We had a phone call last Sunday afternoon that informed us that this could be my last week as pastor of Beckwith Baptist Church. As I said in the announcements, there’s a vote on Wednesday that will determine whether I’ll be around for six more months – or that this will be my last sermon – maybe ever. Many of you know the situation, so I’m not going to go over it here.
But, it’s a sobering thought. What if this really is my last sermon, ever? What if, after today, I go home, get told on Wednesday that I’m done, and then never stand in a pulpit again? Spending the week trying to figure out what that might look like has been strange and difficult – as all of life’s major transitions are.
I’m sure many of you have been through something similar. The death of a loved one, moving to another place far away, divorce, changing churches, some environmental disaster… all have a seismic impact on our lives. And it’s not always bad things that rock our little boats. Sometimes it’s good things – a new opportunity, a missions opportunity, meeting someone special, getting married, coming into some money, moving on to university, or starting a new career, are all events that cause stress and make us totter a bit, forcing us to find solid ground, get our bearings, and evaluate our lives.
For me, this week, the thought, “If this is my last sermon ever, what should it be?” has stuck in my mind. And as I chewed on it, one passage kept coming to mind – the Sermon on the Mount. It’s probably the best place I can think of to turn to find solid ground, true north, and a proper assessment of what our priorities should be.
Turn with me to Matthew 5-7 – the greatest sermon ever preached, given by the Lord Jesus while He sat on a hillside facing a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee, to a huge crowd of people who had seen His miracles and wanted to know what He was all about. Jesus sat down to teach the small group that were committed to following Him – but the picture is of literally thousands of people all leaning over their shoulders listening in.
The Sermon on the Mount
If you’ve read this passage, then you’ll know there’s a lot going on here, and it’s very impactful – and there are a lot of perspectives on it. Some see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a list of instructions, the marching orders of their life, and check-list of ways to try to earn their way into heaven. Others see it as hyperbole, an over exaggeration of some unachievable ideal we should be shooting for, but can never achieve. Some see this as an instruction manual on how to be a super-Christian, better than everyone else, or think that it was only meant for the apostles, so it doesn’t apply to them. Some say we should be living these words out every day, while others teach that it only applies during the end times.
But what the Sermon on the Mount really is, is an inaugural address, a manifesto, a constitution, a sort of throne speech / state of the union address, where Jesus outlines what life in His Kingdom is all about. He, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, is looking at those who chose to follow Him – and those who were thinking about following Him – the nation He had founded when He chose Abram and Jacob and Moses so long ago – and told them what life in His Kingdom was supposed to look like, what He as King expected, what God as Creator expected, what the governing laws and judgments and priorities of His kingdom would be. The crowds had been schooled in the Pharisees version of what God’s ways were (which we’ve covered a lot of times so I won’t repeat it now) and here, Jesus gives a huge list of corrections.
If you’ve read it, you’ve probably noticed that Jesus goes through a lot of the Old Testament. He’s basically trying to rewire all the mess the Pharisees had created and give the proper interpretation and application of the Law and the Prophets. Why? So He could create a list of rules to live by? No…that’s what the Pharisees did. What Jesus was doing was giving people the recipe for an abundant, Godly life, full of peace, hope, joy, freedom, and forgiveness.
All they had heard before was about God’s anger and wrath, and how the only way to appease Him was through obeying depressing lists of joyless rules that made life miserable. They had been taught that anyone who was sick, oppressed, persecuted, poor, or miserable was clearly under God’s judgment. And that religion was a path to worldly health and wealth. Jesus corrects all of that.
At first, the Sermon on the Mount looks like a list of rules, but if you look closer, it’s actually a list of freedoms! It’s the words of a gracious and loving God showing His people how to live free of sin, vice, error, darkness, and fear of man. It’s teaching us how to really love people, and really connect with God – not just how to do religious stuff. It paints a picture of a God who knows us, loves us, even likes us as individuals, so much so that He wants us to have all the things our hearts desire – and is more than willing to give it. It’s a sermon full of unfiltered, unadulterated, clear, clean truth. No couching, no hemming and hawing, no giving two sides of the argument, no differing opinions, just the way of truth that leads to life – from the One who is “The Way, the Truth and the Life”.
Jesus kicks off the sermon with a bang, completely upending humanity’s entire understanding of how life works. He gives what we call “the Beatitudes”. Beatitude comes from the Latin word BEATUS which means “blessed” or “happy”, because that’s how they all start.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)
In other words, the citizens of the Kingdom He is about to describe, those who will be King Jesus’ workers and soldiers and priests, His adopted brothers and sisters who will be the co-heirs to the throne – will be people who realize they are spiritually bankrupt, unable to give anything of value to God, and who know they must absolutely depend on His mercy and grace for everything.
In one sentence Jesus blows their entire, corrupt, works based, honour based, hypocritical, religious system out of the water. He says, “My people, God’s true followers, aren’t the self-sufficient, arrogant, pious, holier-than-thou, popular, powerful, whitewashed-tombs you think are God’s favourites. God’s favourites, the blessed ones, the ones who have God’s ear, are those who know they have no good thing in them, no reason for God to love them, nothing to offer, and know they are wretched, sinful, and broken –but who know that every day they must depend on God for anything good, completely hoping in Him.”
And the rest of the Beatitudes, and really the rest of the Sermon on the Mount are about taking that first sentence apart. What does a humble, dependant, follower of God look like? Look at the rest of the beatitudes:
A citizen of God’s Kingdom mourns their sins, and the effects of sin in this world, and comes to God for their ultimate comfort. They don’t run to drink, drugs, sex, money, power, entertainment. They know their only real protection from sin is in the arms of God.
They are meek, or gentle, not lording power over others, but instead, serving them.
They are hungry for righteousness, thirsty for a clean, unpolluted soul.
They are merciful, showing undeserved kindness and forgiveness and patience to difficult people, treating them as they would want to be treated.
They are pure in heart. They don’t merely put efforts into looking good on the outside, but spend a lot more energy on asking God to purify their inner thoughts, motives, and desires.
They are peacemakers, overlooking the wrongs people do to them, and even putting themselves in places where there is strife and conflict, so they can infuse it with the love and forgiveness and the justice they’ve been shown by God.
They are the ones willing to face persecution, hate, reviling, gossip, slander, and all kinds of evil – doing battle for their King, entering the fray, taking the slings and arrows of the devil and the people that work for him –because their eye is on a greater prize, standing in the throne room of heaven and hearing, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
And you can see all these Beatitudes echoed throughout the rest of the sermon. Look at the next part about how the citizens of heaven are salt and light in the world. Salt isn’t seen when it’s at work, it’s humble in its influence. Light is always doing battle with the darkness, it’s brave in its influence.
Look further down to verse 21 about anger. Of course Jesus’ disciples get angry, just like God gets angry, but they know that what they do with that anger is what’s important. It’s not just about not hurting people, but about using that anger as fuel for righteousness.
Lust is similar. Just like getting angry isn’t something we can control, being attracted to someone isn’t either. It just happens. But godliness isn’t just about avoiding sleeping with them, it goes deeper. Lust isn’t about sex – it’s about controlling our appetites. Like our hunger for food, our sexuality isn’t something we can avoid – it can only be fed in a healthy, godly way. And the follower of Jesus hates sin so much, hungers for righteousness so much, longs for a pure heart so much, that they are willing to do anything, go to extremes, to avoid letting sin take residence in their heart.
And Jesus continues in verse 33when He talks about oaths. Godly people shouldn’t need external forces like contracts and oaths and promises and rules to make us keep our word. A Kingdom follower doesn’t need to lie, manipulate, or pretend. We know that words matter, that God is our provider, that we have inherent value, and that God is watching everything we do –knowing even our thoughts and motives – and so we simply live honestly.
The same with revenge or our enemies in verse 38. Think back to the description of a Christian in the Beatitudes. Before you stands your enemy. They’ve hurt you or someone you love, have lied to you or about you, have created a lose-lose scenario for you, and are standing there laughing. Now, if you are the king of your own universe, then you get to be judge and jury and executioner too. If your identity is in your pride, then you’re going to want to restore it at all costs. And so your anger will cause you to retaliate, seek revenge, dole out punishment. But, if you are poor in spirit, meek, merciful, a peacemaker who is willing to be treated badly for righteousness’ sake, then you’re going to have a completely different response. You’ll pity them, trust God to deal with them properly, forgive as you have been forgiven, let it go as Jesus let you go, give grace and love to this undeserving person, just as Jesus gave grace and love to an undeserving you.
Matthew 5 isn’t about rules – it’s about finding freedom in doing things God’s way. Religion, pride, out of control anger, lust, revenge, hatred – those are terrible burdens that ruin your life. Here, Jesus teaches us how to live free of those burdens through a life of love and grace.
Not turn to Matthew 6. I think Matthew 6 is probably my favourite part of the Sermon on the Mount – and not just because I wrote a book on it. It’s why I wrote a book on it!
A lot of Matthew 5 was action based. Do good deeds. Here’s what to do if you get angry. Here’s what to do if you lust. Here’s what to do if you have marriage problems. Here’s what to do at work and with social agreements. Here’s how to deal with difficult people.
But now the emphasis changes from things “to do” to “don’t do this”. I want to read this section a bit closer because, for me, it’s really applicable for today. Should this be my final sermon, I think the most helpful thing I could leave you with are the Lord’s words in Matthew 6. So let’s read them together:
“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.” (6:1–4)
Again, this is obviously an indictment of the Pharisees, but also of everyone who thinks that God wants an external show of how religious you are. It’s a message to everyone who comes to church (or the Temple in their case) with anger, lust, fear, judgementalism, worry, pride, corruption in their heart, habitual sins that have taken over their lives – but have no intention of dealing with it. They walk into service with a heart crusted over with sin, and so everything in the service – the songs, the message, the scriptures, the people serving them, the opportunity to give generously, the chance to serve others, the needy people around them, the helpful people around them, the reminder in the Lord’s Supper and the preacher’s petition to repent – everything that is designed to help them to meet Jesus, to connect with God, to be renewed by the Holy Spirit – all bounce off and have no effect. Sure, they sing, and bow their heads, and chat afterward, ask how you’re doing, even bring a box of cookies to share, but none of the spiritual stuff affects their heart, lives, decisions, or souls. They always leave the same way they came in, unchanged, unrepentant, unaffected – ironically, usually thinking themselves better than everyone in the room who actually wept over their sin, shared their weaknesses, asked for help, sang with gusto even though they don’t have a good voice, who showed they didn’t know something by asking a question – they mock those people as weak and stupid – and leave church with an even harder heart.
Jesus says here, and really all over scripture in the Old Testament and New, that He couldn’t care less about you attending church, singing songs, or doing any other religious actions if you are not intimately connected to Him.
God hates hypocrites: people who pretend to be something they are not – religious hypocrites most of all. Which is why Matthew 7 – and so many of New Testament letters – spend so much time warning His followers to watch out for wolves that pretend to be sheep, thorn bushes that pretend to be grapevines, clouds without water, wandering stars that steer ships to the rocks, shipwrecking reefs hidden under the water. People who look like prophets, teachers, and miracle workers, but are actually liars and workers of lawlessness, sent by Satan to destroy the faithful and corrupt the church.
