Open your Bible, if you will, to Matthew chapter 6, and I want to read to you three very familiar verses as the setting for our message this Lord’s Day and next. In Matthew chapter 6 and verse 19, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Very poignant, very direct, very simple words, easily understood. Jesus said, “Your treasure is to be invested in eternity.” The Lord, then, introduces to us this matter of using our earthly treasure for eternal purposes. To put it simply, I want to show you how you are to use your money consistently with the teaching of our Lord. And certainly it is an appropriate study at a time like this, when people are spending more money than they do at any other time of the year, and they are spending it on temporal stuff that will be burned up in the end - if it doesn’t stop working in the next week.
In fact, at no time of year is it more evident that our society is crazed with material things. One of the things that I purpose in my heart not to do at this time of year is to go near the mall. The proliferation of things to buy, people to sell them, and victims to purchase them produces a crush that could only be reminiscent of trying to get out of the Rose Bowl after the game, when the ten thousand people in your section are trying to get out the same twelve-square-foot tunnel. The difference is, at the mall, you are trying to buy something in the process of being crushed, frequently buying something you may not even see. We are consumed with consuming.
To give you a little perspective on that, in 1950, ten percent of all income was spent for luxuries, or about fifty billion dollars in America. By 1980, that figure was thirty percent of all income spent on luxuries, about three hundred and fifty billion dollars. And it is now, in the last ten years, moving toward forty percent of our income. To show how that is distributed, between 1983 and 1988, Americans bought sixty-two million microwave ovens, eighty-eight million cars and light trucks, a hundred and five million color TVs, sixty-three million VCRs, thirty-one million cordless phones, and thirty million answering machines - that most cursed of all inventions.
It’s bad enough to have to answer the phone when you’re home, let alone be responsible for what comes when you’re not. Who needs it?
Money magazine concludes that not only do we consume like no culture before us, but Money magazine says we pursue money like no other culture. Money, the magazine said, has become the number-one obsession of Americans. Quote: “Money has become the new sex in this country,” end quote. And Newsweek magazine says, “Americans have achieved a new plane of consciousness.” They call it “transcendental acquisition.” We want the money and we want the stuff the money buys. Whether or not it serves any purpose seems irrelevant.
Randy Alcorn, in his book, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, writes, “The comic strip ‘Cathy’ depicts an interesting dialogue between a young man and woman. Pointing to each item as they refer to it, first one and then the other says, ‘Safari clothes that will never be near a jungle.’ ‘Aerobic footwear that will never set foot in an aerobics class.’ ‘Deep-sea-dive watch that will never get damp.’ ‘Keys to a four-wheel drive vehicle that will never experience a hill.’
“‘Architectural magazines we don’t read, filled with pictures of furniture we don’t like.’ ‘Financial strategy software keyed to a checkbook that’s lost somewhere under the computer no one knows how to work.’ ‘An art poster from an exhibit we never went to, by an artist we never heard of.’
“Finally, with blank stares, one says, ‘Abstract materialism has arrived,’ to which the other rejoins, ‘Yes, we’ve moved past the things we want and need and are buying those things that have nothing to do with our lives.’ And the bumper sticker says it: ‘I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.’”
What are we living for? To consume. One bumper sticker says, “Everybody needs to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.” Pretty shallow life. Have you taken a close look at America lately? When we’re not buying lottery tickets so that we can get more and more money, we are probably watching big game winning shows, because the euphoria - the vicarious euphoria - of seeing someone else get some more material things turns us on.
It is the new sex. It is the new high. And when we’re not buying lottery tickets or watching game shows and watching people win big materialistic prizes, we are then wandering through shopping malls to see if there is something we didn’t know existed that we can buy. And now we have, in this shop-’til-you-drop culture, a new feature called “Home Shopping Network” - curse of all curses - you don’t even have to leave home. Today’s couch potato materialist can sit there, he doesn’t have to get in his car or fight a crowd, he just has his credit card and a phone.
And you say, “Well, it’s a pastime.” “Well, it’s a harmless preoccupation.” That’s not so. The whole materialistic obsession gets very ugly - very ugly.
Dr. Aaron Beck did a ten-year study of patients hospitalized with suicidal tendencies. It appeared in The American Journal of Psychiatry. His bottom line was this: Suicide risk is increased with income. The more money you have, the more likely you are to kill yourself. Another medical study proved - and I quote - “Subtract two years from your life if your family income is over forty thousand dollars a year.” The more money you have, the more you have to be anxious about, the more complex your life becomes, the less years you live.
Another study shows that the increase of money creates moral decline and family disintegration because money becomes the obsession - and I’m quoting - “Among both men and women, the incidence of marital infidelity rises in conjunction with an increase in income.” In other words, the more money you have, the less faithful you are to your marriage. Of the married men earning twenty thousand, only thirty-one percent conducted extramarital love affairs. Of the married men earning more than sixty thousand, seventy percent of them conducted extramarital love affairs.
