Text: Mal 1-4
Summary: God is your Father so HONOR Him and He is your Master so FEAR Him.
Text: Mal 1-4
Summary: God is your Father so HONOR Him and He is your Master so FEAR Him.
Cain is mentioned in 1 John 3 and is used as a case study in darkness. Apostle John makes the shocking claim that the heart of someone who sees a brother in financial need and deliberately closes his heart to him is the same heart that hates a brother enough to murder him. Going a bit deeper, we need to ask, why did God reject both Cain and his offering in Genesis 4? The answer to this question highlights the one and only thing that Cain needed in order to overcome sin in his life. Sadly, instead of overcoming and mastering sin, he ended up being ruled by sin.
Read Rom 4:1-4.
– Why is it significant that Abraham was counted righteous PRIOR to his circumcision?
– How does a religious “worker” whose mentality is working to receive his due depict a slave under the law/sin?
– What happens to your motivation to work hard over time when you are under the law/sin?
Read Rom 4:5-8.
– Regarding faith, what is one positive thing applied to us and what is one negative thing removed from us?
Read Rom 4:14.
– How does work nullify the need for faith?
– What happens to Christianity when you nullify faith?
Read Rom 4:16-17, Heb 11:17-19, John 5:21 and Heb 11:3.
– Explain in your own words what Rom 4:16-17 means.
Read 1 Cor 1:28-31. Faith trusts in the wisdom of God and boasts in Him alone.
– How might our boasting in our wisdom lead to a life that is contrary to faith?
– How do we obtain godly wisdom?
– How do we discern spiritual truth, contrary to worldly knowledge?
Read Rom 4:8-25.
– Why is the phrase “it was counted to him” included in Scripture? For whose benefit?
– Why does this passage prevent us from putting Abraham on a pedestal?
Read Rom 5:1-5.
– How do these verses support the idea that life is one long journey of faith filled with testing?
– What is the purpose of sufferings or trials?
– Explain the connection between sufferings, endurance, character and hope.
– Why is hope the culmination of faith?
– Why does real hope not put us to shame?
Read Rom 5:12-16.
– Differentiate between the the line of the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus.
– How does condemnation work to keep us away from the Father?
– Why is judgment not an angry response of God but the natural result of lost children who refuse to come home?
– For the believer, condemnation has been lifted forever. What has it been replaced with?
– Righteousness leads to a clean conscience instead of condemnation. How does this renewed mindset give us the confidence to approach God?
Read Rom 5:17.
– Compare and contrast how death reigned through the first Adam with life reigning in and through Jesus.
– How is reigning in life relate to victory and freedom?
– How does present reigning in life relate with our future eternal life?
– Do Christians ever die?
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.
How does Jesus respond to this kind of spiritual leadership?
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.
There are no masters and disciples among us. We’re all brothers and sisters. There is only one Master and his name is Jesus Christ.
Same logic in v9-10.
9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.
One Father in heaven and one Master/Teacher, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and he is the only person to whom we submit ourselves to wholeheartedly. Christian leaders, we should never demand blind loyalty and unquestioning submission from our sheep. Only Jesus can demand this level of obedience from anyone.
Why is Jesus worthy of our absolute and total obedience?
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus is worthy to be obeyed because he humbled himself to the lowest point. He was the humblest man who ever lived because He was God and yet he allowed himself to be crucified. He was obedient to death, even death on a cross. He humbled himself. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. We can choose to humble ourselves and in due time, God will exalt us. Or, we can try to exalt ourselves, even in the arena of church or ministry. If we exalt ourselves, God will humble us.
