The treasure we seek

You have heard it said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  What some might consider to be indispensable and invaluable necessities in life might be of no interest to others.  We do not all treasure the same things equally, and that really comes down to who and what influences us.  Whether we are informed by family or cultural traditions, our social settings, our educational institutions or our spiritual inclinations, many factors converge to give us our ideas of what really matters.  For the lover of Christ, we only need survey the scriptures to know what our Lord has determined is true treasure.  Let us review the word and make sure that we have placed the proper value on the ideals of God, that we have not allowed other influences to dictate what we consider to be truly valuable.

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I remember as a child watching my first documentary or news report covering the archaeological exploration of an Egyptian pyramid.  It was fascinating to watch them take us into the tomb even if I was only watching from my living room.  What struck me most was the amount of gold and treasure hidden there.  I cannot say that I paid very close attention to the historical commentary in the video because I was focused less on the history and more on the shiny gold.  I did, however, catch something that made my young mind ask some obvious questions.  When we were informed that the treasures in that tomb were placed there so that the decedent could utilize them in the afterlife, I felt the need to point out that those treasures were still there in the tomb.  That great king or queen might have passed on, but we still had the gold here.  I could not understand this tradition that seemed to be so logically flawed, and I wondered what that great ruler would be thinking when he or she eventually learned that the “afterlife” works much differently.

When we think about placing value on treasure that is finite and temporary, the only word I can think to describe that is waste.  Having a flawed perception of what really is a treasure in this world will cause us to expend our time, energy and other resources in an attempt to build a fortune of some kind that will not last.  When death comes, and we pass on from this life, we are left without the treasure we thought we had amassed.  That is what happens when we think that precious metals, jewels, money and accolades are worth the most.  The Lord wants us to focus on building a fortune that cannot be destroyed or taken away from us.  Those things which make up our treasure must be the things which will stand the test of time.  It is not about the value we hold in our hands or our pockets.  It is about the value that we are able to store in our hearts and in the heavens.  The things which eventually will meet their destruction really hold no value.  Treasure, real treasure, is not something that has worth only now.  Real treasure has worth forever.

Proverbs 2:1-5

My son, if you receive my words and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

I realize many things about my father as I have become a grown man, things that I never grasped as a kid.  I always saw him as a drill sergeant barking orders, who laid down the law just to assert his authority because he could.  The rules in our house often did not make much sense to me, but that could be partly because I was required to follow them.  It seemed to me that I was being restricted and corralled just for the sake of limiting or stifling me in life.  I never understood that perhaps I was being taught the value of obedience and respect.  I never understood that perhaps the rules my father and mother instituted were for my protection and well-being.  I never understood that they had a duty to watch over that household, and part of that duty was making sure that I was raised to be a gentleman.  I did not see the value in my father’s words or rules or wisdom, and that made me want to rail against them.

We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need to live life well according to his perfect design.  He wants us to hang on every word of his and to hold those words dear.  He wants us to understand that our very lives depend on every word that pours forth from his mouth.  To treasure the commands of God is to recognize that his rules are there for our good, to protect and preserve the children He loves.  God wants us to have the wisdom to understand why our obedience to him is truly invaluable.  To fight against him, to disobey his commands and try to make our own way, is to throw away a priceless treasure.  We cannot understand the fear of the Lord or find the knowledge of God until we take this step.  It is not enough to accept most of his word or follow most of his commands or agree with most of his precepts.  God wants us to collect every single one of those jewels He throws out for us, and He wants us to have the attitude of those who are too wise to let any of this living treasure escape our grasp.

Luke 6:43-45

For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

I know two men who are rather wealthy, but that is where their similarities end.  Both men have done very well professionally and can be said to have reached the heights of their respective industries.  Both men have many who look up to them and strive to reach those same positions.  We might even say that they are living the dream.  However, there is one glaring difference between these two men.  One is a man of God who is warm, loving, helpful and generous.  By the world’s standards, he would have every right to think he is better than most, but he does not.  He carries himself with humility, and he understands how extremely blessed he is to have all that God has allowed him to have.  The other man is rather arrogant and seems to hold his identity in his station and his prosperity.  He is one who has no desire to speak with those who are beneath him, and his behavior seems to indicate that he thinks he has it all.  Both men have immense treasure here, but I think only one of them would be truly heartbroken if he lost it because that is the only treasure he has.