It is not a harmless pastime - listen carefully - it is a destructive pathology. Materialism is a destructive pathology. And the apostle Paul was on target when he identified it with these inspired words: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge men into ruin and destruction; for the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil and some, by longing for it, have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many a pang.” Materialism is a destructive pathology.
It not only is destructive in the ways that I’ve noted, but in general in our culture. According to the latest crime statistics, the estimate is that ninety-nine percent of all crimes are motivated by sex or money, and money out-points sex four to one. The obsession with money destroys families, destroys lives, destroys culture. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn rightly said, in assessing Western culture, “We are always paying dearly for chasing what is cheap.”
It has a dramatic effect upon the church as well, does this materialistic society. The Bible and even the hymnbook says a lot about following Jesus, but the checkbook says even more. You want to know where somebody is spiritually, go through their checkbook. You’ll find out where their treasure is, so you’ll know where their heart is.
A study of thirty-plus denominations points out that although income after taxes and inflation increased thirty-one percent in the last seventeen years, giving has gone down eight point five percent in the same period of time. We have more than we’ve ever had; we give less than we’ve ever given.
What does it mean when God has entrusted more and more earthly treasure to professing Christians who have greater wealth than they have ever had in human history and are giving proportionately less and less and less and less to the kingdom because they are consumed with the culture? We’re taking our cues, obviously, from the wrong place.
The scandal in the church is not only that lovers of money in the pulpit are scandalizing the church by stealing from the treasury, the scandal in the church is not just leaders loving money and stealing from the church, it is the people in the pew loving money and holding back what is rightfully the Lord’s. Almost half of all charitable giving in the United States comes from households with incomes under thirty thousand dollars. The people above that proportionately give less.
A leader in the Romanian church - and Romania now is one of the few countries left behind the Iron Curtain locked into Communism - but a Romanian church leader said, and I quote, “In my experience, ninety-five percent of the believers who face the test of persecution pass it. Ninety-five percent of the believers who face the test of prosperity fail it.”
Hosea 13:6 may sum it up. “And, being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot me.” When we become prosperous, we become proud. We become conceited. We want to show that off. And so we forget God. And I tell you, beloved, possession of material riches is usually a spiritual liability. Jesus said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.”
This problem of materialism, of wasted money, wasted substance, plagues our culture, plagues the church. And the Bible has a lot to say about this. In fact, sixteen out of thirty-eight of Christ’s parables deal with money. More is said - did you know? - in the New Testament about money than about heaven and hell combined. Five times more is said about money than about prayer.
On the subject of prayer and faith, there are five hundred-plus verses; on the subject of money and possessions, there are two thousand verses. And a Christianity that doesn’t affect how you handle your money is not a true Christianity. We put too much - too much of our life into the pursuit of money in this world and of what it buys. J. H. Jowett was right when he said, “The real measure of our wealth is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money.” How much are you worth, if you have no money, to God, to the kingdom, to others?
So Jesus knows that we face the encroachment of materialism. Probably like no other culture in the history of the human race, we are facing it today in the most affluent society in the world, the most affluent time in history, the most comfort-oriented time. And Jesus’ words to us to not lay up treasure on earth but to lay it up in heaven is very, very, important. To follow up what He said, we need also to hear Him speak on another occasion, recorded in Luke chapter 12, and I would invite you to turn to Luke chapter 12 and consider verses 16-21, again a familiar passage of Scripture, but one that speaks directly to the issue.
In Luke chapter 12, verse 16, Jesus tells a parable (this is one of those sixteen parables about money and possessions), says, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’” Bottom line, I have more than I need. After I’ve used all I could possibly use, after I have amassed all of this stuff, I don’t need it, so I have to store it. This is another problem that we have today. I have lived fifty years on this world, and in the last five, I have come to see a proliferation of storage places. Have you seen those?
I call them Luke 12 storage places. What are they for? They’re to store what you don’t need. It’s incredible. Here we are, a society where people rent places to store what they don’t want. They not only buy what they don’t want, they pay to store what they don’t want in a place they can’t use what they don’t want. Unbelievable.
By the way, I don’t have a storage place.
So this rich man said, “Where am I going to store my crops?” He said, “This is what I will do, I’ll tear down my barns and build larger ones.” It’s an expensive operation. “I’ll store all my grain and my goods.” He wasn’t about to give any of it away, and that’s the problem here. He had more than he needed, but he wanted to keep everything he had. He was greedy and selfish.
