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WHAT IS YOUR TREASURE?
Beyond Worldly Ambitions, Attractions, and Affections
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D.
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
We live in a world in which success is measured by the size of one’s wealth or possessions, by one’s accomplishments or fame, and in terms of one’s IQ, grades or GPA, educational degrees, talent, position or power.
Regrettably, Christians are also often tempted to view success in terms of these temporal realities. They forget that whereas fame, education, wealth, beauty, athletic prowess, talent, and power can easily be lost, there are some things that are of enduring value—such things as compassion, love, generosity, kindness, sympathy, humility, etc. These virtues not only measure the greatness of a person, but they also reveal who a person really is. We call these virtues character traits. According to our Lord Jesus Christ, those are the treasures that really count.
This article is an invitation to young people—and adults—to seek and develop characters that would fit them for heaven.
Some Probing Questions
If you were asked to list the five most important things in your life right now? What would they be?
When I posed that question to a group of our Seventh-day Adventist students studying at the University of Michigan, their responses included their faith or religion, education, family, health, relationship, friends, job opportunities, and their reputation.
I’m sure most Christians, especially young people, can identify with the above standard responses. But in an effort to probe a little further into what our public university students really valued in life, I asked them two follow-up questions:
• If you lived in a foreign country where a civil war suddenly erupted, what three possessions would you take with you if you had to leave right away?
• If your home or dormitory were on fire, what items would you rescue before exiting?
To these questions, our students listed such items as their passports, wallets, credit cards, computers, document files, old pictures and letters, cell-phones, and favorite dolls.
I don’t know what you would add to that list. But whatever they are, those items reveal the things you truly value in life. They are the things you hold dear, the things you consider essential to your happiness, survival, and security. They are your treasures, and your treasures determine your priorities. They reveal your true ambitions, your attractions, and your affections.
The decisive question: Are the things you presently treasure what they ought to be? Do your treasures have a lasting value? What would be their value in five or ten years time? Would their value appreciate or depreciate? Would there come a time when you would lose interest in these things you presently hold dear. Do you see yourself ever giving them up or exchanging them for something more valuable—something more enduring?
One way to ascertain what is of enduring value is to answer another question I asked our university of Michigan students: “If the world were coming to an end today, what would be the things that you would mourn or regret losing?”
Unlike their responses to the previous questions, there was a very long pause before the students volunteered answers to this particular question. Even then, the list was very insightful. They answered: “My life,” “my unconverted family members, friends, loved ones, and parents.”
Now it should be clear from the last responses that the most valuable things in life are not their (and your) passport, wallet, credit card, computer, document files, old pictures and letters, cell-phones, or favorite dolls, but rather your eternal salvation and that of others. If this is the case, then regardless of how “successful” you may be in the world, if in the conduct of your life you do not make choices that lead to eternal life, you are gambling away your most important treasure.
Seven Facts on Choosing Your Treasures
Jesus addressed a variety of issues in His Sermon on the Mount. In the first 18 verses of Matthew 6, He addressed the question of hypocrisy in religious worship. He told His disciples that prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms should not be done with the goal of being seen by men. Rather, these religious acts should be done with the goal of pleasing God. Thus, in Matthew 6:4,6 and 18, Jesus repeated the statement, ". . . your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you. " His point was that if we perform our actions for the praise of men, we should expect no reward from God. If, on the other hand, our activities are done to please God, then He will reward us.
However, beginning in verse 19 of Matthew 6 and running through the remainder of the chapter, Jesus shifted the focus of His sermon hypocrisy in religious practices to the values we hold in life. He explained that worldly values are as dangerous as religious hypocrisy. For unless the object of our lives—our treasures—are based on eternal realities, we stand the risk of losing everything. Our Lord makes this point in the following three verses of Matthew 6:19-21:
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Let’s briefly consider seven important things that emerge from the three verses above.
1. Everyone Has Treasures:
This is evident from the fact that Christ directed his message originally to an audience that did not have much of this world’s goods. Many of them were so poor that they barely had clothes to wear and wondered where their next meal might be found. In fact, many of them were so worried about what they would eat, drink, or wear that Jesus had to urge them not to worry (see verses 25, 28, 31, 34).
