First, I want you to know that I’m am grateful to God for this church. I’m grateful to be in the company of believers who are earnestly striving to live lives that are worthy of the gospel. And I’m thankful for your example when I struggle with the urging of the Holy Spirit to focus on Jesus and his example and his rock-solid promises to be all that I need. I’m thankful for friends that look to Scripture for their counsel and authority and conviction.
And, I’m praising God for this new facility and the scary/wonderful vision that comes with it. Thank you, Jesus, for the struggles that have been and that are, and that will be because we know they will bring you glory. Existing for the gospel, by definition, means we move against false gods. Existing for the gospel will test us and grow us and demand that we embrace Jesus and live out what we say we believe – or not. It’s good to know that everything we encounter is delivered through the sovereign hand of God and he will infallibly work his good purposes in this church and in our lives.
Let’s pray together
Kind father, thank you for all that you are for us through Jesus. Today, right now, I pray that you would pull us close and open our clouded eyes. I pray that you show us Jesus such that we would see him as life itself. I pray that we would better align with your heart and your mission and that you would break the chains of slavery that we can long for. Give us what we need to share your vision and please God, I pray that you would convict us of sin AND I pray that we would not substitute prayer for obedience. Please keep me from error. And, Holy Spirit, I pray this morning that you would have your way with us and cause us to hear what you want us to hear.
So, before we start, you should know a couple of things: first, I have a lot to say, but Jon said I only have 3 hours, so I’m going to condense. Second, you should know that when I went to seminary, I was gone the day they covered alliteration. So, I’m not sure if that’s a biblical imperative or not, but if it is, we’re starting on the wrong foot.
A few years ago, thanks to the encouragement of John and Rick, I started on an interesting journey. It was a journey to drill down on the issue of money from a biblical perspective. So, I jumped in with both feet and felt good about doing that, after all, I’ve been connected to people’s money for over 40 years. This journey, however, has not turned out as I anticipated. Actually, this ended up being very different.
This study has led me to struggles I did not anticipate, and realities that I had refused to see. This study has led me to know that even though I’ve been a believer for a while, I was very blind in many ways. My vision of the glory of Jesus was absolutely not what it should be and my idea of what it means to live what I believe is often very shallow. The deeper we go into the gospel, the more we will be compelled to actually be like Jesus. And when we have a Savior who humbled himself and gave everything for the glory of God in the salvation of dead, helpless God-haters like us, we will continually be facing our sin.
The problems when we talk about money
Have you ever wondered why there is this crazy reaction in you when you realize the Sunday sermon is about money? I hear a great sermon about the love of God, or the faithfulness of God, or about how the Trinity flows through Scripture, or how Jesus is my wrath-absorber, and I am usually overwhelmed with emotion. And then we start singing at the end of the service, and now I’m crying.
But when I first figure out that the sermon is about money, I don’t usually have the same reaction. Have you ever wondered why we have this different reaction? I think this is really very telling. It’s easy to turn the “attention” switch off because I’m just not interested or I’ve heard it all before, or maybe I even have thoughts of escape. I might even be angry. This reaction is very telling.
To be honest, there are legitimate problems that pop-up when we talk about money, right?
Everyone here has a different financial situation and we’re in different phases of life. Some are living pay-check to pay-check and can barely make ends meet. Some are single… some are young and married and have children – and that takes money… some are older and have an empty nest and hope to retire someday – and that takes money… some have health problems and may even be disabled – and that often creates money problems.
Or, if you’re married, you may be in a situation where you and your spouse don’t see eye-to-eye on money stuff. Or, we may be in real financial trouble and we’re sinking fast. Our debt may have brought us to the tipping point and the stress we now have is consuming.
We all tend to receive a money-discussion while considering different elements in our situation that connect to money. And this can lead to confusion about how the money discussion really applies? So it can be confusing.
One initial reaction to a “money sermon” might be, “I’ve been around for awhile and this always ends up at the same place – GIVE MORE. So, I just want to be clear. This is not about giving more. This is about giving everything!