He says, “I will store all of it and I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come. Take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’” I’ll no longer work, I’ll just loaf and live off of this. “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you’” - you are going to die, I am going to take your life tonight - “‘and now who will own what you’ve prepared?’ So is the man who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
It couldn’t be more clear, dear friends. If you’re piling up a fortune for yourself, the Lord might just take your life. And then who’s going to be the one who owns it? I don’t believe that it is my responsibility as a Christian to leave everything to somebody else. I believe that I need to be a steward of what God gives me and use it for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom in the years that He gives to me. And if I don’t do that, if I lay up treasure for myself, if I lay up treasure on earth rather than heaven and am not rich toward God, then I’m a fool. I’m a fool by Jesus’ very definition.
Now go over to Luke 16, and here is another of Jesus’ parables about money. He was saying to His disciples, “There was a certain rich man who had a steward.” Now, a steward is a guy who doesn’t own things but he manages them. Here’s a wealthy landowner, a rich man, and he has this guy who is supposed to manage all of his assets. He’s supposed to take care of everything. The steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. The word came back to him, “This guy’s wasting your money. This guy’s throwing away your money.”
“And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’” I’m not going to let you waste my money anymore, so now you give me an account. “The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me?’” And here’s a good indication of what kind of guy he was. “I am not strong enough to dig. I am ashamed to beg.” He was a proverbial wimp.
I mean he didn’t want to do manual labor and he was too proud to beg, so he said, “I’ve got a real problem. I’m going to lose my job. I’m not willing to work and I’m not willing to beg. What am I going to do?” “‘I know what I’ll do,’“ he says in verse 4, “‘so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.’” I’ve got to have someplace to go. I’ve got to have somebody who’ll take me in.
So here was his well-thought-out plan. “He summoned each one of his master’s debtors.” Everybody that owed the master some money, or some commodity, he got them all together, and he began saying to the first guy, “How much do you owe my master?” And he said, “A hundred measures of oil.” And he said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write fifty.” (“I’ll cut it in half for you.”) Well, you can imagine the guy’s reaction. “Oh, thank you, oh, very much - oh, if I can ever repay your debt - oh, this is very generous. Thank you, thank you.”
And he said to the next guy, “How much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” “Oh,” he said to him, “take your bill and write eighty.” “Oh, thank you very much.” And he just moved through the whole group. Well, now, what has he done? He’s got all these people in debt to him. They all feel obligated to him because of what he’s done for them. He knew he was going to get fired anyway, so he didn’t care whether his master got everything he was due.
He discounted everybody’s debt and got them all indebted to him so that when he gets canned, he can go to them and say, “You remember how I helped you out? I need a place to stay and I need employment and” - he was setting himself up. “And his master,” verse 8, “praised the unrighteous steward.” He was unrighteous but he praised him because he acted shrewdly. He was a smart guy. That was smart stuff. And then Jesus says, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” We’re real blockheads compared to them. They’re shrewd - that was a shrewd operation.
Now, notice how Jesus applies it in verse 9. “I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness.” Now, that funny phrase means money. Use your money to make friends. Hey, the world does. Do you know the name of the game out there? You buy friends. Right? You buy relationships. That’s how it works. You cross my palm, I cross your palm; you owe me, I owe you. That’s the way it is out there in the world. They’re very shrewd. They get themselves network by obligation. They’re shrewd.
Jesus says, “They have enough sense to use their money to buy friends who will receive them. That’s smarter than most of you,” He says. Well, what do you mean? Verse 9, middle of the verse, “They do this, that when it fails, they may be received.” “Well,” He says, “I’m telling you that you ought to take your mammon of unrighteousness” - your money - “so that when it fails, they may receive you into eternal dwellings.” They use their money, use their position, to buy friendships that will help them, that will receive them. You ought to do the same. “What do you mean, Lord?”
“This is what I mean, ‘You ought to use your money to purchase friends who will receive you into eternity.’” Do you understand what He’s saying? You ought to use your money for what? For winning people to Christ - so that when you go to glory, you’re going to have some friends who are receiving you. They’re going to receive you because you were the instrument God used financially to provide the gospel for them.
Jesus says, “Even the world knows you use your money to gain friends. You ought to be at least that wise and use your money to gain eternal friends, who will receive you into eternal glory.” They’ll be there waiting when you arrive because you’ve made an investment in their salvation. That indicates to me that they’re going to know. They’re going to know.
So we are, then, according to the words of Jesus, not to be involved in laying up treasure on earth but treasure in heaven. We are not to be involved in storing and storing and amassing and amassing, we are to take what we need, give to others who have need, and trust God for a new supply. We are to be rich toward God. We are to use our money for gospel ministry and evangelism and outreach and reaching people through, obviously, the myriad means the church has to do that, so that in eternity, we will be received by the friends that we have made by that kind of sacrificial giving. That’s how we’re to live.
The problem is that seems frightening to us. If you were in a deprived third world, poor country, this message would come to you perhaps in a different way. You would have very little. You would have maybe enough to feed your family every day. And if you had anything more, you would give it to the poor, and you would have to trust God for the next day and the next day and the next day. And if you got a little more, you would give it to someone who didn’t have, and you would understand this. This would not be that complex. And then if you had a little more than that, you might use it to buy a Bible to give to another poor family that needed Jesus Christ because life would be very simple for you.
