I was meditating on this section while I was at a cafe in San Marino and I got a chance to do a prayer walk nearby in a neighborhood filled with million dollar homes. And God spoke to me and what I am about to say is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me as I struggle with its implications for my family. I want to talk for a moment about finances. Hear me on this. I am not saying this because I want you to dump your life savings into the offering plate. God has blessed us with a fantastic facility in Old Town Pasadena, which is incredibly expensive real estate. But if we ever struggle financially and can’t pay rent, it’s no big deal to me. We can meet at my place. Or if that’s too small, we can meet rent-free at the park across the street. I’m saying this for your own good and mine, not because I have some other agenda for this church.
How we spend our money is often a good reflection of our hearts. I know what you’re thinking. Money is not my god. Money is not my master. I thought the same way when I was a college student. It’s easy to surrender money when you have no money. College students are poor, I get it. It is much harder to give away your money when you have a mortgage and mouths to feed. I can say as a college student, I surrender medical school so that I can serve God. But many who say this have bad GPAs so even if that person wanted to go to medical school, his grades weren’t good enough. That person is surrendering an imaginary idol because he is giving up something that he didn’t really have in the first place.
In this country, with all our affluence, the average churchgoer gives about 2% of their income to God’s work. That’s a problem. Why do people say, God is my master, He’s my Lord, yet when it comes to finances, they stay in control of it and give sparingly. The underlying belief is, my money is my money. I am the one who worked hard for it. I am the one who studied for 20 years of my life to get a job where I can finally make money.
Let’s get to the root of the issue. How did we get the job which pays good money in the first place? Our brain, was it something we earned or was it given? Our parents who pushed us to study and gave us opportunities to succeed, was that a right we earned or was it given? Being born in this country or moving here to study, was it really our doing or was it a gift? What if we were born in another country and we were dirt poor and we lacked the intellect and our family was starving so we had to work in the fields and we never got a chance to improve our lives. Is it their fault?
This mentality that my money is mine is completely opposite from the parable of the talents. The parable of the talents views everything in life as stewardship. Everything, my IQ, the opportunities given to me, every blessing is under the sovereignty of God. He gave me everything. He is the source. Therefore, He owns everything. My life belongs to him. Everything including my money is his and I am just a steward.
How do we fight against the allure of money? I want to challenge you, and I am challenging myself, to radical generosity. Giving a tithe or 10 % of your income is actually the minimum God expects from His people. If you don’t believe me, read your Bible. Let God convict you in this area of finances. Given the actual numbers in this country, someone who gives 10 % would be heralded as a super Christian. And missionaries who are called from this country to give up everything, they are like heroes.
We think, I could never do that. I could never move to Bangladesh and live in the slums? Maybe he won’t call us there. But does God expect less from us who stay in this country? No, of course not, He expects the same level of radical commitment wherever we are. The location has nothing to do with it. But like the one talent slave, don’t we have many excuses? The cost of living in LA is out of control. We have too many bills. Debts that need to be repaid. Some of us are already buried in a mountain of debt. Money is like a harsh master because it enslaves and for many of us, it seems like we will never dig ourselves out of the financial pit we have fallen into.
Money is such a powerful master in this country because we are enslaved to it and we don’t even recognize it. As income rises, our level of consumption rises with it. And our financial resources, talents, get locked up in material things.
How do we fight against it? I want to propose one practical application. To be radically generous. Radical generosity in which the percentage of your giving increases as your income increases. Remember, tithe is a bare minimum. By the time many of us max out our earning potential, even giving 10% will not be that painful. It won’t be a sacrifice. You won’t even feel it. You can still live comfortably giving a tithe of 10 % if we allow our spending to go up with our income. In this country, in places like LA esp., we need to fight against the god of money. You don’t have to leave for missions to be freed from the grip of money.
If you are stingy with your money, I can probably guess that you will also be stingy in your service, stingy with your time, stingy in your concern for others. It’s all connected. How are you using your talents, and your finances in particular, for God’s kingdom? We will have to give an account for that which was entrusted to us.
