions it almost doesn’t feel any more. It has sunk to the bottom of the abyss where it finds chaos. Everything is disordered, and God only knows which way is up or down by now. In some sense, this could be what Christ is referencing when he says that moth and rust corrupt the worldly treasures.

That is, eventually, the things that we’re pursuing lose their luster. That’s what rust does after all. It makes shiny things dull. These things stop being attractive to us; their value is greatly diminished.

Also, they no longer shine light (i.e., meaning and purpose) into our lives. Think of gold and silver, two of the historically most precious metals that people have zealously pursued. Neither one, if pure, will tarnish or rust. Gold is the image of the sun in its color and value; silver is the image of the moon. Both of these are images of the great heavenly lights that have filled this world and guided people along. This metaphorically shows us we must look upward.

The problem is, we’ve settled for fool’s gold and cheap metals that shine for a little while. But they eventually tarnish and rust; they lose their fun and joy.

I used to live in a neighborhood that had a series of robberies. The thieves were obviously on drugs because they would steal whatever was shiny and leave valuable things untouched.

And that happens to us. Not only do we sometimes act like foolish drug addicts who prize what is worthless in this life. But there are other thieves, and these our Lord mentions. He says they break in and steal away our earthly treasure.

I think these thieves come from two sources: the first is circumstances in life that rob us of any joy in our earthly pursuits. Other times, they are the pride and egoism that steal our reward for good works. For example, we may feed the poor or sacrifice something in some way to be noticed – or at least with a hope that others will notice us. Our pride is the thief that swoops in and steals away our heavenly treasure because we hoped to receive recognition (reward) from others in this life. Our heart was in this world, so the treasure was stolen.

Moving Upward

Therefore, God tells us to place our hearts and our desires in heaven and heavenly things. In this way, our heart’s desires are unified in the “one thing needful,” which is Christ Himself. We are no longer scattered by chasing after worldly things that do not satisfy.

It’s not that we stop caring about anything except heaven. It’s that our desires are oriented into a proper hierarchy, with Christ at the top and everything else taking its proper place. That’s why our Lord said a moment later,  “Seek first the kingdom of heaven.” When that happens, we feel at peace because everything is in its proper place inwardly.

How do we begin? Put God first. When you wake up in the morning, what is your first thought? Capture it and surrender it to God. Give Him thanks for a night’s rest and ask for His help that day.

What is the first thing you do? Do you pray or do you scroll through messages, notifications, news sites, or social media? Put God first, seek first the heavenly kingdom.

What do you do when you’re hungry? Begin eating like an animal or thank God for the food and provision He has graciously offered you?

What kind of person do you want to become? Someone who is praised by others or praised by God? Do we long for the applause of men or to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?

What do we do with our money? Do we horde it or do we share it? Do we trust God will provide or do we imagine we’re our own providers?

How do we wrap up our day? Do we collapse in bed not thinking of God? Do we doomscroll on our devices? Or do we pray and repent of the ways that we have fallen short, the ways that we have put our hearts in treasures below?

Whatever it is that we treasure, that is where our heart will be. And wherever those two things are, that is what we get for eternity.

So, let’s pursue the kingdom of heaven: we can pray a little more, read a little more (spiritual books), fast a little more, take up our cross and suffer a little more, and think nothing special about ourselves in doing so.

After all, our goal is to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” What servant thinks he’s something special simply because he does what he’s supposed to?

But here we are, not even good servants. Yet God has promised sonship, adoption, and divinity to those who obey. May all glory, honor, and worship be to Him who gives far above what we could even think to ask for. Amen.


Photo from Valaam Monastery

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