IN THE SECOND BOOK of The Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil emerge from Hell at the foot of Mount Purgatory. There they find seven cornices on which penitent sinners are graciously cleansed from the seven sinful tendencies that hinder them from full harmony with God. On the first cornice those guilty of pride circle the mountain, crawling low to the ground, bearing heavy burdens on their backs, and praying the Lord’s Prayer.
While I do not believe purgatory to be an actual place, I do agree with Dante’s creative mind that the Lord’s Prayer teaches us humility. When we cry out to God that his name be holy, that his kingdom come, that his will be done, we declare that we desire him be supreme in our lives and in this world and that we are dependent on him to bring all this about. Then when we pray even for ourselves and our needs—give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins, and lead us away from temptation and the tempter, we likewise in humility ask God to be our protector and provider.
This theme of God as our provider summarizes well 6:19-34. For here Jesus argues that if you treasure God more than anyone or anything else, especially money (vv. 19-24), then you will trust that “your heavenly Father” (vv. 26, 32) will provide for you (vv. 25—34). Put succinctly, this is a text about treasure and trust.
Jesus teaches this lesson about treasure and trust by giving us two central commands, followed by two corrective commands.
The first central command is found in verse 19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” and then its corrective in verse 20, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Let’s start by asking: what does Jesus mean by “treasures on earth”? I think he means things money can buy. Like what? Here it is not those “things” that might naturally come to mind—the big house, the nice car, or the expensive jewels. Interestingly, the only “things” Jesus mentions in our text (in v. 25ff.) are food, drink, and clothing. So treasures on earth can actually be things we need. The issue here is bigger than whether or not you live luxuriously. Rather, the question is, do you trust in money more than you trust in God to provide? Or put differently, is money the middle man or the main man?
Jesus asks, how do you see this matter? How is your eye (vv. 22, 23)? Is it “healthy” (v. 22)? That is, do you see God as Master and money as slave? Or is your eye “bad” (v. 23)? That is, is your whole view of who provides for you darkened by “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5)? So then, to “lay up... treasures on earth” is the selfish love and hoarding of material things, which is based upon the “bad” view that money, rather than God, is what ultimately provides.
Treasures in Heaven
To “lay up... treasures in heaven” is just the opposite (v. 20). Instead of viewing money as the source of provision, you see God as the source. Instead of getting things—food, clothing, houses, cars, etc.—because you are worried about not having what you need, you selflessly love others with the things you have. You get in order to give. You beat money into submission. You sit money down and say to it, “Thank you for coming today. Listen, I just wanted to make sure the rules are clear. You shall serve me, not I you!”
Some time ago my then teenage son Sean sat in my office and asked, “Dad, if I had a million dollars, what car would you want me to buy you?” I replied, “I’d rather you buy land for the church.” He smiled and said, “No, come on. What would it be? A Jaguar?” (He said this because he knows I like Jaguars.) I said, “No, son, honestly, if you really think you need to buy me something, get me a new mini-van.” This time he didn’t smile, because sadly he knew I was serious. “Dad,” he said in frustration, “what car?” I gave in. “Okay, son, you can buy me a Bentley. Shaquille O'Neal had a nice one of those made for him. You can get the same model for me.”
Since I sensed that what was behind such questioning was materialism, I said to him, “Hey, Sean, do you know what Bible passage I’m preaching on this week?” He said, “No. What?” I said, ‘“You cannot serve God and money.’” Without missing a beat he replied to my confidently-stated Bible verse, “Yeah, but you can serve God with money.”
Do you know what? He’s right. You cannot serve God and money, but you can serve God with money. That is very much the point of these first six verses. Of course, Jesus did not exactly teach, “Buy your father a Bentley.” But he did teach, “Think about others first when you think about your money. Think about how you can give away what you get.”
What did Jesus say to the rich young ruler, who was so blind to his sin of coveting, so blind to his love and adoration and submission to money? Jesus said, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (19:21). Do you want to be rich toward God (Luke 12:21)? If you do, then be rich toward others. Jesus has given us not the golden goose but the Golden Rule. And heeding it will make you rich. Love others who have greater need than you by giving what you have been given. That is what it means to store up treasures in Heaven.
In this chapter we are talking about treasure and trust. Do you treasure God more than you do money? That’s the question raised in verses 19-24. Now in verses 25-34 we have what I’ll call our Savior’s treasure test. Because of the word “therefore” (or it can be translated, “for this reason”) in verse 25 we should note that our Lord gives a logical exhortation based on what has preceded. He has added this treasure test, which is also a stress test.