But we who live in a materialistic culture, where the temptations of that destructive pathology are so rampant, find it very, very difficult to untangle ourselves and get back to any kind of simplicity. The sin of materialism is a serious sin. It has plagued our nation and it now plagues our church. And I believe it cripples believers. So I want to talk just a little bit about that for a few moments. Let me ask you a question. What are the signs of materialism?
What are the signs of materialism? You say, “Big house, big car, fancy wardrobe, lots of jewelry.” No. No, those aren’t the signs of materialism. Some people may have received those as a gift. Some people may need a large house because they have a lot of children and they have a lot of folks who come there and sleep and stay and rest and are discipled. And maybe they have a Bible study, so they need a larger - that isn’t the answer. Some people may have to have a good car because they have to get where they’re going every time they go and they don’t know how to fix an old one. There are lots of reasons.
Somebody might have nice jewelry because it was a gift, an heirloom - whatever. You don’t evaluate it on that basis. You say, “Well, now, wait a minute, if you have a lot of money in the bank” - no, some people may have money in the bank because they’re making a wise investment with the purpose of giving it to God. They’re waiting for a ministry to have that specific need. And while that need is yet forming, they’re earning interest on their money so they can make a greater gift to the kingdom. You cannot evaluate it on that basis.
Now, there is a line over which you can go, and it becomes apparent that you are demonstrating materialism. You can have a house that is inordinately too big and a transportation mode that is irrational and a wardrobe that is unacceptable and inexplicable. But materialism is not primarily what you have, it’s an attitude. Now let me tell you some keywords, all right? I want you to do a little inventory.
Keep in mind, money is not the root of all evil. What is? The love of it. The love of it, and loving it is different than having it. You can have it and not love it, not have it and love it. What are the signs of materialism? You can do a little inventory. Number one sign: Anxiety over money - anxiety over money. What do I mean by this? I mean that you no longer just manage your money, you worry about it.
You no longer budget and take care of the details of your money, you fret over it. You’re concerned about it. You’re worried about it. You discuss it, husband and wife. You argue about it, you get mad about it. You hassle over expenditures. It’s in your mind, an anxiety. What it usually means is you’re irresponsible and/or you’re spending more than you earn. That’s why you worry - and you should worry.
See, our culture is built on credit, so the majority of people in America spend more than they earn. And if you do that, you’re going to worry about money - that’s materialism - because you are now preoccupied with money. You have a materialistic mindset. It occupies your thoughts. It occupies your anxieties and distracts you from spiritual endeavor. You are not managing your money, you’re anxious about it.
Second word - first word is anxiety, that’s the first attitude consistent with materialism - the second one is covetousness. It is characteristic of the materialist that he envies what others have, that invariably he wants what he doesn’t have. He lusts for something that somebody else has. He’s not content with his situation. There’s something pushing him for the new and the different. He becomes tired of something very rapidly.
And I’ll tell you, folks, we are feeding a generation of children on this mentality. We have a generation of children growing up who have a very difficult time being entertained by anything for more than about five or ten minutes. They are learning to constantly demand something new. That’s covetousness, lusting for what they don’t have, envying what someone else has.
Third word: Selfishness. The attitude of materialism incorporates the concept of selfishness. Simply defined, I’ll put it to you this way, you have no joy in giving. That’s the bottom line in selfishness. You have no joy in giving, little joy in giving. If someone wants to use something you have, you get upset. If someone comes to you and presents a need and tells you about that need, you’re angry about the fact that you think you’re obligated to give.
You write that check out for the church and you write it a little less each time. And even though it’s less than it used to be, you’re upset that you’re even having to write it. You begrudge that. You’ve lost the joy of giving. That is a dead giveaway for selfishness, which is an element of materialism.
Let me give you a fourth word, and I guess maybe the right word for this would be greediness - greediness. Greediness manifests itself a number of ways. Wanting more is obviously the basic definition. In that sense, it’s like covetousness, but greediness is different than coveting. Coveting is wanting what somebody else has. Greed is wanting what you don’t have. It’s sort of the other side of it. It’s just - it’s your personal desire for more, for more, for more, for more.
It feeds on a number of things. It feeds on get-rich-quick schemes, where you’re going to make a lot of money real fast. It feeds on lottery tickets. It feeds on gambling; that is, trying to gain something by chance, which, of course, is contrary to stewardship and to the character of God. It is worrying all the time about the rate of return on your investments. It is reading the stock pages constantly, being burdened to carry around the fact that your stock dropped or your dividends diminished, constantly worrying about your investments, constantly worrying about the rate of return, worrying about the prime rate or whatever it might be. This is greediness,
Because what happens is you are preoccupied with all of this money-making. You’re concerned to make money rather than being concerned to do right, do your best, work unto the Lord, so forth.
