In every magazine you read you see advertisements. Everywhere we turn someone is trying to sell us something. It has been estimated that some people are exposed to over 8,000 advertisements every day. They tell us that we need what they have to sell. “This is what you need.” “If you have this, you are on your way to happiness and fulfillment.” Some are more blatant than others. As Christians, we are not to be the same as the world around us. God never designed financial stress to be part of our lives. God’s plan for you is not to drive yourself or your wife or husband crazy because of financial stress. Our profit-oriented culture bombards us with things they are trying to convince us that we need. They know how to play on our fears, on our frustrations, and our constant desire for more. They know we all hunger for a little more. The average American owes over $10,600 in personal, retail debt. That does not include houses and cars. The credit card companies collected over 1.7 billion dollars in late charges, not payments but late charges, back in 1991. Two years ago that number had increased to 7.3 billion dollars. While we are making more, our debt is growing. It does not make any sense. In a time of affluence with record growth in the 90s, the affluence has flown right past us.
How can it be that in times of great affluence we are buying more and enjoying it less? How in such times of great increase in information and knowledge when we are making so much progress technologically, we can be failing so miserably personally? It has been called by some “The Paradox of Our Time.” The Veracity Project produced a video written by Bob Moorehead that expresses it like this:
The Paradox of Our Time
“This is the paradox of our time.
We have taller buildings but shorter tempers.
Wider freeways and narrower viewpoints.
We spend more but have less.
We buy more but enjoy it less.
We have bigger houses but smaller families.
More conveniences but less time, but less time, but less time.
More channels but nothing worth watching.
We’ve earned more degrees but lost our common sense.
We have more knowledge but less discernment.
There are more experts but more problems.
More health magazines but less wellness.
This is a time when we choose any religion that fits our personalities but deny the God who gave us one.
We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life.
We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space.
This is the paradox of our time.
We’ve cleaned up the air but polluted our minds.
We’ve split the atom but not our prejudice.
We build more computers to hold more information, produce more copies to pass around to more people but we have less communication.
We’ve learned to rush but not to wait.
And under the magnificence of a starry night we applaud the design, ignore the Designer.
We’re in the season of hurried vacations, preoccupied by quick trips and fast food.
We have fancier houses but broken homes.
Steeper profits and shallower relationships.
We’ve found riches but not a home.
This is indeed a time when we place more value on success than on significance.
This is the paradox of our time.”
“The paradox of our time.” “Taller buildings but shorter tempers.” “Wider highways but narrower viewpoints.” “We have learned how to make a living but not a life.” “We have added years to our lives but do not seem to be able to add life to our years.” Can you identify with any of these? As Christians, I trust and hope you are doing better than the average, but I also sense that better is not good enough because I think our lives are still greatly impacted by materialism because of the culture we live in. We are facing this all the time. We are facing the same temptations, the same trials as anybody else and we may win a few of them but because we are exposed to so much we still end up influenced beyond what Jesus would like. I think this is the number one problem in America. This is the number one problem in churches. This is the number one problem that we, as Christians, face—too much stuff for our own good.
Let me tell you why I think this is true. Most of you are not struggling with homosexuality. Most are not struggling with abortion, illegal substance abuse, grand theft auto, or a myriad of the great moral crimes of our time. But I can almost guarantee most of you are wrestling with financial issues. We live in a culture in which money issues can easily get out of control. It is a fact that many in our culture seek to profit by our lack of self-control and obedience to God’s Word. I came across a magazine article recently and it addresses this issue. The guy said, “We are a highly adaptive animal quickly adjusting our expectations to new realities. As living standards increase, most of us respond by raising our own standards. Things that once were luxuries now seem necessities. As a result, we’re working harder than ever to buy stuff that satisfies less and less.” It almost sounds like something out of Christianity Today, does it not? This quote is out of an old issue of Money magazine and it states the problem well. He hits it right on the head. In and of itself, stuff does not satisfy!
I remember growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada that did not have indoor plumbing. We had an outhouse on the other side of the garage. You had to plan your stops, especially at night. We did not have indoor water. We heated water on a wood stove that I went and got the coal for. I also had to go to the well and pump the water by hand and carry it to the house. And that was not bad. It was just what you had to do. It was just part of life. I did not feel deprived. It did not feel like forced child labor. I was just doing my part. But for many of us, we say, “Well, if we don’t have this and that, something’s wrong. It’s not fair. They get to have this and I don’t.” Do you ever hear that? Do you ever think that? What relationship or good thing are you willing to give up for that ‘thing’ you want so badly? Do you really need it?