When we combine our innate knowing that God exists with our sinful, rebellious tendencies we get rules-oriented people who want to perfect rule-following. Rule-following deceptively helps us feel good about ourselves while at the same time giving us plenty of room to live for ourselves. We love to work around the edges while not actually moving to the core.
I remember talking to one of my daughters years ago – I think it was Jade – she could always see things clearly. We struggled with a few things continually like homework or picking up her room or curfew, and I said something that made her laugh. I said something like, “Thank you for picking up your room but I wish you would do this because you wanted too.” I remember her just stopping and looking at me like, “What in the world are you talking about.” In her wildest dreams that made no sense to her. She would clean up her room because she wanted to avoid a more difficult encounter.
So the “don’t kill” commandment is good – check, don’t commit adultery – check, don’t steal – check. I think this is why we love the tithe – it’s a rule – everyone should, or should strive to, give 10% – check.
But when we get to the core, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and [you should love] your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27); when we get there, we’re in trouble, right? Can you imagine what would happen if we all really loved our neighbors as we love ourselves? THAT CERTAINLY CONNECTS TO MONEY
So we love rules, until the rules gets too difficult and personal and we’re actually facing our idols. Then instead of dropping to our knees in confession and repentance, we say, “I need to try harder.” Or maybe we simply say, “Thank God I’m under grace.”
So, this morning I’d like to help you think about and handle money by giving you the key with which you can be on a solid decision-making foundation. In fact, this key will not only straighten out our money-thinking, it will connect with most of the struggles we have.
MONEY AND THE GOSPEL
So here it is, right up front – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.
For the love of Christ controls us (or compels us), because we have concluded this: that one has died for all (that’s the gospel), therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all (the gospel again), that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Cor 5:14-15
In these two verses, Paul says that if I believe, if I claim the death of Jesus for myself, then I have died to self. The death of Jesus and his victory over sin was also my death to this world and my victory. The gospel turns sinners into people who no longer live for themselves but live for Jesus. The key to your money-thinking is to stop living for yourself, and find your joy and your life’s purpose in Jesus. It’s important that both elements are here. It’s not just, I need to do more good things. No, I need to find my life in Jesus. I need to stop living for myself and I need to live for Jesus – in everything. And this comes as we understand and embrace the love of Christ for us. The better we feel what happened at the cross the better we will be at living for Jesus now. The key to good money-thinking is to absorb the gospel the way it was intended. In the gospel we find the purpose of our birth AND OUR REBIRTH – “THAT WE MIGHT BE SAVED, AND THAT WE MIGHT NO LONGER LIVE FOR OURSELVES BUT FOR JESUS.”
Those who – through the gracious work of God – believe the gospel, should be radically different people who exist for King Jesus. Seeing the breathtaking beauty of the gospel and knowing that I have been forgiven and captured by GOD HIMSELF cannot do anything less that reorient everything and bring us face-to-face with our idols.
So, saving faith – being born again – has a solid, direct line to a radically different life with radically different thinking and radically different priorities and radically different action. And we’re not talking about the change that simply comes with age or the wisdom that age can bring (hopefully); this change is change created from a new reality. The Holy Spirit being alive and active in the fertile ground of a new heart. And that means that the gospel is the core reality upon which everything else now emerges. And that means massive change.
As, Christians, we now know the cosmic purpose in everything – and that purpose is God.
…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. – 1 Corinthians 8:6
So now it’s Jesus when we think about people. Jesus when we think about sexuality. Jesus when we think about raising children and entertainment and difficulty and job and confessing sin and forgiving others and money – I mean buying houses and cars and going on vacation and funding retirement and giving to the church and the food we eat and feeding the hungry and the clothes we buy, and this list goes on and on. JESUS DIED, THAT THOSE WHO LIVE MIGHT NO LONGER LIVE FOR THEMSELVES BUT FOR HIM… COMPLETELY – REALLY!
This is what happens when God moves in. This is what happens when the gospel becomes ours. Everything the world promises is now seen in light of the reality that JESUS is ours, and the promises of the world become stupid, and empty, and foolish because JESUS is the beginning and the end of everything, and infinitely better than the false promises of money or anything else.
