Chapter OneBuried Treasure
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose.
A first-century Hebrew walks alone on a hot afternoon,
staff in hand. His shoulders are stooped, sandals covered
with dirt, tunic stained with sweat. But he doesn't stop to
rest. He has pressing business in the city.
He veers off the road into a field, seeking a shortcut.
The owner won't mind-travelers are permitted this courtesy.
The field is uneven. To keep his balance he thrusts his
staff into the dirt.
Thunk. The staff strikes something hard.
He stops, wipes his brow, and pokes again.
Thunk. Something's under there, and it's not a rock.
The weary traveler tells himself that he can't afford to
linger. But his curiosity won't let him go. He jabs at the
ground. Something reflects a sliver of sunlight. He drops to
his knees and starts digging.
Five minutes later, he's uncovered it-a case fringed in
gold. By the looks of it, it's been there for decades. Heart
racing, he pries off the rusty lock and opens the lid.
Gold coins! Jewelry! Precious stones of every color! A
treasure more valuable than anything he's ever imagined.
Hands shaking, the traveler inspects the coins, issued
in Rome over seventy years ago. Some wealthy man must
have buried the case and died suddenly, the secret of the
treasure's location dying with him. There is no homestead
nearby. Surely the current landowner has no clue that the
treasure's here. (By the way, parables have one central purpose.
The point of this one is not to command taking
advantage of a landowner's ignorance, but to respond joyfully
at finding buried treasure.)
The traveler closes the lid, buries the chest, and marks
the spot. He turns around, heading home-only now he's
not plodding. He's skipping like a little boy, smiling broadly.
What a find! Unbelievable! I've got to have that treasure!
But I can't just take it-that would be stealing. Whoever owns
the field owns what's in it. But how can I afford to buy it? I'll
sell my farm . and crops . all my tools . my prize oxen. Yes, if
I sell everything, that should be enough!
From the moment of his discovery, the traveler's life
changes. The treasure captures his imagination, becomes
the stuff of his dreams. It's his reference point, his new
center of gravity. The traveler takes every new step with this
treasure in mind. He experiences a radical paradigm shift.
This story is captured by Jesus in a single verse: "The
kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When
a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and
sold all he had and bought that field" (Matthew 13:44).
Some believe this passage speaks of people finding the
treasure of Christ and His kingdom. Many believe it
speaks of Jesus giving His life to obtain the treasure of the
subjects and kingdom He rules. In either case, it certainly
envisions the joy of finding great and eternal treasure that
far surpasses the costs to obtain it.
As we will see, the biblical basis for the treasure principle
is not this passage, but Matthew 6:19-21. Nevertheless,
Matthew 13:44 serves as a vivid picture
of the joy of surrendering lesser
treasures to find greater ones.
The Money Connection
The parable of hidden treasure is
one of many references and illustrations
Jesus made using money and possessions. In fact,
15 percent of everything Christ said relates to this topic-more
than His teachings on heaven and hell combined.
Why did Jesus put such an emphasis on money and
Because there's a fundamental connection between our
spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money.
We may try to divorce our faith and our finances, but God
sees them as inseparable.
Years ago I came to this realization on an airplane while
reading Luke 3. John the Baptist is preaching to crowds of
people who've gathered to hear him and be baptized. Three
different groups ask him what they should do to bear the
fruit of repentance. John gives three answers:
1. Everyone should share clothes and food with the
poor (v. 11).
2. Tax collectors shouldn't pocket extra money (v. 13).
3. Soldiers should be content with their wages and not
extort money (v. 14).
Each answer relates to money and possessions. But no
one asked John about that! They asked what they should do
to demonstrate the fruit of spiritual transformation. So why
didn't John talk about other things?
Sitting there on that airplane, I realized that our
approach to money and possessions isn't just important-it's
central to our spiritual lives. It's of such high priority to God
that John the Baptist couldn't talk about spirituality without
talking about how to handle money and possessions.
The same thing began to jump out at me in other passages.
Zacchaeus said to Jesus, "Look, Lord! Here and now
I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have
cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times
the amount" (Luke 19:8).
Jesus' response? "Today salvation has come to this
house" (v. 9). Zacchaeus's radical new approach to money
proved that his heart had been transformed.