Since 1982, this shocked me, disposable income is up 80 percent in America. Disposable--that is even with house and car payments going higher and higher. Disposable--what you have left over is up 80 percent. Does anyone feel like their disposable income, the cash in their pocket is up 80 percent? You know why that is? This is my theory. Because ways to dispose of your income is up 800 percent. You could not buy an Ipod twenty years ago. All of the things we have, things we are after that are now necessities for us. And when we do not get what we pine for we feel like we are suffering for Jesus. We have a ways to go, folks, before we start suffering. Another article in the same magazine written by a stock strategist, stated, “How to buy happiness cheap. We are making lots of bucks but not buying bliss like we think we can. Money won’t buy happiness. The green stuff is not delivering what is promised.” Here is a stock analyst writing to the well-heeled clients he is advising and says, “Hey, it is not going to satisfy you,” and I want you to catch this, “The green stuff is not delivering what it promised.” You have to ask yourself, “Who promised it? Who promised that the green stuff would deliver what you are looking for? Who has made that promise?” Is that God’s promise? I can promise all kinds of things, but I cannot fulfill them. Advertisers will promise you anything to get you to buy their stuff. But who is the one behind all the promises that the green stuff will satisfy your heart? You know whom I am talking about? The father of lies, Satan! He is called the father of lies because those lies start with him and then go on and on and on, spreading to every corner of society. “You do not need God. You can find fulfillment within this world and within yourself.” Practically that translates to buying goods and services as if they are the true fulfillers of your soul. Since we are not self-sufficient and do have need for material things, and since God does want us to enjoy some things in this world, wholesome things, certain goods and services can be enjoyed if they are placed into their proper place in our lives. But to consume them as if they are our “life” is to place them above God, or in place of Him, in our lives.
The article continues and it concludes, “If you can’t be with the stuff you love, then love the stuff you’re with.” Remind you of anything? The old song sung by Crosby, Stills and Nash contained these words: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with.” It sounds good because it sounds like a description of contentment, does it not? “If you can’t be with the stuff you love, then love the stuff you’re with.” Does that not sound like the answer? It sounds pretty close, but I do not think it is correct. I will show you what is missing as I compare it to God’s answer.
Financial stress is huge in our lives and in our culture and it is not part of God’s will for us. God does not want it. God’s answer is to not love the stuff that you are with. Look at 1 Timothy 6:17. “God, who has given you everything for your enjoyment.” There is a profound difference between enjoyment and love. We have a very nebulous word for love. We say things like, “I love that song,” “I love that car,” or “I love my wife,” without making clear distinctions. God endorses the wholesome enjoyment of things but not the love of things. Love includes the affection of our heart. Love should never be attached to stuff because it is a ‘dead’ thing. Like the idols of old, they are inanimate and unworthy of our deepest affection. You are not called to love stuff. You are called by God to use stuff for good purposes.
Think about what that guy said. What is the Designer’s answer? What is God’s answer? Verse six of chapter 6 says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” Enjoying the stuff that God has given you is fine. Being thankful for what He has blessed you with and using it as God intended for you to use it is what is required of us. But before you get to enjoying the stuff, there is the issue of godliness. When you hear that word, what do you think of? When I hear that word, I think, “Ok, being good. Doing the right things. Right behavior.” That is righteousness. The word here for godliness literally means devoted or godward in heart. Godward—having a godward heart means devoted and dedicated to putting Him in His proper place in your life. When we put Him in His proper place, things can then take their proper place. Godliness, not righteous behavior, but a God-ward heart, putting God first, is the foundation for rightly using ‘stuff’. It is the foundation that protects us from the allure of a materialistic culture.
Contentment is not loving stuff, not letting it be the affection of your heart, but enjoying its use as God intended. To simplify, let me ask you, “Do you love stuff and use God to get it or do you love God and use stuff for good purposes?” Think about that for a minute. Many people fall into this trap of using God because you love stuff. I remember being 18 years old, lying in my bed in San Gabriel, CA the night before going to buy my first car. And I am praying, “Oh, God. Please help me be the winning bidder on this car.” I was going to the car auction. It was the coolest black Opal GT you ever saw. Catch that, black Opal GT. You know what that looks like? It looks like a miniature Corvette. But I dared to say, “God, I want you to help me get this. Bless me with this.” But I had been taught enough by my parents and by my pastor to say, “But Lord, thy will be done.” And God blessed me by not letting me have that car. That was a huge blessing because He knew better on a whole range of things. But I was tempted. Are you sometimes tempted to use God to get what you want?
People who want to get rich fall into temptation. It is a snare. A snare is something that catches, traps its prey. And once ensnared, the options of the prey are limited. They get wrapped up in it and cannot find a way out. Tied to their foolish desires, they flounder around looking for fulfillment. Do you want desires that are going to be harmful and hurtful to you? Harmful desires that plunge, not just step off, but take the out-of-control plunge into ruin and destruction? If so, then this is the way to get them--“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money is not evil, but the love of money will lead to all kinds of evil desires and deeds. It is the root. You cannot see the roots but they are there, giving life to the tree. The roots draw the nutrients that feed the tree. You may not see the results immediately but you will see them. The Bible warns us that the love of money will yield ruin and destruction. “Some people, eager for money, have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” Not just once, but over and over again--“many sorrows.” It keeps hurting, repeatedly, in their lives.
Could you paint any clearer picture of the danger that we are facing by putting things in God’s place? How do we escape the ruin, the destruction, the snare, the roots, the wander from the faith, the piercing and the sorrows? Very simple--godliness with contentment is great gain. You may say, “Ok, pastor, you really have not told me anything I did not expect because I expect you to say that being godly and loving God is going to be more important and I recognize it is, but I am just not sure how. How do I go about doing that? What needs to change in my life? How do I put that into my life? What do I do? What do I think? What do I look at? How do I change my focus?” The verse goes on, verse 11, “But you, man of God, flee from all this.” Flee means to turn your back and go in a different direction and get away from it. How in a world saturated with stuff all around us, with a myriad of advertisements, can we flee from all those things? How can we ever get away from those 8,000+ advertisements? How can we get away from all those things? How can we flee from the constant barrage of advertisements, of other people having things that we like and we wish that we could have them too? In our culture, it seems like an impossibility.