Now, if you’re a little concerned because it seems like I’m moving in a radical and unreasonable direction, I assure you that I’m not. This is the normal Christian life. Don’t look around at others. If you savingly believe Jesus is everything for you. If this does not resonate with you, you should read your Bible more; you need to know Jesus better; you need to get a better feel for the tragedy that this world is marketing at every turn, and you need to feel the magnitude and consuming beauty of the death of Jesus for you. Your mission here and my mission here, is to live for King Jesus in everything.
This aligns with what Jesus said in Mark 8:34–38 (ESV)
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38
If you claim Jesus as your only hope, you are on a journey of self-denial for the glory of Jesus. And if you persist in living for yourself here, you will lose your life because God is not your god.
Paul said this in his first letter to the Corinthians:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Now, this abandoning of self and living for Jesus is not easy, is it? We still often long to have one foot in and one foot out. We see this when we carry a grudge or refuse to confess sin or gossip or enjoy pornography or find our identity in work or in our children or in the praise of others, or when we cling to status or money as if it’s ours. We want to hang on to what will kill us.
Dying to self should be the natural, joyful outcome of God’s kindness to us. If we see Jesus the way we should, responding this way must emerge. Knowing Jesus, what we have in Jesus should create a reaction in us such that we say, “He is worth everything – including my life, and certainly my money.”
We have a video of our oldest when he was young – 5 or 6 or 7 maybe – and he received a Christmas present that to him was a dream come true. It was a board game that looked fantastic on television. And he was captured by it. It was hilarious when he unwrapped it. He jumped up and down and screamed and laughed and lost himself in joy. As far as he was concerned, he was experiencing what life was about. For him at that point everything else became secondary or just didn’t exist. He was now all about that game. His thinking about what the day would hold and what he would do radically changed – it was now ALL about that game.
Here’s how the Apostle Paul put it:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth (value) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… – Philippians 3:7-8
Paul gave up everything because Jesus was worth more. And this losing everything for the sake of Christ was not duty. He didn’t see this as a rule or command he needed to follow. He did this because knowing Jesus held more value than anything else. Paul dropped all of his plans and accomplishments because he found Jesus. He was all in. He was now committed.
I just had to get this in here because this is what we’re talking about. Doubtless you have seen this before. There is a massive difference in being involved and in being committed. Nobody is committed because they have to be. Commitment is what happens when we understand the gospel and our reality changes.
The Rich Ruler
In Luke 18 we find the story of someone who had the same temptation we have. This guy loves commandments – he loves working around the edges – but when challenged to move to the core and actually give his life to God, he was out. (Luke 18:18-25)
And a ruler asked [Jesus], “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”
So, this rich guy is coming to Jesus wondering if he’s on the right track or if he’s missing something. I think he was earnest in the question, but it seems as if he knows something is not right – or he wouldn’t be asking the question. And Jesus is not going to leave him hanging – he’s going to bring this guy, face to face, with the truth.
So first, Jesus helps him acknowledge his goodness. He isn’t an adulterer, he doesn’t kill people, he doesn’t steal or slander folks, and he honors his parents, check, check, check, check, check. But Jesus has one command in his back pocket – and it was the BIG ONE. “You shall have no other gods before GOD!” But instead of simply asking this rich man about it, he says,
…“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:18-25
This guy should have dropped to his knees in front of Jesus and said, “I’m a sinner and I’ve been messing around the edges and have completely missed the mark. I thought I was close, but I worship idols. I deserve hell – Jesus save me.” But he didn’t say that or anything like that. He was sad because the choice Jesus put before him was his worst nightmare, and even though, to everyone else, this man looked like the best example of a good person, he was lost. God was not his God.
I’m guessing that the most common response after reading this is story is, “If God called me to give up everything, I would.” So, here are Jesus’ words from Luke 14:
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – (Luke 14:33)
Remember the song we sang last week? In it we repeated a phrase, “Take this world but give me Jesus. Take this world but give me Jesus.” Really?