But despite their grave need, Christ directed His message about “treasures” to these poor people. The implication is that everyone has some treasure – even the poor have it. The reason Christ did not exclude anyone from the matter of treasures is because treasures consist more in the affections of the heart than in what one can hold in his hands. Thus, every human being—regardless of their age, status, gender, ethnicity, educational background, etc.—considers some things as very valuable. So, the question to all of us—including our young people, is: What is your treasure?
2. What Are Treasures?
When we think of “treasures” most of us limit it to what we have in the stock market, in a bank account, or in a secured safe. On this assumption we may think that only the rich and famous have treasures. But treasures may be tangible or intangible. They can be held in the hand or simply stored in the mind.
In the Matthew 6:19-21 passage under consideration, there is a word play on the verb (“lay not up”) and the noun (“treasures”). In the Greek, the verb is thesaurizo and the noun is thesauros, from which we get our English term “thesaurus.” The text literally states, “Do not treasure up treasures for yourselves on the earth.”
A thesaurus is a treasure chest of words and phrases. In the passage, the treasure chest is in your heart---it is that which you hold dear in your heart. A treasure is that upon which you place your affections and attention. It may be your money, possessions, reputation, honor, praise, relationship, degree, or time. Your treasure is that which you value above other things.
For example, Achan valued a Babylonian garment and a little silver and gold above the commands of God, so he took what was banned in the conquering of Jericho. Because Achan treasured “things” more than obedience to the Lord he ended up losing all (Joshua 7). On the other hand, the greatest treasure of Ananias and Saphira was what others thought about them. They wanted to be honored before men more than having the approval of God. Their whole attitude and behavior was geared to his honor and reputation; and in the end they lost all of it—including their lives (Acts 5).
Thus, your treasure is your attitude toward your possessions. It is whatever you most eagerly strive to attain. It is that which you most dread to lose.
The question is: What is your treasure? What do you deem most valuable? Is it your some prized possession, perhaps your physical appearance, an expensive outfit, or an enviable talent or ability? Is it the prestigious college or University you are attending? Is it an impressive grade or GPA, degree or a lucrative position? Or maybe it is a particular circle of friends or desire for attention or longing for recognition for your accomplishments? Is it a boyfriend or girlfriend, or some other kind of relationship?
You can recognize your treasures by that which you think is most important to you, that which you believe you cannot do without, that which brings you the greatest pleasure and satisfaction, and that which you think most about. You might give up other things, but you are not willing to part with your treasure.
3. Jesus Not Opposed to Treasures:
When Jesus said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth...," does it mean that it is wrong for Christians to own or possess things in this world? That is the interpretation embraced by monks in several religious traditions, so that they abandoned ownership of anything for the solitude of their monasteries.
But Jesus is not condemning possessions or ownership or even enjoying what God has provided you in life. Nor is He forbidding Christians to save and store up resources for future needs. The Bible commends this practice by using the example of the ant wisely working to gather food for the future (Proverbs 6:6-11). Neglecting providing for one’s family is tantamount to infidelity according to Paul (I Tim 5:8).
Neither is Jesus suggesting that Christians should not aspire for greatness or excellence. When He said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . .," it does not mean He is opposed to treasures. He is not forbidding owning a house or a car, good clothes, a good GPA, degree, a bank account, or some other assets. The Lord never condemns possessions. The fact that God said, "Thou shalt not steal" in the Decalogue assumes that something can be mine which you can't have. We have a right to possessions. The Bible tells men not to steal or rob, because people have a right to their possessions.
Moreover, the Bible presents examples of rich godly men. Abraham was very wealthy and he was called a friend of God (2 Chr. 20:7). Job would have been a billionaire in our day. He enjoyed the blessings of a good home, wonderful children, a successful career, and good health. He owned a large farm with 500 oxen plowing his fields and 500 donkeys hauling his produce off to market. Today, we may say he had 500 tractors and 500 trucks or ships. He developed a large transportation company with a total of 3,000 camels (or buses). He also had many employees. It appears that Job also served as a local judge or counselor. He was, indeed, a person who had “a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:1-3).
Treasures are not necessarily evil in themselves. What Jesus was warning against is the improper value that we place on the treasures. It is that which so ties us to the world that we risk losing eternal life. It is our our affection to these things that give treasures wrong values.