The verse goes on to tell us how to flee. “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness, fight this kind of good fight. Fight the good fight of the faith.” Catch this, the secret to fleeing from something is to choose to pursue something greater. Where you say, “That does not matter. This is what matters to me.” And all the rest, all the advertisements, everything else just turns into a steady din like white noise out there because your ear is tuned to something else. The secret to fleeing from something is a choice to pursue something greater. You cannot outrun the love of money. Instead you have to choose to love God instead. But then again, how? How do you do that? How do we get there? Again, remember, we flee and pursue. Can you say that? Flee and pursue. What do you do? Flee and pursue. You cannot just run away from it. You have to turn your focus to something else.
The key thing for doing this is guarding what gets into your heart. Proverbs 4:23: “Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” These are the words of Solomon, who let everything into his heart--wine, women, song, money, horses, land, palaces, temples. And he saw the desperate emptiness it bore in his life. Read through Ecclesiastes and you will be struck with the emptiness and meaningless the author experienced. He let himself be exposed to the fleeting pleasures rather than to the most important things. “I have chased after everything rather than following God’s design and God’s will for my life. Everything else does not satisfy. Following God does.” Contentment is not a matter of income. It is a matter of the heart. We need to learn to live with things in their proper place. You cannot will yourself away from money. You have to change the affection of your heart.
There are two key questions for you to consider as you guard your heart. Number one, who is your master? This question comes from the very lips of Jesus Himself. Turn over to Matthew 6:24. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Jesus is telling us to choose our master carefully because it will either ruin or help our lives. Serving both does not work. They are opposed to each other. They are not allies.
If I was to ask you, “How many love God more than money? Most would say they loved God more. But the question is, does your life reflect that answer? Does your reality, where you live and what you are thinking about, what is going on in your heart, reflect godward choices? Let me say it this way. Does money or God call the shots in your life? Do you value God’s command over financial gain? Think about it like this. Most of us could put something down on our tax return that is untrue that would save us $1,000. I have no idea what that might be for you. And now that you have an extra $1,000 what will you spend it on? Think about this? Whatever you spend it on you value more than honesty. Whatever you spend it on you value more than God. You have made that thing your god. You have said, “I will obey that and disobey God.” Dear friend, do not sell out for anything. God cares and He is watching. He has already told you what to do—flee!
That leads to the second question. Where is your treasure? Jesus has told us plainly what to do. “Don’t store up treasure for yourselves on earth where moth and dust destroy, where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust don’t destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When I was younger that never made sense to me. In my mind, He should have said, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.” So I had to look at it closely and ask myself, why did He say it that way? He said it because when you attach value to something, you begin to feel affection for it. What you attach value to, you will begin to care about and devote yourself to. Whatever you choose as your treasure, your heart will follow.
After Katie and I got married, during the first five years we had a Corvette and a Porsche. I restored both cars. I drove the old Corvette and the old Porsche I restored for Katie. And then along came a major disruption to our lives. It is called a baby. And a high chair, a playpen, and a stroller would not fit in either of those cars. Once you have held that child, that treasure in your arms, all of a sudden the fastest car, the coolest boat, becomes less important. It is nice to have them, but compared to that treasure they mean little. Within a year, both of those cars were gone. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Do you value money more than righteousness? People? God? These are the choices you will face every day, every week, for the rest of your life.
The Heart of the Matter—Contentment (Part 2)
What produces true security and real significance? How can we really enjoy what God has given? How can we take hold of true life? The kind of life God has promised us? The answers to these questions will help us get a grasp on living according to the new life God has given us in Christ Jesus.
How many of you would like to win the lotto? What is the first thing you would do? Have you already made a list? A couple named John and Sandy won the lotto as part of a group of thirteen from Ohio for 261 million dollars. That breaks down to twelve million dollars for every individual. After taxes that meant six million. That is a far cry from 261 million, but it is still six million. How many of you could use six million? Would you be happy if you won just six million dollars in the lottery? The first thing they did was make a list of the thing they wanted—a new house, new cars, his and her Harleys, Playstation for the kids. They would get these things then they would be happy and get on with the rest of life. Would you be happy if you won the lottery? Think about it because I am going to contend if you are not happy before you win the lottery, you are not going to be happy afterwards.
Money does not buy happiness. Rockefeller said, “I have made millions and I have found no happiness in it.” One gal said, “Money is not a source for happiness and my family proves it.” Any clue who might have said that? Christina Onassis, a member of a family that had billions. Money does not buy happiness. Joe Lewis the boxer said, “I really don’t like money but it does a really good job of calming my nerves.” You understand that? I think that is where a lot of us are in our attitudes toward money. “Well, I don’t really want to be greedy, but, you know it sure would be nice not to have to worry about so many things. I would feel so much more secure in life if I won the lottery, if I had more money.” I tell you this morning that security and significance will never be found in the amount or the kind or the qualifications of money that you have. The bottom line is that money will not cut it as a satisfier of the soul. I am not advocating poverty as somehow morally superior to non-poverty, but I am saying that money and things were never intended to be the life of our souls. And to treat them as if they are unseats God from His rightful place in our lives.
