“"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” - Matthew 6:19-21 NASB
What is the pathway to a life anchored in heaven rather than on earth? I have often prayed "Lord let the spiritual realm be more real to me than the physical," and the Lord has revealed a wonderful pathway for me to walk down in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus communicated an important spiritual law right in the middle of His sermon (Matthew 6:21):
"...Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
He conveyed this as a spiritual law: my heart will be rooted wherever my treasure is placed.
So if I want the spiritual realm to be more real to me in my heart than the physical is, I need to be a man who is, as the previous verse (v20) says, storing up treasure in heaven. Because if my treasure is there, my heart will be there also. Storing up treasure in heaven is how I can grow in having a heart that lives in the spiritual realm, in heaven, even while I'm on the earth.
The alternative is clear as well: as long as I am storing up treasure on earth, my life will be anchored here on earth and the physical realm will continue to be my dominant reality, while the spiritual remains illusory. This is a spiritual law regarding what will be most real to our hearts.
So the natural question comes: if storing up treasure in heaven is the key to the spiritual realm being more real to us than the physical, how do we store up treasure in heaven?
Jesus actually tells us how to do just that in the earlier verses of Matthew 6 (verses 1-18); in fact, He concludes all of His teaching on spiritual treasure with the verses we have been considering, meaning, there's more to His teaching on storing up treasure in heaven than just these verses:
“"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21 NASB
It's easy to read this part of the sermon in isolation, and I admit that I've always taken it as a separate point from the series of "beware of practicing your righteousness before men" statements that immediately precede it, chalking the apparent "subject change" up to Jesus's ability to jump between subjects fluently. But I have seen that these verses are actually the culmination of all those statements about how to practice our righteousness -- the WHY behind them.
Jesus is saying, beware of practicing your righteousness before men, because as long as you do, you're storing up treasure on earth; and if you only store up treasure here on earth, your heart will remain rooted here, however much you wish it would be rooted in heaven. He's not only trying to convince people to not go after money; Jesus is also exhorting them not to store up treasure on earth in the form of the honor of men!
It's important to remember: Jesus was speaking primarily to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-2). So He knew that they desired to practice righteousness. In this context, Jesus has already been speaking about storing up spiritual treasure, not merely material treasure (money, material goods, etc).
And to those whom He knew were already motivated to store up spiritual treasures, His warning is: "don't think that just because you're practicing righteousness you're storing up treasure in heaven. It's entirely possible to practice righteousness and yet only be accumulating treasure on earth."
So how do we ensure that our practice of righteousness is headed to a heavenly account? If we want the spiritual realm to be more real to us than the physical even while we live on the earth, how do we make sure we are storing up spiritual treasure?
Jesus's instruction on storing up treasure in heaven is all about the audience: for whom do we perform our righteous acts?
“"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
(Do your giving in secret); and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
(Pray to your Father in secret), and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
(Do your fasting in secret); and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:1, 4, 6, 18 NASB
It is so important to examine our motivation, especially in performing our righteous deeds. Let us not fall short of our heavenly rewards thinking that practicing righteousness alone is sufficient! No! We need to be single-minded in our desire to be seen not by any man, but by our Father Who is in heaven!
The instructions which immediately precede Jesus's exhortation to "store up treasure in heaven" all concern receiving a reward from our Father, Who sees what is done in secret. So we might reasonably conclude that Jesus is saying, "Don't practice your righteousness before men. Do your righteous deeds in secret, for your Father alone to see, and He will reward you. Store up these treasures, the secret rewards of your Father's approval, which are in heaven, rather than storing up the treasures of the approval of men who notice your righteous deeds. If you're diligent to count and store up the treasures of your Father's approval, you'll find that your heart will be uprooted from this world, and placed in heaven too. I promise, in this way, the spiritual realm will become even more real to you than the physical world you're living in!"
Having seen this, I want to radically seek to cleanse myself of all desire to perform for or even be noticed by men. I want to be consumed with the desire to be pleasing to God, and to be pleasing to Him alone. I want to be more and more deliberate about and mindful of storing up treasure in heaven, and practicing my righteousness before God alone, as an act of faith that in so doing, my heart's desire -- of the spiritual realm being more real to me than the physical, even while I'm on earth -- will be given to me. I want to believe the spiritual law which Jesus revealed, that my heart will be where my treasure is, and submit to the pathway He illuminated in the Sermon on the Mount: that of storing up treasure in heaven by practicing my righteousness before God alone.