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What are earthly treasures (Matthew 6:19)?

earthly treasures

The phrase earthly treasures originates from Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (ESV). That command is linked to the one in the next verse, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Jesus contrasts earthly treasures with their heavenly counterpart, clearly stating that the latter is more important. Heavenly treasures are eternal, while earthly treasures are temporary and can be destroyed.

The term earthly treasures refers to material wealth and possessions. Treasures encompass anything of significant value, and in the context of Matthew 6:19, it includes riches and assets on earth. Houses, cars, and even clothes fall under earthly treasures. In ancient times, the wealthy prized items like clothing, gold, silver, raiment, etc. Modern definitions of wealth may vary slightly from the ancient priorities, but there is an overlap.

Jesus’ teaching on earthly treasures is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This series of teachings continues to captivate both Christians and non-Christians today, just as it did the initial listeners (Matthew 7:28–29). At the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus demonstrates how to properly carry out righteous practices like giving, fasting and prayer. He then turns His attention to the subject of money.

The warning against storing earthly treasures seems clear enough, but it raises numerous questions. Is it wrong to save and invest? Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t build wealth? What about financial instruments like a 401(k) or IRA?

Other parts of Scripture suggest the wisdom of proper financial management and savings (Proverbs 13:11, 22; Genesis 41:25–36; Matthew 25:14–30). Prudence and responsible planning are good Christian values. We should exercise caution when using Matthew 6:19 to endorse poverty theology or even Christian minimalism.

Jesus is concerned about our priorities and warns against hoarding—that is, amassing earthly treasures for the sake of it. Many people hoard wealth out of fear of losing it, for social status, or to gain approval. The question is not whether we should manage our money wisely but, rather, why do we save? We should also note the fleeting nature of money and possessions. As the modern saying goes, “You can't take it with you.”

Instead of hoarding money and endlessly acquiring earthly possessions, our focus should be on what God considers most important. After all, our heart is where our treasure lies (Matthew 6:21). Righteousness, wisdom, justice, peace, love, and good deeds have more eternal value than appearing on the Forbes list. We store up heavenly treasures by channeling our resources toward godly concerns. For example, affluent Christians can invest in missionary trips or charity work instead of purchasing unnecessary cars or boats or summer homes.

The principle in Matthew 6:19 can also apply to how much time and energy we allocate to spiritual matters vis-à-vis making money. Being a workaholic is not a Christian trait and can hinder spiritual growth. We should allocate proper time to activities such as Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship of the brethren.

Several biblical passages support Jesus’ teachings on earthly treasures. In his instruction to Timothy, Paul writes,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17–19).

The writer of Hebrews also exhorts us to live a life free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). Paul refers to this love as “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), while Solomon regards it as vanity (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

To Jesus, our perspective on earthly treasures matters. He told parables about the rich fool (Luke 12:16–21), the talents (Matthew 25:14–30), and the unjust steward (Luke 16:1–13), all of which deal with the fleeting nature of money, the dangers of materialism, and the importance of responsible stewardship. We are to serve God, not money (Matthew 6:24).

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What are earthly treasures (Matthew 6:19)?
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This page last updated: July 3, 2023