Turn to 1 Timothy 6:17. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or conceited nor to put their hope in wealth which is uncertain, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age so they may take hold of life that is truly life.” “So that they may take hold of life that is truly life.” What does he mean? Paul is contrasting that ‘life’ that richness offers and the life that is eternal, the life that is living and powerful and that will last forever which is found in Christ Jesus. Would you not like to grab hold of the life that is truly life rather clinging to that ‘life’ that will not last?
Often our mindset is just to survive, to try to get through, but God’s plan for us is life in abundance, to really grab hold of the life that is truly life, to not waste our time on things that are fruitless and unfulfilling but to take hold of both what God designed for us to be and do. All around us the world is trying to supply us with images for us to follow after, to mold ourselves after, to be. We get these messages day in and day out. “You are not enough if you do not do this.” “You do not have enough if you do not have this.” “If you do not have this much in your bank account, you are insecure, your future is perilous.” If your security is based upon the amount of money you have in the bank, by the number of years you paid into Social Security, by the size of your IRA, then your security is fallible. Your security is flawed. And even if you can accumulate enough money and build enough walls to protect yourself from the outside world, your heart will still fear overthrow and disasters beyond your control.
As a soul satisfier, money just does not cut it. It will not bring satisfaction. It will not bring significance. It will not bring security. Katie and I have money in the bank, but she may be going blind. Al has some money in the bank but he can barely walk around right now. Money will not guarantee your health. Money will not guarantee how your children turn out. There are all kinds of risks out there that you cannot buy with money. Security will not be found in the money, but it can be found in the God that we worship, the God who is in control of all things, the God who loves you and has your best interest at heart. The bottom line—money just doesn’t cut it. But the world keeps trying to sell us another bill of goods that money is where it is at, that we can put our hope in wealth.
Look at 1 Timothy 6:17. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope or security in wealth which is uncertain.” Wealth, first of all, is highly uncertain. The only certain thing about wealth is that it is going to go away. The only certain thing about economics is that it is uncertain. Which stock is going to go up this week? There are all kinds of things that you do not know how it is going to work. That is why it is a gamble. The only thing certain about finances is that it is uncertain and you cannot bank on it. John Rockefeller’s accountant was asked after he died, “How much did he leave?” And the simple answer was, “All of it.” It is guaranteed. Solomon, who had all the wealth in the world, the richest Israelite that ever lived said, “Vanity, vanity. It is all emptiness. It does not matter?” He amassed all these things and at death it was fruitless to him and it could not add anything onto his life. It could not make his family turn out better. It could not heal his relationships with all of his hundreds of pagan, idolatrous wives. It did not fulfill. It did not bring solution. Wealth is uncertain. But we have a God who is absolutely certain.
Turn over to Matthew 6. Jesus highlights the uncertainty of wealth. Wealth is uncertain and Jesus stresses through this whole passage that treasures are a burden. Now we think of treasures and think, “man, that is what we want.” Excessive treasure is defined by Jesus as a burden. Enough is good; more is a burden. Verse 19 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal.” Those things that you have, do they end up owning you or do you maintain the ownership of them? W.H. Vanderbilt said, “The care of 200 million dollars,” this was back when a million really meant something, “is enough to kill anyone. I find no pleasure in it.” All the wealth Vanderbilt had was a burden. It was a burden trying to maintain and protect it. Carnegie noticed this: “I never see millionaires smiling. They seem to be overwhelmed by caring for what they have.” It ends up, as one sociologist observed, “Since we can never accumulate enough, never can we be sure we have the newest and the most improved model of everything or of anything for that matter. We are kept in a condition of perpetual drivenness that produces exhaustion and frustration.” Do you recognize that? How many of you bought a new computer last year? Should I say how many bought an old computer last year because it is old now. As new products come out continuously, what we had seems to be perpetually out of date. Either we learn to be happy with getting what we need or we will be in a constant state of unrest. Having too much can end up being a burden.
Thirdly, having too much money inspires worry. Look at Matthew 6:25. Jesus said, “Therefore through all this passage I tell you not to worry about your life. Life ends up bringing worry upon worry and money inspires that kind of worry.” I came across an interesting fact. When you sign up for life insurance now, you know you have to go through this test of how old you are and how much do you weigh because that may be a factor of your health. Do you smoke or not, do you drink or not? There is another question on there. Do you make more than $40,000? Do you make more than $40,000 in a year? If you do, statistics have shown that your life expectancy can be reduced two years. Wait a minute. Why? Because with that money comes additional stress by maintaining it all. In sum: The more money you have, the more you have to be anxious about and the more complex your life becomes and the less years you will live. Having an excess of money tends to reduce lifespan. That is not to say that everyone who is rich will die young or die unhappy. There are some who have learned to place wealth in its proper place and have been able to use it for good purposes rather than letting it use them. One interesting study by the American Journal of Psychiatrists did a ten-year study and concluded that there was a direct correlation to the increase of income and the increase in suicides. Now you sure think it would go the other way, would you not? There is a direct correlation. Increase in income, increase in suicides. Money just does not cut it. Too much inspires worry.
Most of us feel like if we had more money, our marriage would be better. How many of you couples have disagreements once in a while on money and the way you spend money or how much money you have, or what is going to be happening in the future. “Well, if we just had a little bit more.” Do not say that. With an increase in income also comes a substantial increase in infidelity--for men and for women. While it is true that not having enough can inspire worry, as well, having too much is not the solution. We should strive for enough while making room for everything important in our lives.