Someone might say, “Oh yes, I treasure God.” Jesus says, “Well then, why are you so worried about everything? If you treasure God you will trust him.” In verse 25 Jesus says, “Therefore [in light of the fact that God, not money, should be your treasure] I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Do not be anxious about necessary provisions.
Jesus is not here teaching anything that would contradict what is said elsewhere in God’s Word. So he is not anti-private property. He assumes, like the Ten Commandments do, that people do and will own things. Nor is he anti-labor. He is not saying there is no need to get a job, no need to work, no need to provide for your family (cp. 1 Timothy 5:8). He is not he anti-banking, anti-savings, or anti-investment. Moreover, he is not even anti-enjoyment. He does not contradict Ecclesiastes, for example, which teaches we should enjoy the work of our hands and what it brings (e.g., 2:24, 25).
Of course, beyond all these money matters, Jesus is not discounting common concern for our own welfare or the welfare of others. When my son Simeon ran into the street when he was one year old and starting booking around the corner, you better believe I was concerned for his life. If a car came around that corner, I knew he would be hit. He would die. “Lord,” I cried out, “don’t take my son.”
Jesus is not talking about a Hawaiian hang-loose or Californian chill-out mentality. And he most certainly is not telling you to be a spiritual sloth. He is not telling you to sit back on your sofa with the remote control in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other, and your mouth wide open waiting for God to drop potato chips into it periodically.
But he is saying, “Don’t let the world’s cares [the three ‘do not’s’ in this passage] make you distrust God.” He is saying, “Atheistic anxiety—that is, worry that thinks God cannot see, does not care, and will not give—is ungodly.” It is an affront to the person and providence and provision of God. So cut it out. “Do not be anxious” (v. 25). “Do not be anxious” (v. 31). “Do not be anxious” (v. 34).
Anxiety Is Unproductive
But why does Jesus say this? He gives us three reasonable reasons. The first of these is: anxiety is unproductive.
We see this reason given in question form in verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Now that’s a good question. Many teachings in the health industry advocate remedies and regimens to live an active and long life. However, I have yet to hear anyone advocate anxiety: “What you need every day is to wake up first thing in the morning and stress yourself out. It will really help you get through your day. And it will add years, possibly decades, to your life.”
Smoking is no longer an acceptable behavior in our society. So we tax cigarettes with a “sin tax” and outlaw puffing in our pubs. But what about worry? That’s still far too acceptable a sin. “I’m such a worrier,” people say often, as if it’s an innocent statement. Why are you such a worrier? Don’t you know there is nothing acceptable about it? To Jesus it smells like secondhand smoke. He outlaws it. He bans it in his kingdom. Why worry? You can’t add an hour to your life; in fact, you might take a few away.
Anxiety Is Unnecessary
The second reason to avoid anxiety is that anxiety is unnecessary. Look at verse 26ff. Look at the birds, and look at the lilies.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?... And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field [wildflowers], how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Here Jesus gives what philosophers would call an argument a minore ad maius (from the lesser to the greater). That is, he says, “Look at God’s lesser creatures and creation. Have you ever seen a bird begging for food on the street corner? Have you ever seen a lily pulling its petals out over a bad color job? God provides for them; he will provide for you. Trust him. Have faith in your heavenly Father. Let the lilies preach to you. Let the sparrows sing to you of God’s sovereign sustenance.”
Now you might reply, “That’s easy for you to advocate. You have a job,” or “Your job is not in jeopardy,” or “You haven't taken a pay cut in this terrible economy. And, hey, now that I think about it, your job is kind of cushy. What do you do all day? What do you know of hardship?”
I know quite a bit. Sometime in a later chapter I will give you a fuller testimony of how I came to Christ. For now I will simply share with you that when I was eighteen years old I learned that my girlfriend was pregnant. Now here’s what I did (what I felt I had to do). I quit college, moved home, and started to work full-time. Eventually I would return to school. But from six months before my son’s birth to this present moment, I have always worked a full-time job. I worked a few years for a carpet and tile company. I worked for three years as a janitor. I worked over four years as an overnight security guard. I worked a few more selling used theological books. I worked full-time to support myself, my son, and my schooling. I worked full-time, I went to school full-time, and I trusted in God for provision full-time.
I still trust in God for provision, for my “daily bread.” One of my constant prayers is, “God, please provide for my family.” And you know what? He always does. So I’m not telling you to do something that I have never had to do. I certainly have had and do have to trust God for provision.
Nor is Jesus telling us to do something that he never had to do. Jesus’ “life was anything but birdlike and lilylike.” He was a man with few possessions and “nowhere to lay his head” (8:20). He was someone who knew quite well “the pinch of near-starvation,” who, as he spoke these very words in the Sermon on the Mount, stood with the Mount of Calvary in the distance, looming over him like a deadly storm cloud. Jesus said that each day has troubles of its own (v. 34). He knew and experienced those troubles and much more. Since he could trust his heavenly Father for provision—from his birth in a lowly manger to his death on a cruel cross—we can and should trust him as well.
