We’re wrapping up a couple series’ over the next few weeks here. We’re at the tail end of our 1 Corinthians study, studying the final chapter. The first couple verses of that chapter became a jumping off point for a mini-series about “stewardship”, the wise and godly use of all the good gifts that God has given us.
On the first week of our stewardship series, we covered some of the ways the Christian church has gotten a bad reputation for how we use and ask for money, explained the historical background of this passage, and talked about why churches gather weekly collections. This led to a discussion of the importance of developing a lifestyle habit of generosity –holding our lives, skills, and possessions loosely and allowing God to dictate how they are to be used. The big question was to ask ourselves if God’s love is reflected in not only our words but our deeds.
This led to a conversation about how to steward our whole lives in a Christian way, using our time, talents, treasure and testimony for God’s glory. We asked some important questions last week and were challenged to clarify in our own hearts how we see ourselves, our stuff, and the people around us.
If you recall, I said the first question of Stewardship is always, “Whose is it?”. When we look at the time we have been given in a day, the abilities and skills we possess, the wealth we have, and all the things that have happened to us that have created the story of our lives, before we do anything with it, Christians must first ask themselves, “Whose is this?”. Whose time is this? Whose talent is this? Whose treasure is this? If our answer is “It is God’s” then that changes everything about how we use it.
The second question Christians must ask themselves is, “What am I supposed to do with it?” If we acknowledge that what we have is God’s first, then the next, logical question is, “What does He want me to do with it?” That led to a study of Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” where the was, in its most basic form: God wants us to do “something” with it. The big lesson was that the third steward was condemned because he did nothing with his talent.
This led to talking about how what we do with our lives and our stuff is directly connected to how we see God. If we believe God is generous, then we will be generous with others. If we believe God will provide for us, then we will be more kind with others. But, if we believe God is stingy, holding back on us, keeping us in want, then we will be stingy with others, hold back on them, and hold tightly to what we have.
Before we keep going though, please watch this:
Jennifer said that she thought that money was the answer to her problems. What problems were those? They were ones based on fear. She was afraid that her husband wouldn’t love her so she used the acquisition of wealth to keep her husband happy. She was afraid of people seeing her badly, so she used money to look wealthy. She was afraid her friends would leave her, so she used her money keep her friendships. That fear overtook her life as she constructed higher and higher walls, making a barricade out of money and things to protect her from the fears inside her.
By God’s grace, she lost that money and that caused her to have to rethink everything about her view of security and wealth and become a different person.
I summarized everything we’ve been learning so far about Christian Stewardship in one statement: “Everything is God’s and I am a steward of His resources. I will use what He has given me, as best I can, His way, despite the risks.” This is how Christians see not only their money, but their time, abilities, and lives. The only question is whether or not you agree. And if you do agree, that means you are going to live very differently from the world.
Let me break it down for you into smaller agreements: “Do you believe that ‘everything is God’s?” All your hours, all your money, all your possessions, all your abilities, your past your future, your family, your relationships, your mouth, your mind, your job, your hobbies, your vehicle, your computer, everything? Or, are there parts of your life that you believe are yours to do with as you please and God isn’t allowed to touch? I know one person who actually said to me, “If God asked me to be poor, I’d stop following him.” What have you told God that He can’t touch or else?
Next, do you see yourself as a steward of His resources? In other words, do you hold everything loosely because it’s not yours, but simply given to you to use for God’s purposes, and only for a short while? Or, do you believe that you are the owner of all you have and can do whatever you want with it?
And have you committed to using these resources even if it is risky? The third steward in the Parable of the Talents was afraid. Does your life reflect risky stewardship? This could mean setting your schedule to glorify God rather than advance your career or do the things you prefer. This could mean giving money or things to people that you don’t know simply because they need it. This could mean using your talents and abilities even if you might be embarrassed or misunderstood. Or this could mean sharing your story even if it means others might judge you. Does your life represent a risky use of your time, talents, treasure and testimony?
And finally, are you using what you have in the best way? That’s what we’ve been discussing over the past little while. We’ve talked about how to use our Time and our Talents best, and today we’re going to talk about the stewardship of our Treasure, or our finances and possessions
Jesus and Money
This is the money part, never anyone’s favourite subject – which is why I spent a few sermons building up to it – so we could all understand that this subject is about much, much more than meeting the church budget, how much you put in the plate on Sundays, or whether you sponsor a World Vision child. That’s part of it, for sure, but as I’ve been saying, how you use your money and wealth is directly connected to your perception of God.