4. The Treasures NOT to Treasure:
Jesus warned against a preoccupation with anything that can be destroyed. We must not treasure anything that would not last. This is brought to light by Christ’s reference to moths, rust, and thieves. You see, in Bible times, wealth was stored and measured by how much literal commodities a person owned: garments, grain, and gold or precious metal—all of which good be lost.
You may recall how Elisha's servant, Gehazi, wanted to make a profit when Naaman was cured of leprosy. So he asked Naaman for a talent of silver and two changes of garments, because that was substantial wealth (2 Kings 5:22). Wealth was expressed in fancy, rich, extravagant garments, such as fine woolen garments. So when Jesus spoke of the moth, everyone listening to Him knew that moths love to eat garments, such as fine woolen clothing. We have moth balls to prevent that today.
Another way ancient people stored and measured their wealth was in grain. The rich fool said, ". . . I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my crops and my goods" (Luke 12:18b). His wealth was in grain. The word "rust" in verses 19 and 20 is from the Greek word brosis, which literally means "an eating." The use of the word here suggests how rats, mice, worms, and insects could eat away at these storehouses of grain. If the wealth consisted of jewelry, then the eating away could refer to “rust” (the product of a chemical reaction in which oxygen combines with water vapor to form the oxide of the metal).
The third commodity they put their treasure into was gold or precious metal. But how do you hide it? You might keep it in your house, but a thief could break in and steal it. The most common thing that was done was to find a secret place in their field, in the dark of night dig a hole and bury it. Matthew l3:44 gives the parable of the man who found the treasure stored in a field. But thieves would lurk around at night and watch where men would bury their treasure and then go and dig it up. The phrase "where thieves break in" could be literally translated "where thieves dig in." The houses of biblical times were constructed of dirt, so thieves would often dig through the walls and steal the treasures.
So Jesus was saying that, if we set your heart on garments, grains, and gold, we would lose them all. Our garments could be eaten by moths, our grain could be eaten by animals or insects, and our gold and precious metals could be taken by thieves or destroyed by rust. Moth and rust represent loss from within; they reduce the value of our treasures. Thieves represent loss from without; they steal our valuables—not just our money, but our hearts and affections (resulting in broken hearts).
The point is this: Despite our moth balls, our rat poison, and our burglar alarms, none of our wealth is very safe. The recent corporate scandals in the United States are all too familiar. You can lose your life savings overnight. Even if you kept it all until you died, you would still leave it behind. For, when rich people die, they do not just leave behind a lot of money----they leave it all behind.
The point Jesus is making in this verse is that wealth in the human realm is transitory. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you cannot guarantee that you will not lose your possessions. You can lose your wealth, talents and health overnight. The significant person in your life today (your idol) can dump you tomorrow. You can suddenly lose your parents, children, and loved ones in one automobile accident.
You must recognize earthly treasures in that light. They are transitory and passing. Many people who have had great wealth have been reduced to poverty in relatively short periods of time.
Have you thought about this lately? Maybe, among your friends, you have the best CD collection or the latest electronic gadgets. Maybe it is your athletic or musical abilities that have taken over your heart’s most valuable list. Or perhaps it is your looks or your hair or your physique, or your voice talents, or your personality that you treasure more than anything else. If moth or rust can destroy it, if thieves can steal it, if the passing of years can diminish it, if a change of circumstances can wreck it then it is a treasure that we are storing upon the earth—and Jesus assures us that it will not last.
We tend to find our security in the wrong places. But Jesus urges us to learn to treasure up lasting treasures.
5. The Treasures to Treasure:
The kind of treasure to treasure is determined by its ultimate destiny. Notice that Jesus explains only two destinies for our treasures: “on earth” and “in heaven.”
The first one, “treasures on earth,” is centered on the earthly or that which finds its value only in relationship to the world. It points to the transitory, the things that will pass away. The work of moths and rust give evidence of the degeneration affecting all creation that began in the fall of man. Thieves display the propensity of the human heart for greedy and selfish purposes—all evidence of sin. Since the earth is affected by sin and the effects of the fall, storing your treasures on earth leads to eternal loss.
On the other hand,“treasures in heaven” cannot be affected by any act of sin or consequence of the fall. They point to those things that have a lasting value, that transcend the grave and remain forever. “The treasure laid up in heaven is imperishable. No fire or flood can destroy it, no thief despoil it, no moth or rust corrupt it; for it is in the keeping of God. (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 89).