And fourthly, money is addictive. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Whoever loves money, never has money enough. Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” Who said this? Who wrote Ecclesiastes? Solomon, the wealthiest Israelite in all of history, wrote it. He knows what he is talking about. So when he says, “Vanity (empty and fleeting), vanity, all is vanity,” we should listen. He is saying, “I have experienced it. It does not fulfill.” Hope in wealth is an empty hope. When pursued with an empty soul, the pursuit of more money, more wealth will never end. It becomes the end of our desires. As Jesus has warned us and the testimony of some who have experienced it tell us, money or wealth is not able to fulfill the soul. Do not pursue it as an end, hoping it will make you happy or fulfilled. It won’t!
First Timothy 6:17b. “Put their hope therefore in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” It is interesting how Jesus repeatedly talks about God as “our Father” or as “your Father.” He is telling us that we have a father that provides for us. Now, it is really easy to get sidetracked and stop looking at the father who gives good gifts to his children and start looking at the gifts as the fulfillment of our heart’s desires. It is a mistake to build our security and fulfillment on what God has given us rather than on the Lord Himself. Jesus tells us to build our security upon the God who provides for us, the provider, “el Shaddai,” the God who gives us what we need, who helps us in our times of trouble. Because our security is not based upon God’s gifts to us, no more than it is based upon winning the lottery, we are free to pursue the things that really mean something during this life and the life to come--the chief one being God Himself, in Christ Jesus.
Look at it this way. Would you rather have a few more dollars in the bank or would you rather be the son of the banker? The son of the one who owns it all? You see, being a son of the banker focuses upon the relationship and the provision is given based upon that relationship, not to the money in the account, but to the banker himself. It is based upon a relationship and that is why Jesus repeatedly stresses “your Father.” There is a relationship involved, not just a giver, a provider, a bankroller, a meal ticket.
Secondly, your Father treasures your life. Look over in Matthew 6:26 and most all of this passage talks about what is important in life. Is not your life worth more than a pigeon? Is not your life worth more than a plug of floretan. A plug of bermuda grass or a lily? Is your life worth more than that? God takes care of those and God will take care of you. He cares for you. He treasures you. He treasures your life. You have a God that treasures your life. Because he treasures your life, you can trust Him. You can trust Him to take care of you.
Thirdly, your Father is growing your character. Verse 33 says, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you as well.” What “things” is he talking about? The things that you need. Food, clothing, housing, all those things that you know you need. God will provide them for you. Are you ready for the next part? God’s intimate provision is not a blanket promise to all Christians. I was really caught off guard by this because I have seen our God as a God of grace who gives and loves to give good gifts to His children. But here Jesus is teaching that He gives in a special way if you are seeking His kingdom and His righteousness first. And there is a lesson for us in that. God does not give gifts to His kids when they have been rebellious or when those gifts are going to be harmful to them. If you have raised kids you understand this. As parents, have you ever not given your child something they have wanted because it is not good for them? Have you ever given them something they have needed, needed because they have been wrong, they have been bad, they need to be disciplined, have to be taught that this does not work? You cannot rebel against the house in which you are living and get the blessings of the house. God is the same way because He cares more about growing our character than helping us avoid emotional stress or worldly happiness. As a child, I went to bed hungry a number of nights. I thought I was going to die but I did not. Because I was rebellious against my mother and father, they did me the favor by disciplining me, not abusing me, but disciplining me. That is not cruelty. That is loving me enough to instill in me a value that obedience to a legitimate authority is important. It is the same way with God.
Fourthly, your Father is growing your faith. God wants us to depend on Him, to faith on Him, to trust Him so that we know He is with us day in and day out, to know that He is reliable, to know that He is faithful and for us to know we are being obedient and connected to Him. There is nothing worse than thinking we do not need God. Not only is that a rejection of God, it sets us on a course, a life that is devoid of God’s grace and goodness. You are left to yourself and your money. Rockefeller said it well--“I have made millions, but it has not brought me happiness.” What else? Do the Rockefellers of this world need God in their lives? Not for financial security, maybe, but for emotional and spiritual security, they sure do. If they can learn to place money and wealth in its proper place, then it will not dominate them and with God’s help they will master it. What they have will be used for good purposes and be a blessing to many people rather than a mere means to getting more money. God is not against rich people. He is against rich people who forget him, steal from the poor, cheat to get what they have, and oppress those who have less than they do. Listen to what He said to the nations of Israel and Judah in Amos 6:1-8. “How terrible it will be for you who lounge in luxury and think you are secure in Jerusalem and Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, you to whom the people go for help…. How terrible it will be for you who sprawl on ivory beds surrounded with luxury, eating the meat of tender lambs and choice calves. You sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and you fancy yourselves to be great musicians, as King David was. You drink wine by the bowlful, and you perfume yourselves with exotic fragrances, caring nothing at all that your nation is going to ruin. Therefore, you will be the first to be led away as captives. Suddenly, all your revelry will end. The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his own name, and this is what he, the Lord God Almighty, says: 'I despise the pride and false glory of Israel, and I hate their beautiful homes. I will give this city and everything in it to their enemies.'”