Another word that defines materialism is the word discontent - discontent. Discontent seems to be very simply defined as losing appreciation for what you have. And you know as well as I do that this entire culture in which we live is a culture steeped in advertising, and the bottom line in all advertising is to make you discontent, to make you unhappy and dissatisfied with what you have. You see, materialism is not what you have, it’s an attitude. It’s an attitude of anxiety over money.
Instead of just using your money and managing your money, you worry about it. It’s an attitude of covetousness, where you’re envying what others have. You want the kind of style of life, clothes, car, house, whatever else that they have. It’s selfishness, where you, if you have to give, you give grudgingly. It’s greediness, where you never get enough, you always want more, you always want more, and so you’re always scheming on how to get more and are preoccupied with how much more you’re getting, and then discontent means you’ve lost the ability to appreciate what you have.
Another word to add to our list is unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness. What do I mean by that? I mean that in the spiritual dimension, materialism will always show up in a lack of interest and a lack of faithfulness to serving Christ. You’re not concerned with time in the Word of God. You’re not concerned with time in prayer. You’re not concerned with comforting God’s people. You’re not concerned with fellowship. You’re not concerned with using your spiritual gift.
You have no time for serving Christ. That’s a dead giveaway for materialism. You are consumed in your little world, and your world of amassing and consuming is consuming you. And you are unfaithful to serve Christ, to give your life to others.
There’s another word that I think fits into materialism, and this, too, provides an inventory of our own lives, and that is the word “flattery.” Another mark of materialism is flattery. Flattery is simply saying things to people for personal gain. And usually, you are saying things that are only relatively true. You are overstating the case. You are building them up. You are puffing them up. You are stroking them because you believe in such fabrication and lying, there will be personal gain. If you are a flatterer, you are a materialist.
And lastly would be the word “idolatry.” What is idolatry? It means that you are sacrificing relationships with people for things. You are worshiping things, the inanimate idol. That is materialism.
So you are a materialist if you are anxious over your money all the time rather than just contentedly managing it. You are a materialist if you are coveting what you don’t have and lusting for something someone else has. You are a materialist if you lose the joy of giving, if that is not an exhilarating, thrilling joy for you. You are a materialist if you want more, want more, want more, and are always worrying about how much more you’re getting. You are a materialist if you are discontent with what you possess. You are a materialist if you are unfaithful to the service and the relationship you have with Jesus Christ.
You are a materialist if you use flattery on people who can somehow provide more for you. And you are a materialist if you find yourself bowing down to things at the cost of relationships. And, again, I say materialism isn’t what you have, it’s the attitude you have.
Let me show you 1 Timothy 6 again, verses 17 to 19, which I think is instructive for us because it shows us that there are some people who have much and do not necessarily need to be corrupted by that. 1 Timothy 6:17, here we have this Word: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world” - now, there are some people rich in this present world, there must have been some of them in the Ephesian church, where Timothy was pastoring at this time, and Paul tells Timothy to give the rich people a message.
Now, the assumption here is there’s nothing wrong with being rich if your attitude is right. Follow this. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited.” Doesn’t say, “Instruct them not to be rich,” it says, “Instruct them not to be conceited,” not to parade their riches, not to flaunt their riches, not to wear their riches as a badge of their achievement, ignoring the fact that it is God alone who gives you the power to get wealth, it is God alone who creates you with the capacity to make money, it is God alone who even provides that you have it. So tell them not to be conceited about it.
Secondly, tell them not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches. Tell them not to be so foolish that their security is in their money. Back in Proverbs, it says, “Trust your money and down you go.” It says, “Money will fly away.” You’d better tell them not to fix their hope on that but on God. Put it simply, would you rather trust your future security to a bank account or would you rather take your bank account, give it to the kingdom of God, and trust God for your future security? Now we’ll find out where your spirituality is.
You say, “I’ve got ten thousand dollars in the bank.” I say, “Good.” “What should I do with that ten thousand? Somebody came to me and said there is a need for ten thousand dollars in a certain ministry situation. What should I do?” The question is: Are you willing to put that into the kingdom and trust God for the future or are you going to say, “Sorry, God, I don’t trust you that much. Two thousand, I trust you; ten thousand, that’s too much.” I mean that’s where your spirituality becomes reality. Materialism is an attitude and it involves an attitude of unfaithfulness, a lack of trust in God.
Now, notice what else he says in verse 17. “You’d better trust God, not riches, because God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” We could free up so many resources for God’s work if we trusted God. And then he says in verse 18, “Tell them a few more things. Tell them to do good. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works.” God is not impressed with what they have; God’s impressed with what they do. Tell them to do good, do good works. Tell them to be generous, verse 18, tell them to share, and then they’ll store up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
In other words, they’ll lay up a treasure that’s eternal. They’ll get the real treasure, the real life. You tell those rich people, “Don’t be proud, don’t trust your riches, trust God. Do good, be rich in good works, be generous, share, and you will lay your treasure in heaven.” So the Scripture tells us very much about money.