Then there were the Jerusalem converts who eagerly
sold their possessions to give to the needy (Acts 2:45;
4:32-35). And the Ephesian occultists, who proved their
conversion was authentic when they burned their magic
books, worth what today would be millions of dollars
The poor widow steps off the pages of Scripture by giving
two small coins. Jesus praised her: "She, out of her
poverty, put in everything" (Mark 12:44).
In stark contrast, Jesus spoke of a rich man who spent
all his wealth on himself. He planned to tear down his barns
and build larger ones, storing up for himself so he could
retire early and take life easy.
But God called the man a fool, saying, "This very night
your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get
what you have prepared for yourself?" (Luke 12:20).
The greatest indictment against him-and the proof of
his spiritual condition-is that he was rich toward himself,
but not rich toward God.
When a rich young man pressed Jesus about how to
gain eternal life, Jesus told him, "Sell your possessions and
give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then
come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). The man was obsessed
with earthly treasures. Jesus called him to something
Jesus knew that money and possessions were the
man's god. He realized that the man wouldn't serve God
unless he dethroned his money idol. But the seeker considered
the price too great. Sadly, he walked away from
Smart or Stupid?
This young man wasn't willing to give up everything for a
greater treasure, but our traveler in the field was. Why?
Because the traveler understood what it would gain him.
Do you feel sorry for the traveler? After all, his discovery
cost him everything. But we aren't to pity this man;
we're to envy him! His sacrifice pales in comparison to his
reward. Consider the costs-to-benefits ratio-the benefits
far outweigh the costs.
The traveler made short-term sacrifices to obtain a
long-term reward. "It cost him everything he owned," you
might lament. Yes, but it gained him everything that mattered.
If we miss the phrase "in his joy," we miss everything.
The man wasn't exchanging lesser treasures for
greater treasures out of dutiful drudgery but out of joyful
exhilaration. He would have been a fool not to do exactly
what he did.
Christ's story about treasure in the field is an object lesson
concerning heavenly treasure. Of course, no matter
how great the value of that earthly fortune, it would be
worthless in eternity. In fact, it's exactly this kind of treasure
that people waste their lives pursuing. Jesus is appealing
to what we do value-temporary, earthly treasure-in order
to make an analogy about what we should value-eternal,
David spoke of such treasure: "I rejoice in your promise
like one who finds great spoil" (Psalm 119:162). God's
promises are eternal treasures, and discovering them brings
In Matthew 6, Jesus fully unveils the foundation of what
I call the Treasure Principle. It's one of His most-neglected
"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 moth and rust do not
destroy, and where thieves do not break in and
steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart
will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
Consider what Jesus is saying:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures
on earth." Why not? Because
earthly treasures are bad? No. Because
they won't last.
Scripture says, "Cast but a glance
at riches, and they are gone, for they
will surely sprout wings and fly off to
the sky like an eagle" (Proverbs 23:5).
What a picture. Next time you buy a
prized possession, imagine it sprouting
wings and flying off. Sooner or
later it will disappear.
But when Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on
earth, it's not just because wealth might be lost; it's because
wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live,
or we leave it when we die. No exceptions.
Imagine you're alive at the end of the Civil War. You're
living in the South, but you are a Northerner. You plan to
move home as soon as the war is over. While in the South
you've accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now,
suppose you know for a fact that the North is going to win
the war and the end is imminent. What will you do with
your Confederate money?
If you're smart, there's only one answer. You should
immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S.
currency-the only money that will have value once the
war is over. Keep only enough Confederate currency to
meet your short-term needs.
As a Christian, you have inside knowledge of an eventual
worldwide upheaval caused by Christ's return. This is the
ultimate insider trading tip: Earth's currency will become
worthless when Christ returns-or when you die, whichever
comes first. (And either event could happen at any time.)
Investment experts known as market timers read signs
that the stock market is about to take a downward turn,
then recommend switching funds immediately into more
dependable vehicles such as money markets, treasury bills,
or certificates of deposit.