Perhaps the ultimate religious hypocrite is the one who is a hypocrite in prayer. Look at verse 5,
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
How can we know who these hypocrites are? Because they love to be seen as pious people. Their whole identity is wrapped up in people thinking how good they are. These are people who attend church, teach classes, serve on committees, play in the worship band, go on mission’s trips, and do all the Christian stuff – buy they’re not actually Christians. They’re not “poor in spirit”, they’re prideful and unrepentant. They don’t “mourn” their sin, they hide it. They’re not “meek”, they actually try to make sure they have the positions of highest influence. And they’re certainly not “merciful”, their critical, judgmental, and wrathful against anyone who opposes them. If you ever wonder if you’re dealing with a religious hypocrite, just imply that perhaps there might be some sin in their heart, that they might have the wrong motives, or that they’re not spiritually qualified for a position. This type of person will absolutely flip out.
I can’t tell you how many of these people I’ve served with, or watched serve, on various committees and boards over the past 20 years of ministry – and I’m sure you have too. They’re like a cancer on the church, and I’ve watched them ruin a lot of ministries, churches, pastors, and turn a lot of faithful, young Christians away from the church.
Worrying About Money Ruins the Church
The final part I want to go through, I think, is especially poignant for this church. I’ll leave Matthew 7 for you to study yourself, but I think verses 19-34 address something that I’ve heard talked about almost endlessly for the last 20 years: worrying about money. It really has been a non-stop topic for as long as I’ve been a pastor. It seems as though Christians believe that God will provide for them at home, at work, for missionaries, for their friends, their family, and every other ministry – but when it comes God miraculously providing for their church, suddenly all that faith goes out the window. It’s all impossible. There’s no money, no hope, no faith, no possibility of God providing.
They look at the budget and the money is a little down, and the response is always the same. For 16 years I’ve been attending church board meetings, and the response is always the same. Panic, argue, tighten the fist, and stop ministering to people.
If someone came to you as an individual and said, “I’m really worried about my finances. I’m losing my job, I’ve got bills to pay, and I don’t know what to do.” Or they said, “I believe God is calling me to go to the mission field, but I need to raise a bunch of money, and I have no idea what to do…” What would you say?
Pray about it. Trust God. Share your needs with friends. Keep tithing and be extra generous with your money, because God loves a cheerful giver and honours those who trust Him. Right?
Do you know what I hear from church boards, trustees, and church meetings? It’s the same thing every time: “What if we need to replace the roof? What if the furnace quits?” and the next thing is always the same: “We’d better cut all our funding to missionaries, stop doing outreach, kill our community programs, stop benevolent giving, stop buying Sunday school material for the kids…” Suddenly the physical building is far more important than any believer, ministry, or needy person in the community. Essentially, the church stops trusting God, stops being generous, stops doing ministry, tighten their fists and panics. Then they find a scapegoat and sacrifice them, because that’s easier than talking about the systemic sins within the whole church. Every single time.
You’d think that, as a group of believers, that when a financial crisis hits there would be more prayer meetings, more serving others, more generosity, right? That they’d unite together as a church family and bang on the doors of heaven, begging for mercy and provision. Nope. Suddenly, every meeting is about money. In fact, prayer meetings are cancelled in favour of meetings to talk about money. The elders, pastors, deacons, and ministry leaders are told to step aside, while the treasurer and trustees take up the time to talk about how dire things are, how desperate things are, and how hopeless things are. I’ve watched it happen so many times.
Then the younger Christians start to get confused and upset. Why are we talking so much about money? Why did we stop doing things for the community? Why did we stop helping missionaries? Why are there so many budget meetings, and why is everyone so upset all the time? So they leave the church.
Then the generous Christians, the faithful tithers, start to see that a bunch of people int eh church, the ones in leadership, don’t actually care as much about worship, evangelism, missions, and discipleship as they thought. It turns out that when the rubber meets the road, it’s really the building, the roof, the furnace, and the bills that matter. So they leave the church.
Then even the faithful Christians start to get frustrated. They want to do ministry. They want to pray. They want to talk about Jesus and trust God for help. They don’t want to argue about money and bewail how hopeless everything is, turning on each other to toss accusations and place blame. But they are told to be quiet, to not be so naïve. And, eventually, they leave the church too. Again, I’ve seen time and again.
And all that’s left are a group of people who talk about money, blame others for their problems, talk about the good old days, and spend their meetings talking about what they really reassure: the roof, the furnace, the floors, the carpets, the parking lot… and occasionally someone says what they really need is to “get some young people” into the church. I’ve seen it over, and over, and over…
But, let’s read Matthew 6:19-34 and see what Jesus has to say about this:
“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.
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!
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.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
The secret sauce for a joyful, abundant, growing Christian – and a joyful, abundant, and growing church – is there in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Instead of worrying and arguing and blaming and panicking – the simple questions are these: “What does God tell us to do? What does Jesus want from us? How should a kingdom citizen react to this situation? Is our King, our God, trustworthy, and kind, and generous, and helpful? If so, what does He want from us? What is the most righteous thing to do right now?” Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s counter intuitive. Even if it’s costly.
If we want “all these things to be added to us”, whether in our individual life, our family life, or our church life, we must ask, “What is the most righteous, godly, biblical, Christian thing that I can do, right now?” Is it to sell our possessions and give generously? Is it to seek or grant forgiveness from someone you’ve been avoiding? Is it removing an obstacle or temptation from your home because it’s corrupting your heart? Is it changing your schedule and priorities so you can pray and read and serve more? Is it to get on your knees and repent for the sins you’ve been keeping secret? Is it confessing your sins to another believer in hopes of getting healing and help? I don’t’ know what it is for you, but whatever it is, whatever the Spirit has been telling you for so long, that you’ve been ignoring and refusing – choose today to seek it first, as a Kingdom follower, a disciple of Jesus, and pursue that righteousness with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength… and trust that God will meet your needs “far more abundantly than all you might ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20) because that’s exactly what He promises.
So, that little video is a reminder of what we’ve been studying over the past while, especially last week where we looked at Jesus teaching in Matthew 6 about how we ought to be setting our priorities when it comes to stewarding our treasures (meaning our finances and possessions). The biggest thought there was that our relationship with our money and stuff is directly connected to our relationship with God.
Last week we studied Matthew 6:19-24 where Jesus teaches us about the folly and spiritual danger of storing our treasures on earth, about the darkness that creates in our souls, and how believers simply cannot ride the fence in this matter. He says in verse 24, “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.”
This week I want to continue that study by moving on to verse 25 and look the conclusion of what Jesus was teaching in that sermon. Let’s open there and read:
What’s the Therefore There For?
Ok, so pause there a second. Whenever we see a “therefore” in the Bible, we always have to ask ourselves what it’s there for. Usually, it’s a way to tie the previous teaching to the next, and often, that next teaching is an application. The author will make a theological truth claim and then what we’re supposed to do with that truth.
In 2 Genesis we read about the truth about the creation of man and women. That section concludes with the application, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) The relationship between man and woman, under God, makes its application in marriage.
In Exodus 4, God calls Moses to the burning bush to tell him that he’s going to be His messenger to Pharaoh. Moses comes up with a bunch of excuses about how he can’t talk good, which God refutes with a bunch of theological truths, and then says, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exo 4:12)
And of course, the New Testament is full of them, especially Romans. It’s a deeply theological book, teaching a lot about how God works, but it almost always ends in an application.
Romans 1:22–23 concludes a long theological statement about how sin leads to idolatry and darkness of heart: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” We then read what happens when that darkness of heart is applied: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…” Idolatry of heart leads to the impurity of mind and body.
But in Romans 4:24-25 we read the theological truth claim that Jesus work on the cross did everything necessary to appease God’s wrath against sin, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Which leads to the practical application of the next verse, 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If what this says about what Jesus did is true, then the application of our faith to it means that we are no longer under God’s wrath, but are at peace.
That’s why we stop for a moment whenever we read a “Therefore” in the bible. It’s usually a key point that’s about to be made.
So here in our passage today we read the theological truth claim comes before: Worrying about your earthly treasures will fill you with darkness and cause you to hate God. Concern about your treasures in heaven will fill you with light and cause you to love God.
So what’s the practical application of that thought? Let’s read the whole thing together:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
So, what’s the “therefore” there for? What’s the practical application? “Don’t be so worried about your treasures – or don’t be anxious about your needs.”
From the world’s perspective, and unfortunately, many Christians share this perspective, living without worrying about money is insanity. I think especially of the kids that are graduating high school soon, or within the next few years. Within the culture, there is this automatic reflex to ask these kids what they are going to be and to lay upon them all the anxieties of the world.
If we ask a child what they want to be when they grow up we used to give them latitude to give any answer they like: fireman, veterinarian, astronaut, doctor, scientist, race car driver, bus driver, an artist, a dinosaur…. but at some point, not too long in their future, many adults around them start to feel like it’s their responsibility to tell them the economic reality of that decision.
“Sorry, Johnny, I know the big yellow bus is cool, but being a bus driver doesn’t pay enough. And being a race car driver isn’t realistic, the lessons cost a lot of money, so do entry fees and travel and the car is worth millions, so you shouldn’t do that either. Being an artist doesn’t pay at all, so maybe do that as a hobby once you get a real job. And sure, you could be a doctor or an astronaut, but that means going to school for a really long time, and school costs money… and that’s why, Johnny, you can’t have a new bike.”
But the pressure gets worse in High School. As they reach graduation age all these 17-18-year-olds are not only supposed to know what they are going to do for the rest of their lives but also commit to training in a career for 3-4 years at the expense of tens of thousands of dollars – usually loaned to them. And heaven-forbid they say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”… or worse, get two years in and realize that they don’t want to do that anymore, because then their 19 or 20 years old, have no job because they’ve been going to school, and are 20 thousand dollars in the hole.
So, starting when their 15 or 16, the guilt trip starts, right? How does every conversation go? “Mom and Dad, can I go to the movies tonight?” “No, you need to get your rest because you need to do better in school, because you need to get better grades, so you can get into a good university, so you can get a good career, so you can make lots of money, so you and I never have to worry about your financial future.”
“Mom and Dad, I’m really tired and stressed out. Can I spend time with my friends?” “Sorry, honey, that’s how life is. You don’t see me hanging out with friends, do you? You’re on 2 sports teams and in three clubs and doing after-school programs and volunteering because – you need a good transcript, so you need to get into a good university so you can get a good career so you can make lots of money….”
“Mom and Dad, I’m freaking out. I got so stressed out that I developed an eating disorder, got addicted to drugs, and started hanging out with some stoners that just let me exist rather than stressing me out and guilt tripping me all the time.” “Oh, no! Now your grades are bad, and your transcript is bad, and you’ll never get into a university, and you won’t get a good career, so you can’t make lots of money…. You have to clean up your life!
“Why, Mom and Dad? What does a cleaned up life look like?”
“Well, honey, it looks… anxious, stressed out, money and career driven. It looks like being a good consumer, making lots of cash so can buy lots of things and run away from your job for 2 weeks per year to go somewhere warm. It looks like a failing marriage, distant children, shallow friendships, and an empty spirit. It means not being able to sleep because you’re worried about the bills. It means ruining your reputation so you can get ahead.
It means yelling at your family and making them the enemy whenever things get tight. Who threw away the bread crust?! Why do you use so much toothpaste?! Why are all these lights on?! You’re not allowed to be sick today, I have to go to work! Don’t you know how expensive these things are?