Or, maybe our response to this story is, “Thank God for Jesus because he is merciful and kind, and he wants the best for me. I’m saved by grace alone – none of this legalistic stuff for me. Well, God DOES want what’s best for you. And what’s best for you is to be consumed by the gospel and all that that means. The best thing for you is to embrace Jesus and ALL that he is for you. The best thing for you is to confess the idols in your life, turn away from them, and follow the One who is what this universe is about. You can trust him and claim his promises like:
…Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9 –
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19
As I understand it, when God gives us sight to see Jesus in a saving way, and we believe, everything else falls by the wayside and the magnitude and beauty and power of the gospel becomes our joy and our consuming passion. Jesus also said this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. – Matthew 13:44-46
So, have you seen the Kingdom? Do you know the King? If you have and if you do, the natural response is, everything else falls away. And there should be desperate urgency to fight sin, put away our idols, and live for Jesus.
So, let’s step back and approach this from another direction. When I say MISSIONARY, what do you think? Well, I imagine you think all sorts of things. But, I’m guessing that in those thoughts, you are picturing someone who lives on very little so they can share the gospel, right? Every dollar is used carefully, and often missionaries go without the “extras” that we might consider essential. They may not own a house or eat steak or have an adequate retirement plan or drive a reliable car or have a college fund for their children.
Missionaries are folks who forgo comfort and financial security and depend on God’s care as they spend their lives for the gospel. So, here’s a really important question; are they stupid or naive or irresponsible for doing this? I’m guessing your answer is, “Of course not, God has called them to that mission and that life. They would actually be irresponsible if they ignored God’s calling.”
But then the question becomes, what life has God called you too? What is the theological statement that represents your financial life? Often – it’s easy to develop a statement that says, “God has called some to live lives of real sacrifice, so they can focus on moving the gospel forward; and God has called others to live lives of excess.” Does that sound right? It’s not right.
There’s another story in Luke 16 where Jesus tells the parable of the unfaithful manager. He wraps it up with this:
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 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.” – Luke 16:10-13
These four verses are about money. So let’s reread this again and put money in the verses.
“One who is faithful with money is also faithful with more than money, and one who is dishonest with money is also dishonest with more than money. 11 If then you have not been faithful with money, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with God’s money, who will give you that which is your own? 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.” – Luke 16:10-13
So, three things: first – when we handle money we are showing who we are. Money is a flashing indicator of what’s inside. If we are not faithful with money, there are massive problems.
Second – this is a binary thing. Serving both God and money cannot happen. We might fool ourselves into thinking that it can but our silly thinking will lead to death. And this makes perfect sense. If we are serving money, God is not our God.
Third – In verse 11 we find this: … If then you have not been faithful with money, who will entrust to you the true riches? I struggled with this. What is “true riches”. If I’m not faithful with money, I can’t have true riches. This seems to be pretty important, right?
Also, true riches is something better than money, right? (If then you have not been faithful with money, who will entrust to you the true riches?) True riches is not just more money; true riches is something else. True riches is something more valuable than money.
Well, I would like be able to ease you into this, but I’m not that talented. In the end of this story, Jesus sums it up, “You cannot serve God and money.” You must choose. The things that this world promises or God. 50/50 doesn’t work. 60/40 doesn’t work. When we are not faithful with our money, we are serving it, and we are existing in a situation where we cannot experience all that God is for us.
Are you stuck in your relationship with Jesus? Maybe it’s linked to an idol that you’re clinging too. Maybe it’s linked to money. Jesus, in Matthew 6 says this:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21
When we are not faithful with money (laying up treasure here rather than using God’s money for his glory) we should question our alignment. Is God and God’s mission more glorious than anything we have here, or am I serving money.
So, let me say one more thing and then we’ll close. Pastors love talking about the tithe and I’m fine using 10% of income as an initial giving goal for those who are not giving 10%. But to think that 10% of my income belongs to God and 90% belongs to me is completely wrong. It’s all from God and it’s all for his glory.
When it comes to giving, we should be asking how much can I give and how much must I keep, rather than how much must I give and how much can I keep.