The only difference between these two men lies in their hearts.  One of them wants to make Jesus happy, so he concentrates on the spiritual treasures that will last.  He might have impressive worldly treasures, but those are not his focus.  He has something that matters much more than that.  This treasure is what makes him humble and generous.  One would never think from a casual conversation that he holds the position he holds because he is the same to everyone he meets.  My heart grieves for the other man because I know that he struggles in many ways that he does not disclose to most people.  I am saddened to think that the most joy he might ever experience is only the shadow of joy he will have in this short life.  The truth is that he speaks and behaves in the only way he can right now, which is by producing bad fruit from a very sick heart.  He could try to be a better person or a nicer guy, but his efforts would be in vain without a true change of heart.  Without having a treasure of grace and love from which to draw, he will not be able to walk as a gracious and loving man.

2 Cor. 4:5-7

For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

What struck me most about those Egyptian treasures was their brilliance.  Once those artifacts were on earth and prepared for display, they were shiny as new.  The light bounced off of them from every direction, and I knew that gold was real.  I knew those jewels were real.  My perspective was only through the lens of a camera, but I would guess that seeing those artifacts in person would really solidify that they are made of genuine precious metals and jewels.  The thing is, they were not out for everyone to see when they were hidden in that pyramid.  Just as I thought, they were being wasted all those years.  It took the archaeologists going inside the structure and navigating a labyrinth of passages to find those valuable artifacts.  They had value while they were stored inside that tomb, but their value was not recognized because their existence was unknown.  It was not until those artifacts left that place and we knew they were there that their value could impact us.  It took their exposure, their being brought to light, for them to be recognized as the treasures they are.

We have a great treasure inside us, which is the light of God.  We have come to receive this light through Jesus Christ, and it is a very valuable prize.  The issue is that we cannot allow that light to simply reside within us and never be exposed.  The real value in that light is not in our holding on to it and keeping it for ourselves.  The real value in that light is in showing it to the world for them to see.  We have a great treasure within us that we are not meant to keep hidden there.  The point of this priceless artifact is for us to put it on display to draw attention to our Father and bring him glory.  That is the only way that we can take advantage of the value of his light.  If we hoard it, then we keep it from producing the spiritual fruit it was designed to produce according to God’s will.  If God in his perfect greatness did not keep his light to himself but elected to share it with us, then we certainly are not so great that we cannot share that light with others.  That is the reason it was given to us in the first place.

Hebrews 11:24-26

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

We are taught that suffering with Christ is a joy and a treasure.  That idea can be difficult to grasp when we read or hear about how so many Christians have suffered tremendous torture even to death because of their faith.  I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace without hesitation regarding their faith.  They gladly were willing to endure such trial for the sake of being faithful to their Lord and presenting a worthy testimony to all who witnessed that event.  They had the heart of Moses, the heart that was carried by John the Baptist, Peter and Stephen.  They knew that buckling to the temptations of this world would mean holding on to worthless counterfeits in exchange for possessing true riches.  We are talking about a matter of clarity in perspective.  That is what is necessary when someone is faced with the option of dying in obedience to God or living in defiance of him.  It seems like a tough question, but it should not be a tough question for those who understand what riches the Lord has awaiting the faithful.

It is really easy to get caught up in what we see and forget about what we know.  There is physical pleasure to be had in this world, physical pleasure that is readily available in vast quantities.  It creates the illusion of satisfaction even though the only fruit of venturing into those dark waters is emptiness and death.  Moses understood why it was better to suffer affliction than to enjoy physical pleasure.  Either option he selected would yield spiritual fruit, but only one would yield the good fruit of life.  Beyond that, there are crowns to be had for the saints who persevere.  There are many greater riches we have yet to know and understand, and they are waiting for us after our time here has concluded.  We would be fools to trade eternal fellowship with our God for mere passing pleasures that are not only unsatisfying but also deadly.  Their worth is evident by the end that is met by those who give in to them.  We must be able to view this world with the right perspective so that we can see the fool’s gold when it is presented to us.  If we do not have the right perspective, we are susceptible to buying into that which is no treasure at all.

We have a loving and generous God who blesses his children with everything they never could have earned or deserved.  There are many priceless treasures He has for us, and we need only gain the wisdom to understand what they are and value them as we should.  Our treasures might not look like worldly treasures, but they are exceedingly more valuable because they are eternal.  The Lord wants our focus to be on those things which will last, on his word and his precepts, on his knowledge and his wisdom.  He gives us his light to store within our hearts but also to share with the world for the purposes of his kingdom.  The treasures we receive from him are worth whatever we must endure to possess them and retain them.  The world will bring us counterfeits, but if we are wise, we will know which are the real precious metals and jewels.  Those will be the artifacts we chase and try to collect as much as we can while we have the time to do so.