Jesus functions here as the foremost market timer. He
tells us to once and for all switch investment vehicles. He
instructs us to transfer our funds from earth (which is
volatile and ready to take a permanent dive) to heaven
(which is totally dependable, insured by God Himself, and
is coming soon to forever replace earth's economy). Christ's
financial forecast for earth is bleak-but He's unreservedly
bullish about investing in heaven, where every market indicator
is eternally positive!
There's nothing wrong with Confederate money, as
long as you understand its limits. Realizing its value is
temporary should radically affect
your investment strategy. To accumulate
vast earthly treasures that
you can't possibly hold on to for long
is equivalent to stockpiling Confederate
money even though you know
it's about to become worthless.
According to Jesus, storing up
earthly treasures isn't simply wrong.
It's just plain stupid.
A Treasure Mentality
Jesus doesn't just tell us where not to put our treasures. He
also gives the best investment advice you'll ever hear: "Store
up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20).
If you stopped reading too soon, you would have
thought Christ was against our storing up treasures for ourselves.
No. He's all for it! In fact, He commands it. Jesus has
a treasure mentality. He wants us to store up treasures. He's
just telling us to stop storing them in the wrong place and
start storing them in the right place!
"Store up for yourselves." Doesn't it seem strange that
Jesus commands us to do what's in our own best interests?
Wouldn't that be selfish? No. God expects and commands
us to act out of enlightened self-interest. He wants us to live
to His glory, but what is to His glory is always to our good.
As John Piper puts it, "God is most glorified in us when we
are most satisfied in Him."
Selfishness is when we pursue gain at the expense of
others. But God doesn't have a limited number of treasures
to distribute. When you store up treasures for yourself in
heaven, it doesn't reduce the treasures available to others.
In fact, it is by serving God and others that we store up
heavenly treasures. Everyone gains; no one loses.
Jesus is talking about deferred gratification. The man
who finds the treasure in the field pays a high price now by
giving up all he has-but soon he'll gain a fabulous treasure.
As long as his eyes are on that treasure, he makes his short-term
sacrifices with joy. The joy is present, so the gratification
isn't entirely deferred. Present joy comes from
anticipating future joy.
What is this "treasure in heaven"? It includes power
(Luke 19:15-19), possessions (Matthew 19:21), and
pleasures (Psalm 16:11). Jesus promises that those who
sacrifice on earth will receive "a hundred times as much"
in heaven (Matthew 19:29). That's 10,000 percent-an
Of course, Christ Himself is our ultimate treasure.
All else pales in comparison to Him and the joy of knowing
Him (Philippians 3:7-11). A person, Jesus, is our
first treasure. A place, heaven, is our second treasure.
Possessions, eternal rewards, are our third treasure. (What
person are you living for? What place are you living for?
What possessions are you living for?)
"Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Why?
Because it's right? Not just that, but because it's smart.
Because such treasures will last. Jesus argues from the bottom
line. It's not an emotional appeal; it's a logical one:
Invest in what has lasting value.
You'll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. Why? Because you can't take it with you.
Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendor of his house increases;
for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendor will not descend with him.
John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men who
ever lived. After he died someone asked his accountant,
"How much money did John D. leave?" The reply was classic:
"He left . all of it."
You can't take it with you.
If that point is clear in your mind, you're ready to hear
the secret of the Treasure Principle.
The Treasure Principle
Jesus takes that profound truth "You can't take it with you"
and adds a stunning qualification. By telling us to store up
treasures for ourselves in heaven, He gives us a breathtaking
corollary, which I call the Treasure Principle:
You can't take it with you-
but you can send it on ahead.
It's that simple. And if it doesn't take your breath away,
you're not understanding it! Anything we try to hang on to
here will be lost. But anything we put into God's hands will
be ours for eternity (insured for infinitely more than
$100,000 by the real FDIC, the Father's Deposit Insurance
If we give instead of keep, if we invest in the eternal
instead of in the temporal, we store up treasures in heaven
that will never stop paying dividends. Whatever treasures
we store up on earth will be left behind when we leave.
Whatever treasures we store up in heaven will be waiting
for us when we arrive.
Financial planners tell us, "When it comes to your
money, don't think just three months or three years ahead.
Think thirty years ahead." Christ, the ultimate investment
counselor, takes it further. He says, "Don't ask how your
investment will be paying off in just thirty years. Ask how
it will be paying off in thirty million years."