It means putting off enjoying everything until some magic day in the future. Don’t enjoy your teen years because you need to worry about your future. Don’t enjoy your 20s because you need to be worried about your grades and career. Don’t enjoy your 30s because you need to worry about your job and accumulating enough stuff to impress your friends and hopefully a mate. Don’t enjoy your 40s because you need to worry about paying your bills and feed your family. Don’t enjoy your 50s because you need to worry about retirement. Don’t enjoy your 60s because now money is tight because you didn’t save enough or you added mortgages and a bunch of debt in your 40s and 50s so you need to find a job as a Walmart greeter or fast-food cashier. Then you can, maybe, spend your evenings watching tv. That’s the life I want for you, kid. Doesn’t that sound great?”
That’s insane, isn’t it? Why do we do that to our young people? Why do we do that to ourselves? But that’s what life looks like when our treasure is on earth and our greatest anxieties are about money. Instead of raising children of good character, and instead of pursuing good character ourselves, what do we pursue – career, money. Career wins over character in so many of our homes. I overhear it in so many conversations.
How many of you can say this: “I don’t care what my child or my grandchild does. I don’t care if they pump gas, pick garbage, dig ditches, or flip burgers – just so long as they are people of godly character who love God and love others.”
Now make it about you. Can you honestly say this about yourself: “I don’t care what I do for work. I don’t care if I stock shelves, sell used cars, or mix paint at home hardware – just so long as I’m developing godly character and have the opportunity to worship God and love others.”
Can you say that? Most can’t. Why? Because they are anxious about their life, what they will eat, what they will drink, about their bodies, and what they will wear (Mt 6:25).
Relieving The Anxiety
So how do we get out of that trap? How do escape the culture and relieve the anxiety of having to worry so much about money, career, future – and stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and others? Why shouldn’t we be anxious?
Because Jesus says not to be. Because we believe Jesus’ “therefore”. We believe what Jesus says. We trust that Jesus is telling us the truth here.
Let’s follow the argument that Jesus gives here, starting at verse 25. What is Jesus’ first premise? Your life is about more than food and clothing. What’s Jesus second premise? Look at verse 26. God knows your needs and will provide them.
Then, after giving evidence for this truth claim using nature as His example – God feeds the birds and you’re worth more to Him than a bird. God clothes the lilies, and you’re worth more to Him than a flower. – Jesus ties the two premises together by restating the theological truth claim as a conclusion in verses 31-32. If all this is true about God, then “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
And then we read the practical application of what this looks like when the rubber hits the road in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The “But” there is mean to contrast what the gentiles (or unbelievers, people who don’t know God) do. Instead of being anxious like an unbeliever, act like a believer. What does acting like a believer look like? Seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
So, let’s put that all together with some simpler terms. Premise 1: Life is about more than money. We demonstrate that by where we put our faith – God or money. Premise 2: God knows what you need. We demonstrate that by allowing God to provide rather than being anxious. Therefore, if we believe that, then we must say that God’s priorities are more important than ours. Therefore, if we follow God and pursue righteous living (seeking God’s kingdom), then God will provide for us. Therefore, the righteous don’t need to be anxious about their needs.
This is how, logically, what we believe about God is directly connected to our anxiety about money – which is directly connected to our attitudes and behaviours. If we have faith and trust God, then our anxiety decreases and our attitude and behaviour improve. If we lack faith and don’t trust God, then our anxiety increases and our attitude and behaviour get worse.
Why Should We Be Anxious?
Sometimes it helps if we look at the contradictory, opposite logic. So, let’s do that. We’ll work through the same premises, but in mirror. So, why should we be anxious?
Premise 1: Life is about the survival of the fittest, gathering food, clothing, shelter, and stuff to protect us – and competing with others for those resources.
Premise 2: God doesn’t know our needs and refuses to provide.
Usually, these people give evidence in nature too. Fire, floods, earthquakes, famine, drought, wars. The planet is out of control and tomorrow may bring ruin.
When we tie those together, all the stuff that God and the Bible say about righteousness, good living, being generous, trying to be holy, is ridiculous and makes zero sense.
Therefore, the only way to be safe is to lie, cheat, steal, enslave, use people, ruin our relationships, and selfishly hoard things, and do whatever is necessary to keep it safe. Therefore, since it’s survival of the fittest, the first thing to seek is whatever makes you more powerful and secure, and to sin in whatever way you can to get ahead, because we’re all on our own. Therefore, everyone should be way, way more anxious about not only today but tomorrow – because we have no idea what’s coming.
Which way do you live? Anxious and stressed out, cutting corners and cheating to get ahead, not sharing, avoiding spiritual development because it’s wasting your time, not caring about your purity, because it doesn’t matter since God doesn’t know or care.
Or, do you trust Jesus when he says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:33)
Jesus says it this way to all us anxious people later in Matthew 11:28–30 is, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Let’s close: In the desert, the Israelites were given manna from heaven every day. They couldn’t store it up because it would go bad at night. They had to trust God every day. They grumbled and complained and tried to make piles of it, but it rotted – and every day God still provided. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:11) because a believer acknowledges that this is all we need. Too much or too little poisons our souls. In Proverbs 30:7-9 the wise teacher prays, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
His prayer is simply for God to give him what is necessary to live a holy and righteous life – because anything else is spiritually dangerous.
The final thing I want to show you this morning is a clip from May 20, 2000. It’s one of the most famous modern sermons, known as John Piper’s “Seashells” message. This message exploded off the platform and has ripple effects to this day. I want to end with this clip which I hope you will watch prayerfully.
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.
This week we’re going to continue our study on Tithing and Stewardship which we introduced last week by turning to Matthew 25:14 and using it to build a framework for how we are to think about how we use the things that God gives us in this world.
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Hang In There
As I said last week, talking about money, tithing, and stewardship of our lives is one of those big deal concepts that tend to have a pretty serious effect on people and you may have one of two reactions to this topic. The first reaction is to groan and set your brain on auto-pilot because you think you already know everything I’m going to say and have settled mind on it. You don’t need to listen because no one is going to change your mind about how you live your life. This sermon is for all those people less holy than you are.
The second reaction is to get angry that I’m talking about it at all. We covered it last week, didn’t we? Why do we have to talk about money? Leave it alone. Maybe you get upset because you assume this is going to be a 45-minute guilt trip where I beg you for cash in the name of Jesus.
If you did have one of those two reactions, let me ask you to stick with me just for a little bit, because this sermon isn’t going exactly where you think it’s going.
First, I want you to notice that this sermon isn’t called “Tithing”, it’s called Stewardship. And that’s important because I’m not just going to talk about money today. What I’m going to talk about is “Stewardship”. And stewardship is about a lot more than how we use our finances. We’re going to look at 4 things that God gives us to be stewards of our time, talents, treasure and testimony. Stewardship touches every part of our lives: The time God gives us, the abilities we have, both natural and supernatural, the wealth we are born with and acquire, the story God is writing in our lives. So hang in there and let’s talk about this.
Q1: Whose Is It?
That brings us to our first Stewardship question: “Whose is it?” We touched on this last week. A “steward” is someone who takes care of someone else’s things. If you go away on vacation and ask someone to look after your cat and water your plants, you have asked them to be your steward. If you work for a company that gives you a desk and a computer, or a set of tools, or a rental car, then you are a steward of your company’s resources. If someone passes away and you are in charge of managing their estate, then you are a steward of their wealth.
Humans are stewards. We often talk about “owning” things. We “own” our home and possessions. We have our “own” money. We can make it on our “own”. The word “own” literally means to have full claim, authority, power, or dominion over something. I control it, and can do with it as I please. I can use it how I want, keep it on a shelf, or destroy it. It’s mine. In this sense, biblically speaking, humans “own nothing” because we are limited in our control, and cannot possess something forever. God is the one with eternal power, authority, dominion and control. We inherit things from others and then lose them when we die. Christians acknowledge that we do not and cannot own anything in this world.
The first realization we must make in the realm of Stewardship is that “everything is God’s.” This is a critical realization because whoever “owns” it has control of it. If I own it, then no one can tell me what to do with it. But if someone else owns it, then I must treat it very differently. No matter what it is.
We teach our kids this, don’t we? We go to a restaurant or park or a friend’s house and as soon as the roughhousing starts we say, “Be careful with that. It’s not yours.”
David in Psalm 24:1 says, and this theme is repeated throughout scripture, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…”
1 Samuel 2:6-7 says, “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.”
God’s ownership extends to everything in the universe, from what we eat and drink and wear to the trees, mountains and stars, from the oil deep underground and the birds in the sky. And everything we have made, homes, cars, weapons, rocket-ships, and medicines are just reassembled versions of things that he already owns. It’s not ours, it’s His, and He gives it to us to have, use, eat, take care of, distribute, and enjoy.
This week I had to buy a new coffee pot because my old one broke. I felt no pang of guilt when I unplugged the old pot and threw it in the garbage and replaced it with another. And in the same way, the Bible says that one day, just like I tossed out the broken, dirty coffee pot, the true “Owner” of all things will finally get rid of this world and create a new one. 1 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
You and I are merely stewards, temporary possessors, of something that we don’t own. We can use it for a few years, and make great big piles of it, and rearrange it in many different ways, and gain enjoyment from it, but as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:15, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labour that he can carry in his hand.”
We are merely stewards. This is what Jesus says in the story of the Talents. Look at verse 14 it says the owner “entrusted his property to them.” That’s you and me.
And in verse 15 we read that everyone gets a different amount. Now, remember, we’re not just talking money here. Whenever you read the word “Talent” in this story, think of words like “opportunity” or “blessing” or “time” or “skill”. This isn’t just about money or abilities. God entrusts each of us with different things. We all have a different amount of time to live on this earth. We all have different abilities and spiritual gifts. We all have a different amount of wealth and possessions. And we all have a different testimony or life story.
We are not equal in what God gives us. Some get more, some get less. And though what we get is not equal to others, we are all equal in our responsibility to manage it according to what the “owner” wants us to do with it. Verse 15 says that the owner gave each one a certain amount of talents “according to his ability”. In other words, He didn’t give them more than they could handle or less than they needed. He didn’t set them up for failure. He set them up to succeed.
In the same way, God gives us each a different life to steward, and He doesn’t set us up for failure. He sets us up to be able to do exactly what He wants us to do. Using His gifts, His way makes it possible to actually produce something greater than if we were not to use them – or use them selfishly. It’s a win-win-win, when we properly manage what God gives us we gain joy from using them, others benefit from their use, and God is given glory.
Q2: What am I Supposed to Do With It?
And now comes the second question: “What am I supposed to do with what God has given me?” If our time, talents, treasure and testimony are not ours, but we are merely stewards of them, then what are we supposed to do with them? The options are seemingly endless.
In the parable, we have two different responses to the talents. The first two stewards went and put their money to work, and doubled what they had. And when the owner came back he was pleased. He didn’t look at the guy was given two and say, “How come you didn’t make five like the other guy?” Instead, because the steward used what he had, and did what he could, the Owner was pleased.
Not Using Your Talent
But the third guy did nothing. He just buried it. Now here’s a big questions: Why did he bury his talent? I think that there are a lot of reasons why people don’t use what they have been given by God, but I think this story gives us two big ones.
Take a look at the third steward’s response in verse 24: “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
Reason 1: A Bad Relationship / Misunderstanding the Owner
The first reason that people don’t use what God has given them is that they have a bad relationship with, or a total misunderstanding of the Owner. This servant didn’t really like his master. He was afraid of him. He couldn’t care less about pleasing him. He was just trying not to get punished. But was the owner really that selfish and cruel? It doesn’t sound like it to me. The owner delegates according to the ability of the servant… that shows he knows them, cares about them, and has wisdom. He leaves the servants in charge and lets them to do their job… that shows confidence and trust. He gives them lots of time and opportunity to get it done… that shows generosity and patience. When he comes back he doesn’t just grab the money out of the other steward’s hands, but swells with joy and pride in them and invites them to come and party and celebrate with him.