The apostle Paul gives a clear explanation of the right kind of treasures in I Timothy 6:17-19: “Charge the rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, He offering to us richly all things to enjoy, that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to share, to be generous, laying up in store [apo-thesaurizo] for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
The way to “lay up treasures in heaven” is to develop Christlike character (since all we can take with us to heaven is ourselves). “Character is the great harvest of life. And every word or deed that through the grace of Christ shall kindle in one soul an impulse that reaches heavenward, every effort that tends to the formation of a Christlike character, is laying up treasure in heaven” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, 89.). Character development is enhanced by actively spending time in personal devotions—prayer and Bible study—so that we can increase in faith, hope and charity, all of which Paul said “abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Finally, “we lay up treasures in heaven” when we actively work towards the salvation of others, so that they too may inherit eternal life. Ellen G. White underscores the importance of reaching out to others in soul-winning, evangelism, and Christian service when she wrote: “Strength to resist evil is best gained by aggressive service”(Acts of Apostles, 105).
The interesting thing is that the way to avoid treasuring up treasures upon the earth is to treasure up treasures in heaven by developing a Christlike character, maintaining a personal relationship with Christ through personal devotions, and witnessing. “And at the final day, when the wealth of earth shall perish, he who has laid up treasure in heaven will behold that which his life has gained. If we have given heed to the words of Christ, then, as we gather around the great white throne, we shall see souls who have been saved through our agency, and shall know that one has saved others, and these still others--a large company brought into the haven of rest as the result of our labors, there to lay their crowns at Jesus' feet, and praise Him through the ceaseless ages of eternity. With what joy will the worker for Christ behold these redeemed ones, who share the glory of the Redeemer! How precious will heaven be to those who have been faithful in the work of saving souls!” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 89-90)
6. The Heart Follows the Treasure:
The most powerful reason that Jesus declares for storing up treasures in heaven is found in verse 21 of Matthew 6. He indicates that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The word “heart” is used for the whole inner man, the core of our total being, the wellspring of all we do.
So when Jesus speaks of “where your treasure is” He means that the whole of our being is wrapped up in our treasures. Our hearts will be upon what we treasure most. In other words, where we invest our treasure will determine where we set our affections. It is not so much that our treasure follows our hearts as it is that our hearts follow our treasure.
In the ongoing war against terrorism, it is often said that the best way to get to the heart of the terrorist networks and organizations is to follow the money trail. In a similar way, to know where a person’s heart is we must simply follow their treasure trail. Treasures act like a mirror to reveal the heart. We will see the truth about ourselves in the things we treasure. In the words of one Bible commentator:
“The heart follows the treasure, as. . . the sunflower the sun. Where the treasure is there the value and esteem are, there the love and affection are (Col 3:2), that way the desires and pursuits go, thitherward the aims and intents are levelled, and all is done with that in view. Where the treasure is, there our cares and fears are, lest we come short of it; about that we are most solicitous; there our hope and trust are (Pro 18:10, Pro 18:11); there our joys and delights will be (Psa 119:111); and there our thoughts will be, there the inward thought will be, the first thought, the free thought, the fixed thought, the frequent, the familiar thought. The heart is God's due (Pro 23:26), and that he may have it, our treasure must be laid up with him, and then our souls will be lifted up to him.” (Matthew Henry).
In other words, what we invest in we are committed to. The things we treasure actually govern our lives. What we value occupies our minds and grips our emotions. It is the theme and content of our conversation. It consumes our time with planning, day-dreaming, and energy to achieve. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
7. Choose Your Treasures Wisely:
When Jesus twice urges us to “lay up for yourselves treasures,” the reflexive pronoun (“yourselves”) implies a choice at the personal level. No one can make that choice for another; each one of us has to make it ourselves and be held accountable for it. There is no room for such excuses as: “I had no choice,” “I was forced against my will,” “I was born that way,” “the devil made me do it,” “my environment or genes made me do it,” and so on. For the Bible clearly teaches that we were all created as free moral agents and endowed with the power of choice (cf. Josh 24:15; John 14:15; Rev 22:17).
The decisive question is: What treasures are we choosing? Are we making efforts towards developing Christlike character?
