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!
God, you are good to Your people and to those who are pure in heart. We praise you for your goodness.
We must acknowledge that despite your goodness, we have sinned.
Our feet have slipped and we have almost lost our foot hold.
We looked at the arrogant and we have envied them,
wanting to be like people who do not even acknowledge you as Lord.
We have envied the prosperity of the wicked,
thinking that we would rather have material things than the Saviour of our souls.
It is difficult for us to look at sometimes, Lord.
These wealthy, powerful people look so healthy,
so free from the burdens that are common to us.
They are evil,
– and yet they don’t seem touched by human ills.
They wear pride like a necklace and they cloth themselves with violence.
They have callous hearts and they bring forth sin.
The evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
And yet for some reason…
they seem blessed, happy, rich and strong.
Forgive us for wanting to be like them.
We are confused about these people, Lord.
They scoff against you,
and have far more than most.
They hurt others and get rewarded with more riches!
“Do you even know about these people, God?
Do you, the Most High, know how evil some of these people are, and how evil they are acting?
Why have you not done anything about them?”
You don’t seem to.
They are getting richer and they seem carefree.
It’s like all of the good that we do is in vain.
It’s like all of the work we do to stay pure is in vain because they are prospering and we are suffering.
We don’t talk about this much, Father.
If we bring this up we might harm some people’s faith,
so we don’t bring voice to our complaint in public.
We’ve tried to understand it, but we just can’t…
it breaks our hearts and muddles our minds.
But then we came to church.
We entered your sanctuary,
we sang songs to you,
we heard your word,
we remembered your Gospel
and their final destiny.
You opened our eyes to see what is really happening.
Their feet are on slippery ground.
They are already cast down into ruin
and all of the worldly collections they have will be destroyed.
Their life is like a dream and all that they have done,
all that they have,
all of their wickedness and ill-gotten treasures
will be completely swept away and they will have nothing.
When you finally deal with them, they will be nothing more than a fantasy
– an old story long forgotten.
Our bitterness and grieving at our lack of riches was foolish, Lord.
We were ignorant to be jealous of the wicked.
We were as dumb as a wild animal.
And so we resolve to stay with you.
Keep holding us by our hands.
Give us your guidance and your counsel,
and then after this world has passed away,
take us into your glory.
In all the world, there is really nothing better than you.
When we get to heaven, our greatest treasure will be you.
Our flesh and our heart might fail us, but God,
you are the strength of our hearts
and our portion forever.
We stay close to you because those who are far from you will perish.
You will destroy all those who do not have faith.
Lord God, no matter what…
no matter what happens in this world…
it is good to be near God.
We have made you the Sovereign Lord of our refuge
and we will tell everyone of your wonderful deeds!
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
(Adapted from Psalm 73)