The third steward had a totally backwards view of the true nature of his master. And I think that we sometimes do that to God too. We don’t give our time to God because we think He’s selfish and doesn’t give us enough to work with. How many people do you know have complained there aren’t enough hours in the day? What does that imply about God? That He doesn’t give us enough time to do the things we need to do. It’s His fault.
Or maybe we it’s that we don’t use our talents and abilities for God’s kingdom because we think He doesn’t reward people properly. We know we can get more praise, money and thanks out in the secular market, so we give our best to them and leave the leftovers for God.
Or maybe it’s when we don’t give our treasure or wealth to God because we see Him as greedy, always wanting our money, and that this whole religion thing was just set up as a way to get weak-willed suckers to give up some of their cash. We don’t see God as generous and kind but as stingy, tight-fisted, selfish, beggar who is never happy but always wanting more.
One reason we bury our talent is that we don’t know the owner that well.
Reason 2: Fear
The second reason some of us bury our talents and don’t use what God gives us as good stewards, is because of our fear of risk. The first two stewards took a risk and were rewarded. The third guy was afraid to take the risk. He thought that if he just buried it and gave it back, that somehow he would at least avoid punishment. But that wasn’t the case. The talent was given to him so He would use it and gain more. That was the mission – to use what he was given to gain more for the master.
And the owner says as much in verse 26 when he says, “’You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? ” In other words, “You know that I’m all about getting the most out of what I have? You know that I’m all about squeezing every drop of opportunity to gain a profit?” “Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
In other words, “You could have done something! But you did nothing! I gave you this to use, and you didn’t, and that is why I am so angry. I gave you this and nothing increased. I didn’t expect much of you, but I certainly didn’t expect nothing from you.”
Some of us are afraid of risk too. Some won’t make a commitment to serve others because they don’t want to risk the possibility of running out of time for other things they want to do. So they never take the risk of getting involved, joining up, or volunteering. That way they ensure they have time for the things they want to do.
Some are afraid that they will be criticized, embarrassed, or rejected, so they never use or develop the talents and abilities that God gave them. They have a heart to teach, but they are afraid of what might happen if someone asks a question they don’t know the answer to… so they never teach. They have an aptitude for music, or public speaking, or dance, or art, but they are afraid to risk showing people because they might get critiqued. They have a talent for organizing, making money, or leadership, but they are afraid someone will misunderstand them, so they only use those gifts professionally. They don’t want to risk their feelings.
Some don’t want to risk their current or future comfort level, so they never invest their wealth in the kingdom of God. They’re more concerned about their future retirement plans than what God wants. They feel they will get better returns with their RRSP, or their Mutual Fund, or their Real Estate, than if they were to give that money to a missionary or hurting family or church ministry. If it’s in their bank or with their investors then they can control it and use it for a rainy day – but if they give it to a missionary or relief agency or church ministry, then they not only lose control of it but have no guarantee that it will do something positive for them and they may actually end up losing their comforts and seeing nothing in return. So they never take the risk. They convince themselves that making more and bigger piles at home, for their own family, is why God gave them what they have. Sharing their wealth with other Christians is too risky.
And some people are afraid to take the risk of using their gift or even sharing their testimony because being honest with people will shock them. Doing what God made them for or sharing their story will cause people or will see them in a different light. For example, their talent is unconventional – they’re great at art but everyone says that it’s a waste of time, so they bury it. They have a knack for making movies or telling dark stories, but the people around them say Hollywood is evil and telling dark stories is bad, so they bury it. They are a natural gymnast or dancer, but their church looks down on them because they’ve oversexualized it, so they quit. Or God called them to be single and everyone around is pressuring them to get married. Or God gifts them with a bazillion kids and everyone around tells them to stop. Or maybe it’s just that their testimony has some really rough parts, some bad stuff that no one knows about, and they’re afraid to tell anyone because it may risk their social status, so they never, ever share it with anyone. God gives them hopes, dreams, and a story – but they bury it because they are afraid.
Next week I want to get practical and answer question 2 in a more positive way by asking: “How can I use it best?”, but we’ve run out of time and are going to have to stop for now. But let me ask you to consider these two questions.
First, do you see yourself as a steward of all you have been given, or an owner?
And second, are you not using something God has given you, whether it’s time, talent, treasure or testimony, because you are afraid of the risk involved?
Answering those will go a long way toward figuring out how much faith and trust you have in God. Let me encourage you to work on that. If God has equipped you with something, then ask Him how to use it. Just don’t sit on it, or keep it to yourself. Even if it’s just a little… show your faith in God by starting to use it and develop it for His glory.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” (1 Corinthians 16:1–4)
The calendar is kind of weird this year. I would go as far as to say it borders on ironic. Did you know that the first day of Lent, which is, historically, the 40 days of preparatory fasting that comes before Easter is on Valentine’s Day? It’s hard to start your fast on the same day that someone gives you a big box of chocolates and takes you out for a special dinner.
And, did you know that Easter Sunday is on April Fool’s day this year? Again, bordering on ironic considering how completely central Easter is to Christianity and how many people in these days think that believers are just being fooled into believing lies so they’ll give up their money or go to hell. And yes, that’s my segue into what we’re talking about today, money and the church.
I punched the words “church money meme” into google I got about 20 million hits so I think it’s pretty safe to say there is a lot of anger and misunderstanding about money and the church out there. Even among Christians there is division. Some people think that we should never talk about money in church while others are all about the fundraising for good causes. Some people get offended when anyone talks about their money, especially preachers. I looked back over my sermons over the last 6 years here and while I’ve tangentially mentioned money in lots of sermons, from what I saw I’ve only preached on Tithing once and that was in August 2012, so I think we’re probably due – plus it’s the next verse of our 1 Corinthians study.
Here are a few examples the kinds of things I saw online:
The first one is super common. It’s a standard misquoting of 1 Timothy 6:10 where people assume it says, “Money is the root of all of evil.” And so the thinking is, “If money is evil then why ask for it at church?” That’s logical thinking because it points out hypocrisy. The church claims to be good and then asks for something evil.
I’m not going to preach memes today, but let’s just get the actual quote from 1 Timothy 6 and see what it actually says and I’m going to give it some context, starting in verse 6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (6:6-10)
What’s this about? That money is evil? No, it’s about being content and not chasing riches. Would you agree that people who are constantly discontent, always wanting more, never having enough, are miserable people? They can’t be happy, can they? So, the warning comes that discontentedness is a trap that leads to destruction, because a heart that is never happy, but has an unbridled craving for more, is going to get you into trouble!
Another standard theme that comes up a lot is that it’s horrible for a church to ask for money. After all group of people dedicated to helping others wouldn’t ask for money, right? Jesus would never ask for money, would He? God doesn’t need our money, does He? Isn’t it horrible that someone would walk into a church poor, hungry, falling apart, and then be taken advantage of by being manipulated into giving their little bit of money away?
I completely understand this indictment and kind of agree with it. Unfortunately, there are way too many churches that call themselves Christian but are merely schemes to take people’s money. The health and wealth, prosperity preachers and the legalists are both to blame for this reputation. They both play on guilt, shame, false theology, false promises, and false threats in order to take people’s money. Then they use the media to spread their false gospel so that the culture thinks we’re all like that. So whenever the church talks about money it’s usually seen it through the lens of the prosperity gospel. It’s a similar misunderstanding to what we talked about last week with the treatment of women in the church.
So let’s tie those two things together – women and money – and see what Jesus did. Take a look at Luke 8:1-3:
“Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”
There’s Jesus, traveling with a group of men and women. Some were His chosen disciples, others followed out of love. What is notable here how many women were there and how many different social levels they came from. Everyone from outcast Mary to the wealthy socialite, Joanna followed Jesus! And what were these women doing? Giving Jesus money and supplies for His ministry, which He accepted and gave to Judas to hold onto – who then stole from Him, but that’s another story.
Giving to Jerusalem
Talking about money can be a divisive topic – even more so when it is wrapped in religion. So my plan is to stay away from my own personal views and simply give you a biblical picture of what God says about how money and the church work together.
Let’s start with our passage today in 1 Corinthians and work our way out from there. We see that it starts with “Now concerning” which we learned a long time ago means that Paul is changing topics and moving on to the next question that they had asked him in their letter to him. They asked something like, “We heard that some of the churches were taking up collections to help out the Christians in Jerusalem, what are we supposed to do?”
Part of Paul’s mission, along with planting churches and sharing the gospel, was to collect funds to help the Christians in Jerusalem who were under terrible persecution (Gal 2:10). Jerusalem was under attack and was facing a famine. And while the Jews were harassed by all kinds of troubles, Christians had it even worse because not only were they living in a war zone but were also under attack from their own non-believing relatives and former friends. They were very poor.
This wasn’t a revolutionary idea. We don’t see “survival of the fittest” in the Bible. Generosity towards the care of the poor, the needy, the weak, and the stranger, is one of the foundational principles of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. In the Law of God given to Israel, Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Generosity was commanded.
So, in the same way, the churches were “ordered” or “directed” to take up collections to help the poor and needy. We see this same ask in other letters in the New Testament (Rom 15:16, Acts 11:29, 2 Cor 8:4). And it’s this collection order that came from the Apostles that I want to take apart a bit.
Regular Lifestyle Generosity
The first thing I want you to notice is the regularity of the giving. It says, “On the first day of every week”. This wasn’t meant to be a one-time donation, a single moment of help during a crisis, but meant to foster a lifestyle of generosity. All over scripture, from beginning to end, in Genesis, the Law, Psalms, Proverbs, and Prophets we see generosity towards those in need as one of the key marks of the lifestyle of the believer. Of course, the OT Law also demanded regular contributions for all kinds of reasons, 10% for the priests to live on, 10% to pay for the religious feasts (Lev 27:30-33, Num 18:21-24, Deut 14:22-27), and every three years a special offering for the poor, but these were a more like taxes than charity. And there were even more commanded times of giving – the Sin Offering, Guilt Offering, Burnt Offerings, Cereal Offering, Drink Offering, Peace Offering, Offering for Vows… which added up to a lot of giving. Israel was forced to get into the habit of being generous.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and often spoke and told parables about sacrificial generosity, caring for the poor, and regular giving. He equated selfishness with unbelief that leads to hell (Matthew 25:31-46) and praised the generosity of a poor widow who gave her last two cents to the temple as an act of obedience and faith (Mark 12:41-44). Then, continuing this teaching, the Apostles, throughout the letters of the New Testament commanded believers to remember to, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) This lifestyle giving can’t be done in one swoop. The regularity of it is meant to reflect the change of heart that comes when we repent of our sins and make Jesus our Lord. It shows that we see the danger of the love of money and the benefit of serving others generously and sacrificially as Jesus did every day.
The way that this was taught to the Corinthians and the rest of the churches was to connect their giving to the weekly church service. The day of worship had already been changed from the Jewish Saturday Sabbath to the Lord’s Resurrection Day on Sunday and they were either being told to bring their donation to the church to be kept in one pile or to add it up in in a special place at home, like we would keep a penny jar, until Paul got there to take it to Jerusalem. Later, in 1 Timothy 5 we see this giving expanded to include paying those elders who taught the Bible.