Turn to Hebrews chapter 13. When it says, “I will never leave you. I never forsake you,” what is He addressing? I have always taken that to be referring to spiritual security, spiritual protection. But you have to notice the exact context in verse five. It says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” Because God has said, “never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” Do you recognize that promise has to do with your financial security? That shocked me. But that is the Word of God. That is what God says here. And you can count on it. Money does not cut it, but God does.
There are two action points to focus on. First, stop looking at money as the problem. Instead, look at your heart. It is your heart that gets you into trouble. It is your heart that chases after things that will never satisfy. The problem is not the money. All through Scripture when it teaches about money it does not say that money is evil. It says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Man is evil. Money is neutral. It is what we do with it that matters. It is our heart attitude toward it that matters. Some of the greatest givers to God’s causes and to the benefit of many have been rich people who have let God get a hold of their heart. They have supported missions, the building of Christian schools and colleges. They have fed the hungry in Jesus’ name. So it is not money that is the problem it is the love of money and what it can buy that leads to so much corruption. It is the endless desire to have more that warps our soul. It is the attempt to buy security and significance, and sometimes love, that shrivels our spirits. Stop looking at money as the problem and look at your heart. Look at who is at the center of your heart. Is it you and your wants or is it Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior of your soul? Remember the old Campus Crusade picture that asks, “Who is on the throne of your life?” Are you letting God rule through His Word in you as you conform your desires, your interests, your passions to what He has for you rather than chasing after your own?
Secondly, stop looking at money as the solution to life’s problems and needs. Look instead to your Lord, to look and say, “Lord, where do you fit into my heart? Lord, I need to put you in the middle of my heart. I have left you off on the outside somewhere. I know your influence and I hear your truth, but truly you are not at the center of my life. Lord, let my life be conformed to your will and my heart conformed to the image of Christ. Lord, help me understand. Let your light shine into my life so that I will understand your truth and live accordingly.” Where does He fit in your heart? Where does He fit in your schedule? Are you making time for God in your life? Does God fit somewhere in your daytimer? Your checkbook? Are you fitting God into your financial priorities? What part does God actually have in your decision-making process? Do you consider Him and His ways when you do something, make a decision, speak?
Remember Sandy and John. I saw an interview with them a few years after they won the lottery. And Sandy said, “You know, I have never been more depressed in my life. There is just so much to have to think about now. We have so much and so many things are going on and I have so much to protect. Life was so much easier when I lived in that little house and had to babysit my niece and my nephew to try to make ends meet. It is just overwhelming. And my marriage, well, it really has not changed much. Before we won the lottery, I would spend money and John would get mad and yell a lot. Now I spend money and John gets mad and yells a lot.” The amounts have changed but the attitudes have not. It is not about the money; it is a matter of the heart. Let your heart be submitted to God today and be shaped as you walk with Him. That is where you will find true security and that is where you will find everlasting significance.
The Heart of the Matter—Contentment (Part 3)
We are going to take a whirlwind tour through the Bible looking at the topic of money. We need to understand what God has to say about money and that it comes not from Dave, not from Trinity, not from our status of being a church, but it comes from God’s Word. I want to show you very clearly how from early in our history, God set things up to include the element of sacrifice. God has always wanted to partner with us in the things we do. But He has wanted it to be voluntary. And in order to partner with Him we need to give something to Him so that He can work with it. If we give Him nothing He has nothing to work with!
Look at Genesis chapter two and let me show you what I mean. First of all, I need to remind you that our starting point for studying money was 1 Timothy 6. In 1 Timothy 6:7 we read this: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” You do not get to take it with you. The question I have for you is, Since you cannot take it with you, and you will have to give an account of what you did with what you had to God, what should you be doing with your money? What you do with your money declares what you live for. What is the focus, what are the most important things in your life? What do you live for? What you do with your money declares that. You can say different things of what you live for, what you care for, but your money shows proof of it. So turn to Genesis 2 and let us start there. Genesis 2:15: “And then the Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it.” What I want you to catch from this verse is that God did not give Adam the garden. He puts Adam in the garden to cultivate it, take care of it. God is still the owner. It all belongs to God and we are the trustees.
I want you to go along a little bit farther to Genesis chapter three and see what happens. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for getting wisdom, she ate it.” She reached out and grabbed hold of it, deliberately ate it, and then gave it to her husband. God put them in the garden with everything they needed to live long and healthy lives--pomegranates, pears, bananas, grapes, the tree of life with special life giving properties, and it might have even had a literal apple (if that was indeed the forbidden fruit--we do not know for sure) tree. But God had one restriction, just one. He said, “You can have anything you want in this whole garden except for this one thing.” They were forbidden to eat the fruit of just one tree. And for a while all was well, until the serpent showed up. The serpent (read Satan) did not just tempt them with how great it would taste, he exaggerated the benefits of eating it. He promised them godlike life, a life beyond what would be possible if they did not eat. He appealed to their desire for more and created a discontent for what God had provided.
