Helpful or harmful?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Money in itself is simply pieces of metal and pieces of paper. The reason they are of any concern to us at all is that in our culture these pieces of metal and paper function as currency. They represent value. Money is significant simply because we exchange it for what we value. What you do with your money shows what you value with your heart. Jesus said in Luke 12:34, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The movement of your money signifies the movement of your heart. Where your money goes, your heart is going.

When I write that money is hazardous and helpful, what I mean is that these pieces of metal and paper have the capacity to show that you value things more than God (which is hazardous), or that you value God more than things (which is helpful). The paper is nothing, but its expression of the treasures of your heart is everything.

Someone approached Jesus, in Luke 12:13, and said: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” In other words, ‘I do have something relevant to say to you, but I am not the one to be drawn into the details of this dispute’. Then he gives a warning about how hazardous this inheritance is in verse 15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Jesus is confronted with a man losing his grip on his portion of the inheritance. This inheritance was lying to the man. This is why money is so hazardous. It lies to us. It tries to deceive us. It was saying: “If you lose me, you lose what life can be for you. I am your life. Life will be real life — truly life — if you have me.” That’s what the inheritance was saying. Paul knew that’s what riches say. He told the rich in 1 Timothy 6:18–19, “Be rich in good works . . . be ready to share . . . take hold of that which is truly life.” In other words, don’t be deceived by the message of money that woos you with the words: “Your life will be meaningless and unhappy without me. I am your life.”

To this Jesus says in verse 15b, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It’s a lie! Don’t listen. “Take care, and be on your guard.” This lie will awaken covetousness. The hazard here is huge. Not only is this inheritance not your life. It is about to take your life. Paul said the same in 1 Timothy 6:9, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Beware! Be on your guard! This inheritance is about to kill you.

Life consists in knowing God. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Life is not having things. Life is knowing God.

The rich man thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Why is he called a fool? He kept building bigger barns, which might be OK if you’re storing the grain for a use that shows God is your treasure. But the farmer says in verse 19: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, ONLY IF there is not an infinitely valuable God and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Here’s the key concluding verse that makes the point clearly (verse 21): “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” “Rich toward God” means counting God of greater worth than anything on the earth. “Rich toward God” means using earthly riches to show how much you value God. This is what the prosperous farmer failed to do. The result was that he was a fool and lost his soul. Jesus considers money hazardous. It lures us out of love for God. It lures us away from treasuring God. The issue isn’t that the man’s fields prospered, it’s that God ceased to be his supreme treasure. Here are five things we can do to guard against the hazard and maximise the helpfulness of money.

  1. Study the Bible to see and savour the supreme value of Jesus above all earthly things.
  2. Pray that this would free you from the love of money. (Read: Psalm 119:36; Psalm 90:14). Pray and ask God to expose the deceitfulness of riches by revealing his superior value.
  3. Trust in God’s promises for every need to be met for you, your family and the church. (read: Philippians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Matthew 6:33 - rest your soul on these promises).
  4. Set aside electronically your regular gift to the church, and then add spontaneous gifts in the worship services and projects and needs as they arise.

I take my cue here from Paul’s teaching that giving should be regular and free — disciplined and spontaneous (for example, 1 Corinthians 16:2). This points to the wisdom of planned, regular, disciplined giving. Sporadic giving with no plan will probably mean you are not treating giving as an integral part of your worshiping life. May the Lord grant us all the joy — the sheer unadulterated joy — of finding our life not in possessions, but in the abundance of all in God, and in fulfilling our covenant commitments, and in showing the world what it means to have God as our riches.

Covenanting with you to be joyfully, radically generous,

Steve Jeffrey
Senior minister