The thing that we see here is regular lifestyle generosity. Why do we take an offering at church each week? Because it’s consistent with scriptural teaching and gives Christians the encouragement to get into the habit of giving and meeting needs regularly.
Second, I want you to notice that it says, “each of you”. No one was exempt. That bumps into one of the charges those memes had against the church, doesn’t it? There’s the guy that shows up with his life falling apart and then gets guilted and manipulated into giving. And sadly, that happens. Some false teachers say that if you give money to the church then God is obligated to bless you. They say that the more you give the better off your health and relationships and finances will be. But that’s unbiblical. We come to Jesus as Saviour of our souls and source of eternal life, not as some kind of Santa Clause pyramid scheme that is meant to fulfill our earthly wishes for health and wealth.
What the Bible does teach is that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24). And, as we already said, that constantly worrying about money and security and stuff is drain on our faith and a poison to our soul. Jesus says, “…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles [or “Unbelievers”] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31–33)
Christians know they don’t own anything in this world, but that everything is God’s (Matthew 25:14-30) and we are merely stewards. That’s why Christians talk a lot about Stewardship. Christians know that we don’t own our homes, cars, clothes, or money. It’s not ours to control. We did not have them when we were born, we don’t have them for most of our lives, and we won’t have them when we die – and so we realize that dedicating our lives to worrying about building and keeping piles of stuff is ultimately “vanity and a striving after wind…”. Ecclesiastes teaches us this.
So we say along with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) We’re merely stewards of what we have and our faith in God tells us that whatever we have in our hand isn’t really that important because God can either give us more or take it away. He can multiply it like the loaves and fishes or dry it up with a drought –that’s up to Him. All we can do is be faithful with what He has and trust Him to give us what we need.
And so, on each Lord’s day, every one of the believers in the church was instructed to open their hands and demonstrate that they trust God more than they trust themselves through the exercise of giving. It is an act of faith, obedience, and sacrifice that says, “God, everything is yours. I trust you. I know you love me. I’m holding nothing back. Use this to take care of people and I trust you’ll take care of me too.”
Now, the argument comes, “Well, if God is so powerful, why doesn’t He just give them what they need? Why does God need money at all? If everything is God’s and He can make miracles, why does He need my money to do it? Why not just send rain to the deserts, have manna fall from heaven in the cities, heal all the sick, fix all the lame, give everyone a job… why does He want my money?”
First off – it’s not your money, it’s His… but second… He will. When all is said and done, at the end of our time here, He will do all those things. But in the meantime, God is doing His work to sanctify us – to make us more like Jesus. How does He do that? By giving us the opportunities and the choice to help each other – or not. By giving our planet enough to go around and then requiring that we share it with each other – or not. By making some places in the world flourish with an abundance of food, medicine, education, and more – and then allow other places to ave needs – and then give us the means to move around and help each other – or not. He creates the opportunity for sacrifice, generosity, and love, but, as always He leaves the choice to us. It is in making the choice to love that we become more like Jesus.
Generosity is A Choice
Notice that here, and this holds for the rest of the New Testament, the compelling of generosity by religious taxes and the amounts required to give is gone.
Jesus fulfilled the law and upped the ante for His followers. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? The Old Testament Law told people not to murder and forced them to get along on pain of death, Jesus says, “It’s not about murder, it’s about the sin of out of control anger. Be peacemakers. Figure out how to reconcile with one another.”
The OT Law said, “Don’t commit adultery” or you’ll be put to death. Jesus said, “The issue isn’t adultery, it’s the sin of lust that causes you to be an adulterer in your heart. Do everything you can to deal with that.”
The OT Law said, “Don’t break your oaths or else you’ll be punished.” Jesus says, “It’s not about just breaking oaths, but living a whole life where everything you say is simply true.”
The bible teachers the time were saying that God said it was ok to love your neighbours and hate your enemies, but Jesus says, “No. God doesn’t want you to hate people. He wants you to love everyone and do good to them – even your enemies.” That’s harder, isn’t it? That requires more. That requires divine intervention, God’s work in our hearts.
The OT Law told people what to do and what not to do. Be generous or else. But Jesus got to the root of the problem – the sins of selfishness, fear, worry, greed, and said, “I’m not going to force you be generous. I’m not going to prescribe percentages and consequences. I’m going to be generous to you, serve you, give everything for you – my whole life as a demonstration of my love for you – and then ask you to do the same for everyone else. I’m going to invite you to be generous as I am generous.”
And anyone who is a Christian, anyone who understands what Jesus did for them, who understands God’s love for them, who figures out all that was given for them, who finally has that moment where the sacrificial generosity that Jesus showed them clicks – will get it. They’ll realize what the wealth of love they’ve been given, and the generosity of their God, and it will become natural for them to be generous with others.
We’ll talk more about this next week, but I want to leave you with two questions. First, do you know why we pass the plate on Sundays enough to explain it to others? And second, have you begun to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is for you (Eph 3:18), and does your life reflect that generosity to others?
The Right Tool
Check out some of these weird tools. Maybe they’re only weird to me. Have any of you used these? Here’s my favourite, which is awesome, and it’s the Stanley #1 Odd Jobs. I absolutely love this guy’s description.
We’ve all used the wrong tool to try to accomplish a task. We are going to hang a picture and can’t find the hammer, so we grab a screwdriver and hope we can use the handle to knock the nail in. We need to turn a ¾” bolt but the only wrench we can find is metric and it’s pretty close, so we try it. Instead of gluing something properly we throw on some tape and hope for the best. But it never quite works, right? The nail is crooked, the bolt gets stripped, the tape doesn’t hold. That’s because we are using the tool to do something it wasn’t designed for.
When God creates a human being He always gives them a purpose. Most people don’t care about God’s intended purpose for their lives but spend their time trying to figure out their own idea – which sometimes gets them part way there but they never feel like they completely fit. But, when Jesus calls someone to Himself and they become His disciple, He doesn’t just save them from their sin and send them on their merry way, but sets within them a desire to live out their God-given purpose. They go from someone who was living for themselves, trying to make themselves happy, and confused about their reason for living, to a Kingdom follower who is now trying to discover why God put them on earth, what will honour Jesus, and how they can glorify God by doing obeying His will for their life.
Sure, we mess up, sin, go the wrong way, and need a lot of grace, but God is always forgiving, rebuking, training, correcting and helping us to find and live out our purpose. The Holy Spirit within us acts like a compass, steering us towards the right and away from the wrong, even giving us spiritual gifts that we didn’t have before in order follow God’s plan for us. And when we hit that groove and finally discover what we were built to do, there’s nothing like it. No matter how hard it is, or how much we have to endure, there is a supernatural power that comes upon us, a hope beyond ourselves, a greater, eternal mission, and a reason and meaning that’s bigger than us – because we are living out our purpose.
Please open up to 1 Corinthians 7:6-40. As I said a couple weeks ago, in 1st Corinthians we see that Paul was asked some important questions about what God wants from believers in regard to human sexuality and marital relationships. There were many in the church that wanted to follow God, but were being super-distracted by all the sin around them and the desires and temptations within them. They wondered if maybe they should just make a rule that all Christians everywhere should just give up on the whole marriage idea altogether because it was so corrupted and distracting, and just simply concentrate on following Jesus. Basically, they wondered if Christians should just become monks and nuns. We covered a lot of the answer last week, but we were left with a lot of other situations that weren’t covered like: What about single people who want to get married? What about the single people that don’t? What about people married to unbelievers? What about divorced people? Can they get remarried? Let’s read the rest of the passage together and we’ll draw out some application:
“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Now concerning the betrothed [another word would be “virgin” or “unmarried”] , I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed [meaning parents of unmarried children], if his [or her] passions are strong, and it has to be, let him [or her] do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (ESV)
It is Good to Stay
Paul is here addressing a lot of situations directly, but there was an overarching theme to all of his answers. Look again. He says in verse 7, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” And then in verse 17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” And in verse 24, “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”
There’s no way that Paul could address the many variations on human relationships, or try to write a letter that told every human being what they should do with themselves for the rest of their lives. And even if God did do that, people’s circumstances change so quickly that they would need a new letter every year! So look at the overarching theme for what God says:
Verse 8 – If you are divorced or widowed Christian, it’s good to stay as you are and follow God, but if you need to get married, get married.
Verse 10 – If you are married Christian, it is good to stay as you are and follow God, but if your unbelieving partner divorces you, then let it be so.
Verse 20 – If you are a bondservant or slave who is Christian, then it is good to stay as you are and follow God, but if you have a chance to gain your freedom, go for it.
Verse 25 – If you are unmarried, then it is good to stay as you are and follow God, but if you want to get married, get married.
Verse 36 – If you have a child who is unmarried, then it is good that they stay that way and follow God, but if they want to get married, let them.
Verse 39 – If you are married and your spouse dies, then it is good to stay that way, but if you want to get married, then go ahead and marry a Christian.
Did you catch the theme? What is God’s concern here? Over and over we see God saying that whatever the situation is, find God in it, work in it, be at peace with it, serve God in it – grow and bloom where you are planted as best you – but if the situation changes around you, or you sense that God wants you to change your situation so you can serve Him better, then go for it. One might call it “contentment” – be content with the situation you find yourself in. Another might call it “focus” – stay focused on where you are and what you are doing, don’t get distracted by a bunch of temptations, man-made rules and worldly options. My Bible entitles the section above verse 17, “Live As You Are Called”. Essentially, bloom where you are planted as best you can, until the Gardner moves you.
Recall that part starting in verse 32 about anxieties where the Apostle says: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife… the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
The crux comes at the end there as this teaching is designed to benefit us and our relationship with God, not to try to restrain us or keep us from experiencing what God has for us. A lot of man-made religious rules seemed designed only to “restrain”: “don’t do this, don’t do that”, but God’s rules are designed to help us flourish – to bloom where we are planted. He wants to free us from the entanglements and anxieties of this world and help us live maturely, with “good order”, devoted to our God-give life’s purpose.
For some, God’s purpose requires you to be married, so He’ll give you desires in that direction and point you to a spouse. For others, it means bucking the trend where the whole world seems to want you to hook up with someone or get married, so you can stay single and flexible. For some, it means staying content at a job you aren’t thrilled with so it can help you do something you couldn’t do otherwise. For others it means leaving your job security so you can have the freedom to do something that God needs you for.
The idea is that we weren’t put on this planet to simply eat, sleep, work, entertain ourselves, reproduce, and die. We were created for so much more. God has given us a purpose and when we make these big and little decisions – from will I marry, what job will I get, who will my friends be, what school will I attend, what will I do in my free time, who will my business partners be, what will my hobbies be – there is a bigger picture to consider. Will they bring more anxiety and restrain me from following God’s plan for my life, or will they be beneficial, promoting good order, and securing my devotion to the Lord?
Most of us don’t think that way. We usually get as far as “Do I like it?” “Is it fun?” “Will it make me money?” “Is she pretty?” “What do others expect me to do?” “What will make me popular?” “Will it be safe?” “Will it make me uncomfortable?” God tells us to expand our thinking beyond these worldly concerns and ask bigger questions: “Will it make me a better follower of Christ?” “Will it help me serve God and others better?” “Does it fit with who God has created me to be?” “Does it help me fulfill my life’s purpose or, even if it looks good, will it distract me from it?”