As we close, I’d like to say four things:
First – God has done an amazing thing here. His work and his blessing in bringing us to this place is mind-blowing. He has granted vision and leadership, and has dissolved obstacle after obstacle and he has brought – and is bringing – the right people with the right gifts.
This money discussion is not only about money. It is vital that you use whatever God has given to you for the glory of God. Just as it’s true about money, all of God’s gifts are to be used for his glory. This is why you have the gifts you have. If you are not generously using your spiritual gifts for the building up of the fellowship you need to rethink things. One of the reasons you are here is to help this fellowship shine for Christ. If you don’t know exactly how you fit our how you can serve, please contact the pastors about this. I’d love to pray with you about that. This group of saved sinners is here to delight in, display, and declare the gospel of Jesus – and you are here to help us do that.
Second – I have noticed a tendency in me and in others, that as we age we can be less sensitive to the Spirit rather than more. Just when we should really be able to know and feel our sin; just when we should be living on our knees and really living radical, faith-filled lives, we’re actually moving in the opposite direction. We can make minor adjustments when we need too but deep humility and repentance is often difficult to find. It would seem that we often think we’ve reached peak sanctification. This is a terrible thing. Just when we should be living lives of radical prayer and repentance and humility and service, we become pretty unmovable. This is not right.
Third – God has seen fit to bring us into this location while testing us. Many churches move with a new vision but end up simply being the same church in a new location. Many here have been praying that God would work a magnificent work to advance the Kingdom and save the lost as a part of this move. But God’s work usually involves God’s people being God’s people. And so here we are. The people God wanted here are here, and those who are not here aren’t supposed to be here.
So the question I have this morning is are we ready? Are you ready? Am I ready? The question I have is, do I really want what God wants? Does God’s beauty and purpose and plan consume me, or do I actually have a different agenda? Is God’s vision really my vision? Or am I like the rich ruler, playing around the edges but unwilling to really follow? He was involved but he was not committed.
Am I on the outside looking in, hoping and praying for God to work here; or am I on the inside hoping and praying that God will work, and giving my life for to the cause? These are two very different things.
Is the vision of this church my vision and your vision or is it “the church’s” vision – Rick’s vision, Jon’s vision, and Ben’s vision? If it’s their vision, I’m on the outside. I can always simply walk away because, after all, it’s not my vision it’s their vision.
We have fewer people and the same financial commitments and I think we are being asked to be who we say we are. Do you think you should adjust your life so you can give more? What if you adjusted your retirement plan contributions? What if you didn’t buy the next car right away but delayed it and gave more? What if you downsized your home to free up funds to increase your giving? What if you gave until you had to live by faith?
The last thing I want to say is to those who don’t believe. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’ve talking about here this morning. There is no way anything I do can make me right with God. Doing good things like giving lots of money, will not save me from the consequences of my sin. I am utterly helpless. If I don’t have a champion, I will bear God’s wrath because I am sinful. I can’t buy my way out of this and you can’t buy your way out of this. The whole concept of the good that I do outweighing the bad is ridiculous. I have sinned against the infinitely righteous God – it is over! We are dead in our sins. And this is what makes the good news so good.
Jesus – God in the flesh – the sinless One – came to take the sinners place and absorb God’s wrath for all who will have him as their champion. And how do you take him as your champion? How do you connect his death to your sinful life? He will save all who acknowledge their sin and helplessness and believe in him. This is what Jesus said in John 3:16:
“…God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
We don’t bring our own righteousness to God – we have none, we claim Jesus’ righteousness as ours.
We spend a lot of time here talking about living lives that exalt Jesus and I don’t want you to misunderstand. We don’t fight sin here because it will result in being forgiven. We fight sin because we are forgiven we want you believe as well.
So, for me, this study has brought me to a defining point in my walk. It has brought me to the point where I need to ask deep questions like, given the magnitude and beauty of Jesus and his gospel, and the magnitude and beauty of the mission we’re on, is my response what it should be? Am I working around the edges or am I going to the core. Am I going to die spent for King and Kingdom or not.