Anxiety Is Unworthy
Finally, anxiety is unworthy. This is the most important reason Jesus gives. Look at the question our Lord asks at the end of verse 25: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” That’s another good question, and it is one that, I think, most people would answer, “Yeah, sure.”
But most people don’t live that answer, do they? Go over to the local bookstore. Stand before the magazine rack and randomly pick a magazine. Open it. There you will find ad after ad about food, drink, and clothing. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” “Yeah, sure,” we say to ourselves, “but I sure could use those new jeans or that pair of shoes or that expensive meal at that nice restaurant. And (when I’m not eating out) I sure could use that granite countertop for those new dishes, which I sure could use with my freshly polished antique silverware.” On and on and on we go.
Life is more than food and clothing. Do you get that? Do you believe that? Do you live like you believe that? If you don’t it is probably because you don’t know what Jesus meant by the word “more.” Life is “more” than food and clothing. Okay, I agree. But what is the “more”?
Thankfully, in verse 33 Jesus gives us the answer: the “more” is God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Don't seek after what every distrusting and dis-treasuring unbeliever in the world seeks after—money and the things money can buy. Rather, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (v. 33). Do you see the big picture in verses 25-34? Don’t worry about things money can buy, but rather “worry” about God’s kingdom and righteousness!
Jesus is very logical here. Why would you seek after stuff that (think about it) has no lasting value to it? You finally get that dream job so you can finally get that dream car that will someday rust. At my grandfather’s wake I recall talking to my father’s boss. We had a brief but good discussion about traditional Irish wakes. He shared the story of a friend who, at his wake, was propped up in his beloved Corvette. My dad’s boss thought it was a fun way to go. I thought that it might just be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Can you imagine the scene? “Oh, he loved that car,” Aunt Irene said. “Oh, it’s so nice that we could celebrate his life in this way,” added Uncle Seamus. What a joke! What a waste! What a waste of a life! When I die you can bury me in my expensive black suit if that makes you feel nice. You can bury me with a shamlock in my mouth if you think that would appease my Irish family. But please don’t bury me in my sporty 2003 Dodge Caravan.
The other day I was reading an encyclopedia article about pyramids. (If you wonder what I do for fun, there it is.) Did you know that many civilizations, not just the Egyptians, built these elaborate tombs for their kings and queens?There are pyramids in China, France, Greece, India, Italy, Cambodia, and the Americas. The oldest and largest of the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And yes, architecturally, it is indeed a wonder. But theologically it is quite a blunder. One will never find a footnote in these articles saying, “And by the way, these people were utterly foolish, weren’t they?” However, such a footnote would be quite accurate. For what an absolute waste of thought, strength, and time it was to build an elaborate tomb and fill it with priceless treasures that (guess what?) never made it into the afterlife. The only purpose the pyramids serve would be centuries later when they were excavated by overly educated explorers, only to be displayed in some museum where day after day cranky schoolchildren are pulled along by their teachers to help them gain an appreciation for history and civilization. The pyramids are just big illustrations of how right Jesus was and how foolish people can be.
Why die a fool? Why live for the god of money? As Luther asks, “What sort of god is it that is not even capable of defending himself against moths and rust?” Furthermore, what sort of kingdom is so worth living and dying for that it can’t even keep out thieves? Don’t seek after treasures on earth that have no lasting value, that are so corruptible that a little moth can nibble through them, that water mixed with a slice of sunlight and a touch of time can corrode. Rather seek after God. Seek after his kingdom. Seek after his righteousness.
Which means what? It means that you live for “the reign of Christ” throughout the world." It means that you declare with your mouth and demonstrate with your life that you believe in Jesus, that you embrace the eternal King and his everlasting reign, and that you passionately “desire that His name should receive from [all people everywhere] the honour which is due to it.”
Don’t seek after what money can buy. Rather, seek after what neither money nor power can acquire and what no moths, rust, or thieves can ever take away: the gospel that gives everlasting life to those who believe, to those who treasure and trust God.
Who Is Your God?
Who is your God? Is it money or the Lord? Test yourself. Whom do you treasure? Whom do you trust? What do you think about all day? What would upset you most if you lost it? How do you measure other people? What can't you seemingly be happy without? What do you worry about? If you truly treasure God, you will trust him to provide.
(R. Kent Hughes. and Douglas Sean O'Donnell., 2013; edited Carl Hinton., 2020)