Now we get to the seven woes. When you see the number 7, look for a pattern. The technical term is chiastic structure. Jesus as a master teacher doesn’t just randomly list 7 bullet points. Even the structure communicates something significant. There is a mirroring going on in this section. Woe #1 mirrors woe #7. Woe #2 mirrors woe #6. Woes #3 and #5 mirror one another. Woe #4 stands on its own. It stands in the center. It is most important. In the interest of time, I want to focus on this fourth woe because it pulls all the rest together.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
During Jesus’ day, there was a debate as to how far the law of tithing should extend. The consensus was to include green veggies and garden herbs. Jesus does not condemn this level of observance in matters of tithing to include even small things like these vegies and herbs. But Jesus does condemn fussing over these relatively unimportant matters while neglecting the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. He likens this to trying to strain out a gnat but swallowing a camel. Both are unclean creatures. Who would want to eat a gnat or a camel? You don’t want to eat either but at least the gnat is tiny. A camel is huge. How can you focus on a tiny gnat when we are ignoring the huge camel that is going down your throat. Tithing your side salad is so insignificant compared to justice, mercy and faithfulness.
This illustrates a fundamental failure on the part of the religious leaders to discern the main thrust of Scripture–justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving God, loving neighbor, the Great Commission, the gospel. And when the main thrust of Scripture is lost, then everything unravels as evidenced by the other 6 woes. Truth is mis-represented, leading to a corruption of the people and utter spiritual blindness. Blindness to the point that they could not recognize true revelation when it comes supremely in the person of Jesus the Messiah.
This leads us back full circle to Matt 21:18, the section that speaks about the fig tree.
18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Jesus condemning a fig tree seems a bit random at first glance. Jesus was hungry and he goes to a fig tree. And apparently, he expected to find a fig to eat, but there is no fig present. There again is the reference to fruit. For this event to make sense, we have to understand how fig trees grow. Fig trees grow by first producing figs and then the leaves come out. So if a fig tree has full leaves, it’s a sign that a fig must be present.
In the gospel of Mark, the same incident is recorded. And we learn that it was not fig season. So it’s odd that this particular fig tree would have leaves. Because again, full leaves are a sign that fruit is present. But the presence of full leaves in this case was false advertising. It was all show. There was no substance. No fig. And Jesus curses the tree so that others would not be fooled and go to the tree like he did looking for fruit.
Jesus uses this fig tree as an object lesson for the religious leaders. You guys are just like this fig tree. You have all the leaves, but there is no fruit. The Jewish religious system had become a man-centered enterprise, devoid of God’s presence. Essentially, it was empty, dead religion. Just like they had turned the temple moments before, from a house of prayer into a den of thieves, Jesus switches metaphors and uses this figless fig tree to be a sermon illustration for the spiritual state of Israel.
What an important lesson Jesus has wrapped up in this fig tree. There have been churches which have stood prominent in numbers and in influence. But a humble dependence on Jesus has not been maintained, and the Holy Spirit has left them. All that is left is a vain show of a fruitless profession. And these churches adorn every block in this country. They may be run very efficiently and have great programs. But they are dead, and every year they become more and more decayed.
May it never be so here at the Hill, at this church. We are small in number at present. And there is a humility that comes from being small and unimpressive in the eyes of the world. There is a dependence on Jesus that may go away as God adds to our number, and this body grows to be a considerable size of men and women professing to be converted. But unless godly, Spirit-generated fruitfulness is present in our midst, what good would it be? We might have a thriving ministry one day, but what good would this be without the Spirit of God? We might have a large membership one day because living things ought to grow, and one day we might have many outward ministries to serve our community. But what does it matter without the spirit of prayer, the spirit of faith, the spirit of grace? I pray that we would never end up like this tree. We might have eloquent professions of faith among us and yet be worthless in the sight of the Lord because the secret life of piety and devotion to Christ are gone.
This is the lesson of the text, but I do not want you to consider this text only in terms of churches and organizations and institutions. May we apply this truth soberly to our own hearts. The reason why we go over salvation testimonies deliberately, carefully, painstakingly for our prospective membership candidates is because we want to make sure that your profession of faith was not just mere words. In too many churches, someone comes forward and makes a decision and everyone hugs them and congratulates them and the person who made a decision never questions their salvation for the rest of their lives. They might stop going to church for decades or they might be committing blatant sin year after year, but they always point confidently to the decision they made when they were a child or a teenager. We may profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but only fruit validates that the profession is one born out of a genuine conversion.