How can we send treasures to heaven? FedEx? UPS? Seriously, how? Have you just assumed you know how – without examining the contexts of Jesus’ statements? What did He mean?
“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust… ” (Matt. 6:19-21). Moths, rust, and thieves are a threat to material things, not spiritual.
How do we lay up material treasures in heaven? The answer is found in the four other texts that contain this expression. “Sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” “Sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” “Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens.” “Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 12:33; Luke 18:22).
Clearly, we do not “lay up treasures in heaven” by anything we would usually classify as spiritual. Rather, Jesus used this expression to emphasize His view of helping the physical needs of poor people. Based on other verses, we can debate if selling possessions is the only way to do this. But there is no room for debating the fact that Jesus taught that we “lay up treasures in heaven” by using our possessions to materially help poor people.
Taking Care of Jesus
If Jesus were on earth, we would be eager to prepare meals for Him, offer Him a place to sleep, and supply whatever else He might need at the moment – or is He here now?
A detailed reference to the final judgment is found in Matthew 25:31-46. In this text Jesus presents the terms of judgment solely in relation to physical things. We must feed Jesus, give Him a drink, give Him lodging and clothes, and visit Him when he is sick and in prison. Of course, we would do all that if He were here, right? But He explains: “Because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me… because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Have we really taken this message to heart? There is nothing said about faith, or baptism, or prayer, or anything we would usually think of as spiritual. Now, I am not negating “spiritual” things; nor am I suggesting that this text tells us everything there is to know about the final judgment. On the other hand, neither can we use other texts to deny this text. Jesus here speaks of eternal punishment and eternal life. We must seriously consider what we do or don’t do for people’s physical needs is a matter of salvation!
Related Old Testament Texts
The OT is filled with teaching on helping the needy. Here are two examples. A beautiful part of God’s Old Law (which is a backdrop to the account of Ruth) is that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you must not wholly reap into the corners of your field, and you must not gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must leave them for the poor, and for the foreigner” (Lev. 23:22). When Ezekiel mentions the wickedness of Sodom, he doesn’t even specifically name the sin we usually associate with that city. But he does include “fullness of bread, and prosperous ease… She also didn’t strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49).
And in the New
The first time the early church set men aside for a particular work (beside the apostles) it was to better take care of the daily food needs of widows in the church (Acts 6:1-7). Years later, when Peter, John, and James recognized Paul’s God-blessed work to preach to the Gentiles, Paul said, “they only asked us to remember the poor – which very thing I was also zealous to do” (Gal. 2:7-10). Are you zealous to remember the poor?
What is the size of your church’s benevolence fund? Many of the verses we quote about what, when, and how to give – 1 Cor. 16:1-2, and all of 2 Cor. 8 and 9 – are in the setting of giving to poor brethren in a foreign land (Rom. 15:25-26).
Have you ever considered having a personal benevolence (needy) fund? Is it in your budget? Why do you have a job? “Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, producing with his hands something that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need” (Eph. 4:28). While selling something so we can give to the poor seems so extreme that most of us never give it serious thought, here in Ephesians we have something totally reasonable and doable. When the Spirit here says “to give to him who has need,” that surely is using our earnings beyond supporting ourselves and our own family. We work, in part, so we can help those in need.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 is very much like the treasures-in-heaven texts: “Charge those who are rich… that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to share; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.” Let’s be rich in good works. Let’s lay up treasures in heaven!