Intro: Money is a sinister master.
The front page of CNN last night was about Powerball, the $600 million lottery. The title of the article was “$2 and a Dream.” What does that front page article tell you about Americans? I find it troubling and it’s related to the topic this afternoon. Today, I want to talk about a topic that most preachers avoid–finances. I understand this is a touchy subject. Even when we go through our membership class for prospective members and we get to the topic of tithing, I just pass out a handout because I prefer that people read Scripture and struggle with this topic on their own. Because when it comes to finances, I know how people get.
I myself have a personal reaction against certain televangelists who will promise you a life of healing and blessing if you call them and give them your credit card. There are many false teachers today who are pretending to be ministers of the gospel. Instead of feeding the flock, they are fleecing the flock into giving away all of their finances and falsely promising that if you give money to God’s work, you the giver will be blessed financially. Meanwhile, these false teachers live in million dollar homes and their congregations gather in multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facilities. The prosperity gospel is a false gospel. From today’s text, we will learn unequivocally that God never promises blessing and prosperity if you give money to the church. That’s unbiblical. If you hear something like this at any church, I suggest you leave because you are listening to a false teacher.
We need to understand what the Bible says about finances. There are some famous verses about finances. Like Matt 6:19-21–
19 Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Then, a few verses later, in Matt 6:24–
24 No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of Money.
Most of us hear these verses and think, money and slavery? I am not a slave to money. I remember telling my parents when I was recently converted zealous sophomore in college that I didn’t need much money. Back then, I was a single guy, making $60K which was a lot back then and still is and my rent was $300-$400 so I was making way more money than I needed to live. So I believed sincerely that money had no hold over me and that I could live just above the poverty line and give away the rest to those who needed it more.
My dad is a professor and so he is not shy with words. He listened to me and responded, Ray, you are naive. You don’t know the value of money. He is a finance professor so he actually knows quite a bit about the value of money. He went on to lecture me that everything in life is tied to money so how can I say, I don’t need it. You know what? He was right. I didn’t know fully what I was saying. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have a mortgage so I didn’t really know what I was talking about then. If I can say the same thing now when I have a wife and 3 kids and a mortgage, then my words carry more weight. I would have to really believe it when I say, I can live with very little money because life is much more complicated now. And it’s not me, the single guy, but my view of money affects my family.
If it is true that there are 2 primary masters in life–God or Money–and it is because Jesus himself says so, AND we live in an affluent nation like America, we got to know that many of us are simply blind to the hold that money has over us. If you are like me when I was college student and said, money has no hold over me, then you’re probably blind or naive or both. If you never really studied this topic of finances biblically and never really struggled over concrete decisions related to finances, I hate to say, but you are probably blind.
Money is such as sinister master because it enslaves us with many invisible chains and the worst part is that we don’t even perceive the chains. Think about people in credit card debt having to pay back 15-20% interest. They are bound. They can’t do anything because all extra funds are siphoned off to the credit card companies. We don’t perceive the chains. In fact, we don’t even think finances is something we need to struggle against. If you are demon-possessed, then you know you are enslaved because you look in the mirror and everyone around you can see the visible effects of that bondage. But the enslavement that comes from Money is harder to discern because its chains are often hidden from view. Just because you don’t buy fancy cars and you don’t live in a million dollar home does not mean that you are necessarily free from bondage to Money. Sometimes the most frugal people are the most enslaved.
Consider the American Dream, which even Christianity in America has adopted wholesale as part of our faith. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Since when did personal happiness become the goal for a follower of Christ? I thought we were to deny ourselves and to take up a cross and follow Jesus. Since when did having financial security and living in a home with a two car garage and a white picket fence become the Christian ideal? Didn’t Jesus himself say, foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Jesus and the 12 lived as nomads. They wandered around and lived off of the generosity of others as they went around from place to place preaching the good news.
I hate to break it to you, but the American Dream of buying whatever you want is not the same thing as Christian reality. The American Dream is built upon the foundation of selfishness. The more I give, the less I have for myself. And the less I have for myself means the less ability I have to buy the things I want.
On the Forbes website, I read that there have been studies which confirm that beyond a certain threshold for a household income, more money does not translate into more happiness. The amount is $75,000 and even that is a lot compared to 99% of the world’s population. But we don’t believe that we need to put a cap on our standard of living. We think more is better. Why? We think more money equals more happiness. This is a flat out lie. Because once you open the door to consumerism, there is no end to human greed. Greed is like a broken cistern. A leaky jar. The more you pour into it, the more leaks out. And in the end, there is nothing in the container.