Jesus actually talked a lot about money. One place I read said that one out of ten verses in the gospels deal directly with the subject of money. Almost half of Jesus parables are about the use and misuse of money and possessions and how money affects people. And in the whole Bible, there are more than two thousand verses about money and possessions.Why?
Consider what happens when you listen to a preacher talk about money. What happens inside you? What do you assume about that person and their church? Greed, manipulation, hypocrisy come to mind, right? Televangelists who want you to buy miracles and forgiveness, prosperity preachers in fancy clothes who want you to buy them a new airplane to prove your faith, false teachers who say that the more you give the more God will bless you. But Jesus talked a lot about money. Was He greedy? No, He lived a very simple life. Was Jesus a manipulator who sold lies to gullible people? No, His message was about finding forgiveness and escaping the judgement of God by accepting the free gift of salvation through Him.
Yet Jesus talked a lot about money. Why?
Because our perception of our money and possessions is directly connected to our relationship with God. God knows that money and possessions are a huge problem for us. Wealth and comfort are humanities greatest temptation, greatest distraction, greatest source of division. People have been captured and enslaved as cheaper labour for wealthy nations. Children have been worked to injury and death to keep material wealth flowing. Wars have been fought over possessing land and trade routes. Families explode because of the division of a dead relative’s inheritance. Marriages end because of financial struggles. As Jesus warned us, people forfeit their souls to gain the world (Matthew 16:26), people despise God and serve money (6:24).
Consider the recent story of Melina Roberge. She is a young woman who wanted to see the world and post pictures of herself on Instagram, but couldn’t afford it. Her solution was for her and her friend to agree to smuggle $16 million dollars’ worth of cocaine aboard a cruise ship. They’re now spending up to 8 years in prison. She wasn’t in debt. She didn’t have creditors and loan sharks knocking at her door. She just wanted to live like a wealthy person and was willing to trade her future for it.
We might judge her and say, “Wow, I’d never do anything that reckless or stupid.” But turn with me to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 and let’s read together how we are often no different.
What Drives Us To Want Money?
Listen to the words of Jesus in 6:1 first,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus isn’t talking about how important it is to be generous, but how we are to conduct our generosity. What’s happening in the here? Jesus is contrasting two types of givers – the hypocrite and the secret-giver. Both see a need, both are obedient to the command to give, both even give, perhaps, the same amount. What’s the difference? One announces their generosity, one does it in secret.
But what’s the fear driving the hypocrite? That they will receive no reward for their giving. They want their gift to be noticed, acknowledged, and “praised”. Their fear is that they will do something good and no one will ever know – and it will, therefore, be a waste of time.
So, I ask you, “What is this person’s relationship with God like?” Their generosity is not driven by love for God or their fellow man, is it? They don’t think God will reward them properly so they seek reward from others. In their heart, God is unfair, uncaring, maybe even unaware of their good deeds.
Now, if this person believes that life’s greatest rewards come from the attention of the people around him, what does that say about who they are living to impress? What is their view of heaven and the afterlife? Who are they most afraid of offending? God or man? Man, right? It is the world that they believe is most worthy of their attention and consideration. It is to the world that they will bend their knee. So if they are forced to choose between obeying God’s Word or denying it for the sake of appeasing their fans, friends or family, which do you think they will they choose? The people around them, right?
So, even though this person is seen by the whole community as religious, kind, generous, boisterous in their giving – how is their relationship with God? Not very good. They fear man more than God and eternity in Heaven isn’t as good as what the world can offer them.
Treasures in Heaven
Now, turn to verse 19 and let’s read it together:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on 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 and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What’s going on here? Again, we see a contrast of people. Both are “laying up” or “storing up” or “collecting” or “accumulating” treasures for themselves, right? The question isn’t whether or not people should seek treasure, but where they are supposed to keep it. God acknowledges that everyone has an innate desire to make piles of things we find to be important – it’s written into our DNA. When we like something, we want more of it. When we experience something we enjoy, we want to do it again. When we love something, we want to protect it.
So, what’s the difference here? Location. One person is storing their “treasures on earth”. What do they love most, what are they making piles of? We get an idea of what Jesus is talking about. He says that some people make piles of things that devouring insects like moths and termites can destroy, so that includes organic things made of wood, cotton, wool, silk, leather, feathers, fur, and food. That’s a lot of stuff we have, isn’t it? Jesus says that the piles are also made of things that can rust, meaning things that get old and eventually break down in the course of time. That basically includes every piece of technology we have from hammers and iPhones to houses and cars. Jesus also says that our worldy piles are made of imperishable things too. Bugs can’t eat them, they aren’t damaged by time, but they can be stolen – which is pretty much everything else: gold, silver, bitcoin, and really, anything that’s not nailed down.
