Labor—for what?

The alarm clock wakes us to another day of work and another paycheck. It’s necessary, but our priority is not money.

Richard E. Lauersdorf

“What kind of work are you in?” That question is usually a good icebreaker. Do we realize that our Savior asks that same question of us? He asks not to stimulate conversation, but to remind us of something eternally important.

In this month when our country observes Labor Day, what’s our answer to the question, “For what do I labor?” What holds top priority in our lives?

Earthly treasures that pass away?

With one short sentence, Jesus sweeps aside those things that so many spend their lives working for. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” he warns (Matthew 6:19). Money and goods, honor and position, fun and pleasure are blessings, but they are not things to hold dear and expend life on. By themselves they are trash, not treasure.

Why? Jesus tells us. He says such treasures can so quickly be ripped from our grasp by moth and vermin and thieves (cf. 6:19). Ask senior citizens what the moth of financial uncertainty can do to savings deemed adequate ten years ago. Ask the residents of areas where raging forest fires have turned their homes, their vehicles, and their businesses into smoking ruins. Ask the police, and they will cite you statistics on the billions of dollars lost each year to thieves and robbers. But we don’t really need to ask them. We need only to listen to the words of Jesus. “Don’t treasure such things,” he says. “Don’t spend your life on them. They can only pass away.”

Christ’s warning about earthly treasures shows how concerned he is about our hearts. Our hearts belong only and fully to him. He doesn’t want any roommates to share our hearts with him. Listen to his warning, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Traveling with my sons in southern France, we saw huge field after field of sunflowers. It was unique to see all those flowers each morning pointing east and each evening pointing west as they followed the sun. Just as those sunflowers turn in the direction of the sun, so our heart, sooner or later, will point to our treasure. How foolish and even fatal if our heart turns to earthly treasures that can only pass away.

Do we need this reminder? Aren’t we church members? Don’t we sing, “Jesus, priceless treasure” (Christian Worship 349)?

But sometimes the heavenly treasures seem so remote and so distant. All around us those earthly treasures beckon. They are so near and seem so real. All around us we see people striving for those earthly goods in any way possible as if nothing else really matters. Even more, all around us we see people prospering because they chase those earthly treasures. We begin to wonder. Are they right and we wrong? Are we missing the boat and being left behind on the shore? Are we losing out?

At times it may seem that way, but looks are deceiving and Christ’s words are always right. He knew what he was talking about when he urged, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

Let’s not misunderstand Christ, though. He’s not telling us to quit our jobs and throw away our checkbooks. He’s not telling us we shouldn’t save for the future, budget for a new car, or undertake those mortgage payments. These are necessary items for which we have a duty to work so we can provide for our families. But they are only things we use, not things that use us. We are not to live for them, but use them to live. We work because that is God’s way of paying our bills. But to sweat and labor for things alone, to give top spot in our hearts to them, may that never be!

Heavenly treasures that last forever?

Well then, for what should we be working? Jesus tells us, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). “Heavenly treasures, that’s the thing,” Jesus tells us. “That’s the treasure to possess and hold dear.”

In a later verse, Jesus spelled out that heavenly treasure in familiar words. He said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” and then promised “all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33).

In simple language, Jesus urges us to make him and all that he means for sinners our real treasure. Jesus and his forgiveness for our sins, his help for our temptations, his comfort for our sorrows, his victory over death, his heaven for our future—these are the treasures that do not pass away. What treasure is ours when God in his grace brings us to the Savior! No Fort Knox can contain the gold found in our Savior’s cross and empty tomb. The whole world packed into all the Brinks Armored trucks isn’t rich enough to stand beside the treasure of eternal life in heaven, a treasure so great it took God’s own Son to prepare it.

What do we do with such a treasure? Gather just a bit? Be satisfied with just a handful? Ask the person coming out of surgery whether one drop of water will satisfy him or whether he would have the whole glass. God’s children are not content with just a brief glimpse at and limited understanding of God’s heavenly treasures. Instead they strive to use God’s Word and sacraments regularly to learn more about them. They know that the Holy Spirit works through these powerful means to increase faith’s hold on Christ and his heavenly and eternal treasure.

Some time ago I read a story of how a group of boys broke into a hardware store. They didn’t steal or vandalize anything, but they did pull a prank. They mixed up the price tags on the merchandise. Nails, for example, were marked at $159.99 each, lawnmowers at 15 cents a pound, hammers at 99 cents a dozen. Those pranksters were having some fun, malicious as it was.

Some people still mix up the price tags on things in life. They put the costliest labels on the nails and the cheapest prices on the lawnmowers. They sweat for earthly things hardly worth 15 cents a pound and barely bend a finger for the treasures that reach into eternity, treasures millions can’t buy.

Some people do this. But the big question is: What do we do? For what are we really working? God help us give the right answer always.

Richard Lauersdorf is a pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.

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Author: Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

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