What a shallow, pointless existence it would be to waste our life pursuing fun, interesting, popular things – and completely miss the entire purpose of our lives.
The Purpose Driven Life
I want now to do doing something I’ve never really done before, and that is read a large selection from a book that has meant a lot to me. This is some selections from the first few pages of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”, a book that has helped me in innumerable ways. Please listen as I read this to you – and then go buy or borrow this book and finish it. If you hear nothing else this morning – hear this first sentence:
“It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That’s because we typically begin at the wrong starting point—ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purpose. The Bible says, ‘It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power.’
Contrary to what many popular books, movies, and seminars tell you, you won’t discover your life’s meaning by looking within yourself. You’ve probably tried that already. You didn’t create yourself, so there is no way you can tell yourself what you were created for! If I handed you an invention you had never seen before, you wouldn’t know its purpose, and the invention itself wouldn’t be able to tell you either. Only the creator or the owner’s manual could reveal its purpose.
I once got lost in the mountains. When I stopped to ask for directions to the campsite, I was told, ‘You can’t get there from here. You must start from the other side of the mountain!’ In the same way, you cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God—and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.
Many people try to use God for their own self-actualization, but that is a reversal of nature and is doomed to failure. You were made for God, not vice versa, and life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not your using him for your own purpose.…
How, then, do you discover the purpose you were created for? You have only two options. Your first option is speculation. This is what most people choose. They conjecture, they guess, they theorize. When people say, ‘I’ve always thought life is . . . ,’ they mean, ‘This is the best guess I can come up with.’
For thousands of years, brilliant philosophers have discussed and speculated about the meaning of life. Philosophy is an important subject and has its uses, but when it comes to determining the purpose of life, even the wisest philosophers are just guessing.…
Fortunately, there is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation. We can turn to what God has revealed about life in his Word. The easiest way to discover the purpose of an invention is to ask the creator of it. The same is true for discovering your life’s purpose: Ask God….
God is not just the starting point of your life; he is the source of it. To discover the purpose in life you must turn to god’s word, not the world’s wisdom. You must build your life on eternal truths, not pop psychology, success-motivation, or inspirational stories.
The Bible says, ‘It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.’ This verse gives us three insights into your purpose.
- You discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ…..
- God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about Him. His purpose for your life predates your conception. He planned it before you existed, without your input. You may choose your career, your spouse, your hobbies, and many other parts of your life, but you don’t get to choose your purpose.
- The purpose of your life fits into a much larger, cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity….”
Let me close with the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:24-33 where He speaks about anxiety, worry, and focusing on the wrong things – especially focusing on a life worried about money and stuff – but as we saw in 1 Corinthians we can get just as muddled with worries about relationships and other things. Jesus 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. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
This is one of the hardest things about faith to teach and to practice. The point here is that God knows what you need and what you desire. If you think you need money, your heart is in the wrong place. God knows what you need. The question is, will you seek God’s kingdom and a righteous life first, and trust that God will give you what you need to accomplish it? Or will you leave your faith to the side and pursue the money instead.
If you think you need a girlfriend or boyfriend, or husband or wife, or a better husband or wife, then your heart is in the wrong place. Do you not believe that God knows what you need? If so, then will you seek to live out God’s purpose for you, content where you are, blooming where you are planted, trusting God will give you what you need to accomplish what He has asked you to do? Or will you cast your faith in God aside and pursue a relationship God never intended you to have? Which will bring you greater good and God more glory?
If you think you need a better job, then your heart is in the wrong place. Do you not believe that God knows what you need and desire? If so, then will you make the decision to bloom where you are planted, do the good you are called to do, be the employee God wants you to be, and allow God to decide where to put you? Or will you stay anxious, upset, resentful, and bitter that you aren’t getting your due – cutting corners and complaining, or jumping from place to place – trying to get something God hasn’t given you, that won’t lead to your flourishing? Which will bring God more glory and you more good? (James
God says in James 1:1-3,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Jesus says, “…[Unbelievers] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The Joy of Bible Study
When I do Bible study (and perhaps this happens to you), I often have one of three experiences –each flowing from one to the next.
I usually start out by feeling like a hunter, an archaeologist, or a prospector… wandering about, fairly sure that there’s something good there, but not exactly sure where yet. So I take a few samples, smell the air, set up a camera, do some digging around … in other words, I read over the passage a few times, talk to God about it, mull it over, find a study bible or two and read the notes.
Then, I suddenly strike something. Sometimes it comes quickly, other times it takes a little while, but it always happens. Suddenly there’s a moment when something jumps off the page. I scout for long enough and find that set of tracks, that artefact, that nugget… and I start to dig. And that’s when my experience switches, I now become a miner.
I get out my shovels and pickaxes – fire up my commentaries, bible translations, dictionaries, studies, fact books, etc. and start to dig and dig to get under what I’ve just found. I want to know where it comes from, how it got there, what it’s made of, what it’s worth, what I can do with it… and it gets very exciting. That’s my favourite part.
Now, just to clarify my illustration, when I’m preaching through a book of the bible, like I am now, it’s not like I approach the verses with a specific idea in mind. That would be like showing up with a my own bones, some gold nuggets, or a bag of my own scat, spreading it around and calling it a sign. No, when we come to Bible Study, our job isn’t to pull things out of scripture, or worse, put things into it, but to simply find what God is saying and then listen to and teach that.
But, that’s not the end of the Bible Study journey for me. Now, maybe I’m alone in this one, but I assume I’m not. There’s usually a third part to my experience where I go from blissfully mining out truths to feeling like I’m drinking from a fire-hose. All of a sudden I realize, once again, that no matter what the truth is, God has been saying it to generations of people, over and over, for millennia.
I start to realize that when the Bible speaks, it speaks consistently with a voice that agrees with itself, that the Holy Spirit has declared every word of the Bible. I see Jesus in every verse, the mercy of God in every chapter, as the few verses I’m reading point to more and more verses in scripture – in Genesis, Proverbs, Psalms, the Prophets. As I learn the historical context of the verse I realize how important it was at the time, but how universal it is for all times.
Suddenly, the truth God wants to tell me that day, comes clear and I realize a few of its implications. I come face to face with my own sin, and the sin of the world around me, and how woefully short I fall in God’s eyes. I get a glimpse of Jesus’ true nature and realize how high and deep His mind is compared to mine. I start to realize that His ways are so much more different than mine, and that His thoughts are so much better than mine. And it gets overwhelming. I dig in and find there’s too much gold, too many jewels in the mine for one person to ever study or carry himself. Too many tracks to follow for even a thousand hunters to track. And it brings me to both elation and despair. Elation as I experience the living and active Word of God, sharper than any double-edges sword, penetrating and dividing my soul and spirit… and despair as I realize that I will never, ever be able to fully explain, even that one verse, in my whole lifetime. There’s too much there.
I hope you’ve experienced that. I get to do it all the time, and it’s the greatest part of being able to do what I do. Perhaps you’ve even experience a little of that on these past Sundays as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark together and you’ve studied at home.
So Many Hot Topics
I say all that because I feel like we’ve covered a lot of big, “hot-topics” over the past while. In a short time we’ve covered gender identity, homosexuality, submission to leadership, stewardship, keeping our relationships together, suffering and martyrdom – that’s a lot! Last week we covered the questions of “What is most important to God?”, “How do I find my life’s purpose?” and “How can I love people who make it hard to love them?” That’s enough to chew on for a lifetime, and here we are again about to cover something else!
I don’t think anyone would blame us if we feel a little overwhelmed by all the amazing things that Jesus spoke in the final days of His life. The questions come fast and furious, and when He answers them He doesn’t use long sermons and explanations, but short, powerful, bullet like answers, piercing straight to the heart of the issue. And so, when we read these sections, and try to take them more slowly, we invariably find that they are incredibly condensed.
Jesus Fires Back
That’s true about today’s passage too, of course, so let’s give it a read and see what God has for us today. First, notice that today’s passage is different than our last bunch in that it’s not motivated by a question asked by someone else, but comes about because Jesus decides to point it out Himself.
Remember last week where, in verse 34, Jesus had answered the Scribe’s question and “no one dared ask him any more questions.” After the Pharisees and Scribes stopped talking, Jesus went on a bit of a walking tour of the Temple area. It says in verse 37 that a “great throng”, or a “large crowd”, followed Him around, listening to His teaching, captivated by His every word – much to the annoyance and vexation of the Sanhedrin.
In our passage today, Jesus takes a walk from steps on which He had been confronted by the Sanhedrin a little further into, perhaps the Court of the Gentiles, the place that He had made quite the scene the day before. As He walks, He begins to speak and teach.
Let’s read from Mark 12:38:
“And in his teaching he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ (Mark 12:38-40)
What we are reading here is a summary, a condensed version, of what Matthew 23 calls the “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees”, which is a much more lengthy and specific indictment of Israel’s teachers. There, the phrase he repeats over and over is the word “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”, and then calls them out for burdening people with extreme rules that go far beyond God’s law, for their belief that they are above others, for their two-facedness and total lack of understanding of their place before God, for their lack of care for the poor, for their narcissistic, shallow, superficial, conceited, vanity, and the hate they had in their hearts for God and His Christ. It’s an extremely powerful, entire chapter of scripture that Mark condenses into a few verses.
Here you see vain men who walk from place to place clothed in the garb of aristocrats, white, flowing robes symbolizing their religious purity. They were meant to be work during religious duties, but these leaders had taken to wearing them all the time, even in the marketplaces, to remind people how important they were. They would seek out crowds of people, in synagogues and feasts, and expect special treatment for who they were. They loved the perks that came with the job.
And they had a lot of power, which they would use to abuse people. A scribe was forbidden from being paid for their teachings, so they had to either support themselves with a secular job – like the Apostle Paul did as a tentmaker – or be dependent upon the gifts of others. This situation easily led them to start to expect gifts whenever they would teach, which led to finding out which were the most generous / gullible of those they were meant to be helping. Like the bad lawyers and religious shysters today, they would ingratiate themselves to some of the widows, hoping to get into their wills, or look for loop-holes in the law which would allow them to take over people’s possessions. This was especially effective against defenceless widows who had no one to advocate them – because they were the ones abusing them.
Picture lawyers, walking around the grocery stores, church groups, potlucks, restaurants – always clad in their best power-suit. Attending funerals and looking for grieving, trusting, people who are in mourning, passing out business cards, using their charisma and knowledge to steal their homes, take their money, and leaving them destitute.
Is it any wonder Jesus says, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
As Jesus is walking and teaching, firing back at the Sanhedrin that had blocked His way to the Temple and tried to trap Him with questions, He’s making His way to the Court of the Women. There stood a series of boxes with trumpet shaped tops for people to place various offerings and their temple taxes. There He will sit down and make another, extremely important point.
“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’” (Mark 12:38-44)
Jesus sits and turns his eyes towards the contribution chests, the trumpets, and for a time he says nothing. It’s the Passover and Jerusalem is at its busiest, and there are a lot of people paying their taxes, and making the required and voluntary offerings to God. The whole crowd with Him watches person after person come to the box and drop in their offering.
The trumpets are made of metal and each coin that goes in makes a clanging noise – and there are some people that make a lot of noise! I remember reading at one point that some people would have their offering turned into even more coins so they could be seen – and heard – pouring more and more into the noisy receptacle. Some even throwing their coins into the coffers from a distance – for maximum clang!