Now, in the next two weeks, today and next time - and I hate to split this into two weeks because whenever you preach on a subject like this, you’re afraid no one will come back for week two, so you’d better come. But I want to ask a few questions and deal with a few issues, all right? I want to talk about the right to possess money, the way to regard money, the way to use money, and the way to give money and make it very practical, okay? For this morning, just point one, the right to possess money. I want to give you the confidence, after all of that, that you have the right to possess money, okay?
The Bible teaches that all money is God’s, all of it. Now listen to me carefully. All the money you have is God’s money. You just manage it for Him. Leave that in your mind. Haggai, the prophet, chapter 2, verse 8, says, “The gold and the silver are mine, it’s all mine,” God says, “all of it is mine.” Deuteronomy 8:17 and 18 confirms that. “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to make wealth.” Everything is God’s, and He gives you the ability to earn wealth.
Proverbs 8:20 and 21 says, “I walk in the ways of righteousness to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.” So if you have wealth, it came from God. He endowed you with it. First Corinthians 4:7 says it this way: “What do you have that you did not receive?” And the answer is: Nothing. So everything belongs to God, and He has given it proportionately by His sovereign will to people in differing amounts. And you cannot give to someone else what doesn’t belong to you, and since everything we have came from God, everything we have that came from God belongs to God. He gave it.
So to start with, then, it’s not wrong to have money, so you can wipe your brow a little there. It’s not wrong to have money. It’s not evil to have money. It’s evil to love money. You see, now you’re into the attitude of materialism. And when you start loving it, you’re going to deal with the anxiety and the covetousness and the selfishness and the greediness and the discontent and the unfaithfulness and the flattery and the idolatry that all flows out of the loving of it.
But it is a gift from God. All the money you have is a gift from God. And it depends on how you handle it whether it’s a blessing or curse. It’s like anything, it’s like natural resources in the world. They are gifts from God. This globe on which we live is loaded with incredible natural resources, and we can go into a lab somewhere and tap into those natural resources and come up with a medicine to heal diseases or we can come up with a poison to kill people. Right? We can come up with a tremendous invention that’s going to make life more comfortable or we can come up with a bomb that’s going to blow people into eternity.
You take sex, which is another gift of God. It becomes in marriage the source of joy, fulfillment, procreation - or it becomes a perverted source of disease that could literally destroy the globe. Take food. Food is that wonderful thing which God has given to us in such marvelous, marvelous variety. I mean isn’t it wonderful? You could imagine that God just could have made some nutritious gunk that we ate three times a day for all our life. But God, in His infinite love of beauty and variety, has given us this incredible gift of food.
But it can be perverted to the point where you literally destroy your body with the wrong kinds of food or too much. It’s like any other gift of God, which is to be received with thanksgiving, according to 1 Timothy 4:4. It can be abused.
“God has given us richly all things to enjoy,” as I read a moment ago in 1 Timothy 6:17, and so we accept those gifts, but they are to be used for His glory. Job was incredibly wealthy, lost it all, and God made him more wealthy in the end. Abraham was extremely wealthy. Isaac and Jacob were blessed with great riches. Even Israel was rich. Isaiah 2:7 says, “Their land is full of silver and gold; neither is there any end of their treasures.”
It’s not wrong to possess that. But Israel was warned by God, “You shall remember the Lord your God.” Don’t forget me. Don’t become conceited. Don’t waste it on your own lusts. Don’t consume it on yourself.
So when we examine Scripture, we first of all want to see the way that we are to use or possess money, and as far as we can tell from Scripture, it’s a blessing from God. We ought to thank Him for it. He gives it to us so that we may meet our needs, so we may help meet the needs of others who are in distress, and so that we may give to the eternal ministry of heaven by winning people to God. That’s why we have our money. Take care of our needs, help the needs of others be met, and give to the kingdom enterprise.
In Acts chapter 2, verse 45; chapter 4, verse 34, you remember that the wealthy in the Jerusalem church sold things they had, took the money and gave it to the saints that didn’t have any. They shared it. It was a good thing there were some wealthy folks who were able to do that. They were using what they didn’t need to advance the kingdom and the church.
Now, not only does God want us to possess money but He has given us some wonderful ways in which we can possess money, all right? Now here, I want to give you a few little words that are designed to increase your bank account. You’ll want to write these down.
