Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth... but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... (Matthew 6:19-20)
The place this passage of Scripture has occupied in the Sermon on the Mount has been quite mysterious to me. I never understood why it popped up where it did, immediately following the three acts righteousness Jesus talks about: "...when you give to the poor... when you pray... when you fast." It has always seemed to me to just be another one of those famous rabbit trails that preachers are ever so famous for taking- speaking about something that has no logical flow from what was previously just said.
Then today as I was preparing to speak on Matthew 6 at the Bible study I teach, I believe the Lord gave me an insight as to why this saying is where it is. Far from being a rabbit trail, this passage is central to understanding why it is the righteous man gives to the poor, prays, and fasts.
In essence the righteous man who does these three things does so because he does them in light of eternity. How otherwise could he do such acts of devotion?
If this world is it, and you only have one life to live for, and there is nothing else to follow, then one needs to cling tightly to their possessions. To give to those less fortunate, to give to those who are unable to pay you back, to sow without hope of reaping- this would be foolishness if this life was the only thing we were living for.
If you only have another 20, 30, 40, or 50 years to look forward to, why occupy your time with such a vain activity as praying? Time is short. Carpe Diem! (Seize the Day!) If you give even but a few minutes a day to prayer (let alone a few hours), if you were to add such time up over such years, think of the days if not years you've occupied your life with such an exercise. And for what? To die at the end? Don't you know you could've been busy using that time to earn more money for yourself?
If you need to eat in order to survive, why would one ever consider denying themselves a meal? Why in a world of uncertainty, where for many there is no surety that there will be a next meal, would you deny yourself such a necessity? Even for us who live in a more "secure" world, where there is little doubt as to being able to eat a next meal, why would one suffer the aggravation of an empty stomach? Why embrace such a suffering when pleasure could be maximized instead?
As stated before, only men who are eternity conscious can truly embrace such activity. And because they are living their lives in light of eternity, they will look for every chance they can to do such acts of righteousness. And to do such acts of righteousness for them will be no loss. For what are the discomforts and sufferings of one's natural life-span compared to the ten billion plus years we will spend in eternity?
Thus, the man who is eternity conscious has no problem extending himself in his giving to the poor. Not only this, but he looks for every chance he can to give to the poor (and no, I'm not talking about dropping a dollar in the offering plate!) He doesn't mind the slight squeeze on his pocket book, because what is that compared to the riches to follow? Likewise, the man who is eternity conscious has no problem with having extended periods of time spent in prayer, and even looking forward to prayer. For what are a few hours of sleep compared to the eternal rest to follow? And the man who fasts likewise doesn't mind an empty groaning stomach, for what is that compared to eating freely forever from the tree of life?
Ultimately the man who is living in light of eternity can testify with the apostle Paul that the momentary light afflictions that one suffers in the here and now are nothing to be compared to the eternal weight of glory that is to follow. Such men can testify with the apostle Paul that they don't count their lives as dear unto themselves, and show it by their willingness to partake in the sufferings of Christ in order to extend the kingdom of God in whatever way necessary. Thus, the Jim Elliot's of this world (or rather, of another world) rushed off into the jungle's of Ecuador to convert naked murderous savages. For the worst thing that could happen to such a man is that he would lose his life and wakeup in heaven. This might sound insane to those of us who are more earth bound, but to such men of a heavenly mindset, the way they spent their lives for the sake of the gospel was simply the logical outworking of them laying their treasure up in heaven.
A few verses later Jesus warns us though there is a competition in our heart regarding the matter. Heaven and earth both are longing for our affections. But Jesus sternly reminds us that we will either be devoted to God or we will be devoted to mammon. There is no room to sit on the fence here, it's an either-or issue.
The heck of it is though many people think they are living in light of eternity when they actually are not. Such were the Pharisees, who gave to the poor, prayed, and fasted. But in the same context the Lord reminds us to be careful, less we become deceived like them, and think the darkness that is within us is actually light (Matt 6:23)! For truly such men have their reward. But, in light of eternity, what good is that?