There’s a McDonalds that I often go to in Ottawa that used to have fancy café style, cushioned seats in one part, but after a little while, they were replaced by those ones that are cemented into the ground. I liked the cushy ones and asked what happened. The guy behind the till said, “They kept getting stolen. People would come in, distract us, and then grab all the chairs and walk out the doors. It happened multiple times, so the managers just decided to get kind people can’t steal.” There’s nothing out there that people won’t steal.
But what’s going on behind the scenes here? Again, we see two contrasting people. One is concerned about amassing worldly wealth, the other heavenly. What does that mean? Jesus explains using a metaphor in verses 22-23:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
It’s all about the internal motivations of our external actions. Just like we say a person’s heart is behind one’s affections and commitments – like when we say, “He gave a whole-hearted attempt” or “His heart wasn’t in it.” – so do the eyes tell us what a person’s priorities are. If a person has “wandering eyes”, it means they are unfaithful to their spouse. When we tell someone to “keep your eye on the prize” we mean to block out distractions and focus on the goal. When someone is angry or happy or jealous, but trying to conceal it, we say, “You can see it in their eyes.”
We say that we can’t know what’s in someone’s heart, but a person’s eyes often betray their inward motives. That’s sort of what’s being gotten at here. It’s about how a person’s focus determines their intentions and their destination.
If one is focused on accumulating clothes, wealth, treasures, and security on earth, then they are focused on what Jesus calls “dark things”. If your eye consistently wanders towards wealth, financial security, envying others who are richer, gaining more and better things, adding to your collection, making greater piles that are locked up in more secure strongholds – that betrays a darkness that is within you – and that darkness makes you blind to the truth, blind to what which is truly valuable, blind to God. It is only when it is taken away that you can finally see.
But if you are focused on storing and accumulating your wealth in heaven, meaning your greatest concern is what God thinks, how God will reward you, what your eternity will look like and who will be there with you – your focus is on “light things”.
These are two completely different lives, right? One focused on self, the other focused on God and others. One focused on the here and now, the other on the future. One focused on comparing their piles with others, the other on what God wants them to do with what they have. One concerned that what they have will be ruined and stolen, constantly worried about their stuff, the other free from that concern because they trust God for their provision.
But which do we often associate with being blessed? The one with the piles of wealth and financial security or the one who gives away their piles and has to trust God for daily bread?
A Christian cannot waver between the two. We must choose. This isn’t about how much you have, whether you are rich or poor or in-between, but about how you see what you have – that inward darkness or light that drives your intentions and your destination. There are wealthy righteous people and poor selfish people. There are wealthy selfish people and poor generous people.
Jesus says in verse 24 that we can’t ride the fence on this one. We can’t store up piles on earth and in heaven. We can’t fear man and fear God. We can’t make piles because we are worried about our security and our retirement and say we trust God. We can’t compare ourselves to others and want what they have and say that we trust Jesus and are living His way. He says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
We’ll talk more about this next week, but let me close with this: Martin Luther once said,
“There are three conversions: the conversion of the heart, the mind, and the purse.”
What he meant was that in a Christian’s life we usually start by asking Jesus for forgiveness and call Him our Saviour. We give Him our heart. Then, as we progress in the faith, are challenged to defend our faith, spend time in study, and give up bad habits, we turn our minds, our thought lives, our attention to Jesus.
But for many believers, the place that their conversion stops is their purse, or their money and possessions. Most don’t tithe regularly, many don’t live generously. Many Christians, when faced with tragedy or trouble, run to money way before they even consider God. They turn to their overdraft, their credit cards, get a loan or another mortgage. Many are up to their eyeballs in debt and couldn’t help someone if they wanted to. Many more are caught in webs of jealousy and envy, comparing themselves to others, buying things they don’t need on credit, and resenting God for not giving them more. Many Christians live in a state of constant anxiety about their financial future, giving up their parenting responsibilities, their marriage, and even their health because they’re always worried there won’t be enough. How many Christians have a storage box or a full room at one of those Dymon buildings full of things they are paying rent simply to hoard for months on end – never considering that they don’t need it and others do?
Why? Because they have not yet had the conversion of the purse. Their eyes are fixed on dark things, their treasure is on earth, and they are more afraid of men than God.
We are all caught up in this in some way. Let me encourage you to take some time this week to think through this, to pray through this, to ask God to open your eyes to “light things” and show you parts of your life you haven’t turned over to Him yet – so that you can grow in faith, wisdom, and fear of the Lord.