Notice the contrast between these two stories. In the first we have Jesus giving a warning and a description of the Scribe. “Beware the Scribes” — the hypocrites, the play actors, the religious pretenders, the ones who loved the show, but were just white-washed-tombs, dead looking good on the outside, but dead and disgusting on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28).
Then He points to the polar opposite: a poor widow, beneath anyone’s notice. She’s poor, which means she, likely, doesn’t have anyone taking care of her. No family, no help, n protector, no social services, no legal recourse. Was she a victim of one of the Scribe’s – we don’t know – but we do know that she is in extreme need.
She has come to the Temple humbly, without advertisement, in obedience to God’s call to give, in need, with an absolute trust in God. How do I know this? Because Jesus says she put in two small coins, two LEPTA, one 64th of a day’s wages, and it was all she had.
A little math and conversion says: If the minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25, and one works an 8 hour day, then they have $90. Divide that by 64 and you have $1.40. By today’s standards, this poor widow had less than a Twoonie to her name.
It was too small to be the Temple Tax, and must have been put in the box for the voluntary gifts. This was a gift given out of both obedience and love. She didn’t have to put both coins in. She could have kept one. She needed to bring an offering, and she looked at her coins, and knew that she needed God’s blessing a lot more than she needed that single coin.
Now we make the contrast. Jesus pronounced judgement and doom on the rich scribe, who looked amazing in the outside, had wealth, connections, a fancy degree, got the best seats to all the events, and was respected by all the elites in the city. And He commends the widow for giving to God, willingly.
But it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart! Jesus calls over His disciples and says, “this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing…”. How was it more? Because everyone else had given out of their riches – and she gave out of her poverty, she gave it all.
It’s not about the amount we give. God couldn’t care less about the amount, because He doesn’t need any of it. God owns everything and wants for nothing. He can raise people out of mud. He invented gold and jewels. It’s not about God wanting our riches – He wants our heart. And the Widow’s very small gift proved that she loved God, needed God, thanked God, obeyed God, and trusted God more than she trusted anyone or anything else.
She gave beyond what was convenient, beyond what was safe, beyond what was expected, and gave it all. It was one of the few – perhaps the only – gift accepted by God that day. Sure, the contribution boxes were full, but there were only two little coins that God found value in – the Widow’s offering. She gave “all she had to live on”, literally translated, “her whole life”.
Those wealthy Scribes foolishly thought that riches were something to be accumulated on earth, and spent their life amassing them. The Widow knew that there was more to life than having a coin in her hands. The Scribes found security in their wealth and used their power to crush anyone who they could. The Widow found her security in God, knowing that He is the highest authority.
Let me draw a couple applications here:
The first is that we must get our priorities straight.
This is an old application, but it’s relevant to every age. We talked about “Loving God” and “Loving our Neighbour” last week, and we get a very similar reminder this week. We have to ask ourselves what our priorities are, because if they don’t line up with God’s, then we are in trouble: trouble in facing God’s judgement for disobedience, and trouble in not being able to flourish under His rule.
If we have the priorities of the Scribes: Pride, Position, Power, Prestige, Wealth, Worldly security, then we have it all wrong. And this is where it starts to feel like drinking from a fire-hose, because every book of the Bible condemns this life. It doesn’t condemn the wealthy, but the love of wealth.
- Jesus in Matthew 6:24 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.”
- The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
- The Apostle John in 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
- The author of the Proverbs (30:8) begs God to give him enough, but no more saying, “…give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” and, in it’s wisdom, looks square at us and simply says, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.” (23:4)
- The Psalmist says, “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.” (10:3)
Seeking wealth and worldly security is absolutely incompatible with loving God and others. A life committed to pursuing gain and comfort, dependant on appearances and applause, will always, always, always corrupt one’s soul, distract them from God, and cause them to use people rather than serve them.
The second is to answer the question: “What are you holding back?”
We see a picture of Jesus in the Widow. She trusts God, obeys at great cost, and gives her life for the sake of others. That’s Jesus.
The Widow put in two coins, though she could have kept one. Jesus gave His whole life to save us.
- What are you holding back?
- What have you not given God permission to have in your life?
- What has God asked you to do and you’ve said no?
- Is there something you are supposed to do, to give, to trust God with, that you are still holding in your hands, keeping control of, because you simply can’t trust him with it?
- Are you tithing? Are you giving generously to the work of God, first at church and then to other people who need it? Or are you refusing to obey God in that way?
- What about your daily obedience in bible reading and prayer? Are you holding back your time from God because you believe it’s yours? Do you give God a little time, when you find it, and have nothing better to do?
- Is there a sin or a habit that you know you’ve needed to give up, but won’t?
Jesus has terrible words to say to religious pretenders who look like they have it all put together, but are, in fact, corrupt on the inside. He calls them “Hypocrites!” Let us be free from hypocrisy and give God everything, no holding back.
What are you holding back from God?
We are saved by Grace. We cannot know God, be forgiven, get to heaven, or be saved from our sin, unless God is willing to give us grace.
Graceless Amazing Grace
The song Amazing Grace says, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Now listen to this article I found online:
“In recent years, the words of the hymn have been changed in some religious publications to downplay a sense of imposed self-loathing by its singers. The second line,’That saved a wretch like me!’ has been rewritten as ‘That saved and strengthened me’, ‘that saved a soul like me’, or ‘that saved and set me free’…. Part of the reason for this change has been the altered interpretations of what wretchedness and grace means. Newton’s Calvinistic view of redemption and divine grace formed his perspective that he considered himself a sinner so vile that he was unable to change his life or be redeemed without God’s help. Yet his lyrical subtlety… leaves the hymn’s meaning open to a variety of Christian and non-Christian interpretations. “Wretch” also represents a period in Newton’s life when he saw himself outcast and miserable, as he was when he was enslaved in Sierra Leone; his own arrogance was matched by how far he had fallen in his life.”
No it doesn’t! I’m guessing that John Newton would lose his mind after reading something like that! Actually, yes, he did believe that he was “a sinner so vile that he was unable to change his life or be redeemed without God’s help”! That’s why it’s called “AMAZING GRACE”! He didn’t deserve it. He had no power, no ability, no good, no righteousness, no positivity, no merit, and could not have be redeemed except for the GRACE – the undeserved favour of God who gave His Son Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for His sins! That’s the whole point of the song!
He was lost and blind – he had no way of knowing his own plight, no way of finding his way out, no way of seeing clearly – but now, because of God’s grace, he had been found and his eyes were opened! It was God’s grace that showed him that relieved his fears – not his own strength. It was God’s grace that brought him through many dangers, toils and snares – not his own intellegence. He knew that one day, “the earth will dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine”… it will be the end, nothing more to be done, everything utterly destroyed – except for those who are saved by God’s Grace. What makes this so Amazing is that God didn’t have to do any of it. John knew that all of the blessings, the protection, the renewal wasn’t something John deserved, but that God did out of His love. And it blew John Newton’s mind! What. Amazing. Grace!
Grace Cannot Be Achieved
I hope you have experienced this, because it is the fuel by which we live. It is the motivation for our good deeds, our worship, our sacrifice, our evangelism, our fellowship, our church, and any forgiveness we give to others. Once we realize the weight, the depth, the depravity of our wretchedness, we begin to understand enormity of the grace of God and the cost of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross!
I want to read a bit more of the article because it talks about the reason that people don’t like to sing the word “wretch”:
“The communal understanding of redemption and human self-worth has changed since Newton’s time. Since the 1970s, self-help books, psychology, and some modern expressions of Christianity have viewed this disparity in terms of grace being an innate quality within all people who must be inspired or strong enough to find it: something to achieve. In contrast to Newton’s vision of wretchedness as his willful sin and distance from God, wretchedness has instead come to mean an obstacle of physical, social, or spiritual nature to overcome in order to achieve a state of grace, happiness, or contentment…. The secular popularity of “Amazing Grace” is due to the absence of any mention about God in the lyrics until the fourth verse…, and that the song represents the ability of humanity to transform itself instead of a transformation taking place at the hands of God.”
That’s simply ridiculous! The song definitely, DEFINITELY, does not say that transformation is in the hands of humanity! The song says that before God’s Grace we are “wretched, lost, blind, and afraid”. The grace and power we need to be saved, changed, transformed, cleansed, and holy, cannot come within. We do not have the capacity.
Take a broken, addicted, strung out junkie off the streets, poke out his eyes, and drop him into the middle of a jungle. Then tell him to figure out a way to heal himself, feed himself, get healthy, grow new eyes, and find his way out of the jungle – alone. That’s what these fools are singing. It’s utter nonsense.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the Bible, says that every human being is a sinner by nature, and by choice. Our sins carry the penalty of death – physical death, and spiritual death. The bible says:
- “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)
- “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)
- “…dead in our trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
Let me revise what I said before. Take a broken, addicted, strung out junkie off the streets, poke out his eyes… SHOOT HIM DEAD… and drop him into the middle of the jungle. Then tell him to heal himself and find a way out.
Romans 3:10-20 gives us a picture of what God sees when He looks at humanity:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And the problem with being dead is that means you cannot do anything any more. Until we are made alive by Christ, we are essentially lifeless zombies, alive in body, but dead in spirit, only able to do things that God sees as disgusting. That’s why our good deeds, charitable works, positive vibes, striving for goodness, worldly gain, moral behaviour – all these things that people do to earn God’s favour, merit, and grace – all the things they believe will give them credit with God so that He owes them a place in heaven – carry no meaning with God before we are saved by His grace. He wants nothing from anyone who doesn’t come in the name of Jesus Christ His Son.
So not only are these people wrong in changing the song by saying that salvation is in the hands of humanity, but they are also wrong because they say you can do good things in order to earn grace. For them, grace is available to those who earn it. You’ve heard it before – “God helps those who help themselves.” Garbage! Grace, by its very nature – by definition – cannot be earned. If it is earned, then it is a payment, not grace! Grace is “undeserved”.
People want to be able to say that they did something to achieve their own salvation. They want to be proud of themselves for what they’ve done. They conquered, climbed, outwitted, outplayed, outlasted… and God was so impressed that He opened up heaven to them. James 4:9 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Despite what most of the world believes, God is not up in heaven with a scorecard, or a tally sheet, weighing the good and bad things in the life of all humans. He does not say that if you have more good than bad then you get to come to heaven and have a good life. Also, unlike some religions and what almost every movie or tv show about angels claims, there is no the magic-salvation trump card… like martyring yourself, giving away lots of money, helping someone, or anything else… that makes it so God owes you one and He has to let you into His presence! Nothing could possibly be further from the truth according to Scripture! We are saved by grace.
Grace is “one of the distinctive features of the religion of the Bible. No other system of religious thought, past or present, contains an emphasis on divine grace comparable to that of the Bible.” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.)
- “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
- “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…” (Colossians 1:21-22 NIV)
- “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9)
We need to understand our wretchedness, and how much we don’t deserve what we have been given by Jesus, before we can understand the love and grace of God.
How This Ties to Psalm 15
Now, lets go back to Psalm 15: “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?”
These traits that we have been going through are a picture of what a life looks like after God has gotten a hold of it, not before. This is what a life looks like after God has taken a sinner, who could not save themselves, who loved sin and self more than God, who worshipped created things rather than creator, who made themselves enemies of God, and – even though they don’t deserve it one little bit –showed them their sin, brought them back from the dead, and then accepts them on the basis of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as payment for all of their sin. This is the picture of a person who understands wretchedness and grace.