Other studies show that on average the richer people are, the smaller the percentage of money they give to charity. Whether the American church is a generous church compared to the church in the third world will be revealed at the last day when all the accounting is done on the Day of the Lord. It is my prayer that God would guard us from the blinding and binding effects of wealth. It can be a great source of joyful giving, but it more often turns wants into “needs.” When we see an ad for the Samsung SIV, we think, I NEED that phone. I can’t breathe unless I have it. Not only do we turn our wants into needs, wealth also makes us blind and callous to what is happening in other parts of the world.
In this country, we work and we work and we work so that we can get promoted so that we can get paid more so that we can work even harder and longer hours. In the end, we provide for our families nice things, but we don’t even have time to give them what they need most–ourselves. Time spent together. And even when we do have time together, you are so exhausted from work that there is no quality time. You are too tired to do anything except to veg out in front of a screen together as a family. And in places like LA where the cost of living is so high, we assume that both parents have to work. It seems everyone lives in a double income family around here. Just to make ends meet because we keep raising our standard of living.
The best we can muster is a week long family vacation and then you get back and the rat race continues. This is insanity. This is not how God wants us to live. No wonder there is so little time for God. Could it be that you and I are blind to the invisible chains of our master named Money?
If you agree with Scripture that next to God, our most likely master is Money, then the rest of the message is for you. If you do not believe that Money could be enslaving you, may the Lord give you ears to hear as this message is preached.
Part of the difficulty here is the fact that when you are blind to some truth about God or yourself, you can’t see it. That’s what blindness is. Because we have grown up in the West, in comfort and relative riches, there comes with it a certain blindness about things like money. I remember reading a Christianity Today article a few months ago and they compared a typical Western interpretation of the Prodigal Son parable with a group of readers from poorer nations. The Westerners interpreted the parable in a very individualized, personal, hyper-spiritual way while the people from a different culture and a different socioeconomic background noticed details that few Westerners picked up on. For example, one of the details that was mentioned by the non-Western readers was the fact that the Prodigal Son wasted his inheritance and had no money and was literally living among the pigs. In absolute poverty. When your own reality is not that far off from the Prodigal eating with the pigs, then you notice such details. While those of us who have much gloss over the same details. Our interpretive lens is very much influenced by our context, which means, we all have blind spots.
I don’t know how many years I read certain passages when the “poor” was mentioned and I spiritualized it. How am “I” spiritually poor? God began to reveal to me a few years ago that I had been reading those verses all wrong because the context shows that the writer was speaking about those who were poor materially. It was not talking about spiritual poverty at all. The Bible mentions throughout the plight of widows and beggars and the sick and the diseased and orphans, people who have no money. We need to be aware of our biases and our possible blind spots and study the Scripture in its original context and prayerfully ask the Spirit to illuminate truth so that we don’t end up believing what we want to believe or what is comfortable to believe.
2 Cor chapters 8 and 9 are prime examples where many Christians miss the uncomfortable intent of these chapters by making the application overly general.
2 Cor 8
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia.
Grace here means spiritual forgiveness and love and mercy from God. This is the general definition of grace that often comes to mind. But there is a specific, narrow use for the word “grace” that we find here, starting a few verses down in v7, we read–
2 Cor 8
7 Now as you excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this grace.
Here, grace refers to the grace of giving money. Likewise, in 2 Cor 9:6, we read–
2 Cor 9
6 Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.
We like to read this as sowing and reaping generously with our time and our talents, but if you read on, v7–
2 Cor 9
7 Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.
What are we to give and what are to excel in? Again, we are to excel in the grace of giving, not time, not talent, but treasure. Giving money.
Lastly, 2 Cor 9:14–
2 Cor 9
14 And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you.
What is the surpassing grace of God which causes other believers to have deep affection for the Corinthians? It is the grace of God as demonstrated by their financial generosity to the saints in need.
To give you more of the background, turn with me to 1 Cor 16:1-3. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while he was at Ephesus and he speaks about a collection.
1 Cor 16
1 Now about the collection for the saints: You should do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come. 3 When I arrive, I will send with letters those you recommend to carry your gracious gift to Jerusalem.
Paul is on his way to Corinth to pick up the money and take it to Jerusalem for the church there. Jerusalem was the original church, probably numbering in the thousands because in one day, Peter preached and 3,000 were saved. It was probably the largest mega church of the first century and given the economic situation of the day, it is likely that there was a large number of saints there who had great financial need. So Paul is headed north through Troas, across the northern part of the Aegean Sea, through Macedonia where the Philippian and Thessalonian churches are, and south toward Corinth. On the way, he writes 2 Corinthians to send ahead of him, and he devotes two whole chapters to the collection of funds that he hopes is ready for him when he arrives. Quick side note–notice how God is concerned about the saints who are poor. God’s heart aches for the poor in society regardless of their belief, yes, but God’s heart aches in a special way when he sees his own people, the saints at Jerusalem, suffering economic hardship.