Here is spiritual principle number one designed to increase your bank account: Work - work. W-O-R-K, that’s principle number one. Idle hands are still the devil’s playthings. Proverbs 14:23 says this, “In all work there is profit, but more talk leads only to poverty.” Want to be poor? Talk. That does not apply to the ministry. You want to be poor? Talk. You want to be rich? Work. Ephesians 4:28, the apostle Paul says, “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him” - work - “labor, performing with his own hands what is good” - why? - ”in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”
You see, you work to earn what you need, but God wants you to have more than what you need so you can give to what someone else needs, and then beyond that, of course, to the enterprise of the kingdom. Work.
Colossians chapter 3 and verse 22 picks up the same theme. “Servants, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. And whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord,” - and then he says - “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” God will reward your work. God desires that you work so that you may increase your money to meet your needs, the needs of others, the needs of the kingdom.
In Proverbs 28:19, “He who tills his land will have plenty of food.” If you work, you’re going to get a crop. “But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.” If you want to chase around with your wild schemes, you’re going to have nothing. If you’ll work the land, you’ll have plenty of food. And he says, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but the one who just hurries to get rich will not go unpunished.”
So work is the first way we are to earn money. In 2 Thessalonians - do you remember? - the apostle Paul, in chapter 3, verse 10, saying, “Even when we were with you, we used to give you this order, ‘If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.’ For we hear that among you there are some undisciplined people doing no work at all but acting like busybodies.” You have to work.
Proverbs 6 says, “Look at the ant.” Watch the ant. The ant has no chief, no ruler, and no officer. In other words, the ant is the perfect entrepreneur. He’s got nobody in charge of him and he works very hard. Proverbs 20, verse 4, says, “If you won’t plow in the cold, you won’t be at the harvest.” If you don’t do the work, you won’t have the product. And 1 Timothy 5:8 says simply this, “If you don’t provide for your family, you’re worse than an unbeliever.” So God has designed for us to work and earn money.
Second way, this is the second means by which God wants us to gain money: Save - save. Now listen to what I say very carefully. You are not to consume all you work to earn. You are not to consume it all. There is to be a margin there. We call that saving. Proverbs 21:20: “There is precious treasure and oil in the house of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” Another way to say that is the wise man saves for the future; the foolish man spends whatever he gets. The fool will spend whatever he gets. He’ll live to the limit of his income.
Now let me tell you something worse. As I said earlier, most people in our culture don’t live right at the level of their income, they live where? Beyond their income. They have no discretionary money for the Lord’s work. They have no money to give to those who might be in need. And they have all kinds of anxiety. They get trapped in the destructive pathology of materialism because they are spending more than they are earning.
We must operate on a margin. If you don’t, you are presuming on the grace of God. You are hoping God’s going to bail you out from your foolishness. The margin, of course, also can make the difference in your being available to God or not being available to God. If the Lord said to you, “Drop everything and follow me,” you’d have to say, “Well, there’s no way. Absolutely, I couldn’t do it.”
I’ve talked to young men - young men in marriage - who said, “I want to come to seminary, but I’m so far in debt, I could never get out.” If you have no margin, you’re trapped. So you’d better live significantly below your income and save so that you have some discretionary money in case the Lord moves you someplace or in case the Lord says, “Here’s a need I want you to meet. Here’s the ministry over here that needs your resources. I want you to give it to that.” And you say, “Forget it, Lord. I haven’t got anything.”
So many people stop supporting God’s work because they don’t have any money. They pay it all out in bills. And then when they can’t pay it out anymore, they go get a loan to consolidate all their bills and wind up paying more over the long run. And it’s all because we get caught in this materialistic trap. We are limited as to what we can do for God. And if the Lord called us to forsake all and follow Him, we’d say, “Sorry, I can’t do it, I’ve got too many debts.” See, the great American lie - you know what it is? The great American lie is that you are to buy things you don’t need with money you don’t have from people you don’t even like.
God wants you to have money. He wants you to have more money than you need so you can give to people who have need and so that you can advance the kingdom and make friends for yourself in eternity. You have to save and not presume on God so you have some there. “Even the ant,” it says in the Old Testament, “stores up food in the summer because he knows it won’t be available in the winter.” And an ant is smarter than most of us.
There’s a third way in which God has designed for you to gain money, and that is to plan - work, save, plan, three very simple monosyllabic words. Work, save, plan. What do I mean, plan? Budget, get a priority list, keep records. You know the reason that we waste so much money is because we don’t control what we spend? Let me tell you something: The more money you have, the harder it is to control it. Right? Tell you another thing, the more kids you have in your family, the harder it is to control it. We have to learn how to budget, how to keep our priorities.
If you understand it this way, it might help. You are the steward of God’s money. Everything you have is God’s. Right? You manage God’s money for Him. Now let me tell you something. If you managed anybody else’s money the way you manage God’s money, you would be in prison. Do you understand that? You would be in prison. It’s embezzlement, it’s a crime. If you were managing somebody’s money and they said to you, “Where did you get that big new house?” “Well, I just took your money and bought it.” “What?” That happens all the time with the Lord’s money. You see? We’d be in prison.