Now turn over to Genesis chapter four. Genesis 4:3 says, “In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the Lord.” In the course of time, Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God. Why? God had established it as the norm for mankind, for men and women to make a sacrifice to God so that they can keep Him at the center of their lives. In the garden, God (read the Son) walked and talked with them on a daily basis. There was no need for reminders or prompts to encourage a relationship with God. It just was. But when we sinned and were removed from the garden everything changed. In the regular world there are all kinds of things that are distractions from our relationship with God. Knowing this, God introduced the concept of sacrifice to bring us together. Sacrifice is intrinsic to partnering with God. Not only did something need to die in our place in order to even start a relationship with God, God instituted all kinds of sacrifices as reminders of how important He is to our lives. They were supposed to be physical expressions of our spiritual and emotional commitment. But why wasn’t Cain’s sacrifice accepted? Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted because it did not meet the standards that God had set up. He determined to decide on his own what he would bring God. We do not set the standards. We do not call the shots for our sacrifice to God, for what He wants from us. He has said, “This is what I require of you.” Abel recognized that something had to die in his place because he was a sinful person. Abel recognized this and brought the appropriate sacrifice. Cain tried to go to God in his own effort. The evidence that proves Cain did not bring his sacrifice with the right heart attitude is how he responded when his sacrifice was rejected. God rebuked him and told him to do it like Abel. And instead of receiving the rebuke he killed the one whose sacrifice pointed out the sinfulness of his own.
Then go down to Genesis 8:20 for the third point. After enduring the making of the ark and the flood Genesis records, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and taking some of all the clean animals and birds, he sacrificed a burnt offering on it.” Sacrifice is intrinsic in our walk with God and in this case particularly, sacrifice expressed a faith based in thankfulness and gratitude, a faith that moves God’s heart. Catch first of all that there is risk in this sacrifice he has made. All the animals around him had been killed. There was no ready or hidden source of food. They have seven of every clean animal and bird and two of every other animal. Noah built a fire and burned one of every clean animal as a heart sacrifice to God. And I am going to say, out of his free will because look what happens a little farther down. It says, “The Lord smelled this pleasing aroma.” The Lord smelled a pleasing aroma. They did not have a lot of animals to spare. But Noah said, “I trust God who provided us thus far and so losing the seventh animal is no big deal.” In fact, that was part of God’s provision to give them seven rather than six. You still have three males and three females of each clean animal and each fowl of the air. God had provided a sacrifice for them. But it says here that God smelled the pleasing aroma “and said in his heart,” catch this, “never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” That is why God had sent the flood--every inclination of man’s heart was evil from childhood. It means there is a bentness about us that defies God, that wants to have our own way, that wants to do things our way, that is willing to hurt other people in order to get what we want. What Noah did was not selfish nor did it come from his own effort. He gave back to God what God gave to him in the first place. He gave them the seventh animal for sacrifice and Noah gave it back to Him. Noah would have sinned if he kept what was not his out of fear or a misguided attempt to run his own life. What precipitated the promise of God to never again destroy the earth with a flood? The sacrifice that Noah made! It is in the next chapter, 9:8-17, that God declares this and gives them the rainbow as a sign of His covenant.
Turn over to Genesis 14. In chapter 14 we find the story of Abram (later to be called Abraham) and how Abram gives Melchizedek, a priest-king, a tenth of all that he had—a tithe. Some ‘Iraqi’ raiders had come down and kidnapped and stolen his family. And God allowed Abram to take a small band of warriors and conquer those kings and bring them all back. And Abram knew that was a God thing. And so it says, “Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all that he had.” Melchizedek was a priest of the God Most High, Creator-Possessor of the heavens and the earth and to give to him a tenth of everything he had was giving God use of this amount. God was pleased! The sacrifice of Abram set a precedent of how God was going to deal with Israel, and us. The tithe was to become the norm, as everyone was responsible to do his or her part to support God’s work. In Genesis 28 we see the tithe specified by Jacob—the father of Israel. “Of all that you give me, I will give you a tenth.” A tithe is a proportional giving. Giving regularly and proportionally is how Jacob describes it. A tithe literally means tenth. You can give more than a tenth. You can give less than a tenth, but do not call it a tithe. A tithe means ten percent.
Turn over to Exodus 20. How many of you memorized the Ten Commandments when you were a child? Look through Exodus 20, verses 3-17 and find for me the commandment that says, “Thou shalt tithe. Thou shalt bring thy offerings unto the Lord, into His house and rejoice.” Is it number four? Number five? It is not there, is it? It is not there. What was God thinking when He gave those commandments? Should that not be one of the commandments? I mean, that is important, isn’t it? Maybe that is what Moses is upset about. He comes down from the mountain, he breaks it because, “God you forgot one. Let us try this again. Let us combine a couple and add that one in there because we are going to need that in the future. People need to know that they have to give if they want to be part of your family. That is one of the requirements of righteousness.” And God says, “No.” Why do you think it is not in there? Why is it not one of the Ten Commandments? Why is it not the Eleventh Commandment? Tithing has got to be a freewill love gift, a freewill love gift that you offer to God and as such, it cannot be commanded. You give because you want to partner with God. You want to trust Him with your future. You are grateful for what He has blessed you with and want to give a portion back to Him. A tithe is a freewill gift and it cannot be demanded. It cannot be legislated. It cannot be commanded. Otherwise it is not freewill.