Excerpts from a Graduation Speech
To illustrate the importance of character development as our highest priority, I would share with you some excerpts from a pointed commencement address I gave to a group of students who were graduating from a Seventh-day Adventist institution this summer (2003):
“I come before you today with an encouraging news and a shocking news. The good news is that you’ve worked very hard. And in the language of one of your representatives, ‘it’s now over.’ You’ve made it. . . . CONGRATULATIONS
“But I also have some bad news for you. The shocking news is that, like a majority of smartly dressed, gorgeously gowned, and eloquent students graduating from American institutions today, this graduating class of 2003 cannot pass very simple quizzes. Let me explain:
“You are a very talented group. Many of us were impressed as we listened to your prepared speeches during the ‘Tributes to Parents’ yesterday. We were impressed by the splendid program you put up during the ‘Class Night.’
“There are talented musicians within your ranks. Great leaders and organizers. Eloquent speakers. And famous artists. You are definitely an aspiring group of graduates. Many of you want to be successful in life. You want to be rich and famous. You want to be great sportsmen and women. You want to hold positions of leadership and authority. You want to be the best in your fields. In short, you want to receive awards and accolades.
“And yet, the bad news is that many of you cannot remember the most basic facts within your fields of interest. To prove my point, let me give you a short quiz that was forward to me via e-mail some time ago. I have slightly modified it for this occasion. The quiz is designed to test your knowledge in things that often occupy your attention. In order not to embarrass you, I would not ask you to answer aloud; keep your answers to yourselves. Here are the questions:
• Name the ten wealthiest people in the world today
• Name the last ten Heisman trophy winners.
• Name the last ten winners of the Miss America contest.
• Name eight people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
• How about the last ten Academy Award winners for best picture.
• Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.
• Give the names of the President and Secretary of the General Conference of SDAs.
“How did you do on this quiz? The point is, very few of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best and most prominent in their respective fields—business, sports, entertainment, academics, leadership. And yet, even the talented class of 2003 cannot remember most of them.
“You see, applauses die. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. And accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
“With that in mind, here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:
• Think of three people you enjoy spending time with.
• Name four people who have taught you something worthwhile.
• Name five friends who have helped you in a difficult time.
• List a few teachers who have aided your journey through school.
• Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.
“Easier? I’m sure many of you were able to name these individuals without much difficulty. What’s the lesson? It’s this: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the credentials, but the ones that care. They are not necessarily the most famous people, but those who cherish certain basic values.
“You see, fame, education, wealth, beauty, talent, and positions or power, are easily forgotten. But there are some things that can never be forgotten. Such things as love, generosity, kindness, sympathy, etc. are of enduring value. They tell who you really are. We call them character traits. They include such values as compassion, honesty, meekness, gentleness, cleanliness, thoroughness, diligence, thriftiness, thoughtfulness, humility, forgiving spirit, etc.
“Character traits are cannot be obtained by wealth or high IQ. They do not come about by face-lift, plastic surgery, or dressing up in the latest clothing. They are not the results of chance or accident. Neither do they come about through high GPA, impressive academic degrees, bank account, athletic abilities, positions of power, or any other things that the world uses to measure success. Rather, character traits are gifts from God, given only to those who totally surrender their lives to His molding, and who diligently seek to do His will.
“The things we hold dear—our treasures—determine the amount of time, energy, and resources we devote to them. If we value our looks, education, grades, jobs, position, or relationships, those things become number one in our life. But if we value eternal life, then we shall spend a considerable amount of time with our Lord, lovingly serving Him as we develop His matchless character.”
A Final Appeal to Young People
Character development is the way we treasure treasures in heaven. This article was an invitation to develop characters fit for heaven. It calls upon us to reconsider our priorities in life. It urges to give up that which is valuable to us (our earthly treasures) for what is most valuable in life “the treasures of heaven.” Jesus said it best: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). This is what Ellen White attempts to capture in the following statement from Messages to the Young People:
“Dear youth, what is the aim and purpose of your life? Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean [mediocre] attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard.
The decisive question: What is your treasure? What is number one in your life and how are you seeking it? May the Lord help you, dear young people, to choose your treasures wisely. For “those who in everything make God first and last and best, are the happiest people in the world. Smiles and sunshine are not banished from their countenance. Religion does not make the receiver coarse and rough, untidy, and uncourteous; on the contrary, it elevates and ennobles him, refines his taste, sanctifies his judgment, and fits him for the society of heavenly angels and for the home that Jesus has gone to prepare” (ibid., 38).