When we give up our resources, to whom do we give it to? Certainly not a building. Not more stuff. We give it to brothers and sister in need. This is the final parable where God separates the sheep from the goat.
The Son of Man returns and there is judgment. It’s important for us to note that this gathering involves religious people. Jesus will gather everyone from churches across the world and he will separate true believers, the sheep, from the false believers, the goat. And what’s the basis for the separation?
40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’
Whatever you did, v35-39, whatever involves giving food to the hungry and drink for the thirsty and taking in the stranger from the cold and clothing the naked and caring for the sick and visiting prisoners. This is mercy ministry. Showing mercy to those with physical, material need. Not showing mercy to anyone, but mercy starts with the least of these BROTHERS of mine. So who are the brothers?
Some argue that the “brothers” here represent the Jews in the Last Days. Proponents of this view argue that the Last Days will be marked by rampant anti-semitism. They cite Zech 14:4, when Jesus comes back to earth. Guess where he lands? The Mount of Olives and the moment his feet touch down upon the mount, the ground will split into two sides. Why do they believe that this parable is speaking about the Jews? They believe that the anti-Christ will seek to annihilate the Jews in the Last Days, as he tried to throughout history unsuccessfully. He will give it one last attempt. And these Jewish brethren will need our help in their time of greatest need.
Even if this position were true, and I am not sure, but regardless, since we are not in the final, final Last Days, we don’t have an opportunity to obey and serve our Jewish brethren even if we wanted to.
At the very least, no one would argue that the least of these includes other Christians. For us at the Hill, the least of these starts with brothers and sisters around us. I would hope that if someone in this body of Christ experiences hardship like losing a job, if we love one another, I would hope that many here would open up their homes and rally support for a brother or sister in financial need. Again, we see this theme of finances. You can’t meet the physical needs of another Christian without a willingness to sacrifice your own money.
What if the needs of all of our members here are met, then whose needs are we expected to meet? Brothers and sisters from other churches in Pasadena and around the world. This is the next group that our mercy needs to touch. Christians outside this church. And of course, there are those who are outside the faith and we need to be willing to meet their needs as well. Not just so they can get a meal and have their stomach filled for a day. But eventually, by our good deeds and our loving witness, so that they, too, can have an opportunity to become a brother and sister in Christ.
Mercy starts with Christians in our church. Then Christians outside of our church. And mercy extends to non-Christians in hopes that they will one day become a follower of Jesus.
Like with the talents, this is not salvation by works. Jesus is not saying, serve the poor, and you go to heaven. Neglect the poor and you go to hell. Jesus is speaking to people who have already placed their faith in him. The true disciples are already saved by God’s grace. Jesus is not teaching that good works save us. He is teaching that good works give evidence of our having been or not having been saved by faith.
Notice the powerful sins of omission in this passage. Jesus’ condemnation of the goats is not based on a list of heinous acts they committed. To the contrary, they are punished because of their simple neglect of the poor. The only bad thing the goats did was nothing. And doing nothing is one evidence of the fact that there is no oil burning in our hearts.
In conclusion, on your wedding day, the bride dresses in a radiant, spotless, flowing white dress. For the believer, that’s a picture of what happens on the inside. As we wait for Jesus, our Master, the one who has given us talents, and we serve him and invest in the kingdom, our hearts become sanctified in the process. Our hearts become cleansed. Like the wedding dress, our hearts become adorned with splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any blemish. We become holy and blameless on the inside.
Nobody knows when Jesus will return for his bride. Therefore, be alert. When you sense God calling you unto salvation, respond to him. Don’t delay. You can’t guarantee tomorrow. You can’t know for certain that your heart will be open to God a year from now. Today is the day of your salvation. For those who already claim to know Christ, be ready. Check yourself. Do you have oil? Do you have the Spirit? Is there fruit in your life? Is there genuine love for God and others? How are you investing your talents? Are you showing mercy to those in need? Let’s be alert because Jesus is coming back soon.