Then turn over to Exodus 34:26a. Even though it is not commanded, God instructs the Israelites to give so that He can work among them. It says, “Therefore, bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.” Who is it to be given to? God! Give it to Him and see what He can do with it. First of all, tithing puts God first. It puts God first in your life. It puts God first in your priorities, in your thinking, in your plan. It puts God in His rightful place. Suppose we are going to have a conference and 300 pastors from all over the district are coming here. And we are going to have a banquet for them so on each chair in church there is a baggie with a ziploc and we tell the people to look in their refrigerators and fill the baggies with whatever they have leftover. Hmmm. If you were a guest how would you feel about that? If you have an honored guest, someone you value, someone you treasure, you do not give them your leftovers. You provide them with the firstfruits, the best you can give them. That is why God says, “Give it first and trust me that I will provide the rest.” It is designed to be an expression of your faith and trust in God.
Then turn over to Hosea 13. Israel wrestled with this whole idea. Hosea 13:6 records God saying, “Being satisfied, their heart became proud. Therefore, they forgot me.” How many of you are satisfied? Now you may not be rich, maybe do not consider yourself wealthy, but you are pretty well satisfied. You do not have the newest car, but it is getting you where you want to go. It is reliable. It is smooth. It has air conditioning. You do not have the biggest house, but the lawn is mowed. You are satisfied. Being satisfied is a significant part of contentment. But being satisfied in yourself can be very dangerous. “Being satisfied, their heart became proud.” “I am doing pretty good. I have it together. Thank you. This is good. I do not need God in my life.” They became proud and they forgot God. They saw God as a meal ticket and as soon as they could provide their own meals, they forgot Him. God wants to be involved in our lives, in our decisions and everything we do. To see Him as anything less is to dishonor Him. Israel became proud in their prosperity. And they forgot God and His work. They no longer gave to His works and causes but kept what they had to spend on themselves. Wealth lures your heart away from God. The more money you make, the more opportunities you have to spend it. The more things we can do, the more we tend to cut God out of our lives.
Turn over to Malachi. Malachi 3:8: “Shall a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, God how do we rob you? In tithes and in offerings.” I want you to notice here, first of all, that God is making a distinction between tithes and offerings. A tithe is ten percent of what comes in, but offerings are above and beyond that. God moves on your heart to make an offering to do something above and beyond what you owe God, what you provide with God on a regular basis. God expects us to return a tithe. God accuses them of robbing Him. That is an accusation. That means there is, before God, an expectation that they should tithe to Him. Otherwise He would have no right to say, “You are robbing me.” But He says, “I do deserve it and you are withholding it.”
Notice what else it says. Verse 10a: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.” As we have seen already, He is upset that they are robbing Him because their hearts and lives are not in conformance with Him, but notice there is also a practical reason. There are needs in the community that the priests want to meet, that the temple workers want to meet but they cannot because they do not have enough to meet the need. There is not enough food in the storehouse to take care of the poor because those who have enough are hording it or spending it on unnecessary things. The temple workers have a job to do but they cannot do it because the people were not giving what God told them to give. The same is true today. “You rob from me.” Most of us do not think we rob God. By taking what belongs to God, what God has given us and expects us to return, and using it for other purposes is robbing God.
He wants to partner with you in your life and your finances. And God says, “I dare you to try it.” Malachi 3:10b-11: “Trust me in this says the Lord Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing on you there will not be enough room to receive it. And I will prevent pests from devouring your crops and the vines of your fields will not fail to bear fruit.” God wants you to be financially fruitful, but He wants to be first place in your life more. And if you are going to worship “it” rather than Him, He does not want you to have it because He does not want you to worship something else. God dares you to trust His faithfulness. You can trust Him and the more your faithfulness grows, the more His faithfulness grows with you.
Turn over to Acts 5. In Acts 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira. They were well off. They sold something they had and made a pledge to give it to God. And for this they were praised. But they held back. They lied about what they were giving. And as a lesson to us about how God takes giving from the heart seriously, they dropped dead on the spot. In Malachi God rebuked the people for not giving. Ananias and Sapphira gave, and maybe more than others, but they gave with the wrong motive. For practical reasons God wants us to give so that His works can be carried out but for spiritual and moral reasons He wants it to be done with the right heart attitude.
Turn over to 2 Corinthians 8:1-4. God blesses churches that are generous. “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” And God blessed those churches because of their faithfulness. Unlike Ananias and Sapphira these churches did not give for show and reputation. They gave because they wanted to have a part in God’s ministry.
Then turn over to 2 Corinthians 9. It says that our giving is to express our grateful hearts and that each man should give what he has decided in his heart. You cannot give because I say you should. You cannot give because I am excited about it. You cannot give simply because there is a need. You have to give because your heart moves you to be obedient to God. Not reluctantly or under compulsion, but God loves a cheerful giver. Second Corinthians 9:6-8: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” Giving from a pure heart of what we have materially will result in God giving to us His grace to participate in His ministries, His good works.
And then finally look in Revelation. Look in chapter three, verse 17: “You say, Laodiceans, I am rich, I have acquired wealth and don’t need a thing, but you don’t realize that is all you have. You are rich, but you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Wealth lured their hearts away from God. Looking at their condition Jesus counsels them in verses 18 and 19. “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” What we do with what we have matters!
And finally Revelation 3:20 invites us to trust Him. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.” Giving is not about seeing God like you would a stock investment. “I will give $100 today so that He will give me $1000 tomorrow.” Jesus offers us Himself as the reward. He offers us His grace to be involved in works that truly matter and which will reap benefits beyond what we could do ourselves.