Anyone who believes and accepts this is given a new nature that no longer loves sin, but hates it. Yes, they still fight with their old nature, old habits, temptations, and the world… but they have a new perspective, and new desires, that they’ve never had before. They are now a member of the body of Christ, part of God’s family. They desire to love as they have been loved, serve as they have been served, and worship and obey the one that created and saved them. That desire and the knowledge of the grace of God, helps is be people of Integrity.
It helps us be Truthful. Why? Because Jesus always tells us the truth.
It helps us be Loving. Why? Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and as we come to Him to be filled with love, it overflows and spills on those around us.
It helps reject vile things and Honouring the faithful. Why? Because God has given us eyes to see right from wrong and has given us honour when we had no honour.
It helps us be Trustworthy. Why? We don’t let people down because God never lets us down.
Use Wealth Well
And the final trait, which we are looking at today, is that a Christian uses their money and possessions in a Godly way. One “…who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.” (vs 5)
I took time to go through the gospel again this morning because I believe it is the the key motivation to using our wealth well. We see our money and possessions much differently when we realize how much grace we have received from God. Without an understanding of our wretchedness, and our grace, there is no way we can be generous, because we will think that all we have is ours. We’ll think that we earned it. That it belongs to us. That we control it. That we get to decide what happens to it. That we get to keep it, sell it or destroy it if we want to, because it’s ours! Knowing our own wretchedness, and experiencing the grace of God gives us a radically different perspective.
A person who understands the grace and generosity of God looks at their money and stuff and says, “None of this is mine. It’s all God’s.”
I know what my heart is like. I know that, if left to myself, I would be selfish with this and it would cause me and others harm. I would worship it, and become addicted to it. I would use it for my own pleasure and to hurt those I don’t like. I would stack it up in great piles, and sit back and look at it and think of how wonderful I am, how powerful I am, how rich I am, how self-sufficient I am.
Or, if I didn’t have enough, I would look at the emptiness of my pockets, and I would despair, and sell out, and do any number of things just to get some. I am thankful that this is God’s and not mine. Were it not for my knowledge that God is the great provider and that I deserve nothing, I would be jealous of those who have more than me or feel pride for being better than those who have less. And if I did give some away, it would be so I would feel better, so I would get the credit, so I could show everyone how wonderful I am.
Don’t Use Wealth to Take Advantage
There are two parts to this verse. One “…who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.”
They are two sides of the same coin. First, is that a believer lends their money [which also includes their things] without “interest”. In other words, if you are a “have”, then don’t take advantage of the “have nots”. But it is more than that. It also means that we are generous.
The Law of Moses said that in a time of crisis, a Jew could lend money or things to another Jew, but wasn’t allowed to charge interest. It was a way to make sure that the poor weren’t taken advantage of. A believer deals generously and fairly with all people, and never uses their wealth as an unfair advantage.
Wealth is not a bad thing, and there are many times in the Bible that God blesses people with great wealth. A poor person is not more holy than a rich person. This is all about the heart. What the Bible does warn about is how difficult having wealth makes it for a person to be in a right relationship with God. Jesus Himself says in Mark 10:23, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” He also says in Luke 16:13, “No servant 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.”
Money and stuff can be very distracting to a person’s spiritual life and relationship with God, if the heart isn’t kept in check. But that doesn’t mean that a wealthy person cannot be a believer. It simply means that they will be exposed to different temptations than a poorer person would be. For example, they will find having total dependence on God harder. They may have a hard time practicing the discipline of patience because they can just go out and get what they want when they want it.
God Commands us to Be Generous
God is extremely concerned about the poor, and how the poor are treated. This is where generosity kicks in. It’s not just about not using your wealth to take advantage, but being proactive in helping those in need. Being Generous was commanded in the Law. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 said:
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.”
That wasn’t a suggestion, or a pithy thought – it was the law.
Not being a cheapskate was in the Law too:
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 23:22)
What God was teaching the people of Israel was that, to be a worshipper of His, meant to be generous. When he looked at the nation of Israel in Isaiah 58:6-7 he saw that they were doing all the right religious acts, like fasting, praying, and keeping the special days… but acting religious wasn’t what God wanted. Being religious is no substitute for being godly.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), and “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) . He told the parable of the Good Samaritan where a man generously helps out another man, even though they were enemies, and then said, “go and do likewise.” And very importantly in Luke 6:38 He said:
“…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
If you are one of the wealthy, which some of you are compared to others in Canada, and all of us are compared to others in the world, then Jesus commands us to be generous. Remember, I’m not talking about your tithe here. This is over and above your tithe. What we’re talking about is Generosity. My guess is that if you are not tithing, then you’re probably not generous either, and money and stuff is your idol and you need to repent. Jesus says generosity isn’t a single action – a one-time thing you do to feel good – it’s a lifestyle.
The other part of this verse is says we are to “not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we see the others side. This is speaking to those who are not burdened with the problem of having too much wealth. This is for those who don’t believe they have enough. The temptation for the rich is to be selfish or to use their money in a sinful way that hurts people. The temptation for the poor is to… be selfish or try to get money in a sinful way that hurts people.
A poorer person may be tempted to do something shady or illegal so they can or get paid – even if it means doing something that harms someone else. A believer values people over money and stuff, because God values people over money and stuff, and would never trade a possession for a person.
Examples of Selfishness
People do this in big ways and little ways all the time. Believers too. Here’s some examples of ways that we are selfish, and maybe we don’t even recognize it:
Not Tipping: They don’t tip their server, even though they know she’s on minimum wage and essentially lives off of their tips. There’s lots of excuses, but think about it: not tipping is basically trading that little bit of money in your pocket, for the dignity, worth and work of a person who served you. It’s only a few bucks to you, but if it’s repeated over and over by many people, that server won’t make enough.
I’ve had friends that have worked in restaurants as servers and they said that they hated working Sunday afternoons because that’s when the Christians would come in after service. They always had the most complaints, cause the most problems, and tipped the least.
Selling Junk: Another way to be selfish is to junky or overpriced products. Have you ever sold something to a garage sale or online that you knew didn’t work right? Have you built a reputation for doing good work, but started to slip because you wanted to make a little more? That’s selfishness.
So is trying to get people locked into a multi-level-marketing thing so you can make some cash off of them. When you know it’s just a scam, but you convince them to invest anyway because you want the money – and trade your friendship and reputation for some money – you are being selfish.
Prizing Possessions: Some people have valued possessions that they rank above people. No one can touch it, hold it, play with it, or even see it… because that possession is more valuable then the person who wants to look at it. And if that thing ever got broke, they punish the person, hate the person, scream at the person who did it. That trading card, that tv, that porcelain plate, that watch, that china cabinet, that car, that boat, that ipod, that dog or cat, that dvd collection, that craft, that shirt, that piece of memorobelia… is NOT worth more than your relationship with any human beings. Can you have something special and take care of it? Sure… but where does it rank in your heart?
Trade Health for Wealth: Another way to be selfish is to your health – or your family’s health – so you will have more. This is the person that want’s more stuff, a better vacation, a new car, a bigger house, more toys – and to do it, they make their spouse and kids eat poor quality food, not buy vitamins, not get a gym membership – etc. They trade health for wealth.
Selling products that are addictive (tobacco and drugs for example), is a form of selfishness. It elevates your gain over people’s health and wellbeing. You are using them for money.
Trade Family for Wealth: Other people will trade having more money for their family members. It’s too costly to keep that family member in their own home because of the lifestyle change, the extra equipment, and someone might have to work less (or stop working) and that means less money and less time. So they put their family member into a government home somewhere, or in a cheap place doesn’t take care of them, because they want to use their money for other things. That is a terrible sin. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Abortion is an example of this selfishness. Put aside the very small percentage of babies conceived in rape and incest, and you’re left with the vast majority of babies who are murdered because they would be an inconvenient expense to the mother or father (usually the mother). They murder their baby so they can have more freedom, more money, keep their job, keep their status, keep their career, their lifestyle – they trade their baby, a precious gift given by God, for worldly wealth. It’s sickening.
Trade People for Wealth: Some people will trade other people (or their very selves) — their bodies, their sexuality, their morality, their psychological and emotional health, their future, or someone else’s future for money. They will do horrible, evil, soul scaring things, for the sake of gaining wealth.
Slavery, human trafficking, making, using and buying pornography, are all forms of selfishness. Trading a person’s dignity – someone else’s or your own – for financial gain is demonic. You, and they, are created in God’s image and have great worth (Gen 1:26) and deserve your love and respect. To sell yourself or another to sin, to trade your very heart for wealth, is so very wrong.
God has NEVER EVER condoned racial, man-stealing, slavery or human trafficking – He hates it. Exodus 21:16 says,
“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found sin possession of him, shall be put to death.”
Paul, in the New Testament, condemns “Enslavers” and kidnappers. To do so is to commit the worst form of theft. God can provide. Selling yourself or selling someone else is never the way to freedom.
Jesus Wouldn’t Trade You for Anything
So the application here is simple. Just like the rich, even the poorest of the poor can be selfish and sin in pursuit of money and possessions.
God desires that we live our lives and our wealth in the light of the Amazing Grace of God, and His boundless generosity. Is there anything that Jesus has not given for us? He offered His own life for our sake.
Romans 8:31-32 says:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Is there any limit to His grace and generosity? No! He is a good Father, infinitely wealthy, and used His resources to create us, redeem us, and continues to help us. He gave us His Son. He values us very highly, and so we are to value ourselves and others highly. Which means we live a generous and unselfish lifestyle.
Consider this. At His temptation Jesus, Satan offered Jesus a lot of things in exchange for our souls – but there was nothing that he could give that Jesus would trade for us. Satan offered Him every kingdom of the world if He would choose to not go to the cross and suffer for us. “Here’s the whole world! All you have to do is not die for these ungrateful, sinful, wretches.” But there was no amount of wealth that would buy Him off. He loved us. He traded His life for ours.
In the same way, we are to prioritize people, and will never take anything from anyone if it means that it will hurt someone else. Let us live our life in the light of God’s Amazing, Generous, Abundant Grace!
Today is Outreach Thursday, and this question comes up a lot, so let’s tackle it first. Should a Christian give money to panhandlers?
This is a complex issue. On the one hand we have the divine compulsion and inward desire to help those who need our assistance (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:27-36), while on the other we worry that our generosity will be misspent on things that are more harmful than good (like drugs or alcohol).
So what should we do? After some reading and talking to experts, I’ve concluded that giving cash to people on the street is not a good way to help them. The best way is to support local programs (InnerCity, Food Bank, etc.) which are designed to serve their needs, and have the expertise to deal with those who seek to abuse the system. I talked to one inner city program leader who said he wishes people would give less money to panhandlers so they would be forced to participate in the programs set up to help them best.
That said, I remember a time when a young, pregnant woman stopped me in the parking lot of the Home Depot and asked me for some money so she could buy a burger at the McDonalds. Did I send her away to find an official program? No, I gave her enough to buy a combo. Did I follow her to make sure she got the burger? No. Do I regret giving her the money? No. Would I do it again? Yes.
I believe that we must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) in these matters, and that means educating ourselves about local poverty issues, encouraging our churches to support local programs, and praying for wisdom so we don’t fall prey to those who would abuse Christian charity. However, when faced with an ‘extreme situation’ like the young woman at Home Depot, we must trust the Holy Spirit within us and err on the side of generosity.
What do you think? Have you thought about this before? How have you helped panhandlers and homeless people in the past?