We must be very wise and very thoughtful stewards of everything God gives us. We manage it for Him. It is a spiritual test, and if you can’t handle it, He says in Luke, “If you cannot handle money, do you think He’ll give you the true riches?” Which I believe are people. Do you think He’s going to let you be a spiritual leader if you can’t even handle dollars? Why would He give you people if you can’t handle dollars?
You have to be a manager. You have to plan. Proverbs 27:23 and 24 says, “Know well the condition of your flocks and pay attention to your herds, for riches are not forever.” You’d better plan carefully. Proverbs 24:3 and 4 says this in one paraphrase, “Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts.” Know the facts, common sense, wise planning. That involves paying your debts, Romans 13:8, “Owe no man anything.” Pay your taxes. Plan carefully.
So God has told us, work, save, plan. And there are a lot of other sort of lesser instructions to help us. God has designed, then, that we should have more money than we need, so we can meet others’ needs and purchase eternal friends through giving to God’s work. That’s basic.
Now listen - now listen very carefully, I am going to wrap this up. Don’t miss this. You’re saying, “I am so glad to know I have the right to possess money. Good. But my problem is I don’t possess enough. I need more money. I’m always short.” I hear that from people at all levels of income. “I’m always short.”
Let me give you a few questions, okay? You say you need more money. First question: Do you really need it? What do you need it for? And what you think you need it for, do you really need? Do you really need it?
Two: If you don’t have enough money, do you think God might be testing your faith? Do you think God might be asking you to alter your lifestyle? Do you think God might be chastening you for misuse and embezzlement? Have you misused what He gave you? Have you violated biblical principles? You know, if you violate biblical principles with money, God will chasten you.
You say, “What are those principles?” Let me give you one way you could violate it. Stinginess. The sin of stinginess. You say, “Is that a sin?” Yeah. Proverbs 11:24, “There is one who withholds what is justly due, and it results only in want.” If you hold back what is due to God, you’ll want. That’s stinginess. Another is hastiness. Proverbs 21:5 says, “Everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” That’s when you get the hots for some quick-get-rich deal.
Third is stubbornness. Proverbs 13:18 says, “Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline.” If you’re just stubborn and you won’t learn and you won’t be disciplined in your life and accept instruction, it may be that that’s leading you to the point you’re at right now.
Another thing that could cause you to have a lack of money is laziness. Proverbs 20:13 says, “Do not love sleep, lest you become poor; open your eyes and you will be satisfied with food.” You know the basic law of having an effective productive life? Open your eyes, get up, get out of bed - the earlier the better. In fact, it says in Proverbs 23:21, “Drowsiness will clothe a man in rags.”
Another sin is the sin of indulgence. Proverbs 23:21 says, “For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty.” If you’re just indulging your flesh, it’ll make you poor. Another is deceitfulness. Proverbs 28:19, “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.”
So if you have too little money, ask yourself, “Do I really need it? Is God testing my faith? Did I misuse what He gave me? Have I violated biblical principles? Have I been stingy, hasty, stubborn, lazy, indulgent, deceitful? Maybe there are reasons why you don’t have enough.
You know, I believe this is a major problem in Christians’ lives, and we don’t know it. We’re having troubles in our life and problems in our spiritual walk, and all of our lives are kind of not what they ought to be, and we can’t figure out what’s wrong. We run off to some guy to give us some counseling that’s going to fix us, and the bottom line is, we’re struggling all over the place because the Lord has His chastening hand on us because we have embezzled His resources.
God wants you to have money - enough and more. He wants you to have enough to enjoy. He wants you to have a home that you can enjoy that’s big enough for your whole family, where you can enjoy life as a family, where you can provide a haven for other people, where you can feed those who are hungry, where you can give rest to those who are weary, where you can present Jesus Christ to those who don’t know Him, where you can have a Bible study, where you can enjoy the beauty of His creation.
He wants you to have the transportation you need to get where you are going, to move you around the world so you can be light in the darkness everywhere. And that’s why I think the speed limit ought to be a little higher so we can get where we’re going to be light quicker.
I mean He wants you to do all of that. The Lord wants you to enjoy the beauty of His creation. He wants a woman to be lovely and a man to be handsome, and He wants that to be a pleasure that you can enjoy and for which you give Him thanks. He wants you to have what you need, have more than what you need, to give to those in need, and He wants you to be able to invest in those eternal friends who will greet you when you come to heaven. That’s God’s desire for you. So you have a right to possess money.
Now, how are you to regard money? We’ve talked about the wrong attitude. What’s the right attitude? You have to come back next week to get that. I hope you’ll be back. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you for our time this morning. What a joy to just get instruction again from your Word. As we think about this season and all that transpires in the world around us, help us to be good stewards of everything you have given to us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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